European Diary

The Honest State

In the shadow of St. Peter’s in Zurich, a beautiful church with the largest clock face in Europe, I found myself chatting with a German tourist.  Curious to hear that I lived in Sicily, he asked me what I thought of Zurich.  “I love it,” I said.  “I feel so at home here.  It’s just like Palermo.”

I’m almost certain that, like the tourist, the reader will scratch his head and decide that I have gone mad, as no two polities more dissimilar can be found in all Europe, perhaps the world.  “Burundi,” say the Sicilians ruefully when drawing attention to some shortcoming of home life which they wish to excoriate, yet still more often that same effect is achieved by spitting through clenched teeth an ironic “Switzerland!”  A fly in your glass of Campari soda?  “Svizzera!”  An improvised rubbish tip in the middle of an historic square?  Stuck in the elevator?  The new Fiat Panda won’t start?  “Svizzera!”

I was mindful of all that, believe me.  I knew I had to make my point to the German with Sophist subtlety.  And so I said, “Listen, if an honest man stands on his head, does he become less honest?  In Stalin’s Russia people were subjected to ordeals more trying than yoga, yet at the end of the day many of them lost none...

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