Thursday, 18 July 2013

On leaving Switzerland

So I have just finished my au pairing job in Lausanne. I am sitting in the same house, just counting down the hours until my 14:18 train to Milan.

It's been a fantastic last week.

Wednesday of last week I went to visit one of the children's aunts who is off to Mexico soon. She lived in a beautiful country house by a lake, surrounded by fields and cherry trees. The exterior was traditionally Swiss, though the interior was modern and minimalist. I was impressed, though not really surprised, given that the husband was apparently the director of the luxurious coffee company Nespresso. I made them a Victoria sponge which was devoured voluntarily by everyone. I stuck to ice cream, naturally gluten free amaretti and cherries from the garden.

Thursday evening was my idea of hell. Tired, after having only bircher muesli for dinner (delicious, but a little strange as a main meal), I went into town with the mother and children to catch some of the much talked about festival de la cité. It was pretty cool-in theory. There was a lot of street art, performers, food stalls. There were also far too many people and the food and drink prices were untouchable. As a result, I wondered from one crowd to another with the eldest girl and her friend, craving an early night, before finally getting to walk home and go to bed.

On Friday I went to Geneva, did a little bit of window shopping before parting from the mother, daughter and her friend to check out the art and history museum. They automatically thought I was under 18, and I consequentially got in free. Ironic considering tomorrow I will be 22! It was a fantastic little museum, though I only really spent time on the ground and first floors. My priorities were the Egyptian, Roman and Greek archeological exhibits, though I also saw some modern art and design rooms. I don't know the price for a full-price adult, but it is certainly worth a look. The centre of Geneva is surprisingly pretty, considering I had only previously seen the modern shopping end of town and the fountain with my parents, 11 years ago. Afterwards we met up in the centre near some canons, and had a snack at Globus before going home. Globus is a very high end Swiss department store, which has a food hall comparable to Harrods or Selfridges. Whilst most of the produce is of very high quality, I found that the main lure of this capitalist paradise is the presentation; after a while I caught on that not all that glitters is gold. Hartley's jelly, Sharwoods pre-made Indian sauces and Burton's salt and vinegar crisps were amongst the 'delights' in this little treasure trove. I did find some interesting things though, like the delicious pistachio pudding, delicious mangos, pineberries (a hybrid from a strawberry and a pineapple) and plenty of chocolates to sample, I kept finding myself back in that little area incidentally...

I spent Saturday morning at Lausanne market, not buying anything, just browsing the numerous street stalls and wishing I had more need for mangos and gluten free sundried tomato pizza. I also eyed up the rose jam available in Globus, which unfortunately was too expensive. After a nice ratatouille and rice lunch I headed out again, aiming to find a park down by the lake in Ouchy. I eventually found it, read a couple of chapters of 'the help' (which I finished the following day, by the way) and left when the sunlight got too intense. The lakeside area at Ouchy is really pretty and quite quaint. On the way back I indulged at Coop buying a large bar of organic white chocolate with almonds. Delicious. Sunday, as already mentioned, was spent reading. As soon as I finished one book I started the next. Then I had to prepare my rucksack for a couple of days in the Swiss mountains.

We left at around 10:30 the next morning, just the father, the children and I. I was slightly sad about leaving the mother at home, as we always had really nice conversations in the evening, be it in French or English. She lent me two books, both with similar themes but one a work of fiction and the other a sort of self-help book...! The fiction was a best seller called la liste des mes envies by Gregoire Délacourt, which was about a woman who won the lottery, and realized that she did not want the money as she was happy enough without it, though the possession of the money came to cause her greater losses than she could ever have imagined... It wasn't a classic, or by any means a work of great literature, but it was an easy read in French, and quite thought provoking. It reminded me the lightness I feel when I do not feel I need or want anything, and the importance of experience and love in enriching our lives. The other work was something I have just partly read rather, as it was something one can easily dip into- L'art de l'essentiel by Dominique Loreau. I will reserve discussion of this book for another blog post, though I emphasize that it was a really uplifting look at how we can be happier with the bare minimum, without clutter and too much decoration. It is something more people in the Western world should consider when feeding the tumor that is capitalism.

The mountain chalet was perched halfway up a mountain, sandwiched between a pine forest and vivid green open fields full of sweet meadow grass and alpine flowers. That afternoon I chose my room, which had a wonderful view across the valley, and quickly explored a portion of the forest with the eldest daughter. That evening we sat in the living room by an open fire, as it was surprisingly cold up there... We woke up early the next day to walk to the local village (30 minutes down the mountain) to buy fresh cheese from the fromagerie (sérac and cheese for a fondue) and bread (for everyone else, I had gluten free bread...)

After a hearty breakfast (rice crisps, chocolate), we started our walk at 11.30. I had made sandwiches for everyone, packed plenty of ripe and delicious apricots and water. The so-called walk turned out to be a full on mountain climb. The two youngest children were crying by the time we reached the top... I stayed ahead with the very fit 12 year old boy, occasionally stopping to pick wild mint and give him a botany lesson in English, though there were far too many flowers and plants that I wasn't familiar with. The ascent was tough, but the reward at the top was fantastic: we got a view across the snow tipped mountains, down towards the two crystal clear lakes and felt pretty much on top of the world. After a steep descent down to the lakes, we stopped and had lunch in one of the most beautiful picnic destinations imaginable. We then had a drink at the high-up restaurant/hostel chalet which was run by a real traveller. The final descent was also beautiful, through the pine forest, across little mountain streams, offering beautiful views of the landscape and some wonderful flora, including the Alpine rose. We got home and refueled with fresh mint tea which I prepared using the mint we had found in the mountains. We then (at 17:30) had a very early dinner:  sweet honeydew melon and rosti, a traditional Swiss potato pancake. After a final beautiful sunset in the mountains, we sat down by the fire again, listening to music and making a game out of it. The first to guess the song/artist got a point. Whilst I did very well when it came to the Beatles, Tom Waits and oldies from the 1960s, I was not so good at guessing the names of Swiss German songs...

The next morning (yesterday) we had another ridiculously early start. We drove to another local fromagerie which was surrounded by cows with the traditional bells and playful goats. We watched the entire process by which they make cheese, and then the family bought a massive quantity of fresh goats cheese. We had that for lunch with some pasta and more of those delicious ripe apricots. I spent the rest of the day reading (I just started reading the casual vacancy) and waiting to be picked up by the mother. Probably not great for the figure, but permissible considering the intense hike we had done the day before. I left with the mother, after a slightly emotional farewell to the children. I feel pretty happy with the progress the two eldest children made with English, and hope they continue. I would be happy to write to them to keep up the practice. Last night I had a last herbal tea with the mother whilst signing a declaration for tax purposes, and she gave me two beautifully wrapped presents for my birthday. I reluctantly told her I would hold off opening them until my birthday, which is tomorrow. I will send her an email to thank her later on.

We said goodbye this morning. She congratulated me in my progresses in French, said I had a very good accent and rich vocabulary. I feel a little more confident for the next semester in Grenoble. I am leaving this house in less than two hours, and despite knowing that au pairing is not for me, had a wonderful time and another really great experience. I also think I have found some friends for life in this family, and they have already said that they would love to come and visit me both in Grenoble and in Scotland. Le monde devient toujours plut petit.

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