Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Caught in Candyland

Once again I'm taking a photo of myself in the mirror of some lonely hotel room.

This time outside the window is a particularly mundane suburb of a particularly mundane city: Zurich.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I published here a post entitled “Föhn” It was all about Switzerland and how much I like it. I started it by wondering how come I've been dreaming so much of Switzerland recently, and really I have. That post did not contain a word about Zurich. Nor did I dream of Zurich, ever.

Not that it's not a pretty town, in its prosaic way

It's just too goddamn clean

No one would argue this, whether or not this is the home of the Dadaist movement, Zurich is just too clean and settled in its ways. You can even walk out of it into perfectly serene nature in a short stroll. I am only in the city for 24 hours. It's just not right that I was able to take these photos a short stroll away from the hotel:

Zurich makes me miss Israel/Palestine for how boring it is. I need action. Why in the name of the almighty Alpine God Toblerone did my workplace choose to send me here? They just sent somebody else to Istanbul to write of the anti-Israeli sentiment there. Here I can't even sense any such sentiment. Everyone is extremely sweet. Why did they sand me to candyland, where even the terrine is crowned with redcurrants and a pretty peach?

The answer is simple and tragic: They sent me to review a Rod Stewart concert.

Rod Stewart, there's a Zuricher rock star for ya, as safe as a stroll up the Banhoffstrasse. I miss the war! I miss the occupation! I miss the rise of fascism! I make a vow. If nothing saucy happens to me on my single evening in town, I'll never travel again to any city that's not been demolished at least once.

The early evening doesn't carry much promise. Myself and another journalist arrive at the venue, a hockey stadium, to review it. Then word's out on 2 things.

1. The journalists are extended a rare backstage invitation. The Danish producer Lars seems to have taken to us.

2. Frida from Abba is in the building.

We both head directly back to the catering hall, and witness a birthday surprise, presented to a crew member.

We also meet a few legendary musicians who are in Stewart's band, among them David Palmer, formerly with The The, and guitar hero Paul Warren.

We have a delightful dinner featuring local delicacies that really stink up the room.

Having digested, we meet Stewart himself. I recently published a post in support of artists who join the BDS and cancel their Israeli shows. When I interviewed Warren over the fondue, he drew a comparison between appearing in Israel today and in South Africa during the eighties. He himself played Sun City with Tina Turner at the time and said he felt “uncomfortable”. He added that Turner herself later came to the conclusion that she's made a mistake.

I ask Stewart about his choice to hit town at this time. “I have a contract and I intend to respect it,” he said, “A deal's a deal.”

A deal's a deal and a show's a show. His concert is rockier than I had expected, an extremely happy event.

I leave with “I am sailing” on my lips, trying hard not to think of flotillas. Backstage, the artists are preparing to leave for Germany that same night. I have to discover nocturnal Zurich on my own, if it indeed exists.

Here's a guy with dreadlocks. He tells me to go to “El Lokal”, on Gasner Alee. I take the train down. Young people are sitting outside by picnic tables, drinking homemade brew. The atmosphere reminds me of the Minzar. Not bad, but I have a Minzar at home.

Then comes my streak of luck.

They are not Swiss, though that would make for a better story. The girl is German, a doctor of virology. The guys are both Canadian tattoo artists. I bum a cigarette off them at El Lokal. They are on their way out, things were being to mild there.

The doctor leads the way. She leads us west.

Soon we are walking down streets lined with gray buildings, shabbier than anything I'd seen in Switzerland before. Alternative types, my favorite crowd, spill out of the many nightspots.

The first bar we enter has an altar with botanica candles.

The second one is further west, on a street filled with buxom prostitutes, drunken laughter, the sweet smell of weed and that of cheap grilled meat. We have reached Beauerstrasse in west Zurich, the city's street of shame. It too is lined with some smashingly urban alternative bars. Here is the scene, and the scene is rough and real.

Not being a fan of prostitution, I never plan to wax poetic about a city's red light district, but in the case of Zurich, it's seeing the dark side that gives the bright side meaning. Perhaps no place is incomplete if you just take the time to dig an inch underneath its surface. Who knows what tattoo artist you'd find there.

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