My Swiss myth

I wrote these notes a couple of years ago, following my travels in western Europe in 2007. I had been waiting for the day when they would transform from notes into a more deliberately designed post to publish them, the flow was pretty much right but I wanted more of an article or essay to put up. Anyway I’m over that.  At any rate I did the post about Germany in note form so what the hell aye?

The title is explained in the accompanying post about Swiss people, which I hopefully post tomorrow after another bout of get-over-it-and-just-press-the-button~itis.

There are a couple of things unintentionally left out (I could say a bit more on food for example) but this basically captures what I got from being in Switzerland. Enjoy!

***

It was almost exactly a year ago that I made my very first steps into Switzerland. Out of the 8 months that I was away, more or less 3 of them were spent in this mythical and misrepresented country. I was very lucky to have been able to stay with a friend there, which gave me the freedom to travel freely throughout the country as well as to and fro between dr Schwiiz and its neighbours France, Germany and Italy. (I also briefly travelled through Lichtenstein but wasn’t keen on sticking around for suddenly being struck by a deep sense of claustrophobia. It was quite bizarre, but I was genuinely freaked out by the feeling of this country in miniature. Please forgive me my phobia Lichtensteinians, I mean no offense.)

What do I think when I think Switzerland?

– Green green fields filled with wildflowers tall. Unfortunately I quickly learnt that the reality of running carefree through them with bare legs involves much more pain than the fantasy of doing so 😉

– I love the Swiss trains. No other train or rail system in the European countries that I visited could match the Swiss trains in comfort, quality, reliability and ease of use. When you have a lot of travelling and bag carrying to do it cannot be overstated how valuable this is.

– Good, good, varied bread. Wow I can’t believe I had forgotten about Züpfe, special, delectable Sunday bread that it is. So milky and buttery and soft. So soft. I’m starting to get hungry.

– When I think Switzerland, I think free. We like to talk of freedom as if it is one generic, easily recognisable thing, but how do we know when we’re free? “Freedom” in one area often results in restrictions and deprivation in another area.

The ideal is that we would have the conscience, will and sense of connection to our environment to keep it healthy and beautiful ourselves. (Not to mention some intelligence to realise how tightly we are wrapped up in it.) Can we wait until that finally comes about itself? Will it come about by itself, will people naturally stop throwing bottles out of their car window as a matter of due course? Legislation, penalties and incentives – this is what changes behaviour en masse. Only in the new habit do people have the ability to bring about that sort of change.

You put in the work so that you can stop at some point and reap what you’ve sown. I find it hard to feel free in places that do not value nature. When you’re out walking around under trees, by the river, sitting with birds, there is no other agenda. Buildings are about agenda. Roads are about agenda. Heck, I am about agenda. Switzerland has plenty of places to feel free from agenda, this is why I say there is freedom, it is free. This goes against stereotypes of Switzerland because people focus on culture and society.

– Animals –> being in their living room, the thrill of perception and observation. At one point I even considered writing a poem or a song celebrating the animals that I got to become acquainted with. The beloved murmeliii, as fur-covered fat splaying out both sides on a warm rock or as social scurriers visiting a friend down some other hole. To see hirsch (stag) running nimbly down the steep, rocky face of a hill, whereas all I’d known of their nature before was their placid strolls through a flat, grassy field or wood. Hirsch were not bambi, they were real, wild animals! If we’re talking leaping down a steep incline though nothing can beat the Gemsi (chamois).

And god they are so good at hiding or even more cunningly, blending in. I sat for such a long time staring at this one part of mountain face because I was so positive there was something there, just had that feeling that I wasn’t alone. Half an hour later a head is turned to the right and it is staring straight at you. And there the two of you are, statues both but for the intense yet uncertain gaze we share.

They were the masters of themselves, living in their communities, doing their own thing in their territories. Absolutely loved getting to walk through their world. The elusive Steinbock (Ibex) escaped my wildlife fangirl treatment, but as it’s such a magnificent creature and just happens to be my astrological namesake I’m going to have to make sure we meet sometime. Preferably in a situation where I’m not pissing it off.

Funnily enough it brought me closer to understanding the appeal and thrill of hunting. It’s not easy to first locate and second react faster than the animal. There is a feeling of personal connection once you’re both aware of each others presence and your minds are ticking over wondering what’s going to happen next. But unless the animal needs to be hunted to provide food, I cannot understand how you could then go from proving your skill in tracking animals, having respect for them; to removing them, wiping the land clean of them.

If you’re wondering why I found it so exciting it’s because we have no indigenous land mammals in NZ. Reptiles and flightless birds is our lot 🙂 We’ve got introduced farm-type mammals and our celebrity pest the possum, but otherwise zip, zilch.

One of the most fun and readily available animals to spot was the Eicherndli (squirrel) :))))

– Switzerland was where I took my first guitar lessons. I had my lessons in town in Solothurn whenever I put my feet up there, and when I was moving around other parts of the country I would find open-air private spots to sit and practise.

In a forest in Valle Maggia, back against a tree balanced just so on a stone; sitting on a bench against the low stone wall of vineyard in sea of vineyards in Maienefeld (otherwise has the unfortunate honour of being “Heidiland”); by Lago Lugano at San Rocco, sitting on a jetty for small boats; sitting on some drying grass by d’Aare as the afternoon is on its last legs of warmth and heat – and having an old but extremely fit Swedish man stop cycling to listen to me. (at which point I of course got embarrassed and told him that I didn’t know how to play much more than what he’d already heard. Kind of kills the romance of it when you do that). On some low steps outside the youth hostel of Lugano, with a hedge on my left and an area for bunnies and chickens in an enclosed area further off to the right.

– Mountains – being in them, on them, rather than merely looking at them. Also, the wide panoramic vistas. Feeling on top of the world. (Personal reccommendation to someone who has a short time in Switzerland is to go up a mountain, more than it is to visit a city.)

– Cities – Thing is I do think Swiss cities/towns are very particular, so I’m not saying don’t see any. They definitely feel different to all the other cities of the world. Even Zurich… is exceedingly pretty, small-seeming, and has a pleasant atmosphere. And…. I guess it’s weird for me to bring up an image of a Swiss city in my mind without also including a lake in that picture. Zurich….Luzern…Bern doesn’t have a lake but it has a river…. Geneva….Biel….. Chur has a river….. hmmm… Thun…

– It is about time to talk about the water of Switzerland. Glacial streams, blue-green wide Aare, sapphire blue lakes – Lago Maggiore, Bielersee, the Foroglio waterfall in Val Bavona from which tendrils of water spray seemed to reach back up into itself, the aquamarine-azul-teal insanity that is the river of Val Verzasca. Unless you’re talking about a glacial stream, which is cloudy because of the clay sediments, the water is always clear. So SO clear. And that is expected.*

*People may joke about the expectations and finicky standards of the Swiss, especially foreigners. Hell, I would often do it myself. But as I wrote that asterixed sentence, I realised what that actually means, how much that means.

It is good to have these expectations as a people. One indicator of decline and of lack of hope and development is that people have stopped believing in maintaining a minimum standard of decency for the world, for the community that they live in, and for the interactions to get along with each other. There are some things that we shouldn’t be compromising about. The quality of your life. The first step to getting what you want? Is knowing what you want. They know they want clear water.

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