The theme is spring

Good morning! This Monday doesn’t feel so difficult, since the past weekend was spring-like and sunny. I left my heavy coat at home, biked into the city and took a walk around the “Lakes” in Copenhagen with hundreds of other happy people: couples holding hands, baby-stroller gangs, groups of joggers weaving in between the slower walkers, people lying on the grass tanning (please note that it was only 46 degrees outside… crazy, sun-starved Danes…)

Not long now...

Spring in Alsace, 2015

A neighbor from home mailed me the sweetest note last week. She’s someone who has watched me and my sisters grow up on Annry Drive. The middle school bus stop was at the corner of her front yard. On any given day, she’s taking a brisk walk through the neighborhood, with her silky-haired golden retriever and dainty Afghan hound, who know where we live, and stop mid-walk at our driveway to see if we’re outside, ready to play. She has been like our “cool aunt” and I’ve always had a sense that I can tell her about anything that scares or worries me. Her delicate southern drawl, the herbs in the wooden planter on her back porch, and the crisp American flag gracing the front porch–these things say “home” to me.

Who's who??

“Baby sisters”, grown up.

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After school

On bare skinny legs

On the hottest days of late spring

We would bound off the roaring schoolbus, (spitting out hot, noxious clouds of fumes that mingled with the last of the dogwood and freshly mowed lawns)

We would skip straight into your backyard, stand at your back door, with a question in our eyes–and smiling, you always indulged us!

Our favorite playmates, leaping from the cool shades of the house, greeted us as if they had been waiting all day:

Warm animal-licks on our faces and knees,

followed by frantic chases after neon-green tennis balls…

Collapsing onto scratchy grass in heaps, sweet-smelling, sweaty tangles of fur in which we buried our noses, laughing and breathless

Under a white-blue sky, which gave way to folds of deep blue velvet where lightning bugs played tag, we did too,

Until the predictable, six-o-clock dinner-call rang out from another front door

a grill somewhere–sweet corn, and chicken?

and the promise of a weekend ahead.

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That smell from the grill…

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Rhodanie

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.

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Telling secrets over saffron risotto…

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Rivella cover girl, Jackie Sirc, circa 2015