It was mid-August 1982. I was flying British Airways on a standby ticket—Seattle-Tacoma to Genève via London-Heathrow. I left Victoria early morning on the day’s first flight to Sea-Tac aboard the Pacific Western Airlines flight; 1980 Boeing 737-275(A), c/n 22159/684, C-GNPW, “751”. And then nine hours in standby mode in front of the British Airways counter, waiting for my name to come up on their short list.
In the last 20 minutes I was sent at a run to the subway over to Terminal 2 after fast-forwarding my blue backpack to hold at baggage until confirmation, running for the gate, then again waiting as a ticket agent kept repeating over the PA, “would Mr. and Mrs. Smith please report to the British Airways gate”, maybe a half dozen times. Then, with five minutes to spare and this couple a no-show, I was the second-to-last passenger to board the jumbo jet; 1977 Boeing 747-236B, c/n 21238/292, G-BDXA, City of Cardiff; followed by a young English woman. We were seated in the middle section between both aisles, about halfway along the economy class cabin, along with the third-to-last traveller, another young English woman.
This Speedbird (call sign) had an uneventful flight into Heathrow, a quick walk through Customs for transitting travellers, a bus to another terminal, and a two-hour wait for the final leg on another British Airways flight; 1980 Boeing 737-236(A), c/n 21807/710, G-BGDT, River Forth. I had a beer in a pub, bought a Human League music cassette, and then soon enough away.
My early evening arrival was another quick walk, through Swiss Customs in the green-lighted non déclarations line, and immediately met by two women in summer dresses and the latest in stylish Parisian sunglasses—Elisabeth Wider the older woman, Swiss-german, and Isabelle Teocchi, the younger one, tall, blond, statuesque, a French-Italian beauty from the Provence region.
We walked out to the car in the warm orange-rose sunset glow and light lake breeze, conversing in a mélange of French and English, and a few words of German, riding in a persimmon red Lada imitation of a Fiat 1400, taking the freeway eastward to Nyon, then the scenic route du lac into St-Prex, and up a narrow curving vignobles road and a right turn to the back kitchen door of Maison François.
Most children and co-workers were still away on summer vacation, but I was greeted by a young Frenchman, Marc Morin, who spoke exclusively French, forcing me to focus and concentrate despite my jet lag. But it was good to jump in with both feet into a new language, needing to rely on the rudimentaries of French to be found again in the recesses of my memory, buried away since high school’s French 11 and 12 with my poor grades but desire nonetheless to learn this particular language and master it one day.
Marc offered a chilled ripe tomato salad (the Roma variety), tarte aux courgettes, cool mint tea, and introductory conversation, lending to the warm, pleasant welcome into the Camphill experience.
After a good night’s sleep, the next morning I was straightaway pressed into service, introduced to Laurent Pittet, a twelve-year-old severely autistic boy, non-verbal, suffering from life-threatening epilepsy regulated by some strong allopathic medication. I was to follow him around all day, just observe and keep him from leaving the vast grounds or getting hurt in any way.
Laurent almost right away decided to run down to Maison Blanchfleur and sit, on his haunches and on the ground, all morning, picking through the bed of pebbles skirting the base of the house. Each chosen one he would rub once or more between upper lip and base of nose until he placed it on the cement walkway and split it clean in half with a little larger, denser stone. Laurent had the uncanny ability to discover a pebble’s weakness.
Lunch was followed by a one-hour nap for the young boy, and I retreated to my room at the west end of the attic, accessible by a ceiling trapdoor. A small window looked out in the direction of Genève.
Here I would regularly sit on the sill, legs dangling out, and survey the local farm fields, a section of the route de Villars-sous-Yens, and further afield the spires of Aubonne.
The Centre de Pédagogie Curative Perceval was founded back in 1953, having started as a curative educational home in 1951, becoming part of the Camphill Movement in 1967. It is a Trust in which both parents and co-workers are represented, officially known as Fondation Perceval.
