Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Gaze

On the exterior, Zurich is odd. If you came here for a day, walked around and took your photos in front of the pretty things, you probably leave with a weird impression of the place. It's clean; it's expensive; it has a high percentage of ex-pats; there's more Audi S series cars than anywhere else I've seen; and people like to stare at you without the politeness of sunglasses.

Unless you knew someone in Zurich, it would take a long time to warm to the place. On the street, people like to check you out and assess whether you're worth their time. Maybe this was due to my dishevelled backpacker get up, but on the night I arrived, I couldn't help feeling like there was a "fuck off outsider" vibe floating in my direction. I chatted to one guy who regularly visits Japan and he says that the people here in Zurich can be as difficult as the Japanese when it comes to getting past the courtesy and protocol and actually getting to know the person. His experience was that he has rarely felt as if the people he interacts with on a daily basis could be called his friends. Thankfully he was Swiss and understood where I was coming from. An American woman who married a Swiss chap and is now lives here, put it a little differently. She told me the Swiss people and the culture they live in is like a coconut. Hard on the outside, and fairly difficult to crack open. But once you're in, it's all soft, sweet and lovely. The funny thing about this is the last time I enjoyed coconut was in Cuba with a Swiss person.

I met a disproportionate amount of Swiss and Austrian people in Cuba. More than German, French and Spanish put together. Nothing can beat the Canadians contingency (well I may have a skewed view thanks to amount of time I spent at the Canadian embassy), but for a country the size of Switzerland, I sure met a lot of Swiss. Oh.. I just got a flash of this one Finnish guy who would pop up in the most random of places on a scooter. Hmm.. Not relevant to this story, but funny. Ok.. Swiss people. I met Sylvia in ViƱales, after she had ridden 15km from the village to the cave (our group took a dodgy taxi). Even though she was buggered by the ride, she pushed on and joined Collin, Jack, Annick and me on our exploration of the caves once used by Che to hide guns in. Then a week later in Trinidad, I bumped into her, Irish Jack and Canadian Collin again. Austrian Mary and Australian Josh soon joined us, and then it all goes a bit crazy after that. On the second last day in Havana, after I said goodbye with Collin, I met Nerina and Deborah (more Swiss), on the steps of the Capitolio. These girls were fun to hang out with and until the last hour I was in Havana, they had made my final day in Cuba a delightful one.

Once Switzerland came around, I emailed the Swiss peeps to let them know I was coming to Zurich. I got in contact with an Aussie friend of a friend living there and asked if she wanted to catch up and rather than settle for just a drink, Sarah offered up her spare room for my time there. Cool. I said goodbye to the Bulgarians, and headed for the Alps.

To bookend this post, as I was leaving Zurich, there was this guy on the tram who was wearing a very special outfit. At first, I thought he had committed a simple double denim fashion faux pas. But when I looked again, I realised his denim pants and denim jacket weren't alone. Who looks at themselves in the mirror and says: "You know what this outfit needs? A denim button up shirt." Triple denim. So wrong yet so right.

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