Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Switzerland is not a small country

It's a small town. At least if you live there. On a glorious excursion conducted entirely via public transit with my relatives Gottfried and Rosemarie, we encountered someone they knew everywhere we went. The bus, the train. A town an hour away. Hands were shaken, greetings exchanged. I was introduced as the Californian. This elicited smiles. Everyone inquired after everyone else's relatives. On our roughly 12-hour journey, through Lucerne, Interlaken, into the foothills of the Alps, this continued with astounding regularity. I suppose it's practically a pun to talk about anything occurring like clockwork in Switzerland. Nonetheless. What would it be like, I wonder, to live in a place that is so small. The tops of the mountains are regularly obscured by the clouds. The lanscape dips and soars, as does the dialect.

Having spent only about four days there, I still feel certain that it's almost impossible that Switzerland will ever join the EU. Not, as is widely supposed, because their are loath to give up their independence, their isolation, their neutrality. Nor out of snobbishness. No, I think it is partly due to a strong sense of tradition - 700 years of continuous civilization and general prosperity are enough to make anyone wary of something as newfangled as the EU. But perhaps even more than that, I think they wouldn't want to give up their close-knitness. They've seen Paree, and they'd like to stay down on the farm. It's not provincial. But it's at times pastoral, and decidedly cosy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Supposedly Romantic Thing Which I Did All By Myself

Neuschwanstein castle (New Swan Stone, for the curious) is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Germany, and easily the most famous castle in the world. So I suppose I was asking for it, in a way, but it seemed ridiculous to live in Munich so long and not go.

So, there I was, sitting on the train Monday morning, horrified by the hordes of noisy, nasal USAmerican tourists, and bemused by my horror. Who do I think I am, repulsed by my fellow countrywomen and -men? But there I was, as I sometimes find myself when confronted with Americans abroad, hiding my book so they wouldn't see it was English. Because then they would talk to me. Somehow, they always want to talk. The novelty of meeting a fellow American abroad seems to astound them as much as it appals me.

When I arrived, there was a three and a half hour wait for the next English tour, a four hour wait for the next German tour, and a two hour wait for the next audio guide tour. Was it available in English? No? German? No? Italian? Rusty, but it'll have to do.

I spent an hour rowing myself around the nearby Alpsee in a small wooden boat. I got some gorgeous blisters, and it was very, very quiet, and wonderfully solitary out in the middle. A large chunk of the freshly-developed antipathy and misanthropy melted away.

I walked up the hill (c. 20 minutes?) to the castle, catching up to and passing one of the horse-drawn carriages on the way (walking = faster and free!).

The tour lasted, I believe, just under half an hour. We were herded about like exceptionally dumb cattle, and chastised if we attempted to take pictures. The major advantage of being on the Italian tour is that everyone tried to take pictures anyway. Italian lackadaisicality battled German hideboundness for about 25 minutes. In general, the Germans won.

What interested me the most was the competitiveness of it all - the pushing and shoving to get on trains, buses. We all wanted our share of beauty, glamour, romance, and we were bound and determined to get it. The cut-throat pursuit of pleasure.
Add to Technorati Favorites