St. Moritz, crossing the Swiss Alps, Italy, oligarchs and cows
When the destinations create the scene
Today we spent the afternoon with an executive from a research firm and his voice over actress wife. As we toured the neighborhood, the conversation eventually went to the subject of travel, and if my journeys inspire my novels, or was it the other way around? Did I get an idea of a destination and then go there for the final research?
That led me thinking and discussing Switzerland, which is off schedule for my blogs, but I’m pausing to cover a few areas I realized I’d completely skipped over. The Swiss Alps, the “James Bond” Dam, handcrafted homes perched on the hillsides, defying the natural laws of gravity, the homes of the Russian oligarchs in St. Moritz, along with the painfully expensive whole hazelnut chocolate bars and handmade clothes in town, and last but not least, the cows. Yes, the cows, but I’ll get back to that.
Each and every one of those items found a mention in my books. For this piece, I’m mixing it up. Rather than give you the standard play-by-play route we took during this particular trip that served up the creative buffet, I’ll break it down in to the scenes I wrote. A fun change for me and perhaps more interesting for you.
In a previous blog on the penthouse we rented, I mentioned the tree-lined streets along Lake Zurich, my fictitious, but not totally fictitious wealth management building. I witnessed a father in an overcoat, exiting a U-shaped building eerily similar to the Walldorf-Astoria in New York. He had a young boy and girl on either side, equally well-dressed.
The drive out of Zurich leads along the river, then up to the mountains, but this road was chock full of road bikers–and by that, I mean BMW touring bikes. Lots of them.
I thought to myself: he looks like a serious billionaire, and those are his fortunate offspring. It was the place a man like Lars Egle, one of the lead characters would live, and that’s where Danielle inadvertently runs in to Lars in the lobby near the end of Made for Me. The scene was exactly as I imagined, and it all came about watching that split-second interaction of the father and children. (I thought taking a pic was tacky, but more importantly, I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough and missed the pic).
On the way up and it’s getting colder–but I refused to put on a coat until the very top
Leaving the city, driving alongside the river to the Alps was another scene, this time with Andre, Danielle’s first love in Zurich (also in Made for Me). Escaping their struggle in their lives, they ride his motorcycle out of town, going up the beautiful, windy hills, seeing the cows. The inspiration for this was the very ride we took on our way to Milan, with a stop through to St. Moritz. We ogled at the green river to our left which looked more like a flowing glacier than river. The cows were so large and the fur seemingly so soft, we stopped the car, got out, and approached. They had the massive, old-school cowbells that I didn’t actually think existed outside the movies. The fence was a flimsy little thing, which wouldn’t deter a thief whatsoever, and the cow was completely unconcerned when I rubbed its head. Now, this may come across as odd, but I’ve touched a lot of cow hide-it had been rough, not smooth. This breed of Swiss cow was more like cashmere. I was so taken with the entirety I mentioned in the book, along with a grove where Andre and Danielle have a romantic interlude.
Yeah. The cows inspired that—and I really love that scene.
Look at that fur. You can see from the photo it looks like the hair on a child!
Not just in postcards or promotional videos. This is the real deal–the actual road. I snapped this as I turned around in the car to get “the view down the hill.”
This road had a scene between Kaitlyn and Rick, where he pulls over and asks they set aside their “convenient date” status to be something that’s special to this place and time in their lives.
The James Bond Dam
In actuality, this is called the Contra Dam, as well as the Verzasca or Locarno Dam, was made famous worldwide in Goldeneye when (as stunt man, standing in for) Pierce Brosnan bungee jumps over the edge, straight down, fires the gun, locks it, then penetrates the soviet stronghold. I’m telling you what: never in all my life have I seen a dam like this, and I’d thought the Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas was impressive. Not even close. Perhaps my long lens would have captured the magnificence a bit better, but my shorty had to do. The Dam gets a mention in several books, not just one.
Contra Dam–the best shot from the road looking up
Now this town had its inspiration in my dad, who often spoke of going to St. Moritz (pronounced San, not Saint) when he was a young man, then later as he traveled for business. He’d speak of the town, the food and above all, the ability to get custom clothes and shoes made. It would be decades until I got to experience the town myself, and my that time, it had been so built up in my mind I wasn’t sure if it was going to meet expectations. Well, it exceeded all I’d imagined. The streets were/are still narrow yet uncrowded. The small shops with exquisitely made, half-million dollar watches next to an ounce of hazelnut chocolate for $15 francs and cashmere clothes that made me drool. I wrote about all these items in A Convenient Date, where the lead characters, Kaitlyn Reid and Rick Santos visit the small town for a conference.
Everything is appropriately expensive in this lovely little town, from watches to chocolate. I purchased the chocolate:-
The gondola ride and the Russian Oligarch
Now this was fun and totally unexpected. In June, the snow is gone, but St. Moritz is still rather chilly. Rog and I had been discussing (aka arguing) about where to stop and eat, but it was sort-of between seasons (ski/winter and summer/tourist), which meant most of the places weren’t open. Undecided, we went to the gondola and took a ride. In we went, over the town and up mountain, getting the birds-eye view of the spectacular homes resembling fortresses on the mountain. At that moment, I visualized a scene with Lars and Danielle (back to Made for Me), riding the gondola, her asking him about the home, and him telling her it was the resident of a client, a Russian oligarch.
After the gondola ride, we were able to take the car and go directly up the roads. No gates, no security guards. I guess St. Moritz is so secure and area so safe, no one bothers with such piddly things.
By this time, I donned my coat (still in St. Moritz), but Rog is sporting shorts and a t-shirt like it’s warm.
The crossing in to Italy
You can imagine my depression when we slowed down at the border between Switzerland and Italy, thinking the Italian guards were at least going to check our passports. They barely looked up before waving us through. I was ready, passport in hand, when Roger looked at me some undiluted pity. “That’s the whole point of the Eurozone.” Duh. I moped, putting it away, feeling stupid, but still disappointed. I channeled this scene in to A Convenient Date, when Rick takes Kaitlyn for a drive to his childhood home on Lake Como. On the way, she remarks on the slate-topped homes of Italy, which were so very different from those in Switzerland.