With one giant step from Maleny to Lausanne on the Lake Geneva shoreline, my view of life was changed forever.
Most of the important lessons that I learned came via my asylum seeker family at EVAM Crissier.
Now, sitting back in the land of plenty, it is time to put into practice what I have learned.
The Frozen Immigrant - Chapter 4
Rue le Borde Lausanne
I was born in Lausanne in 1968. My parents were children of the ‘revolution’, which wasn’t that easy to be in Switzerland at that time. And still isn’t if you want to be stand out different. People will accept you but that doesn’t mean they will include you. They had both found there way down from Basel, to escape the grips of their parents money and the stiff-uptightness of living in the German-Swiss region of Switzerland. My mother always claimed they met up on campus of Lausanne university at some Bob Dylan - ‘Everybody oughtta get stoned party.” My father claims it was at a debate night but he’s so conservative these days he’d be afraid that any drug leak might damage his career and reputation. They got stoned, got straight, switched to political science, ended up with cushy academic jobs at the same uni. Then along came Claudette. Definitely an accident. They never knew what to do with me. I was just there on the floor, in a window seat, lying on balcony, drawing things, the things in my head, things my parents couldn’t see. And colouring in too. Always the wrong colours according to my parents.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with that girl.‘ M’mere would say.
I would look up and smile so knowingly and m’pere would calm the situation a line like ‘Don’t worry Emily, she’ll grow out of it.’
But I never did. I grew ever so more into it. Despite my parent’s diligent focus on my academic progress at one of the best private schools in Lausanne and the continual harassment of private tutors in maths and science based subjects, my report cards always came up with the wrong letters. Every spare moment was spent drawing and painting. My walls and ceiling was covered in my artwork. There were patterns of paper, things that dangled and spun, photos taken at odd angles sticky taped to the back of my bed-room door, photocopies of shapes extending their three dimensional contortions from my bed head, not to mention a swiss army of decorated matchboxes, expressing ideas of the creatures that often inhabited my daydreams.
‘There is no future for you in art, Claudette.’ My mere would harp in her posh Swiss- English accent. ‘We’ve only just got the right to vote in this country. No-one will ever take a woman artist seriously.’
I would meet her negative statements with my eyes crossed. At other times I would put my swim goggles on and from the sanctuary of my bed turn around and give her a quizzical look.
‘Nor is there a university course in Switzerland where you can do creative arts as a part of your under-graduate studies.’ She would try to intimidate me with her academic know-how.
‘But I don’t intend to do study art as a part of my university studies m’mere. It is all I’m going to study when I leave school.’ And in my own mind I wasn’t budging. I could see she was infuriated. Still to weaken my resolve would have been the end of my dream to be a famous artist. If anything my parent’s dogged control of what they thought my life should be only made me more determined. I continued to reflect their stubborn stance but in ta different mirror.
By the time I reached my final year of school I had met with some local success with my artwork. My concentration of my process and technique were reflected in my grades. Ms Towers, my art teacher (she was French and from Paris). was continually telling me that there was little more she could teach me. At weekends when I wasn’t in the bomb bunker studio I had created for myself under my parent’s apartment I was floating around some art gallery in Lausanne or Geneva. Some Saturdays I would catch an early train up to the Kunstmuseum in Basel and drown myself in the ideas of contemporary artists of the twentieth century that had challenged mediocrity, pushing the boundaries of the tame and at times mundane eighties into another dimension. After spending hours etching monochrome descriptions of weird and wonderful pieces into my sketch book and mind I would soak up the perfume in the courtyard of what surrounded me. Concept after concept, precept over precept I would disregard, until there were no rules or fear for what I would put down in pencil and ink.
These books of ideas I would never share with my art teacher. I considered them much to bold and raw for someone locked into the conservative Swiss education system. There was one girl in my art class who I thought I had an affinity with. Her name was Gisela. She was Dutch. At times her forward and outspoken opinions on art would shock the class and Ms Towers. But not me. It excited me to know that someone else thought like I did and had the courage to speak up. I didn’t lack courage but felt inhibited by my parent’s relationship with the Principal of the school. I was more worried that they would be upset by some of my controversial ideas more than what other people thought of me.
Some weekends over the summer holidays Gisela and I would sleep over at each other’s houses. That is when I really got to know her. She lived with her mother in a small flat beside the railway line between Pully and Lutry. Her bedroom walls were covered in charcoal and pencil sketches of naked men and women entwined and juxtaposed with architecture and landscapes that looked both strange and familiar. When I commented how realistic her body drawings were she replied, ‘They should be, I used live models.’ Gisela told me that while her mother worked weekends at the Beau Rivage Hotel in Ouchy she would spend time with a group of uni students in their flat on Rue de la Borde, smoking dope, eating pizza and indulging in group sex. She would quick sketch the couplings and naked bodies when they passed out then refine them on large pieces of butchers paper or brown paper in the contentedness of her bedroom space with Billy Idol sexing her up on her stereo.
Gisela’s mother was a very physically impressive woman. On those warm summer nights when the sun refused to go down she would drift into Gisela’s bedroom in denim shorts and t-shirts that struggled to contain her womanhood. She insisted I called her Bonnie which was very different to the madame and monsieur environment that engulfed my parents academic lifestyle. She would sit on the end of Gisela’s bed with a glass of white wine dangling between her fingers like an object of desire and insist on looking at what her famous artists had been up to all day.
‘I love your nudes Gise’, she would murmur, her face sparkling like her wine glass. ‘And I love your people landscapes, Claudette. You can make bodies look really sexy even with their clothes on.’
And us three women would talk and laugh about all manner of things that I could never talk about with my parents. My parents conversations were concentrated and limited to politics, money, my lack of discipline concerning academic studies and their fucking university. They drove me crazy but I never let on. They didn’t have the insight to look at my artwork and see where I was at mentally, emotionally and sexually. But like their stupid songs they played on their Bang and Olufson when they drank too much red, ‘the times they were a’changing’, and I was too.