“Friday night and I’m going nowhere, all the lights are changing, green to red.”
I lurch my head forward, wet hair toppling towards the ground; I flip on my dryer with my right hand, my left is clutching a paddle brush, ready to tame the coming onslaught of frizz. I only have time to dry it halfway; I’ve been so anxious for my long walk across town that I went sailing off into the abyss during my shower, lost in thought. I was now much tardier for my departure than I had originally planned. My very first guitar lesson was in half an hour’s time.
I carry a tan, 70’s-esque sepia-colored soft case out of our guest room, where we currently house the cases for every proudly displayed guitar in our entryway, and lay it open flat on our living room couch. I reach for the only acoustic we have, a Fender, cherry red with a luscious, warm mid-tone resonance and an easily fingered fretboard. C bought it for me after our move to Lausanne, having some clairvoyant precognitive impression that someday soon I would need it. I don my light black jacket with synthetic cloth lining on the inside, but with fuzzy kitten-soft faux fur on the outside, and carefully strap the guitar to my back like an inconveniently tall backpack. Careful to avoid the low lip of our tiny elevator, I ride it down and set off on my twenty-five minute commute. As it always goes, I have been far too optimistic about the length of my journey, having previously just glanced at the map and half blinked at the time it would taking me to get there.
But luckily, the sun is shining this afternoon. It gives me the chance to see a new side of town, going past the streets I normally only glance down before returning back home. It’s 2:30, and as I cross the street and into the shade of the historic post office building, underneath its regal stone militiamen and trumpeters safeguarding the archways, I see the freshly-tilled planters left empty throughout the winter, brown and barren; now painted with several blooms of lavender, lilac and fuschia. Left in the soft light for most of the day and shielded from the wind by a great stone barricade, the flowers remain nestled and unharmed, casting a sweet perfume across the walkway and onto the adjacent bus stop. The waiting riders all sit on benches with arms folded, resting on their bellies or placed upon their laps; I see some who have their eyes closed, a slight smile draped gently across their lips.
The district of St. François curves north and connects via bridge to the burgeoning high-end district, aptly named Bel-Air, which now plays host to my favorite new food store: a luxury, all-organic branch of Co-op and a serious new competitor to Globus in prices, Fooby. Fooby has its own bakery in-house, but I’ll have more on that later.
I follow the bus line past Bel-Air and further down out of the main city center, now spying shops and restaurants I’ve not been privy to until now. I have yet to pull the trigger on my first all-French language Google search. When I eventually do, I’ll have restaurants like the “Peking Chinoise”, with a peking duck design in bold black font on a white background, hanging above the restaurant’s heavy, slate-colored door; places like this one will emerge from the shadows and appear on my plate.
It’s only when streets become wider, and the buildings become more uniform and spread out that I begin to wonder where in the sparsely-populated outskirts of this swiss city I’ve led myself. A long, curved walkway parallel to the road curls upwards, cupped by a high wall dotted with advertisements; half are for local upcoming events, with the other half being the new spring campaigns for Dior and Globus. I have to stop and take off my jacket; the sun reflecting against the wall and the glass that encases the posters is causing me to sweat on my kitten fur.
Once again on level ground, I see a shop window up ahead with its door wide open; my teacher is waiting for me inside.
“Saturday I'm running wild, all the lights are changing, red to green…”
C had an epiphany as we were getting ready for bed. He grabbed my iPad off of the coffee table and handed it to me as I walked towards the bathroom sink to take my makeup off. He knew it was only moments before I started up the Youtube app on my phone or on that iPad; I love to watch obnoxious The Sims gameplay videos or retellings of infamous unsolved mysteries each night—it helps to make flossing fun. C, in an effort to head me off at the pass, had a new idea for what I could watch.
“So, honey. You are saying you want to watch more French videos, to get better at French,” he said to me in his outrageous French accent.
“Yes, I just haven’t found—”
“What if you watch something with food? Cooking videos? Or perhaps Top Chef?”
Food is one thing that I and the French language definitely have in common, and the source of a treasure trove of foods, flavors, spices and dishes that would help me to bridge the gap. I hugged my fiance and thanked him for being so supportive of my Youtube addiction. It was just my luck that there, for free on the internet, was the entire season of MasterChef France from last year.
After my guitar lesson on Friday, fingers bruised, raw, and agitated, I stopped off at Fooby on my walk back home. I got a coffee at the counter and was reaching for a piece of quiche when I came face to face with a cinnamon pistachio babka just staring up at me from underneath the glass.
I walked with my tray to a high table overlooking the busy Bel-Air street outside, which was filling up with people just finishing their latest week of work, bounding headlong into the weekend with soon-to-be sun kissed cheeks tingling red. Instead of checking Instagram for the umpteenth time, I reached for a free copy of this bougie supermarket’s seasonal food magazine, and flipped through the pages between bites of my babka and sips of my coffee. The articles, all in French, gave me ideas for what to make this weekend, as well as an entire section dedicated to the ever-popular worldwide healthy-eating lunch trend: “Qu’est-ce que Meal Prep??”
After finishing the article and wading through my sugar rush, I stared at the cheese counter for five minutes before finally deciding what to make for our meals this weekend.
