Friday, January 7, 2011

The boat trip

from an imaginary visit to Lucerne, 2010.

I don’t like boats. I don’t get seasick. It’s not that. It’s more the cramped spaces, the stench of the oil and fuel, the toilets which are always filthy, no matter how expensive the vessel. And the fact that ultimately it’s quite a boring thing to do.

Despite all that, today I finally went on one of the boats that plies Lake Lucerne. After some of the things that have happened since I got here, I decided that a boring day chugging along on the water would make a welcome change. So I went down to the port and bought a ticket for a five hour ride that promised to show me the highlights of Lake Lucerne. The boat didn’t leave for another half an hour, so I sat on a bench and watched the seagulls fighting over a half-eaten sandwich that someone had dropped on the quay. The fact that there was a piece of food littering the usually immaculate ground of this city was remarkable. Sure enough, within five minutes one of the employees of the boat tour company, who was dressed in a tight-fitting white sailor’s tunic, rolled over to the crowd of screaming birds, stooped down, and swept up the sandwich with a sheet from the local newspaper.

Soon they announced, in German and English, that we could board the boat. About fifty people formed a line in front of the wooden gate. One by one we handed over our tickes and made our way up the gangway onto a two-tier vessel with a single tall chimney stack. The boat was about sixty feet long, painted white and red like the Swiss flag, and it looked like it had seen better days. I hurried to the upper deck and took a seat closest to the outside of the boat. There was a lot of bustle, noise, and commotion, as families and couples from several European nations found a seat. Ear-splitting safety announcements came over the tannoy in different languages, the engines started up, bells clanged, ropes swished as the boat was unmoored, and we moved away from the quay with a roar from the motors and a churning swoosh of water.

The trip was pleasant and uneventful. At the beginning, there were lots of excited kids running around. One of them kept stepping across a line that one of the crew had informed us not to cross, and when he had done it for the fifth or sixth time, his father gave him a very un-European smack to the side of his face that made him yell like a puppy that had just been run over. Gradually, all activity on the boat grew slower, quieter, as people perhaps unconsciously acknowledged that there was nothing to do but sit and let your body rock gently from side to side in time to the boat’s rhythm, and to lean back on the hard slates of the wooden seats and admire the scenery.

The scenery is indeed spectacular around here. There are mountains all around the lake—very high mountains, greener than an emerald held up to the light. All kinds of events important in Swiss history happened on them, around them, below them, between them. Every few minutes the air would be torn in two once more by the voice from the tannoy, informing us in heavily-accented English about the age of this house, the significant moment that occurred in that town. This went on for five hours, as the boat made a stately tour around the shores of the lake. I slept for a little while, lulled by the movement of the boat. When I woke up, I decided to risk using the ‘head’, which for some reason is the name that they give the toilet on a ship. I didn’t perform the usual functions there, however: I’d brought a tab of Ecstasy with me, which I took with a little swig from the extremely expensive bottle of water that I’d bought from the on-board bar. By the time the boat had swung back in the direction of Lucerne, the drug had worked its magic, and I was lounging with my elbows on the back of my seat, turning my head with what felt like infinite slowness to look at my fellow passengers, loving each one of them from the bottom of my chemically-induced bliss-filled heart. The sun was going down as we got nearer the city, slanting across the spires and the slate rooftops and creating dramatic right-angled contrasts of deep brown shadows and brilliant buttery highlights. The air around the buildings seemed to my drugged-up eyes to be moving, as if the sunset were coming towards me like smoke, and I was breathing it in and allowing it to flow into my body.

By the time we had docked, and disembarked, I had decided that boat trips were not so bad after all.

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