My Year of Misconception.

Elms lined the historied brown-stoned promenade with an air of sophisticated Parisian urbanism. While well-heeled pedestrians paraded their acquisitions from the elegant shops and specialty markets of Back Bay, there was a hint of Fall wafting in the breeze.

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It was the days when all of my possessions could fit in the back of my Honda Accord. Long flowing skirts with tank tops, a pair of well-worn lace up boots and a pair of Fryes accompanied me to Boston, the city of the Irish, Red Sox, collegiate and post-grads. It was there I would attach myself to a seat at a local bar and hang on the every glance, word of my yet to be boyfriend. Being the ‘In’ place at the time, just getting past the front door was in itself a feat. But I had two things going for me, I was young and I was a master of flirting. Deep within the sea of pink and green clad White Anglo-Saxon Protestants stood this sable haired bohemian wild child marred by being the first generation of children of divorced parents. Within short order, the blond haired U Penn grad became my boyfriend and there I would sit, night after night laying ownership to my knight in tarnished armor.

One night, my fellow barflies included two woman speaking French. With a year of study in 2nd grade and a subsequent two years of French ll, I began to converse with the pair. I asked them if they were from Paris and one of the women queried as to why I had asked. Brazenly I stated the Parisians were a snooty bunch. One of the women took a moment of restrained indignation, then, replied, “Yes, that’s true.” Now having yet to go to Paris, I had made this pronouncement without ever having even stepped foot in France. But from that moment on, the Swiss girl, the Parisian and the New Englander became inseparable.

Being the sole American, our crowd was a blend of Spaniards, French and Swiss. Meals were on Euro time and often culminated with dinner at ‘Division 16’, our home away from our home away. Conversations may have begun in Spanish, which slid into French and concluded in English. Armed with my limited French studies and having had a pen pal I met in Morocco at age 11 and a summer spent living in Mexico (my father reneged on the summer in France), I was able to keep up. Especially when they would speak about me in French, as the Parisians were known to do.

Our friendship flourished. But as happens, within time we began to scatter. I moved to the West Coast, the girls to NYC. We saw each other infrequently and at one point even lost touch. Much later I found out my Swiss friend had even spent a year in LA before running away to the more-sane playground of San Francisco. Eventually the Parisian moved out west too and though I can’t tell you how, we reunited.

Fast forward. Last Spring, after years of threatening to ingratiate myself on the hospitality of my Swiss friend, I took a five country European adventure ending in Geneva. By then, my Swiss friend was back in Switzerland full time and offered for me to stay with her during my Swiss stint. Neither rich enough nor foolish enough to decline, I happily accepted the gracious invitation. Arriving via Vienna, my friend picked me up at the Geneva airport and we picked up as if we had never lost contact.

An hours drive to Échenevex, a small town on the French Swiss border, we arrived at the childhood home my friend had inherited. During our time apart, my friend had created two of the most well behaved and charming children, a boy, 8 and a 10 year old girl, each of whom had learned to make a killer cappuccino, courtesy of their mother. What more could an espresso addict ask for? And yes those Europeans do love their caffeine as much as we do.

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From the living and dining areas, on a clear day, past the acres of verdant pastures, one could see the top of Monte Blanc, the highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. We spent the weekend contentedly eating, meandering around the property, visiting the horses, playing with the kids, dog and watching my friend’s daughter compete in horse shows. It was there I learned about Nutella crepes, fastidiously prepared by said 10 year old, my new and thankfully fleeting obsession.

By Sunday evening we headed into Geneva’s Old Town to get the kids to school the following day. Ecstatic, I near immediately discovered another Nespresso machine I had learned to master over the weekend. Not exactly rocket science, as you shove in a pod, add water and throw milk in the frother. Yet a luxury I certainly didn’t have at home. Boy these Europeans certainly know how to live!

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Our evenings were filled with the international din of dinner parties at the homes of my hostess’ friends, while my days consisted of meandering around the city, camera at the ready. I had the best ice cream ever walking the promenade of Lake Geneva, even for a lactose intolerant like me. Milk, yogurt, ice cream, all easily tolerated and must have to do with the fact that their cows are skinny. In fact they look downright anorexic to an American like me, used to seeing cows so plump that if Michelle Obama had her drothers they too would be on a diet.

One evening we were invited to the home of a couple, whom for now will remain nameless. As we drove in the husband came to meet us and immediately I introduced myself with, “Je suis Nancy”. He did not return the introduction. As we entered the apartment, the husband turned to the rest of the group and in French said, “This is Nancy, her French isn’t very good.” Now wait a minute, all I did was introduce myself you pompous Swiss! Keep in mind, that at their earliest of schooling, the Swiss are taught English yet during the majority of that night French was spoken and mine was at best rusty Only the wife would turn to me from time to time and explain what was being discussed. Unlike the other parties we had been to, I left that dinner thinking, my God, the Swiss are worse than the French! And for the entire year since, any chance I had I would express that to friends.

Fast forward again and I receive an email from my friend telling me that a family from Geneva would be visiting in Los Angeles and could I help them with some itinerary suggestions. Happy to do so, I began an email correspondence with Claude and Catherine. They seemed lovely and I forwarded the best of what to do with kids of varying ages to keep them all engaged. Once here, Catherine and Claude invited me to dinner.

I met them and their brood, along with an adult cousin at an innocuous Japanese restaurant. Claude came in first. We chatted for a moment and I told him my story of the mean Swiss guy who made fun of my French and he respectfully tisk, tisked such inhospitable behavior. The rest of the family arrived. I sat across from Claude and next to Catherine. We then embarked on a surprising gastronomic adventure curated by the cousin, who knew exactly what dishes to order. There was a great deal laughter and conversation. I was having a lovely evening and was so thrilled when Catherine insisted I come back to Geneva the next summer to visit them.

Toward the end of the evening Catherine asked to see some pictures from my trip to Geneva. I pulled out my iphone and showed her a photo of my friend and myself at the dreadful dinner party. All of a sudden Catherine let out a discernible howl. “That’s our living room!” “What?” I replied, “How is it that none of us recognized the other?” We burst into uncontrollable merriment and then a beat later I said, “Wait, if you’re the couple we had dinner with that makes Claude the evil Swiss”. More hysterical roars, “No, Claude is French”. “You mean this entire time I’ve been badmouthing the Swiss?” I choked out. “When it really is the French”, just like I always stereotyped.

Dream, Travel, Explore

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