Pussy Galore in Baden

The rain continues; all night now and into the morning. We leave Zurich’s cafe Schwarzenbach around 10.15 and it’s still pouring. Norbert has an umbrella, I have a soft hat advertising Splugen. Today we are walking the Limmat river to Baden; we cross so that Norbert can show me what’s still known as “needle park.”

Zurich was famous for its hard drugs problems in the 1990s. Two of the villages near where Norbert and Beat grew up had quasi epidemics. Those comfortable suburbs where there is everything and nothing to do.

The problem was all over Zurich, very visibly, and petty crime rates were soaring as the addicts tried to make money to feed their habit. The police were stretched, and the government didn’t want to know, it wasn’t a good brand image for Zurich or Switzerland. The police decided on a new strategy, crack down hard on the addicts everywhere – except needle park. Soon it was the safe haven. And once the addicts were there it was impossible to ignore them. The government – the entire country – had to accept there was a problem. Nowadays there are many schemes to help addicts, things have changed, we move on. We cross the Limmat again. People swim around here, there’s a throw-clothes-in-plastic bag, tie, jump thing that seems wedged in all Zurichers’ imaginations.

We sit; I IPAD. A message arrives from Portia. She’s standing in the security line at Heathrow to fly to Los Angeles:

So I’m 3rd in line for xray. Ahead of me, already thru, is a tall,thin man waiting for the conveyor belt to deliver his things. They’re asking questions about the bag he has sent through. He looks perplexed, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Time passes. We don’t move. A security guy in a bright yellow vest, like a construction worker would wear, comes to study the xray. People are calm, barely watching, but I’m fascinated and don’t take my eye off the scene. Nearly 10 minutes go by, a long time to stand still, while they study the xray.  All this time they make no move to touch the bag. It stays in the xray. Our side of the conveyor is crammed with the next lot of stuff to go through.  

A young official comes to announce that our zone is closed. As people grumble and scramble their way into the other queue, I notice an armed policemen – just one, but with a machine gun. He crosses behind the security check without even looking around, then goes thru a door by those new machines that can see thru your undies. We’re all being drawn away from the area. I’m the last to get my stuff from the bins on the conveyor belt. As I’m picking them up, I hear one of the women at security say, “he’s got something hidden in a false bottom of the case.”

And that’s it. Couldn’t see or hear anything further.

This seems to me a very modern moment. Separated by hundreds of miles, and shortly by thousands, we can still communicate, instantly, our fears and our joys. Once, let us say 50 years or so ago, when daily BOAC flights to New York began, this story, or it’s security variant, would have been remembered weeks later, once home. Or maybe it would have been written by letter. Now it is instant, terrifying, and then ok when 15 minutes later the On The Plane message arrives. An entire cycle over in less time than it takes Norbert and I to walk from Beat’s to the Needle park.

We pass a youth centre, it was once another cause for concern – young people, poor young people, having a place to be. We walk on, I ask Norbert why Switzerland’s neutrality was accepted in the Second World War.

We grew up with the story, it would have been too difficult to invade; the men would have gone into the mountains, guerilla war. It would have been like Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia, only even tougher for the Germans.

I too grew up with war stories, was “taught” in the 1970s the truths about Ireland.

Norbert points out the boat club. Once a year we send a hot soup to Strasbourg, down the river, the thing is it has to arrive hot. The Strasbourgers send something back, but we’re not quite sure what. Fraternity on the Rhine, and all that. Good history, continuity.

“We lost our innocence about the war in the 1980s,” Norbert says. “The stories started coming out. The deals that were struck with the Germans, the people who were sent back, the Jews, the quotas….The money in the banks, of course….The journalist who broke a lot of these stories killed himself. He just couldn’t cope.”

I wonder about the stories to come out of England from 2001 onwards. How many more to come? The rain still pours and we’re out into the suburbs now, riverside. Norbert likes Berlin, likes its easy restlessness, its mutability. I think about the seemingly immutable Berlin, East and West, of the 1980s. Things do change.

