Friday, April 18, 2014

Switzerland and Sasha

When one of my best friends from college mentioned she’d be in Europe for work, I made an impromptu decision to meet her in Switzerland. Although I would be escaping Russia for a week, I would not be escaping the Russians—Sasha is a born and bred Muscovite, even if she hasn’t lived in Moscow since she was 10. She has recently decided I’ve become more Russian than her, and my decision to pack animal-print pants to Geneva (much less own them) has done nothing to disprove her theory.

Sasha and me (plus Megan) in 2011 for our last reunion

Since I don’t consider myself remotely Russian, I suspected I’d be more at home in the civilized world of Western Europe than in the Eastern Bloc. But it turns out I love me some lawless Russia—the Swiss are so polite that it makes me suspicious, and French sounds downright silly.  My attempts to excavate my one year of high school French have mostly ended in Russian disaster. Nyet comes to mind before non, I’ve lost the ability to count beyond trois, and my pronunciation is so appalling that it would be an improvement if I went back to saying merci with a Spanish lisp. Luckily, the Swiss are such over-educated polyglots that they don’t find a Russian-speaking American to be that disconcerting. When I thanked a waitress in Russian, she said “Пожалуйста” without a second thought.

Geneva's jet d'eau

Despite my resistance to the language, I’m quite taken with Geneva, which appears to have been lifted from an Alpine fairy tale. While Sasha has been off lawyering, I have been spending my days sipping cafés au lait, plodding ahead with my novel, and going for 7-km runs along the lakeside promenade. Every run ends with the hotel concierge greeting me with a water bottle and a towel, which is but one of the many ridiculous amenities on offer. I have also gotten addicted to ordering pillows a la carte and have sampled millet pillows, pine pillows, and orthopedic neck pillows. The pillow menu is written with such flowery language that I didn’t even realize until now that I spent my first night nestled against a glorified sack of grains. Well played, Switzerland.

I may have gotten overzealous with the pillows

Sasha’s work schedule is pretty grueling (especially compared to my own schedule), so on Wednesday evening we decided to unwind on the rooftop terrace. She threw on a bathrobe, I grabbed a bottle of Spanish wine, and we headed to the top floor. The roof was empty, and with its views of the sleeping city it was the perfect place for a long chat. But the setting seemed a little less charming when we gathered our things and discovered that we’d been locked out and there was no one within a screaming radius. Luckily, Sasha is not an anti-technology troglodyte like myself, and her smartphone may have saved my life. Obviously there’s no way I would have survived a night in the elements without a gourmet pillow. 

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