Conversations at Epidavros

I had forgotten about the few days I spent in Vienna with my mother and father, about 1979 or so.

I would have to look through the old passports my father so carefully collected and wrapped with an elastic band in the safe at home. Unlike me who lost a passport at the Athens airport two years ago.

Seeing Niki Lauda’s scarred face on his airline, Niki Air, triggered the memory. When I was last there with my father we took a bus tour into the hills west of Vienna. We drove past Niki Lauda’s farm; I remember a clear torrent of mountain water streaming along the border of his forested farm. From there we went to the vineyards and had lunch under the vines of an estate looking out at the vista of the pre-Alps. I remember being allowed to enjoy the wine with my father. I remember crisp rosé and mild cheese in the cool of the late summer mountain afternoon.

Now I am going back to Vienna. I spent the day in Tutelingen, near Stuttgart in Germany. My host was Stefan Drop, head of sales for an orthopaedic devices manufacturer. He speaks English well, even with idiom. He fielded questions on the development of the company he works for, and even some on the social responsibility they hold in terms of staff benefits, salary and happiness. We had a VIP lunch at the staff canteen, in the century old restored warehouse the company owns. The workers filed past our tables holding food from the canteen on trays, to their plain wooden tables. They were a mix of male and female, mainly young, satisfied but not excited. We sat at the same wooden tables set with white linen aand napkins, and were served by a fraulein waitress. The food was delicious and the company interesting.

We spoke of work ethic, systematization and vision. The vision of Stefan’s company is to be sustainable. In the visitors centre the urinals have a sign saying that only rainwater is used to flush the toilets. The exotic hardwood floors that line the spectacular lecture hall come from sustainable harvesting enterprises in South America. These details are all that is needed to emphasise the sustainability of the company, which internally finances any capital development.

At lunch we touched on economic affairs. I led the question into the adoption of East Grmany. It was quite clear that Germans were happy, and felt responsible, to subsidise their kin, who had been unden the yoke of communism for 45 years. But they were not happy about subsidising Greece’s debt crisis, especially when the Greeks were striking as we spoke. The irony is that it is Turkish immigrants working in Germany that are paying off Greece’ debt.

 But here was proud young German whose company was 159 years old and was going to be sustainable. He loved his work, his county and his company. A company with a Greek name, Aesculap.  Aesculapius is father of medicine, whose temple is in Arcadia, our province in Greece. At Epidavros, away from the single stone in the centre of the floor of the amphitheater that carries a whisper to the top seats, away from that, is the temple of the Healer. The company’s emblem if his staff with the snake wound around it.

They had replicas of coins and statues of artifacts from the temple at Epidavros. In their excellent medical instrument museum they had large Perspex cylinders cut at different angles arranged artistically. Each of the ten or so cylinders had sayings of Hippocrates engraved.

These people loved the Greeks; they worshiped the ancient history and land and had included it in their business.

Now they have to pay for Greece’s debts. Why should they?

Conversations about Swiss Chocolate

When I arrived in Zurich after the visit to my second goddaughter,Gabriella, who had been skiing in the Swiss Alps, the airport was barricaded. We waited in the car park, uncertain of what was going on except that it was obviously a security problem.Ten years ago was just after 9/11, and the world remains on edge.

A muffled explosion, then silence. The security and army moved into the terminal, swept up the rubber mats that were torn and bent like some new piece of modern art. They cordoned off the immediate area, and ushered us past the smell of cordite. This time, with Swiss efficiency, they had blown up someones baggage that had been left unattended.

It made me think about what the Swiss banks do with money that is unattended? After how many years of no claims do they decide to move it into the car park and blow it up under protective rubber mats?

I never liked Switzerland.

Initially I was thrilled to be in a new country. Excited to be walking on pavements recently cleared of snow, the low sun adding no heat to the crisp cold that filled my lungs.I think we used to land in Basel then catch a train to Zurich. We would lug our rectangular brown suitcases with chrome latches and protective corners along Bahnhofstrasse and then branch off over the bridge and into the old town. There was a Swiss traditional restaurant as you entered the small suburb, walking over shiny,wet cobble stones.After dropping our baggage at the small inn with huge duvets and warm central heating, my father treated us to a meal there. I remember having cheese and meat fondues, and always leaving with a burnt tongue. Even the crisp white ice-cream covered in Champagne did not soothe the pain. When we left to go back to the hotel, we had to move aside for a Lamborghini Muira. The low car was so wide, not just because of the narrow streets. But the street amplified the guttural sound of the motor at low revs.

I didn’t like Switzerland because they were too organised. Rumor parallels similar White African fears at the time that had each Swiss man conscripted to the army and each family with a concrete bunker in which to survive an atomic attack. That’s why it looked so organised.There was just no heart in Switzerland.

Here I am ten years later, to discover if there is any heart in Switzerland. The money has long been moved into the Greek banks, where there is unlimited heart and maximum inefficiency!