How I Almost Started Writing: Zürich

I am sitting the Zürich Hauptbahnhof. A monotone voice calls out the arrivals and departures, first in German then in English. The timetables scroll by.

This is my last day in Switzerland, perhaps for years.

I marvel at the small miracle of the ticket counter. I can simply walk over and buy a slip of paper capable of transporting me to cities whose names beckon with the deep sense of magic the lonely find in such words: Madrid, Prague, Rome, Budapest, Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin. After the first jump, there are other destinations: Istanbul, Moscow, Helsinki, Athens, Sicily. On the coasts, there are ships. I might run across the sea. I might land in Morocco. I could go to Egypt…

Starting a novel so soon after an intense experience is a bad idea. Your mind hasn’t had the opportunity to process all of the information, to distill the moments into true memories. True memories are those that survive the culling of time, and density, as opposed to intensity, is the prerequisite. The building of one related experience upon another all within a relatively short period of time establishes the pathways required for future reflection. However, it takes more time still, to understand the importance of those memories, to place them into the proper context.

I have no idea how long it will take for me to place my experience in Switzerland into the proper context, but I love this country. The people and the culture. Of course, the landscape too. You cannot help but love the majesty of the place. I miss it already while simultaneously longing to be free of the place.

Everything looks blue under the skylights in the station. The heavy scent of diesel punctuates the thought of travel. Home is the only place I really wanted to be right now, but they aren’t selling tickets to home… That destination must wait until tomorrow.


How I Almost Started Writing is a series of brief portraits focused on the times in my life where I found myself on the verge of focusing solely on the writing life.

10 thoughts on “How I Almost Started Writing: Zürich

  1. Great piece mate. I felt like I was at a European airport just reading that – despite having never left the country. You’ve got a great knack for description!

  2. Thanks, Joel! Description, quotes… Now all I need is to get the rest down and I’ll be set. :)

  3. I followed your comment link from Melissa’s post. In 1972 I lived in Villa Negroni di Vezia. I can completely identify with your statement: “I have no idea how long it will take for me to place my experience in Switzerland into the proper context, but I love this country.”

    Hopefully it won’t take you the 30 years that it did for me. I am still trying to figure out how to get back there (and the USD to Euro exchange isn’t helping at all).

    I did not go to Schaffhausen but I spent a lot of time in Lugano obviously, Zurich, and Luzern. Okay, I’m starting to get all drippy so I’ll shut up.

    Deb’s last blog post..Mid year review, pt 1

  4. So, did you live here:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Deb. Glad to find you too! :) Your post on wealth and release is really beautiful.

    Release has been a different word to work with. Wealth connects easily to anything having to do with the exchange of money. Release take a while to wire the connections to the clenched fingers, the gritted teeth, the furrowed brow, the memory tapes of the day or the week or whatever timeframe when trying to fall asleep so the phrase “let it go” can make itself heard and do its work. “Let it go” is different from “forget about it.” One is active and the other passive. But “forgetting” tends to also allow forgetting the things that can serve to deflect it earlier the next time the situation comes up. “Letting go” is a process that deals with all the tentacles of the situation and their interconnections.

    It’s been over 6 years since I was last in Switzerland and I think I’m finally starting to grasp the nature of the time I spent there.

  5. Thank you; and yes I lived there but not in that building. That is main house. From L-R the first floor windows (some are French doors) are 1-6 the main salon which was an ingenious double room, 7-10 was like a small parlor that we used as a classroom, 11-16 part hidden was the dining room and serving area. Those are just this side as the villa is a hollowed out rectangle creating a central courtyard.

    The land slopes sharply off into the San Gotthardo Valley so those foundation walls are holding up tons of fill excavated with tunnels and storerooms and staircases and even the livery was in there (converted with glass doors to create greenhouses to over winter the seasonal plants) there was supposedly a tunnel to the family crypt across the road but that’s another story. And there is a sanctified chapel next to the cemetery where the local priest would come every other week until it got too cold (unheated).

    Our group had 30 guys and 9 gals plus a double hand-full of staff and their families. The guys lived on the second floor of this building and the gals lived on the second floor of the old servants quarters. The team lead and his family lived in another cottage on the property I believe was once the overseer’s house.

    Our group was leasing the villa from TASIS (Montagnola) who was leasing it from the Italian Hospital to whom it had been willed but TASIS outgrew it and high schoolers had essentially destroyed the insides over the years but they couldn’t get out of the lease. The Italian Hospital officials were not happy about it being sublet. Every couple of weeks they would show up unannounced and parade through the rooms for which there were no keys (but at the time people in Switzerland rarely locked anything except their stores at night).

    In the late 1970s the city of Lugano wrested control of it under some cultural preservation act and after a major restoration and the addition of security elements it reopened as a museum and the Centro di Studi Bancari. When we were there two rooms of the main house were being rented by some financial concern and I remember the typist, who was tons more helpful than the TASIS liaison, would type rolls of punch tape that would be Telexed high-speed overnight. We could watch it through the partial glass wall; it felt rather cloak-and-daggery. She knew Otto Frank (Anne) through her husband’s family who helped him emigrate and settle in Basel after the war having refused Germany’s offer of free citizenship.

    The property dates back to at least the 1700s. The original structure was not built by Count Negroni he bought it from another Count whose name I’ve forgotten. But he made some piecemeal additions to it otherwise the house fell into general disrepair under his watch. His son however was quite the architect and a veritable engineering genius and he completely re-engineered the structural support, enlarged it the “right way” (really rebuilt the whole thing) and made it truly a luxurious estate.

    I won’t go into how many times I have started to write about Switzerland; well, my personal experience in Switzerland. That was not always fun and much of it was buried for decades so sorting out what actually happened took a long time. Let’s just say that a couple of years ago some people got very long letters they probably didn’t like.

    Well, I think I have burned off my post deadline high and I can get some sleep. Two down and one to go this week.

  6. Wow, Deb! This would make a great blog post!!! :)

    I know what you mean about having personal experiences that are not always such fun to sift through. I have my own experience like this that I will explore in an upcoming post.

  7. It was originally called Villa Morosini built by Carlos Morosini di Lugano (I think originally from Milano).

  8. I, too, lived in Villa Negroni (in the bell tower-up the spiral staircase if you recall Deb) from Sept-Dec 1972. Still try to integrate those days with my life…..they were superb and now mythical. Deb, if you were who I believe you were from the PPC crowd I’d enjoy a contact….if not it is clear you fell under some degree of the Villa’s magic as did we all.
    Doc Keil
    Florida – PPC 1971-1972
    Villa Negroni
    mkeilmd@yahoo.com

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