Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ill Communications

You know that moment of realisation between letting go of a closing door and when it locks your keys in the car? Or when you get home after shopping only to remember that you forgot to buy that one thing you specifically went into the shop to buy in the first place? I felt that way about Switzerland. While in Zurich, I stayed with an Australian mate and even though I was able to say grouse and eat Vegemite in a sympathetic and understanding environment, I didn’t feel I had gotten close to Switzerland. My assumption was that through the Swiss people I knew, I would have interacted with the locals more. But apart from a BBQ at Sylvia’s, the couple of days hanging out with Deborah and a few conversations with randoms, I felt fairly detached from Swiss culture. On this trip, when I’ve stayed with a friend or at a hostel, I’m surprised at how much I miss the simple interaction and intimacy with a society that Couchsurfing affords. Sure, with fellow Anglophones you can drift into fast paced English, reliving familiar cultural references and playing with triple-entendre word play. This Anglophonic place requires no carefully selected words or dramatic hand gestures to get your point across. But for me, I'm left craving more interaction with the locals than just ordering a beer at the pub. This comfort sacrifices knowledge and fresh experience. You miss out on the next village’s annual potato day, you don’t see the birds swap position as they drift under the shadow of the bridge, there’s no tea with the Palestinian neighbour and you’re totally unaware of that time when that particular corner of a certain park was host to an impromptu 23rd birthday party. The country you’re in looses its identity, and a trip to a dozen countries blend into one generic “trip to Europe”, with the only things you take back being a credit card debt, some fuck ugly souvenirs and an ability to order sandwiches in seven different languages.

This intimacy and interaction requires energy. But so does getting sick. Enter the recent addition to my luggage – a wonky back.

I’ve always felt that I know my body. Similar to how one can plan Christmas day in August with Keith Martin’s Almanac, I could read it and anticipate my physical and mental well being for the next . My paternal grandfather died quite young of a heart attack, and my dad and his brothers have all had heart issues, so knowing how exercise and what I ate affected me was important. But while travelling, health issues become magnified and being able to work with your body similar to driving a car. Sometimes you can just coast. Other times you need to give all the engine can take. Some days, I’ve felt like I forgotten to change gears and am just revving it in neutral at green traffic lights. This perfectly describes Zurich. No energy. No zest. If you’re sick, you don’t have the energy to put yourself out there and interact. And if you don’t put yourself out there and interact, you may as well just strap on a heavy bag and walk around an unfamiliar suburb in your own town for a week.

My back issue started while I was with mum. Rather than wait for mum to put her bag on the trolley she had brought along, a bazaar combination of wanting to be a good son and my ‘eliminate all things that don’t fit in my schedule’ policy motivated me to carry mum’s bag for her. This did speed up metro connections and got us to trains on time, but combined with switching beds every night and the weight of my own pack; this mentality did wonders for my back. By France, I had learnt to wait for mum, but I had already sown the seeds of trouble. Once mum left for Ireland, I was practically begging people to crack my back for me. A big American guy half throttled me in Nice trying to get my spine back in shape, and by the time I got to Zurich, I had turned into a low energy, irritable shit. I would think: “Why isn’t Switzerland working for me?”. I hadn’t heard back from the Swiss people I met at Sylvia’s BBQ for beers, the couch I had sorted out appeared to evaporate a day before leaving, a good friend in Australia had given me some bad news and another friend had asked for a break in communications to get me out of their head. Fuck them all, I thought.

Yeah.. And here’s me thinking Switzerland was to blame.

On my last day in Zurich, I went to a chiropractor. Judging by the medieval drawings of people strapped to racks, being stretched and disembodied hands applying pressure to their back, I thought I was in for some pain. The doctor was an American woman who had married a Swiss and was now living in Zurich. Two apples in a sock huh? Not only did she fix my back, but she gave a much needed outsider on the inside perspective. She compared the Swiss mindset to a coconut. Hard on the outside. Soft on the inside. The procedure was expensive, but totally necessary. After my back was cracked, I walked around to stretch things out. Later, I went and had dinner with Deborah and Nerina, the Swiss girls I met in Cuba. Between Sushi rolling and Cuba reminiscing, I got Deborah to walk over my back, and each time it snapped, crackled and popped like a bowl of Rice Bubbles. My back was felling better and so was Switzerland.

Winge over.

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