Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just me. Just Lucerne.

Day Six
Today, I walk to a different drummer's beat. The group takes one vector. I stay in Lucerne (Luzern, whatever) and check out some of the cool museums and public art.

The Lion Monument. No smart-ass comments.
The Lion Monument (1820-21) honors the Swiss Guards slaughtered in the French Revolution. (Bertel Thorvaldsen designed it; Lukas Ahorn carved it.) It’s hard to imagine such a heart-stabbingly sorrowful tribute to American war dead; our memorials tend to be either abstract/banal or heroic/histrionic. Mark Twain described it as, “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” I can't top Mark Twain.

Remember the KKL Center? Good for you. Well, along with all the other stuff, this place contains a freaking art museum. Seriously.

The Museum of Art Lucerne takes up the entire top floor of one wing. Its permanent collection showcases Swiss artists of the 1800s and 1900s. Enjoyed the quick walk-through. But loved the rotating exhibits of edgy contemporary stuff. Two examples ...

Katerina Šedá’s “Talk to the Sky ‘Cause the Ground Ain’t Listening” combines a sly wit with sneaky political intent. Her conceptual art explores the impact of built spaces on communities and individual expression. (That's a tidy way of saying she's looking at people living in places they either love or hate. And whether these places make them want to shout or shut up.) As far as I can tell, this exhibit is a greatest hits sample of Šedá’s latest stuff. That's my best guess, though I wouldn't swear to it. (Hey, the catalog was 51 Swiss francs and they wouldn't give it to me for free. I'll stick with first impressions.)

Anyway. If I'm reading the wall notes correctly, one of Šedá’s recent projects reached out to children and families in a faceless Czechoslovakian housing project. This "reaching out" was a sustained campaign involving mail art, psychedelic shirts, filmed interviews and responses created by no longer faceless people. Šedá likes to say that she wants to bring people together. Evidently, she did.

Richard Pettibon gores somebody's ox.
“Whuytuyp” showcases Raymond Pettibon’s edgy, energetic, pen-and-ink drawings. Punk, I thought. This guy is definitely punk. My first impression was right. Turns out, Pettibon created in-your-face posters and album covers for Black Flag and other So-Cal punk bands back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Judging by this art, he hasn’t mellowed.

On top of all that, there's a room filled with giant donuts. Or what looks like giant donuts.  I guess that makes three examples of edgy, contemporary stuff. More conceptual art, OK? I'm sure the concept is cool, though I'm not sure what the concept is, and it's been a long day and I don't feel like looking it up. It makes me laugh and that's what counts. From a critical point of view.

Conceptual art stinks when conceptual artists take it seriously. That's my critical theory. If the artists have a sense of humor, I can dig it. Pettibon and Šedá do, though I'm not too sure about the giant-donut guy. Come on. Giant donuts? I'm assuming he wants me to laugh, though it's entirely possible he'd punch me in the face. Like I said, I'll check it out later. Let's move on.

A block or two away. Just around the corner ...

The Rosengart Museum makes its home in an imposing, gray, ugly, Neoclassical building that used to be the Swiss National Bank. Today, it’s a vault for artistic treasure by Braque, Cézanne, Léger, Matisse, Miró, Monet, etc. This booty originally belonged to Siegfried Rosengart and his daughter Angela, a father/daughter team of art collectors. Priceless stuff. Angela gave it away. Cool.

Picasso's "Girl with Boat (Maya)"
Inside, there's a strong selection of Picasso’s stuff -- a few early Cubist experiments, but mostly later work. Highlights include “Woman and Dog Playing” (1953), “Woman Dressing Her Hair” (1954), “The Studio” (1955), “Rembrandtesque Figure and Cupid” (1969). David Duncan’s candid photographs of Picasso’s homelife make him look like a goodhearted husband and father, not the abusive satyr of Huffington's tell-all biography.

Picasso aside, this place is packed with work by Klee, Chagall, Manet , etc. You can watch a video of Angela Rosengart telling the heartfelt story of how she and her late father collected this art. All politics is personal. 

