Last Saturday morning, I was milling through the fresh market with Francesca; we were commiserating together over how terrible the weather had been for the past few weeks, after a brief and confusing sting of spring warmth. Fat droplets were falling sporadically on the square where we walked, as if being sloughed off overhead from some gigantic invisible tree.
At the fork where we would be turning stood a bright blue, height-adjustable metal canopy (present at all north Texas soccer games with no bleacher seating) which sported the logo, “Lausanne à Table”. When I saw it I hopped, like an excited leprechaun or a puppy that finally understands the word ‘treat’. Francesca looked puzzled, but all I could stammer out before darting underneath the canopy was, “I—I have to go here!!”
Addressing the person at the welcome desk, a backstory came tumbling out of my mouth: I gave her the bullet points of my history with wine and my cherished Monday meetups with my tasting group on my one weeknight off in Nashville. I told the woman that I was still fairly new to Lausanne, and that I’d love nothing more than to get plugged in with Lausanne à Table and come to their functions, maybe meet some new tasting friends along the way. She so fed off of my excitement that she did the thing that all fantastic food and wine clubs do, which was to reach down under the table and pull out a jar of locally made pickles, sliding them across the table to me with a whooosh. “Take those,” she said, “they’re great. And come next Thursday! We are having an event in St. François; sparkling wines of Vaud!” I thanked her.
I think Francesca was a teeny tiny bit jealous of my pickles.
—Lausanne, Thursday Night—
I pull on my thick wool socks, zip up my black leather, weather-sealed Timberland boots, and sling the long strap of my mini Stella McCartney handbag, a gift from C for my birthday, across my shoulder at 6pm. I call the elevator and lock the door behind me.
I arrive at Hermès at 6:15; the room, dripping with expensive scarves and handbags tanned in a faint butterscotch glow cast off of the warm wood with bronze accents on the walls and counters, is still sparsely populated this early into the event. I am greeted at the door by a teenage boy with slicked back hair, wearing gloves and a black suit, who was ready to pour me a glass until he saw that my wrist wasn’t wearing the fuchsia lanyard necessary for admission. He gives me a reluctant, sheepish smile, pointing to the counter at the center of the room, where stood a no-nonsense woman in an expensive business skirt and matching blazer, scanning a list of names and hovering over a large box of fuchsia lanyards.
I gulp as I approach her. Before she can ask me, I tell her quickly that my name probably isn’t on her list, that I had been invited personally by one of the coordinators of Lausanne à Table at the market on Saturday, and that I was new to the wine community in Lausanne and just trying to get acquainted. For good measure, I also tell her that I have the $20 francs admission and I would be happy to hand it over.
She looks annoyed, carefully weighing my words, before reaching into her box and threading the bracelet over my wrist, with an air of okay, now move along, quickly.
“Are you sure? I’m happy to pay—“ I said, but she shook her head. Just go.
I thanked her, retracing my steps back to the large bowl of ice, chilling three expensive bottles of the same vintage of sparkling wine, and the teenager who is pouring them. He sees me coming and is already pouring by the time I reach him. I look at the glass as he hands it to me; it is embossed with the name of the tasting event, Effervescent.
“It is yours,” he says to me, pointing to the commemorative glass, as if he had been practicing the phrase in English, in his head, for use upon my return.
-Neat Little Piles-
Each summer, before the next new year of school, my mom would take my little sister and me to the mall to buy new clothes. Before our early teens, this was most likely an attempt at bridging the gap between our old clothes rapidly tightening, and when we would eventually stop growing (for me, this was about 12). After that, I believe it became a mix of yearly habit and an attempt to bolster our (mostly my) confidence before the realities of the new grade inevitably kicked in.
For me, just before 15 and beginning my first year of high school, no brand was more important to me at the time than American Eagle. The distinctive swish design on the back pockets; the preppy, slightly androgynous look of layering the stretchy undershirts beneath the soft polos; and the noticeable, distinctive colors and minimal patterns on all of the AE designs. If you wore an authentic American Eagle ensemble, people could see it from the other end of the hallway. And for suburban middle class families in North Texas in the early 2000’s, the price point matched the exclusivity of the brand. If you had money, you wore a new set of distressed jeans with the design on the butt every single day of the week.
