Thursday, January 13, 2011

The tourists on the quayside

from an imaginary Lucerne diary

Today was a bright sunny day. The mountains around Lucerne are so high that they seem to cover up most of the sky. But in the valleys between them you can see more clearly to the high horizon, and today there were only a few elongated clouds stretched low across a blue sky.

I left my hotel and walked down to have breakfast at a café on the quayside—the same café that I’ve eaten at every day that I’ve been here. I find that when I’m staying somewhere for more than a couple of days, and I find a place on the first day that I like, I will return to eat there for most meals. The same place for breakfast every day, the same place for lunch, usually the same place for dinner. As I was eating my pastry and bowl of strong coffee, I decided to count how many people would stop to have their photo taken leaning against the railing, framing themselves against the elegant backdrop of Renaissance and medieval buildings on the other side of the water. It turned out to be about thirty per cent of all the people who passed by.

The first two were Asian. My guess would be Japanese, judging by the sound of their language. They seemed typical of young female Japanese tourists, sort of excited and chattering, but slightly hesitant and shy at the same time. They smiled a lot and dropped their heads when they stopped someone and asked if he would take their photo.

The next ones were a group of German kids. I say kids just because they were much younger than me—early twenties, maybe. There were six of them, and they lined up girl-boy-girl-boy-girl-boy against the shiny black railing. Again, a passerby was stopped and asked to snap a photo. It was only when the camera was handed back to one of the young Germans and the shooter had moved on that I realized they were all wearing black t-shirts, each with a single word on the front that together spelled out, in English, the phrase: “I-SHIT-ON-YOUR-GRAVES-BITCHES.”

Pretty funny, I thought. And pretty strange.

There was a bit of a lull after that. As I was waiting for my bill to be brought to my table, an older couple dressed in Tour de France-style cycling clothes positioned themselves against the railing. The man held a camera at arm’s length, above their heads and pointing back towards the grinning faces of him and his wife. But before he could take the snap, a tourist boat shuddered by, raising a wave that crested the quayside and washed over their feet, causing them to jump and nearly drop their camera. The water scooted across the road towards where I was sitting, so that everyone who was having breakfast at the outside tables was forced to lift their feet.

It reminded me of the time that I was in a boat with my grandfather. He had taken me fishing on a small lake next to the local power station. No-body knew or cared about the fact that the lake acted as faucet and sewer for the power station. Most men in the area were like my grandfather, who was a miner living far from the sea, to whom the lake was the only place he could go to float around with a rod and a line, listening to the lap-lap of the water against the side of the boat and the forsaken cries of the curlews overhead. The boat was a primitive coracle, about six feet long, that he had made himself from bits and pieces of wood that he had found lying around at the mine. It took him six months to collect the wood, seal all the gaps, and sail in it for the first time. Now he took it every Sunday morning to the lake, hauling it along behind his bicycle on another wheeled contraption that he had also constructed. I had never gone with him before that day.

(to be continued)

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