I Belong to the Beat Generation

Beat has a theory about travel. Beat is a winning Swiss-German combination of Eric Cantona, the French footballer turned actor-intellectual, Falstaff, and Anthony Lane, the New Yorker film critic. He runs a bar, the Andorra, named after the play of the same name by Max Frisch, something of a hero in these Zurich parts. We only have Frisch and Durrenmatt, he says, you have hundreds of writers.

We also, of course, have David Hare.

There’s a line in Andorra that it’s a place where everyone is welcome; it seems that way from last night. And I am staying in his pad, which is playing out a bit like The Odd Couple mixed with Billion Dollar Brain. And what is there not to like about that?

Anyway, Beat’s theory is this: you go somewhere, a city, for a holiday. Instead of rushing around to all the churches and museums and parks you find a cafe, a seat, and you sit down with your smoke of choice and your drink as seems fitting and you watch. Theatre comes to you, or at least you watch it pass you by. He cites the Latin quarter of Paris, the Marais. Why not?

I’ve been to Zurich many times, that taxi from the airport to the Swiss hotel, dinner reception, do the interview/conference thing. I don’t want to do it again. Instead, my Zurich starts early with the church bells and sunlight streaming through a small eave window just to the right of my bed. I stagger to the terrace and it’s about 7-ish and the morning sun is bright over the churches and the Limmat river and the hills in the distance. I’m not going that far. I’m tired, for a start, and there is a lot more walking to come.

Out of Beat’s front door and onto Münstergasse, the cafe Schwarzenbach is approximately 30 cm away. I trip over table three opening my front door. I’ve been out late discussing Swiss graphic design, and read in bed, slept maybe three hours. I need a coffee break and a read. And, ultimately, I spend most of my day here, with excursions to Tom’s churches, and in homage to Max Frisch to the Schauspielhaus where his great plays were and are still are performed. It’s not far, past the church, up the antiquarian bookshop street, right past the art gallery and Thomas Struth exhibition.

I try and get to see the stage at the Schauspielhaus, but the administrator says it’s just a big old red theatre, we’re setting up for the autumn season. Come back in mid September.

Anyway, I have paid homage. I ask about the swimming baths that Max Frisch designed in the 1950s, when he was still an architect. Classic Sixties, she says, Though they have refurbished recently, you should see. I do my churches; wander the Kunshaus…

Back to the cafe Schwarzenbach I read and write, and watch Beat Generation Style, the Zurich world; that part which isn’t glitzy or investment banky or overly pierced, that is. So I get to meet a brother-sister combo from Norfolk who are doing Europe in two months. Yesterday, whenever it was, was Prague, where there was a great bar, recommended by the people in the hostel, which was unusual because often the people in the hostels are not so friendly. 16 hrs, and now four in Zurich, before – before, well, I think, before who fucking cares really?

Two women, brown-bronze, thin, an age. Yoga teachers here for a special workshop tomorrow. Bikram? No, our heat is from “within”. There’s an electronic festival in Bern, I learn.

At the antiquarian booksellers I ask about Tom. Tom and his book. Because he was such a pioneer, because he was roughly 150 years ahead of the Grand Tour game, his book – dismissed at the time – was picked up by the aristo-travellers of the mid eighteenth century and often torn, page by page, as they whored their way around western Europe.

They shopped as well, of course. Mostly for art.

We search the database. Nothing.

In the afternoon I read Goethe and drink coffee. A tall black shaven haired American with a pretty Swiss woman sits down. He talks Laconic Paternalist, in slow bursts. He wants soi, accepts jasmine tea. But mostly he’s about iconic Mount Rushmore Musings. His shoes are white Prada. She is in All White; blonde. He mentions his aversion to the colour blue.

There is a dissuasion about the grain available in the bread. No, we wont eat. Shall we go and look at the puppies [there is a pet shop opposite]. I know you wanna.

Rushmore walks like John Wayne.

Beat’s kids are sitting in the bar at Andorra, whilst he fixes it up for opening. They live with their mum, not so far away. Lovely kids, they’re a bit frightened by me. I would be too. The staff can’t put out all the Andorra tables in the street until the petshop closes and there’s plenty of post-work people that want to hang with the rabbits. And the puppies. Rushmore told blondie that his antagonism with his mother began with an argument about The Dog.

Julie has been my waitress all day; she’s off to see her boyfriend on the next train out of the centre. She’s Austrian, from Graz, like her boyfriend who is a tennis teacher. He’s the same age as Federer. 28. Old. He was a pro, went everywhere, but unless you make it, that’s far too old to be on the circuit. Now he teaches in Zurich, There are people who will pay big time to train their kids. They start at 2 or 3. I keep thinking of my razor, which Federer, Thierry Henry and Tiger Woods so recently promoted. It’s the Big Roger on his own these days, Switzerland’s finest. Henry’s divorced and in New York, slumming. Of Tiger I have no clue. Julie followed her boy from Graz, pays for her own way whilst she studies literature and art history here in Zurich. I couldn’t just ask my parents, so I work hard now, and I still work during term, she says. Literature is taught in English; post-colonialism, Rushdie, Achabe; there’s John Milton too…

Julie had a period in Australia, loved it, the sporting life, the surf, diving. They’ve just been to Biarritz, for the surf.

