Our children, who are both artists, grew up amid the alpine panorama that lured J. M. W. Turner, on at least half a dozen occasions, to their city of birth. Our son now lives in Berlin and our daughter in London but, whenever they’re here, we go to Café de Ville, the former Hotel Schwanen, to have lunch at a table next to one of the windows where, almost two hundred years ago, Turner himself sat for hours, observing the changing light and sketching Mount Rigi, the Alps, the Lake of Lucerne, and all the grandeur before us.
Almost every night, a witch appeared at the side of my bed, wrapped her bony arms around me and dug her sharp nails into my back. I writhed and screamed, and cried even after my mother roused me. She stroked my head and whispered, “It’s only a dream.”
The egalitarian Swiss Germans are frugal, modest, and subdued. They draw as little attention to their offspring as they do to their wealth. At the playground, I overheard other mothers complain that nice clothes were wasted on “brats who ruin everything.” In the meantime, my two little ones dug in the sandbox and clambered over the jungle gym in ruffled and pleated finery—each stain or tear a self-teaching lesson in how to care for all things, not just apparel.
My second escape bid was more successful: I got hitched to a Dutch ballet dancer. Out of respect for my parents, he endured the religious ceremony in Saints Vladimir and Olga Cathedral, while I signaled rebellion by wearing a mock-hippy, tie-dye shawl and purple dress. The Reverend Monsignor Wasyl Kushnir mumbled the matrimonial covenant in Church Slavonic; a weedy altar boy swung a brass censer; and one of my father’s third-year dentistry students, pressed into taking photos, created an ungodly racket by tripping over kneelers and music-stands.
I keep a Swedish laundry basket in my bedroom, hand-woven of a single, acid-proof, stainless steel wire, shiny as hell. It holds a big pile of black pajamas: a rotating supply of freshly laundered, Lycra-infused, cotton leggings and matching, long-sleeved, scoop-neck tops—successors to the body-skimming tights and leotards I once wore every day.
Madame had once asked me if we might get a dog. She didn’t add: “… for your children.” Our family’s function was that of a human shield: a noisy presence in the garden flat, a supplement to the simple burglar alarm that triggered a siren whenever a bird (or bat) strayed through an open upstairs window.
In seventh grade, I fell under the spell of a perky blonde whose come-hither tongue caressed her glossy lips in a full-page ad in Seventeen Magazine, a periodical approved by my parents, at a time when no one objected to this kind of copy:
Cutex Forbidden Fruits look delicious, taste delicious—and so do the girls who wear them. Could you ask for a newer, cooler way to collect men?