I shall not easily forget my first visit to Switzerland. The end of the war left my battalion encamped north of Perugia. Leave was suddenly generous, and rides in military transport easy to find, at least for a young ensign in the Brigade of Guards. Hoping to flush a retired uncle in the Bernese Oberland I somehow got onto Geneva’s railroad platform where I spent some time gawking at the display of chocolates.and bananas (bananas!) in the buffet, hints of a way of life unseen by us for years. For, basically, in North Africa my generation found what it had expected, namely squalor and “wogs,” as we fascist beasts termed those we were defending by treaty (though you wouldn’t have guessed it from the bartenders in Cairo). But Italy, after all, was part of us, our cultural heritage, and as we had fought up through its “soft underbelly of the Axis” (thanks, Churchill) many of us had done so aghast at its pathetic chaos and misery, probably forgotten today. Read John Home Burns’ The Gallery and bleed at a record of it all.

So there I stood on that immaculate station platform without a plug nickel of negotiable currency since GMF (Central Mediterranean Forces) were at that time paid with AMGOT (Allied Military Government Tender). I mentioned my ticketless predicament to a Swiss standing nearby, and without question he immediately lent me the wherewithal for my trip. Subsequently I stayed in Zurich at the excellent Zum Storchen hotel and ate the first of many meals at the Veltliner Keller around the corner. A waitress remembered Joyce (as also precisely what he owed them when he died).

Repeating the itinerary after many visits nearly half a century later I still found Zurich to be one of the most underrated cities in Europe, with its charming Gasse, or alleys, and their splendid bookshops. The trams still hiss softly down the Bahnhofstrasse, off which other vehicular traffic is kept, conferring a spacious mall-like effect on the city’s principal artery. The Storchen has slung a terrace out over the Limmat but otherwise is almost exactly the same as when I first knew it, especially the swans. God bless Zurich for staying the same. Such certainly can’t be said for London, with its high rises and traffic jams.

For a New Yorker, Switzerland is a holiday in itself No one tells you in contemptuous tones to check your bag as you go in a store, panhandlers are inexistent (as are the police, come to that), there are no Gay Rights parades, women vote not to vote, and of course you miss the homeless. What druggies there are seem to be sequestered in a Needle Park north of the main station (now being tidily recreated underground), and the opinion of one Swiss social worker involved with them, whom I saw on TV, was that the quicker they kill themselves the better; an American commentator on the same program could hardly believe his ears.

Joyce’s grave is in the egalitarian cemetery, only plain slabs in rows being permitted this homogeneous citizenry, except for a very few notables buried to one side. Joyce is one of these, his slab being adorned with an ugly sculpture. I have a vague feeling that Joyce, who did not live in Zurich very long, has been adopted by the city in some sort of compensation for its lack of indigenous artists of consequence. New to me in the heart of town was the James Joyce pub, an extremely posh place of dimpled leather banquettes, oak tubs, coach horns, and yard glasses, which Jimmy would never have been seen dead in. It served to remind me that cliches are images we sell ourselves as insulation.

The pride of these Swiss towns, like Zurich, Lucerne, Neuchatel, Bern, is that they weren’t bombed together with the rest of Europe. They have preserved prewar standards in almost everything, not excluding morality, of which cleanliness is an outward and visible symbol. More than once I found myself, in common with the hero of that amusing Italian movie Bread and Chocolate, looking around desperately guilty with a candy wrapper in my hand.

My mission on this occasion, however, was different to that of the callow young officer of 1946. I was booked into the famous rejuvenation Clinique La Prairie (cellular therapy) at Clarens, of Rousseauvian fame, on the Lac Leman facing towering snow-clad Alps. There the erudite Doctor Valente was my mentor, and on the terrace of my room I reflected on my first visit to these parts after the war. Then I stayed at the Beau Rivage in nearby Ouchy (Lausanne now), where I met a strange gaggle of collabos running for their lives, including the likes of Coco Chanel and Etienne de Beaumont. In those days the refugee rich were in abundance on this little Riviera—I had the dying Countess Potocki pointed out to me, with fortunes on her fingers—and now I found myself performing the same lakeside stroll, or totter, between Vevey and Montreux, one now enhanced by the boxes of flowers set alongside this rather geriatric path.

Passing the grandeur of the Montreux Palace Hotel, with its yellow window blinds, I invariably tipped my hat to the memory of Nabokov who exacted such sweet revenge on a lifetime of detractors by taking, at the end of it, the entire top floor of this sumptuous establishment, its leaded mansards reminiscent of the Negresco in Nice, or the majesty of the old Ruhl there. One can think of worse places in which to shove off.

You may not bathe in these lakes. You may not sound a car horn in any Swiss city, nor erect flashing neon signs, nor paint your dwelling without Cantonal consent. Trains run on time all right, indeed metronomically so, conductors on them being very highgrade personnel indeed. Cars stop for pedestrians at designated crossings and a routine bus driver says good morning to you as you mount.

In this connection a contrast occurred to me when I once saw a buttoned-up Zürcher businessman give a reproving tap of his newspaper (doubtless the Zürcher Zeitung) to a vehicle that had slightly encroached onto one of these pedestrian walks. For some years ago an elderly friend performed the same office to a truck in similar circumstances on Lexington Avenue. This time the driver got out, slammed my friend with a wrench, and threw him down into an abandoned building site, where he was discovered unconscious hours later and taken to a hospital. Though it was a sunny afternoon no one intervened. Manhattanites simply went on their way. My friend had to have two operations and died shortly after the second. No one apprehended the driver.

On one visit to Zurich I parked my car in a slot on the Münsterhof. Returning to it after some shopping with my wife I found a policeman on all fours behind it. He was testing the tread on my tires with a pencil-like implement and, finding one of them to be insufficiently deep, required me to change it on the spot. I did not argue. One does not with Swiss authority, as a matter of courtesy more than anything. Immigration is here very strictly controlled, as are temporary work permits. The lessons of neighbors are learnt—all those Algerians in Paris, while it is said there are as many Turks in West Berlin today as in Istanbul.

All this enviable harmony represents an astonishing coordination between three or four language groups. No hostile pressure for bilingualism here, since everyone is trilingual (linguistic researches have shown that if a child early acquires two languages, it has a much greater facility to adopt another). The customary cry of the disaffiliated intellectual is that all this law and order is stultifying, as mirrored in an amusing book by a Swiss called Fünf Millionen Gerechte. The degree of self-control seems admirable to a New Yorker, but there was considerable public outcry about it when I was there, both in the excellent local press and on TV. Thanks to a release-of-information act similar to our own, it was discovered that the Swiss government possessed fiches on no less than 400,000 of its citizens (a count growing as I left).

The fiche is that filing card familiar to Americans registering at any French hotel. But the sheer size of the Swiss self-documentation, more secret and far more invasive than any census, it seems, staggered everyone. I gathered that a large proportion, perhaps a majority, of German Switzerland were what is called fichiert in that tongue, as were, rather more understandably, resident foreigners. One Suisesse found that a fiche had been started on her after she had spent a year at an American university that had been subject to repeated student busts! However, documentation is not necessarily regimentation, and one wonders if without it Switzerland can remain the beacon of sanity it is.