I can’t say I’ve been many places as beautifully engineered and tended as Lugano. Also known as the “Italian” part of Switzerland it is built along the shore of Lake Lugano and on up the hill. The streets here are tidy and clean with granite curbs and nearly everything is landscaped and coiffed. Even the vacant lots ablaze with wildflowers seem planned!
We’re staying at TASIS (The American School in Switzerland) the boarding school Bob attended in the seventies, here for the fortieth High School reunion of the class of 1974. Some of Bob’s class of 1976 alumni are here and about thirty others who lived here during that period. This is the first time he’s been back since graduating.
This has been an extraordinary opportunity for me to connect with Bob’s past. As we celebrate our fifth day of tours, festivities and food I am savoring two epiphanies. First off, I realize how much deeper the bonds between overseas boarding school students are than the relationships I had with my school mates in the States. The Tasis alumni welcomed me into the fold without hesitation, happily diving into deep conversation about every topic imaginable. It’s obvious that there is a special kind of camaraderie between these intelligent and worldly people.
Second, I have now experienced the standard of living Bob was exposed to as a youth. This is not a world I’ve ever lived in. All my life I’ve measured my surroundings with a yardstick that this week grew another couple of feet. Since his teens, Bob knew the world could be like this and now I realize it too. On the other end of the yardstick Bob lived in the incredibly dissimilar world of Ghana from the time he was nine. What a shock it must have been to travel back and forth from one world to the other and yet, at his age he would have taken it all in stride and fashioned his world view accordingly.
Bob and I have done quite a bit of walking these past five days and are quite impressed. The public realm, those places a passer by might happen upon, have been tended lovingly by either the land owners or the town. It is a joy to stroll groomed paths flanked in lavender, hydrangeas and fragrant hedges, looking up at architecture designed to please the eye. A little ways out of town there are lovely vineyards, many of them producing Lugano’s signature merlot.
A lot of the stone walls and buildings in Lugano seem quite old but are in great shape. Art is built into everything, from patterned cobblestone streets to ornate doorways. And everywhere there are flowers, dripping from window boxes, planted in medians, in carports, along fences and outside restaurants. We’ve noticed that much of the landscaping was chosen with fragrance in mind. This is what heaven must feel like, a place where every view is meant to please, the air is sweet and where you feel welcomed. It’s an honor to be a human being in a place like this.
James Howard Kunstler bemoans the loss of consideration for the common good in the United States with his books “The Geography of Nowhere” and “Home from Nowhere.” Whereas Americans once built cities in the European style, modern architecture has devolved into boxy structures surrounded by asphalt. Classic old buildings are routinely replaced by inferior structures meant to last a short time so they too can be replaced. What’s good for the economy is not at all good for our culture.
In terms of pride, Lugano is definitely on the very far end of the continuum from Ghana. Everywhere else we’ve lived in the United States is somewhere in the middle. I’m not talking about ego-driven pride but rather civic pride – the respect for humanity and appreciation for beauty that compels people to make things nice. The kind of pride that inspires one to make their bed in the morning or recycle their trash; weed their flower gardens and wash their cars. Civic pride is about taking responsibility and caring enough to keep up appearances.
In our time here we have only seen one piece of trash, a piece of white paper towel that somehow got away from someone. No junk cars, No burning piles of plastic. As I sit here typing, the lovely sound of a church bell floats up the hill and I look to my left and see the still waters of Lake Lugano. In a few hours we will cruise across the lake to Morcote for dinner. I won’t be surprised to find flowers on the boat and I’ll probably notice a few pieces of art tucked in and around here and there. In keeping with my experiences here so far, I expect the staff to be warm and accommodating. This is indeed what heaven must be all about.