Harvey and Me.
Another Starbuck’s latte, another late summer’s day in Lausanne. The air is edgy, pumped up with humidity and the pre-race adrenalin of the world cup triathlon that will start on the lake down at Ouchy, tomorrow morning. The sound of Friday afternoon traffic backdrops the table conversations around me. Beside my feet I try to follow the simple pattern of the cobblestones outwards. Archways of stone, repeated like a mantra through the historic rues and passages that maze their way through the St. Francois area.
Someone stops to say hello. It is the first time this has happened to me in Lausanne and I realise I am no longer anonymous in a strange land. I am familiar. Recognisable. The greeting is from Anastasia, a Russian Queen. I met her last night at Tom’s birthday dinner in Geneva. She had the whole fish, cooked in foil and garnished with steamed vegetables. I had had difficulty pronouncing her name, and then in conversation totally could not remember it. She had told me all I had to do was remember the last Queen of Russia. Queen Anastasia. And today I have. Across the dinner table Anastasia told me not to waste my time with English. When she arrived in Lausanne she undertook a nine month French immersion course. Now she can speak, read and write fluent French and has a job with a big Swiss company that pays well. Anastasia. It is a small world in Lausanne.
This morning Harvey took me for a walk that started lakeside at Cully (pronounced Q-ee), went up the hillside through the endless grapevines and onto one of Switzerland’s most famous wine walks. The stepped walkways, up through the vineyards and intimate views, into the stone by stone built, farm houses were priceless. And steep. If I was a gym-junkie I would term this first part of our journey today as a high, cardio-vascular workout. Once we had climbed up to a few hundred metres above the lake, the narrow steps opened left and right into a village roadway. I gathered the paths and roads followed the tracks that the villagers and vineyard workers created over the centuries. From there we headed east. The view was spectacular. Kilometres of hills plaited with grapevines. Lake Geneva open and enchanting, with small trails from the steamers that are continually in motion helping tourists to border hop with impunity. Lining the southern shore Evian lay sleepy in the early morning lake haze beneath the sharp rise up to the peaks of the French Alps that cannot help but dominate the view from the Swiss side of the lake.
I guess there are hundreds of acres of grapes in this area above Vevey and Montreux. The trail markers told us they were originally planted by local monks. I figured they were to help them quench their thirst for God and for the Sacrament. But like all good ideas they caught on and got out of hand. Now people travel from all points of the settled universe as we know it and walk these hills in awe and wonder. Oh yeh and not forgetting to sample the fruit.
Lake Geneva continued to open up beside us. The hollow, settled cloud lifted and gave way to the welcome relief of light precipitation which was followed by a rainbow that touched down in two different countries. Now that’s cool. It is hard to get my head around how the stonewalls, pathways, houses, vines and grape monorail transport systems were ever built on this gradient. But like Rome it would not have been done overnight.
The Starbuck’s waitress cleans my table around my busy notebook. A French speaking Asian dude in a white DKNY t-shirt borrows a chair from my table and moves it to an adjacent table where he commences to chat up an Asian looking woman with a strong English accent, in fluent English. They swap names and phone numbers straight into their i-phone fours. Lindsay and Joanne. ‘Bye-bye Lindsay, I have to go back to work’. Lindsay stays on at the table and flicks a Marlboro Red out of a soft pack. His male friend arrives with two macchiatos on a tray. They start a new conversation in Mandarin (now that’s a guess, but it is definitely not English or French). I ascertain that Lindsay’s mate gives him a hard time about Joanne. At least that is what an Australian mate would have done.
Earlier that day, Harvey and I had reached the lookout above Vevey about an hour after we had set out from Cully. Rather than going further along the pathway downhill towards Vevey, we decided to admire the view from the lookout then run back to our starting point. The pathway stretched out for three or four kilometres before us, undulating mounds of concrete to a point on a distant ridge where a group of stone houses formed a small village. Our shoes pad the beat as we talked between heavy breaths, our old stories of long gone athletic glory and new stories of novels not yet written, but at some stage in the incubator. We made it comfortably to the little village above Cully and washed off the moisture drawn out of bodies by the unexpected, remaining humidity under a vineyard tap.
After we plonked our way back down the five hundred plus steps to lakeside we drove to Lutry where Harvey knew a very casual, hidden away, Italian cafe. There we filled up on coffee and Coke and writer’s conversation. Important conversations of life, like the need for detail versus how does the colour of the receptionist’s toenail polish add to the tension and outcome of the plot. And third-person narration versus omniscience. During these discussion I found some random ideas in the cafe for a future manuscript. Ideas like the fat, orange cat that sagged like an over ripe pumpkin along the edge of the stone-wall, oblivious to the life changing conversation going on only a few metres away. And the sound of the crunching gravel as the waitress, with Portuguese eyes and voluminous breasts, hovered around our table as she set those adjoining for punters with more than ten francs to splash around on coffee and Coke.
Harvey and me. It sounds like a novel but it is just another section for my blog site. It’s been a great day but I reckon it’s time to give up my Starbuck’s office and head to the COOP for groceries. Hopefully today I will remember to weigh and price my veggies and fruit before I get to the checkout and save myself from another embarrassing moment.