I guess that's true for all great art collections.

In America, art tends to be the crazy Aunt in the attic. (Or the sweet Aunt you're obligated to in the attic.) Either way, out of sight, out of mind -- in a very special place outside normal life. In Lucerne, art is integrated with the city, woven through the city's fabric wherever you go. Lucerne is a real arts community -- and a community. That's the way it works.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Welcome to the Art Deco Hotel Montana

Funny. It doesn't look like Montana.
Day Five
Lucerne is so beautiful it hurts. We do the train/tram shuffle and check into the Art Deco Hotel Montana. As the name implies, it's an art deco hotel. Pretty cool. I throw my stuff in my room. Nice room. There's a knock-off of Michelangelo's David holding a towel by the shower. I think hotel management bought it on auction from the Rocky Horror collection.

We do lunch on the shimmering terrace restaurant. Shimmering, as in heat mirages over the hoods of cars on a hot summer day. I try to stay conscious. A nap would be nice. But sleep does not await. There is a schedule to keep.

We zip off to a humongous steel cage structure on prime lakefront property. The KKL Luzern.

Luzern with a "Z." Ja. I should mention we're in the German part of Switzerland. The German/Swiss have a chip on their shoulder. We are not in Lucerne, you see. We're in Luzern. We are not the !@#$# French. They don't say it. But they wanna say it. Even if they did, they'd say it with a smile. So, Luzern it is.

Achtung, baby. 

Anyway. The KKL Luzern. If the Van Wezel and the Los Angeles Convention Center had a lovechild, it might resemble the KKL Luzern, a glimmering glass-and-steel space below a dramatic, cantilevered roof designed by architect Jean Nouvel. Beautiful, yes. But equally functional. Nouvel’s Swiss army knife of a building comprises bistros, restaurants, intimate meeting spaces, and a vast concert hall boasting state-of-the-art acoustic design. The place is, basically, a big ear.

The charming director of the place gives us a tour -- then realizes we're exhausted and sends us back to our hotel.

Shower. Nap. Human again.
Rocky Horror called. He wants his statue back.

We stroll around the city. There's a covered bridge (actually a recreation of a covered bridge that burned down in 1993 -- I was no where near it at the time). At the bridge's other end, we emerge and walk into a cathedral. Our tour guide apologizes that a high school band is probably practicing. She hopes we won't mind.

It's not a high school band. It's a world-class orchestra. Soaring music. A gift from the Lord above.

I don't mind.

Switzerland is like a photo in a newspaper made up of halftone dots. From far away, it looks like one simple thing. Look closer and the simplicity breaks up. What looks like one thing is really lots and lots of really complicated bits.

Lucerne and the other cities I've seen aren't patchworked with parking lots. The sweet public transportation system saves a lot of space and helps Swiss cities stay people-friendly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Eiger Sanction: Part Deux

Do you feel lucky, punk?
Day Four
Today is a day of peak experiences, pun intended. We keep saying, nothing could top this. Then the next thing tops it. We got high. 1,300 feet, to be precise. But I'm getting ahead of myself ...

Today is the day we go to the Eiger -- yeah, the big, scary Swiss mountain where Clint Eastwood filmed that movie with George Kennedy. It's nearly an all-day trip. We get on the real railroad train, then on a cogwheel train, then a funicular. At last we arrive -- and head to this installation at the top of this mountain. How did it get there? Funny you should ask. Here's the story, pieced together from the Internet and our helpful guide.

It starts with two crazy dreamers.

Back in the late 18th century, Lord Byron (the poet) started vacationing in Switzerland. Until that point, the sensible Swiss had assumed that mountains were to be avoided because mountains wanted to kill you. Lord Byron thought they were pretty. He wrote poems. He told his friends. Various poets and British aristocrats started vacationing in Switzerland to get a glimpse of the pretty Swiss mountains. This was a big deal back then, because tourist infrastructure didn't exist. But these people were rich, so they came anyway. The Swiss thought they were crazy Brits at first. After time, the crazy Brits became a source of income. Crazy tourists started coming from other countries. The Swiss changed their minds about the mountains.

