I went to Geneva one last time before leaving Europe for the holidays. I took the remarkably quiet Swiss train to the central station and then walked downtown. It was a stormy evening and strong wind was blowing down the Boulevard Mont Blanc.
It was getting late, but the traffic was still heavy with screaming Ferraris and booming Bentleys, stopping and going.
A Romani woman was sitting on the sidewalk beside the entrance to the Kempinski Hotel, in the warm lights and under a brightly lit display of expensive Panerai watches. When I came closer, I realized that she was quite young, in her twenties still. She was wrapped up in warm blankets and looking at me with eyes black and deep like a diamond mine.
“Un dollar pour dire votre avenir,” she said. A dollar to tell your future.
I stopped, surprised. “How did you know that I am not from here? I don’t think I ever saw you here before.”
Her dark eyes closed for a moment. “Le plus important dans la vie est invisible,” she said with a strange accent, difficult to place. The most important in life is invisible.
Then she extended her left hand, smooth and delicate, with an ancient tattoo that was disappearing under the sleeve. I gave her a ten-dollar bill, and she took it and hid it under the blanket.
“So what is in my future?” I asked. “Now I need something back from you.”
She was quiet for a long while, looking at the dark waters across the street, and I started losing interest in the answer. The woman’s piercing black eyes were now remote, as if in a different world.
I started walking away when she said it. “Ta vie va encore changer.” Your life is about to change again.
Strangely, given the time and place, it didn’t surprise me.
“No, that’s over. I settled down here for good.”
“C’est ce que vous pensez,” she said. That’s what you think.
I was walking away when she spoke again. “Attention à vous, Mister Generous.” Be careful.
“Just tonight, or all the time?”
The voice was now very faint and far behind me, lost in the blowing wind and the traffic noise of the city. And I wasn’t even sure what it was that she said at the end.
And she said, “Tous les deux.” Both.
The next day I took a flight from Frankfurt and landed in Toronto on a crisp, sunny afternoon. As I was leaving Europe, it felt like it’s the 1848 Spring of Nations again. There are now millions of people across the continent who want to re-establish the ideals of nationhood, of national sovereignty and popular democracy, against what might be viewed as the neo-monarchical structures of 21st-century technocracy. The sustained gilets jaune revolts in France capture this mood well. In recent weeks protesters in Belgium have tried to storm the European Commission – an event, which got little media coverage – while yellow vests in the Netherlands have called for a referendum on EU membership and in Italy they have gathered to express support for their Eurosceptic government. Interesting times, these.
At the airport in Toronto, I was waiting for my luggage at the carousel when my phone rang and a voice from far away made me a proposition that will be difficult to refuse.
“This witchy woman,” I thought about the lady in Geneva, “how did she know?”
Later, it took almost an hour drive from the airport, and there I was. The warm and comfortable house set against rolling hills of the Oak Ridges moraine on the north edge of Toronto looked better than ever.
I was home for Christmas.