Last spring, there was a duck and her thirteen ducklings in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. Every few days, a duckling went missing (picked off by a hawk, crunched by a rowdy dog off leash, carried by the current down into the sewer) until by July, the duck was alone again. Observing how one more from our cohort of thirteen drifts away from Milan each day, I told this story to my remaining fellow students. They didn’t find it very funny.
Then it’s my turn. The morning after a dinner of pasta in cheese and licorice sauce (I couldn’t stop eating it, but it was weird), we pack our five suitcases, dog, and box of Italian liqueurs in a leased car, and climb into the Swiss Alps, squeezing through the Simplon Pass. New friends in Milan, who had lived on Arthur Ave in the Bronx down the street from my work at Fordham, recommended a restaurant in Sierre. Our faces get stuck in a fondue pot there. We’ll be eating zucchini bake for a week in atonement.
We move on to the French Haut Jura and its deep gorges and high meadows ringing with more cowbell. Hikers twice my age crawl out of the woods to show off their ultralight gear and taunt me with their wholesomeness and skinny thighs.
After days spent winding around perilous roads to talk to cheese producers, absinthe distillers, painters, and bakers, we sit on the balcony and watch the swallows sail at sunset, up to the Moon. In Milan, people are just now coming out, but Septmoncel is completely quiet. If you’re not out on the town square filling your water tank at the fountain by 8 AM, you’ve missed the village’s social life.
There is no agriculture up here. Only hay and cows can negotiate the long winters, steep rocky terrain, and altitude. All the ingredients for great cheese. Local fromagers make it with an earnestness that convinces me that if they stopped, the world would end. There are some things one doesn’t do, like break up with a lover over a plate of cheese. I once saw this in Montreal’s Old Port and felt bad for the bereft cheese first, then the ditched lover.
We’ve curated a collection—morbier, comté, bleu de Gex, mousseron. As is our custom, we’re rolling deep with cheese. It’s all in the car’s glove compartment because it’s time to move on again.