Travel micro essay | Windows on the World contest finalist entry. This essay first appeared in the Paris Review Daily.
From my window, I see a building with scant, round windows, like portholes on a cruise ship. Hulking over the ship are the Alps. After having spent so many years on the Great Plains, in a sprawling river city with few dominant shapes, seeing the mountains every morning still surprises me.
My corner apartment is cramped, but from my wraparound balcony I can see in every direction. I can see the school across the street, which keeps its fluorescent lights on even after the neighborhood Lokal has stopped serving Zipfer. I can see hiking trails, but not their avalanche warning signs. I can see a moped shop, but more often I hear it. Hemmed in by the mountains, the city is small enough and the streets congested enough that the fastest way to get around is by bicycle. I walk.
My balcony keeps quiet company with the balconies of neighbors. There’s the elderly gardener, who lives with his wife in the stern of the retired ship. One afternoon he snipped grapes, bunch by bunch, from the single row of vines in his garden, collecting the harvest in a five-gallon bucket. There’s the woman who grew up in the guesthouse that once stood where my apartment does now. She lives with her middle-aged daughter, who shouts cheerfully to me from her balcony.
On a rare sweltering day, the neighbors and I spent the afternoon on our balconies in various stages of unapologetic undress, dutifully not noticing each other. The hot wind billowed in the bed sheets I’d hung up to dry. I sat in a deck chair. The woman who grew up where I live now sat on her terrace, her eyes closed and her short hair gathered up in what looked like a swimming cap.