Steep winding cobbled streets, scattered with a flurry of fallen leaves. Fresh early Autumn air and cool lakeside meanderings. "Banhofstrasse sei so sauber, dass man eine Minestrone ausleeren und direkt von der Strasse auflöffeln könne" James Joyce. Which means that Bahnofstrasse is so clean that you can pour Minestrone soup directly onto the street and spoon feed off it.
As shoppers weaved in and out aimlessly looking for their next purchase, I was looking for some thing a little harder to find. Having a faint, faded memory of visiting a bronze statue of James Joyce with my family in early nighties on a summer trip through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain. My memory had been merged with that holiday`s Jungfrau and glaciers that I knew in actuality were miles away; I couldn`t remember where could Joyce`s final resting place possibly was.
Looking upon the map, I spot Fluntern cemetery next to icons of animails. How bizarre, I ponder, before I realise that the icons represent a modern zoo. A blue and white tram snakes up past a huge Lindt wall plaque, Zurich University, a church and large suburban houses, pepper the hillside. The tram spits us at the last stop at the top of the winding hill and looking around there isn`t a cemetery in sight. A walk up another hill to an elegant hotel overlooking Zurich and its proud lake looks like it is frozen in time, with quaint white painted iron garden furniture and resting automobiles. Families walk gently back down the slope. Retracing steps, there is a gate leading to what at first I thought was a sculpture park, but gradually I realise the unique shapes and figurines are homages to the dead. Looking high and low for James Joyce I think that I have arrived in the wrong place. In my head I ask "where are you" and hear "I´m hear" from behind me. I dismiss it as my impatient imagination. Circling back round to the entrance, a map is found and indeed James Joyce`s grave was behind me all along, hiding in a quiet corner with Elias Canetti.
The red Japanese maples were new and Canetti died only a year after we were last there. I didn`t remember seeing Nora Barnacle there before, yet her presence reminded me of a memory. I had muttered to Scottish film director girl-friend, how I felt like a Barnacle after a relationship in my twenties was coming to a terrible, but inevitable end. I pondered on how ideas enter into your subconscious to be regurgitated when you least expect without a known trace.
Sitting peacefully at James Joyce`s grave was like being in an echo chamber filled with his Irish lilted voice. The birds and hum of distant everyday construction could be heard interspersed with his witty, quick and light remarks alive from his vivid writings.
When walking down Bahnhofstrasse I was struck still by a street that I later found was Augustinerstrasse the very place where the James Joyce Foundation lay. As my father spent much of his life exploring JJ and his universe, I am now, drawn to understand why it has captivated him so intensely. Listening to stories from James Joyce symposiums in Miami, Venice ignited my imagination. He had spoken of Fritz Senn the director of the Foundation many a time and I was keen to meet him.
Walking up the creaky wooden stairs into the third floor surrounded by postcards with a couple of JJ T-shirts hanging from the walls, a group of people rush into a meeting room and I turn a corner to a quite study walled with books, leather and paper bound, a tiny window looking out onto the cobbled street and a man who silently is reading in a brown leather back smiling as he digests the text. I cough, but he doesn`t look up, so I try a "entschuldigung" to which he gently raised his eyes to see me standing nervously in the doorway to the study. Fritz Senn comes over to greet me. Having spoken only by email with reference to my father, he nonetheless greets me like a friend. Instantly I relax and am relieved that he guides me into another study full of books on Ireland, an encyclopedia of Judaism and books in original Greek to sit down to talk over a cup of tea. Stumbling with my beginners knowledge of Joyce´s work, I pull out my copy of Ulysees and confess that I am finding it rather a difficult read. He thumbs to where my bookmark of Nomade, A Man of Letters book mark is placed and candidly tells me that where I am in the book, is where the most casualties are found. As I asked him to write in a little note to remember this visit he wrote that I should above all else keep going.
Fritz Senn was erudite yet humble. The whole meeting had an air of an everyday extraordinary experience. As if you look beyond your own apathy you can find the poetry, oddities and gems in your own life that are part of your own everyday experience, if you are just open and willing to try and see them. He reminded me that Ulysses was like life itself. Do we really understand everything that we experience, every day? And yet does the fact that we cannot fathom everything keep us from living and fully experiencing it? No, we keep going despite ourselves and have glimmers of clarity that dance and change like the morning sunshine upon a clean cut crystal.
Fritz Senn recommended to visit Joyce`s Zurich hang outs. They in themselves were an adventure to get there. Walking passed vineyards ready for harvest and a mini bonsai garden, finally arriving at the Museum full of Japanese art was a delight in itself.
Chinese statues guard the gardens in dappled sunlight. Yom Kippur; stomach is empty, a father and son greet me in the tranquil hidden idyl.
A tree looks like a giant redwood towering up to the stars above us, it`s branches like a whole universe in and of itself.
Back at Zurich lake. A swan eagerly awaiting.
A sundial basks within the warm rays of early Autumn after days of mist and cloud.
Walking along the promenade by Lake Zurich, I can understand why Joyce seemed to enjoy living in such a place, landlocked between different countries, a cacophony of different languages and musical styles from hopeful buskers enlighten a sunny, Sunday afternoon.
As afternoon falls into evening and my thoughts turn back to Germany. I find myself knowing that I will return, to write and that Zurich holds more secrets to be found within its understated charm.