18 Sep - 29 Oct 2017
Something about the Light – Lia Brooks (poet)
|Lia at window|
I had never been to Switzerland. I had a small idea of what it might be like, but I purposely made sure I didn't research the country before arriving. Instead I set myself a task – to learn about the land, the people and the architecture.
When I first arrived at the residency, I was sure that the sound I was hearing all around me belonged to chimes. I imagined every front door in the village had a metal or wooden wind-chime hanging outside of it. It wasn't until I had seen the true reason with my own eyes that I could believe the sound belonged to the cows – bells up under their soft, heavy chins clanging musically every time they chewed the cud. It was a sound I grew used to, and a sound I eventually needed to hear in order to sleep well at night.
I don't know if I was lucky with the weather at this time of year (late October), but it was warm most days. Only the evenings grew colder, but it was still lovely to walk after dark. It would be hard to find an area more inspiring – the sky is somehow different in Trélex. I mean to say, different to what I know of my own land, the south of England. Both are beautiful in their way, of course, but the sky in Switzerland is striking. The clouds, the distant Jura, the tall, thin trees, and underneath, the fascinating buildings and the fields – all of it is different – the vineyards in their golden-red rows and the church spires pointed like witches' hats.
The residency, Maison Binet, is a creative and fascinating place to return to each day, both inside and out. The rooms, halls and stairwells are filled with images. I found the artist and owner of the residency, Nina Rodin, inspiring. Her perceptiveness surprised and challenged me to push forward with my work. She is so particularly generous and keen to make connections between her residents, linking them up if she can, to unlock their potential. Her energy runs through the building like its own electrical charge. How glad I am to have had the opportunity to meet her!
|a small poem written at the residency|
I was told that the small shop in Trélex was rarely open; that I would have to pick my moment well, so I took an early walk into the village. First, I went to the bakery. The young woman behind the counter spoke English very well and forgave my poor attempts asking for wholemeal bread – pain complet. I then walked past the small shop and saw someone through the door window. It was open! I smiled at the older gentleman behind the counter and roamed the shelves. He came over to the cold counter and tidied it. I asked if he spoke English. He said no. We both laughed. In my best French I asked for Cider. He stared at me, raised an eyebrow and said with astonishment, “Cidre??” I smiled and nodded (it's very hard to find cider in Switzerland so it was worth a try). He said one word, which I think was an exclamation, and picked up some keys, left the door wide open and disappeared up the street.
I stood in the dim light of the shop wondering what had happened. Had I used French well enough? Had I said something entirely wrong? I just didn't know. I stood and waited. Time passed. I could smell the fruit and went over to the fruit trays. I picked up two of the largest apples I had ever seen. I picked up an avocado pear. I stood in the middle of the shop again, the wind cool through the open doorway, the quiet, low-lit shelves all around me. I reached out and picked up Swiss chocolate (well I had to, didn't I). Then I frowned... was he actually going to come back at all?... and how strange for him to leave a stranger alone in his shop. It just wouldn't happen in England.
Trust is a thinner more delicate and brittle thing in England. Just afterwards, when I was thinking about leaving my money on the counter, I heard footsteps hurrying outside, and then the shop owner appeared and rushed over to me with a large bottle. He held it out tapping the label. “Cidre?” he asked in a rich and warm Swiss-French voice. I laughed and said yes! It was apple cider. I can only imagine that it came from his own home; his own personal bottle of cider. What a generous and unusual man. He wished me well and good day in a ringing French language much like cow-bells and I smiled...
What light there was, walking back to Maison Binet! I watched it warming through afternoon in the garden, and turn red by dusk, trees whispering their ancient songs, cow-bells somehow part of it and mountains all around me on the land like distant giants. This is how it was for me.
I was not only there for my own writing development and private recovery, but also to support the research of close friend and poet, Lois P. Jones, who I was grateful to share the residency with. The research took us to Geneva and The Old Town, to the water's edge, on a train-ride into the mountains as far as Raron, and then to Sierre and Muzot. Even across the lake, by ferry, to Yvoire. I not only discovered Switzerland for myself, the romance of it, but I also discovered her Switzerland – her memories from years ago. I really did have a 360º view of the country!
For anyone interested in attending the residency, I would sincerely recommend spending as much time there as your life allows. Mine was a short stay and I could have easily stayed for much longer. Even a few more weeks. The area around Binet House is beautiful. The transportation system is excellent and will take you anywhere you wish to go. A trip well worth considering is the ferry from Nyon to Yvoire – it's amazing that one moment you're standing in Switzerland and twenty minutes later you're standing in France!
As it was, and even though my stay was short, I began to consider my writing objectively. I noticed the internal flaws and how I could improve them. I also found new ways to move my writing forward. I scribbled every idea down in my notebook and now have a great deal of material to work on. I'm excited about the future of my writing and it feels good to finally have a clear path forward. I have the residency to thank for that. I realise how often I've been caught up in the mechanisms of daily life – work, family, stress and financial worry. The hard stuff, too. Days and weeks pass, months even, and it is as if I am sleeping-walking through those hours. It's not a healthy way of living – certainly not for a creative person. The residency made me stop and spend time on myself and my writing. It was the permission I needed. And there are plenty of areas to sit and create. Desks, open floorspace, high windows looking out over the garden and fields. Even movable walls to help build your own working area just how you want it. The kitchen has a table and a window seat, which is also a good place to spend time and unwind. I spent a lot of time in the garden...
I think the danger is that, when I'm at home, I am so easily consumed by the grit of daily life rather than writing about it. How easy it is to sleep through it all...
But I was awake that day – the day of the shop. The day in Trélex when light fell over the Jura and rode out among the trees so every patch of colour between shadows was burnt ochre and red. Wind skimming the grass and leaves as if for the first time. The light, for the first time. And myself, in my own private recovery, took a breath of both.
|residency garden at evening|