Lenin & I

I’ve been in Zurich a week.
There’s many things I like about it, but I wouldn’t want to live here.
I think an encounter with a city is similar to an encounter with a person. It’s difficult to tell when you meet someone for the first time whether you’ll be friends, foes, lovers. Or that you’ll remain casual acquaintances, pleasant strangers reduced to fragmented bytes of cyber information. It’s slower, a more gradual process of getting to know someone, some place, some city.
I also think, somewhere down the line, there needs to be a moment.
When you know – he will be more than a friend, she can’t be trusted, this is a place where I’d like to have a home. Call it a spark, a connection, an engagement. A moment when it becomesmore and changes everything.
 Not that Zurich isn’t amazing. It has fantastic public spaces, and like every other city in Switzerland, runs like magical clockwork. Everything is on time, down to the exact minute. The city transport will never fail you. While elsewhere in the world, India, Africa, South America, time is mostly flexible, something you aren’t slave to – the bus won’t leave at 10.00am, for example, but when it’s full of passengers – that definitely is not the case here.
Zurich is beautiful. It has a huge forest on the outskirts, large patches of green within the urban centre, sprawling trees, ancient water fountains, graceful bridges. It’s all intact, as David said, because Switzerland didn’t take part in the war. Nothing was bombed, nothing destroyed.The most affluent neighbourhoods skirt the borders of Lake Zurich. When we were gazing down at the city from Uetliberg, a hill with a viewpoint area, Brigett explained why one side of the lake was more exclusive than the other – it receives more sunlight. (Now do you believe me when I say Zurich is expensive?).On Saturday, we strolled through District 2 or Enge, which comprises clusters of grand old apartments and leafy, winding roads. Very pretty. Enge borders altstadt or the old part of the city – where 15 BC Roman ruins (baths and walls) can still be seen. District 1 could be a page torn out of a book of fairy tales. Boutique shops snuggle into stone-walled corners, uneven cobblestone streets rise and fall and open out into small plazas, intricate painted balconies catch your eye, and tables spill out of busy roadside cafes.

Just when you think how sweetly benign this all is, you stumble across this ~
It’s hard to imagine him ambling along these pretty streets plotting a revolution. But that’s what he did.
Here, he finished his work “Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism”.
I read that he failed, however, to convince his Swiss “comrades” of the need for international revolution, and was disappointed by the “Swiss social pacifists”.
Further away, down a narrow alley, and still a dedicated exhibition space, this nondescript room was the place where Dadaism was born.
Dadaism was an “anti-art” movement that began in Zurich post World War I, and peaked from 1916 to 1922. It involved visual art, literature (mainly poetry), theatre and design, used to protest against the barbarism of war and what Dadaists believed was an oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday society. Its works were characterised by deliberate irrationality and the rejection of prevailing standards of art. It influenced later movements including Surrealism.

I like the street art I came across in District 1; it seemed like the faltering remnants of dadaism

The end to any walk through District 1 should be at Lindenhof, a park overlooking the Limmat river and the city. This is where people play outdoor chess, gaze at a statue honouring the women who helped stave off an enemy attack on Zurich by donning their dead husband’s armour and linger under oak trees until the light begins to fade.

I think I’ve done a rather inept job of explaining why I wouldn’t want to live in Zurich. It all sounds rather lovely, doesn’t it?Let me try again.
Last Sunday, Samrat (a writer/journalist friend from Delhi who is also in Switzerland on a Swiss Arts Council grant) and I were sitting by the lake. It was a balmy evening, the boats were out as were families and tourists and strains of “Edelweiss” drifted over the water. He remarked that he liked Zurich, it felt like home here.
“What about you?” he asked.
I hesitated. I said I didn’t know.
This was the best I could come up with – “It doesn’t speak to me.”
I’ve been to a number of art shows over the past week – an expansive exhibition on traditional Indian art, a stunning retrospective on Henri Cartier Bresson, an underground “Garage Sale” of posters and prints at an abandoned warehouse – yet I’m still waiting for a “moment”. I think the problem, for me, lies in the fact that despite all these wonderful galleries and museums, none of the passion that infuses these artworks spills out into the streets – it remains behind sparkling windows and automatic doors, stuck in perfectly temperature controlled spaces. A century apart, Lenin and I, we feel the same.
Collage © Raoul Hausmann

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