I woke up this morning, and Rivaz still insists on sparkling under dark and foreboding clouds.  But nothing could keep us from our plans to visit Lausanne, one of the most famously beautiful cities in western Switzerland.  And sure, the beauty is important.  But what was our first stop in this Swiss city?  Why, a chocolate shop, of course!  Durig Chocolatier, to be precise.

My obsession with chocolate has known no limits, and this past November, I even paid the $50 admission charge to attend New York City’s Annual Chocolate Show in one of the enormous pavilions on the Hudson.  (Trembling from all the caffeinated truffle samples, I made the incalculable mistake of grabbing a sushi dinner with a stomach full of chocolate!)  But I had it on good authority that Durig was Switzerland’s most amazing chocolate shop, so I took hearty advantage of this opportunity to sample, savor, and devour.  The kind chocolatier, whom I affectionately called Willie Wonka, even allowed us to have a glimpse into the world of his chocolate-making factory, demonstrating how the truffles are made and packaged.  Had I not been married already, I might have proposed…

We walked through the wind and rain, hiking our way toward the stunning cathedral on the hill.  By now, I’ve seen so many cathedrals that it can be difficult to arouse much awe.  But what this particular church has going for it, in my opinion, is the incredible view that worshippers can enjoy on their way in and out of the church.  It is as though there is a continuation of the presence of holiness, from the internal space to the external creation.  It says a lot about a city when it can be perfectly cold and wet outside, and yet, the city still resonates with one’s idea of what constitutes beauty.  While I may not have seen the city sparkling under the sun, I certainly agree that Lausanne deserves its reputation.  It is one of those places that I’d be intrigued to visit again.  And again.

I have now split off from our larger group, and I am traveling with two friends– an engaged couple who I adore.  The only thing that is proving difficult is that, after almost three weeks of travel, I am really missing my husband, and their love is making me lovesick.  But I suppose that it is actually a blessing, to love and be loved… and to miss it.

Fortunately, we have landed ourselves along the Swiss Riviera, which is, without doubt, the most breathtakingly spectacular place I have ever been.  Behold:

Yes, THIS is the view out the window of the home I am staying in for the next few days in the little village of Rivaz, a village rich with vineyards and water sports.  I’ve been to the French Riviera, and I’ve gotta say that, as of now, it is way overrated in the realm of Riviera-ness.

The Swiss Alps are graced by the gentle embrace of clouds, and the sparkling Lake Geneva reflects the purity of the sky with perfection.  It’s the kind of water that I imagine even I could walk on.

Knowing that a place like this exists makes me re-evaluate the reasons I choose to live in the places I do.  There are people who live and move and have their being in places like this.  And, once I’ve seen it, I can hardly imagine living in a place that doesn’t have this sort of beauty inspiring my daily life.

And yet, I can’t escape my knowledge that Switzerland has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.  How can this be?  How can people be surrounded by this kind of glory and lose hope in life?

Perhaps I’m too quick to judge.  I still have a few days in this country before heading back to the States.  I have a feeling that a place like this has much to teach me, not only about the beauty of this earth, but also about the humans who indwell it.

I’ll keep you posted…

 

Geneva consistently rates as one of the best cities to live in the world, but it tends to fare a bit worse on travel destination lists.  After spending a few days here, I would have to agree with those who say it’s a great place to breeze through, but there is no need to stay very long.  Sure, it’s clean and has some natural beauty with its city centre lake and the mountains surrounding it.  But, on the whole, most of the places I’ve been– other than Calvin’s church– have been rather disappointing.

I took a tram over to the UN headquarters and waited for a tour after going through a rather rigorous security check.  The tour began, and a snooty English-speaking man led us from room to room, walking briskly and getting upset with people translating for the other persons in their group.  “You signed up for the English language tour,” he said, “so, you’ll just have to listen as best you can as translate after the tour.”  I couldn’t help but find the irony in being shown around this building by a man who seemingly had disdain for the sort of inter-cultural dialogue that the UN was designed to foster.

