“L‘État, c’est vous—The State, it’s you,” asserts the rooftop signage as I stroll up the steps towards Käferberg, Zurich’s beetle-like mound. Although probably not along the intended significance of its architect, I couldn’t help but agree. Ever so slowly, I’m becoming accustomed to calling this city of two rivers “mine” without signs of remonstrance from a self-accusing psyche. This January marks exactly three and a half years since I moved to Zurich. It also marks my one-year anniversary as a permanent resident of Switzerland.
It feels good, like the first deep inhale after a grueling 500-yard freestyle. The waters of worry no longer compress and pinch my breath. Or maybe it’s me who’s grown gills instead. I feel at home. I stopped checking the local traffic app for directions each time I step onto a tram. I have my secret café where I can always count on a seat, a smile, and scrambled eggs salted and fluffed to perfection. I speak German now. I know the best swimming holes in summer, and I know what’s cooking in town. I’m no longer lonely here, even when I find myself alone. For a small soul who never felt like he truly belonged anywhere, it’s a galvanic sensation, strong enough to dispel the inveterate urge to constantly run away and start everything anew again—most of the time.
The world is in chaos, but winter’s brushwood provides a sanctuary of solitude and calm. On the slopes of Käferberg, tendrils of smoke twist and coil from crisping cervelats roasting over the communal fire pits. Couples and families chitter and flap on trails glazed by the previous night’s frost. We move like dewdrops, gently rolling along the silver threads that web this small march.
I love wandering aimlessly here, without looking at maps, or signs, until the thickets of trees turn into a paravent against civilization and the wooded mountain becomes a little time machine. I let it rapture me to timbered reveries distant and near: from the lush and babbling Gauja River Valley; to Finnhamn, where the birch shavings burned and kindled a cataclysmic love; and back again to Käferberg, this past summer, when Zurich gingerly emerged from the pandemic’s initial wave and we slinked every which way out into the wild, seeking a quiet spot to lick the bruises of our rattled individual liberty. I let my thoughts unravel, riding on vapors of contemplation.
Séb was the one who introduced me to Käferberg, on one of our meandering walks. With nature just paces from our doorstep, there was little need to travel far—was his dogma which I could never bring myself to wholeheartedly adopt. I was perplexed and surreptitiously disappointed the first time he revealed his ambivalence towards exploring the world. Over the years, I’ve come to understand it better.
I’ve always loved travel for its escapism, preferring to devote my energy and attention from one fantastical vacation to the next, skirring over all the drabness of the everydays in between. But little by little, I’m starting to find an increasing joy in staying put, exploring Zurich’s niches, letting myself be wooed by the urbane charm, the frondescent alcoves, and the hibernal afterglows. As the naked forest sleeps off the rest of winter, I take in the sights of my adoptive city, lain glistening across the floor of the Limmat Valley.