But I couldn’t stay in Australia, in Melbourne. In the end I missed the mountains.

Is it true they are alive?

Oh, absolutely. Julie has to go: she’s promised to Skype her mom. In two days she will be 21.

I’ve bought a nice bottle of red for Beat’s rooftop dinner party; now to see if it is ok. Norbert has arrived from his newspaper workshop, and it went well. Upstairs on the roof Beat is grilling the steaks. The view across old Zurich is wonderful; the wine is out; there are beers in a cooler, starters. Table clothes. Napkins.

It is hard to believe women will not be involved in our evening. But this is a Boy’s Night, Zurich style. We start.

Norbert tells me about the cafe, and its shop, full of fine foods. It’s been here since 1864, and it is a family thing. A long time ago, when he was making corporate videos, Norbert did a shoot. “Chocolate, do you want to know about chocolate,” he asks.

Once it was a poor persons’ food, for energy. And then one day Mr Lindt – Norbert points across our Zurich horizon, past the church spires, to the east – invents a machine that whisks the chocolate and he adds some milk. And he merges with Mr.Sprungli (no accents on this IPAD, sorry boys) and Makes Chocolate. It’s a sort of Swiss Mad Men Moment. Chocolate goes from being the food of the poor to the luxury end.

We talk football, Beat is Zurich, solid working class team, and with a maternal dispensation, having a German mother, he also gets to win things by supporting Bayern Munich. He does a good impression of being in Barcelona the night that Bayern lost to Manchester United – 1999, I think. Another Life. Football as Religion.

Norbert tests me on my day: points at the church spires in front of us, and says: the Chagall stained glass. Ding. The biggest clock face in Europe. Dong.

Very good, he says. Roli arrives. Roli is a graphic designer, teaches at the college here, and an artist. In 2001, as part of his degree work, he walked with another designer, an Englishman, from their secondment in Barcelona, to their next in Winchester, England. Six and a half weeks. 1,284,000 steps (they had step meters in their shoes). His partner made pin-hole cameras out of the film boxes. They had a mock up art gallery, they’d unfurl in villages, ask locals to show their work. But Roli’s lost track of his friend. He was a drinker. Still is, badly so. Roli doesn’t even know where he is now. Somewhere in London. A loss.

I’m thinking around now about Tom’s nights; his dinner chats: did he use his London after-dinner speaker skills? I know I am trying to use mine. Our night is going so smoothly, steaks followed by chicken, then Swiss sausage. Jesus I am dying. The conversation moves back to our view. Norbert says: Tom would have spent his evenings asking for advice, for information. What animals on the next bit, where to turn. What signs to look out for, what river.

Yes, dinner as Google, that makes sense.

Roli wants to talk clocks. Ok, he says, why clocks on the Church spires?

So the church owns time, I say.

Discussion follows.

In Switzerland the mountains are alive, the churches and their reach, their communication by bell, by echo – by the famous Swiss horns – denote safe. If you can hear the bell, or see the spire, then the monsters of the mountains won’t come.

So what about the clocks? Surely they are to control as well; to summon, to wake, to emphasise God when – the 16th century man or woman arranges a meeting – things happen. There’s more: all four of us have been to Istanbul, have all been amazed by the Muezzin call. It’s a form of media.

This is what the bells did, and the clocks. The discussion goes on; much later Roli is still talking about it as Grappa leads on to taxis for him and Norbert. We haven’t cracked it.

After sausage and before coffee the heavens open and a torrential rain begins. It will last all night and still be hammering down when Norbert arrives under umbrella (the tool that Tom brought home to England from Italy) at 9.30 next morning.

This is a great shame, says Beat.
We’ll be fine, I say.
Yes, but what about your glamorous haircut?


Norbert’s sister went to be a circus chef when she was 19. Now she’s been running the circus for almost 30 years. She married in. Today, he thinks, she’s setting up in Chur. We talk parents for a while.

Inside Beat and I talk movies over grappa. He says I have not seen the funniest movie ever made. To Be or Not to Be. Mel Brookes, I say.

Lubitsch. Says Beat. The speed of the dialogue. Beat has about 10,000 DVDs. He cites Kind Hearts and Coronets, the Front Page, the Philadelphia story. It’s late and we’re onto Once Upon a Time in America, and the East German film posters for it that Beat has.

I’m struck by how comfortable our boyz evening has been; it wouldn’t be the same with so many men in England.

In the morning Beat decides he doesn’t want to take a coffee with a Grasshoppers fan, they are too posh. Later, as we are walking out of town, and after the Youth Club has been explained, Norbert – a Grasshoppers fan, obviously – will say that rather than posh, they are a “thinkers” team. Ah, football.

Tomorrow Baden, walking for the first time with someone else. Cool.

About robhunt510

Writer, artist
This entry was posted in Max Frisch, Thomas Coryat, To Be or Not to Be, Zurich. Bookmark the permalink.

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