Saturday 2 October 2021

1989 Zürich


The great bell of St. Peter strikes 9.  A grey but bright morning; cold.
I arrived here at 10pm last night, a mere one hour and a bit from London.  This is almost a test-run: what is the viability of jumping across to Europe for the weekend.  I am staying at the Hotel Florhof behind the Kunsthaus.  Last night I watched TV in German, French and Italian.

Now I sit in the pleasant St Petershofstatt – very quiet everywhere.  Zürich is full of pastels: lime greens, strawberry pinks, vanilla creams.  The architecture is terribly circumspect, nothing is garish or untoward.  Everything is very neat.  Walking along the Limmatquai, things were only vaguely familiar.  Driving in from the Hauptbahnhof last night I did recognise the high stone wall of Seilergraben.  I think I stayed near here – the street Zähringerstrasse is marked on my old (1979) map.  I remember only the shower of the old youth hostel (?) where I stayed.  Zürich was pelting with rain, and I was freezing; it was one of the best showers of my life.

Zürich very quiet all morning until 10, when I go to the Oper.  "Marriage of Figaro", sold out for tonight.  Then to the Kunsthaus.  9 francs to get in – which includes the last day of an Egon Schiele show (£1 ~ 2.70 Fr).  Round the museum – lots of dreck, especially modern.  Few decent old ones – Canaletto, view of Molo with reception of ambassador.  Good Chagalls and Munch.  Lots of boring Schweizer and old German stuff. Few decent Impressionists.  To the Schiele.  Frightening stuff.  But what a fiercely personal vision this boy – died when 28 – had.  Lots of lacerating self-portraits, lots of nudes – the flesh beginning to turn like dead meat.  Some of the landscapes were new to me – strange gleaming reds, like haunted houses – impressive.

Almost casually, I decide to visit the "Je suis un cahier" Picasso exhibition.  I expect to be bored after the Tate show.  It is miles better.  The virtuosity which was hinted at there becomes explicit.  The sheets from the sketch books are all dated: often there are ten from one day.  Rarely is there a correction to them: just sure, swift lines.  Many are masterpieces.  But even more fascinating is to see how he worried at a theme, teased out nuances – and then changed completely.  For example, he draws a baboon's head a few times, simplifies, then leaps to Shakespeare.  Pure disjunction or inspired transition?  Now in the Kunsthaus restaurant, I gaze at the familiar Zürich rain…

Grossmünster: typically Swiss – no ornaments inside, just clean, grey walls.  It all looks too new: there is no sense of time passed. I wonder if I came here before?  P.m., the rain holding off a little.  A few more people around – about as busy as Bournemouth on a quiet winter's Saturday…  To the Fraumünster Church – more churches – dull inside. But brilliant Chagall windows, five of them, long and thin. Jacob, Christ, David in the middle, blue, green and yellow.  Wandering in the rain.  Zürich is still quiet – definitely a one-day place.  

Back to the hotel to watch 16 channels of TV.  Several times I have tried to take coffee at the Café Bar Odeon – Lenin's old haunt, and one that I found very pleasant ten years ago.   Today it is noisy and smoke-filled – hardly the haven of civilised quiet it once was.  One thing I have noticed: there is a fad here for deeply unattractive glasses – huge square things, odd wing shapes – yuk.  Also, it has to be said, there are not many attractive women here.  They look Swiss and serious – no spark or flair.  But then there is very little squalor  either – I have seen only one tramp, and everyone else looks well-off.

I am now sitting amidst the guildic (?) splendours of das Zunfthaus zur Saffran.  I received a very snooty welcome – no tie, unshaven, jeans, trainers: will he pay? They think.  I hope they take Visa…  This is a strange city.  It looks like a film set – it is too neat and tidy, too perfect.  I am on the first floor; as the trams go by, their metal conductors creep past the eighteenth-century windows like huge silent spiders.

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