At the bus stop on Avenue de Figuiers, two years ago, I felt independent and lonely and desperate for company. I reverted to a mode of friend-making taught to five-year olds, which over time becomes a lame last resort for adults, who are supposed to meet over cocktails, at work socials, somewhere posh and cool:
“Hi, what’s your name?”
I arrived in Lausanne on February 11, 2015, and moved into one of two twin buildings, bright yellow, boxy, and halfway-inviting. I lived on the second floor, which for Americans is the third because the ground floor is NOT the first floor. (This is remarkably logical, the more I think about it.)
Classes were already a chaos of transfer credits and my ideal schedule had failed twice, and poor Olivier, who was in charge of all étudiants mobilité at UNIL, had probably added my email to the spam list. I ate endives and and tuna and walnuts and Gruyère for the first week because that’s what Swiss people eat (?) and my mouth was getting kind of dry from not talking to anyone except for my parents and my boyfriend on the phone.
So, I decided, inorganically, that I have to make a friend, and a logical place to start was at the bus stop. The unoriginal “Hi what’s your name, do you live in Maison Rhodanie (fancy name for yellow boxes) too?!” totally worked.
From there on out, Jackie became my Swiss lifeline. She always carried a beautiful bright red tote that was SO HEAVY (what was in that tote, Jackie??) and she had a lovely, girlish laugh, and she was so smart. Jackie lived in the yellow box across from mine, and I wracked my brain for ideas on How to Keep a Friend, and resorted to cooking: Jackie and Jo (a Danish girl, working on her master’s degree) willingly ate crêpes with brie and arugula one week, saffron risotto the next, ratatouille the following, always with wine.
Jackie had a “wine mug” and I’m sure she still does. I insisted on a stemmed wine glass and I still do. I can’t get over the taste of wine from a regular flat glass, or a mug, or from a Solo cup (or straight from the bottle), but Jackie’s huge wine mug was a staple. It was practical and opaque but it contained a party (in the form of French wine), which is kind of how Jackie is.
We went to pay our respects to Audrey Hepburn in Tolochenaz, we went to the Saturday markets in the city and to the fancy grocery store at Manor (but mostly we shopped at the Lidl) , we began walking along Lac Léman to school when the air got mild again, and we quickly drew out the parallels that people find easily when they decide to become friends.
We became real friends the time I cried from laughter as Jackie lay on her back in Verbier, “skiing” for the first time. We sat together like schoolgirls on the train to the Cailler chocolate factory, on the trip that ended in a sugar coma. We felt we would keep in touch even after going home when we climbed out of the first floor (remember, not the ground floor) kitchen window with our hallmates, onto the low roof that connected our two yellow boxes, chilly, tipsy and looking out at the dark lake.
She’s the friend who understands my ambitions and fears instinctively, and I don’t have to ask “Do you know what I mean?” because she has the same back-of-the-mind thoughts. We read between each other’s lines, and they are the same:
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” -Toni Morrison, Beloved
The last time she called me, a couple of weeks ago, she told me that she occasionally makes stuffed eggplant, or risotto for her flatmates. This past week I made stuffed eggplant twice, just like in Lausanne, trying to evoke the best spring in my memory.