Monday, June 01, 2015

Fondue, Swiss and Balkan-style

For my last meal on my Zimbabwe-Zanzibar-Zurich adventure, I decided to go out for the Swiss specialty of fondue.  I had never tried the melting cheese pot before, and figured this was an opportune time.  Besides, there was a place close to my hotel that came recommended by the city walking tour guide as one of the best in Zurich.

I meandered my way over as the sun was beginning to fade on my last day in Switzerland.  As I left my hotel, a dark cloud began to pour over the otherwise sunlit city.  I threw over my hood and wandered up the cobble stones to the recommended restaurant.  There was a table just under the canopy that was waiting for me.

The dark skies passed, and the sun began to shine again on the yellow and blue pastel buildings behind us.  As I sipped a mug of light Swiss beer, in the distance a giant arc of a rainbow filled the darkened sky, and I smiled at this fortuitous sign: Aloha Switzerland.

I watched the showers pass the bubbling cauldron of four cheeses mixed with garlic and kirsch came my way.  With a long silver fork, I dipped little bread cubes in the bubbling cheese stew and washed it down with a Swiss white.

The skies darkened then lightened again into a vibrant arc of yellow rainbow across the sky.

I finished as much of the bubbling cheese stew as I could, and asked the waiter for a digestif.

Grappa, I requested.  But he recommended that I stick with kirsch since there was already cherry brandy in the fondue.

I asked him if he knew of rakija.  At first he didn't understand me, then he didn't understand why I knew of rakija.

Duka, was his name.  He was Yugoslav of Albanian origin, from Kosovo.  He had come to Switzerland after the war.

I mentioned my work in the Balkans, my love of what was Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav sticker on my laptop.

He gave me the same melancholy sigh I always get.

We had everything. We were rich, but we didn't work so hard.  We had the best, and we lost it.

We chatted of favorite rakijas.  Viljamovka--pear.  Dunja--quince.  Of his Serbian neighbor who would slip him slivovic when he was in trouble with his parents or out for a good night.

Giveli--cheers we wished each other in melancholy cheer.

When the bill came, he saw my last name and asked how it was pronounced.  Rockower, or rak-over--just passing through.  He laughed and replied toda rabah.  How he picked that one up, I'll never know but no more random than an American who knows his rakija.

He bade me goodbye and wished me well.  Inshallah, I said, we will meet again for rakija.  He laughed, and replied Inshallah.

"We are a mixed salad in the Balkans," he laughed as I left.  Yes, you were and perhaps still are.

You were once fondue, but that sadly didn't last.

PS: My final thoughts are on the irony that I can't get out of my head is that I write this from Switzerland: a country of three languages (maybe four) and strong, differing faiths (Catholic and Protestant cantons), and somehow they have kept it together against the odds in ways that Yugoslavia could not. Somehow the tragedy of Yugoslavia feels more profound from Switzerland, and so much more sadly avoidable. 

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