Kindness in Zurich is just like kindness can be at home

I don’t even know the name of the kindest woman I have met in a long time.

Zurich is a tale of two cities. It is the modern banking center portrayed in books and articles. It is also a baffling medieval town that feels more like a rabbit warren than a modern, hip city.

Fondue makes Zurich proud and we were told of an excellent, traditional restaurant the Old Town area. Our taxi driver was not so nice and kind. He dropped us off on a main street and pointed into the confusing tangle of streets and said, “It’s in there.”

We assumed that cryptic instruction meant we could follow the street straight ahead of us and find our dinner. Not so much. We went straight, then we turned and we turned again. My wife and I are not afraid of asking directions. Asking does not guarantee anybody will care, or know what we were asking. The language barrier made it difficult, but most people gave us the “I can’t be bothered” shrug. The English speakers who bothered to listen to our plea seemed to know less about Old Town than we did.

Then we stopped a woman who was walking fast and with purpose. She struck us as a knowledgeable resident. We were wrong. She did not know the restaurant we were seeking.Yet, she didn’t blow us off. She concentrated, furrowed her brow and finally said, in halting English,”No, I just don’t know.” She then continued on her way. After about 15 steps, she stopped and turned back toward us. By then she had pulled out her phone and she had apparently made a mental commitment to help us.

I’d like to think the kindness fairy or our guardian angel tapped her on the shoulder. More likely, her innate goodness took over and she decided she was not in as much of a hurry as she thought she was. Her phone, however, did not equal our immediate rescue. The directions she found were confusing. She decided they were far too difficult to explain. Thankfully, she did not try.

With her phone in hand and incredible kindness to strangers in her heart, the woman, who probably had a score of things to do that early evening, guided us gently through the nooks and crannies of Zurich’s old town. The walk was probably only five minutes. If we had been left on our own it might have taken five hours.

We reached the front door of the restaurant and the woman flashed a smile of triumph as if she had just climbed Mt. Pilatus. We thanked her profusely and her smile confirmed she was incredibly pleased she could help. She walked away with a bounce in her step and a smile on her face. Kindness made her feel good and rescued our evening.

We will never see her again, but I won’t forget her.

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

Cleaning off my desk after an eight month hiatus

I am going to revive a 40-year-old writing approach of mine.

When I was an absurdly young managing editor in Ypsilanti MI. at the now defunct Ypsilanti Press, I used to write a twice weekly column. I frequently “cleaned off my desk.” It was a device I used to address a bunch of interesting ideas I didn’t think deserved an entire column.

You will find this blog post to be a collection of thoughts mainly about my numerous travels since my May 10 retirement.  I hope you find this fun. I am inspired by Mark Twain’s famous quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

  1. Alaska’s majesty overwhelms. Northern Minnesota, Western and Northern Michigan and several parts of Arizona entrance you with their beauty. But Alaska overpowers you. Glaciers , snow-capped mountains and massive forests that go on forever impress you and enrich you in a way that makes nature and God one.
  2. The pride, loyalty and commitment to their state by Alaska residents inspires. Everyone we met seemed like an impressive and commissioned salesperson for Alaska. Residents can speak candidly about their political and financial problems, but their sympathy for the “lower 48”  and our failure to measure up is amusing and heart-warming. Their unbridled enthusiasm for everything Alaska is palpable.
  3. Perhaps the greatest highlight for many of my fellow passengers on an Inner Passage cruise of Alaska were the countless frolicking humpback whales we saw. Not me. I was mesmerized by the human mammals mesmerized by the whales. Nothing turns mature adults into crazed sixth graders like whales leaping and fluking in the water.
  4. I have attended Conspire an annual summer spiritual conference three times. It is conducted by my favorite theologian, Father Richard Rohr in either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. No preaching here, but what always amazes me at these conferences is the deep level of “searching” I see among the participants. The thirst and longing are obvious to the point that I believe ‘searching” for meaning is a primal drive.
  5. Visited Chicago for the first time in many years this past summer. It may be the Second City, but its vibrancy and strength energizes. If you are there, don’t miss the Chicago River Architectural tour. It is a tremendous way to appreciate the city’s architectural imagination and excellence. You can also learn that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow got a bad rap, but that fire helped make  Chicago an architectural wonder because the city got to start over.
  6. Amsterdam teems with hipness. Diversity is a key part of the fabric of the city and there is a comfortable swagger that screams “cool.” The canals fascinate. I never knew that for about  $700,000 you can live on a houseboat on many of those canals.
  7. I am not a big museum guy, but if you are ever in Amsterdam the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh museums are stunning.
  8. Almost everyone knows about Amsterdam’s “coffee shops,” but the most shocking thing a visitor notices is bicycles. Yes, bicycles. They zoom through traffic like out-of-control cheetahs and motorists will tell you bicyclists think they own the road. Many, many people travel to work or shop on a bike and their interests are represented by a strong bike lobby whose power is, in the eyes of cab drivers, “ridiculous.”  The daily dance between cars, pedestrians and bikes drove my blood pressure into the stratosphere.
  9. The “world’s steepest cog railway” up to Mt Pilatus near Lucerne is a scary, invigorating experience. Mt. Pilatus is impressive in its own right but the cog wheel train seems to teeter on the hill more than a few times. It is a “must-do” in Switzerland.
  10. Making a connection to Phoenix out of JFK airport is very close to my blasphemous vision of hell.

And that’s how I spent my vacation!

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

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