I'm wide awake at four in the morning here in southwest Germany. I had an extraordinary day yesterday in Zurich, and it has biased me in an interesting way about Europe. Here's what I think of the place. It's already paid for.
That is the miraculous thing about Western Europe. It is fabulously liveable and lush. The Rhineland is actually worth fighting several wars over. There's no way not to want to covet these hills and lands and forests and farms. You look, you see, you want, and you realize that you can sustain property disputes for hundreds and hundreds of years, and then you're certain that is what is going on. What is so amazing is the quiet. Zurich airport was as quiet as a tomb when I arrived on the red-eye. It's new, fresh and clean, and the huge panes of glass frosted with the Camel cigarette adds clearly warn in Helvetica that Smoking Seriously Damages Health. On an impossibly beautiful September 11th, I walked off my plane knowing exactly what else can kill me.
I walked down the Bahnhofstrasse and there is closed beautiful jewelry store after closed luxury clothier. It's just that there's no Sunday business, but I imagine when they all could go out of business. When will people tire of jewelry? Middle aged and elderly Swiss couples walk hand in hand dressed impeccably. You look at them and know they never came up with a new idea in their life - they never had to. They just inherited some fraction of this civilized world quietly or bloodily. It almost makes no difference because they are quiet and are enjoying the moment with as much dignity as they can possibly muster.
Lake Zurich will always be here, and the real estate business will always be more or less good.
There's not a lot of traffic here. The whole place seems to have that kind of pacifist order that you can maintain when all the cranes in town are restoring old buildings, and there are more of them than homeless beggars in the streets. And thirsty tourists pay CHF 4,50 for a plastic bottle of water just to take a little boat ride on this old lake. There are sunburnt old men in 13 foot boats with eight horsepower Honda outboards and one line over the side. They're going to be here all day.
Everything that's new here is an expensive public accomodation, and that makes sense in Europe because everything that's old here is never going on the market for the middle class. The middle class pay their dues and push their prams. The youth are nowhere to be seen. There are no skateboarders in Zurich. I actually did go to the biergarten and listened to a 20 piece oompah band for about 3 embarassing minutes. I already ate on the boat and blew my CHF 60. I'm saving my time of beer and music for company.
The Hauptbahnhof is everything a neoliberal would want it to be. Everything in every language, perfectly sensible iconography that is universal, people waiting for trains that run on schedule to everyplace on the map. A grand old restored building mixing the old and the new and people of every imaginable size, shape and color (almost) behaving in a busy, semi-purposeful and uncannily civil manner. All the culture, ie flyers and posters announcing various sorts of performance art, are vaguely rebellious like an old school hiphop or nerdily sentimental like a Sunday quiz show on NPR.
Scads of people in flipflops sip coffee and blithely blather in massive sidewalk cafes that never overcrowd. I keep thinking that this exactly would New Orleans would look like if it weren't so affordable to so many low class American tourists with money. This part of Europe is all sorted out, you see. There's nothing left to chance and no dynamism of millions to upset any expectations. All that is quietly priced out of the system. Zurich simply doesn't generate enough of the right kind of traffic. The place has evolved fully, so all the energy you have for the new is satisfied by enough solar powered public toilets and hybrid electric bicycles, which are used by all of the youngish middle agers. It's a wonderful place to be predictable.
It it just me or are people obsessed with shoes here? Every other tiny tiny shop is a shoe store. Oh and by the way, the new Apple Store is the biggest brightest thing on the Bahnhofstrasse, it too was closed on Sunday.