During my time there, about fifty-five children and thirty-three adults lived in and near the community—children and adolescents in Maison François, Pestalozzi, Blanchefleur, Chantecler, and Peronnik (built during my Second Year where the gardener’s house had recently still stood), adults at Hirondelle; the three outside homes, St-Martin for adolescents, Les Quatres Coeurs in Lavigny for adults, and Les Compagnons du Bourg with their community store also for adults. There was also the family farm, the newly erected horse barn, La Grande Salle, La Source with the auto mechanic’s shop in the three-door garage, a hydrotherapy pool, woodwork and ceramics workshops, and living and therapy quarters, Tourmaline as administrative offices and Dr. Leonardo Fulgosi’s residence, Raphael as nurse’s office, kindergarten, basement workshops, therapy and music rooms, sizable conference room, and attic residences (Barbara Kauffmann).
Our mail was delivered and picked up twice a day, on business days, by a quiet, friendly, slim little uniformed postman in a yellow PTT Volkswagen Fridolin, Type 147 Sonderfahrzeug Post (PTT is the Swiss Post).
Almost everyone returned in the last week of August. Groups of two or three children or teens were teamed with each seminarist, with some importance put on matching the personalities. I was attached to a group of three adolescent males—Jean-François and David living below me on the western half of the second floor, and Patrick Stolz in a single room nearby. Dominic, a Frenchman in his late forties, oversaw them.
Throughout this school year I was to help out in several lower grade classes in the mornings, and in some adolescent workshops in the afternoons—pottery, stone carving, gardening, swim therapy, woodwork, weaving, and art class.
We each had one day off per week, free to do as we pleased, to go wherever we wanted. I always went out for the day, leaving right after the early breakfast, cycling through the countryside and into nearby towns and villages, or taking the train into Morges, Genève, or Lausanne.
In Lausanne I would fuel myself with an espresso coffee but sometimes as a chaser to a tall cool glass of Tubourg on tap at the kiosk in the cobble-stoned Place St-François up the Petit-Chêne from the SBB CFF FFS train station, then further up the narrow, winding Rue de Bourg to see two or three movies in a row, and late-night pizza and red wine at Chez Mario’s, rue de Bourg 28, an upstairs Italian pizzeria near the top of the street, the interior of once whitewashed walls covered in black permanent marker graffiti by patrons from all over the world. During one of many meals there I added my name and city too.
Other times, I would dine at the train station in the Buffet de la Gare, Place de la Gare 11, serving local specialties at a reasonable price. One of my occasional favourites here was the Papet vaudois, a dish of finely sliced leek and diced potato served with hot smoked pork sausage, accompanied by a glass of Cardinal Spéciale or Feldschlösschen Hopfenperle, a golden-yellow premium lager.
One September evening, Isabelle and I drove into Lausanne in her blue Renault 5 to see Claude Lelouch’s 1981 movie Les Uns et Les Autres. Later we walked around the corner to the Mövenpick restaurant for a huge serving each of some fancy flavoured ice cream creation, presented in tall, large glassware.
On one of my less frequent trips into Genève—I think it was mid-September—I discovered a small record shop tucked away in a shadowed side street somewhere between the train station and the Rhône. It is here I first heard of the Payolas and Leonard Cohen. I purchased two LPs and their cassette counterparts. I was a fan at the first listen.
I usually wore torn, faded jeans, white sneakers, a white t-shirt or the black Nina Hagen Band t-shirt, and my W.W. II-vintage blue-grey wool RCAF flight jacket with Canada flag.
I remember another late summer evening—Isabelle, Marianne from Aubonne, and myself in the Café de la Gare, Place de la Gare 1, in Morges, again enjoying specialty ice creams. A long military train passed by on the main line just behind the establishment—these trains fit between the first priority Intercity trains and the less urgent local trains—flat cars loaded with tanks, artillery, trucks, and jeeps (Mercedes-Benz Unimog S404 and Steyr Puch 710K, 710M, and 712M Pinzgauers), plus troop coaches, heading somewhere for their annual regimental manoeuvres. This was the first time, but not the last, I saw such a public display of the Swiss Army.
About mid-September, Elizabeth and Isabelle introduced me to Must, the freshly pressed juice of the white wine grape before fermentation sets in, which we sampled in a Lausanne-Ouchy restaurant. But I can not remember what meal accompanied this clear, pale-yellow, delicious nectar. It may have been steak tartare, more commonly accompanied by a red wine.
Sometimes in the evenings, when she had some free time from her many household and farm chores and the last year of Waldorf high school in Morges, beautiful Daniela would visit me in my room for tea, dark Lindt chocolate from her personal stash, and discussions of just about anything imaginable.