Back in the 19th century, a Swiss millionaire named Adolf Guyer-Zeller was on vacation in the Alps and got a good look at this mountain. Judging by his response, he would've made a great Bond villain. You or I would look at a big, scary 13,671-foot mountain and say, "That's a beautiful mountain -- but it's a big scary mountain. I'm going to stay the !@# away from it." Guyer-Zeller looked at it and thought, "We must built a railroad to the top of this mountain! And a tunnel through the mountain! All must see this mountain!"

Guyer-Zeller brought in a bunch of poor Italian laborers to do the job. For the next 15 years, they're blasting holes in the mountain with dynamite. In their spare time, they wrote their mothers back home. "Mamma I miss you. I make a lotta money blowing holes in the mountain. If I survive with both my arms in the right place, I come home and give you a big hug." Pardon the Super Mario dialect, but you get the idea. Today, there's a wall memorializing the ones who died.

Mad scheme. But it worked. The Italian sacrifice for Swiss tourism was not in vain. Guyer-Zeller opened up the Eiger. Just as he had envisioned, tourists came in droves to behold its beauty. And still do. Not just rich poets like Byron. Ordinary travel writers like us. They come to see the mountain.

Strictly speaking, there are two mountains: the Eiger and the Monk. Collectively, they're called the "Jungfraujoch." Jungfrau = young girl = virgin. Joch = yoke. There's a dirty pun in there somewhere, but I don't get it. Perhaps a chastity belt reference.

At any rate, we get off the train and go through a tubular tunnel the length of a football field cut through solid ice.

We wind up in a restaurant cut into the mountain's rock wall. I had my first beef -- some of the most delicious steak I've ever had. Sometime later, we all wind up on top of the giant mountain.

The top of Europe. That's how they advertise it. You can do more than look at it. You can stand on it. We do. The experience further confirms my earlier observation. The Swiss are not big on safety.

Because -- you're up at the top of this mountain. A more or less level expanse you can walk on. Some of it has a railing, some of it doesn't. It's not snowing but it's covered in snow. At the edge of it, there's an observation platform and a flat rock. There's no railing here. If you were a fool, you could run right off the mountain and fall the length of a skyscraper. Nothing would stop you. Various tourists and members of my party were standing on this rock going "Ayyy" and clowning around. They don't fall. But it's their responsibility.

A Swiss guard might say, "Protecting your life is your responsibility in this life. We will not tell you not to jump off the mountain. If you are so stupid as not to understand the forces of gravity and fall to your death it is not our fault you are so stupid."

They might. If there had been a guard.

To further complicate matters, we start getting giddy from oxygen deprivation . At one point, Rod Millington starts laughing. His laughter resembles the Joker on the original Batman TV series. My laughter is more like the Jack Nicholson Joker. His laughter makes me starts laughing. That makes Cindy Cockburn start laughing. We're on a mutually reinforcing laughing jag.

Here we are, laughing our asses off in an improbable, nature defying installation at the top of a mountain.

I like our species.

Poets named Byron have great taste in vacations.

Erdinger Weissbier

Monday, May 28, 2012

After the fall

They're called "Falls" for a reason.
Day Three
The sun comes up. We eat food. I'll skip the details.

Sometime later, we get on the whisper-quiet Swiss train and leave Fribourg behind. An hour or so later, the picture-postcardy lake outside our windows makes the photographers on the train go hommina, hommina, homina and start clicking like mad.

We roll into Interlaken. Walk around for awhile, waiting for our guide to pick us up.
The sky is thick with paragliders. Our guide picks us up.

We check into our lovely hotel and instantly leave. After various trams and trains, we take a leisurely, idyllic paddleboat ride across Lake Thune. Destination: the Hotel Giessbach and Giessbach Falls at the lake's other end.

This hotel is at the base of a hill; the waterfall thunders down that hill. Impressive. Not quite so impressive as the nearby Reichenbech Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty fell to their fates. But not too shabby. God's fire hose that never shuts off. Constant white noise; a demonstration of turbulent forces. Moriarty, should he fall, would still be pummeled into Moriarty meat.

