A hot Saturday afternoon on the A61. Slow moving traffic. Near the Swiss border we exit the highway into a parking area. Beyond the burning asphalt with a few parked cars is a wooded slope with tables and benches under tree shades. A path leads down the slope. At the end of this path, hidden behind tall bushes, is a large pond. Ducks float idly on the calm green surface. Sun filters through the foliage forming irregular patches all over.
We are struck by the beauty of this spot that has appeared, like an oasis, where we least expected it. On one of the tables Mom lays out a South Indian spread she has prepared for this journey.
* * *
At the Ibis hotel in Luzern, a sparsely furnished room on the second floor, with a view of dull office blocks nearby. But Wife is happy: there is free WI-FI. A clean bathroom and an Internet connection is all she wants from a hotel room.
In the adjacent room dad is happy too: there’s a TV on which, later in the evening, he can watch the Euro cup soccer match.
* * *
On a sixty minute excursion in lake Luzern, a glimpse of the magnificent mountains, green, grey, patches of white. Such moments, however, are short-lived; civilization intrudes: apartments, villas, churches on the hillsides, and boats on the lake.
(Norway, whose fjords we drove through a year ago, was different: the landscape was rugged, not cultivated the way it is in Switzerland, and every place seemed remote. We were aliens on a faraway planet.)
Back at the lake-front tourists are everywhere. But this does not bother mom and dad: both are seduced by the attractiveness of this lakeside town ringed by mountains. Wife and I, no strangers to this scenery, are more interested in an event nearby where locals have gathered in elegant suits: a performance of Schubert, Rachmaninov, and Brahms. We want to escape into the cool, dark, musical interiors of the concert hall.
* * *
Dinner at an Indian restaurant. A lean waiter in brown uniform, wearing a pleasant smile. He seems competent, yet his manner has a touch of obsequiousness. It makes you want to command him; he is giving you the right, his manner suggests. And the Indian family in the adjacent table do just that. Ordering a meal, I want to tell them, is a request, not a command.
Across us is a family of five, parents and their three teenage daughters. Their speech seems close to German, but it isn’t the Swiss accent of German spoken here. They are speaking Dutch, Wife clarifies. The daughters are all dressed in shoulder-less gowns: mermaids out to dinner. On this table, our waiter is accompanied by another man, and the manager too comes around now and again to check on them. The other tables, occupied by Indians, are not given this privilege.
* * *
Over the years, along with the tourists, change has come to Switzerland. When I first visited Luzern, in early 2000, the city had the quality of a recently found pearl, precious and known to a few; now it is a popular museum artifact, experienced by millions who visit each year, in all seasons. A striking character of this change is the demographic of the visitor: I now see far more Indian tourists than I did in my previous three visits to this city. And the local economy has tailored itself to take advantage of this group.
At Engelberg, near the cable car station to Mount Titlis, a makeshift cabin offers a host of Indian specialities: samosas, pakoras, masala chai. The counter is manned by an Indian, and the cabin is surrounded by Indian tourists, mostly middle-aged and elderly people visiting the Switzerland they’ve seen countless times in Bollywood movies. Business must be lucrative, because there is competition: another cafe nearby sells, along with the usual fare of sandwiches and cakes and cappuccino, “fresh” samosas and “hot” masala chai.
Mount Titlis, a popular destination that promises snow all year round, appears to be run over by the Japanese and the Indians. The Japanese have been here much earlier, but the Indians, new kids on the block, are seizing control. Occupy Switzerland is their motto.
* * *
During breakfast, commotion at the reception desk. We overhear fragments: wallet … stolen … man running … police has been called … cancel credit cards.
Later, at the reception, the chinese guests are still waiting for the police. The shock, if there was any, has passed; they want to move on. But the receptionist, a young woman with an Italian accent, insists they wait for the police.
No one steals in this country, she tells them. So if this happens, the police must know. You must file a report.
The chinese gentlemen look at one another, and shrug.
How much money did you have in the wallet? the receptionist asks.
Less than two hundred Euros, someone answers.
Two hundred Euros is not less! the receptionist says, her eyebrows raised.