Zurich — Alles in Ordnung, Danke
Two days after Sadie returned from her tour of the UK, I left for a business trip to Zurich.
As a welcome-home gift for my wife I bought fresh flowers and gave her a bilingual version of Waiting For Godot that I bought in Paris, the day after our argument.
I also spent 93 minutes cleaning the house as it was in a bit of a state, what with me and the cats running amok on our own for almost four weeks. I know it took this long to do the cleaning because I played my vinyl edition of The Beatles’ White Album, which is a double, while I carried out my chores.
We had worked on our relationship with FaceTime and phone calls during the weeks apart and we also encouraged each other to maintain our sobriety. This was easier for me to do than Sadie while she is touring, but I was impressed with her resolve.
She returned exhausted, but triumphant. The tour had gone extraordinarily well, considering the situation with the pandemic, etc. Had it not gone well and Sadie had been drinking her mood would have been darker, but now she can close that chapter of her career on a positive note and concentrate on her role in the new year as the new artistic director for Footsbarn Theatre.
Before we moved to in France, I always envisaged that both of us would be travelling through our work, once the pandemic subsided, and the house would be a base, and this week it became a reality.
I was grateful to get away, after almost a month in the house with hardly seeing a soul, the days morphing into one another as the temperature drops and the sun remains hidden behind constant grey clouds.
I travelled to Zurich by train, almost an eight-hour journey from Culan as I had to go via Paris. Not only was it the most convenient way to go, it also assuaged my inclination to try and not travel by air, certainly in Europe, because of the impact on the climate and also because of the risk of picking up Covid.
Travelling by train on a long journey was a joy. The train from Paris to Zurich is a luxurious experience, even second-class, with plush seats, plenty of space, electric sockets and free and reliable wifi on board.
I was able to work in comfort and the feeling of freedom and being European was undeniable as we crossed into Switzerland without any border checks before disembarking at Zürich Hauptbahnhof.
The hotel was located in the industrial quarter and I decided to walk and explore this lesser-known part of the city. My trip was for two nights and I had light luggage so was grateful for the 30-minute walk from the station after eight hours of being sedentary.
I was in Zurich at the invitation of a major cocoa and chocolate supplier to view its new headquarters, meet its new CEO and attend a briefing on its sustainability efforts during the past years.
The offices were modern, luxurious and cool and reminded me of The Guardian’s new HQ at Kings Place in London. After 20 months of working remotely, I realised how much I missed working in an office, particularly ones designed for the 21st century. I half jokingly said to the press officer to let me know if the company is hiring media execs in the near future.
At dinner on my first evening I stayed in the industrial/business quarter of Zurich. I was immediately struck at how similar the surroundings are to San Francisco. I spent time in The City By The Bay just as Twitter was expanding and how the city was dominated by white, middle-class, young, affluent people. Apart from in the Fillmore district and outer suburbs you hardly see a black person downtown — and Zurich definitely had the same vibe, because like San Francisco only the wealthy and privileged can afford to live in the city.
After a day of meetings I went back to the hotel and enjoyed a sauna before going out for dinner. This time I visited the Altstadt, with its cobbled windy streets and cosy bars. It is also home to the legendary Cabaret Voltaire Club, which unfortunately was closed for renovation during my visit.
The day began with snow and it was a chilly evening, so I broke my sobriety with a couple of shots of rum in my coffee after dinner. I wandered back to the hotel, where I had another nightcap before bed.
The Swiss insist on a health pass and ID before entering a bar or restaurant and masks are not compulsory, except in shops and on public transport.
With news breaking of another COVID variant, named Omicron, I was keen to get back home to France before borders became closed again. But I had time for some Christmas shopping before the eight-hour journey back to Culan, and picked up a wonderful gift for Sadie, that surprisingly didn’t break the bank.
A day after returning to France the Swiss government introduced travel bans and 10-day quarantine rules at its border.
I arrived back at our local station late Saturday evening and Sadie picked me up. It had started to snow but Sadie had a log fire going in the sitting room and it felt good to be home.
She was grateful for some time in the house on her own to ground herself after a month away, and my trip was highly productive as I had time to write, read and reconnect to the outside world.
Sometimes you need to be able to see the bigger picture, certainly during these times of lockdowns and curfews and with the new COVID variant already on the rampage one has to wonder when the next opportunity will come to travel.
For now we are happy to be safe and warm and grateful for what we have got and what we have achieved.
Times are hard, for some more than others, fuel and heating costs are going up, food prices are rising and families are struggling with the basics as we enter into a bleak mid-winter.