Let’s face it: stereotypes exist. And – to paraphrase an old comedy – they are well and alive and living in my apartment. But now I want to talk about national stereotypes, the kind that make the punch line of politically incorrect jokes, which we always laugh about; the kind that allow me to tease my German colleague “You ware so German!” and she laughs and understands that I’m talking about her inhumanly ordered and clean office, with files sorted alphabetically and by date and a to do list with deadlines respected like the ten commandments.
Lac de Geneve and Mont Blanc in the background
How about Switzerland? What does it come across your mind when you think of it? High precision watches, insanely expensive pens, richness, cleanness, high snowy peaks reflected in crystal clear lakes, so perfect as if computer generated, cows grazing happily on ever green pastures, political neutrality, Sound of Music etc. etc. Everything I had to say about my short visit to Geneva would confirm these stereotypes. The sky was perfectly blue, Lac Leman in the middle of the city was perfectly clear, the city was perfectly clean and the shops were perfectly…expensive. But then there are little things and personal experiences that always escape stereotypes and that are the charm of traveling. Such as the relaxed way the Genevese were spending their evenings on the wooden dock of Bain de Paques, sipping wine, having a quiet conversation with friends or lovers, feeding the swans, bathing in the lake, or simply watching the sun draping in gold the beautiful art-nouveau houses on the other side of the lake and Mont Blanc in the background, as this beauty was filling everybody with calm and peace. One could imagine a good life there. Or maybe – as we were speaking of stereotypes – my chaotic Balkan nature would eventually get bored there.
And then there was the hike up the Saleve mountain, which actually was in France. And I remember clearly that – as I’m coming from a former communist Eastern European country, which had been recently accepted in the EU at that time – I couldn’t stop marveling each time I was traveling abroad how easy one could cross borders, on that occasion just walking down a street and from one minute to the other I was in another country, without passport control, without the fear and humiliation and all that used to be and fortunately passed.
And then there was this funny episode, which I have to note down for the book that I promised myself I would write one day: “The Book of Coincidences” (the funniest coincidence of all is that I found out recently that it was already written! I found it accidentally in a…supermarket). So what happened was that me and my friend lost the marked trail on the Saleve mountain and had no idea which way to go, and the first two people we met, who helped us find our way were two women from Romania, and not only that, but from the same city as me! I bet that if we had chatted longer we would have discovered common acquaintances, which would have confirmed the “6 degrees of separation” theory, or another way of saying that the world is small. Theory aside, we found again the track and we continued hiking up to reach a belvedere point where one could see the entire city of Geneva beautifully curled around the 70 km long former glacier lake.
And then there was flying. Yes, you heard me right! The first time ever for me paragliding, a 40 minutes flight from 1300 m high. I must admit that was shitless scared when the instructor with whom I was supposed to fly in tandem told me to run fast and there were just two meters of rock in front of me and then the void, and on top of us there was just a piece of wind inflated cloth (mind you) and he was laughing at my fear with his crazy laugh and a twinkle of something beautiful in his eyes, which was showing so clearly that he hasn’t spent the last 30 years of his life in an office, but looking for the good winds (am I the only one who finds this insanely attractive? :-)). And then I just shut my mind and ran and two second later the strong currents lifted us up and…I was flying. And I could see Geneve far down and behind me the snowy peaks of the Alps and the wind was blowing strongly in my face and I felt so light…Wooohooo!
And then there was the end, or at least what I chose to be the end of the story – that afternoon spent with my friend in Carouge, the artsy quarter of Geneva, with a lovely outdoors market, where I indulged in eating unhealthy, delicious, fried sausages and chips and pink cotton candy and later on had a light beer in a plastic glass, sitting in the warm sun and feeling mellow, while a group of around 20 people was playing covers of well known songs only with brass and woodwind instruments. The last song seemed so familiar and still I couldn’t figure out which was it until somebody in the audience sang the lyrics of the chorus “Flames to dust / Lovers to friends / Why do all things come to an end?” And then it struck me, the beauty of that fleeing moment, the realization that I was being happy for no reason and in the same time the melancholy of the things that pass without returning, adding something hard to define, but valuable to my luggage of immaterial items that I carry around on this Earth.
Why do all good things come to an end, can anybody please answer to that?