September 22, 2011
GSTAAD—One of the safest countries on Earth is in trouble. Good old Helvetia, a country more up and down than sideways, according to Papa, could end up on its head. Its industrial base might melt as its currency is much too strong for its own good, and deflation might set in as the Swiss National Bank is printing money to tie its fortune to the euro. Lashing the franc to the euro seems suicidal, but such are the joys of global finance. Mind you, I don’t understand a thing and am on my way down to see some bankers who will explain things—not that I trust bankers as much as I used to. Still, buying foreign currencies in unlimited quantities to win respite for one’s exporters is a dangerous practice, and the Swiss are not known for courting danger.
Switzerland is a small country which unites a number of unique, diverse communities which are small worlds in themselves, all with a well-earned reputation for freedom, independence, industry, and honesty. The Swiss enjoy direct democracy, with referendums at regular intervals about important subjects such as joining the EU, permitting tall minarets, and until 1990 in the canton of Appenzell, allowing women to vote. I’m a big fan but a worried one. Every bum I know wants to come and live here, and bums do not have the Swiss attitude of hard work and honesty. Soon the place might turn into Italy, Greece, or even Britain.
The expensive Swiss franc is another problem altogether. When I first came to Gstaad and moved into the Palace hotel, one dollar got you 4.3 francs. Living at the best hotel in town cost me around ten dollars a day, tips included. The most expensive chalet was worth around 100,000 francs; you do the math. A season ticket for all the mountains in the region was less than 100 dollars. My season began on December 22nd and ended around Easter. The place was full of Americans, many of them pilots who had bailed out over Switzerland while bombing the industrial Ruhr. Those were very good types: tall, blond, sports-loving daredevils with an eye for the girls. Most of them were WASPs. Alas, all of them are now dead, but I have some very fond memories of deep-snow skiing without guides and with very little light left. Once you’ve been flying against flak, skiing down unknown slopes in the dark is child’s play.
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