This time last year, I was recovering from an odd bug that led to my passing out and getting stitches (at home!) after cutting my chin open in the subsequent fall. I was terribly light headed and frequently dizzy, and yet the one thing that kept me going was that I had the promise of a date (or what I hoped was a date) ahead of me. Now, I was not the type to put dates in a place of such importance, but you see, I'd met A a month before and that one meeting had turned my world on end. Seeing him again had become a priority, and there was no way something as small as stitches and being unable to get out of bed for more than a few minutes without succumbing to dizziness was going to stop me.
Stop me, it did not. I somehow made it to our coffee shop, somehow kept my cool, and somehow made it a few hours before everything started spinning. We stayed together for six hours that day, talking non-stop. I felt that the world was slowly settling into place, even as my body was protesting at my getting out of bed. I knew then that what I'd felt the first time I saw him weeks before had been right and that my life had already begun to change.
Dramatic and corny and utterly cliché as it sounds, everything did change then. There's a quote in Alain de Botton's Essays in Love on how, "if you asked most people whether they believed in love or not, they'd probably say they didn't. Yet that's not necessarily what they truly think. It's just the way they defend themselves against what they want. They believe in it, but pretend they don't until they're allowed to. Most people would throw away all their cynicism if they could. The majority just never get the chance." I was one of the most cynical people until I met A and got that chance. I held onto that cynicism until the day of our first date. I desperately clung to romanticism and hope through fiction, but I didn't believe it existed in the real world until I laid eyes on him and began to converse with him. I fell in love with an idealized version of A based on his intellectual and cultural self that day, and while those first feelings of love were based on an idealization, they were not any less real. They were signs of hope, and the first steps towards letting go of deep cynicism.
That same book says that when you see beyond the idealizations, you risk falling out of love. I saw beyond those idealizations over time, and far from making me begin to resent flaws in him, doing so has made me fall a thousand times more in love with him than I did then. This is maybe much to share with thousands over the internet, but in these times of growing hatred and fear, I feel the need to share the good. I didn't believe in love and I didn't believe I'd ever even want to find anyone, but my life utterly changed a year ago today, and I see nothing to hide about that. We live in a world that shames idealism and optimism as being naive and childish, but I see nothing to be ashamed about in love.
We aren't celebrating by doing anything big today. We were going to celebrate by going to an outdoor screening of Singing in the Rain by the lake, but again (oddly), I've been sick for the past few days. So instead, we've spent the day in pajamas, drinking lots of tea and alternating between books (me), thesis work (A), and watching endless random videos on loop. It isn't particularly romantic in the ideal sense, but as I've learned this year, the love found in the every day is so, so, so, so much more important than the ideal and in that sense, today could not have been more perfect.
The last two weeks since my last update post have been rather quiet on my end. I spent another week in Maggiore, visited two more of the Borromean Islands, ate a lot of pasta, tried quite a few cocktails, and then drove back through the Simplon Pass into Switzerland with my mom, grandma, and Dodo. It was a very pleasant, restful trip overall, and I'm so glad we were able to go at the last minute.
Since then, I've been spending a lot of time hiding from the heat. Summers in Geneva used to be so nice and cool during my childhood, and they've changed so much over the past few years. The heat at least means I've been able to spend days reading. I finished my Anne of Green Gables reread, started Anne's House of Dreams (such fluffffff), dabbled in a few novels, and am now reading Alain de Botton's Essays in Love. I haven't been wildly productive, but reading what I want when I want without feeling obligated to constantly come up with "intelligent" commentary has been extremely freeing. I feel infinitely calmer, enjoy reading again, and am beginning to remember why I love engaging with literature so very much. I even found myself coming up with PhD ideas when chatting with my best friend the other day. So all hope is not lost, and the last few weeks of "relaxing" are certainly paying off.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, A and I went back to York midway through June for a quick little holiday. We spent four days in the city, and while A got to see his friends and we both got to see Amy, I also got to make my peace with York. I wrote about how I struggled with the city a while back, and the momentary feelings of terror abated on this visit. I got to appreciate York without feeling wild insecurity, and I'm thankful I got to see it with new eyes.
Castle Howard is one of those places that I'd wanted to visit for a long time. Like so many others, I fell down the Brideshead Revisited rabbit hole a couple of years ago. I was enthralled with the aesthetic of the novel, and I wanted to see what the story's adopted house (as Brideshead didn't take place at Castle Howard, but as the house was used for both the miniseries and the film based on the novel) looked like for myself. When A said we could go last autumn, I got very excited. We planned to go on my trips to York in November, but the house was closed for filming the new Victoria miniseries on one visit and for the Christmas installations on the other. When we then planned to go back to York in June, we decided it would be the perfect time to see it. I mean "Always Summer" is something closely related to Brideshead so when better to go than when the flowers are in bloom and the house looks most like it would have in the early chapters of the novel? Even better, going in June meant that Amy – one of our very, very good friends who you can find at Foxes in Pink Boxes – with us.
