Zürich - Odeon


Me: Hallo! It’s been a long time…I’m travelling to Switzerland. Would you like to meet up with me?

J: Wie schön! It’s high time that we see each other again. I am afraid that, because of work, I can only meet up with you over the weekend. Where will you be?

Me: How about if we meet in Zürich? Here’s the plan, you and I are not getting any younger. This is our chance to find ourselves some Swiss bankers… ;-)

J: Great plan! I’ll catch an early flight out of Hamburg and be in Zürich in time for breakfast.

Me: Alles klar! I’ll be at the Basilea, see you there!

* * *

J and I go a long way back. Our paths first crossed while sailing in offshore Waikiki once upon a time. Living at opposite ends of the world, we meet rarely and write infrequently but have somehow managed to stay in touch through the inexorable passage of time. I suppose that while most long-distance relationships tend to wither, some long-distance friendships thrive by chance.

Even though J and I differ in quite a number of ways, we share an appetite for culinary exploration in foreign cities. Here we were sitting at the famed Café Bar Odeon in Zürich and deciding on what to order…glancing over the menu, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I spotted the item “Toast Hawaii, mit Raclette Käse und frischen Saisonfrüchten” (Hawaiian toast with Raclette cheese and fresh seasonal fruit). As anyone who has been to Hawaii and France knows, Toast Hawaii is as much Hawaiian as French toast is French.

Like several other historic cafés in Europe, the Odeon has garnered fame not so much for what it served, but rather for the luminous intelligentsia that once graced this place. In addition to attracting literary and artistic greats like James Joyce and the Dadaists, the Odeon also played host to influential political figures such as Vladimir Lenin. Looking around me, I wondered if somewhere among the rather nondescript crowd gathered here this sunny but hazy afternoon, there sat the next revolutionary plotting a coup d’état that would someday alter the course of history? Where did Lenin use to sit when he frequented this place as a Russian exile during most of World War I? What was he drinking or eating while brainstorming what was to become the October Revolution of 1917? Surely, “Toast Hawaii” did not exist back then?

There must be something about the atmosphere in an old world café that inspires not only literary or artistic genius but also revolutionary ideals that strive to emancipate the mass from exploitation by the privileged few, and to redistribute wealth equally among mankind or rather, humankind. One rainy April afternoon 78 years after Lenin’s revolution, while sipping old-fashioned hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots and watching the Parisian world go by, J and I pondered on the social injustice of our day. In essence, tapping away on keyboards in rows of cubicles leading to the corner office of the corporate big-suit is not much different from plowing the land that surrounds a chateau belonging to a blue-blooded overlord. Since neither J nor I were inclined to start a revolution, we thought we could at least attempt to free ourselves…before losing our way in the cubicles like mice in a maze.

Somehow, we ended up toying with the unoriginal idea of leveraging the institution of marriage for our equal share of wealth. No, we were not conspiring to dig gold. Rather, we were aspiring to work permanently for passion and not for necessity, by marrying temporarily for necessity and not for passion. To achieve our goal, we would have to secure someone of a certain stature in life so that, even after handing over the customary third to the divorce lawyer, we would still retain a sizeable bounty to finance a lifetime of freedom from modern serfdom. Moreover, if only one of us managed to carry out this grand scheme, the fortune would be shared with the other hapless one, thereby remaining true to the ideal of equal distribution of wealth.

As it turned out, J has no more euros to pay for my next trip to Europe than I have dollars to offer her holidays in Hawaii. What we both do have now—many years since that damp but hopeful spring afternoon in Paris—are a few more grey hair than we dare to count… In reality, J is now happily taken. As for me, being always a hopeless fool when it comes to unruly matters of the heart, I would say I do only with the foolish hope of doing so for the rest of my allotted time in this world.

Perhaps J and I could somehow locate a treasure map to the rumored underground vaults beneath Paradeplatz, where Zürich’s banks allegedly stash their bricks of gold. Then we could literally dig for gold? Afterwards we could squander our new found wealth on Bahnhofstrasse, Zürich’s most elegant shopping promenade. First stop…why, the world-renowned Confiserie Sprüngli of course!

* * *

As J and I bid each other farewell at the train station at dusk, I was momentarily transported back to a deserted bus station in Vallendar, to an S-Bahn station in Hamburg, to the Honolulu International Airport, and to the Gare du Nord in Paris…all the places where we said goodbye, not knowing when and where we would meet again.

Later, as I lay wide awake in my hotel bed well into the quiet early hours, it dawned on me that drinking a tall glass of Viennese ice coffee late in the afternoon was not a sensible idea… On second thought, perhaps the real culprit behind this sleepless night in Zürich was the thought of my slowly greying hair?