A few facts about Switzerland I bet you didn't know: They have bomb shelter capacity for all 7.5 million Swiss citizens, secret hideaways all over the countryside where people can go in case of nuclear attack. Switzerland has four national languages, German, French, Italian and Romantsch, and dozens of local dialects, owing to the alps, which kept people from traveling outside their little isolated valleys for centuries. Swiss foxes now carry some sort of horrible, mad-cow-like disease which destroys your insides and doesn't manifest for up to 10 years (we were warned from eating any low-hanging fruit the foxes may have shat upon). And the Swiss didn't give women the vote until 1971. Yes, that's a 71 at the end, not a 17.
I'm writing this on the plane home — sitting next to a woman with a 3-month-old infant in her lap, so I suspect it will be a very long flight indeed — feeling a bit blue to be trading the beautiful château with its lush gardens and spectacular views of the alps for my tiny, half-renovated, unlandscaped (and unlikely to be landscaped any time soon) house in Tivoli... Yesterday and today were heartbreakers, naturally — glorious, sunny, 80 degrees, the air so clear we could see Mont Blanc (highest peak in Europe) in the distance.
I think we all felt a bit triste to be leaving today. We could not possibly have wished for a more congenial group. There was Claude, the celebrated French novelist, elegant as only a Frenchwoman can be, but so kind and warm we all got teary-eyed saying goodbye to her; Maggie, who not only has a gift for writing beautiful fiction but for making everyone around her feel special; Nick, her husband, English gentleman extraordinaire, bringer of pillows, lifter of heavy objects, cheerful doer of many dishes, walking encyclopedia of information both useful and arcane, occasionally long-winded lecturer on matters historical, and court jester whose jokes kept us all in stitches; Grazyna, who was a late but essential arrival, and whose fiction (which none of us were able to read, alas, as it hasn't yet been translated into English or French) is very popular in Poland; and finally, Khaled, our resident Egyptian and philosopher, who (it must be said) did almost no dishes whatsoever but charmed and fascinated us with his tales of Cairo.
The farmers must have finished their fertilizing because the week was blessedly merde-free. Last Sunday we gave a reading which was attended by about 30 locals, including many members of the Geneva-area writing community. I read from Mudbound, and the Mississippi accent seemed to go over well (though it's quite possible none of them understood a word of it and were just being kind). Worked all week, then celebrated the seven hundredth and some-odd Swiss Independence Day on Friday. We all decided God must be Swiss, because after a dreary day of pouring rain, the heavens cleared miraculously just in time for the fireworks. We climbed to the top of a nearby hill and watched them go off all around the lake. Lausanne's were the most spectacular, but even the smaller villages nearer to us had their proud displays, each trying to outdo the other. Then on Saturday I went with Khaled to Lake Geneva, and we spent the day toodling around by boat. We had lunch in a charming medieval village called Yvoire, on the French side of the lake, and basked in the beautiful weather and views. It was the first day I didn't work and a welcome respite from Red.
All in all, a splendid residency, the best of them all so far. If only they didn't make you wait ten years to reapply..