A Hop Into Switzerland

After Milan, I headed north across the border into Switzerland where I had an event at the venerable social center Il Molino. My good friend Susanne Zago facilitated my visit and we had a great time.

Interesting bike sculpture made of old railroad parts, just above Lugano at the train station.

She met me at the station and after stashing the luggage in the still easily available lockers (funny how in Europe all this hubbub about terrorism hasn’t led to having to take your shoes off when boarding a plane, hasn’t closed public bathrooms in train stations, hasn’t led to the removal of storage lockers on the grounds they might be a place to stash a bomb… the “police state theater” we live with routinely in the U.S. is really an insult to our intelligence), we headed off on a short bus ride to the top of a nearby hill overlooking Lugano.

I was impressed by the brilliant design of this public toilet!

Unfortunately, the amazing views of the lake and the surroundings were obscured by a dense white fog that hung over everything during my entire visit. Luckily I’ve seen these views before, at least in part, during past trips through this area on the train. The lakes are absolutely stunning. It’s a must-see if you haven’t been to this part of the world. Alpine glaciers carved out these magnificent lakes eons ago. They are amazing! Especially with all the gorgeous stone towns along the lakeside. Lugano itself has an epic lakeshore promenade, rather touristic, but still stunning.

Susanne has explored these walks in much better weather before, and showed me photos of what I should be able to see. Here’s one on her phone, with the same view behind… made eerie by the appearance of Hugh’s drawing from my t-shirt in the reflection….

So we spent the day climbing through adjacent villages, their old stone alleys and stairways always leading to yet another charming, beautiful view. There are yellow directional signs all over Switzerland that make it possible for a hiker to walk anywhere in the country and never be in doubt about which direction you’re walking in…

Our first stop was the edge of this church in Breganzona, where the view was mostly obscured, but the church itself was still quite beautiful.

An old collection of wine-making equipment, once shared cooperatively by all the local farmers of this village.

The handy yellow directional signs that are on all walking paths throughout Switzerland.

Gray skies make for brilliant greens!

At one point we came upon this strangely alien pod of garbage sorting bins.

Well organized recycling leads to… incineration?

Apparently the local government is very strict with its citizens on the sorting of refuse, and these bins lead to containers below ground that are later picked up by trucks and taken to… wait for it… an incinerator! In nearby Chiubiasco, a massive incinerator was built a few years ago. All the local garbage goes there, and according to our host Maurizio (who happens to be the chief custodian at City Hall in Lugano, and an old hardcore punk rocker from the glorious period of 1979-83), the local “sanitation engineers” scornfully admit that all the carefully sorted refuse is now regrouped into an endless stream of fuel for the incinerator. The facility is so huge that they are actually buying trash from other towns in Switzerland to feed its gaping maw! I recently did an interview with Ruth Gravanis who tells the amazing story of how San Francisco got curbside recycling as a result of a citizens revolt in nearby Brisbane that defeated plans for a similar incinerator on the City’s southern border.

We finished our tourism late in the afternoon and went to meet our hosts. Susanne told me Maurizio was an old punk rock friend and he lived adjacent to the social center where we had our event scheduled. I imagined it would be a slovenly, unkempt place, probably dishes piled in the sink, walls painted black and red, lots of dust bunnies and who knows what kind of bathroom… well, it was a gorgeous Swiss apartment, hardwood floors, lovely furniture and library, all the amenities and in great shape. What was I thinking? This is Switzerland! The Social Center Il Molino is a long-running place, over 15 years in its third location (and somehow Maurizio always ends up living near it, though he’s not much involved with it).

Il Molino’s welcome mural.

We met Davida when we got there, who works in a hospital for his day job and is one of about 30 people who keep it going, running it as volunteers on a consensus basis. Very impressive! It was more of the aesthetic I expected, in an abandoned factory, lots of graffiti, dark walls, old recycled couches, etc. Quite comfy really. Multiple rooms in the place capable of handling a Talk like mine (for about 30 people, though could’ve fit about 50 in the upstairs room) with projection and amplification, another hall for music shows where the night before had been a big reggae benefit with 700 attendees, and a bar/cafe, another odd room full of theater chairs, etc. As usual, I can only wistfully look at these kinds of places and wish we were so lucky in SF. But the local government here gave some kind of tacit support to their occupation of this space, or at least did nothing to discourage it, and after all these years there seems to be a modus vivendi between the radicals and the local establishment.

I share an aperativo with Susanne and her childhood friend Flavia in the Il Molino bar… very civilized!

Inside the upstairs room while we were presenting Nowtopia.

The hard work of simultaneous translation! Thanks Susanne!

Susanne did a great job of translating and we had a good discussion afterwards, getting queried on how immigrants fit the Nowtopian argument, whether Critical Mass had joined with other organizations in SF like squatting groups to push political action, and a lot of other thoughts and comments that I’m no longer remembering. We ended after a few hours and went home for a delicious gnocchi and salad dinner, and the next morning I left on the train for La Marche, MonSanPolo del Tronto to be precise. Now I’m in the Italian countryside!

Here’s a video clip of an old song Susanne sent me after I left. Here’s her description of it:

This version of “Addio Lugano bella” was written by the Italian anarchist Pietro Gori, when he was kicked out by the Ticinesi authorities in the late 1800s. Pietro Gori was part of the generation of Italian political refugees who were ordered to leave Lugano so as to maintain stable the relationship between the swiss state and the emerging italian state. The song is performed by, among others, Giorgio Gaber and Enzo Jannacci, who have come up during the political movements of the 60’s  and 70’s. Enjoy.

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