When I go out to meet the light, the shadow of my body follows me, but the shadow of my spirit precedes me and leads the way to an unknown place
- Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It has been a dream the past week. 3 weeks ago I didn't even know I was going to be in Europe but here I am now sitting on a train at the station in Basel, Switzerland on the ICE line enroute to Frankfurt in Germany from Bern. At Frankfurt I shall meet with my friends Jonas and Stefanie for dinner. Tomorrow I will catch the flight to Singapore.

Basel is a special place to be for me. Roger Federer was born here. I confess that what excited me most about crossing the border into Switzerland was visiting Basel - the city that Roger Federer was born and where he developed his tennis game as a child. It becomes my desire to drink a glass of water from this place, perhaps it could imbue me with miraculous tennis playing abilities. I might even bring some back to spike my sports drink on the tennis court just to gain an advantage.

Well, I've not the time to explore Basel on the way back to Germany from Bern, Jonas and Stefanie are waiting and it is her birthday today.

The week began in Konstanz. I had landed in Frankfurt on Monday morning at 6am after boarding a flight from Malaysia. The journey began officially on Friday in Sydney where I am still based but I had stopped in Penang, Malaysia for the weekend to attend my cousin's wedding reception. I had been fighting a mild sore throat for the past week but it had turned into the nastiest throat condition of my life in Penang. I had to see a doctor near the hotel to acquire some overpriced medication to bring it under control. Luckily it worked very well, I was already feeling it abate on the flight to Frankfurt.

Luck seems to be a constant companion these days. Take for instance the glorious weather I've experienced here in Switzerland that began on Saturday morning. Typically the weather this time of year is overcast at best. The entire week in Konstanz, I had not see the sun. But it arrived in grand fashion at the right time and for the entire duration of this weekend. And now the sun has just retired behind the mountains, proud of its accomplishments for the past two days, leaving behind a jagged rust colored glow on the horizon.

"In Germany we have a saying, 'When an angel visits, the heavens smile with good weather'", Beate said to me this morning as we sat at her kitchen table. I spent last night at Rainer and Beate's home in Vitznau by lake Luzerne. I watched the sun rise over the snowy mountains fringing the lake through the window over a table of the finest cheese, home made jam, bread and muesli I had ever experienced. Smoke could be seen rising languidly from the chimneys of the homes nearby. The homes afforded grand views of the breathtaking scenery with big glass doors/windows that were installed without regard to security. It is safe in this part of the world.

Coming to Switzerland and Konstanz has allowed me to indulge in the world's best of the foods that I enjoy regularly. The cheese, chocolate, bread, muesli AND wine here are outstanding. Jonas stops the car at a bakery in the town that he grew up at as a boy, he invites me to try the pretzel from here and I do. I am not fond of pretzels but I find myself devouring it and wanting more. Stefanie tells me that THIS is the proper way to make pretzels. It must be slightly hard on the outside like a brittle shell and soft and moist on the inside. The legend goes that a baker's apprentice serendipitously invented the pretzel when he mistakenly used a cleaning solution on a batch of bread awaiting the oven.

There is something about eating a food at the point of origin that cannot be replicated. Wine drinkers often complain that the wine doesnt taste the same if you transport it despite your most ardent efforts to do it, and I believe it. There is a reaction with certain properties of the air that rounds out the food or beverage. Speaking of which, the air here is the finest I have breathed for the past 20 years at least. The Swiss take great care to preserve their environment, for instance, 95% of the trains that run through here are zero-emission. The lakes that dot the region serve as heat capacitors and serve to moderate the climate except for the higher regions of the Alps. This is why many Europeans seek to retire here, it is the most coveted land to do so for the clean air and agreeable climate. Yet, the exorbitant cost of living here is prohibitive even to the people that earn Euros. Yesterday driving from Vitznau to Luzerne, I had passed through a village on the shores that apparently had the most billionaires per capita in Europe. Yet, it looked so unassuming. Many of the world's wealthiest come to Switzerland to build their homes because you can actually negotiate your own tax rates here. Michael Schumacher for instance did so. The Swiss have a knack for drawing wealth. Switzerland was the only neutral country that was respected by the Nazis in WWII, it is believed to be because Hitler had vast investments of wealth there that exist to this day. Driving past Zurich airport you can marvel at the number of private jets that are parked in front. And walking around Luzerne, I had passed 3 Ferraris in a matter of minutes.

But the highlight of Switzerland - and by highlight I mean the definitive moment of being awed into stillness - was standing in front of the flat on Kramgasse St. that was rented by Einstein from 1903 to 1905. It was on the second floor of this restored building (now a museum of sorts) that he wrote his most important papers in a matter of weeks that revolutionized physics. This street itself has so much character, it is a long promenade of cobbled streets and fountains, trams run regularly through it. This section of Bern has been entered in the list of UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites. I have felt this affinity for Einsten since reading his biography a few months ago - Einstein: His Life and Universe. I was drawn to it both out of curiosity for the man as well as his approach to unraveling the mysteries of the universe. How much of his view of life and our place in it overlapped my own? I suppose quite a bit, because by the end of the book I felt a great fondness and admiration for him. And so standing being there and gazing at the photo cutout of himself as a 20 something year old looking out of the window above felt somewhat like a religious experience. Unfortunately on this day the exhibit is closed. I gaze through the windowed door at the narrow steps leading upstairs and I feel that if I could only walk through this doorway I transcend time and meet the man


Einstein's home, back then

And now... (see his face in the window)