It is very important to know how to be alone.

I was almost flat broke, determined to spend the last of my money on a ticket to Zurich. I was, after all, meant to celebrate my own birthday, yes, and 20 is big deal! And seeing as I didn’t want to be around humans, it would be better to be around art. Calculating that there was indeed enough money for a museum ticket and a train ticket, the decision was made.

I packed a large bag with two cameras, a book, some snacks, and walked to the train station to catch the train to Zurich. Due to Swiss geography, one does not get to stay on the train from Lugano the whole way to Zurich. After going through Bellinzona, then the steep Gotthard Pass, which is quite an engineering feat, the train stops at windy, lonely, tiny Arth-Goldau, a transit station where you have about 2 minutes to scramble and find the train that will take you to your final destination. Arth-Goldau is freezing cold in the winter, smack dab in the middle of Switzerland, and when you stop there it feels deserted and almost surreal.

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That is Arth-Goldau as I walked across the way to my train. I know, such a crisp photograph! (Please forgive the thin lines on many of the photographs- something with my camera, probably the backing plate, scratched thin lines onto several rolls!)

From there, I settled onto the final train. Rolling into Zurich, through graffiti-filled tunnels, the train parked and I got off. I had earlier researched which tram to get on and found the #3 with little effort. Paying for my ticket, I headed straight to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the city’s fantastic museum. Museums have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time solo.

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I spent the morning and early afternoon there, looking at everything from Piet Mondrian to medieval Madonnas. If my faulty, human memory serves me, it wasn’t crowded. I was allowed to have entire rooms to myself. In one room, a spider descended from the ceiling right in front of me, as though to have a better picture of the bright blue and white Fernand Leger painting we were both admiring. This is the only living, breathing thing I shared my experience with willingly.

Living abroad, one discovers the importance of being able to be alone. How to be alone, not lonely, and if you are lonely, to corral the loneliness somewhere else so that your living hours are not spent in sorrow. As I walked around the Altstadt (Old Town), past buildings that had lived through 500+ years of events, I passed art galleries and fashion boutiques. Carts of beautiful books for sale sat outside large, sunny shop windows. I thumbed through a few, unable to even think of buying anything. Languages from every corner of the earth were heard, mixed with the local Schweizerdeutsch, echoed from wood-beamed buildings. I will never not be bored of being in old places. This walls of these buildings had so many stories to tell, and the people who lived in them and worked in them surely could echo my sentiments. Wandering, listening, watching, are all wonderful things to do alone.

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It was a beautiful day- sunny but not too bright, a spring morning full of that omnipresent optimism that Primavera brings. Being able to wander with no time limits, no need to do anything, was perfect. I stopped outside churches, walked by the river, people-watched, and spent the whole day going wherever felt right. It was marvelous to do so.

Although this was over 5 years ago that broke girl and I are still very much alike. Being alone has become more and more normal. My friends, scattered across the globe like seeds, exist often on the fringes of my life, and my beloved partner is also geographically quite distant. Museums are still a place I go to escape reality and to embrace it, and I have been saving a weekend just so I can go to the museum here on a rainy, awful day.

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Although the formula isn’t perfect, I do know how to be alone quite well, and it is very important to know how to do so. Especially in our lives, where it is so easy to feel despair and embrace negativity, knowing how to fortify yourself with books, Skype dates, plenty of sleep, and spontaneous adventures will keep you going for longer than you think.

Also, fair warning, but this might be one of a few escapist-like pieces. The world right now is a vicious thing, and the teeth and claws normally hidden behind lips and under fur are gleaming everywhere I look.

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The final days

My dog was dead. My beautiful, black and white Springer, Maggie, was dead 3 days before I left Switzerland. Leaving would validate her death. Upon returning to my home, she wouldn’t be there to smell all my clothes and jump on me like she had 5 months earlier. If I returned she would really be dead. As long as I was 6,000 miles away, she wouldn’t really not be there.

