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.
Rob in Lausanne - now with Google Website Translator Gadget
David Rimmer with some of the cast of ISL's performance of his play New York
L'écrivain, le Poète et la Serveuse
Somewhere above the heavy laden sky there is the colour of boundless blue, crisscrossed with the jet stream from those earth bound angels as they race carefree and cloudless for first landing rights. I know the blue is there, because it always is, but my friend looks less convinced, but nonetheless, unworried.
It’s his last day in the land of chocolate and cheese before heading back to the ‘big apple’. David has little desire for either the chocolate or cheese but I have planned a day that can include both.
We make it into Rolle with overcast ease where we visit the supposedly second best chocolatier in Switzerland, Moret Christophe, (who, it is spoken in hushed whispers, was trained by no other than the legendary creator of the divine, Tristan Carbonatto, Chocolatier Supremo of Bougy-Villars) and buy chocolate of the darkest delight for Ellen, who my new friend David claims is the best wife in New York.
After strolling the streets and lakeside of Rolle I insist David indulge in a visit to Boccards Patisserie for a hot drink and something sweet to wash it down with. Sitting in the window seat sipping a macchiato and overlooking where the lake, French Alps and radiant sunshine should have been satiating us I tell him the story of the days of last Autumn that I’d spent sitting at this very table trying to understand the undiagnosed symptoms of culture shock I had been experiencing by working on my manuscript, ‘The Frozen Immigrant’. Laureline, the waitress who serves us, when introduced to the New Yorker, says that her Swiss parents had always wanted to move to New York. In anticipation of the move they had given Laureline the the middle name of Allison so that they could reverse the two Christian names when they relocated to New York. But alas this dream has not been fulfilled as yet.
After a quick drive by of the famous le Rosey School where Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr from the New York based indie rock band ‘The Strokes’ met I headed back down to the Lake Geneva and turned right, to undertake an anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the lake which would take in a pleasant and leisurely lunch in an equally serendipitous restaurant somewhere in nearby France.
(Le Rosey School. The most expensive school in Europe to attend.)
Now maybe if I hadn’t tangled with the laws of sacred geometry, nature and man may have been more forgiving. Naturally it is easier for every one in Switzerland to travel in a ‘clockwise’ direction. Although clocks were invented in Egypt the Swiss did enhance them by adding the cuckoo to the quarter hour. And yes, Canada does lay claim to the wristwatch but it was a Swiss inventor John Harwood who came up with the first self-winding watch in 1923. Add to that, the fact that it was Swiss watch maker Piaget who provided us with the world’s most expensive watch in 2010 at a paltry USD $3.3 million and the saying ‘As reliable as a Swiss watch’, and it becomes clear that an insignificant foreigner like myself should show more than a little ‘clockwisdom’ when making a decision to contradict the geometry of the clock. Did I mention that ‘Swiss trains run like clockwork’?
And not forgetting that memorable line from Orson Welles in The Third Man (which was actually made in Switzerland in 1949) playing the part of Harry Lime:
‘Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.’
Now what that has to do with which way to drive around the lake and cold, gloomy skies I have no idea. My only logic for my decision to travel in an anti-clockwise direction was that if every one traveled around the lake in a clockwise direction, the road would wear out. In other words, my right brain thinking was trying in some small way to counter-balance and compensate for the strong trend of left-brain Swiss thinking that prevails here.
By the time we reach the outskirts of Geneva, my reasoning to travel in in an anti-clockwise is clearly proven to be unfounded. Near the turnoff to the UN the traffic is definitely not moving in a forward direction. Not to be outdone I further reason that if I turn off at the UN, go a couple of blocks north then head west for five or six blocks I can then drive back towards the lake road and be on the other side of the situation.
Wrong. It doesn’t matter which arterial road we attempt to feed down, nothing is moving. The whole world is stopped and we are in the middle of it. Somehow we (I) manage to cross the Rhone River two or three times and still we are jammed. All we end up with after two hours of going not too far is an overwhelming urge to pee and by chance and at that point of desperation where an empty water bottle is beginning to look like something very useful, we stumble into a service station.
I apologize to my friend for the traffic jam and the distance we still remain from finding that awesome French lunch experience. Not recognizing the jeopardy I had personally created by breaking the law of clockwise geometry he reassures me that it is not my fault. And also laughingly pushes the whole Geneva traffic experience away as mild politically incorrect joke on the New York scale of what is a slow drive in the big end of town, or even on an edge for that matter.
With the tank filled and our personal situations emptied I aim the Alfa for the motorway. It is almost certainly the long road around but at least we can drive at speed in top gear and at at best hit French soil before lunch is off the menu. And that we do. We pull into a patisserie just as a young woman is putting out the closed for lunch sign. David impressively uses every word of French he can remember from high school in the one sentence to ask directions to the best local Provencale style restaurant and she equally as impressively understands what he is talking about and recommends Le Denieu Restaurant at Bonnatrait.
And the good thing Le Denieu is still open. A grand old two story, aged timber boathouse structure, covered in a variety of flashing lights and Christmas decorations. Outside it is still bleak and freezing. Once inside we immediately feel like twin pieces of freshly browned toast. The house hostess and waitress greets us in words now familiar and I answer with two fingers which she thankfully interprets as a table for two.
From the moment we walk in the personality and the charm of Le Denieu takes over to eliminate any remnant of the tragic Geneva traffic. The sun also assists by sending soothing rays through the quarter glass windows directly onto our table. Our waitress can speak English. Not very good English she insists, but it still manages to be more fluent than our combined efforts to ‘parler francais’ with her.
My New York friend shows his initiative by ordering from the French menu. I stay with the safe guarantee of the English translation. We wait in anticipation of something very Savoie that will satisfy our almost now rampant hunger. The freshly baked crusty bread that is delivered is an indicator of what lay ahead.
David is as clearly impressed with his grilled Leman salmon filet with green salad and Savoie potatoes as I am with the filet de perche, chunky chips, legumes and lettuce. The sauces that coat the creations tantalize and linger in a sensual way. And as we eat and talk beneath a facade of unpainted timber planks and ancient implements suspended from walls and ceilings we become a part of the whole experience and very much feel like the other people sitting around us look, content and at home with where we are in the world right at this very moment.
Having quenched our French foodie ache we seek out our fine host and waitress. While she puts our account together I attempt at small talk (and with my grasp of French ‘small’ is an apt description). It goes something like this.
‘Mon nom est Rob. Je suis un Australien. C'est mon ami David. Il est originaire de New York.’
‘Bienvenue. Mon nom est Madeleine. Je suis de la France. Du Breton.’
‘oui ... oui, je comprends.’ I continue my fumbling way with, ‘David est un écrivain. Je suis un poète.’
‘Ooh monsieur ... votre français est très bon.’
The compliment is given in such a beautiful and courteous French style that I know that she is lying.
The only downside to the whole Le Denieu experience is when David pays for lunch with his Visacard and we realise that we have no euros to tip Madeleine, who has been so patient and gracious to both of us since we hungrily found our way through the swinging doors an hour or so earlier. But we do leave promising to return to this fine establishment when we are next passing through Bonnatrait together. And that is certainly the truth.
(This website contains photos of Le Denieu Restaurant. That is if you are able to work out how to find them. I did, but there is no way I can explain how I managed to do that to you. Good luck and bon appetit.