Photographers swarm around the Giessbach Falls like bugs around a bug light. (Not dying. The comparison sorta ends there.) These photographers include Mike and Rod, who tromp up the steps running up the hill beside the falls, then deploy at the bridge bisecting the falls about halfway up. Kay and Cindy stay down below, at a table at the hotel's terrace restaurant. I sit with them for a couple of minutes, then move. I head for the steps and climb.

These steps are basically slabs of wood pounded into the hillside. As you ascend, the falls are to your right, hillside trees and undergrowth to your left. It's all very scenic and woodsy.

I climb the steps and make it to the top. Here, the path actually goes behind the waterfall, then continues down on the other side -- but I'm not there yet. To get to the other side, I have to walk behind the falls -- a 30-foot span or so. The ground below my feet is muddy from the constant spray. Cliff face to my left; cascade to my right. What's between me and the waterfall? Not much. Somebody's driven a series of metal stakes into the muddy ground. These vertical stakes are about a yard apart. These stakes are strung with three horizontal wires, about 18 inches apart. That's the basic situation. Picture it ...

You walk behind the waterfall, a cliff face to your left, an arc of roaring water and Moriarty's fate to your right. The only thing between you and that crushing dance of hydraulic turbulence are those three parallel wires. That's all you've got between you and the Edge. And, in the space behind the falls, the ground is actually wet and muddy.

So, I walk. I slip and slide a couple of times, and start keeping a firm grip on the top wire like Mr. Wimpy. What with all that slip-sliding, it occurs to me how easy it would be to slip, fall on my ass, and go sliding under the bottom wire (which is 18 inches or so above the ground) and continue sliding on my ass into the falls below, screaming, "Nyah, nyah, nyah," like one of the Three Stooges, all the way down. That'd be the last of you. Or me. Or Moriarty. Here, I make another observation ...

The Swiss are not big on safety.

In lawsuit-happy America, they probably wouldn't let you go behind the falls in the first place. If they did, there'd be an all-American warning sign:

Do not swim or dive into the Giessbach Falls. Gravity and hydraulic forces may result in death or severe bodily harm or both. While proceeding in designated pathway behind the falls, maintain at least one foot distance from edge at all times and walk with low center of gravity. (See diagram A) Please control small children or excitable adults at all times! It is strongly advised that Giessbach Falls excursion participants avoid horseplay and dancing (including folk, break and clog) at all times. (See diagram B) Excursion participants with weak hearts, vertigo or bladders should not participate. By continuing on this excursion past this point, you agree to hold Hotel Geissbach harmless for subsequent consequences.

No such sign. Not in Switzerland.

In America, there'd be anal-retentive guards. Not here. There's no adult supervision whatsoever.

In America, falling on your rear and sliding to your doom would be impossible. The falls would be blocked with impenetrable chicken wire. But there are only three wires. Not even high tension.

Go figure.

The Swiss, as crazy as it may seem, seem to think that adults are adults. "You are an adult. You are responsible. We trust you paid attention in physics class and have a natural fear of death, but it is not our problem. We don't have to coddle you. Have common sense, or die."

That seems to be the working assumption.

It's oddly liberating. But weird. The perception that my working assumptions aren't universal. The disorienting sense of a different cultural operating system -- a code I'm not familiar with. Subtle differences, stuff you have to look for. Switzerland ain't Oz. But I'm not in Kansas anymore.

I make it back down, and sit once more with Kay and Cindy. Order a beer not tasted. Another lager. Not bad. Light and frothy. I'm an American, and don't dig heavy, thick, syrupy beers. My loss perhaps, but what can you do?

Up on the transecting bridge, Mike is aiming his camera in our direction. Cindy and Kay smile, flattered. Mike comes back down after awhile. The women joke that they felt like fashion models.
What? says Mike. Well you saw you taking photos. Oh, he says in all innocence. You thought I was taking photos of you? No. I wasn't taking photos of you. I didn't even see you.

