Wednesday, 9 November 2011

My golden city

When I was at university I spent a year living in Lausanne, on the shores of Switzerland's Lac Léman. My tiny room in university lodgings opened onto a balcony with an uninterrupted view of tumbling rooftops, the shining lake and jagged mountains rising beyond. I couldn't believe my luck. There, I read Molière and Rimbaud, and wrote an essay on A Farewell To Arms, whose final pages take place in the city. I watched the sun rise and set, and hung spellbound on the railing as electric storms churned the lake waters and rimmed Les Dents du Midi in neon. To be possessed of such a thrilling and unexpected view seemed to set the tone for a year that shines golden in my memory. I was nineteen, the age of possibility, and Lausanne with all of its elegance and drama suited me perfectly. It was a Riviera playground, the like of which I'd only ever read about. Just along the shore was Montreux, with its palm trees and casinos, where gentle old folk promenaded in furs and cavern jazz bars were tucked off steep and winding streets.  We used to take the train there on a sunday sometimes, eat roasted chestnuts down by the water and drink wine that came from the vines that rose vertically behind the town. It is these places and this time that are the inspiration behind my second, work in progress, novel. Last weekend I went back to Lausanne, to remember and remember and to find new stories to tell. While the words are still finding themselves, I turn mostly to pictures.

Ouchy, Lausanne's waterfront, out of season.

A grey November day, brightened.

Graffiti on chipboard? Everything seems picturesque.

Lausanne's old town - the stuff of fairy tales and hidden stories.

Rude colour blooms in glitzy Montreux.

Nabakov passed happy years at the Montreux Palace, holed up in a suite.

Retracing footsteps, along the shores of Léman.

Terms of endearment, in Lausanne centre.

In my last days as a student in Lausanne, I remember going to see my tutor just before I was due to return to England. She asked me why I seemed so reluctant to leave.  Had I fallen in love? she said. Oh, yes, I replied. For I had, and I was sure that Lausanne loved me back. Returning now, twelve years on, I'm still flushed with passion for the place.  I passed one of the happiest years of my life on that lakeside, and over the mountains on the opposite shore I spent two snow-filled winters, just a few years ago. It's a corner of the world that will forever be linked for me with an unerring sense of possibility. Of new beginnings. And of tales worth telling.