Standing in a dressing room at American Eagle at 15, I had reached a level of peak lankiness due to my previous 2 years of playing tennis and walking around the neighborhood with my dog Buster, that most things I tried on that day were fitting me brilliantly. I had half the notion that whatever fit my slender, 5’7” frame was what would be going in the bag home with us; my mom quickly nipped that in the bud as soon as she caught sight of me gathering ALL of the garments into my arms at the end of the fitting. “Pick five things,” she said, quite reasonably, as I look back on the scene now. It was like heart surgery though, peeling back shirt after shirt, back pocket logo after logo, until the glow of the final five was pronounced within the stack. I handed them to my mom.
It was a month until school would actually start; rather than wear them, as my sister did most years, I kept the outfits perfectly stacked inside my dresser: pants on one side, shirts on the other. Every few days I would visit them there, closely inspecting them, dragging my fingers across the baby soft cotton and tracing the stitching of the swish. These could have been Chanel or Dior couture, as far as I was concerned. Each piece draped like gold leaf across my skin once I finally did slip one of them on, snipping off the tag. It took me nearly a month into the school year for me to wear all five pieces.
Glass in hand, I pace the back part of the store, tasting the toasted brioche notes of the wine that closely resemble an aged French champagne, but not quite getting there. With my right hand I lightly sweep apart the limited selection of dresses and shirts that hang on the rack, admiring the fine silk or delicate muslin. People begin to fill up the front part of the store, and I start to plan my exit. I pass the legendary leather show saddle and riding crop on display underneath a spotlight; climbing the stairs, I nearly run into a girl who looks to be around my age, dressed in an Hermès uniform, asking if there was anything in particular I was looking for.
Already beginning to feel overwhelmed by the depth of the crowd, I stumble across my French, letting out more English than intended. The girl smiles, and asks me in English- “Where are you from?” I answer her, Texas, and she tells me that she once spent a year with a family in Atlanta, Georgia while in school. A conga line of hot, dancing buttermilk biscuits advances through my head. As she speaks to me, I am amazed by her ability to understand even the southern slang I let slip, not misspeaking or faltering once with her translations. She gives me her card, and I email her three hours later, inviting her out for coffee whenever she next has a moment off from work.
Spilling out onto the street, I feel the faint drizzle and threat of real rain fast approaching as I look over the map, determining the locations of the different vintages of the evening. There are five total within five different luxury stores, so I continue further west towards the plaza of St. François in search of the next.
With each new taste, I grab a tiny house made apéritif: mostly bites of smoked salmon, or a crostini topped with local charcuterie. I look around the room, seeing one or two familiars from the locations before who are on the same route as me. I see full-sized designer handbags, women in black shirts with slim waists, wearing custom-fit jeans too expensive for labels. Some men, probably having come straight from a high-powered law office or a government building, have arrived in bespoke suits with open white collars; their ties have all gone missing. They all seem the know each other. There is a palpable air of pretension. I love it.
-RuPaul, Harry Winston, and a spiky jacket-
All week long, as I have been tediously editing together my Secret Garden-inspired video for FM’s song “Brianna”, I have been watching RuPaul’s drag race on an iPad in my periphery. There are 11 seasons free on Netflix, and let me tell you, if there was ever a magic elixir to monotony, it’s watching 12 men getting in and out of drag multiple times per episode, impersonating women to such a degree that from moment to moment reality is suspended, you look over, and you think to yourself, that chick is fierce.
Pounds of makeup, couch cushions man-handled (literally) into Spanx, priceless, mile-high wigs—all combined to create a dazzling art piece of camp culture meeting high fashion. There is a holy reverence to all things fancy on the show, referencing every designer and icon in the book by name; while simultaneously intercut with the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to become the display, i.e. some queen hot-gluing rhinestones onto her skin before a runway walk (which she won). The word of the day, and ubiquitous catch phrase of the entire series, is “Work.”
At the apex of it all stands RuPaul, the long-limbed love child of Vanessa Williams and Tyra Banks, judging the entire race like a mother hen to all of her “drag babies.” It’s a fantastic, boisterous puzzle piece of humanity, and everyone bored at home on a weeknight (and not afraid of feeling more like a woman from watching men impersonate them) should watch it.
Feeling hyped up on Drag Race juju, I paused my iPad and bounded out the door headed for the train station on Friday afternoon, but not before slicking back my wet hair into a low ponytail, and sliding my 70’s era Levis jean jacket with metal spikes protruding from the shoulders off of its hanger and threading my arms through. The entire walk downhill, I practiced my strut.
