Zürich scares winter off by packing a snowman with explosives, lighting it on fire, and measuring the time until its head blows off. I am not making this up.
There’s a dedicated square in the city for this (Sechseläutenplatz), and many people get a half day off work to watch the parade of the Zünfte (guilds), watch the Böögg explode, and grill Cervelat on the smoldering bones of winter.
It’s two on a Sunday morning, and I’m coming up on the last twenty-four hours of my first six months in Switzerland. I’ve just rotated the flat (i.e. moved nearly all the furniture a hundred eighty degrees along the outside wall of the living room) on the suggestion of a friend about a month ago and I have to say she was right, it’s much better this way.
Half a year ago I stepped off an airplane and looking back I marvel at how clueless I was, which feels good until I realize I'll most probably be able to say the same thing about myself now in another half a year.
The last month or so has been a bit of a whirlwind. There’s the travel: I finally used the Halbtax card I bought to escape the rain in June and hopped a train to Neuchâtel, then back for a day before business in Valbonne (via Nice, dinner in Cannes), after which I was back in town for a long weekend before flying back out to Vienna, then back here for a week and a bit before flying next Tuesday to San Diego for my stepsister’s wedding.
The east-southeast view from the balcony, 10 August 2008, showing (bottom to top) the Hardturmbrücke railway bridge over the Limmat, most of Züri-West, the old city (clustered mainly behind the big smokestack), the Zürichberg (green hill on the left), the Albis and the southwestern shore of the lake (that’s Horgen or Thalwil in the right-center distance, I think), and the Alps.
I had about half an hour to kill this afternoon in the neighborhood of the university, so I decided to take this week’s Economist out to the Polyterrasse, a giant balcony behind the main building of ETH with a great, close-up view of the center of the city. I went out to one of the benches toward the corner (the better for the view though perhaps not for the glare of the sun).
I was sitting on the balcony last night, my ears recovering from the quite loud, somewhat interesting, yet ultimately disappointingly clubby beats of my brief Bellerive-to-Mythenquai flirtation with Streetparade, registering to vote in the November U.S. presidential election, when I noticed a spider scurrying along my right leg, building a web over the folds in the fabric of my still-slightly-too-baggy jeans.
I came out this morning, to have a blood orange juice – and only a blood orange juice as I still need to purchase a coffee machine – and a look at the Alps.
Every reasonably-sized city in the Western world is basically similar. One can understand life in Zürich quite easily by thin metaphor and direct reference to New York or San Francisco or Berlin. Of course, the language is different, and the local history is unique, but local history is unique everywhere, and the difference between an accent, a dialect, and a language is simply a matter of degree along a continuum of mutual intelligibility.
I have now joined the ranks of adoptive Zürchers who can (and seemingly invariably do) say, in the language of their choosing, “with luck, and patience, you will find a flat.” Compared to many of the stories I’ve heard, I have been lucky, without having to have been particularly patient.
The search was not without compromise. My new flat is not in the middle of where I want to be, but it's quite close to two separate tram lines.
In software development, we have a saying: “Good, fast, cheap: pick any two.” I’m sure many other technical fields have a similar saying. Essentially, it expresses if you want something done right, it’s either going to take a while or be expensive. I am finding that this applies to searching for an apartment in Zürich. The only word that comes up consistently in speaking with people here who actually have a place to live here is "