Thursday, July 8, 2010

Last night in Zuerich

What to do for DF's last night in Zuerich? So much has already been accomplished. Win a fistfight with a Giacometti sculpture in the Kunsthaus? Check. Dive nude off the Quaibruecke into the Limmat? Check. Run through the streets of the business district chanting "USA"? Check. (N.B. That last one actually happened.)

Seriously, though, I was feeling a wee bit nostalgic earlier today, especially after leaving the Villa Hatt for a very serviceable hotel nearer the city center and, more importantly, the Hauptbahnhof (apparently there was a dignitary coming to stay at the Villa and they wanted me gone whether or not there was a spare room). There was no specific thing I wanted to do or see in Zuerich that I hadn't already done or seen. And anyway, Z-town is not not exactly a city of grand events that one simply must do. A trip to LA without going to the beach or Disneyland might be said to be bereft, and I think you have to see the Stat of Liberty or Central Park if you're in NYC (though I'm not particularly interested in either).

So what I did instead was wander around. I walked up to the Uni/ETH area and grabbed the 9 tram, which curves around the southern (?) side of the city, over Quaibrucke and then back up through Paradeplatz to Talstrasse, where both Paddy Reilly's and Wagamama are located. Paddy's is woven throughout my experience here in Zuerich, from the very first day and the fated US game to the next-to-last night and the not-so-fated Germany game. Wagamama, of course, is more familiar from my time in Amsterdam, going all the way back to 2001 (nearly ten years ago--yikes!) when my co-authors on the A-dam LG guide and I used to head over to Leidseplein to dine on noodly dishes on a regular basis. I had a bite at W and it was typically spicy and delicious, if kinda pricey (but what isn't in this damn flush-with-cash-even-in-a-global-credit-crunch kinda market?).

Then, post-Waga, I went to the Sprungli at Paradeplatz and Bahnhofstr for a tiny bite of spectacular and spectacularly overpriced schokolade. Disappointingly, though perhaps for the best in terms of health, S was closed, and I then set out to simply wander a bit and take in Zuerich qua Zuerich. As I mentioned, the city is not one of massive, must-see icons (though there are some), but rather has a beautiful and well-kept center that dates to the middle ages and has kept its medieval character while also staying high-end and modern commercially--think a stately old stone building off an alley with massive store windows with "Prada" emblazoned above them.

The maziness of the central city (across the Limmat from the slightly grottier Neumarkt area) affords a fun adventure to any walk. Nothing's an LA-style grid; hell, the city operates in three-space. Turn one way and you're in the middle of a square, fronted by weighing-houses that date to the early middle ages. Head down one of the narrow streets off the square and you're met with a profusion of Swiss flags and candy boutiques that can make chocolate into anything God's ever imagined. Head down a narrow, curvy stone staircase and you're on the Limmatquai, sunset sparkling on the water, Euros lounging about elegantly at outdoor tables and sipping on civilized beverages. Go up a narrow, curvy stone staircase and you've discovered a big park with statues and fountains (from which, I kid you not, people actually do drink) and kids playing and people making watercolors of the city views.

I read for a while in one of the latter, and thought--does this ever happen in LA? Are there places you can wander around and find all manner of picturesque corners and angles? Not really. There are great hidden spots in the city, but you have to drive, and so exploration in the pedestrian sense can't really work. And even so, the tenor of life seems much more calm and serene here. There are few if any yelly interactions. Motorists ALWAYS stop for peds at crosswalks. Groups of teenagers are rare, and don't really seem that threatening. No homeless people accost you for change and/or crap on the streets. Zuerich has the highest cost of living of any city in the world, and man you really can tell.

So this is it: Earlier today, I said my goodbyes to my friends and colleagues at ETH, and I really do hope to keep in touch with them. Many of us work on different things, but their insights were very valuable, and trying to engage their projects forced me to think about my own work in a very new way. The seminars were both great--challenging and interesting and made me think about things I never would have otherwise. People called my Swiss trip a "vacation," and that's not quite right, but it was really fun despite also requiring a lot of hard work.

And now I'm getting to bed early so I can catch the 9 15 train to Munich tomorrow AM. I'm never happy to leave cities I've stayed in and felt much affection for, but in this case I can at least say that I'm ready to leave, and that I don't feel that more time here would have caused me to do or see anything that would otherwise have missed out on.


1. The Limmat at dusk, photog'ed from a park that affords views of the entire city and that I just happened upon while wandering, which more or less illustrates the above points about the benefits of wandering in Zuerich.

2. Medieval street bedecked by Swiss flags. The profusion of flags in the city kind of puzzles me in a country that is explicitly neutral and devoted to plurality in its internal affairs. I think the reason they do this is that the flag doesn't really connote nationalism in the sense of "We're better than others," but simply as a symbol of the Swiss identity, which is somehow evident in the distinctiveness of the flag itself, which is not triumphal, but uses a symbol similar to the Red Cross and is square rather than oblong.

3. Pic that may or may not give you some sense of how you can really get lost among the asymmetrical medieval streets of the central city. And Zuerich being Zuerich, getting lost is good--it's a pleasant experience of discovery and aesthetic pleasure rather than making one feel disoriented and possibly threatened.