He's young.

The Swiss aren't big on safety.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Swiss Trip: May 27

Day Two
You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs!
Our Swiss adventure continues. We start off with a trek to the Gruyères Cheese Factory. (Evidently, they make Gruyères cheese here. Who knew?) A prerecorded happy cow (with a British accent) explains how this factory turns milk from Switzerland's ubiquitous beatific bovines into cheese. They don't show you where they put the holes in, but that's OK. You get samples.

Next, we hit the Castle of Gruyères -- a stout hilltop redoubt with a semi-circle of mountains on one side. And, no, it's not made out of cheese. To quote the brochure ...
Gruyères stands in the midst of the Fribourg green pre-Alpine foothills. The castle, one of the most prestigious in Switzerland, towers majestically above the medieval town. The tour of the castle offers a walk through eight centuries of architecture, history and culture.

That it does. There's not only a walk. There's a multimedia show. That's a fancy way of saying you sit in a room and watch a movie. A jester gets into the history of the castle in detail. Evidently, some French badass -- Charles the Constipated or something -- tried to take the castle and failed. The Swiss kicked his ass. Huzzah.

Show concluded, I go my own way and stroll about the castle. Mine eyes behold various tapestries, a relic of a severed human hand, old furniture, suits of armor, you know, pretty much the kind of stuff you'd expect to see in a castle. OK. Having confirmed that this castle is, in fact, a castle, I decide to leave. But it's not that simple. I can't find the exit. I keep retracing my steps. Up stairs. Down. Locked door. Up stairs. Down. Christ. It's like a freaking Twilight Zone episode. It's like Sartre. No Exit. Huis Clos. Agghhhhh! After a few more minutes of rat-maze wandering, I spy a couple and ask, "Where's the exit?" They look at me blankly. "Pardon?" Ah. French. My college language requirement finally comes in handy. I say ...

"Excusez-moi. Où est la sortie, s'il vous plait?"
"Ah! La sortie ... Allez dans le couloir. Prendre à gauche. Puis prendre votre prochaine droit."
Go down the hall. Take a left. Then take your next right. 
Something like that.
Shrug. Smile.
"De rien."

It works. I exit the castle and hit the "Medieval town" surrounding it. To American eyes, this town looks like the kind of clever simulation you'd see at Epcot, but it's the real deal. An actual, factual, Medieval town that's not made out of styrofoam. A true blast from the past -- with a slice of the dark future inside. The H.R. Giger Museum.

Sexy Giger robo-babe.
So, I duck into this shrine to my favorite Lovecraftian artist. (In case you're wondering, Giger is not the radiation detector guy. That's Geiger. Giger is the artist guy.) Never heard of him? OK.

Giger, for my non-nerd readership, is the Swiss painter/sculptor/conceptual futurist responsible for the original "Alien" character design and ELP's notorious "Brain Salad Surgery" album cover. He's one of the most influential SF artists of the last 50 years -- right up there with Syd Mead and Ron Cobb. Put it this way. Close your eyes, and imagine the future. What do you see? Dark and scary, right? OK. Much of what we think the future looks like comes out of Giger's sick head; the dark, dangerous concept of tomorrow that's supplanted the sleek, finned rocketships of the 1950s. Giger's vision is a mash-up of biological form, machine form and the fervid permutations of a dirty mind. Sexy, in a dark, disturbing way. I guess I like that stuff. To me, this feels like a pilgrimage. But let's move on.

And so I do. Across the cobbled street to the H.R. Giger Bar, natch. Throw back a beer or two. Eichof. Study the mold-injected plastic walls of screaming babies that this whimsical artist has plastered on the walls. Then split with the group.