Returning was necessary. It was financially unfeasible for me to remain there. My family didn’t have the money to keep me at the school, and I was unwilling to perch precariously on a mountain of debt. In late May, I got on a little plane with whirring propellers to Zurich and headed “home”.

“Home” at this point wasn’t real. I was leaving my new family- my beautiful, vivacious friends. I was leaving my new home- my messy studio apartment with lentils on the ceiling due to a bad canned lentils accident and a tiny shower in a black granite bathroom. I slept in my house with the door open to the balcony, hearing rain pound endlessly just outside my door, letting the cool air waft in. I wore rain boots and ate horribly and drank sugar-laced apfelsaft. I walked downtown to get Thai food with my beautiful friends, and Hannah and I shared gelato and meandered around, buying gummy candy for no reason. We walked through the park or made food at ridiculous hours.

To me, leaving was the worst. I was in mourning about 2 months before I had to leave. I desperately photographed everything- even playing Uno on the floor drinking heady wine and bier. I took videos on bad and good days. I tried to piece together what it was like, even though I knew I’d glaze it over to only the good moments.

Packing up my room was the weirdest. At that point I was numb. I simply got rid of things without understanding their significance. How proud I was to put together the Ikea shelf I bought, how much I loved my little duck-shaped laundry hamper meant for children. How heavy it was so get my books back to America and how I refused to leave almost any of them. How taking photographs off my walls made them echo more.

Taking the taxi to the airport was surreal. I’d done it quite a few times before. I knew the drill. The overdressed Switalian man would load my luggage in his trunk and not be able to fit both enormous suitcases in. He’d drive the same beautiful Jaguar and listen to bad ’90’s pop on the radio. He’d make minimal conversation and I’d go over in my mind if I had my passport and boarding pass. Getting to the airport I didn’t want to cry. Nobody I knew was on my flight. I felt so alone. I checked in, using some of the last Italian I’d use ever. I stumbled over the words, making a mess of the language I’d hated and loved and messed up for two years.

I got onto the plane, and looked out the window. It was clean and white. I saw classmates faces but they didn’t know who I was. No flicker of recognition. I sat silently, looking to see how long of a layover I had in Zurich. I looked around and saw the hills in green, covered in the lush trees.

Crying finally caught me as the plane took off. Planes out of the Lugano airport take off at a very steep angle because of the surrounding terrain and I remember loving how I knew that and how I would hopefully fly back in fast and hard in a year or two. I took pictures out the window and saw San Salvatore underneath me. I could spot the park and Gandria and all the places I’d marched all over that beautiful city.

I haven’t been back. I don’t know if I ever will be.

What spring elsewhere looks like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s raining outside my window. I didn’t sleep the night before- wine, Moonrise Kingdom, chess, backgammon, and a walk in the dark ended up being valuable ways to spend time.

Lugano, my city (citta in Italiano) welcomes spring with such fanfare, by now the flowers have been planted in the Parco Civico (the Swiss bring in pre-bloomed flowers to maximize visual pleasure- who wants to watch buds?), the swans are hungrily attacking whatever people toss at them, and the gelato stands might even be up. (Oh, man- I could really use some good nocciolo gelato!)

One morning in spring Hannah and I took the FLP train to the nearby town of Ponte Tresa, me using only Swiss change I had accrued in a bag. That was a good day.

Now to collapse dramatically in my lovely bed.

The kind of place you want somebody.

09100004 09100007 09100013Even though people never think of it that way, I always felt like Zurich was a place for quiet romance. When I went there I wanted to be bundled up with a scarf over my face holding a gloved hand, dodging the crowds in the narrow Altstadt streets. I wanted to share a bretzel and walk by the Limmat and then be in the Kunsthaus for hours with somebody who wanted to see Mondrian and Leger as much as I. Feel the crisp air redden our cheeks and duck into my favorite Chinese noodle haus for dinner or sample Luxemburgerli on a bench while the blue and white tram slowly goes by. I would drag them in to admire the gorgeous agate windows in the Grossmunster and we would duck into alleys and toss .10 CHF coins in a fountain somewhere.