I meant to post this on Sunday, but time goes by a little differently when you're on holiday. I'm back on Lago Maggiore with my family for the better part of two weeks. I said goodbye to A last Monday morning, headed back to Geneva, and then drove to Italy a couple of hours later. We went through the Simplon pass as it was pouring rain. It was quite an experience, and I'll post about it later on. I love going through Simplon because it's always an experience of the sublime, no matter the weather.
Being in Maggiore again has been wonderful. We came here for the first time three summers ago, and it's our third time back since. It's a gorgeous little corner of the earth and one of my favorite places to be. The landscapes are domestically sublime, with the rolling mountains in the background and the peaceful lake before us. We're staying in Stresa this time around, and we can see the Borromean islands from wherever we are. We've gone back to Isola Bella and Madre so far, and though it wasn't my first time on either, it was still exquisite to visit the houses and gardens again. Situated in the middle of the lake, they're like little pieces of floating heaven. It's easy to forget that the world is a dark, dark place from here, and such aesthetic fluff has certainly been necessary given the heartbreaking events in our country over the past few days.
Anne of Green Gables was a defining book of my childhood. I don't remember how I got my hands on the first volume of the series, but I remember obsessing over it and cherishing a copy of Anne's House of Dreams that I got at our yearly visit to After Words in Ann Arbor on a drive from Chicago to Detroit. I remember reading it in the car and shipping Anne and Gilbert so hard that they helped define my view of romance at a very young age. I remember writing fan fiction about Rilla of Ingleside (before I even knew that fan fiction was a thing that existed) and tuning into PBS every weekend hoping that they would, yet again, be screening the Anne of Green Gables films. I was a fangirl, and I barely knew it.
Despite all of that, I don't think I'd reread a single one of the novels since I was maybe twelve years old. I left the books Stateside when I moved to Europe six years ago, not yet knowing that I would come to regret the decision. I've since made friends who similarly loved the books and made me want to reread them.
Because he's the absolute sweetest and because I've told him about my childhood love of Anne of Green Gables so many times (and because he somehow remembered that I also love Rifle Paper Co. a ridiculous amount), A came home from England with a gorgeous, Anna Bond-illustrated copy of the first book. I hadn't been planning on rereading it this summer, but I couldn't resist the book and stuck it in my suitcase to Italy this week.
With all the darkness in the world lately, the book's proved to be just what I needed. I'd forgotten just how cheerful it is and just how preciously (and naively) positive Anne is as a character. Every page is making me smile, and though I'm only halfway through my reread so far, I already feel much better for having revisited the book. It's everything that's wonderful and right with the world, and I'm going to need to find a way to get my hands on my copies of the rest of the series once I'm through with it. I'm falling in love with Avonlea and Prince Edward Island all over again, and I understand why – now, as an adult – why Anne of Green Gables has been so beloved over time. It's fluffy but substantial, and it's inspirational not just to children but to all with its cheerful attitude. Plus, with all the importance it gives to imagination and friendship, I'm not at all surprised that I fell for the world as a child.
So if you still have your copy of the book and are feeling blue these days, I'd highly recommend diving back into L.M. Montgomery's world and being reminded of the innocent pleasures hidden in reality.
This week was one that felt like two... meaning that the July blues have set in. I tend not to do very well in July, with the spring and autumn semesters respectively well in the past and future and with friends away on holiday. June tends to be full of fun and rest and then July seems interminably long and boring. I've especially been dreading July this year as I've known A is going to be away for most of it. He spent this past week in England on his department's yearly Shakespeare Trip and then he's leaving tomorrow on a road trip through Scotland with his family (while I head off to Italy with mine). I'm used to being away from him, but there's something more challenging about it when we're in different countries. I can't just hop on a train and see him if something happens, and as admittedly ridiculous as that is, it makes my anxiety flare up. Still it gives me even more time to read (I finished The Muse last Sunday – post coming soon!), watch things (I'm just finishing Jane the Virgin, and let me say, 🙌🏻), and work on an editing project I've taken on. Plus, I am lucky this time around though because, unlike last year, my best friend's in town, and getting to spend a lot of time with her has made up for the rest of it.
