Back in Zurich

     I’m back in Zurich now after working from South Africa for six weeks. We landed at the Zurich Flughafen about six in the morning after an eleven hour flight where we’d been unexpectedly upgraded by Swiss airlines to Business Class. I do believe the sweetest words in any language are, “Excuse me, sir, you’ve been upgraded” just as you are about to board an airplane for a long flight. After we landed, we left the plane briskly, walked along the moving walkways, took one minute to clear customs, and arrived at baggage claim to find our luggage had already beaten us there. Zurich and Swiss efficiency – you gotta love it!  But I must say that Johannesburg and the new Durban International airport gave Zurich a run for its money in the speedy luggage department this trip. We hardly had to wait at all in either place. 

     Speaking of South Africa: in my last post, I mentioned the shooting of the striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg. Here’s the rest of the story. Things settled down after forty-four people had been killed, and now the miners have tossed out their unions and are negotiating directly with the mine owners. The miners are striking for more pay. They want an increase from 5,500 rand per month to 12,500. Well, it turns out they already are making 11,000 rand per month, but didn’t realize it. Somehow it never registered that money was taken out of their monthly paychecks for taxes, medical insurance, pension, and room and board (apparently they live in dormitories). Sad. Maybe the average miner didn’t realize what their true salaries were, but their leaders certainly did, and now the South African authorities are charging hundreds of the strikers with murder – presumably the leaders – for inciting the miners to attack the police. 

    Final note: South Africa has an unofficial unemployment rate of over 40%. You can’t really see it where we are in the beach community of Umhlanga, but in Durban, or if you move inland into the townships of Ndlovu and Kwamashu, crime is very high and things are very desperate. Young men without jobs have nothing to lose. Without a job they have no prospects of getting married or having a life. In South Africa there is an ironclad tradition among the Zulus of grooms paying a ‘lobola’ to the father of the bride – usually about 11 cows at 4,000 rand per cow – an impossible sum for a man without a job. Hence, crime and desperation are high. 

 
Best regards, 

 
Jim 

Zurich, Switzerland    

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A Lovely Day in Zurich and a Disappointing Movie

     It’s been a month since my last posting. I plead post-vacation email catch-up as an excuse. Like so many people these days, I tried to keep up on my work-email while on vacation but all I managed to do was stem the tide. I’ve decided that for every week you take off, it takes an additional week of working extra hard to catch up. In my case, I took a month off. So it goes…
     My wife was traveling on business on Valentine’s Day so we didn’t celebrate it until the following Saturday. We then went to our favorite Zurich restaurant Tres Kilos (Rulon’s second favorite after The Desperado),– a wonderful, yes, Mexican restaurant only a few blocks away from the American consulate in Zurich. Those of you who read Einstein’s Trunk will remember that Tres Kilos is where Rulon took Yohaba after the killing in the Honggerberg forest.
     Before dinner we did a walking/window shopping tour of Zurich, stopped at the Storchen hotel for the best hot chocolate in the world (and at $9.50 for a somewhat small by American standards cup, maybe one of the most expensive) and then had some glazed, chocolate covered orange slices from a nearby Springli chocolate store.
     After dinner, as an extra treat, we saw a movie we’d been chomping at the bit to see ever since we heard about it: The remake of Tinker, Tailor… starring Gary Oldham as George Smiley, the aged, bespeckled, overweight spy, based on the novel by John LeCarre.
            Alas, the movie was a disappointment. I’m sure the producers, actors, and directors did what they thought was best, but the 1979 BBC Alec Guinness mini-series, I’m afraid, has set a very, very high bar. It was so unbelievably good. There were so many scenes in the six-hour BBC version that were so well constructed, that maybe this new two-hour movie never stood a chance. In any case, there wasn’t a single scene in the new movie that was as powerful as the comparable scene in the original. Also, while it must have been a real challenge for the movie to condense the book to only two hours, I felt they had superfluous scenes, that if they had not been there, they could have had more time for LeCarre’s priceless dialogue. The book was not about men staring silently while they tracked down the mole in British Intelligence. The book was about Smiley’s relentless interrogations of his co-workers to finally arrive at the truth. Again, we see that making good movies is extremely difficult. There are so many mistakes that can be made. When a team gets it right, they should be applauded.    
 
     Next week: for my birthday, my wife bought me an Apple Macbook Air. I will talk about my experience and wax lyrical on changes in the IT industry.  
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich
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