Sunday, 1 July 2007
Swiss and Sausage Roles
Alex Horne - 1st July 2007
We had a housewarming party today. Unfortunately Owen couldn’t make it as he’s off to Turkey early tomorrow morning (I know, how’s that going to help our cause?!). Luckily, (my wife) Rachel’s friend and colleague Ladonna was able to come all the way out of London and in to Chesham to help us warm our house and, in the process, become our Number 103 – the Swiss Representative.
Now, Ladonna from Switzerland is a bit like Aman from Ireland and Gianina from Costa Rica in that she’s never actually lived there. But she does have a Swiss passport and an intriguing story and that’s more than enough for us.
Her mum is Indian, her dad half-Scottish-half-Swiss, and based on looks alone (bearing in mind that it’s me doing the looking) it’s almost impossible to guess Ladonna’s nationality. She’s exotic looking. Last year, during a show, I accidentally discovered that she was born in Bahrain (sometimes, in a comedy night, that sort of thing happens) and presumed she must therefore be Bahrainian (a nationality we’re still anxious to find, by the way). I’m not saying she looks Bahrainian, but I definitely would have guessed Bahrainian an awful long time before Swiss. But I'd have been wrong. She's a Swiss citizen. And that's a sentence I couldn't say by the end of the evening.
She has been to Switzerland, she told me as we grabbed a sausage and a chat on the fringes of the barbecue (yes, we had a barbecue - because, unlike in London, it never rains in Chesham): ‘I went to Lausanne when I was fifteen to reconnect – and get my French up to speed pre-GCSEs’, she told me. She stayed in Chateaux D’Oex, a postcard-perfect ski resort, tucked away in the Swiss Alps where her Grandmother had grown up. ‘I have a very Heidi-esque image of her upbringing’, she smiled.
Ladonna’s been back to Bahrain too: ‘I’m all about getting to grips with my family history!’ she said. Because even though she feels British having lived here nearly all her life, she told me she likes to think she’s made up of many different parts of the world: ‘I hope I have quite an international outlook. I’m curious about all different places.’ When your parents are from two different continents and you were born somewhere in between, I think that’s fair enough. I’d love to have such a broad family tree to climb. I think I’m about an eighth Scottish and did in fact take Rachel up to Iona to visit my great uncle Harold a while ago – but that’s about all the reconnection I can really hope to do.
Happily, Ladonna’s far-flung parents actually found they had a lot in common when they crossed paths for the first time, thanks largely to their respective upbringings over four thousand miles apart. Both her pairs of grandparents were members of the Christian Brethren (an evangelical Protestant church with followers all over the world) and raised their offspring according to very similar doctrines, meaning that when they met, her parents had an immediate and fundamental understanding of each other that drew and held them together. At least that’s what I scribbled down in what, by now, was a fairly addled state. I was well on my way to Earls Court, as I believe people say nowadays.
Ladonna told me her brothers (and that might have been brother singular – I'd got ketchup on the page) also inherited this international wanderlust; ‘We all want to travel. We’re proud to live in Britain but we’re always wanting to get out of Britain!’ They have, unsurprisingly, visited her mum’s homeland a fair few times over the years. ‘But she comes from a different India to the India most people visit’, Ladonna said. ‘We normally stay where she used to live but we went to Delhi recently and were confronted by things like Bollywood for the first time. That was a shock. That’s not the India she or I know’.
By this stage my sozzled presence was again demanded at the barbecue (I may be one of the least manly men I know but for some reason I’m still trusted with any outdoor cooking that might need to be drunkenly done), so we soon rejoined the group and I reluctantly reverted to more standard party conversation. I’d enjoyed asking the questions we rarely ask people we already know well. I guess, once you’re officially friends with someone, it can feel rude to ask them basic things like; ‘Where are you actually from?’ Luckily, with this project I have license to query. So before heading back to the group I had to ask her about her name:
‘So – ‘Ladonna’ - is that Swiss? Or Indian? Or Bahrainian? I’m fairly sure it’s not Scottish…’
‘Oh no’, she laughed. ‘I’m almost certain it’s made up. It’s sort of Italian – in that it means ‘The Woman’ - but it’s not an Italian name. In Italy they laugh at me! No, if anything it’s probably American.’ Well then, another continent to add to her international make-up, and a very nice name too.
We headed back to the house-warmth and I told her I didn’t think there was anything at all wrong with made-up American-sounding names before turning to my little brother, Chip, who was busy handing out some delicious looking burgers. Yes, I may have had a couple of drinks, but food will always keep me on my toes.