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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

townsound

It was the hour when the slanting light of winter grows too long to brighten the office. This is November, the month when we have to give way to nature's uncordial schedule. The further north you live, the less agreeable the schedule.

There were bottles to recycle, groceries to buy and a mind-clearing walk to be taken.

The visual effects were everywhere very pretty. The sky was purple with bits of gold, the sun was gone, the moon - just past full - was rising above the terraced hills of Lausanne, and as I climbed the vine-covered hill, trains below me were toodling from right to left and left to right like shimmery beads being moved on a necklace.

I paused to look at them and decided to measure, rather than treasure, the moment. I held up my middle finger, the straightest one, parallel to the Geneva-Lausanne train. The finger won out, a bit longer and a bit wider. The train, with its lit windows against the fading day, was more beautiful.

An engineer could probably work out the distance from my finger to train, but I am no engineer.

As I stood there in the near-dark, silent, finger stiff in the air, I hoped no one could see me. The visual feast began to give way to sounds and I realized that my what my eyes were drinking in was a bottomless pleasure because of what my ears were hearing.

So I measured this, too, and here is the sound barometer in St. Prex on November 17, 2005:

Behind me, cars on the autoroute zoomed, a mass of power moving along. Below me, trains rattled and clanked but the Pendolino on its way to Italy made a sleeker whooooo kind of noise. I moved along the flat high road that edges the vineyards and a high-pitched child's voice jumped over a hedge. Startlingly close to hand a man said hello to the boy from beyond the bush, "Salut! Jeune homme!" A swing creaked behind the gates of Percival, a center for handicapped children. As I kept to my path another swing creaked, this one more loudly and ominously because the rhythm of it was far too fast for comfort. Memories of being pushed hard on a red wooden swing, by older sisters and neighbors, came back to me.

A patchwork cat, young and as sleek as the Italian train, trotted towards me and started an insistent "miao-miao" monologue. When I stooped to rub his nose he paused for a second before leaping on a hip-high wall next to me. We walked along together past three houses, Patch meowing pleasantly while I added my bit to the night sounds by whistling lightly.

I turned to head downhill. Two boys playing somewhere on the dark hillside had a brief argument, their voices carrying over the fading autoroute traffic. One had had enough of the other's behavior "├ža suffit!" he cried out with all the anguish of childhood injustice borne too long.

I drew close to the tracks again and the now giant lumbering trains banged against the metal rails, families banged pots and lids together and the odd symphony of kitchens before dinner tuned up. I took a shortcut across the lot of the bottle recycling factory, where immense stacks of recreated wine bottles rose into the night sky. Streetlights swept the edge of the glass mountain, creating eerie shadows.

I drew close to the store, a busy supermarket with days-end shoppers, and the noise level rose, but my ability to distinguish one from another fell. We were all moving from the muddle that is our daytime lives to the evening muddle. In between, the threads of daily sounds and sights could be separated just long enough to count them. And then it is time to let the fabric fall, without further thought.

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