MANY thanks to the literally tens of readers who contacted the Sports Desk inquiring after your correspondent’s health in the light of last week’s ‘Letter From Euro 2008’, in which told of how I had tweaked the hammer while running for a tram in Zurich.
Typical of the response, I believe, was an e-mail from Overjoyed, Youghal who wrote: “I was eating my lunch when I heard that your over-paid, under-worked, so-called sports reporter had sustained a hamstring injury while swanning around Europe on another freebie soccer jaunt. I would just like you to know that I laughed so hard, I succeeded in passing an entire ham sandwich through my nose.
“PS More GAA, please”.
Of course, my fellow professionals were more understanding. Take this missive from Florida: “Dear Liamo, very sorry to hear that you ‘tweaked the hammer’. They laughed at me too when I had to limp around Torrey Pines and some even suggested that I was putting on an act. In fact, I’ll be out of the game for anything from six months to a year, so guess who, erm, has the last laugh? Anyway, thanks for all your support and especially those swing tips down the years. Your old mate, Woodsy.
“PS More GAA, please.”
Indeed, inspired by Tiger’s gallant example, I shrugged off the discomfort of my own hammer horror to join a guided stroll – well, okay then, hobble – around Zurich, to better get to know the city which has been our home base for most of the European Championships so far. However, it would be an overstatement to say that the tour was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
The problem, to state the obvious, is that Zurich is not, say, Berlin. Two years ago, on the day before the World Cup final, I undertook a similar mission in the German capital and, within a matter of minutes of the start, found myself knee-deep in gore. I suppose that’s what two world wars, a Cold War and having David Bowie in to record a couple of albums tend to do to a city.
By contrast, when they talk about the “the occupation” in Zurich, they are referring to the French invasion of 1798. And, as far as I can work out, the stout citizens responded to that threat by simply going downstairs, emptying the vaults and handing over all their gold and silver on condition that the French wouldn’t wreck the place. And by and large the cunning plan worked, so that there are parts of Zurich’s lovely old town which are substantially unchanged after hundreds of years.
The downside, however, is that, in the absence of historical drama on a grand scale, the official tour guide is frequently reduced to telling you how many trains use the Hauptbanhof on a daily basis, and other such less than strictly mind-boggling stats. Her habit of beginning some sentences with the phrase “Believe it or not…” was also somewhat deceptive if rather telling. “Believe it or not,” she would say, and we would lean in closer in a state of heightened anticipation, “there was once a convent with nuns on this spot.” The sound of wind coming out of sails was deafening as we looked at the bank which now stands in its place. And in Zurich, it’s nearly always a bank.
Still, we did detect an unexpected frisson as our little tour progressed. “Many people think that Geneva is the bigger city but in fact Zurich has the bigger population,” our guide proudly exclaimed at one point. Bit of a city rivalry thing going down then, we asked teasingly? “Not really,” our guide smiled, and then added, “although I was in Geneva once and I found it…” - and here she pulled the most extravagantly pained face – “a little disappointing.”
Seconds out, round one!
Sadly, she quickly recovered her poise and soon enough was asking our little group – myself, the man from the Irish Times, a Canadian, an American and two Aussies - to guess how many fountains there are in Zurich. “More than in Geneva, I’ll wager,” I quipped good-naturedly. The man from the Irish Times laughed. No-one else did.
Then it was off to look at St Peter’s Church, home to what they will tell you here is the biggest clock face in Europe, yes, bigger even than Big Ben. By about eight centimetres, apparently. Once again, our guide set us a little quiz. How wide would we say the diameter was? You won’t be surprised to learn that the Irish Times came closest to the correct figure while the Irish Examiner was only out by a couple of miles.
And so on we went with our walk on the mild side, in the kind of city where I once spotted a group of men watching a television set in a shop window and joined them to catch up on what I presumed was some tasty footie action – only to discover that they were studying the latest movements on the stock markets.
But I’m being a tad unfair. Zurich, like every other city, has its exciting distractions No, Zurich has another kind of nightlife on offer, the one which a visitors’ ‘what’s on’ guide is coyly referring to when it lists on its cover – after “restaurants”, “bars”, “clubs” and “hotels” – a category called “good to know”.
Flipping to the back of the brochure, I duly find that the appropriate section is a Zurich “Erotic Guide” with pleasingly wonky English translations. (Not that the English speaker has any right to complain about a country in which the language barrier is a triple-jump for the mono-lingual visitor who finds, for example, that every cigarette packet is obliged to tell you in three different languages – German, French and Italian – that you’re going to die roaring).
Anyway, highlights from the Erotic Guide include Club Aphrodisia (“The girls are naturally also for escort available”), Elite World Escort (“Our sophisticated, well-spoken models are very much capable of behaving like a cultivated lady outside the bedroom”) and Club Rouge (“much more than assembly-line erotic”).
My interest in all this, needless to say, is purely professional. Hence, when I read that Privilege –The High Class Escort Service advocates “giving yourself over to the sensitive hands of our gorgeous masseuses and immersing yourself in a world far beyond the reach of your everyday pressure, stress and worries,” I can immediately see the medical benefits.
So any day now, an expenses claim will arrive on the desk of the Commander-In-Chief:
Privilege High Court Escort
Service, Zurich, Switzerland.
The sum of 5,000 Swiss Francs.
For treatment of tweaked hammer.”
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