Next, we hit the fondue place (the Fleur de Lys, I think) in MedievaLand -- which is nice, but heavy on the artery-clogging fondue comprised of Gruyères cheese. (Word is, the best in Switzerland.) I won't argue.
Creepy Giger babies

Next stop: the Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory. Predictable me, I'm cracking jokes about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. No Oompa-Loompas here. Just a cute tour of the factory's history -- and precious, living dioramas. Twee living dioramas. Towards the end, it starts to drag. After the end, we hit the disgustingly self-indulgent sample area and I pop one too many chocolate samples in my mouth. Then I start to drag. It takes awhile to round everyone up for the tour shuttle. We shuttle off.

Returned to hotel at 5p. Shower. Crash.
At 7p we go out to Le Gothard in Fribourg -- another fondue place, but they serve up salad and quiche instead. I figure this is dinner, but a heavy, heavy ham and cabbage platter follows close on its heels. More accurately, it's a ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, ham and cabbage platter. I eat it, having been trained to clean my plate. Bad idea.

Mmmm. Corporate beer.
After our meal, my Energizer Bunny Rabbit companions insist on a postprandial walk around Fribourg. Good idea, I suppose. Get the blood flowing after that heavy meal. Walk off all that jambon clogging my arteries. So we walk. And don't get back to the hotel until 10:30p.

Eichof Beer. Sweetish flavor with bitter subtext. Tastes like Heineken. By some strange coincidence, it's a Heineken product. Not exactly a microbrew, but tasty. Sorta like a Heineken.
According to the promotional literature, Swiss cows are "happy cows." California claims the same for its cows. Who ripped whom off?
Swiss cows may be happy. Swiss pigs are not. Swiss cows, for want of a better term, are cash cows. Why slaughter them? But nobody's making cheese from pig milk. Arnold the Pig, if he wound up in Switzerland, wouldn't last very long.
That line in The Third Man about Switzerland's feckless brotherly love is a slur. If you try to take their happy cows, they'll put you in the ground.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Funiculì, Funiculà

First Day
Our plane blasts off from Tampa, like an arrow aimed at Switzerland.

The Edelwiess plane is stuffed with creature comforts, but it's ridiculously hot. I joke that the Swiss don't believe in air-conditioning. I sweat like Nixon. Friday turns into Saturday.

Saturday starts with a bit of time travel. We fly into the sun, going six hours ahead in time by human reckoning. Real time, it's a nine-hour flight. Clock time, the flight takes 15 hours. When I'm conscious, I spend the time reading Neal Stephenson's Anathem. Brilliant but wordy writer, but on a long flight, that's not a problem. Hundreds of pages later, we land in Zurich airport. It feels like noon, but morning is breaking.

Our tour group shuffles off the plane like zombies. Another oompa-band awaits us in the airport. And two dudes in stupid outfits blowing alpine horns. Not so charming as yesterday's band. But I suddenly want a Ricola.

We make it from the airport to the train station. The train arrives, exactly on time. We find seats. Waiting to roll. I'm looking out the window at the Swiss commuters doing their morning commute. First impression? The Swiss are in great shape. I see no pot bellies or thunder thighs. In Switzerland, Homer Simpson would have six-pack abs.

We roll. Zurich slides by, a city that gets stuff done. A city that puts the stuff away when the job is over.

Second impression? The Swiss are neat.

We pass various construction sites and railroad yards. There are stacks of iron bars. American construction worker would toss 'em in a pile and grab a beer. The Swiss stack. They stack at right angles to the other stacks. Even the graffiti looks tidy. The taggers color inside the lines here.
We glide past all this Cartesian order. Glide, I say. The train is smooth and almost noiseless. No clickety-clack. I've heard elevators that make more noise.

The train takes us, in an eyeblink, to Fribourg. In another eyeblink, the ridiculously efficient Swiss public transportation system takes us to the Hotel Au Parc. Bing. I'm in my room. At this point, I want to shut my eyes and crash. But this is not the Swiss way. There is, perhaps I have forgotten to mention, a schedule. There's time to shower, and that's pretty much it. I try to find the air-conditioning, but there isn't time. I head back down to the lobby and join the group.
Catherine appears, our smiling, bright-eyed tour guide. She's flanked by two assistants. It's time for a three-hour walking tour of Fribourg! So we walk. For the next three hours.

