A Watery Crossroads Through the Ages
It occured to me that the extrordinary thing about Switzerland is the combination of high altitude, allowing a temperate climate, combined with tons and tons of water melting from the glaciers. So the countryside is the kind of lush, fragrant green I've come to associate with rainy places like Bengal or the British Isles, but with a fraction of the insects or mud. There's plenty of water, all neatly dripping out of the mountains. I wonder how worried the Swiss are about the potential effects of global warming on their nicely ordered landscape, but for now the water is all clean and organized.
Organized might seem like a weird word to apply to the torrents of the Rinefall--Switzerland's widest fall, apparentl a breathtaking 150 meters across--but even as I was awed yesterday by its roar and mist and shimmering gush
, I noted that the giant rock in the middle of it has a Swiss flag planted on it, there's an elegant bridge at itshead, the edges are carefullz walled and railed, and at least part of it has been diverted for a charming turbine. This is glorious nature, domesticated. There even seem to be a small group of local seniors who calmly fish off of one of its diverted channels.
It's hard to imagine what the Switzerland of the Seduni and Helvetii was like, what kind of raw wild greeted the Celts and the Romans. I've just exited the Swiss National Museum, and even they seem to have a hard time casting their imagination that far. Richly curated, detailed (even in English) exhibitions on the Medieval era give way to an almost random array of ancient archeological finds, oddly labeled and often displayed amid dirt, as finds, rather than in any plausible historical context. What was clear is the antique position of this place as a crossroads. I was impressed by bronze-age amber all the way from the Baltic sea.
The Swiss seem much more comfortable with their Medieval heritage, and today I happily stumbled upon a miniature Renaissance Faire like event in the shadow of the Fraumunster, with puppets, calligraphers, smiths, a glassblower and an archerz booth. I eagerely tried six shots with a bow and arrow, perhaps the first time I've gotten to try one since I was 12 or 13. I remember than it was discouragingly difficult to pluck the bow, and despite my adoration of archery I haven't reallz had a chance to try since. I was surprised at how easy it was to pull the string. I didn't hit the the bull's eye, but instead got a cluster of arrows all in the same spot at the edge of the second ring. It was so much fun I almost impulsively tried to buy a bow right there, but luckily in the time it took for the owner to understand what I was asking, I came to my senses. I was probably overcome by the fact that I was at a Medieval faire in an actual medieval setting
--it was very easy to imagine a similar event occuring in the same space 800 years ago, sans T-shirt clad, camera-armed tourists. We filming tourists were an extremely diverse crowd, particular dense with Asians of all hues. If it wasn't for us, the illusion would have been much more complete, but we were the ones consuming it!
Yesterday on my way to the Rhinefall a gentleman in a suit who appeared to be African asked me if I spoke English. He had a number of grocery bags and bottles of water with him, and had just gotten off his cell phone. He said his friend was supposed to meet him and help him carry all the groceries to the bus, but would not make it, and could I please watch the water while he carried some of the bags, since he could not carry all of them at once. I think
he said he was from Botswana, as he ran to load the bus with some bags, maybe to explain why he couldnät ask anyone else in German. I'm not sure though. He ran back, thanked me profusely, then ran off to catch the bus. I wish I knew what his story is. One of those random interactions of the modern age.