Ultimately, the visit amounted to little more than a stroll through a large office building, so I decided to skip the opportunity to visit other such offices.  Lord knows I’ve seen enough of them in the States.

Geneva is also very proud of its “fountain,” the Jet d’Eau, which is a large stream of water that shoots 140m into the air from the middle of the lake.  And, sure, it made for some interesting photos, but that’s about it– it’s just a large spout!

What I think will really remain in my mind as quality experiences in Geneva all have to do with food, and as I continue my mission of eating my way around the world, perhaps Geneva has been a worthwhile stop after all.  I’m sure it might be a different story had I been the one footing the bill for these meals, but dinners of fondue and raclette and crepes and dessert– not to mention the hilariously fun dinner at Hotel Edelweiss– have been experiences I will surely not forget any time soon…

Switzerland!  Whatta place!  I can feel the neutrality seeping into my bones, and the clock-shops and Swiss banks serve as an ever-present reminder that this is a place protective of its time and money.  No wonder they stay out of the warpath.

Rick Steves says that Geneva is worth skipping on a trip through Switzerland, and I’m trying to figure out why.  Rick probably doesn’t have the interest in Reformation history that a group like ours does, but he does tend to have his finger on the pulse of what makes a European excursion worthwhile.  Still, it’s 2009, and this year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (Jean, as he would have preferred).  We celebrated with a trip to his church in the center of the old town.

It was eerie, walking around a place that was so central not only to history, but also to an entire way of thinking and of believing that has trickled down through the centuries and landed itself in my own mind and heart.  I’m no expert, but I would guess that Calvin is an incredibly misunderstood figure in history.  What passes for “Calvinism” might not actually be reflective of his own theology.  My favorite story we learned about him was that this very church used to have an exquisite pipe organ, but during Calvin’s time, as people were fleeing persecution because of the violence brought about by the Reformation and were flocking to Geneva, Pastor John Calvin made the decision to melt down the pipes of the organ in order to use the metal for bowls and utensils so that the people might be suitably fed.  This certainly presents a different picture of the man so often associated with systems of severe doctrines.

When I think of the connection that Switzerland has had with so many influential thinkers in the Christian tradition– Calvin, Brother Roger, Karl Barth– I can’t help but wonder if there is something in the alpine air here that inspires people to think beyond themselves.

Whatever it is, I hope I get a whiff of it…

Phase three of this journey has officially begun!  We have left Taizé and have arrived in Geneva, a group of seven Americans together on an adventure.  It will be interesting to see how this group travel dynamic works out.  But, for now, it is safe to say that we are happy to be together and happy to be leaving the camp-like accommodations.

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Our first group adventure involved our bus ride from Taizé to the train station in Macon.  The bus was jam-packed, and everyone seemed to be willing to stomp on anyone else in order to catch this bus.  Gone was the goodwill fostered from our spiritual pilgrimage– not when there are public transportation schedules to adhere to!  Just as we were getting settled in our seats, a scuffle broke out near the front of the bus:

Australian man: Oh GREAT!  That’s just GREAT!  Take up an ENTIRE SEAT with your bag when there are NO SEATS LEFT on this bus!  SUCH IGNORANCE!

French man at whom he was yelling:  ?

A:  THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!  MOVE YOUR BAG!

F: ? (looks out the window)

A: Dis-GUSTING!  And you call yourself a Christian…

Needless to say, the bus driver was having a bad morning.  But nothing could compare to the visible resignation that emanated from her seat when we finally arrived at the Macon train station…

And a car was blocking her entrance.

She honked and honked, but to no avail.  So, she put her head on her steering wheel and sighed.  Then, she opened the door and said, in that beautiful French language:  “You will have to get off here, I’m afraid.”

Well!  We Americans had seen enough!  We couldn’t leave this poor woman to her terrible day without giving at least one shot at making it better.  So, we did what any crazy group of Americans in our situation would do:

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We recruited French boy scouts from the bus.  And we moved the car.

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Though, not ALL of us were willing to undertake the risk.

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But, alas!  Victory!  Victory, at last!

Needless to say, I think the bus driver had her day a little brightened…