Sunday, September 19

time machine

I wrote some blog posts that didn't make it up here when I wrote them, though it's not really worth going into the reasons why. But I'll gradually post them now. Here's the first, from about two weeks ago, just before I left for a trip to eastern Switzerland for a family reunion.

I've been reading a book that i thought might be kind of cheesy: The Kindness of Strangers, published by Lonely Planet, the Australian travel book company. The stories are all heart-warming tales of how these travelers ran into trouble of one kind or another--from getting lost in the desert (two stories about that) to leaving a bunch of money in a cab in London--and some stranger came along and helped them, with nothing (or little) expected in return.

Now, as far as I can tell from the stories I've read so far, all the authors are white and middle-class and come from the US or the UK or Europe. They travel through exotic countries (Cuba, Turkey, Egypt) and encounter hospitality unlike anything they've ever dreamed of. Then they came home and wrote about it for money, to put it cynically.

The stories sound formulaic, you might think. But being in a foreign country now, where a good portion of the people don't speak English well, and my French is, well, merde, it's comforting and encouraging to hear of these stories of people not just getting by, but being actually saved by others who they'll never see again, whose culture they don't share, and who they can barely communicate with--this seems like a secular miracle.

Tonight I had my own little share of kindness from a stranger. It's not enough to write a money-making story of, but for my modest, give-away blog, it's good enough.

I have no laundry detergent. I've been meaning to get some all week, but the stores here close very early. Once I got done with all the work for my new job, I haven't had time to get detergent. This Thursday, like every Thursday, the stores are all open late--which here means 8 p.m., or in local parlance, 20h00. Maybe it's because serving in the armed forces is still compulsory in Switzerland, I don't know, but they're fond of military time here. Maybe it's just more exact. None of that AM/PM ambiguity.

Anyway, this week "Run Lola Run" was playing on Thursday, and I really wanted to see it, so I went to that instead of to the store. So that leaves me tonight with still no detergent, and I have to do laundry before I leave for eastern Switzerland tomorrow morning for a family reunion. I suppose I could drag my laundry across the country and try to do it over there, but that seems kind of silly. So I decided I'd just run my clothes through the washer without soap. Some warm water and agitation should do something, at least.

So I went down to the laundry room and another guy was doing his laundry, so I asked him if I could buy some detergent from him. He said I could have some, because he'd been given it last summer, a year ago, by some summer students when they were leaving. And now he's leaving in a week, and still has detergent left.

I didn't ask why he still has detergent from a year ago. Is he slovenly and rarely does a load of laundry? Is he a summer student here too, and he stashed the detergent somewhere at the end of last summer and then pulled it back out when he arrived this year? Any scenario seems unlikely and disturbing. His English was good but he had a heavy accent and I'm not sure I understood him right. I'm getting used to not fully understanding what people are saying. I have to guess, but I try not to read too much into what they say because maybe my guesses are way off. So probably this guy is very normal, or what passes for normal in Europe.


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