Ticket in Hand I’m off to Zurich for a Crazy Perfect Beautiful Finish to My European Bicycle Ride

I’ve sent an email to friends and family catching them up on my long bicycle ride across Europe and explaining why I have recently made some changes to my plans – namely why my front wheel is now pointed toward Zurich. Here’s what I said:

The announcement that made me change my route was this: Christoph Waltz will be presenting a screening of Inglourious Basterds at the Zurich Film Festival on 26 September.

Those of you who know me best will know I have an … interest in Christoph and his career.  This email probably isn’t the place to explain it in detail but it’s enough for you to understand he was cast in that film when he was 52 having toiled a whole career in German-language tv and film but always hoping for, and trying for, more. In interviews, he spoke of “edging towards bitterness” and having been “plucked out of negativity” by his casting as Hans Landa. I heard him say these things at a time when I was feeling stuck in the middle of my life, stagnated, and uncertain how, or if, I would manage to change. Through him and his story I was reminded that things can and do change. More on Zurich in a moment.

The other day I looked at my diary and realised I had miscalculated the number of days I have been in the Schengen Zone and I was at risk of being flagged for overstaying. (The Schengen Zone is the area of Europe with, generally, no passport controls at the borders. The UK and Ireland are outside the zone.) Because I am coming back to Europe in December I couldn’t afford the risk of problems.  More on my solution in a moment.

Between wanting to be in Zurich and needing to get out of the Schengen Zone I have made some significant changes to my plans:

Instead of riding out of France through Belgium and the Netherlands into Germany and across to Berlin I have ridden through France toward Germany and Switzerland.

Instead of finishing my European ride in Berlin I will finish it in Zurich. From there I will take the train to Berlin, spend a few days there, and then fly to Ireland for a week before flying back to Berlin to catch my flight to Chicago.

I actually feel really pretty emotional about how this has worked out – there’s a perfection in it and a joy and a giddy disbelief that this particular circle will close upon itself. Nearly three years ago I watched Inglourious Basterds on TV and was curious about this actor I’d never seen. My curiosity led me to seeing in him a simple truth of which sorely needed to be reminded.

These three years have been both extraordinarily difficult and momentous – and have included the hardest months of my adult life. Beyond Christoph becoming a sort of phoenix-like symbol for me, and finding simple joy in watching him do what he does so well – I also found him to be an interesting, self-aware, erudite, funny man. He distracted me when distraction was sorely needed, made me laugh when I really wouldn’t have thought I could, and inspired me to figure out a way to pluck myself out of negativity – to change, to do something big, to take this trip. That this leg of this trip will finish with my being in the Corso Cinema in Zurich, with Christoph, for a screening of Inglourious Basterds is crazy, beautiful, perfect.

(It’s hard to explain how an actor, a public personality, takes an important place in my middle-aged life without feeling a little ridiculous – but he has and that’s okay.)

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