[Travel notes] In Neuchâtel, envying R. L. Stevenson

Blooming rosebush and rose petals on the fountain.

A high westerly gale puts crests of spume on the ruffled waters of the Lac de Neuchâtel. At the foot of the stairs descending from the castle of yellow stone, pale pink rose petals float in the fountain.

Half an hour later, I miss by a few minutes the train that would have sped me to Lausanne, and there is none other for a whole hour. A large cup of caffè latte in a modern café by the station is not a bad consolation. It is where these lines are scribbled, to the background noise of unobtrusive music, quiet conversation among the ten or so people that are here, and the occasional rumble of the coffee machine.

Outside, the persistent wind agitates the leaves.

And, yet one more time, I am perplexed, unable to decide. What to write? What impressions of the city should I retain and fix on this page, and which ones should I let go, as if carried away by the daft dancing gusts?

Ah, for the studiously developed talent of one like Stevenson! He would rebuild church and castle and city on half a sheet of paper; or rather, he would turn that sheet into a French window: the shutters open and the reader is swept into the very heart of whatever place the Storyteller would lead him to.

With no superfluous detail, the reader would see the narrow, steep, straight way ascending to the walls; ramparts, a yard; a tall two-towered church of yellow stone; and in front of it a castle. Through the gates! A large courtyard; yellow stone still, and tall windowed white walls, and a profusion of flowers on the window-sills.

Outside, a street-like stairway goes down among medieval buildings, and opens onto a square. A fountain, with a colourful late medieval statue on top, and the rose petals on the surface; a café, a restaurant, a small hotel. Three streets descend from here: we take one that seems to go the straighter down.

Art galleries, an ancient bookshop; and soon we come to other streets, and the Middle Ages give place to the 19th century, and then to our own day and age, in the large avenue by the port.

But, quick! five o’clock is here. I gulp down what is left of the caffè latte, collect my things and emerge from the quiet café to the hustle of the train station. In a few minutes, the train speeds away, and I inside it. Castle, church and city are left behind, and our French windows are once again closed.

© Beatriz Becker

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