There’s also something about riding on a train alone that makes one want a lover there- a quiet sort of security. They wouldn’t need to talk or be gestural, just be present. Maybe we’d share a Kagi Fret on the way back or bring a small bottle of wine to drink on the 3 hour train ride back to Lugano.

I think I ponder these things because I want Switzerland as a whole to be my lover. It leads me around to new places and shows me new things in a gentle, caring manner that is so eloquent. It writes poems for me and swallows me in lakes, streams and mountains, humming the whole way a slightly wild tune. Switzerland wears sturdy shoes and knows itself, making me all the more infatuated.

Die Wahrheit II

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This painting is one of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. Ferdinand Hodler, who I’ve done a post on before (remember the gorgeous colors of the lovers in Die Liebe?), manages to convey so much.

Die Wahrheit translates to “The Truth”.

I saw this in the Kunsthaus Zurich on my 20th birthday. I was alone. For whatever reason I felt that at the ripe age of 20 I had accomplished nothing and would be forever alone in my own failures. I have no idea why, but this idea stayed with me for months. This painting wasn’t a solution but it was a source of relief- the colors, the delicacy, the obvious symbolism and exquisite rendering.

I need a trip to Zurich to see this painting again. The entire room is full of works by Ferdinand Hodler and upon walking in everything you carried in with you leaves and you feel weightless, an empty vessel to be filled with everything Hodler.

Nostalgia from a solo adventure

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One Saturday in late March the temperature reached into the 70’s and I hopped onto a 9 am train to nearby Bellinzona. For 7 CHF, it was a deal- the morning market was happening, the sun was shining, and I was quite happy to be exploring.

Bellinzona has three UNESCO castles- I only made it to two. The first, Castle Grande, has a gorgeous field of grass in the top complete with an old tree. If I ever was able to, I would throw a grand party there, with string lights and lovely glasses on tables.

I hiked to the second castle and sat in the grass, ate a small lunch and enjoyed the sun and the ancient castle grounds. The fact that I could choose to do this for a day is still mind blowing to me. That I could hop on a 30 minute train ride and hike to two castles, sit on their lawns, and have them almost entirely to myself.

Oh Switzerland, how on these cold Montana nights you make me miss you.

 

Basel in the snow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMontana right now is snowy, slick, and miserable. Grey clouds, colorless landscape. Almost three years ago in February, Lexi and I took the SBB from Lugano –> Zurich –> Basel, the whole way gazing out the window at the snowy landscape.

After leaving the flughafen (train station), Lexi and I made our way in the wrong direction from downtown. Past a few sex shops, theatres, and eventually finding ourselves in Swiss suburbia (apartment buildings and parks- something like 70% of the Swiss live in apartments). Eventually we found the Rhine and the more busy areas, and wandered around- it was freezing cold, but luckily it wasn’t snowing any longer. The city was pretty empty, as Carnivale had occurred and many people were probably sleeping off some wicked partying.

While I am bed ridden

09060007 09060024 09120008 09120015 09140020 09180013I think I was too young to appreciate the fairytale setting of Lugano. I was only 18 when I went to live there and I think if I went now I would treat it better- I would explore more, try my Italian with a little more zest, and push my limits.

Regardless, I am bedridden right now, and when I make these images full-screen I can almost transport myself back to the lakeside, where coots and ducks co-existed with the Swiss fisherman, where I would run laps when I felt up to it, where nocciolo gelato provided comfort on those humid, hot Lugano days. When I would wake up earlier than anybody else and almost sneak down to the edge of the water, having the vast body of water almost entirely to myself to relish and selfishly view. I wanted to eat it all up with my eyes and leave nothing for anybody else.

 

Escapism

The time to delve into my own archives is now.

Montana feels once again bleak, stripped of things that make me feel excited. My mind aches for inspiration, and though I go through the galleries and outside spaces that normally spark something, no flame comes into being.

