Monday, November 14, 2016

Drinking in Public

The Swiss love their public fountains. In fact, it is said that they have more of them per capita than any country on earth.  Why?

We have already established the uneasy relationship that the Swiss have with urban life; despite the country's many outward trappings of modernity, there lies beneath the glass and steel surface of Switzerland a massif of sylvan tranquility.  The public fountain - usually hewn from muscular slabs of solid rock - is its urban outcrop.

These mountain mainsprings, then, tap right into the Swiss vein. Even in the midst of the hectic city or the cookie-cutter suburbs, the dehydrated wayfarer doesn't just get a drink but a reminder that, close by, the Alps continue to send their glaciers tumbling groundward, giving the country its life, its safety, its identity. Just like wearing a Freitag bag connects the patriotic Swiss commuter to her country's industrial sinews, so her local drinking fountain taps into Helvetia's lifeblood.  

So it is that public fountains in Switzerland don't actually serve to quench the thirst of any one individual, but to reinforce the very idea of Switzerland as a nation and a concept.  By partaking, the parched pedestrian in fact lends support to this shared concept, ingesting a bit of its shared Swissness and buttressing the bond between people and place.  

You don't drink from Swiss fountains.  They drink from you.

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