Halloween and masks - thoughts about Zurich

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October 31st 2019
Published: October 31st 2019
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Lyon, Halloween night

Sorry there are no pics today but Wifi was down for a while. Now it's too late and I'm too tired to fight with this machine. Tomorrow, I promise to come back and insert them.

Happy Halloween! (Has one ever gone by without someone making a “nice mask” crack? On such tiny coincidences are perfectly ridiculous themes built. Keep reading – you’ll see!)

Here in FIRST class on the TGV Lyria headed for Basel, Geneva, Mulhouse and Paris. Well, in eight or 10 minutes we’ll be headed there. We are such experienced travellers now! No more do we sit in first class seats waiting for someone to come along and tell us to move, laughing lightheartedly as we helplessly waive vouchers showing that we have actually paid for the space.

Not that that ever happened to us. But I do worry so. I mean, it still could. (Yeah, like some ticket collector is gonna even bother themselves with an older couple of white people when they can hassle younger people with more melatonin.)

Ectually, dahlling, we are travelling in STYLE on outbound leg of the trip. (Feel free to insert “nice legs” comment) The train journey AND on the two flights we have taken so far!

It is all Susan’s fault, of course. Ahem.

She has never, ever fallen asleep on a night flight.

Given that the woman can normally sleep for Canada, depriving her of the said sleep is NOT a good idea for her travelling companion. Or the people in her immediate vicinity. Or the city where she lands. Or . . . well, world peace for that matter.

So all of this effort was entirely for Susan’s benefit. “Nowt” to do with me, guv’nor. Sure.

Thus: upgrade to business class to Montreal to avoid the fistfights over whose bag goes in what overhead bin AND get free espresso in the lunge, er, lounge. Upgrade Swiss Air to Zurich (Aeroplan points, NO surcharge) so Susan will at least have a comfortable seat, first class train to Lyon, ditto.

Son of a gun. Guess who can sleep in business class? Yup. She managed at least three hours. ‘Course it also took an app to play rain noises on her headphones, a sleep mask (in keeping with today’s theme) and a single Gravol – but it WORKED!

“Oh, well done, Tim!” you are no doubt thinking. Thank you, I shall overcome my usual tendency towards massive modesty long enough to accept your praise as fully justified.

By the way, first class on Swiss trains carries no special privileges other than larger, reclining seats. Three across instead of four. The single across the aisle from Susan and me is occupied by a pretty young Spanish girl who got on her phone the minute she sat down and began a long leisurely chat with her best friend. “Leisurely” as in gaps of a minute or so between comments. I will get Susan, who was queen of telephone calls in her younger days, to explain the process to me.

And now back to our regularly scheduled deprogramming. Where were we? Literally. Zurich! That’s right. A place where, as Susan read in one of the design books in our room, you can create architectural controversy by painting your window shutters a different shade of blue or green from your neighbors. Oh, Lieberman Gott, Helmut, das ist AQUAMARINE! Telephonieren der Polizei! (Who do not answer the phone because it’s Sunday and they are closed.)

What? Oh, reality. If we must. Vastly overrated.

Zurich: quiet, peaceful, pretty, expensive (oh, my Lord! Although the cost does provide a defence to charges of quaintness) and full of people who apparently speak at least four or five languages. Probably more. It looks like Disney movie set of a European city. Glossy name brands, shiny store fronts, beautifully kept medieval buildings, well preserved Roman ruins. A little dull, a little smug perhaps.

Judging from the comments on some of the travel websites, that is certainly the impression left on most visitors. Go to a bar only to meet other travellers, the locals won’t talk to you and just keep to themselves, says one. Leave Zurich and go somewhere more interesting and/or attractive, says another. The overall impression is that nothing particular is happening here now. Swiss watches gleam in shop windows, hotel rooms smell like chocolate, well-mannered and bloodless archaeological bits and pieces wait politely for tour groups. All peace and calm and control. Heck, the rivers are clean enough to swim in!

Very reassuring.

Kind of like an experienced street cop handling a crowd of rubberneckers. Nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving. Everything is under control.

