I sat on the window ledge listening to the rain as it hit the white tents outside of our hostile. Just minutes before, when it had only been drizzling, the brash music of a marching band had poured through our open windows. At the time, we were residing in a girl’s dormitory next to Saint Pierre’s cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland. The thirteen girls on the trip were all in one room and the seven guys were in the basement in what looked like a prison. In actuality it was a locker room. There were bunk beds lodged between the rows of lockers, and from the outside one could see the room they shared through barred windows looking out onto the square.
This was our final day in Geneva. The following day we would take a train to Zurich, the final destination on our twenty day European adventure. I watched the festival carry on outside, everyone in their suits and dresses toting wine glasses and hors devours. They were packed tightly in under the shelter of the tents. Apparently it was some kind of a welcoming ceremony for the new mayor of Geneva. This was the first day of rain we had encountered on our whole trip, and the first day that I had regretted not bringing a warmer jacket. Something in this cold, disagreeable weather foreboded of the inevitable end which was approaching. In fort-eight hours, I thought, I will be back at home in Wichita Kansas. Entertainment will mean fast-food and twelve dollar movie tickets to d-list comedies. I will have cell phone service again, cheese will be orange and cappuccinos won’t be foamy. I’ll have to start going back to the gym, and I’ll have to wait tables again. After the stress of a long day I won’t be able to decompress with a bottle of Chianti and a group of friends. No, in two days, all twenty of us will return to our American lives, with our American friends, and our American families and though we all formed an indestructible bond with one another, modern life will pull us each in separate ways. I knew we would never be as close to each other as we were right then. I smiled as one of my friends from the group approached the window with two plastic cups of risotto, one in each of his hands.
“Casey! Come on!” He shouted, an enormous grin stretching across his face. Rain gathered on his hat and pooled into the risotto cups. “It’s all free!”
I laughed and shook my head. “I’m not hungry!” I told him. I was actually fairly exhausted. We had hiked in the Swiss Alps that morning and visited CERN that afternoon. Immediately after returning to the city I went shopping to finish getting souvenirs for everyone. I was enjoying the brief moment of reflection and meditation. He then mentioned the wine being free, and I made haste to climb out the window.
One of the guys saw me getting soaked through the bars of the prison window and loaned me his waterproof pullover. It came down to my knees and quite frankly smelled of body odor, but I no longer cared much. I already had grass stains on my jeans which were getting baggy. My eye make-up was smeared to mid cheek and my hair was more than a little disheveled. The locals were giving us somewhat disapproving glares but no one prohibited us from loading up on bread, mini quiches, cupcakes, cheeses and of course the wine. I found some members of our group huddled together under a tent in the middle. They were talking to a black woman. She had a rather exotic air to her. She was adorned from head to foot in gold jewelry and diamonds. On her head was a traditional African head wrap, made from the same material as her lavish dress. The dress cloaked her whole body, seeming almost reminiscent of an ecclesiastical garment. My friend leaned into me. He was standing quite childishly, with his arms tucked into his thin shirt for warmth. “It’s the queen of Haiti,” he whispered. I smiled at him dubiously and studied the woman more closely. Between my pathetic French and her broken English I managed to gather several facts. One, that this woman had most likely consumed more than a few glasses, possibly even bottles, of wine that night. Two; that she was in fact from Haiti and that she would soon become the first African American woman to hold a position in the Geneva government. I did not catch what position she would be assuming, however. Though she did tell us all about her two daughters, one of which teaches geography and the other one has a boyfriend that loves to dance. We even exchanged phone numbers and addresses with the woman. She told us that “when”, note it was never “if”, we return to Switzerland we need only call her and we would have a place to stay. She promised to cook Haitian rice and beans for us and informed us of two rooms where we could sleep. Had this happened in the States we would likely feel threatened by this eccentric character. We would certainly never give out our address to a woman we just met, regardless of how “royal” she might be. However, the potential danger seemed infinitesimal given the 4,953 miles separating our homes.
Nearly 5000s miles. While I had been fantasizing the past few days about having my own shower and closet, this particular night had such a sense of finality to it that I believe all of us held some degree of sadness beneath our smiles. This feeling was comparable to the feeling of Christmas night, after all the presents have been opened and the lights are all turned on one last time. It left me with a desire to travel 5000 more.
As the celebration began to wrap up, so did the rain. It was at this moment that the actual mayor of Geneva himself approached us. He was a rather short, nicely dressed man, with flawless English and a welcoming smile. My friend and I insisted on getting a picture with him. Faint light illuminated the clouds, and the workers boxed up what little remained of the food. My friends of course saw to it that none of the complimentary wine would make its way into those crates. I could tell that the workers were ready to leave, and not particularly inclined to serve tourists all night long, so I stayed behind with the queen of Haiti.
“Look!” she pointed to the sky behind me. I could see that a double rainbow had broken through the clouds, the first one I have ever seen. It was perfectly placed in a way that seemed to crown Saint Pierre’s cathedral and emphasize its beauty. In traditional Chinese, Native American and Celtic philosophies, rainbows, and particularly double rainbows, are symbolic of enlightenment and unity. Often the rainbow is thought to represent the union between the spiritual and the worldly, as well as a transformation in ones’ life. I thought of this as I admired the perfect harmony of the colors shooting from the sky. I thought about my life back home. I thought about the indecision plaguing my thoughts of the future, and the men in my life who seem to continuously run me into corners. Then all at once I was taken back to our first day in Rome. I remembered walking the Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. I could hear our laughter that night when we accidentally wound up in a strip club and I could feel the relief of finally stopping to eat dinner. I remembered the Sistine chapel and the constant shriek of the pig toys sold by the vendors. I saw us in Venice cruising the island of Ledo on our bicycle built for four and our hours of people-watching on the beach. I could hear the ambulances of Milan and feel the city buses move beneath my feet.
I was coming to terms with the fact that my trip was almost over. The most essential part of an adventure is its end. That ever-approaching end keeps us exploring, pushing on through the blisters on our feet and the sweat on our necks. It keeps us searching for more and trying everything, because no one wants to return home with the guilt of a missed opportunity. I felt confident in that moment that I missed no opportunities on this trip. It was time for me to let go of this adventure, while never loosening my grip on the memories and the knowledge I acquired during it. The knowledge that I possess a bright, white future, one to be filled with adventure and travel. This was only the beginning. This was like the end of a tutorial, where the real game still lay before me.
“Ah! That’s cool! A double rainbow!” my friend exclaimed. He and one other were returning with wine. “Here, want a glass?” he offered. “They’re trying to get rid of it.”
I accepted and proposed a toast. From beneath the halo of the double rainbow and in the shadow of Saint Pierre’s cathedral, the new mayor of Geneva could be heard fraternizing to our left. “I’m looking forward to it” I overheard him say. We lifted our glasses, the Queen of Haiti broke into joyous laughter and placed her arms around our shoulders. “To a perfect beginning,” I said.