Dear family and friends.
We want to start off by thanking everyone for the support, love, and concern that was expressed all week. Last week was difficult, but we really are doing ok. We are just dealing with the normal phases of home sickness and culture shock that (we think) everyone must go through to some extent. BUT, that is no reason to stop emailing! We love hearing from home. Each letter we get lightens our hearts, and makes us feel at least a little present in your lives. Do not ever hesitate to send us a note and let us know how you are doing there.
This week was definitely better than the last. We all had much more to do, so there was less "moping" time available, but we are also getting into something resembling a routine.
We have to admit that Monday was very difficult. It was a national holiday (Jeune Federal) and there was absolutely nothing to do. We tried to drive around a bit, but even this didn't raise our spirits much. We hadn't been able to contact the Synagogue in Geneva, and we knew that the one in Lausanne would be so foreign that we would find no comfort in it. In the end, we took out a copy of Heather's Bat-Mitzvah service (given to us along with a fantastic tape by Alison Howdieshell so that we could start practicing now) and went through the prayers and songs we knew. It was a very hard time for the adults - perhaps our lowest yet.
On Tuesday, we decided that we would try to stick to whatever routine we had found - the kids went off to school and Leon went to work. However, we had already planned to try to re-visit a house. Debbie had already seen it on her own, and liked it enough to go back and show Leon around. It's 20 minutes north of the lake (in a village named "Morrens"), and by the time we finished looking at it, we asked immediately to have it put "on hold". At the time of this writing, we are still waiting to hear if we will get it (our last experience, you remember, was something of a disappointment). However, it has 4 bedrooms (enough for guests!), a nice-sized kitchen, 2 bathrooms, plenty of storage areas, and a "winter garden" which is basically a glass enclosure with electric heating in the floor so that you can use it year-round. We are already mentally mapping out where all the furniture will go, and how many guests we can hold at one time. Please plan to come help us test our theory!
Seeing the house, and making the plan to move in (even if it may not be available until December) helped lift our spirits dramatically. The rest of the week seemed to fly by.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Debbie had a "Living in Lausanne" course. This is put on by the American Women's club, and goes over all the important essentials for living in the Lake-Geneva area. Many of the people Debbie met there were already known from Nestle or from school, but the course this provided a larger block of time to exchange stories, make connections, etc. There are still 3 days to go this coming week, so we are looking forward to whatever new information and new friendships we can find.
Also on Thursday we went to (finally) pick up our new cars. As we mentioned before, Leon got a (banana yellow) Opel Corsa, and Debbie a (more respectable) gray Opel Zafira. The weirdest moment came when we picked up the Zafira. The salesperson handed us the keys and a pink slip of paper - we already knew these are bank transfer notes. You take them to the bank and ask them to transfer money out of your account and into the account noted on the pink slip. He asked us to "please try to get to the bank soon". That was it! We literally took a car off the lot without making any kind of payment on it. In America, we call this "stealing". In Switzerland, they call it "an honorable deal". We're not sure whether to be impressed or mortified.
Yes, we went to the bank right away. We didn't want to ruin it for the next set of Americans to come along.
Somewhere along the week Leon got to the post office to send some letters home. We were astounded to find out that all international postage had been suspended as a show of respect and solidarity with America. Basically, the letters were sent for only the cost of a (regular Swiss postage) stamp. That was a touching and gracious gesture.
On Friday, we finally felt confident enough to attempt a drive out to Geneva for Shabbat services. There we met Rabbi Francois Garai, whose booming bass voice and perfect English made us feel instantly welcome. The congregation (about 50 that night, including their entire B'nai Mitzvah class of 10) extended that feeling, sometimes in French and sometimes in English, but always in a way that we could understand. During the service, we found we could follow the Hebrew much more readily than the French. The music (sung by the Rabbi) was mostly unfamiliar tunes. While we certainly knew that this would be the case, it only added to the feeling of "foreign-ness" that we felt in general. Then, in the middle of the service, Shalom Rav began and it was as if the room had opened up and light came pouring in. It was such a relief to finally know how *something* would go, to know the next note. Too soon, the song was over, but the feeling of relief remained for a long time after.
As we drove home, trying to take note of how long the trip would be, we were (and still are) unsure how often we will make the journey. It's over an hour one way, which is a challenge when you factor in work schedules, dinners, tired children, and bed-times. As we settle in further, we will continue to assess what we can and cannot do, but at least we have some choices available to us, and we know that (for 2 years at least) we can become part of that community with at least a small level of comfort.
Saturday we drove around the lake to the south, and into France. The small town of Thonon, we were told, had a shopping mall to rival an American Wal-Mart. We had to see for ourselves. The trip was refreshingly easy - just follow the road around the lake - but took about an hour and a half. However, the weather was rainy so we didn't feel like we had missed any great opportunity to get out. When we arrived, we found a strip of stores leading up to a large Mall - the "Carrefour". To make a long story short, it's not like Wal-Mart but close enough that we spent about 500 Swiss francs (about $250) on things like groceries, wine, coats, and shoes. We also discovered that France is *way* cheaper than Switzerland for almost everything (cheese, bread, wine, McDonalds) and we will definitely make "France runs" part of our monthly routine.
It's important to note that our "big score" of this shopping run was honest-to-goodness pancake syrup! I'm not talking about that nasty "real maple syrup" syrup that actually has plant sap in it. I'm talking about the stuff that contains "real artificial processed maple flavoring". There was much rejoicing in the aisles.
We also found out that "border security" is pretty much an oxymoron here. We passed from Switzerland into France as easily as you might drive from Ohio to Pennsylvania, and the only reason we knew we had crossed back was because some guy in a uniform was walking his dog across the street. He looked at us in our van, and then said "C'est bon" (it's good) and waves us on.
My secret fear in all of this is that we are so painfully, obviously American that they don't even bother checking us out. What a blow to the ego!
Saturday night, we returned with our booty and whipped up a quick dinner. We lit the havdalah candles, said the prayers, and realized that we were slowing finding comfort and peace in this place. We still long for some real living space, but the waves of homesickness, fear, and loss are not as ever-present as before. We are finding our way.
Today (Sunday) we had planned to go down to a small coastal village (Lutry) for a grape-harvest festival. We'd been told by several that this was a wonderful affair, and were looking forward to it. We also had planned to go with another couple whose been here longer than we, and who have been gracious with both their advice and their hospitality all along. They also have kids about the girls' ages, so it was an attractive proposition for everyone involved. Unfortunately, it rained all day and nobody much felt like getting water-logged just to watch some locals celebrate how they successfully picked grapes. So we started off just talking, then we took out a little food, then we took out coffee, then another couple (just arrived this week from California) stopped by, then we took out some wine, and before you knew it, it was 5:00pm and we had eaten our way through the day and had a wonderful time just the same! Here's to plans that don't go the way you expect but still come ou
t all right.
That about wraps up the week! Hope this letter finds everyone in good health and even better spirits. Everyone here sends their deepest wishes for peace and happiness in the coming New Year.
Leon, Debbie, Heather, Isabelle, and Jora