It may be just a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side thing, but a sunny weekend spent in Switzerland after a few gray (but nevertheless enjoyable) weeks in London, got me feeling that there is a heaven on earth and that it may well be close to the Zuricher See. Besides the stunning landscapes (and I am a sucker for mountains), the whole country just exudes a sense of well-being that is so at odds with the general European angst these days.
I am also struck by how well the Swiss keep their heritage and how much they are concerned with protection of the spirit of the land. I was stunned to see how many beautiful modernist features persist in Zurich (the tram stops, the “beach” complex on the lake), where they would be “modernised” beyond repair elsewhere for the sake of showing “progress”. But it is the fact that this urge for protecting the way of life and livability against pure financial pressure is what is remarkable, from decisions on the number of holidays to the brilliant plan of limiting the number of deserted non-dom second homes. Irritating for some, inefficient and maybe only possible for the few countries as prosperous as Switzerland, but still impressive – anyhow we can see equally rich communities (e.g. London) that accept to be be butchered (e.g. the Shard) or lose their sense of place (try walking around Kensington and counting how many lights are on in the gleaming apartment blocks – not many, but the proces are still up). It would be great if the rest of the world could espouse the Swiss direct democracy and empower communities to decide on how they want to develop. Obviously that would be costly, even for relatively rich countries, but it would probably make the countries more live-able and creates communities where people feel they are less controlled by powers beyond their reach. This is especially pressing now, seeing how many moves are made in Europe towards centralisation and the frictions that the feeling of powerlessness creates in many countries.
Of course, the Swiss have had it easy in many ways, for starters, by inhabiting a beautiful country which could not easily be conquered and that is located between prosperous, but constantly warring lands. However the fact that the Swiss have used their good fortune in making the system run more efficiently rather than wasting the money is impressive. I mean, this is a country that is actually seriously considering making underground tunnels with electric trains to reduce congestion on roads.