I love Switzerland. I’ve been there ten times, give or take, and if I could, I’d live there. If my heart has a home (outside of Heaven) it’s Switzerland, or maybe it’s the other way. Heaven might be my compensation for not being able to live in Switzerland.
In front of me here are my talismans. There is a photo of the restaurant in Zürich with Goethe painted on the front I took in Zürich in 1998. There is a Wanderweg sign I took from a fallen tree in the Canton of St. Gallen. There is a photo of the Jungfraujoch I took the summer of 1997.
My Swiss story is complicated and mostly private, but I can say this. The strange and dangerous choices we make in our lives are sometimes the very ones we need to take us to our destiny. I found not only my writer’s voice but my story in Switzerland in 1997 in the little church below, the Lazariterkirche im Gfenn.
I found other things, too.
I found Goethe in Switzerland, in profile, painted on the front of a restaurant across from St. Peter’s Church with the inscription, “In 1779, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe stayed here with the Duke of Weimar.” Seeing that there — without even (yet) having read anything by Goethe — I was awakened to the essence of time in Europe. It was one of those moments that explodes your brain and catapults you from the person you were toward the person you will be. Then, of course, a few years later, I read Goethe. Here’s his beautiful poem about the Zürichsee, “Auf dem See” (“On the Lake”).
|Und frische Nahrung, neues Blut|
Saug ich aus freier Welt;
Wie ist Natur so hold und gut,
Die mich am Busen hält!
Die Welle wieget unsern Kahn
Im Rudertakt hinauf,
Und Berge, wolkig himmelan,
Begegnen unserm Lauf.
|And fresh nourishment, new blood|
Suck I from the free world;
Nature is so fair and good
She holds me at her bosom!
The wave rocks our boat
Upwards with the rhythm of the oars
And mountains, cloudy heavenwards,
Meet our course.
|Aug, mein Aug, was sinkst du nieder?|
Goldne Träume, kommt ihr wieder?
Weg, du Traum! so gold du bist;
Hier auch Lieb und Leben ist.
|Eye, my eye, why do you sink down?|
Golden dreams, do you come again?
Away, you dream! As gold as you are,
Here too are life and love.
|Auf der Welle blinken|
Tausend schwebende Sterne,
Weiche Nebel trinken
Rings die türmende Ferne;
Die beschattete Bucht,
Und im See bespiegelt
Sich die reifende Frucht.
|On the wave blink|
Thousands of hovering stars,
Soft mists drink
The towering distance all around;
Morning wind envelops
The shadowed bay,
And in the lake is reflected
The ripening fruit.
Over the years I also learned that part of my family came from Switzerland and I learned their amazing stories (and wrote them into novels).
Switzerland is not just places and history. It is a family to which I once belonged. Long walks in the forest, the Wallisellerwald. Christmases and birthdays. Quiet explorations of unknown places. Following the Sylvester Kläuse through the snow in Appenzell on New Years, and sitting in a tavern on a hillside in Usnacht next to an old Appenzeller man with a tiny spoon hanging from his ear. When young boys dressed as trees came in to yodel, I watched a tear run down the old man’s face. Maybe he was remembering when he was a boy, dressed as a tree, tromping and dancing through the snow, bells ringing, singing.