How to make Ligurian focaccia:
A literal ton of good olive oil
An inadvisable amount of salt
A kiss of honey
A small spoonful of dried yeast
I put each ingredient into the bowl one at a time, careful to weigh them out precisely. It was a more stressful process than laborious; checking and re-checking the recipe on my phone, making sure each piece of the puzzle blended neatly with the rest. I had to measure my water three different times; my mechanical kitchen weight(think the produce scale hanging from the ceiling at the supermarket) kept stuttering, as it was possibly not level sitting on my IKEA countertop, filled with random pockets from rogue water puddles trapped underneath its outer seal over time, like a poorly-maintained golf green. I would have to lightly shake it to know the exact measurement, which was almost always over the amount that I was needing. The wet dough eventually came together, after plenty of nervous extra flicks of flour and frustrated “snap out of it” shakes of the scale. I slid it into a clean bowl, comically elephantine for the small size of the dough ball, covered it all with plastic wrap, and flipped dark the kitchen light.
The following morning, I hobbled across the apartment in desperate need of a hot cup of coffee. I had forgotten all about my experiment the evening before after a night of REM cycles. That was…until I saw the glass bowl. It was completely full, from base to plastic-lined rim. Giant, stringy air bubbles climbed up the curved sides like a bready web; the top of the mass gurgling like an excited cauldron I dare not topple over. C helped me gingerly turn it out onto a slippery, well-oiled sheet pan, and I pulled it into shape over the next 30 minutes, carefully, fingers glistening with olive oil. It was only about an hour later that the apartment was drenched in a sumptuous, toasty aroma. C and I stood barefoot in the kitchen in the noonday sun, leaning over the counter with slices of warm, homemade, traditional Italian focaccia coating our hands. The sound of the crispy, salty crust crunched as we took our first bites, descending through to the soft, airy interior. He looked at me, and he said he had never eaten good focaccia before. I lived on that sentence for the rest of the day.
“Sunday all the lights of London shining, sky is fading, red to blue…”
I dropped the yoga pants I was folding down onto our bed and turned to make my run over to the kitchen, wherefrom C’s exclamation had originated. But he had already made his way over to the bedroom, a blown glass cylinder that once housed a candle in his hands. For the last two weeks, it had been full of slightly damp soil, and a few sewn hot pepper seeds.
He wordlessly extended the vase at eye level; I gazed at it generally before focusing in on the bright green strand poking its head just past the crust of the matted earth. It was the triumphant beginning of its ascent towards the sky. I marveled at the enormous strain it must have taken for this small shoot to have wormed its way upwards through the ground. I had buried it alive myself, and I felt the slightest urge to apologize.
C could not have been more thrilled; after a fortnight of eyeing the five barren candle holders on our kitchen table in the sun, wondering if this all was really worth the effort, here was proof of purchase. He immediately logged onto IKEA and helped me choose which large, heavy ceramics would go best on the balcony, and then proceeded to walk with me around the perimeter, counting and daydreaming about which plant would go where.
I finished my French lessons this week. I sat with my instructor for 40 hours. And you know, I think we achieved the goals we agreed upon in the first session, just two and a half months ago. I can now construct sentences, in multiple tenses, that are still very primitive and not at all consistently correct. But I can tell a shopkeeper, like I did today, that I would be back soon to check out the ivy plants they had in store. I told him I had been looking for something exactly like what they had in stock, but couldn’t buy one right now.
Now, with my French semi-functional, I can feel the roots reaching down through the soles of my feet and tethering me stronger to this new land each day. So many new things are beginning in my life, so many big, exciting changes happening little by little every day, gradually; each one slightly altering the gravitational pull of my life from where it was before. I register nothing much has changed for a seemingly long time, until suddenly I see a completely new, unexplored horizon laid out before me, beckoning me forward. Guitar, songwriting, food, travel, writing, music production, and possibly, additionally, something I haven’t yet experienced at all lie in wait, ready to be tilled. But which one grows first?
Just before my last French lesson, I laid out all of my books across the dining room table. I sat, having a quiet moment before the shrill buzz of my doorbell, which would happen any minute. In the center of the table, on a circular cork disc, sits a painted ceramic vase with a chinese money plant inside. I once thought It had died: when I left for the U.S. in January, and was gone for two weeks, C (who was also on a business trip for half the time I was gone) had forgotten to water it at all for the entire 14 days. Choked and shriveling, I gasped when I reencountered my houseplant after returning to Lausanne. I saw it as a metaphor for how my distractions were impeding my success. I kept those thoughts to myself, however, and I gave my money plant a hail-mary watering.
Within a week, the quasi-dead, orange leaves had rustled awake; the ones who had conceded defeat had fallen to the floor. Against my better judgement, in a few weeks time, Its core had begun to sprout new leaves. Maybe my chances hadn’t all dried up after all.
I shifted in my chair and leaned over to the thriving money plant, inspecting it closely. Just underneath the largest, heaviest leaf, I saw a glint of deep green emerging from the dark mire. There, in the very same pot, grew an offshoot; with its own eager, budding leaves already flanking out from its stocky new base. So strong was the stalk, I had no doubt it would thrive; it could perhaps even eclipse the original. It would just take time, care, and attention.