The year I spent at Monte Rosa was magic. I still think of it as the best year in my life. I had come from an all boys boarding school in Rhodesia. Situated in a remote rural region, it was run like a boot camp: anything not compulsory was forbidden. As an American among British Colonials about to lose their country to the native Africans, I was ostracized and mistreated to the point of abuse.
But in 1961, everything changed. Nestled in the Swiss Alps on the shore of Lake Geneva, Monte Rosa had everything the Rhodesian stalag did not. Freedom to move about the town! Real friends! Girls! Skiing! Good food! Beautiful views! I was in heaven. Unfortunately, I was having so much fun that my grades slipped, and the following year my father returned me to my former prison camp in Africa.
I never saw or heard from any of my friends and classmates there again. Until 2001. A year earlier I had registered my name at Classmates.com. In September of 2001, I was contacted by Barbara Blackmore, who coincidentally was the last schoolmate I ever spoke to there. She had seen me off at the station when I left at the end of the year.
By the time Barbara contacted me, there were a few names of classmates on the site that I recognized, but I had not yet tried to contact them. I guess I hesitated because I was afraid of spoiling the magic. Afraid of sullying my perfect memories with the warts of reality. Afraid of hearing that some of those perfect friends have... what? Died? For some surely have. Fared so poorly that I'll pity them? Accomplished so much that I'd feel like a failure? Afraid that they might not remember me at all? I think it's all of that. But afraid or not, I wanted to know. I paid the subscription price to put my pictures, bio and website link on the list.
We never had a yearbook. The nearest thing was a folder of stationery given each of us by the school at Christmas. Most of us passed our folders around for our friends to sign and scribble on. I have always treasured mine and still have it today, though it spent years buried deep in my garage among other mementos, boxes of junk and the general detritus of life. After Barbara Blackmore contacted me, I went mining in my garage and resurrected it. You can see it here.
Shortly before I left in 1962, Ali Rahimtula, for reasons known only to himself, gave me his hat. I kept it through the years, wearing it occasionally. And remembering him every time I do. Perhaps that's why he gave it to me. :)
There was a costume dance - I don't remember the occasion - and we all invented some kind of costume. Mine involved a t-shirt that was painted in watercolors with the names of various dances. When I danced, I sweated and the colors began to run. I have kept it, unwashed and unworn, ever since. Gross, huh?
We weren't supposed to wear masks, as it offended the religious sensibilities of someone. Instead, I somehow obtained a kind of headpiece that gave me a bald head, bushy eyebrows and a big nose without covering my eyes. Nobody recognized me and I was still technically within the rules.
Here are some of those I remember. I am hungry for news on all of them. If you attended Monte Rosa, please contact me.
Twenty Years Later
I went back to Monte Rosa in December 1980 to look around. My wife went with me, but since she had no memories of the place was bored despite the beauty of the area (and cold, and complaining...)
Physically, the town was unchanged. It was pretty well developed when I was first there - no vacant lots, in other words - and the Swiss found no good reason to tear up perfectly good old buildings and replace them with newer ones.The buildings, already old back then, had not changed perceptibly. The school itself looked no different.
We rode the cog train (remember the dirty songs?) up to Rocher de Naye and had lunch at the lodge, something I had always wanted to do when I was there but could not afford. Afterward, we toured the school. I came up the back way, from the lake. There was a staff member there whom I recognized, and who recognized me, but I can no longer recall her name. At the time she was trying to put together a list of alumni so they could contact us in case we had kids we wanted to send there. I gave her my name and address and extracted her promise to send me a list of the others when it was complete, but I never heard from her thereafter. Perhaps I was the only one on the list and there were no others. I did learn from her that M. Barrere had died a few years previously.
We checked out the Cafe du Lac, my favorite haunt in town. It was still run by the same owner, an older lady we only knew as "Mademoiselle". We didn't get to talk to her though. She wasn't there and the manager informed us that she was ill. Whether seriously or not I have no idea. Since she was getting on in years in 1962 it's unlikely she is still alive. I remember we used to enjoy drinking Cafe au Lait there, smoking cigarettes and blowing smoke rings.
When I attended Monte Rosa, the student body hailed from the four corners of the earth and numbered about 150. The tuition was SF8,000 per year, about US$2000. By 1980, the tuition had risen to SF25,000-30,000, or US$15,000-18,000, nine times what it was 20 years before. As a result, there were now only 75 students and almost all of them were Arabs.
Despite the inflation in tuition, the school allowance was unchanged: 1 Franc per week for each year of your age over 10. At the Cafe du Lac, a table of Arab teenagers were drinking coffee and blowing smoke rings. And later, on a trolley bus into Montreux, a group of American girls was singing dirty songs.
Twenty years later, things were pretty much the same. :)
Visit the official Montreux Website here.