The problem with travel writing in Switzerland is that there are no problems. Every writer knows there has to be a little sand in his shoe, some gritty irritation to kick off a story either humorous or earth-shaking. I dug my nails into every historic monument during my last trip hoping a drop of discordant ink would ooze out to push my pen along.
Instead, I found myself blissfully travel-worn and semiconscious on a park bench at the monastery in Rapperswil, fearless chickadees bouncing at my feet, the view of Alps over one shoulder, another quaint village over the other.
Go through the thesaurus yourself for “breathtaking, beautiful, sensational.” It’s all been said before. I don’t do trite. When butter-soft breezes massaged my lids shut, the few remaining brain cells that hadn’t melted to mush got panicked. “Come on, girl. Where’s your story?”
There is an ambiguity in writing about my travel experiences. Who hasn’t been guest to a friend’s free travelogue? The host beams at the vacation retelling; each anecdote leads confusingly to another. Off he goes with days flowing to jumbled nights. Jet-lagged recollections spin faster as torqued memories heat up. Stacks of pictures shoved upon me are patiently shuffled through as my interest wanes at smiling images suspiciously positioned in front of some antiquity. It’s clear the photo was calculatingly aimed to camouflage mismatched wardrobe. The least dirty by now. Tummies pooching from extra bratwurst and beer. It is vacation, you know. The fatigue from recapturing 5,000 years of history in eight days. This may be our only chance. Stand there, honey. Let me fit in the tree, horizon, church tower, blue sky, snow caps, cobblestone this, stained glass that. History. Big stuff happened right on this spot, and we are here. Quick. Let me snap another. Your eyes were closed.
After boredom deflates and is re-filed under “be happy for your friend,” I get what’s missing from those vacation pictures. I can’t soak up chilly mist on country walks through fern-lined lanes. The silent photo tuned out the stray sheep bleating with bells tinkling on necks. Glossy prints failed by inches to see the swan glide under the bridge that leads to the path, past the bakery, across a town square where cafés serve warmed cream and coffee.
The travel writer struggles against issuing such two-dimensional images. Anyone can easily give addresses of interesting locations, the times they are open. The travel guide starts looking like a train schedule. Instead, we adventure along, saturating all senses, and upon our return, a writer’s lips purse the page and, as if blowing up a balloon, puff hard to release concepts and perceptions into readable, three-dimensional experiences.
So there I was sitting on Lake Zurich’s sunny shore having just seen God, and someone stole my brain. The most angst I could stir up was my friend and I arguing over which spectacular chateau we would buy once we won the Lotto.
Good, I could whip up a little disharmony in Switzerland. Probably the most they had seen in centuries. Unfortunately, this private skirmish would not a story make.