Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Friends in Zurich

This is still September 4 (when written, posted on September 7.)

We get to the train station in Zurich and head for the "angel," a modernistic being hanging from the ceiling at one end. I go confidently for the spot because Jorg has emailed me a picture of the "angel" and we have agreed to meet there. Rosalee, for some reason, has little confidence in my navigational abilities. This thing does not look like an angel. It has no wings. It is recognizably female, very much so, with large breasts. "Are you sure this is where we`re supposed to meet?" she asks anxiously. That`s always the trouble with angels -- they never look like they`re supposed to.

About then we see a woman and boy of 12 or 13, wearing big smiles and Illini sweatshirts heading for us. This must be Regula and Lorenz. It turns out Jorg has gone to park the car. After stowing our luggage in one of the lockers, we head out to tour Zurich on foot. The friends of our friends were fast becoming just our friends. They are delightful people -- way more hospitable than we would have been had our situations been reversed. They take us up to the top of the wall of the old city. They take us down to the Limat River and show us the marker where our ancestors were drowned. They walked us over to Zwingli`s church, where our ancestors interrupted services to yell insults at Zwingli for giving up on purifying the church before he got the job done. They know an amazing amount of Mennonite history for people who have never been Mennonite. Maybe they have been studying up for our visit, although they deny it. They say they learned it as part of the history they learned in school. Amazing.

They showed us the church (whose name I have forgotten) with the Chagall stained glass. We had visited some of these sites when we were in Zurich 31 years ago. I particularly remembered one stretch of the river walk where, 31 years ago,there had been a fashion shoot going on, with a beautiful model standing there as we walked by. We walked and we walked and we walked. We were too excited to be tired, but it was with some relief when our host announced that it was time to take us home for lunch.

Our friends have a beautiful apartment almost overlooking Lake Zurich in a suburb of the city. Everything is expensive in Switzerland and the lake view houses are beyond expensive. Jorg gave a "hypothetical" number of a million for an apartment that would cost $150,000 to $200,000 in the states.

Jorg cooked a wonderful chicken and vegetable lunch, served with a local wine. (Yes, Zurich has vineyards on the steep hillsides surrounding the lake.) Its climate is more temperate than one usually thinks of Switzerland because of the side of the mountain it is on and the lake effect.

We had a good discussion about why Switzerland is Switzerland. It has not joined the European Economic Union and has no plans to do so. While the rest of Europe has switched to using the euro as its currency, Switzerland still uses the Swiss Franc, worth roughly 80 U.S. cents. Switzerland is admired for remaining neutral in World War II and during the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. Jorg tells me it was more principal than principle. Or is it more principle than principal. Anyway, the Swiss were getting rich selling arms to both sides. During WWII, they were cautious about accepting refugees from Nazi-occupied areas, although they did so on an unofficial, ad hoc basis. I asked Jorg why Hitler did not invade and take over the munitions factories, and he said it suited the Nazis to have a place to hide money and loot; to have a financial system they could use; to have someone to act as go-betweens for unofficial contacts with the Allies. Besides, Swiss terrain would have been more difficult for Hitler`s panzer units to roll over like they did in the lowland countries.

About 4:00 p.m. on Sunday (10:00 a.m. CDT) we finally caught a train near our friend`s house for Zurich, where we caught the train for Lucerne. By then we had been up for about 30 hours and our (butts) were dragging. I had purchased a comfortable pair of Birkenstock black dress shoes several months ago. When I tried them on, they were so comfortable that I told the clerk I never wanted them to take them off. Famous last words. Those were the shoes I was wearing in which to travel. I was anxious to get them off. As we rode to Lucerne, we could see that we were going through some beautiful agricultural country.

The train compartment was deathly quiet. I do not believe I have ever been in a quieter place. Even the woods have insects buzzing and birds chirping. We heard absolutely nothing in that railroad car (not even when we were awake.) No sound from the tracks. Nobody talking. No music playing. I started remarking about it to Rosalee when she shhùssed me and pointed to the sign. Apparently we were in a special compartment where everything was supposed to be quiet. We kept nodding off, but trying to stay awake until we got to Lucerne.

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