I’ve been home about a week now after a trip to Zurich. For my first visit back, I went to stay with a friend to keep her company as she came to the end of chemotherapy and started gearing up for the next steps of her treatments.
I’ve been processing the trip very slowly. Because the story of being sick is hers, I won’t tell it here. But I will say that it was an intense week. We talked a lot about how we live and who we are, in the context of life-threatening illness. I read a book on her recommendation, Illness: The Art of Living, by Havi Carel, that helped me think some of these issues through and gave us jumping-off points for several discussions.
However, I did not give myself much time to reflect on some of my own feelings while I was there. In particular, I ignored my reactions to being back in Zurich, walking along familiar paths in a place and life I’ve left behind, and how that makes me feel about my current path.
Some of my relief at being in Zurich — and yes, it was relief — came down to simple familiarity. Even the airport felt comfortable, like a tiny homecoming, as I got off the plane and headed straight to the Post cash machine that I know sits tucked into a corner of the airport mall, and then to the Migro to buy some Bundesfleisch (special Swiss dried beef, pressed into square blocks). I knew what trains to take, which bus stops to get off at and when. Familiarity can breed comfort, not always contempt.
I have not been gone that long from Zurich (a little less than 8 months), so all my old haunts are still there and gave me instant gratification for certain things — from the Jumbo mega-garden-hobby store, where I purchased a ridiculous souvenir that I’ve been missing from our old kitchen, to the restaurant where Matt and I had one of
our first dates in the city, Maison Blount. And the Brockihaus near the train station was just the same; only now, what once seemed high prices for used goods seemed entirely reasonable to me after Myrorna!
Things have changed in Zurich, don’t get me wrong. The aqueduct construction on the 13 line is finally complete, with new shops containing tasty-looking foodstuffs that made me wish I still lived nearby. My favorite outdoor gear shop moved one of its outlets, expanding its floor space downtown. And I did a few new things, visiting restaurants and places I’d never been around town.
I was grateful that Zurich was warmer than Stockholm, and seemingly sunnier earlier in the morning. Traveling down the yellow 13 tram line past our old apartment made me homesick for my office with sunlight pouring in the balcony window, and homesick for spring and hot summer days and swimming in the Limmat. The trains and buses made me long for the efficiency of the Swiss system, and the ease of getting out of town to the mountains to hike or ski.
I miss the quality of life we had there — and not just those tangible things and intangibles I’ve listed above. We earned more there than we do in Stockholm, when it came to cost-of-living standards, and so we could afford to do more and relax a bit over some of the budgetary questions that stress us here. Like apartments.
However, at different points of my visit, I felt intensely grateful that I no longer live in Switzerland. It’s still gray there in winter. (It rained on the day I wanted to climb Uetliberg.) And still expensive. (The prices were still high enough that I did not purchase anything really big, despite sales on shoes and other items I wanted.) And something else… I cannot put my finger on it.
Perhaps I was reliving how hard it was to live there in some ways, even as we were leaving, and that realization — that as an expat, I had not truly fit myself in and might never do so well — lingers under the surface of what I think of as a convenient, familiar, and comfortable place. No matter; even if that proves true of my new Swedish life, the door is closed on the Swiss chapter, even though I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that time, and for Zurich itself.