Each slender tuft of medium-length blonde hair is a new possibility for frizz. But I have resigned myself to a blown-out, 70’s disco look tonight in any case. The straightener sighs as a strand weaves its way around the barrel, crimping and curling into a tight ringlet that bobs, dangling from my scalp like a loose spring.
I want to look cute tonight. It’s a second date, after all. Not with an individual; I’ve already experienced my second, third, and 200 hundredth dates with my husband long ago. This second date is with three people who I met two weeks ago: Robert Redford, who has now allowed me to call him Sandy; Mikael, the Finnish gentleman; and Laura, his delightful wife. A few days ago, C and I were on a two-day getaway to the former French capital, Dijon (full story next week); and at the moment I received Sandy’s text, I was face-to-face with a 400-year-old marble statue of the Roman goddess Jupiter, framed by the outstretched wings of a screaming eagle.
Hi Allie! How are you and C? Mikael, Laura and I are going out for drinks tomorrow night and would love to have you there if you can join.
I whispered over to C, whose head poked out from a dividing wall lined with enlightenment-era depictions of very fed-up looking Jesuses. He nodded his head in agreement, and I responded in the affirmative to Sandy.
As we leave our front door and plod down the walkway towards Avenue de Rumine, it’s 6:30 PM on a Friday night. The stones of the pathway are evenly spaced and settled neatly into the earth, having just been reset before the summer. My flowy purple jumpsuit is billowing around my legs in the breeze; my meticulously curled hair bounces against my shoulders in a shiny, puffed heap. But then, at the tip of my made-up nose, I feel a single drop of water fall.
“Wait…is it…raining?” I ask C, turning to him. He has already pulled out his phone and is checking tonight’s updated weather forecast. Sunny skies all evening, or so the algorithm has predicted. I wince as more droplets fall from a confusingly cloudless late afternoon sky. C is laughing nervously, shaking his head the slightest bit. I whine out loud to no one in particular that my hair is getting messed up.
As we reach Rue de Pepinet, which is a thin street that slopes down from one of the main squares of Lausanne, the Place St.-François, we come across a brand new cocktail bar, called the Lausanne Cocktail Club, with the front door propped wide open revealing an all-black interior with speakeasy flair, a reclaimed wooden floor, and modern, ergonomically designed armchairs with reflective metallic legs. Like a care package from home, this place (having just opened a few weeks ago) is one made in the style I’ve been hoping for since moving to Lausanne. American food culture (namely the rebellious spark emanating from NYC) is slowly creeping its way into Lausanne.
Sandy and Mikael are already seated in a Friends-esque set in the back corner, complete with spaced-out patinated leather sofas and fuzzy pastel armchairs. They are drinking gin & tonics, which prompts me to order my own off of the main menu: a local small-batch gin garnished with lavender, rosemary, and an olive. Considering that we are growing all three of these garnishes out on our balcony at the moment, and my drink is a bouquet of freshness, I suggest to C that this gin should be the next one on our pantry list.
Laura arrives with a shopping bag full of gifts and goodies that they will take with them on a trip to visit friends this weekend. She shakes off the remnants of the surprise rainshower, as we had done fifteen minutes prior, and settles in, ordering a vodka fizz made with yuzu, which is a tart japanese lemon.
As our gathering progresses, I secretly use this outing as an experiment to limit the amount of input I contribute to the group. When experiencing a lull, I tend to steer conversations to topics that interest me more (music, personal lives, myself), instead of allowing the discourse to follow its own organic path. It’s difficult for me not to deem myself the life of the party; or be its brain; or its heart; or its stomach.
Instead of being the butt-in I sometimes am, I sipped my gin & tonic, holding the great goblet with one hand, enjoying the frosty glass in my fingertips. It’s nice and cool inside the cocktail club. I order a ginger martini next, with foam made from whipped egg whites garnishing the top half inch. Laura and Mikael keep mentioning their trip this weekend, and how, unfortunately, they will need to leave soon to get packed. But over the course of a few hours, his mindset progresses as follows:
“I guess we’ll need to leave soon,” Mikael says reluctantly, while flipping open the bar menu with a lackadaisical flick of the finger.
