Mau and I spent Christmas with family friends who live in a town called Chens-Sur-Leman, on the French side of the Geneva area. Our trip there wasn’t as easy as one would expect from the high-speed TGV trains. The heavy snow leading up to Christmas caused a lot of delays with the trains. I think the combination of the normal Christmas hustle and bustle with the extra travelers who opted to visit families by train instead of drive in the snow made for a very hectic trip to the Haute-Savoie region. After barely getting tickets, Mau and I left out of Charles de Gaulle Airport on a delayed train. With only half-an-hour layover in Lyon, we knew we weren’t going to make the connection. Lots of people missed our train in Lyon so we tagged along behind the angry SNCF customers who were all fighting to get customer service to help them find a connection. We were able to get on another train and arrived to the Bons-en-Chablais station where Molly’s poor husband had been waiting for us for over an hour.
Our time with the Morizon family was fantastic. Molly and Alain made us feel right at home. It was nice to be in a tranquil town after the craziness of Rabat and Paris. The first day Mau and I went shopping with Molly. We had some more vin chaud from the members of the community who were giving it away out by one of the shopping centers we visited. There was also a Santa there giving away special French Christmas chocolates. We ended going to two different markets that day and in front of one of them they had alpacas on display. It was definitely bizarre to see them in France like that. I was way too intimidated by Molly’s cooking to offer any help in the kitchen. So, I did my best to help set and clear the table and wash dishes. A lot of our time was spent at the kitchen table, talking with Molly as she cooked. One night the three of us watched a movie (Atonement) together and I explained to eager Molly what a handheld camera is and why the camerawork in Atonement was so incredible. Our dinners and lunches were also spent chatting about different topics. Alain insists upon keeping this French custom of talking at the table well after the meal has finished.
One our third day (December 24th), Mau and I went to Geneva. The Red Cross museum, which was our main destination, was closed for Christmas. With the pressure off to do something “cultural” we were content to wander around the city and stop into places when we felt the desire. Our first stop was Starbucks. It was a nice treat after being away from it for a few months. We ordered in English from a cute Asian guy, who spoke back to us with hardly any accent. I chatted with a British couple that had ordered ahead of us. They had paid in the style of “here, I’ll show you the money in my hands and you take from them according to the price” and I commented that we were just there for the day and that I had no idea what the Swiss Franks were either. They thought I was Canadian, which I took as a huge compliment. Usually they would assume American based on my accent, but something about my personality must have triggered them to think that I was Canadian. Although, thinking back on it now, they should have know from all the layers I was wearing that I was definitely not from anywhere cold.
I was really impressed with the racial diversity of the people I saw in Geneva. In the always-packed-with-people-H&M, there was a Cuban family shopping for coats and a sub-Saharan African father and daughter also shopping (in addition to a bunch of Asian and white families). It’s obvious that a small city housing so many international organizations would be very diverse, but I hadn’t really thought about it until I actually spent time in Geneva. After stocking up on a few things at H&M, we continued to explore the city. We watched the ducks and the swans in the lake and took lots of pictures. Just before nightfall, we ended up at the St. Pierre Cathedral. Inside, there were carolers rehearsing for the Christmas Eve service happening later that evening. The director of the choir was instructing them in English, which I found a bit odd until I read the pamphlet explaining that they belong to the Anglican Protestant Church of Geneva. After watching rehearsal, I got a big craving to sing and convinced Mau to stay for mass. It was great! Soon the Cathedral was packed with upper-middle class and upper class families, all speaking English. It was such a trip to be with that population having been in Morocco, but also not having expected to be anywhere English speaking during that particular trip to Europe. For an hour that night, I felt like I was in England going to Christmas Eve Mass. One thing that I appreciated about the Cathedral was the simplicity of the cross. Having visited so many Mexican churches for the last few years, I felt a nice sense of relief to be in a church that didn’t have a humongous bloody statue of Christ on the crucifix. I always feel uncomfortable when I enter Catholic churches and see such monstrous replicates of Christ’s final moments. The statues with nappy cheap manikin hair put me particularly ill at ease. Anyway, the service that night was nice and there was lots and lots of singing. Mau was so happy to be there because it was his first time having mass in English. He was impressed with the amount of singing and learned lots of new words. I don’t know enough to tell him that Protestants are known for singing a lot but I do know that the Protestant church I frequented in Santos, São Paulo sang a whole lot. The most memorable piece of the night (a tribute to Swizerland) was a song sung in Italian, German, and French.
That night, we met one of Molly and Alain’s daughters, Anne. She had flown in from London to spend Christmas with the family. We got along well and I wish that she had been there a few days earlier so we could have spent more time with her. Christmas day was lovely. Molly had made a promise to herself to keep the meal and the festivities “low key,” so she made Turkey sandwiches to take on our hike in the mountains. The five of us drove for about 45 minutes before parking the car to begin the hike. Alain was dressed like an Austrian mountain guide. He had knee-high-socks tucked into thick dark green corduroy knee-length pants. His outfit and his determination to lead us to the monastery without following the path were the source of lots of laughter from us women. Mom and Phoebe and I could never have laughed at my dad the way Molly and Anne did that day. I came to understand and love Alain that day. Ultimately, we didn’t make it to the Monastery by foot that day. Our sandwiches of homemade mayonnaise, turkey, and mache (I had told Molly about my new discovery), accompanied with champagne were enjoyed as we hiked back down towards the car. By this point the shoes Mau was borrowing had completely fallen apart. The sole of the right one had come off from the heel just after we started the hike, but by the end, both of his heels were tap-tap taping along the pavement. He didn’t complain at all during the snowy hike. At one point Anne gave him one of her socks to wear since his was completely soaked. She had to offer it to him since he hadn’t said anything about being uncomfortable. He was such a good sport. I came to love him even more during that hike.
Later that afternoon, the Morizon family hosted some friends for champagne and lox. A very nice French Swiss family came. It felt good to speak French. One of the children of the family stuck around with us later that evening. He, Anne, Molly, Mau, and I played poker together by the fire.
The next morning Mau and I said our good-byes and headed to Milan via train. Molly was kind enough to drive us to the Geneva train station early in the morning. Her hospitality continued until the last second as she bought us a newspaper and a bottle of Swiss water for the ride. The train ride to Milan was spectacular. I got no reading done during the trip because my eyes were glued to the windows. The lake, the towns along the way, and the snow-covered Alps were breathtaking. Never before have I passed by a place with very little knowledge of it and wanted so badly to move there on the spot.
View of the valley from our hike.
French Christmas candy with joke included.
Molly with the alpacas.
View from the train to Milan.