Monday, April 19, 2010

Pressed into Zurich

Our software developer was based in Zurich during the time I lived and worked in Chicago. I had joined a team under a "train the trainer" program where, having demonstrated my abilities to lead a classroom, I would take our new software product out to the masses and provide onsite instruction and support during the transition. Things got off to a rocking start from the very first day when we discovered the product was not even close to being "in the can" and ready to take out. They were still building it and we, none of whom had any developing background, were being pressed in to service to help out!

Part of that bargain was flying to Zurich to meet with our Java developers face to face to really test and scope out each line of code as it was being written. Following a quick flight to Paris and a change of planes we arrived in Zurich, one of the most interconnected cities for public transportation on Earth.

From the main train station we walked a short distance across the Bahnhof Bridge to our little boutique hotel, the Central Plaza. "Boutique" because, word to the wise, when the rooms are described as "cozy" it means they are on the tiny side. One of them was even round! The service was excellent, however, and we couldn't beat the location with the train station just across the river and several street car lines converging right outside our door.

Zurich is the cleanest city over 500,000 on record, bar none. We were amazed at the lack of trash on the streets, no visible graffiti in the central areas and most of all, the fact that Lake Zurich, this massive glacial lake that is the living heart of the city, is clean enough to swim in. Ferries shuttling commuters from one side to the other were dodging pleasure boats as well as bathers out for their daily constitutional and leaving we, the grizzled Americans dumbfounded at the spectacle. This from one in the group who had never seen a combination toilet (and bidet) and got a real cold jolt as a surprise one morning.

More surprises were in store during our stay as I discovered the Zurich Opera had mounted a production of Carmen with tickets available that weekend. The last opera I had gone to was a Stuttgart performance of "Hansel and Gretel" when I was about nine years old so I was fairly excited about the evening. Even my less than enthusiastic but "what the hey" co-workers perked up after I hummed a few bars of "La Habanera."

"Oh, I know that one," and off we went to enjoy George Bizet's comic masterpiece. Our seats weren't the best and the staging seemed skewed more to one side of the stage than the other but the true miracle of the evening was the mezzo-soprano singing the title role that night. Operas alternate the lead singers to allow their voices to rest; our Carmen had just sung the night before but when the scheduled diva for our performance called in sick our Carmen, the trooper, was pressed in to service. Flawed as the main character was, her voice was flawless.

As was Zurich itself.

Gotta go.

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