It doesn’t jibe. It’s almost like the Swiss are embarrassed by their history. Militant Protestant reformer Zwingli is commemorated primarily by a series of statues in front of the main cathedral, showing him in all kinds of different colours and costumes. A figure of fun, really. Not a guy who helped tear the Western Church in two. Oh, they seem to say, that. Well, we’ve moved on past that, haven’t we? If we can convince you we are boring, just mountains and dirndls and yodelling. No Nazi billions stolen from the Jews here, folks. Not anymore, Washed clean by the years, you bet.


But then there’s some other stuff that, frankly, ought to be celebrated out freakin’ loud.

Take the Fraumunster, the “women’s cathedral,” built on the foundations of an ancient abbey. Just a hundred meters downstream from our hotel, from the outside it is a massive lump of undistinguished masonry blocks. Of course that is not all there is to the place. It has its shiny and glossy bits and they are truly remarkable. Inside are well-advertised artistic wonders, the famous and fabulous complementary sets of stained glass windows, some by Marc Chagall, some by Alberto Giacometti. Chagall’s are luminous and gorgeous, Giocometti’s a marvel in using color to create a trompe l’oiel, three dimensional effect (red appears to be closer, blue, further away). Lovely, glossy, expensive, superb art by masters. Gaze in wonder, no photography allowed inside, check out the remnants of some ancient frescos, gift shop is over there, exit just beyond.

Or read throwaway brochure. This building was literally the seat of women’s power in Zurich, where the mother abbess was enthroned as the lawful ruler of the entire city state of Zurich for centuries, starting just after the turn of the first millennium. Say what? Yup. All of it. The whole shootin’ match. Female heads of an entire European state for about 200 years. Not inherited just because there were no men from the ruling family available. Passed from boss nun to boss nun. It’s almost like the church and the other rulers of the time thought that women could handle the responsibility.

Well, well, well. How ‘bout them apples.

The transition back to male rule is glossed over. (Glossing over? In Zurich? What a thought.) The women ruled during this era, it states. That’s it. Done and over. No need even mention that men took over or why. Apparently, that paradigm is the default setting. Still is in Switzerland, where the women recently had a walk out to protest the lack of progress in creating actual, not merely statutory, equal rights and representation.

What lies beneath is the much more interesting topic. Foundations are compelling. Take the founding of the Fraumunster itself, attributed in legend to several different miracles. The combined version has two daughters of an eighth-century male ruler lured out at night by the Holy Spirit to follow a stag which had gleaming lights on its horns. (Freudians amongst you rejoice! Take a minute to absorb that one. Smoke a cigarette in the post-analysis glow.) The male deer (head so badly drawn in an early fresco that it looks like a sock puppet) leads them onward to a spot where two angels bring down? lower? a rope from heaven. Here, we must build a church say the girls. Apparently, Daddy buys the story that they were taking orders from above and not out looking for boys. So a church gets built.

Okay, not bad. Glowing stag, heavenly rope. Yeah, all right.

A few more facts, a little more down to earth, quite literally: until just before the original church was built on the site, the site was underwater. Had been since before people ever settled in the area. Then, one day, it was not. My research into the area (ha!) doesn’t reveal what happened. Assume something drastic way downstream. The entire lake drops its levels and the real estate market in Zurich will never be the same again. And it hasn’t been. The city mothers and fathers made dam (double ha!) sure of that! Water front property, especially blessed waterfront property that you don’t have to buy from anybody, being so valuable that you will do just about anything to keep it so.

And as for the abbey church and the abbey holdings? The last mother abbess handed over the whole lot to the Reform Church in 1524. Copies of the transfer deeds are on display in the museum now in the crypt area of the church. There is much discussion of how the reformers used the church and how they lived. All men, naturally. And not a word about what happened to the lady abbess.

Curious, that, is it not?

By the way – Phil Lister likes to tell the story of the man who spent three days in Jerusalem, then wrote a book called Israel: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

I had 30 hours in Zurich, so you’re only getting a lousy blog post!


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