How to ruin a quiet Saturday at home.


Saturday morning Jon and I awoke to a gloomy, wet view. We attempted to counteract this with a large spread of fruits, yogurts, muesli, honey, and fresh squeezed orange juice, and the knowledge that we didn’t have to go out into the rain for any reason. I was mid-scoop into a sugary bowl of goodness when Jon let out a string of expletives. He had just realized that his wallet was still sitting on the table at the Plature; we would have to drive and retrieve it.  This irritated both of us, since this was supposed to be "retreat time," if any of it was going to be salvaged after the experience at the farm.

On the way back home from the farm we noticed that the large antique store that is usually closed, was open for once. One thing that Jon and I have in common is our love of spontaneous detours, so veering off the side of the road is fairly common, even addictive.  With one quick turn of the wheel it was obvious that we’d silently given up on "retreat mode," and soon we were lost in antiques, debating how much we needed a life-size wooden fork for kitchen decor. This pit-stop reminded us that we needed a dresser, and so we set off to Cortaillod, the village where Jon was born, to visit another antique store, which belongs to the best friend of Jon’s father. Inside the store, among the china plates and antique dolls, I met Maurice, who ignored our request to browse dressers, and instead ushered us downstairs with a sly smile. Downstairs, he lead us past the stock into a small room, where we found Toni, Jon’s dad. Together we four shared a Saturday afternoon "Apero" and talked antiques. Then, Maurice showed us his collection, which included both levels of the store, an attic next door, and a garage across the street. Maurice is extremely energetic for a man in his sixties. On his thin frame he wore black jeans and a black sweater over a collared shirt. He could barely keep still – as soon as we entered one room, he’d have us turning around and following him again to another. His eyes darted back and forth under a bush or curly brown hair that seemed to bounce in rhythm with his perky walk. Everything he owned was too expensive – there is no marble in our apartment – but he had a tip: a "brocante" in the village of Serriere was having a going out of business sale. We left Jon’s dad and Maurice at the front door, who was having trouble focusing since nearly everyone passing by the store, on foot or in car, yelled out a greeting to him.

I had never visited Serriere before – it is set back a little farther away from the lake, and therefore less known. And, in general, I don’t remember all the names of villages around Neuchatel. It is difficult to make them stick, since they are in another language, if I haven’t had a specific visit and/or experience there. But now, Serriere will stick for good, and I might even return for further exploration.

The village is by and large factory buildings, with a few cute homes thrown in for good measure. Driving in we quickly left behind the quaint roads and began darting through more austere streets under tall, gray, industrial buildings. This was quite a change compared to the surrounding villages, whose only tall buildings are the respective castle or church, and to be honest, it was a nice diversion. We found the shop when we turned one corner and the street was filled with chairs, farming equipment and bicycles. I loved looking through the old farming things: ancient kitchen equipment, leather saddle bags, milk canisters and garden hoes. When we finally entered the actual store, it was just 12 noon. A handful of old men and women were seated at a long table in the corner of the store. Steam rose up from a pot, bubbling on the stove at the foot of the table. They had gathered for a celebratory dinner of Raclette Fondue, in honor of the closing, but didn’t close the doors to potential shoppers like us. We browsed the first floor of the warehouse, which was overflowing with shelves of typewriters, telephones and cookware. Then, we braved the creaky old elevator to peruse the second, third and fourth floors.

I sent Jon off to look at furniture, and made my way to the books and music floor. The first floor has been permeated with the strong, tangy Raclette odor and even on the second floor you could smell it, wafting up through the beams. So, I was shocked to walk out of the elevator into the third floor, and into a bakery. At least, at first I thought "bakery," but that wasn’t quite correct. It took me a moment – I had to let the smell settle on my tongue. This wasn’t bread, or croissants, or even butter – those were just what I expected to smell. And then it hit me: Cocoa. I browsed through the clumsy stacks of books, trying to ignore the sweet tooth that was developing from the inescapable smell.

Back downstairs, at the "checkout," I learned from the owner, who rose from his plate of Raclette and potatoes long enough to glance at our purchases and dump them into a plastic grocery bag, that the warehouse was formerly the central headquarters of Suchard Chocolate (makers of the Toblerone). The upper floors had been storage areas for kilo upon kilo of cocoa; the smell is permanent. The company uprooted and moved headquarters to France, perhaps for lower taxes, and eventually small village businesses and tenants took over the buildings. Over the years they’ve grown immune to the smell, much like I did to the ethanol in Indiana, which smells strongly of yeast to anyone visiting. I was expecting to have to pay a hefty price for the limited print book I’d found, but the owner was more interested in getting back to his food, so he sold me the entire armful I was holding, without inspecting my finds, for 10 Francs. I made it out with three books, two handkerchiefs, a Farmer’s Almanac from 1920 and a hankering for brownies.

Since we were so close, Jon took us to my favorite village, Colombier – where I go to boxing twice a week. This is my favorite village in the region because of the castle. Most villages in Switzerland have a castle of some size, but Colombier’s is rather grand and charming, with a large gate you can drive your car through into the village. I usually only see it in the dark, and while the castle is beautiful, lit up on all sides by lanterns, I prefer to see it in the day, just because it still boggles my mind that these modern communities live next to these buildings without pause. Jon lived in Colombier as a child, and when we stopped at the butcher, he recognized the woman behind the counter as the same from ten years ago. "She’s gained some weight," was all he said. While he bought the sausage "fait maison," (meaning the family purchased the pig, and then did the butchering and mixing), I ogled the freezer section where I found fish Popsicles – whole fish, vacuum packed into plastic – placed upright among the Magnum Ice Cream Bars and Creamsicle Push-Up Pops.

Finally, a few hours later than originally intended, we returned to our apartment, where we inspected my treasures from the brocante. One of the books I had snagged was called "Scallops, and their Impact on Mankind." I bought it as a joke, or sorts, since scallops are my favorite food, and I was dying to find out what lay under the ruby red, hard-bound cover. I did not expect to end up completely absorbed in the physical, spiritual and decorative history of the scallop, and finishing the book in one sitting. But, that’s exactly what happened. For dinner, to make up for the disappointment of the farm experience, Jon had planned a special treat Rosti and Pork sausage. The Rosti was simple: grated potatoes, fried in goose fat and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I, however, after having read the entire book, couldn’t not make something with them, so we ended up having two very different plates. Therefore, I had scallops grilled in Rum and Cayenne Pepper, on a bed of avocado, yellow bell pepper and cherry tomatoes – with some leftover pumpkin seeds thrown in for good measure.

Despite the persistence of the nasty weather, to steal a phrase from a friend, our "swampy funk" of a mood had lifted. Note to self for future weather related funks: Think treats, not retreats.

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