Sunday, 26 April 2009
It was up early this morning to ratttle crash rumble over the cobblestones of Venice to the railway station, and from there to sit on a Trenitalia fast train to Switzerland. At a town near the border whose name I can no longer remember we all had to troop out and climb onto a Swiss train, which seemed immediately wider, neater, cleaner and more comfortable. Outside, the Heidi landscape flashed past until at Bern we boarded a small local train for Neuchatel where our old friend Nick collected us for the last 20 minutes of the journey.
Nick and Louise live a few miles out of Neuchatel in a tiny Swiss village. They have been friends for decades and there are two things about them which are constant. Firstly, they always live in unfinished houses, and this one is no exception. Their home is a large one, set in the village square right beside a cafe. They have bought the house next door, on the other side from the cafe, and are in the process of converting the two into one residence of about (from my estimation) 9 bedrooms. They need all the space because of the second constant: namely, that for as long as we have known them they have lived with 3 or 4 generations under the same roof. When we met them in Hamilton Louise's parents lived with them and their very young children. Now, all these years down the track the children are grown and everyone has moved up a rung on the ladder. Their children are now the middle generation, with children of their own, and Nick and Louise are the grandparents. We arrived to find it all so familiar and all so agreeably unstructured that it took us all of three minutes to feel at home.
We shared wine, had a meal of the most delicious pasta I have ever tasted, had some wine, and went for a walk. The countryside is grape territory. Vineyards grow on the hillsides and there is a view of the lake and the Jura mountains beyond. I have to admit that I have never seen anywhere, not in all New Zealand, more beautiful. The kids had scooters, and I took one for an exhilerating trip down a steep country road. We returned from our walk to catch up on family news, have a glass of wine and reflect on the way our patterns of living have a way of remaining constant through all the changes of life. Nick talked of the next house he hopes to buy, something a little bigger, perhaps in Italy or France, where people can come for quiet and spiritual rest. A Christian holiday camp with wine, he says. Perhaps I could live there. Perhaps he needs someone to mow the lawns. It's late and I've had a long day. Tomorrow they want to take us over the lake in a boat to see somewhere really beautiful, but for now, I need to sleep, and no, the wine has nothing to do with it.