As always the rails and wheels argue when leaving the station, pulling past the crossovers and the ties, wrapping the air in friction. Metal on metal. The air is cold. Wet. At 0940 precisely the glide begins, discernable only because the light glistening on the window changes. Basel slips into view. You’re always almost somewhere else in Switzerland. Arrive to Geneva airport (I had a few days earlier) and you’re presented with two choices: exit to Switzerland or exit to France. At Gard du North, the other train station in Basel (there are two as I found out by going to the wrong one for a 1430 meeting Friday) it turns out that at some moment in time INSIDE the station you’re somehow in Germany, not Switzerland. Not really sure how that happens, but, hey, its fun to say you were in Germany for about 60 seconds – especially when you had no earthly idea that, you know, you had been.
I had wanted to see mountains. It’s Switzerland after all. The day before, Saturday, at the conclusion of a long walk along Lake Geneva after a conversation about art, environment and collaboration inside one of Lausanne’s most intriguing theaters I said, somewhat randomly to the consultant with whom I was working on our planned Company E tour to Switzerland in April, that I wanted to find those legendary mountain passes through which the trains roar, darting into and out of tunnels, over trestles, spanning ravines of glacial melt-water.
“No problem,” was Philippe’s reply. A five minute metro ride straight uphill (everything in Lausanne is uphill or downhill because it all leads to the lake) and we were standing at the ticket window at Lausanne station and Philippe and the ticket agent were merrily engaged in an impromptu “lets go through the mountains” discourse.
It wasn’t so much that it was possible; that you sort of figure. It was that every few seconds the guy behind the glass was printing out these itineraries on what looked distinctly like old computer flat cards and that, on these papers, were itineraries that involved not just trains, but trams, buses, and funiculars, and that the schedules involved the WALKING distance from the train to the tram, the tram to the bus and the bus to the lift, and the times were separated by minutes – as in “the train arrives at 1420. You walk two minutes to the tram. The number 6 leaves at 1425 so its easy to get to. Then the tram arrives to the transit bus at 1431. You change – there’s a bus at 1434. Then the funicular leaves at 1445, which is easy because the bus takes 5 minutes.” Ummm. I’m from America. You know, where there might be a bus and if you’re really, really lucky you might catch your train which every third Thursday arrives on or reasonably close to on time. Oh, yeah – and what’s a tram?
Now, in the end I ended up by-passing the mountains in favor of searching out places to perform in Basel. But the whole experience told me why no one is ever in a hurry in Switzerland. The streets are almost empty of cars. The trams and buses run constantly and as a result everything happens when its supposed to happen. I tend to be pretty casual about leaving early for things, but in Basel? It seemed like I was constantly worrying about missing some form of transport when really the only variable was how fast I was walking. Other than that, it just got done. It just drives home how much of our stress is induced by automobiles. We think we’re free, but the reality is that the choice to drive, as opposed to be driven, to mangle public transportation systems instead of expanding them, turns the whole daily stress level upside down. When you know you’re going to get somewhere on time, and that you’re not responsible for getting there on your own wheels, it all just gets – simple. And it calms everyone, and everything, down.
The 0940 pulls into Zurich Airport. The schedule says it arrives at 1058.
Count on it.