So, Rory and I spent most of the week battling the heat by drinking iced coffee at Boreal, tagging things as #art (as part of an inside joke), working, and doing a lot of shopping. First Rory decided she needed new summer shoes, and then I got fed up with my feet constantly hurting because of all of my pretty but utterly support-less sandals. I walk 5-10km a day, and there are apparently only so many summers you can take of that before your feet start to protest. So I gave into my childhood memories of one very comfy pair of Birkenstocks I wore the summer I was 9 and decided to get a pair. I've been resisting the revival of the trend for years, but I'm glad I gave in... and to the sparkliest pair I could stand.
Lucky for me though, A came home on Friday night and we're having a nice weekend together before he leaves again. We took the train to Neuchâtel yesterday, spent time with his family, and went for a long walk at sunset last night. His family lives in a gorgeous part of the country, so visiting is always a treat as it means I get a bit of time in the not-quite countryside. We've also spent quite a bit of time in the garden this weekend, and I'm enjoying being outside more and more now that I'm not letting my sun allergy scare me away... Who knows, I may end up actually liking summer yet!
The last ten days or so have been quite something. Last weekend, we had the first Lausanne Shakespeare Festival at A's university. We saw Macbeth and an original adaptation of The Tempest. We took a lot of trains. We found a new bagel shop (which I wrote about here). We spent last Sunday with two of our closest friends, saw the brilliant Love & Friendship, and marked the one year anniversary of the day we met. I saw friends, had a lot coffee, bought books, and pretended to work on an essay in the heat. I went to Lausanne (again). A came to Geneva and we had burgers from my new favorite food truck and we went to opera (here). Rory hosted a tea party, and I had a lovely evening out with my mom and my grandma. Now I'm spending Sunday in my pajamas, ploughing through The Muse with several mugs of coffee while A sends me endless pictures from London.
Before A and I started dating last year, he wrote a blog post imagining what an opera about different post-structuralist philosophers would be like, referring to Derrida and Butler and punny arias like "Perform thy gender, love." I found this post in the days after we first met, and it confirmed what I suspected after that first meeting – that I'd finally met someone who loved opera, had a sense of humor about it, and was consequently oddly and remarkably well-suited to my person. In other words, it confirmed that I'd met the perfect man (calm rationality and my exasperation with men be damned!)! Naturally, thanks to the extreme joy caused by the revelation that he liked opera so much he could intelligently joke about it, I went on to refer to him almost exclusively as "Post-structuralist Opera Boy" when talking about him to my friends for weeks afterwards.
Then, on our first two dates, A went on and on about how much he likes opera and classical music, rambling to the point where he felt the need to apologize. He was a bit embarrassed, but I was so pleased by his enthusiasm that it was eventually what drove me over the edge and caused me to confess my feelings for him.
So, naturally, opera has played an important role in our dating life ever since we got together. I took A to an opera themed restaurant for his birthday, and he me to one on mine. We went to the opera together for the first time in October, while he was away in York and I was still stuck in Geneva, simultaneously attending the Met's live screening of Il Trovatore and communicating over whatsapp. We then went to an operetta for New Year's and several other – both traditional and satirical – productions by his favorite, local opera company, L'avant-scène opéra.
Then, last night, we went to see the Geneva production of Falstaff. We'd bought the tickets a couple of months before, taking advantage of their student offers, and it was our first "big" opera outing together. It was also our first time at the Opéra des Nations, the new, wooden theater where the Grand Théâtre de Genève is housing its productions while they renovate their Place de Neuve theater in the center of the city.
The new structure is located right in front of the U.N. and is extremely charming. We picnicked on the steps of an old building located in the same park before going in to our seats, and it made it seem like an even more summery experience. The wooden theater alone makes it feel seasonal – even though the theater will stand year round – and I was reminded of both childhood visits to the Ravinia Festival and to outings listening to operatic concerts on the shores of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (where hilariously, my family summered before my mom moved to the real Geneva).
Falstaff itself was wonderful, oddly yet appropriately aesthetically marrying what A identified as German Expressionism to Shakespeare's stories. I'd neither heard nor seen Falstaff performed and have only studied and seen Henry IV, Parts I & II (in Stratford in 2014) and not The Merry Wives of Windsor, so it was nice to see and hear an opera I wasn't very familiar with. A likes to read plays before seeing them and listen to operas to be prepared, but if it isn't for the sake of study, I sometimes like to go in without knowing what to expect. We spend so much time reading and rereading texts, watching and rewatching films and shows, and analyzing them all to death for study that the element of surprise is so welcome when possible. It helps me draw the fine line between work and play, and it's why I let myself be carried away by the storytelling when I read or watch things for fun. I was able to do just that with Falstaff. It was entertaining, and as a bonus, the opera also emphasized the folly of men and played up the power of women, so I was extremely happy with the whole.
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.