Les Trois Rois greeted me a few weeks ago with a dimly-lit interior and all the glitz and familiarity of an unfamiliar hotel bar: leather couches straining uncomfortably against buttons cinching them together; $30 cocktails served in cut-crystal glasses with dried fruit garnishes I never know what to do with apart from watch helplessly as they bounce off my nose and onto the table when I take a sip; thimble-sized silver bowls cradling a chip or two but never more than three, perhaps a handful of striving wasabi peas; untwinkling chandeliers whose electric bulbs buzz blankly, unmoved by the conservative jazz emitting from ceiling speakers.
A man sits at the bar in a corduroy black blazer, a gauzy pink scarf swung over one shoulder.
“Is it whiskey time?” asks a bartender. He is masked. It is black and Dolce.
“No!” the man shouts in disgust. He orders a glass of red wine and it is deposited in front of him in a glass the size of a small wading pool. A man in the corner opposite comes from London. They bullied him into sitting there, because when he entered 30 minutes ago, he was adamant on waiting for his date in the Brasserie, which I have not seen (the Brasserie or his date).
My table has a golden candlestick on it with a crimson candle tucked neatly inside. Even the flame is abiding by the etiquette required of a hotel that once housed kings: modest, undancing. I always dream that I’ll meet my soulmate in a hotel. My fingers will be scraping peas from the bowels of my little silver dish and I’ll look up and there he’ll be: handsomely disheveled, a professor of science who ice climbs on weekends.
Instead, I look up and there’s a swollen man in a cream-colored velour sweatsuit. He is allowed to wear it in Les Trois Rois because it is Armani and probably costs more than my new Italian boots or my electric bill. His hair is stiff and reminds me of stalagmites. If ants could swing ice picks they could climb it.
I am at the point in the evening where another cocktail seems the natural choice. A whiskey this time, something smokier and less the color of a Mary Kay eyeshadow. The man in the pink scarf dissolves into a deluge of watery coughs. The whiskey surprises me. It is served in a croupe glass with a very ostentatious orange peel on the rim. The orange peel is pretending to be an ostrich: it is styled with a petal of ginger, both of which are impaled by a toothpick and pinned to a marshmallow. They’ve given me a little white porcelain dish with the cocktail, which I think is for the orange peel ostrich. Why perch it there in the first place if it’s destined for the dish? Whiskey should be unpretentious, but marshmallow bird aside, it tastes delicious – like sipping a sugary campfire.
A couple has sat down net to me and are talking on the phone. It seems very unSwiss, though who am I to talk? Earlier today, I hopped on the tram to collect a grill from someone in Reinach. It was a 20-franc grill. My new flat has a balcony, and it seemed unnatural to have a wooden balcony with no grill. It is a charcoal grill, which led Dan to ask what’s to be done with the charcoal waste. (Chuck it in the bin, apparently.) It’s a good question because the Swiss have rules for everything, and all recycling and trash is separated into special places and piles. I often find myself walking down a tree-lined street and pausing to frantically wonder things like, “Am I allowed to walk under this particular tree?” “What’s the penalty for walking in a bike lane?” “What is Swiss prison like?”
Today’s offense was wheeling a grill around town to the tram station. I was limping on my bad ankle and it was a Sunday. You’re meant to be invisible on Sundays – and from 10pm-7am on all days, plus 12pm-2pm. The neighbor in my temporary flat embraced these rules with zeal. More than once I woke up in the night to hear her screaming, “Be quiet! Be quiet or I’ll call the police!” I listened and listened and never heard anything, which makes me think she’s batty and might swing an axe through our shared wall and pack me into the floor boards. Or maybe I shouted at her in my sleep. Whatever it is, I moved out, and I still have all of my limbs.
But here I was, dragging a grill along the knuckly cobblestone streets of sleepy Reinach, the metal grates clattering noisily like a robot shivering in a blizzard. On each corner, I was approached by a smiling middle-aged person in some variant of a puffy parka, pointing at the grill and looking excited. It was as if they were waiting for me to open the lid and release a flurry of doves or a hot dog. Do the Swiss not have grills?
By the time I got to the tram station, I was relieved and in a substantial amount of pain. I tilted the grill back to rest on the metal post that, with the two wheels, formed a tripod, but the pole had come loose somewhere along the 200-meter trek so when I let go of the grill, it capsized and crashed with a metallic clang onto the platform. The lid bounced noisily away in a cloud of residual ash and the metal grates followed. Two people on the platform eyed me warily as I knelt down to collect my dismembered grill and reassemble it. I thought of all the times I’ve helped people onto trams, grabbing pram tires or bike frames, and decided that Swiss karma does not apply to foreigners with grills.
I put the grill back together in time for the 11 tram to glide into the station, and I hefted the grill on. Three old men pointed at me and clapped and laughed heartily. I didn’t know what they were saying so I just laughed and made weird hand gestures over the grill like I was barbecuing but probably looked like I was casting a spell. My miming caused two men to laugh harder and one to fall into a deep sleep.
The grill and I shared a brief but intimate relationship in my studio apartment. I slept, and the grill rested at the end of my bed like a loyal but indifferent puppy. When it came time to move to my new apartment, we loaded up the car with all of my things. Even with Dan taking two of my bags on the tram with him, there was not enough space in the car for the grill, so we enjoyed a second journey together on the tram.
Again, the grill collapsed under an overpass and I had to reassemble it. This time it left a cut on my knuckle. When I finally maneuvered it into the elevator at my new apartment, I felt a surge of triumph. I could smell the halloumi kebabs grilling over a bed of smoldering coals.
I wheeled it through the apartment door with all the excitement of the Greeks hidden inside that Trojan horse, giddy with anticipation. And then – “Is that charcoal? You can’t have that here.”
And so, Berty – christened by my friend Steve – sits contentedly on my balcony, surrounded now by sunflowers and a pumpkin, unproviding but handsome – kind of like this empty croupe glass on my little table, emptied of whiskey yet no less dazzling.