Zurich, Switzerland: Pictures and Presidents

The weather was horrible that first morning in Zurich, though not so horrible I needed an umbrella. I walked down to the lake, but there was so much fog surrounding the city you couldn’t even see any of the mountains or buildings around the water.

Across the river I stumbled across a small farmers market (market!!) and I browsed some of the offerings. The produce looked fresh and the baked goods irresistible, but the prices were quite outrageous. It made me miss the days of the Saturday morning market in Brisbane, picking up fresh, delicious and cheap products.

From there I visited the Fraumunster, one of Zurich’s two famous churches. The Fraumunster’s biggest claim to fame (almost as much as having been built in the 9th century) are the five stained glass windows inside designed by artist Marc Chagall.

From there I wandered through the narrow streets and alleys of the old town. Most of the shops were clothing or jewellery, few of them seemed to be those small cozy cafe’s and restaurants that one would expect. Even on the other side of the river, near the hostel, the bars and restaurants were either high-end outfits, chains, kebab shops or dive bars. Maybe I’m just caught up in the romanticism of medieval Europe … or maybe I was just dying for a cup of coffee.

I sat down at a small cafe I found near the St Peter church, which houses the biggest clock face in the world.

As I flipped through my LP I realized that there wasn’t much to see in Zurich itself. The museum scene wasn’t very compelling, and I didn’t want to just go through yet another, average,  history museum. I figured I had basically already knocked out the big attractions. In my research I learned about a photography museum in Winterthur, a nearby town.

Before heading out, I bought some lunch supplies at the supermarket and walked up a hill to the local technical university, which had a great view of the city. Unfortunately, with the clouds and fog, there wasn’t much to see, but it was still a nice spot for a sandwich.

I took an early afternoon train to Winterthur and learned that it wasn’t any more exciting than Zurich. I mean, if you lived there it would probably be quite fun, with its street malls filled with every kind of shop you could want and green outdoor spaces, but for a tourist (and solo, on top of that), it left much to be desired.

I walked through town to the photography museum, guided surprisingly well by the small map in my LP.

The museum, unlike the town itself, was excellent, even in the horrible weather. There were three exhibits open, spread across two buildings. The first was a raw and sensational collection about sex, voyeurism, fantasy and homosexuality. It was very provocative, sometimes bordering on offensive, showing both real pictures of things like nudity and bondage, as well as gory, fantasy shots of the human body and what one would’ve previously called “intimacy.” The second was an exhibit of pictures taken of a small American town by an English-born artist who had lived for a number of years in the States. I thought of it kinda like when the Impressionists started painting pictures of peasant life instead of Royal portraits or Biblical scenes. It was White Trash Impressionism, pictures of your average middle-American family in their trailer park living rooms. The third exhibit was a collection of photos assembled from pictures that some artist found and collected over many years from places like flea markets. Some of the pictures were interesting, though in most of the cases it was difficult to see the target of the shot. Can you simply create professional photography by assembling enough amateur photographs? And what’s the magic number?

One special coincidence was a series of photographs I had read about in a magazine at FOAM in Amsterdam. It’s the work of a Japanese artist who took pictures of voyeurs in the park at night. Apparently there’s an entire subculture of people who go to parks in Japan to fool around at night. And built on that subculture there’s another one of people who watch those couples fool around, and sometimes they even get in on the action themselves (without their knowledge, of course). The artist used an IR camera and shot these guys on the prowl. It’s quite interesting, if you ever get the chance to see it (the exhibit, not the voyeurs).

All-in-all it was well worth it and I enjoyed the day trip. I felt a little bad about spending all that money on the train ticket just to see a museum, but as you’ll see later, I would soon do much worse.

It was Tuesday, November 4th, Election Day. The hostel didn’t have a TV or free WiFi, and I didn’t know of any bars that would show a US Presidential Election, I knew I was relegated to getting updates from borrowed time on the hostel’s lone computer. The time difference meant I wouldn’t get any conclusive information until very late at night, but I was determined to know the result. After all, I had been asked about my feelings towards the election on a regular basis by representatives of about 7 different nationalities. I got up at around 2 AM and checked online, but they had just started posting results from the various districts. I checked again at 5 AM and was delighted to find out that Barack Obama had won. So on the day that America elected its first black President, I was in a hostel in Zurich.

Just in case you were wondering.

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