This afternoon, I had a long overdue “visit” on Skype with my great aunt. Tante A. (German for Auntie A.), as we call her, is my grandmother’s sister. She lives independently on a hillside overlooking beautiful Lake Lugano in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region. While my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany and Egypt in 1960, Tante A. chose to stay in Europe and moved to Switzerland after World War II. She has more or less called Lugano home ever since.
I always love talking with Tante A. We are very close in spirit, even though not so much in age or geography. The first time I ever traveled overseas, at age 7, my mother took my sister and me to visit Tante A. and Uncle F., who passed away in 1998. Since that first trip, I have been back to Lugano many times, both alone and with family. I spent both of my Christmases in the Peace Corps with Tante A. in Lugano, celebrated her 80th birthday with her there in 2004, and visited a couple of times after that. I’ve built a lot of memories with her, between hikes in the mountains, boat rides on the lakes, and long conversations over Italian wine on her balcony as the sun set.
At nearly 91 years old, Tante A. has a lifetime of stories to tell, from her early years in Egypt and her harrowing days as a medical student in Berlin during World War II (she never missed a day of class, not one!) to her professional life as a doctor and her marriage to a very talented and well-known painter and sculptor. I gobble up her stories with earnest, soaking in each word. I haven’t seen Tante A. in person since 2012, when I was able to spend a week in Lugano after crewing for my friend Katy’s amazing English Channel swim. When we aren’t able to see each other, we keep in touch through Skype or by phone. For a time, when we emailed each other more frequently, it was not uncommon for Tante A. to copy and paste my emails into Microsoft Word, track changes, correct my grammar (we always communicate in her native German), and send it back to me along with her response. She always wanted to help me improve my German, and yes, she really is that tech savvy. She also speaks five languages. In other words, she is amazing.
Today when we talked, she was just finishing up her dinner as the sun was setting. She was in good spirits, complimented my German, even, and said I made fewer mistakes than last time we talked. I’m so glad I had the chance to catch up with her. She listens patiently as I struggle through the German grammar I don’t practice nearly as much as I should, and shares with me the ups and downs (mostly downs, I’m sure she would say) of “getting old”. I told her that M. and I would like to visit her this summer, once we get settled in our new home in Riga. For a change, she will only be a three hour flight away from us.
In the meantime, I find myself reminiscing about visits past and perusing photos of beautiful Lugano and I look forward to seeing Tante A. again soon. With its mountains that meet water, quaint downtown buildings and their Italian facades, and a wealth of museums, restaurants, shops, and opportunities for exploring on foot, Lugano is a dazzling place, almost too stunning for any camera to do it justice. Should you ever find yourself in Switzerland, this southern gem of a city is not to be missed.
Thank you for reading!