Going “Home”


I just returned from a school reunion in Lugano, Switzerland. I went to boarding school there many years ago and this year about 65 of us gathered to retrace our steps and relive old times. Some people  brought their spouses, some were from different classes so we didn’t know everybody going in but we made new friends and our family expanded.

We ate risotto, cannelloni, pizza, spaghetti, and ended the trip with a six course meal. We drank Prosseco and lots of good wine. The first night we were entertained by a local group of Italian men making traditional music. One of our friends put together a slide show of photos of all of us when we were in high school.


We spent a day in the Versazca river valley. Our buses had trouble making some of the hairpin curves up and down the mountain. We stopped in a small village and hiked to the river and some went to the falls. Our second stop was at the famous Roman bridge that everybody jumps off of. It was a tradition at school every year and we would cheer people on as they jumped. This time it was even more impressive to see the over 50 crowd jump into the icy cold water.


We took the funicular up Monte Bre and enjoyed the spectacular view. A group of us walked back down the mountain and were sore for days but they had a great story to take home with them.

On our last day we took a boat cruise to the nearby town of Marcote for dinner. It was raining on the boat but we had a live band and dancing and it was still beautiful.

That last night we gathered in our common room and I was sitting next to an old friend of mine. She said, “I hate good byes. We never put down any roots.” I knew exactly what she meant. I looked around the room at people I had known most of my life. I said, “ This is our home. These people are our home. We are a family”. And I started to cry. It was so hard to have to say good bye to the people who understood what it was to be a third culture kid, where no explanations were needed, where we could be ourselves with no compromise or pretending. Some people call us chameleons because we adapt and adjust to our surroundings but we are never truly comfortable and never feel completely relaxed except when we are together.

It was hard to leave Lugano, one of the most beautiful places on earth but the hardest part was saying good bye to each other.




School’s out for summer

School’s out for summer.

When I was 16, Alice Cooper blared out over the stereo.

School’s out forever.



Well… not forever.  But for the summer.  My parents flew up from Lagos, Nigeria to pick me up at boarding school in Switzerland.  We met up with my cousins and aunt and uncle and hopped a train to Genoa, Italy.  From there we made our way past Monte Carlo to San Rafael.  I bought my first bikini and found my patch of sand on the French Riviera.  How could life be any better than that?


Unfortunately we couldn’t stay there forever.  We spent time in Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee, the Palace of Versailles.  It was hot.  It was crowded.  It made me crabby.  Touring Europe with family.  How droll.  I was way beyond that.  I was 16, after all.












From Paris we split off and my cousins went to London and my parents and I went to Madrid.  I ran into some old friends at the Museo Del Prado.  I saw Las Meninas by Velazquez, one of the most famous paintings in the West.  I remember there was a mirror placed opposite so you could view the painting in its reflection.  The king and queen are painted in a mirror on the wall of the room.  It is a mirror within a mirror.  Anyway, it is a complex painting and I don’t remember all the details but I do remember what struck me the most about it was how apparent the inbreeding was.

We ate tapas, we watched Flamenco, we dined out.  We boarded a train to Portugal and traveled across the plains where the bulls were bred.  After a couple of days by the pool in Lisbon we headed to the beach at a resort north of town.  It was not the French Riviera as I recall, it was below par and possibly raining.  Also the end of the tour.



PanAm non stop to New York City.  From there my mind goes blank.


Boarding School


Lugano, Switzerland – the view from my window








My senior year in boarding school in Switzerland, I lived in the bottom of a house in two big rooms with six other girls.  We had two bathrooms and lots of windows and a large patio.  The view of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains was spectacular.  I woke up to it every morning.  When it was warm out we would open all the windows and the door and it was like we lived outside.  We were pretty isolated from the rest of the campus so people rarely came by to check on us.  After supper everybody had two hours of study time when they were to be either in their rooms or in the library.  We usually had the stereo going and somebody always had a card game going.  It was rare to see anybody studying.  I did my studying in the afternoon or just before class.

The teacher who was on duty went around and checked up on people to make sure they were studying but they rarely came by our room.  And if they did it was to escape or because they wanted something.  There was one teacher who spent the entire evening in our room copying our Rolling Stones tapes whenever he was on duty.  We hardly knew him and we thought it was a little odd but he never hassled us about anything so we just let him do his thing.

