Until I went to Switzerland, I didn’t know the word “wander” meant “hike.” I fell in love with that and with bright yellow “Wanderweg” — hiking trail — signs that cropped up to show me the way even in cities and towns and railroad underpasses. Sometimes the Wanderweg sign is just a yellow slash on a rock with the local canton arms painted on it. Red and white mean you’re going to climb up some hills (of greater or lesser incline and (possibly) remoteness 🙂 ). There is NO such thing in America and there should be.
I love Switzerland. Back when I was teaching international students — many of whom were Swiss — and I had not been to Switzerland — they really got on my nerves with their endless, “Well it depends!” in answer to a question and their constant comparisons to Switzerland which was clearly (from what they said) better organized than the world they found in the chaos of California. It didn’t matter to them that San Diego County had as many people as the whole Swiss nation and that Southern California is the “place where world migrations end” (Larry McMurtry, I think). At that time those wrist watches with the rising sun and moon were fashionable and I had one. My colleagues and I had a big joke about that, that these watches were designed by Swiss watchmakers especially for the American market so Americans could tell day from night.
At the same time, these critical young Swiss were also looking for a kind of freedom they didn’t have in Switzerland where society is more stratified and fixed. With the freedom comes disorder and some came to see that was the price they would have to pay. A few stayed in the US, most were all too glad to go home.
Though they could be polemical and arrogant, I liked them. One thing they were GREAT at was going on a hike. I took one student on a hike in the chaparral wilderness park where I took my dogs almost every day. We got to the top of the mountain (pretty much a 1000 foot climb straight up for 3/4 of a mile, no switchbacks) and he said, “Where’s the restaurant?” I thought he was joking until I went to Switzerland and found — guess what — there are restaurants on top of the mountains where you can sit, have an espresso, look out over the beautiful landscape and, if you want, have a schnitzel and French fries…
I have been in Switzerland many times, and I’m really excited because I’m going back next May. I know there are other places in the world, and, thanks to a really good deal from Iceland Air, on the way home, I have a one week stay in Iceland, a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I saw photos of the horses. My friend and I will stay in a house in a national park in Iceland where the scenery is spectacular and Icelandic saga locales are nearby. I love the sagas and the horses and nature? ❤
As far as the “stratified” society in Switzerland, I’ve come to understand it better. Chaos isn’t necessarily freedom.
I was eating fondue (yeah people really do eat it there) with a Swiss Medievalist Historian I met from a Google search when I was working on Martin of Gfenn. His specialization was EXACTLY the tiny part of Switzerland north of Zürich where my story was set. He loved the book, had helpful suggestions, we had a sympathetic email conversation and when I went to Zürich in 2005 we met up and spent a whole day in 13th century Zürich. (You can do this if you have an old map and a friend who’s as immersed in the past as you are.) Then I went home with him where his girlfriend had dinner for us. She, also, was a Swiss Medievalist Historian. We had some champagne and at a certain point I was “relaxed” enough to ask tactless questions. Both of them had studied in the US. I could imagine them in one of my classrooms. So I asked, “How do you guys feel about being labeled, ‘Swiss Medievalist Historians’?”
They both cracked up (they’d had a lot of champagne, too). “What do you think YOU are?” they both said at the same time. I laughed so hard I almost fell off my chair. BUT…
I found that — for the first time in my life — I felt that I had a recognizable identity and that I BELONGED. It made sense of the day — which was one of the greatest in my life — sharing — truly SHARING — an experience with another person. I explained this to friends when I got back to the US and the response was, “Yeah, you finally found someone who shares your narrow field of interest, that’s all.” The thing is, in Switzerland there’s nothing strange about having such a narrow field of interest, but I do know that in the US there’s not much call for a Swiss Medievalist Historian. It’s also completely normal in Switzerland to take off for the forest or hills or mountain with your dogs for hours and, when you get to the restaurant on the top of the mountain, your dog can go in with you.