Visit to Switzerland

Over New Year Eva and I spent some time in Switzerland. It was the first time I had made a private trip there. I have been in Zurich several times for my work and I was once at a conference in Ascona but that was all my experience of the country. We spent three nights in Chur which we found a very pleasant town. The following three nights we were in Lucerne which I liked even better. In some ways visiting Switzerland was like returning to a better past. In what we saw there were no signs of hardship or other problems due to the pandemic or the Ukraine war. The restaurants were full. In the hotels the personnel was plentiful. The complete absence of requirements to wear a mask was refreshing. It was strange at the end of the trip when we reentered Germany on the train and had to put on our masks again. In Switzerland it was easy to forget many of the negative aspects of everyday life at present.

From Chur we took a day trip by train to Arosa, a place I had not heard of before. The town itself is not specially attractive but the scenery on the way there is spectacular. I discovered that the sanatorium in Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain was based on an institution in Arosa. In the novel the sanatorium is situated in Davos but in fact Mann’s wife stayed for extended periods in both these places. Mann visited her in Arosa. Robert Louis Stevenson also spent time there. In fact I do not like Mann very much. The first book of his I read was Doctor Faustus, in English. While I admired some of the descriptions, particularly that of the music shop, the book as a whole did not appeal to me. Next I read Death in Venice which I did not like better. Finally, after having learned German I read Death in Venice in the original, hoping that this would be an improvement. Unfortunately it was not the case. This is in contrast to my experience with Kafka. When I originally read Kafka’s work in English I liked it a lot and when I later read it in the original I found it even better. In Arosa I saw a lot of Alpine Choughs, the first of many I encountered on the trip.

One thing I liked about Lucerne was its situation on the lake, surrounded by mountains. On one evening the lake provided an impressive variety of colour combinations as the light changed. One striking aspect of the lake is the powerful stream caused by the flow of water being largely held back at one place and confined to a narrow region. (The river Reuss flows into the lake at one end and out again at the other, close to Lucerne.) We took a boat trip on the lake. From there is it possible to see a house where Richard Wagner lived for several years and wrote some of his most famous works. He had a number of famous visitors there, including Nietzsche and Liszt. In Germany it is typical for people to set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I do not like that much. Firstly it makes me feel that it is unsafe to go onto the streets at that time. This year it was particularly extreme. On the other hand I do not like being kept awake for much of the night by the noise. In Lucerne they had a variant which I found preferable. Fireworks were forbidden on New Year’s Eve. People did occasionally violate this rule but it was a minor annoyance. Then on the first of January there was a professional firework display over the lake. It was spectacular, it was safe and it did not cost anyone sleep. In Lucerne we visited the Rosengart art collection which only served to show me once again how little I am able to appreciate modern art. The painters represented most there are Picasso and Klee. From what we heard on the guided tour I had the impression that Picasso was a very unpleasant person, in love with himself. I find his paintings ugly and I do not appreciate the paintings of Klee we saw either. Eva has more understanding for such things. The few paintings we saw that I liked were by impressionists, on the side of the border to modern art where I still feel comfortable. I am thinking in particular of paintings of Monet, Renoir and Seurat.


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