Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ode to Chocolate (or Switzerland and Writing)

As most of you know, I love tea and chocolate. A lot. Tea with cream and sugar (or honey) and chocolate... Yeah, pretty much any way, shape, or form. But my post, while being about chocolate, is also about how to find chocolate (and clarity) in its native habitat. I suggest Switzerland.

I did a little traveling when I was a whippersnapper. At that age when you think you know everything about everything.

(I find there is really nothing like world travel to knock sense into a person.)

So, I went to Europe. On a tour for school.

My school, while not being the biggest, had a pretty decent arts department. Music, theater, art, etc. And part and parcel of that was the opportunity to join the state's music ambassador program. I was in band and choir, so I had two chances to get elected.

Junior year, I shipped out. Representing the school's choir department along with two members of the band.

It would be my second time leaving the country. The first was a trip to Ireland the year before. Even so, this trip was longer and I was not just on vacation. I was the sole representative for my school's three choir programs. No pressure, huh?

The trip started at a university in the state capital. A week of intense practice and sleeping in dorms and learning to sing in a choir of nearly two hundred. Back home, I was part of a four-part choir with less than forty members. I was a little overwhelmed. Even so, it still felt the same. Just...louder.

The trip started in London (which is beautiful, by the way) and ended in Vienna (also beautiful) about three weeks later. It was like an extended sprint. Hitting a major city every couple days to perform and doing the tourist-y thing when we were not sleeping or practicing. It was awesome and so tiring I thought I would pass out half the time.

By the time we hit Switzerland, about a week and a half into the trip, I was running on fumes.

Enter the exceedingly picturesque village of Champery. 

So, that is Champery. Which leads me to the topic of this blog. Chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

I would like to say I did not head straight for the store's chocolate shelf and pretty much clean them out, but that would be a lie. I sure did buy enough chocolate to feed a small army.

In fact, I bought so much chocolate I ate nothing but chocolate from the day we left Switzerland to the day I returned to the U.S. About a week and a half later. Yeah. That happened.

But Champery has more than just awesome Swiss chocolate. They have what I called the village water trough.

(I don't think that's what it's actually called, but it seemed to fit.)

In the center of town, at the top of the hill, there is a large stone trough full of the coldest, cleanest water on earth. (I feel pretty comfortable saying that even though I haven't been everywhere on earth.)

The water comes out of a spigot that is fed from the mountains. The trough water is mostly used for watering plants and animals. Humans get drinking water from the spigot. Bottled water has nothing on that little well.

But the best part of Champery is not the water, or the cute little village, or the chocolate. Nope. It's the view. I went in summer and it looked something like this.

I swear they could have filmed LOTR there. The entire village of Champery is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. It goes a long way toward knocking a teenager down a peg or two. You can't be in a place like that and not feel small.

Where I'm from, we have rolling hills and valleys filled with wildflowers, but no mountains. You have to drive at least eight hours to get more than foothills.

So, standing on the back porch of a chalet and looking out at the mountains, I admit to feeling pretty in touch with reality. And the reality was that I was really, really small and the world was really, really big.

The only other time I've had that exact feeling was the first time I saw the ocean from somewhere other than American soil.

My first day in Ireland, I went to the ocean alone to watch the sunrise. At five in the morning, it was just me sitting on a bench looking out at the endless expanse of blackness. Then, the sky lightened and (silly as it sounds) I swear it felt like watching the beginning of the world.

But that's how some places make you feel. Small. Which is good, especially if your job is to create worlds. If you don't know how it feels to be small, you can't write it. Worlds are big, people are small. Problems are big, characters are small. It's important to keep in mind.

Also, chocolate. Always chocolate.

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