Gratitude, belated

November 29th, 2008

In the kitchen there is turkey and gravy and cranberry sauce and wild rice and cranberry stuffing. There are potatoes and green beans and the salad I forget to serve. There is pumpkin pie with maple syrup whipped cream and biscotti and there is cherry pie made from the last batch of the Seeland cherries I froze in the summer when they rained down on us for weeks and filled the market in front of the Bundeshaus to bursting. There is wine and beer and cranberry juice and coffee and tea.

At our table we are a Dutch and a Brit and an Aussie and two Americans and two Swiss. English is the common language but there are four mother-tongues at the table and six in all. We have enough kids for a children’s table now – we were four Americans and a German and a Swiss and all childless when we started doing this and we have enough children for a kids’ table now and the five of them have nine passports and four languages between them.

So here is my gratitude: this day. That I have found these friends, that I have made this life, that we can have this Thanksgiving dinner here at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Like we do every year.

Arosa

September 23rd, 2008

It occurs to me that I didn’t post any pictures of the actual town of Arosa. I didn’t take that many. I had intended to do it Friday and Satruday, but on Friday the weather was awful and on Saturday a combination of bad weather and two sick sons sent us home early. So I do not have many pictures of the village from this trip, but here are a few.

The train from Chur to Arosa (here in front of the Litzirüti train station):

Looking down the road from in front of my hotel:

Looking up from the Obersee (my new favorite view of Arosa):

Arosa from across the valley:

Not nearly as many pictures as I wanted to take, but I know there will be many more trips to Arosa to come. It’s good knowing that.

On the first day

September 15th, 2008

Certain places speak to me. Over years, over decades, a small handful of places continue to lay claim to my heart. The list of places I want to see is as long as the atlas itself, but for all my wanderlust I find myself returning, like a salmon to its spawning grounds, to the places that speak to my heart.

I am in Arosa for the week, my favorite place – mein Lieblingsort – in Switzerland. I have been coming to Arosa since 1996 and I never tire of it. My heart has put down roots here. This place has become part of the story of my life. My husband wrote his first letter to me – a scant days after we met – sitting at a hotel bar in Arosa. I have come here as his girlfriend, his lover, his fiancé, his wife. I have come here as the mother of a son, as the mother of two. There are so many places in the world to see, but my heart calls me here. Here, where I spent my first Swiss New Year. Here, where I can walk past the restaurant where my older son tasted his first black olive. Here, where I can sit in my favorite café and in the moment before my cup of cappuccino with whipped cream reaches my lips the taste of it comes flooding back to me.

Here, where I’ve been coming since 1996 and yet today hiked to this waterfall for the first time.

 

We passed cairns at whose existence I never guessed

and ate lunch in a village I’ve passed through scores of times without stopping. I could come here the rest of my life and never reach the end of it. I hope to. Come here the rest of my life. And never be full of it.

On this day

May 8th, 2008

 

Days – an entire week of days – slip through my fingers like faerie dust. Where do the days go? I wake up, I get the boys ready for the day, I turn around and it is bedtime and we are wrestling two children through baths and toothpaste and the last story and bed. Exhausted, I go to bed not long after the small ones even though much of my work remains undone. I have done the work of raising my sons, of arching an eyebrow to remind A to say merci and bitte; of explaining to him why that tree didn’t have leaves all winter and of going into too much detail with the sap retreating into the root system and of trying again with pictures when he says “I didn’t understand;” of watching him so confidently board the bus and find a seat; of making lunch with him. This work I have done.

The work that wheels around in my head, the words, the half-formed poem, the hundred thoughts that I never seem able to think through to completion, this work remains undone and I drive home from my in-law’s farm glancing at the clock on the dashboard wondering how it got to be past dinner time already and another day gone. Then I pass through the Grauholz, clear the trees, and get that view. That view. It could be worse, failing to get words on paper in this place, with these boys, on this day. It could be worse.

 

My love affair with Grenoble, France

April 17th, 2008

 

I hold a special place in my heart for the French city of Grenoble. I’ve only been there twice, the visits almost fifteen years apart, but whenever somebody mentions it I say with longing, “I love Grenoble!”

 

I was 22 when I first visited Grenoble, traveling alone and following the Tour de France, and the city charmed me at once. Grenoble was the second stop of my French trip; the only other city I’d seen was Strassbourg. When I stepped off the train in Grenoble, a university town at the foot of the French Alps, it stole my heart . Perhaps if I’d been to Paris first – but Paris was to be last on that trip, when the Tour de France made its traditional conclusion on the Champs d’Elyssee – I would have seen Grenoble with different eyes, but I hadn’t been to Paris on that trip or ever and so it was Grenoble that became the French City for me.

 

Who knows why a place affects us the way it does – it’s more than just the architecture and art collections and broad avenues of a city, more than mountains and rivers. What we bring with us to a place, what we experience while we are there, the emotions we’re feeling the first moment we get off the train infuses our experience of a place so that we can never again view it objectively. The reasons I remain loyal to Grenoble are at heart the same reasons I am inextricably bound to the places of my childhood: they embody a feeling, a way of being, a place in time as much as a place on the map.

 

In Grenoble I felt young and adventurous and bold and excited and open to the world and the city seeped into my pores and infected me. It will always be my favorite French city because I was twenty-two, traveling France alone, and about to take a bus to the fabled L’Alpe d’Huez when I first walked out of the train station and looked around to get my bearings. And I found them. To this day Grenoble remains one of the few cities of my life I which I haven’t become hopelessly disoriented. I have been lost in Paris and Montreal and Washington DC and New York and Rome and Amsterdam and Barcelona, but I have not been lost in Grenoble. I went to a movie in Grenoble and did my laundry and ate in restaurants alone and sat in the main square and wrote in my journal. And it will always be my favorite French city because seventeen years later I still remember that I ate a quiche Lorraine in Grenoble, I bought a red and white checked journal in Grenoble, I rested in the shade outside a museum in Grenoble, I stood on a bridge and stared down at the mineral green water of the Isere River in Grenoble, I had fish and pommes frites in Grenoble. I remember all of that all these years later.

 

And I remember a twenty-two year old woman taking the trip of a lifetime, taking the chance. For that, for that moment in time, for that feeling I still capture just by invoking the name, Grenoble will always be my favorite, my only French city.