“I really don’t feel like cooking tonight,” he mentions to Laura.
“Hm…C, what drink is that?”
“So…where should our next round be?”
“Here’s the menu to Bottle Brothers,” He says, sliding his phone over to C, “This place down the hill has pretty good food. What do you think?”
I nod in excitement; these people really seem to be in-the-know when it comes to good food and drinks. They have already traveled to each of the restaurants I have been dreaming about ever since learning of them from the Netflix show “Chef’s Table”. This is threatening ground, on which I may falter on my quest towards acting ‘more chill’ in groups. I am leaning forward in my sofa chair, eyes wide, hanging onto every word. News of space-age desserts served over in Dubai, or the succulent unseasoned Florentine steaks of Tuscany, to candlelight dinners in Slovenia, in one of the world’s 50 best restaurants that also doubles as the home of the head chef and her family; these stories erupt like fireworks amidst my thoughts. As I sip my last glug of ginger martini, Sandy reappears from around the corner of the bar; he is seen casually slipping his wallet back into his pocket. He’s treated us tonight, and receives a warm ‘thank you’ from us all.
Our group walks down the steep hill to the lower level of Lausanne, that was most likely a canyon many eons ago. Eventually, I assume, the people of this area shaved off enough of the mountain’s slope to chisel in a walkway that both carts and people wouldn’t immediately slide backwards down. Across an uncharacteristically sleepy Friday night square, we spy Bottle Brothers; it is one of the only eateries in the area with a fully occupied patio. The yellow glow of the industrial-chic lanterns is beckoning us in, and the one-page menu, yet 30 page wine list has Mikael chomping at the bit.
“Guys,” he says shortly after we take our seats, “Do you like orange wine?”
C’s eyes dart over to me, unsure. “Absolutely!” I reply.
“Well. I can’t believe it, but they have a Radikon Jakot. It’s pricey, but I think we should do it.”
Mikael then speaks of the wine, which is what oenophiles call a ‘natural wine’. A viticultural practice growing in popularity, natural wine refers to a wine lacking contact with any chemicals, sulfates, or additives throughout the winemaking process. This of course will lead to a lower yield of product, and thereby a higher price point; but overall, when done correctly and with passion, this can lead to otherworldly hues, aromas, and flavors in the wine that would otherwise never be experienced in more modern, homogenized winemaking. The table nods in agreement at the maestro’s wholehearted endorsement of the Radikon.
C and I look down at our menus at the same time. As we read the same item, we grin.
The F@#%*!g Fried Chicken
That’s all that we need to know. After Dijon this week and now this current outing with our wine gang, I have officially reached the “f-it” portion of the week’s proceedings, and am definitely here for some f-ing fried chicken.
I sit back, looking around me at nothing in particular. Sandy is quietly listening to everyone from his end of the table. I’m beginning to feel like things are taking on a new, unexpected shape in my life. Just like improvements to my conversational skills, maybe it took enough time spent listening to finally see the framework already laid out for my new life overseas. It is all very close to how I dreamed it could be; with some curveballs from time to time.
The server opens our bottle and pours each of us a small allotment, not taking the time for a proper tasting beforehand. I notice immediately as it rickochets off the curved well of the glass that the wine’s color is nowhere near orange. The waitress leaves before Mikael reaches for the bottle; across his face then parades a crestfallen stare.
“This isn’t our wine.”