We have lunch in a nunnery, of course. The Kloster Fahr. Fish on Friday, I joke. And cider. Later the rain stops and Norbert shows me where he played important high school soccer matches, and wrote match reports for a sports mag, rushing by engined-bike, I’m not sure what, perhaps a Swiss thing, to hand his copy to his editor on a Sunday afternoon. He’s been taught a new massage technique, he has sessions on Mondays just before he plays football. If they go well he is Messi, if not just messy. The technique involved pushing into the pain with your fingers and then “thinking” the pain “soft”. It can be very emotional, Norbert says.

By four it’s raining again, we had sun for lunch, , we’ve lost our river and we’re tired – and Baden is nowhere in sight.

Baden, Norbert says, is where upright Swiss Protestant Men came for hundreds of years. A canter down from Zurich, horseback or carriage. They came to stay in fine hotels, promenade in the park for show, then go off to prostitutes and gambling.

Ah, that old one. Of course Tommy has got very heated about the ladies of the Baden bath houses, and it seems he was not wrong. Protestant work ethic to Prostitute, as it were.

We are so lost Norbert knows where we are. We are close to the autobahn. In fact to the first over-road shopping mall built in Switzerland, the famous Raststahe at Wurenlos. We are wet and we ache. We buy iced tea and poisonous sweet drinks and wander though shops offering Armani and Swiss watches. It is surreal, if that phrase still means much. “When I was a kid and I saw the Raststahe I knew we were almost home,” Norbert says. Today we have no such assurance.

We find the river, and hope that it is the right one, and just as nerves are fraying we bump into a gaggle of graffiti artists, who’ve taken the train, “ah, from somewhere” to cover a series of underpasses with paint in a town near Baden. The girls and boys work with great solemness; we are quickly cheered. Near now: a high school with large hilly grounds. Tonight it is decked out in thirty or so sound stages, “nightclubs”, bars and restaurants, in cardboard mostly. It is Swiss Glee, meets Las Vegas via The Prisoner. Everyone looks so happy; the designs were done last term. Now it is the beginning of the new, two days of build, and tonight the show. [The downpour began about an hour later, we were somewhere else, but it did rain all night. At one point we did raise a glass to those poor kids.]

Baden may be famous for its industrial muscle and wealth as well as its baths, but the last few kilometres along the river are a nightmare of ups and downs from the riverbank. And it is truly pouring now. Whoever designed this bit of the route was a sadist. On the outskirts, a large building, built by the founder of ABB, once: tonight it is a wedding party, all crisp lines and perfume. We’re so beat we can’t even summon the spirit to crash it, though in another life…We find a bar, collapse, and realise it will be hard to ever get up again. Until I realise that Norbert is the odd man out at this busy bar: everyone else is English.

It is enough to propel me off to find our lodgings, though it hurts to walk there.

The youth hostel – yup, my first for about 42 years – is fantastic. On the river and with swipe card and clean and I am soon wondering where is the flatscreen and the pay for view porn. Norbert and I chill, dry out, change. He’s got a friend who is directing a play here, in a temporary theatre close to the old railway station. A Greek guy, who is a genius and a professor at Edinburgh but has lived here in Baden 45 years, has loaned his office out to be the theatre.

It is almost intriguing. Norbert leads the way back up the hill, into the suburbs it seems. It is raining hellishly, as though we are being washed in preparation for purgatory. And then we are there: oh no. A temporary wooden structure, a few tables out, eight or so people. We start talking, they hush us. Food? Please food?

Yes, but quietly. The other side of a wooden wall actors rumble about; there is some screaming, but that may just be the inside of my head. Was it sausage? Who cares, the wine began to numb things.

When the play ends Norbert and I are at least cheered, if not a bit pissed. A flock of Saturday night theatre folk emerge. I light a cigarette, dream of beaches, and the next thing I know our entire trestle table has been taken over by elegant women of a certain age. All I can say is that 1) they are all friends, 2) come from many countries & 3) first met here in Baden in 1964 at the typing pool of ABB, one of the engines of the Swiss economy. I mean Big Engine, let’s say Turbines. The girls’ lingua franca is English.

