My sense of continental geography, or even just French geography is poor. I had driven for eight or so hours, more or less following the magic thread of the sat Nav. I knew I was somewhere central-southish, but exactly where, and in relation to what I really couldn’t say.
It had been the same before we left. Where are you going? People had asked. Well I’m not really sure was my rather embarrassed answer.
The journey itself had been impressionistic. Driving through hours of night. Getting lost in industrial Rouen. Waking to a beautiful mediaeval town and sampling early morning coffee and coissants. Fields of sunflowers. Flat lands bounded by curtains of grey storm clouds, split by repeated lightnings.
The mediaeval town had not been an exception, there were more, and the odd fairytale chateau. Building developments seemed much less obvious, or non existent. How was this? What is different about French population dynamics compared with those of England, where every square inch seems to be being developed for housing?
The countryside appeared well tended and attractive. Healthy trees with clean trunks to above traffic height, rather than lorry-pruned as often seems to be the case here. Free parking and even special overnight provision everywhere. Welcoming! Fresh bread and cheese that seemed to feed the soul as well as the stomach. Was this somehow the result of putting people first? The French resistance to erosion of working practices and worker’s rights. It seemed to fit, but I am probably wrong; silly to presume to pronounce on a country after such a short time, but that was the impression.
Finally, arrival and a few days with the friends whose generosity had allowed this holiday opportunity, before being left to ourselves to recoup from a difficult summer.
So now, a few days in and a chance to look at the atlas and find out where we were. Availles Limosan, a bit west of central. The drive had crossed the Loire valley – ah, that explains the beauty. I turned over the page, so we are near Limoges. Porcelain if I remember correctly. Maybe a destination for a day out. Then I notice the colouration of the map indicating rising ground to the east. I turn another page or two drawn by the lure of mountains. And then, for the first time, it really dawns on me; I am on the continent! Connected to all that extraordinary scenery, culture and history.
Old patterns of thought and obsessions kick in. Switzerland. I could get to Switzerland. Why didn’t we come for longer!
Switzerland is a powerful draw to my imagination. Why? A constellation of reasons. The most wonderful scenery; recollections of walking holidays in the Alps, walking on grass (I am no climber), but high up and looking across to valleys of snow and rock; to the Eiger and the Matterhorn. A night of fireflies during a walk towards Italy through the Ticeno on a holiday way back in university days. And then there is the science; Einstein and CERN. CERN on the French Swiss border, the world’s largest particle accelerator and a Mecca for physicists. And Einstein, living in Zurich in the early days before his time in Berlin and the rise of narzism, sailing on the Zurichsee and thinking of light and relativity.
So, two good reasons for being drawn to Switzerland, but not the key reason. The key reason, perhaps strangely, is that the pioneering psychologist Carl Gustav Jung lived in Zurich. Why is this important? I find it hard to say. I read Jung’s collaborative biography, ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ more than forty years ago, along with various other books about him, or in which he was discussed, but I was by no means a careful or particularly avid reader and certainly no Jung scholar.
But something of his writing and the life and thought he described has penetrated deeply and lodged within. Only fitting, I suppose, that work by Jung should should find its way into the unconscious.
There are two physical foci to this obsession, the first, simply enough, is Jung’s house in Zurich, or, to be more precise, in Kusnach, a region of Zurich on the shores of the Zurichsee. 228 seestrasse if I remember correctly. The second and more powerful, is Jung’s retreat at Bollingen, further up the lake.
Bollingen was built in stages; in some sense a physical manifestation of the psychologist’s thought and development. I think I remember reading that Jung felt himself to be most at home when at Bollingen, surrounded by the natural world, performing the simple routines of cooking and firewood collection, on the lapping edge of the zurichsee.
I have been to Zurich twice and both times felt obliged to act on my obsession. The first evening of my first trip I vainly tried to find the Bollingen retreat. This was a long time ago, well before the days of the internet and easy information gathering, and the effort was a complete failure. All I have, somewhere, is a grainy twilight photograph of some faintly towered building – nothing to do with Bollingen. However the next morning I walked along the seestrasse in Kasnach to number 228, Jung’s House.
I remember standing at the gate, looking down the long path to the front door. Then, as I took my obligatory photo, a man, the occupant I assume, walked up the drive and greeted me at the gate with a ‘good morning’ and a ‘can I help you?’ . Being an idiot, and shy, I mumbled a ‘good morning’ and a ‘no thank you’ and walked on. I don’t know for sure, but I think at the time Jung’s grandson and family were living in the house and I often wonder if, recognising me for the pilgrim I was, he might have stayed to talk or even offered to show me around.
My other memory of this incident is in some way stranger but perhaps more telling. I remember that, as I approached the house, I was actually shocked to see, first a petrol station (Texaco I think it was, in a garish bright red) and then, of all things, a Twix wrapper lying in the gutter, right outside the house! Shocking, as I’m sure you will agree! Why? Well, can you imagine, just the absolute prosaic mundanity of it. What had I expected? I’m not sure. Not maybe to meet the spirit of Jung, or the archetypal figure of Philemon, with his kingfisher wings, strolling the garden or leaning on the front gate, but at least some sanctity, or sense of the numinous – certainly not a petrol station and a Twix wrapper!
Of course, this was all a long time ago, so I might be tempted to lay such infatuations at the door of youthful folly, however this would be disingenuous as I was gripped by similar feelings just a few years ago. I was on a work trip with a PhD student. We were at the Paul Sherrer Institute (PSI) just outside Zurich. The experiment we were conducting (developing a method for combining neutron and x-ray imaging techniques) was intensive, but there was some free time and I decided to have another go at finding Bollingen.
I set off along the lake again and this time I nearly made it. All the way to Raperswill, the region of Bollingen. But somehow I had put the dot on the map in the wrong place and I wandered around missing Bollingen by a mere mile or so. I have wondered since if something inside me was sabotaging my attempts to visit this place, but more likely it was just a combination of rush and natural incompetence.
Anyway, not to worry! I have a better plan now! I’m going to hire a dinghy in Zurich and sail to Bollingen. What better way to get there? To sail the water that Einstein and Jung sailed – the length of the lake to the tower – wouldn’t that be a thing to do with a day.