Now, my mind goes to snow-dusted hiking trails, warm and crowded Zurich cafes, ribbed vaulting of Gothic cathedrals, and quiet walks downtown. I remember the humidity soaking me in sweat in August, trekking up the high hill with a bag of expensive groceries. Rain soaking my shoes all the way through, getting into the rickety-feeling but fun funicular, and constantly being bombarded by new things.

All of these images were taken between 2009 and 2011 on varying, and usually inferior, little digital cameras. I do not pretend to think of these images as anything but a small aid to my memories of these locales. Enjoy.

A city I dearly truly miss: Zurich, Switzerland

It’s a place for day trips, for wandering, for cobblestone streets, good noodles, Luxemburgerli, and gorgeous views. Trams in admiral blue whiz efficiently, the people wander, couples relax on benches, and the Limmat river cuts the city neatly into pieces.

The Kunsthaus stole my heart, and I fell in love with the Grössmunster. Seeing Mondrian on a bare wall and being able to wander in an early morning haze made me feel ethereal and weightless. Regardless of the fact that I couldn’t afford to shop or stop in any of the boutiques, not to mention that my Deutsch is of the most rudimentary sort (I can order food, curse, and ask for things like tickets for the train or how to get to the cemetery), Zurich is still a city that I find myself loving.

The multi-lingual book stores beckoned me, the crowded energy in the Sprüngli cafes, and the quiet walk near the Bahnhofstraße all managed to spin me into a sort of fantasy world. When I miss Switzerland, I miss the crisp spring air of Zurich and the knowledge that I didn’t need to be anywhere, that I could go anywhere at all.

What a place.

I miss this city.

 

Lugano, Switzerland. A paradiso among the Svizzera landscape, a gem among the glinting, often snow-capped mountains.

Placed on the Italian border, this gorgeous city has broken my heart time and time again. It is almost a year since I left, and thinking about this place makes me so happy and yet so sad.

Leaving a place so beautiful, so multi-faceted, and so full of life is not an easy thing to do. When this place has the best friends you’ve ever known, it gets harder. I have cried so many times over missing Switzerland, and my heart still bears bruises somewhere, but they’ve backed off to become a dull thud. They’ll always be there.

Now, Bozeman is blooming. Montana has the same crisp feeling as Switzerland, and a similiar landscape close to the Rockies. I look at the peaks nearby and if I don’t look at the landscape below I leave this English speaking place for a bit and return to a place that felt pretty damn amazing.

I took these photographs almost exactly a year ago for a project to document the streets and the people. The results were gorgeous- and still are.

Once Upon a Time

Right now, it is cold and windy. I spent the evening in a bar having conversations with amazing, intelligent people, but the wind was fierce walking home, and I found myself naturally going to a rainy, warm place that I used to know.

This was November- snow was on the outer mountains that ring Lugano, but it hadn’t touched it. Instead, we got rain and sunshine, and cloud formations like you wouldn’t believe. It was marvelous, and I miss the days when the clouds were like cotton balls.

For some reason, the clouds here spread out and form beautiful patterns, but never get the cotton-y texture that the Swiss clouds did. And yes, I did just romanticize clouds.

 

My first trip to Zürich, in 2009.

The very first time I went to Zurich was September, 2009. I had just gotten semi-used to the humid hell that was Lugano, when our professor told us we’d be spending a Wednesday in Zurich for our Freshman Seminar class. Luckily, my friends Katerina and Laura came with me.

Zurich to my immature eyes was perfection. I haven’t changed that opinion much, now, but I can tell you that everything was amazing. The streets, the Altstadt, the trams, the train itself which was so quiet and smooth! Katerina and I went and saw an American movie, ate a great lunch near the Ferris wheel, and we spent the evening eating a traditional Zurich dinner in a dining hall that was over 500 years old.

Touristy? Yes. Magnificent? Definitely. I didn’t even know what the Grössmunster was, or how wonderful a Luxemburgerli tastes! And yet, I feel in foolish, uneducated love with this gorgeous Swiss city.

Note: All these photographs were taken by a teenager obsessed with contrast and saturation, and armed with a terrible Nikon Coolpix digital camera. I do not claim that these are quality photographs, only a medium to see through!