“Ladies,” I say, in British Timberlake, think Senorita, “Good evening.”
At this point a lot of husbands appear and in German ask us to move, then to move up.

We are not moving an inch.

Vicky seems to be team leader, the orchestra leader and joker. When she came to Baden in 1964 she was already married to Tom. In fact they came, from Holland, because there they couldn’t get a place to live. In Switzerland they got jobs, a house…and I suspect, then some.

Tom sits down next to me. He’s well preserved and fun. He is an actor, he says. He’s just been in the play, which sounds metaphorical and happiness heavy, or not. He lights up: I smoke when I act, he says. He’s drinking a Sex on a Carrot.

I can wait to find out what he really is.

To get things going I suggest to Tom – an observation that is not without quite a lot of foundation – that his wife is very reminiscent of a character in a James Bond film with a Swiss connection. I sense Norbert tensing: he has seen this sort of thing before.

“Pussy Galore.” Vicky looks rather pleased.
“I thought you were going to say Mrs Moneypenny,” says Tom.

As if.

Tom has a story about Mrs Moneypenny, but we are finally up and running. Norbert and Vicky are nattering away about all sorts.

“I’ve done business in 76 countries for ABB,” Tom says. He trained as an engineer, these days he has “communications businesses” – which I think his daughter runs. Tom’s father was a journalist, in Holland. There were problems in the war.

Tom tells a story about working for Onasis, then for the Vietnamese Leadership, three years after the end of Vietnam War. Then Libya. Hard in Libya he says. He talks about all sorts of things. “Do you remember the Fifth Man? You know, after Burgess, MacLean, Philby and Blunt [the English spy ring for the Soviet Union]?

Cairncross, I say. John Cairncross.

Yes, that’s right, I had a couple of Camparis with him in Provence. He was with a young opera singer. Very young.

Tom and Vicky lived in Jamaica for a while; Brazil. There was a whole new world to be built in the 1960s, all over the world. And when they’d helped do that Tom and Vicky came “home” to Baden. It all feels like Ayn Rand has Rewritten Mad Men for a European Audience. It is breathtaking, so the wine helps dull my amazement.

A young man with floppy hair comes over to introduce himself: he did the publicity for the play. He’s a friend of David, the Director – who Norbert met in Beat’s bar back in Zurich. Soon, I am sure, we will all be connected by Facebook.

The young man sticks out a hand. “Hello, I am Ferris Buhler,” he says.
OK.
I did in fact say: “And I am John Hughes.”
Of which I am sneakily proud, even if Ferris doesn’t smile.
Andy Buhler, PR, was in Los Angles recording the audiobook to his self-help book, when a “guy” said he wouldn’t get famous unless he had a better name. Now Andy is Ferris, and he never has a day off.

Ferris explains what is wrong with traditional marketing strategies, and talks about – well, actually I tuned out and went back to Pussy Galore who is cracking gags, organising female pilots to take out Fort Knox, and…well, having fun.

“This is my wife,” Ferris says, introducing me to a young dark haired woman. “We met on Skype. She is from Vilnius, I said: come to Switzerland. She came. We have a child now.”

Norbert and I must have blagged and smoked cigarettes from all known brands and types. In the Youth Hostel Morning, stumbling for Breakfast, my cough is so volcanic its ash could close down European Air Traffic Control.

Our Ladies and their Rich Husbands leave for what Norbert and I imagine to be Castles, and I’m not sure we’re not entirely wrong.

She was quite a woman, Norbert says. We speculate on her age, then say a silent prayer that we are as hot as her at that age. As I snuggle under a thin duvet on the bottom rung of a bunk bead listening to the rain howl down on the river, I raise a toast to Pussy Galore of Baden. Tom Coryate, I am sure, would have enjoyed meeting her too.

About robhunt510

Writer
This entry was posted in Baden, Ferris Buhler, IPAD, Kloster Fahr, Limmat, Needle Park, Pussy Galore, Zurich. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s