It's a hot sunny day. Spring has sprung in Switzerland. Back at the hotel, I've got a suitcase full of sweaters and long sleeve shirts. Who cares? I'm in Switzerland. In Fribourg. We walk.

The town is achingly pretty. It's not just the scenery. It's not just the old buildings -- they're not all old. There's a mix of cool old stuff and cool new stuff. Somehow, it all hangs together. Somehow, the town feels like an organic whole. I can't put my finger on why -- and why towns in Florida look like cancerous sprawl in comparison.

This is not to say Fribourg is utopia. One of Catherine's assistants subversively points out the effects of encroaching gentrification. Rich people from all over the EU are buying up places to live in this charming city, and pricing the locals out. I tell him native Floridians have the same problem. We walk on. Our aerobic tour takes us up and down steps and all along the watchtower. From one high vantage point, Catherine points out a funicular. What the hell is a ...

"Funicular," as in that old Italian song -- "Funiculì, Funiculà." Now, at last, after years of ignorance, I find out what a funicular is. Now, you will too. Wait for it. Wait for it. Drum roll ...

A funicular is a chain-driven tram on a hill. Yep. The chain goes up a track then loops back down again, connecting two trams at either end like counterweights in a pendulum clock. A motor pulls the chain: When one tram goes up, the other goes down. That's a funicular. This charming piece of old-school tech runs on waste water. The Swiss are very green.

So, a few steps and parapets later, our stroll takes us past some loutish fellows in a public square. (Our tour guide says they're an ethnic group called "Bols" -- but can't confirm if I have the spelling correct. Still, the name sounds appropriate, don't it?) They flirt with our women. One of the drunkards keeps doing this weirdly accurate imitation of a cookoo clock. A fan of Orson Welles, perhaps.

We duck into Pinte des Trois Canards, which I think is French for "Three Ducks Drinking a Pint." After an insanely fresh salad, the entree arrives; river trout swimming or maybe drowning in rice pilaf, followed by meringue and strawbs.

An efficient bus returns us to the hotel. I return to my room.

My room's hot. Like I said, spring has sprung. I call the front desk and tell the desk clerk that the air-conditioning is broken. Tick tock. Silence on the line. Then, "Air ... the air is broken?" No. The air conditioning. The air conditioning is broken. "Air conditioning?" It's as if I just said, "The jibbertyjeeback rod is padiddle on the flibbertigibbet." After a moment of incomprehension, the clerk figures it out. Ahh! This guest is not insane. He is an American. Americans have evil machines that poison the air in their buildings. Right. They call these things "air-conditioning." He's read that somewhere. "Oh, air-conditioning! Now I know what you mean." Polite laughter. He tells me they have no air-conditioning, but I am free to open the windows. Great. I open the windows. A nice breeze blows in. When in Switzerland ...

The Swiss don't believe in air-conditioning. I said that on the plane as a joke. It's no joke. Who knew?

While they may lack AC, the Swiss are big on soft, downy beds. I flop down on the bed. After all that walking, I should crash like a stone. Uh-uh. I can't sleep. Jet lag done got me, so I write. Until 4 in the morning. Swiss time.

Insomnia is the mother of invention.

That's why you're reading this stuff. 

There are no Homer Simpsons in Switzerland. At least at the Zurich train station.
The Swiss are neat. Construction workers and graffiti artists included.
The Swiss don't believe in air-conditioning. Really.

Friday, May 25, 2012

We like you. Now get out the country.

OK, gang. Here I am at Tampa airport. An oompa-band is playing. There's a cake shaped like the Matterhorn. These improbable events have an underlying connection. Edelweiss Airlines is launching a direct flight to Switzerland. Evidently they like my style, because they want me to write about it. To do that, they're putting me on the plane and sending me there -- along with a group of other area scribes and photographers. Thus, in a violation of the laws of probability, I'm here at Tampa airport with a Swiss band and a mountain-shaped cake preparing to zip off to Switzerland for a week. Thanks in advance to Cindy Cockburn and Edelweiss Airlines. Details to come online and in print.