Carte postale

The postcard-perfect view from our holiday rental in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.

We stayed for a week just steps from Staubbach Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Switzerland at 297 metres. The falls attracts a steady stream of visitors daily who climb the hundreds of steps up to the lookout point on a rocky ledge behind the falls.

It is amazing to wake up each morning to this view, and to go to sleep with the backdrop of water rushing down from the glaciers.

It seems that the name ‘Lauterbrunnen’ can be interpreted to mean ‘clear spring’ or ‘many springs’ or even ‘noisy springs’. My vote goes to the latter version. Below us was a road that goes to the Jungfrau campground, with a pretty constant flow of traffic. And just across from was a lovely church spire. The bells chime every 15 minutes between six in the morning and ten at night, and every hour on the hour all night long. That means that if you’ve just fallen asleep, exhausted from a day of cycling or hiking, there is a good chance you’ll be woken when the church bells chime out twelve strokes at midnight. One, two and three a.m. seem much lower-profile but are still enough to waken the light sleeper.

Among the tall tales Swiss rental owners will tell you: “Pretty sure the church bells stop at night.” When you point out that they don’t, the reaction is: “Why would they bother you? We don’t even hear them anymore.”

I did not acclimatize to the church bells but still managed to get a good night’s kip with ear plugs and sleeping pills. Not ideal but at the moment I need all the rest I can get. And in between times they were rather pretty…

Now we’re home for another week’s stay-cation before getting back to work and gearing up for our move in a month’s time. I am beginning to panic slightly at the daunting to-do list, so news from this blog may be sporadic for the next few weeks. Please bear with me: I’ll be back soon with a revamped identity and more cross-cultural adventures.

Here’s to ‘clear springs’ to you all until then!

A bientôt…

Se sentir bien

thumb_IMG_3421_1024 This is a postcard from my morning run.

Pictures can capture the beauty of this place but not the way it smells. Close your eyes and join me on a virtual tour around our corner of Lake Geneva in the Haute Savoie.

Take a deep breath. The first thing you will notice is the lake smell. Wet, musky, a hint of freshwater fish. Lac Léman is just a few hundred metres away, and on days with a bit of humidity in the air it feels like you are breathing the lake.

There is a large farm field between our house and the lake. As we pass by it the smell of fresh-cut grass rises – heady and pleasant. Then something stronger overrides it. Manure has been spread to fertilize the land and its odour hangs heavy in the air.

The road crosses through the woods and the air changes. Suddenly it is cooler, denser. The smell of wet leaves and spices tickles your nostrils as you are surrounded by myriad shades of green. If you hear a rustle up ahead don’t be surprised. Sometimes a deer will cross – un chevreuil in French. I am always caught in amazement to see them so close but they are gone before I can get my camera out.

The road turns up towards the Château de Beauregard, stately on its perch above the lake. The trees thin out and you can see a few brown and white cows grazing in the neighbouring field as the forest smell mingles with a grassy note of dung.

We continue up the road until we reach the village centre. The bakery emits a warm, yeasty advertisement of bread just out of the oven.

Cutting across the main road, we cross behind the church and up through residential streets. There is a sudden sharp smell of onions cooking in someone’s kitchen, reminding us that it is almost lunchtime.

thumb_IMG_3432_1024A leafy green hedge with tiny white flowers gives off intense bursts of crisp musk. Then the houses give way and we are in a field of yellow. Colza, rapeseed or canola, in full flower gives off a perfume that is delicate and honeyed. We pick up speed as we pass it. The sheep next door give us a curious stare.

Now it’s back down through more houses to the main road and home. We come to the roundabout where traffic flows from Evian to Geneva. Fumes of diesel exhaust are like grey ashes in the nose, an unpleasant reminder that the city is not far off.

To feel and to smell are two different sensations but in French they are described by the same word: sentir. Every time I go for a walk or a run around my village, there are so many things that smell wonderful, or simply memorable. Most importantly, je me sens bien – I feel good.

How do you feel?

 

Paris est une fête

Paris Ferris WheelA moveable feast, as Hemingway wrote in his memoir of Paris in the 1920’s. That title, ‘Paris est une fête’ in French, has topped the best-seller lists here since the November attacks.

I returned to Paris for a few days following a long absence and found it to be just as I’d remembered, despite a great many changes. Let me share a few impressions.

Paris is a feast for all the senses. Perhaps the most alive city in the world, its every patch of sidewalk is taken up by people and pigeons, scooters and cars, street cleaners and sidewalk cafés. It is a city in perpetual motion, yet in which time somehow seems to stand still.

There is always something happening on a Paris street. Banal things, extraordinary things. Scenes that play out before your eyes as you sit and sip your drink. A backdrop of light and noise that never rests, only lulls for a moment.

Amid the relentless flow of traffic, it is a surprising oasis of peace and tranquility in the intense green of a city square. It’s that pâtisserie shop window with its perfect array of bijoux sweets, just next to the fromagerie that wafts raw-milk cheese to your nostrils. And the urinal smell that pervades every dark corner.

Paris is the fresh mound of dog shit that you are about to step in. It is the homeless man sitting by the curb who smiles when you give him a coin. It is a couple in a passionate embrace by the steps down to the Métro.

It is, encore et toujours, a city of tourists. Where the French seem to be making more of an effort to speak their language.

Paris is protests. The ‘Nuit Debout’ events going on at Place de la République right now are the latest in the series of demonstrations that sprout in the spring. Or perhaps the start of a new world order. In Paris, anything is possible.

Paris is sirens. The ‘pin-pon’ of police cars, CRS and emergency vehicles has always been part of its soundscape. Perhaps with a slightly more worrisome edge of late.

It is a city of strong smells and postcard moments, beauty and the beast. Anger and love. What you experience of Paris may not always be pleasant but it will be memorable.

Paris is a moment in time that stays with you forever.

Quel est ton souvenir de Paris?