Friday, May 31, 2013

Smooth Getaway Postcard From Switzerland

Despite Harry Lime (in Graham Greene’s The Third Man) asserting that Switzerland’s contribution to world culture is the cuckoo clock and chocolate, there's a long tradition of artistic achievement in this tiny country of six million people.

In fact, Switzerland is a country that so loves its artists that their profiles grace Swiss Francs, rather than the usual portraits of politicians. Switzerland owes much of its tourism to the Romantic poets, writers and artists. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, and Rousseau, along with the English painter J.M.W. Turner, discovered the beauty of this land and then promoted it.

In the past, the impregnable mountains and snow covered peaks of the Alps were to be feared and avoided. The Romantic Movement in art and poetry changed all this forever with the “Cult of Landscape.” Thus, Switzerland became a destination for young English nobility taking the “Grand Tour.”

Much of the intellectual history of the modern world has its roots deep in Swiss soil. Many creative souls have produced their greatest masterpieces here with the terrain constituting one of the world’s most inspiring muses. Switzerland became a standard destination for exceptional artists and philosophers.

T.S. Eliot wrote The Wasteland while living in Lausanne and Herman Hesse lived in the hills above Lugano for over 25 years. Mary Shelley was touring in Switzerland as she wrote Frankenstein.

Other notable residents include James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Henry James, Voltaire, Dickens, Stravinsky, Vladimir Nabokov and Charlie Chaplin. Peter Ustinov lived in a hotel in Montreux and singers Tina Turner, Shania Twain, and Phil Collins currently call Switzerland home.

It could be argued that the greatest poem and novel of the 20th century were both created in Switzerland, referring to Eliot's The Wasteland and James Joyce's Ulysses. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky, Hugo and many other writers came to Switzerland for creative stimulus. Even Lenin wrote his manifesto in Zurich before returning to Russia for the Revolution in 1917.

In Zurich, Kronenhalle restaurant was a famous haunt of expatriate writers and artists. The walls are covered with works that were traded for meals. Picasso, Giacometti, Chagall, and Miro are among those represented on the walls, but especially Chagall who must have dined here a lot. 
James Joyce regularly got the corner table. Switzerland is a country with over 400 museums featuring both expatriate and Swiss artists. In 2005, the Paul Klee Center opened in Bern to celebrate the country’s greatest home-grown creative master.

The cities of Vevey, Lavaux and Montreux, which lie next to each other along Lake Geneva, have published a guide called The Poet's Ramble that features over 40 famous artists who have lived in the area. The book is available through Switzerland Tourism ( 

By the way, Harry Lime’s creator Graham Green worked in Switzerland for many years and is buried in Vevey: the city where Swiss chocolate was first blended and where cuckoo clocks presumably still keep the time.

John Blanchette is a freelance travel writer, television producer, and public relations company owner in Santa Monica, California.

1 comment:

  1. It's the mountains that would draw me there; that's the climber in me.

    Thanks for posting, John!