The plate glass window gave no privacy. It was at ground level, looking out to the courtyard. Kay pulled the thick red drape across. She didn’t like the room and this made it worse. She would be a self-made prisoner of her hotel room. But it didn’t matter. It was only for two nights.
She selected a water bottle, some whole grain bars, a pen and note book, her map of Zurich and her camera and stuffed them into her black carry all, slung it over her shoulder and locked the door behind her. As she unlocked the tubular steel gate, she noticed a commotion on the road. Just in front of the cafe doors, a paddy wagon was loading a street person.
“At least the police frequent the area,” Kay said wryly to herself, repeating “it’s only for two days” as a mantra. It was a small measure of comfort. She checked to her left and right. There was no reason why she shouldn’t cross, and she stepped out smartly towards the corner to head back to the station and then into town.
When she went past the circus area, she crossed the street to the other side to avoid a small knot of people. A drug deal was in progress. She hastened her step, consciously not looking, keeping to herself, passing between a police woman with arms crossed, waiting, and the midnight blue van with the circulating blue light. It wasn’t her business.
Soon she arrived at the canal and instead of heading to the station she followed the canal into the old city where she sought a cafe. A hot steamy cup of European coffee would do much to restore her spirits.
The center of the city was filled with holiday-goers and upscale shoppers. There were quality stores for clothing and watches, for footwear and for financial dealings. There was little in sight for dining or cafe-people-watching. She walked along, alert to her surroundings, knowing she would have to find her way back to the hotel without the aid of Gretel’s white stones.
It was getting on in the afternoon, but the September sun wouldn’t set until after seven. She walked up to St. Peter’s church and was shooed out of it. It was too late. She wandered down an adjoining street and found a place filled with smartly dressed people where she found a small empty table and ordered coffee. At ground level, the store fronts were modernized and elegant. One story up, the stone carved window frames spoke of centuries gone by, with shutters wide open to let the least breeze in against the unseasonal heat.
It was, she decided, not really a pretty city. There was a greyness to it. What was she doing here, she asked herself, wandering alone through less than exciting streets while her green luscious garden was growing back home? She didn’t like shopping at home and she didn’t like it when she was away. It was ridiculous to be window shopping day after day for something to do.
She had been traveling too long. She had no one to share her table; no one to share her meanderings through the street. Traveling with someone was much better, she concluded. But she would not waste the day, and she rose to tackle a few more streets in search of something interesting.
At six, she began to find her way home through streets that were ill marked. Finally she saw the station and knew she could orient herself from there. By now, she was tired and putting one foot in front of the other with stubborn perseverance. It was time to find some dinner.
“I’ll eat near the hotel. I won’t be trying to finding my way in a rough part of town in the dark.” She was determined to be home early, though in her effort to travel light she had brought very little to amuse herself for a whole evening in her miniscule hotel room.
When she came up Militarstrasse, she passed by the pizza place making a mental note that the men outside were swarthy and mafia-like. It would be a last choice, she thought. At the corner, she poked her nose in the cafe, but it was dirty and the customers looked none too clean either. Outside the cafe, only men sat at the side walk cafe, but inside there were a few women. The proportion was about ten to one. She would not eat here.
She passed by this establishment a few steps forward to the Irish Pub, but it had no windows to be able to see what it might offer. As she came alongside it, she stopped to see the notice board. Strip dancing shows were continuous, a poster stated. The lovely ladies were displayed in black and white photos behind the glass encased notices. That was definitely not a place for dinner.
Across the street, another cafe offered it’s wares. The tables were rickety, covered with plastic tablecloths and the chairs were old and worn. It was six o’clock but there were only four men in it, drinking. A large television had a sports program running. The walls and the decor was all a muddied buttercup yellow making it look lurid. There was no evidence of food except for a soiled menu posted on the door. Kay was uncomfortable about it and didn’t even come close to read it. She continued on.
Beside the yellow cafe was a lingerie shop. Red lace garters and black brassieres were lustily filled with dark skinned mannequins. Next to it was an African jewelry store displaying the wares in a wholesale style, crowded together. There were mannequin heads with wigs in a rainbow of colors – cotton candy pinks, greens and blues; an electric blue, a lemon yellow, an orange and a purple – that sat on a shelf just above the necklaces and bracelets. Who would wear these?
It was evident. There was no decent place to eat up this street. So Kay turned back to explore the lateral streets, with no better success. She sighed and returned to the pizza place.
At Milano Pizzeria, the men at the outdoor tables eyed her, mentally calculating her interest to them. She went swiftly by them into the cafe and found herself in a dining room with thirty tables, each dressed in a linen cloth with folded napkin, silverware and a wine and water glasses.
A tall, thin waiter who had been lounging outside the door turned back into the cafe.
“Can I eat inside?” Kay asked, warily in French.
“Of course!” he answered in French without an accent. “Where would you like to sit?”
The place was empty. She chose one with her back to the door, close to the door where people walking by outside could not see her easily. He handed her a menu and left her to make her selection. Across two tables, there was a bar where a young man was rolling pizza dough in the air. The waiter returned, spoke to him briefly in Italian. The man at the bar brought out some glasses and filled them with red wine and the waiter whisked them away to his sidewalk patrons.