There was a small village grocery store that sold sandwiches and drinks just up the road from our house and everybody knew the guy who owned it, Angelo.  He would also come to the snack bar in the evenings to sell sandwiches and chips.  He made the best ham and cheese sandwiches.  I usually slept through breakfast and skipped dinner but I often was hungry in the evening and if I could scrape the money together I would go to the snack bar and get something to eat before going home for the night.

Seniors were allowed to travel by themselves instead of hooking up with a school trip and so my friend Choni and I decided that we would go to Corsica in the spring.  We were hoping it would be warm and we could lie on the beach.  The night before we left, four of our roommates caught the night train to Amsterdam.  Another roommate had her family visiting and they were sleeping in the back room.  Well, Choni and I decided we would pack for our trip and just stay up all night since we had to leave so early the next morning. People kept dropping by to see us and some of them were loud and obnoxious.  The people trying to sleep in the back room didn’t appreciate all of this and kept coming out and asking us things like – “is there a cheap hotel near here that we could move to?”  We promised we would be quiet and we really did try but we were not in control of the situation.  It took us about four hours to get Choni packed.

My friend Suzie stopped by and the people in the back really started to complain so we decided to go home with her.  When we got to her room it was all dark and she just crashed on her bed but the stereo was hooked up so it just kept playing the same record over and over again.  I don’t know how long we sat there. When we got back to our room the sun was just starting to come up. We gathered up our stuff and sat outside and had a cigarette and watched the sun come up.

From there we went over to the gym teacher’s house because he had agreed to give us a ride to the train station.  He gave us coffee and I burned my mouth on it.  We took the train to Milan, a bus to the airport, a plane to Nice, another plane to Bastia, Corsica and arrived at about four in the afternoon. Once we found our pensione we fell on our beds and slept.  It rained the whole time we were there.

It turned out we pretty much could see all Bastia in one day.  After a couple of days of rain we decided to leave early and head for Nice.  We pooled all our money and sprang for a hotel room in one of the best hotels right on the beach.  Everybody looked at us weird but all we wanted was a hot bath and a comfy bed.  It was money well spent, but the next day we didn’t have enough money left for a cab to the airport so we threw on our backpacks and walked.  It turned out most of the way we could walk along the beach so it wasn’t so bad!


Last summer I went to visit my brother who lives in Switzerland.

I have a soft spot for Switzerland.  I went to boarding school at the American School in Switzerland in Lugano.  It was an amazing time in a beautiful place.  We traveled all over Europe, hiked up mountains, skied, figured out train schedules, learned to drink beer, and generally had a great education.  In 2000, I went back to the school for the founding Director’s 90th birthday party.

Mrs Flemming (we always called her Mamma Flemming) started the school in 1956 with 12 children, three were her own.  When I graduated in the 70’s there were 200 of us.  And now there are several schools around the world and many more students.

The birthday party in 2000 was a lot of fun because some of my dear friends were there.  Two old roommates and an old boyfriend.  We hiked up to see Herman Hesse’s house.  There was a lovely garden at the bottom of the steps where people would hang out and smoke cigarettes and make out.  Now they have a small museum next door dedicated to him.  We looked around for our old stomping grounds and found that the “hole in the wall” where Serafina served us wine and beer out of her own kitchen was now closed up.  But the main restaurant in the small village of Montagnola was still there.  We spent a pleasant afternoon sipping grappa that the owner had made himself.  He even sold us several bottles.







Now I was back in Switzerland with my teenage son.  Mamma Flemming died at the age of 98 and is buried in the cemetery just down the mountain from the school.  The same cemetery where Herman Hesse can be found.

In the 11 years between this and my last visit, the place had changed dramatically.  Lugano was still as beautiful as ever although much more built up and congested.  The piazza was there full of tourists and the pizza was still good.  The local department store where we had purchased my son his Action Man toy in 2000 was still there but had a new name and was under new ownership.

And I almost didn’t recognize the school.  There were so many new buildings!  It has become a formal school with students in uniforms and actual rules.  When we went there it was very much a family atmosphere and we all were encouraged to strike out on our own and explore our surroundings.  Now TASIS is all grown up.

While I was wandering around the campus, I ran into an old friend in the lobby of the main building.  Angelo, the guy who owned the local sandwich shop was now working in the business office of the school.  He pretended to remember me but I don’t know if he really did.

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