This evening I was on my way back from a mellow tourist day spent wandering around and looking at castles and the mountains, when I got on a train to take me up the hill to where François Nicole lives. Also on this train were some other people including a man listening to euro-techno on his i-pod, some school girls, a young woman who stepped onto the train and politely said `bon jour´, and an older woman who was mentally unstable. This woman had the appearance of any homeless person in america, but minus the funny smells. She didnt smell like alcohol or cigarettes... she smelled sort of like detergent.
The train began to climb up the 45 degree incline and everyone on the train did what people normally do... avoid eye contact with each other and wait for the ride to come to an end. The homeless woman walked around the train and seemed to speak to imaginary people, and apparrently the imaginary people held up their end of the conversation and the lady seemed to have a nice and somewhat detailed discourse with them.
At the top of the train we departed and everyone walked up the stairs towards the center of the village. I was following the homeless woman and she was walking quite fast, seeming very intent on where she was going. The air was cold and I was curious to know where this lady was going to sleep tonight. In Denver, I often saw homeless people sleeping under bridges, or near steam pipes that remain warm throughout the night. As we approached the turn to Francois´ house, the lady turned abruptly and entered a building. The sign over the door announced the name of the shelter.
The people in Switzerland bear a huge cost for maintaining such an egalitarian society. Stuff here is expensive. Not just because of the geography of the place, but because the Swiss people insist on excellent public services and are willing to tax themselves and pay higher (some would say 'realistic') prices to achieve this. As I walk around the Swiss towns I often think to myself:
'Man, this stuff is expensive! Things are so much cheaper in Oman, where the wealth is built on the backs of cheap Indian and Pakistani labour... Things are so much cheaper in South Africa, where industry relies on refugee-labor to keep things comfortable for white people... Things are so much cheaper in America, where Mexican immigrants pick our vegetables for $2 per hour.'
Danielle Grangier, the wife of François Nicole, tells me the immigrant labor force in Switzerland makes between 10 and 15 Francs per hour, which is about 10 - 15 dollars per hour, which amounts to a living wage. Even the lowest workers on the ladder are able to support themselves and raise a family.
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