Madhuri and her impressions of generally undramatic Switzerland.
Up the road past pretty chalets is a working farm. The house and barn are in one building, which is just beside, and at an angle to, the road. A rain-streaked painting of cows winding up a mountain road decorates the barn-obligatory in these parts; nevertheless charming. This one is so weather-beaten it can hardly be seen.
It’s a funky place compared to the chalets with their window boxes full of petunias, their mown meadows roundabout, their swept walks. (In fact I don’t think their walks ever even need sweeping, as nothing gets dirty in Switzerland – I never need to dust my place. All that firm green grass keeps its knuckles in every particle of loose earth.) But in this place, hens peck in the hay-strewn muddy yard and leave their droppings on the old wooden porch. Geese run up hissing at passersby, their long necks lowered out flat. A black dog, shaggy, sizeable, woofs his alarm.
Sometimes the farmer and his wife are outside – on a tractor; feeding hay into a big noisy metal chute vacuum-thing which sends it up into the barn’s second floor. Often the door to the house is just left open, and the chickens walk in and out pooping on the kitchen floor.
The Swiss houses I know are modern, convenient, and clean. The windows are double-glazed and fit snugly to keep out winter cold. Kitchens are agreeable, attractive, light. Everything works.
This house is out of another time – dark, low-ceilinged. The wood seems bowed and bent, about to give up. A fire burns in a stove which is inset darkly in a wall. The kitchen is grim – nothing modern here. The table is old, the windows small.
I’d been recommended this farm as the place to get fresh eggs, and dutifully I’d present myself there once a week with my small egg carton and ask for deux œufs.
I eat two eggs a week. More, and I get a headache and feel awful. But those two are precious protein and I omelette them to make them look bigger. It was great to have such big fresh eggs for this.
But the egg wife was not a comfortable person to deal with. She always seemed in deshabillé. The first time I went there she was wearing nothing (that I could see) but a large square man’s t-shirt, and her huge naked thighs bulged against each other as she went to some dark corner to get the eggs. Her little boy did homework at the long scarred table as she bopped around with those thighs. She seemed so ashamed she could not meet my eyes. It was painful.
I got the feeling in subsequent encounters that she hated herself. Her hair was clipped close to her rather pointed head. A throat-paunch swelled beneath her pointy, slightly reticent chin. (What kind of howling misery might be in her, that I was afraid of being body-tackled by?) Her face flushed as she quite angrily got my eggs. I heard later she told people in the village, “At first I thought it was weird she only got two eggs, but then I got used to it.”
The last time I went I took my newly-arrived brother to meet her and see where eggs came from. (He is very fond of what he calls “porched eggs.”) On the way I busily practiced my French for the encounter. (Is it ma frère or mon frère? Must be mon…)
As usual I went to the door and the dog set up a huge barking, on and on. No sound from within. Finally I heard clomping from overhead. Then out of the shadows came the egg-lady, bent, fat, tying a bathrobe around herself which still flew open enough to show cushiony flesh. Something strange about her head – I finally realized she’d been in the middle of washing her hair, and had shampoo in a white bubbly swath across her forehead. She was brimming with pissed-off shame.
“Deux œufs,” I said, smiling nervously, “s’il vous plaît.“ She went to wherever the eggs lived and came back with two, put them in my out held papier-mâché egg box. I was so uncomfortable that I did not hold it well and the eggs weighted it, it dipped, and they crashed onto the threshold and broke.
An angry exclamation came from her. She went and got two more eggs, which I accommodated more carefully. I closed the box, handed her Fr. 1.40 for the two and we left – I certainly did not think it was the right time for brother-introductions.
Really it had been my fault. So a couple of weeks later – it took me that long – I went to the place with a nice envelope with dried flowers and leaves pressed into it. It said “Mme Fermière” on it. Inside was a note of apology in no-doubt awful French, but prettily done, and Fr. 1.40.
I was relieved to see their car wasn’t there. As I placed the envelope against the base of the closed door, geese hissed and honked around me. I hope she got the envelope before they did.
And now I buy my eggs – which for all I know could come from her – at the Laiterie in the village.
It is better that way.
This is, relatively speaking, a very undramatic vignette. But that is Switzerland – famed for several things, but not drama (unless you are a mountaineer of course.) In all my many visits, what I experienced was peace – tranquility – quiet – space – unintrusiveness. My hikes stopped far short of heroism, just made me cheerful and healthy and invigorated. In short, a perfect antidote for my life in India.
Just once I ever saw anything dramatic (well–twice; the first time was an altogether different farm wife walking on stilts on her driveway). This was in Zurich, where I was sitting at a sidewalk café when all the cooks and waiters began coming outside to stand and stare up at something happening in the street behind. When I followed their eyes I saw a nice dutiful fire truck proceeding slowly down the leafy street, with a man up in the ladder picking from the treetops an entire male wardrobe – shirts, trousers, t-shirts, underwear, jackets, ties, socks – which was spread liberally along the arboreal way. Windows stood open in the apartment storeys above.
Taking care of business. I love it. All those little trains that run on time.
Madhuri, Osho News