He returned to Kay in five minutes.
“Have you chosen?” he solicitously.
“No,” she said, forlornly. “I can’t read a word of what is written here. It’s all in German. The only thing I can guess at is Schwein. That’s pork, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” His mouth registered a trace of a smile. Diplomacy was good business if a tip were to be earned.
“Well, please would you chose something for me? Not too expensive. I just want a light dinner. And not spicy.”
“Cotelets?” he asked. “Everything is very good. I think you will like this.”
It was schwein with tagliatelle for twenty two Swiss francs. Expensive, she thought, but what was she to do? Whatever tagliatelle was, she would eat it. She had never heard of it before but she didn’t want to expose her ignorance. She nodded her agreement.
“And an entrée?”
She declined, shaking her head, “No.” He looked askance as if she had offended the propriety of eating out. An entrée was de rigeur!
“But a glass of house wine. Red. Please?”
“Of course.” And he went to place the order.
Kay sat, her head spinning, wary like a fox of her surroundings, railing against the expense of eating out day by day and not even getting what she wanted for dinner. There seemed no middle ground for nourishment for a tourist much less any low cost options.
Two men came in from the sidewalk tables. They sat four tables away from Kay and she watched out of boredom. They did not seem interesting. Then the waiter came to their table and sat with them. The lad from the bar brought them each a drink.
They were not noticing her, so she brought out her sketch book and drew them, noting the particularity of their shapes, the dark of their business jackets, the light of their faces, in comparison, and the dark of their hair. She drew them rapidly, hoping they would not see her doing so and perhaps object. What if they did not want to be seen here. Her sketching of them might be interpreted as an invasion. A danger.
She flipped the page and began a drawing of the tables with the repetition of cutlery and glassware, serviettes, tables and chair backs. The waiter came carrying a pizza. She closed her sketchbook.
“Would you like a piece?” he asked.
“Oh, no thanks,” Kay replied.
“Go ahead. It’s mine. Really, have a piece.”
She felt as if she might insult him if she did not accept, so she smiled and allowed him to give her a slice on a small bread plate.
It was delicious. She had not expected her hunger was so strong; it was due to all the walking; but she was thankful that she had not ordered the pizza for dinner. It was thin crusted and there was very little on it.
Soon her dinner arrived. It was indeed a pork chop, a thin one, covered in an excellent creamy pepper sauce and it came with a small portion of pasta.
“Did you like it?” he asked when he picked up her plate.
“Oh yes! Your sauce master is an excellent cook! May I have a coffee? ”
” No dessert?” He seemed offended.
He brought the coffee and the bill.
When he left, she examined the bill. The main dish. Twenty two francs. Wine. Six francs. Tagliatelle five francs. Coffee, four francs. Total thirty seven. The Swiss franc was even with the Canadian dollar. Thirty seven dollars for a thin pork chop and hardly anything n the plate. That was outrageous.
So he had charged her for the pizza after all, she thought bitterly. They can see a tourist coming a mile away. But she was determined not to complain. She felt too vulnerable, all round, to have to challenge the bill and she wanted desperately to have a pleasant part to her day. Especially in this place, she would not complain; but she vowed she would not eat in this district the next day. But really! Five francs for a slice of pizza!
She brought out her money and placed exactly thirty seven francs on the table. At this price, with so little dinner, I’m not giving a tip besides, she thought.
He came and lingered at the table.
“Alors! A budding Picasso!”
“Picassa, I think. Do you want to see?”
“Here. It’s yours.” Kay tore the page from her sketchbook and gave it to him.
His smile stretched wide and he took it.
She packed her things and left. At the corner, she stopped at the grocery store, a grim little place with ready-made snacks. She took an apple, yogurt, a bottle of spring water and a cereal bar. That would give her breakfast. Thirteen francs for a Rothaus hotel breakfast was just too much!
In her room, there was a book, her journal and the television for the remainder of the evening. From her bed, the only place to relax, she watched Pretty Woman with Richard Gere in dubbed Italian. Kay didn’t understand a word, but she had seen it twice before, long ago, and knew the story.
The next day she toured the city for galleries and points of interest. She ate her meal late in the afternoon and was back early at the Rothaus. Just as she approached, she once again saw the paddy wagon, blue light flashing, doors open just at the entrance of the hotel.
A man was being loaded into it. On the ground, a woman sat, dazed, the entire contents of her purse spread around her – condoms, syringes, pills, lipstick, personal effects. The police woman was urging her to gather her belongings and come with her, I suppose, the second customer for the wagon in blue.
Kay caught the police woman’s eye, pointed her finger towards the Rothaus gate and received a nod. Yes, she could pass by with impunity. She could get into her hotel.
“At least the police frequent the area. It’s just one more night. I can leave early in the morning,” she calmed herself. “It’s just one more night.”
Kay was telling her experience to an Italian friend when she got back home.
“Anyway,” she said, “what is tagliatelle?”
“Pasta? They charged me five francs for pasta? That’s outrageous!”
“But he didn’t charge me for the pizza. It really was a gift!”