Author’s note. The photographs are all on my Facebook pages, so to see them you’ll have to visit.
I am half way through a panegyric to the wonders of Swiss nature walking the first few miles from Ems towards Chur. Tom did this part of the walk at the end of his day from Thusis. I’m looking at the wide open meadows and the cows and the hills either side and life is Heidiland. It should be a doodle. .
And then the path sign points up. Up means climbing. I climb.
And climb. Panegyrics are forgotten. Tom, I’m guessing, stayed low near the river, though later some guys in Bad Ragaz tell me that The Rhine in Tom’s time would have been much wider, and un-damned, and so the land nearby muddy and treacherous. Still, I don’t think Tom would have come this far up; I’ve walked for half an hour and I’m still level – albeit now in the distance – with the Church at Ems. It’s a great view, and now a house, high on an adjacent hill, becomes apparent. It is impossible not to marvel at the courage of those that built these vertigo-testing homes.
But my heart is beating fast. I stop to photograph some designer animals that I think are Llamas. But I’m thinking John Smith, the leader of the Labour party in the early 1990s, who died of a heart attack at 56. Smith was the great hope of old Labour. He was also a hill walker, he’d climbed all 300 of Scotland’s high hills. There’s a club. Hang on didn’t another Labour high-up, Robin Cook, actually die hill walking? Yes, in 2005.
I’m thinking stay politically neutral as you keep climbing today.
I was told about Smith’s death while on an aeroplane coming back from Martinique in the French Caribbean by the French Cultural attache. We’d had a few “political” discussions during my week on a “fact finding” mission for The Times Travel pages. Fact: Martinique is Lovely. It was May 1994.
Smith, Cook, they were part of a What-If? parallel world in which Tony Blair – and Gordon Brown – did not exist. Or rather: they had lived up to to their promise. For the period after 1994 until the election of 1997 which ended 18 years of Conservative rule, was incredibly heady. The Web was The Thing. Britain – and Britannia – was cool. There was a lot of optimism around. These are my thoughts as the path keeps climbing, my heart keeps beating, and I’m thinking I don’t want some Blairite to finish the Tom Coryat project.
Tommy must have been getting excited. After the rigours of the mountains he’s coming down the valley, and just about to see his first Grison city, Curia – now Chur. From on high looking down on the town I am reminded immediately of Brasov, in Romania, where I once spend a very happy half summer. Both cities nest in the strategic focal point of a valley. Both have cable car access to higher points, satellite tourist walks and skiing places. I take a guess that like Brasov the Romans must have been here in Chur. It is so their kind of thing.
Thoughts of John Smith move on to Tony Blair. His “journey” is published soon. The New Labour Project in the UK risen and fallen – and now defeated. A few days ago Wired magazine declared the Web to be dead, and sitting high in the hills outside Ems using my Orange 3G pay as you go SIM to check my route, using my mapping app – I feel I might be hitting the Matterhorn shortly – I thought: well, this mobile everywhere, everything culture, based on apps and social networks and GPS is utterly compelling. It is the Coalition of technologies.
Walking the route means I come into town the medieval way, via turreted gatehouses. Back to Work Chur is very different from its carnival weekend. I wander the old town, the Cathedral, St Martin’s church, the tall 16th century building covered in astrological signs. I take a bus to the outskirts of town, to a bleak white shopping mall with large signs for an “erotic mart”. Here, amidst the Vitra stories and gardening centres and car dealerships is the H.R. Giger cafe, a themed cafe based on the designs of the Chur local who created the beasts of Alien. But the theatre of the Giger cafe disappoints, it’s strictly West-End, not immersive moderne. And the drama that might have been in the bathrooms – just imagine an Aliens styled Heren und Damen – is pure white IKEA.
Giger is a big name in Chur; the last time I was here the Kunsthaus had a large exhibition of his life’s work, starting with the graphic novels. Giger was a sexy comic book artist very early, in the 60s. Sexy that is in a fetishy, misogynist, snakes in every orifice, kind of way. The Alien, in the greater context, makes a lot of sense. I wonder for a while about the impact of geography and location on Giger’s imagination. The monsters of the mountains, the close knit families, the local sense that “everything” including the mountains is alive – in some way. The anxiety of the grand and the panoramic.
In St Martin’s Church I feel very close to Tom. He is finally back in Protestant lands, though this was not Switzerland, it was the Grisons. Tom enters Switzerland in Bad Ragaz, my next stop. Giacometti’s father did some of the stained glass in St Martin’s, and it has a modernist take – in my eyes – on the Pre-Raphaelite. I am sure this is art-historically wrong, but it gives the feeling.
I started my day in Ems unusually with a “namaste” from a tiny Indian boy off on his first day of school – they go back early in Switzerland. And now in Chur mid-afternoon is about end of school. I wander the Cathedral, then sit at a pew and read Tom, via Google Books.
This ability to be able “carry” my reading, my guide books, maps, computer – my needs – is incredibly compelling. I hope the new mobile – web is dead – world – proves more resilient than New Labour. As if on cue a Google Alert informs me that the leader of the Coalition Government, David Cameron, and his wife, Samantha, have had a daughter.
Perhaps they should call her Apple.