I arrived in this country last Wednesday evening. The approach from England and from the west emphasised the space and rolling patchwork of forests around here. 26% of this country is forested, a big contrast after England, and it really showed as I looked down out of my plane window. People and their settlements were being almost shrugged off by the massive geology, the ridges and the hills, and large areas of trees stood all around. Ah, what a relief.
As soon as I arrived at the airport I could see that this was a rich country. One thinks that once one is in the first world that is it, first world means first world. But no, think again. This place is even richer than England. The public transport is excellent. The dirt of Bethnel Green Road seems a distant memory. The country has very little crime and almost zero unemployment. They have hydro and nuclear energy which means their electricity produces no CO2 pollution, and recycling is very, very advanced here. They also have direct democracy, and referenda are held a few times each year on different topics. Good place eh? On Thursday I was swimming with my friend Ben in Lake Geneva in warm water, with the French-looking hotel fronts of the six story stone buildings that surround the lake edge in the background. I thought it was a pretty nice place.
But what of the opaque banking system here? In this country a corrupt, third world dictator or mafioso crime boss from eastern Europe, can have an account with a number on. Some of the wealth in this very wealthy place comes from rich banks who operate in shonky ways. And did I mention the price of a sandwhich?! Think $10 Australian. I honestly don’t know how tourists manage to come here without leaving all their savings in the hands of the Swiss.Today I walked in the centre of the country, in Grindelwald. Walking up the Alps I heard a strange disembodied tinkling sound, as though metallic wind chimes were ringing out there in the grey space before me. What could it be I thought? On the other side of the steep ravine was another slope, and so it wasn’t coming from mid air at two thousand metres, this much I knew. From the preternatural to the prosaic, in a few steps, bovine reality loomed out of the mist.
The mist wraps the mountains like swaddling. The cauldron is a space of obscurity…
The Eiger, a well known mountain, has a glacier on one of its sides.
Last night I dreamt of a valley whose sides only could be seen. In the morning I saw one such outline.
As beautiful as the Alps can be, I do realise now why Australians flock to London, despite its flawed nature. It is the shared cultural background of the place for English speakers of the Commonwealth. We are able to speak a common language, allowing utter transparency of communication. And we know much of English literature, with its consequent common points of reference. Going through German speaking Switzerland I sometimes remembered walking through London with my friend Danny…
Despite Switzerland being a good society, I don’t want to live here. But what of Geneva, a city where 45% of people are from elsewhere and where English is heard on the streets often? More in my next blog entry.