Friday, April 13, 2012

Switzerland: Even Paradise Breaks a Child

20090829 MG 3206

The piano.
That is what I remember most about my childhood. I was only ten. About to be sent to boarding school in Gstaad, Switzerland. A lady in the lobby of the Palace Hotel in Gstaad played a beautiful song on the piano.

And in the solitude of a broken hour that night, I found myself humming this sweet sonata, this music of the hotel which accompanied me to sleep before I enrolled for school the next day. I imagined mother playing these notes with her musical fingers. Like the lady in the hotel, I dreamed of her swaying from side to side, and singing with that same light, honey voice.

The spectral notes would drift through our imaginary house, carried by a grand piano which I pictured standing in father’s smoking room, just like in the movies. The harmony was savagely beautiful, heightened by the hour of midnight, the hour of passion. And then father would walk in and give her a kiss. She would stop playing, and stand up. Tenderly, mother reached for his hand, and they would go to the bedroom like people who loved one another did.

But then a bomb exploded in my chest. An emotion so hurtful its pain came in degrees of color; blues, reds, and yellows. And I cried myself to sleep. I wished it all away, wishing to remember nothing the next day. Such is the life of children whose dreams are broken by parents' divorce.

It was Gstaad which mothered me. And it's people who fathered me. Gstaad is a splendid painting drawn by the hand of God, beset by large titans: glacial mountains that eclipsed all in a show of majestic might, where beauty’s onslaught conquered man’s technology. In the midst of this resplendent grandeur lay this small village, which had the charm of a gingerbread town with its crystal-glazed streets and snow-caked rooftops. A place which many a visitor would call Paradise.

The air was smooth, cold and crisp–not harsh, as many would imagine, but rather subdued, every lungful an aroma of peace, a refreshing taste of heaven. The streets were seldom crowded, and tourists travelled from all four corners of the world to share in its delightful charm and fabulous skiing. They could be found strolling along the streets, passing under the dim, ornamental streetlamps—father hugging daughter, husband and wife, all arm in arm, occasionally gasping excitedly as they rushed to one of the boutique windows upon finding an object of marvel.

Sitting on a park bench, eating a piece of candy, I would look down the street at the happy families and the small boutiques. The shops of Gstaad were old as centuries, their bucolic rooms harboring items of rarity or works of flair seldom found anywhere else. And I would watch. A schoolboy far from his parents. All along, the music of the piano played against the backdrop of this paradise.

But every once in a while, when the moon rose and the wolves of sleep circled, the music would stop. It would come to a standstill. It was followed by a sharp, cutting sadness as I remembered the families earlier that day. Memories of happy children and their parents which this paradise flung in my face.

And the quiet played its counter-melody, slowly encroaching upon me. Shunning me. Opening its great, big mouth and swallowing everything in my world.

I remember one thing from my youth, one thing which altered the course of my growth. One thing which I vividly remember to this day.

That even paradise breaks a child.


  1. Your writing is beautiful and poignant. Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. Thank you Nicole, I appreciate it. Gstaad was a wonderful place, but it could turn bitter-sweet at times.