Am sat in an incredibly cute café in Geneva, bursting with the colors of childhood, India, and what I’ve come to associate with kitsch East London decor, whilst I await my train to Paris, en route to Le Puy, where I’ll arrive just in time for dinner tonight. The past week has been filled with so many things extraordinary and magical, if a tiny bit dampened by the reactions of certain 7- and 10-year olds who “see that every day!”
On that note, I shall start with Girl Kid and Boy Kid, since they have been by far the most intriguing…and it’s little surprise, what with the circumstances into which they were born. Suffice it to say that there is ample academia, art, and austerity in their lives by nature of their parental units – enough so that one would be impressed after a mere afternoon spent in their company. But that’s not all, of course. In spite of, because of, or regardless of their origins, they are chock full of that loveliness that defines the things grownups long for when childhood becomes a far-away memory. They make up shared adventures of time travel, imaginary friends and major battles of good over evil, they marvel at new feats, they overcome their inhibitions and prove themselves right and wrong every day. Both are profoundly wise beyond their years, and this overwhelms them at times, but it only strikes me as indicative of the great beyond that is their limitless potential…
Every major town I’ve ever visited or lived in has been as filled with personality as any individual human friend or foe I’ve come to know intimately. And, as with friends, while a longer time spent in a given city might make it easier to navigate its streets (or habits, or ticks, or quirks), it certainly doesn’t make the nature of the city any simpler to articulate. If anything, the complexities of its history, conflict, industry, language and language barriers slip ever more readily out the grasp of my intellect, leaving me more intrigued and confused, if also more empathetic to the struggles and joys of its inhabitants.
In that vein, my rendezvous with Zürich could be likened to an evening spent chatting with a new acquaintance at a bustling house party, owing to the many distractions of looking after and reacquainting myself with Girl Kid and Boy Kid. Still, I can quite confidently make a few assertions about the character of this city: It is flipping expensive. It is lovely to behold. And it is filled with wonderful, helpful, smiling faces from all over the planet. I don’t know what it is, but folks here have their nice buttons switched to ON!
Shamefully, I have to admit that my most significant exposure to that kindness took place whilst struggling in vain to find the stinking science museum outside town I had finally convinced both kids to willingly and enthusiastically visit. After an hour and a half of stressful searching, I had stopped to ask directions (count ’em) 1-2-3-4-FIVE sodding times…we ended up somewhere near the airport where three old men with white beards and suspenders (seriously) who spoke about 6 words of French and strictly Swiss German otherwise endeavored to direct me back to the autobahn. They were just bringing lounge chairs outside to enjoy the last bits of the day’s sunshine when I rolled up, probably looking a little worse for the wear, in spite of my greatest efforts to impart a sense of cool-calm-collected to the kids (who were on their most incredibly awesome behavior…particularly considering that this wasn’t the first time I’d gotten them lost). As I repeated back what I had understood of the directions to them, probably a tad too fast for their level of French, they finally decided that one of them would just guide me onto the autobahn caravan-style. Without rustling a feather. This was just no problem at all for them. The others smiled and waved as we left, my jaw agape with the humiliation of desperately needing this service, and with the relief at having it provided so nonchalantly.
But it was like this everywhere! Along the streets, anyone who made eye contact with me – or with the kids – readily offered or returned a smile. People jumped to help with queries or concerns, and, as the kids’ father mentioned, those who could speak English seemed to love practicing, which was quite the bonus…better still, no one gave me that familiar sneer when I asked if they spoke English.
There’s this part of Eat, Love, Pray (no making fun!) where the author talks about how her Italian language partner thinks each city can be defined in a word. I’m not sure if that’s true after months or years of living there, but after this week, if I was forced to describe Zürich in a word, it would be “kind.”