The passport
Petre Popovăţ

After a two-hour flight the plane landed on the Zurich Airport, on the land of freedom ? A couple of potholes in the concrete run way made me keep my enthusiasm in check. Nothing is perfect! This impression held until I entered the airport building ? The flowers sold there overwhelmed me with their multitude of colours. In Romania I would only see carnations, 3 lei each, which you could find in all flower shops. Well, here the countless kinds of flowers had no name (I wouldn?t have known them by name anyway); they had been shipped in from all over the world and they smelled divine. Next, fruits on sale ? I couldn?t believe my eyes that on the 9th of May I could buy fresh strawberries, fresh melons, fresh pineapples (the only form in which I had ever tasted it was that of Chinese or Cuban preserves), fresh papaya, mango, and grapes, not to mention the common apples which had suddenly ceased to be so common ? I had never seen so many different sizes and colours gathered in one place. Small stands selling books, clothes, ?Officier Swisse? pocket knives, spirits, cigarettes, and so on were also present in the little Garden of Eden where I had just set foot. I felt the most wretched of all men, as I had no money to do some shopping; I should have been a millionaire to do so anyway because I couldn?t resist any of the marvels on display all around me. Besides, I was in quite a hurry to get down the escalator and to catch the train to Lausanne. Zurich Airport, as I later found out, is the only one in Europe which has both an airport and a railway station. I had bought the tickets in Bucharest, but, because I was too excited and I wanted to look more like a true-blue Swiss, I took them to the ticket stand (I wasn?t alone there) to check their validity and see if everything was alright. A most unfortunate urge! The clerk politely and in a cold voice told me that the tickets were valid alright, but from Zurich Station to Lausanne, so I had to pay 17 more Francs for the tickets from the airport to the city. I could have bought 2 pocket knives for that money! And to crown my misery, no ticket collector asked to see my ticket during the few-kilometre journey.

Finally ? The Swiss trains. To get on a Swiss train you take a step directly from the platform, without climbing steep steps meant for basketball players, and then you reach the luggage compartment. Here you find, in a perfect ?Swiss? order, all the passengers? suitcases which they collect as they get off (each passenger takes his or her own piece of luggage, of course). The wagons have no compartments, but they form one long hall with all the necessary comfort, air conditioning and clean windows. Once in a while, a lady passes by struggling with a cart laden with coffee cups, tea, cold and tempting soft drinks which I could barely ignore; I had just wasted a good 17 Francs I had considered safe. At the end of the aisle there was a public phone which you could use at will, even when the train was moving, to call people in Canada if you knew them and you had change. Never before had I seen a public phone in which you could insert different coins which, if you didn?t use them all, were returned to you. I still had a lot to learn ? In Romania we would still insert small disks resembling the coins used for public calls (1 or 3 lei coins), which had been made at various workshops. It appears that many years before, these small disks were pierced in the middle and a thread had been tied up to them so as to allow one to pull it out as soon as the call was over.

For the next 2 and a half hours my nose remained stuck to the window pane of the train taking me to Lausanne. There was Switzerland! The Switzerland I had dreamed of, the Switzerland I had seen in my daydreams, ?my? Switzerland! I saw ploughed fields criss-crossed by multicoloured lots drawn as if with a school ruler, but lacking any human presence, houses, and loads of them, which I watched from behind because nobody would even dream of building a house facing the railway. Well, I don?t think that the people whose houses stood so close to the railway were the richest in the village. Still ? Behind these houses there were tools, ladders and wheel barrows stored up. All seemed brand new and unused; I could almost catch a glimpse of the store labels still stuck in a corner. But I was especially impressed by the cement factory built near (2-300 metres away from) a couple of houses with squeaky-clean windows. I couldn?t help myself but think of our Comarnic where the cement factory had turned the roofs, the windows, the leaves, the few remaining flowers and probably the people?s souls into a uniform grey surface. I couldn?t for the life of me understand how the Swiss had managed to build such effective filters and to keep the buildings so clean.

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