Sunday, July 4, 2010

Where I'm writing from

I have been staying for my time in Zuerich at a place called the Villa Hatt, and I’m completely obsessed with it. The Hatt is an ETH-affiliated residence, though if there are other visitors staying here, I haven’t seen too many of them. But the house is conspicuously awesome in a way that makes me continually conscious of it. The VH is, I think, a place of some historical significance. There’s a plaque out front that says, in German (so it’s only an approximation) that some rich family gave the place to ETH some years ago, and sometimes people will wander by and stop to look at it, sometimes even snapping pixes (which makes DF feel vaguely famous, and you know how he likes that).

Now all you in the broad readership know that DF’s general indifference toward the indicia of adulthood stops when it comes to real estate. Despite my general aversion toward bourgeois materialism, I covet fancy dwellings. And perhaps this is why I’m so into the Villa—as houses go, it’s an absolute beauty. This is not in a cheesy American way (overbuilt, ostentatious, tackily decorated), but in a stately and (seriously) classy way. The Hatt has gravitas, literally and figuratively. This entire area—Rigiblick—is upscale even by Zurich standards, and often when I’m out on the deck I can see into the house across the street and the family that lives there just glows with wealth. They even have a pool, and I can’t stress how rare this is in crowded, cold European cities.

The Hatt is basically a mansion that’s been turned into a residence for academics, and this makes me worry that the itinerant nerds who pass through here don't appreciate it as they should, their noses being buried in books and/or their aesthetic sensibilities having been dulled by too many experiments or theoretical economic models. Geographically, the Villa's located high up above the city in Zuerichberg. There’s a deck out in back, where I have a tea and read sometimes, and the views of the city and sea sweeping out below are so awe-inspiring that I’ve photographed them countless times, knowing full well that the pics are not going to do justice to the views. Taking all the pix is just sort of a way of acknowledging how awesome and rare it is that I get to enjoy a view like this. (And the views from my room are similarly awesome--there are tree-enshrouded vistas that stretch down to the city and sea, and to the mountains beyond them.)

A staircase leads from the deck to a lower level with perfect hedgerows and roses, and when I sit and read and look at the view beyond and the hedgerows below, I feel like a low-class interloper into European gentility. (I am also, for what it's worth, like the only person who ever goes outside to enjoy this deck, and it makes me wonder if the deck is haunted or somehow off limits--if I lived here, I'd be on this deck ogling the views all the damned time.)

John Waters said that Switzerland is the only country where the rich know how to act. I only vaguely understand this aphorism, but as applied to the Villa, what one can sense is that it took enormous wealth to create the place, but it's not obvious or conspicuous-consumption-y. Aside from the location in the fanciest area of a very high-end city, there are two rooms with enormously high ceilings, one of which houses a flatscreen TV the size of a small movie screen (seriously, the ones in the Beverly Center may be smaller), though it’s unclear whether I’m allowed in these rooms (more on this later). There’s the de rigeur spiral staircase with wooden banister; the numbered prints of some famous artists; mini-sculpture garden in the side yard; and fresh fruit and Toblerone on tap at all times.

I’ve already written about the breakfasts, which make me look forward to waking up every morning, and the walk to the funicular, which delights me on a daily basis (though sometimes I walk for variation and exercise). But I would be remiss in not mentioning the Villa Hatt’s manager, Frau Erika. Frau E is a sweet and very well-presenting older lady who runs the establishment. From what I can tell, this mainly means getting breakfast ready in the AM and doing upkeep on the property. They have maids to clean the rooms (and one of them barged in again today when I was in a state of undress, walked into the room, indicating that she had to put a box of Kleenex into the bathroom, and then apparently lost heart halfway into the room and left, taking the Kleenex with her), and there’s hardly anyone here, so I can hardly imagine that her job is terribly exhausting.

Still, Frau Erika executes her duties in a classically Swiss way—that is to say, with a nearly frightening attention to detail. She has breakfast impeccably prepared at 7am sharp every morning, and will typically ask me 2-3 times whether it’s good (and since it’s the same food every morning, obviously my answer is yes). She seems unsettled by my tendency to occasionally get a tea from the kitchen at off hours, and has explained in a mix of German and English that there’s some official procedure for doing this, which I’m going to simply use as an excuse to not get any more tea in the afternoons. {Edit: just this AM I realized that the coffee/tea machine had been moved from the guest dining room to the kitchen, and I can't help but think they did this to stop me from using it at off-hours, which kind of mortifies me.}

The only downside is that Frau E speaks virtually no English, and with DF’s weak-ass German it’s a struggle to communicate. There is a lot of waving and smiling and nodding between us, all very good-natured. So for example, when I visit aforementioned back patio, it causes Frau E to act ever so slightly agitated, hence my worry that parts of the Hatt are off-limits to guests (I wonder if this area is part of their residence, so me hanging out there would be like barging into someone’s living room).

Long story short, I am madly in love with the Villa Hatt, and my only reservation is that it will make my living situation seem meager upon returning home. But hell, at least I’ll always be able to say I spent a few weeks rubbing elbows with the well-heeled Zurich elite in a famous estate high up in Rigiblick. Not terribly shabby, eh, broad readership?


1. Exterior of Villa Hatt

2. Zueriberg-ward view from DF's VH room (or, as the case may be, "raum")

3. Zuerichsee-ward view from DF's VH room