Sure enough, they have served us the wrong bottle. To be fair, it is produced by the same company with a nearly identical label, but clearly on the back in a large embossed font, there isn’t the proper vintage year, nor the grape whose skins would have made this wine orange. Mikael calls the waitress who just now delivered our bottle, and thus begins the standoff. C later explains to me, after we’ve returned home, that between Mikael and the server, there would have been no other outcome than the one we experienced:
First, Mikael points out the mistake to her, but chooses no plan of action. (Finnish)
The woman then looks at Mikael, offering no solution, yet screaming with her eyes that she does not want to go open the other bottle, and waste this one. There are no free bottles. (French)
Mikael looks around the table, disappointed at the non-response. He awkwardly agrees to drink this one, clearly deeply upset by the mixup. (Finnish)
The woman, a waitress at a medium-level gastropub in a b-sized Swiss city, gives a quick, low “désolé (sorry)”, and turns on her heel, hurrying away from the table. (French)
After she leaves, I blurt out amidst the silent, stunned table, “If you want, I’m happy to go say something.” (American)
The next surprise comes during our main courses. Turns out, the effing chicken is a single pounded boneless chicken leg, breaded with seasoned panko breadcrumbs, and then fried. It is served with a house herbed mayo.
And that’s it.
This is the first time in Europe that this has happened to me, to have gotten such an unexpectedly tiny serving of meat that I’m wondering if they forgot something in the kitchen. To my great relief, this is not normal for C either. He comments to me from the side of his mouth, “It tastes great, but, uh…sides?”
“I know, right?” I whisper back.
But that’s what a dessert menu is for.
It’s been a nice evening, one I’ve not come to expect, unfortunately, as new acquaintances over the past year have come, and then disappeared into the ether just as quickly. It’s quite difficult to meet new people in a brand new place, and just as I never expected I would actually get to live in Switzerland, I never anticipated meeting people here that spoke my language; even some still who have lived for a time in the next town over from my hometown, the third lilypad past Jupiter.
Laura looks at Mikael warmly, and to our shock, asks if we want to go for one more round. Mikael reorders his orange wine, and this time, they bring it. It is as divine as he proclaimed. Like candied pineapple containing a hidden layer of baked grapefruit. A few minutes pass before any of us say a word. It’s Laura who does, to me, asking if I like the show Sex and the City. I tell her about my close Nashville girlfriend’s response to any and all breakups, which was to show up at your door with the entire box set of the series. I did it twice. By the time I finished the entire show once again, I was a woman reborn.
“Which one would you say you are?” I ask Laura, feeling 19 again.
But it’s Mikael that speaks up, after his wife gives pause. “I’d say she’s a Charlotte.”
It’s only just after this, with no prompting at all, that Laura adds:
“But you know, speaking of New York City culture, there is one show that we have been watching constantly…have you ever heard of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’?”
My jaw dropped, and C instinctively lurches his hand over to my knee to keep me from leaping out of my chair. After four years, he knows me very well. And even he is a little shocked by her out-of-the-blue statement; it’s an eerie coincidence that hints of the future possibility of a fruitful friendship.
The night culminates with one of the most satisfying conversations I’ve had in a long while, which is the discussion, at length, of various specific Drag Race costumes, lip syncs, and superstar queens that give me, as well as one Finnish woman and her very straight husband, life.
Before we part ways and pay our split bills, we five devise a bbq dinner at mine and C’s place in three weeks. Mikael says he will bring the wine. Sandy is apparently good at making tortillas, and we will be having a guacamole-off. I seal the deal, offering some jalepeño poppers from our freshly ripened stock. We set the date, and do the traditional three-cheek Swiss goodbye. Three factions disappear into the night.
Earlier that evening, back at the Lausanne Cocktail Club, Sandy and I sat side by side silently, until I looked over to him.
“You know,” I said, “I really didn’t think I would hear from you guys.”
Sandy looked slightly puzzled.
“Well, you know, “ I clarified, “I may have gotten a little sloppy there the first night we met. I was thinking I may have made a fool out of myself.”
And truly, I thought I had. In fact, that’s exactly how I’ve felt settling into life here in this vastly different environment. Constantly saying the wrong things, perpetually not knowing where it is I need to go, or when to hold back, or when it’s okay to just be a silly American. It’s only now that I’m starting to feel okay again, like a hermit crab learning the nooks and crannies of a fancy new shell, and preparing to scuttle once more. But there will always be reason to work on my confidence.
Sandy shakes his head, half with a laugh, half with the faintest brushstroke of pity. It’s the response of someone who has been where I am now, but so very long ago.
“We all have nights like that,” said Sandy, “we all do.”