I met C at the platform and we rode together to Geneva: he was headed to his weekly appointment with his dental surgeon; I was on my way to pick up my freshly-polished engagement ring from Harry Winston.
We pulled into Geneva station, and after a quick kiss goodbye, C hopped into a cab pointed towards the far side of town. I set out on my trek through Geneva. It was a buzzing late Friday afternoon; one of the world’s centers for luxury commerce was palpably fizzing with the anticipation of an upcoming weekend of visitors and vacation purchases. I crossed the footbridge into the old town; the first street on which one arrives is a lesson in opulence, with one-of-a-kind tourbillon watches on display as window-dressings, and Dior and Cartier right across the street from one another. One block down, I arrived at Harry Winston.
I stood outside of the heavy, magnetically locked doors for about five seconds before security allowed me through. One of the consultants, with whom C and I worked to pick out our wedding bands, greeted me, having recognized my face on the security camera. We passed over to the seating area, only after the traditional Swiss greeting of three kisses on alternating cheeks, and her numerous exclamations over my jacket. I beamed, draping the Levis design over the back of the fine antique wooden chair, careful not to scrape it, even though that probably would be more “rock and roll”.
While we waited for the people in the back to retrieve my ring, she and I talked about jewelry, and I asked her point blank if there are indeed some HW pieces that are only available to a chosen few…pieces that the public doesn’t even know about. She and I have texted before and are pretty friendly; but at this question she became uncharacteristically close-lipped.
“Well, there are certain informations that are not told to the public, yes...” she said trepidatiously, as if she were telling me a secret. “I have seen some things, so precious and rare, so much intricacy,” she speaks in a breathier, lower tone, leaning forward just a millimeter, “it gets to a point where it is more like art than anything else.” I nodded, understanding.
“I wonder,” I said to her in reply, “what the equivalent would be in music?”
She considers this for a moment, her chin clutched in her front three fingers.
She then said, “Well, there is this French composer who I have seen his show. He uses his music with lasers. It was very amazing.”
-Rue St. François, present day, raining-
I duck into my final stop, a fine jewelry seller called Bucherer, which by now is filled to the brim with rich-looking people a few glasses deep, hiding from the rain and chatting in tight circles. I edge my way through the crowd, nodding bon soir to the shopkeepers lining the wall; there are servers with plates of smoked salmon sandwiches on moist rye bread, with fresh fruits and berries on high tables. I find the bar and extend my glass with a thankful smile, and I am poured a glass of 2014 Clos de Bonnet, an artfully made sparkling wine bottled in Rolle, which I can see from my balcony. Having never tried it before, I am smacked in the face by the aroma wafting up over the lip of my glass, that of fresh strawberries, and a blade of happiness one could imagine tasting like powdered sugar, but with no semblance of sweetness. I sip the sparkler, and the millions of tiny, fine bubbles froth on my tongue, carrying with them bushels of ripe, sun kissed strawberries plucked on a brisk Swiss morning in 2014. Never before have I tasted red fruits from a fine sparkling wine, done so elegantly and not at all kitschy. I’m in love. The face I make into the glass after my first sip gives me away, and I’m immediately introduced to the winemaker, Monsieur Bonnet, who speaks some English. He shakes my hand. I tell him his wine, out of all the others I tasted, was my favorite, hands down. He nods, knowingly and proudly. He has received this same praise many times before.
I stand against the wall, thoughtfully sipping my new favorite sparkling wine, watching the crowd splash in and out, like the cycling of the tides. The card of my new friend from Hermès is lining my back pocket; my mini Stella handbag rests at my side, the long metal chain strapped across my body messenger-style.
Why do I like this so much?
Could it possibly be the fine clothes that rich people wear to events like this: the suits, the jewelry, the handbags? Or maybe could it be the community aspect: the plates of hors d’oeuvres; everyone is wearing the same fuchsia bracelet; the luxury shops with doors open wide after 6pm? Or could it be that I love the exclusivity of it all: the list of names, the inside information, the high art, and the coveted vintage poured without hesitation? The vintner himself stands behind the bar, extending a hand.
I just like to like things. And the better the things are, the more I like them. It’s that simple. I guess I desire to be on that list, and many more in the future; but not to someday grow tired, oversaturated with experiences, showing up late with a sour grapes look on my face. I’m happy making chili on weeknights. But I live for those blissful moments with the feel of fresh, soft cotton underneath my fingertips; trading Harry Winston secrets in a spiked jean jacket; and the taste of crisp, ripe strawberries on my tongue.