LA MAISON DU DÉLICE
Having experienced a moment’s joy, my body was overcome by fever, exhaustion, tremors - the hallmarks of Anthrophobie Suisse. I crawled back to bed.
It was often this way. Almost like the malady knew. Any time - any time - there was a semblance of relief or optimism or determination, it would strike.
I am well aware that, for some, Anthrophobie Suisse sounds, shall we say, less than clinically attested. In short, a fiction. I learned of the ignorance that surrounds the disease from my beloved money-manager, Roland. Roland not only also endured the condition - he was Patient Zero.
Flashback: The Nineteen Nineties.
Roland visited Switzerland often on work. The days and weeks preceding each trip turned to a torrid mix of worry and foreboding. Even the mention of its name - the three syllables Swit-zer-land - became unbearable. He took to referring to it by its Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica, and then simply CH, as on car-registration plates, but then he began to stammer over the letters and convulse. Eventually, he would just make a motion upward with his eyes and put his fingers to his lips, and those who knew him would take this to be a reference to the Wicked Place.
This wasn’t just vague dislike, it was pathology.
Once inside the land-locked enclave, Roland’s behaviour turned destructive, erratic, distracted. Completely unprofessional. Completely unRoland. Anti-Roland.
Then came the business trip-too-far.
Roland had what can only be described as a breakdown. He was arrested, rampaging naked on a highway. (Worth noting: he was headed for Italy.) Roland was hospitalised, where he slipped into a coma. No one had a clue what was wrong. Doctors ran a multitude of tests but the patient confounded them all. His family had him flown back to London, which is when the strangest thing happened.
He came around. Within minutes of take-off, Roland was awake, and, by the time the plane landed at Heathrow, he had eaten his way through eight in-flight meals and knocked back countless tiny whiskeys. He was a changed man.
Switzerland, however, wasn’t done with Roland. For a high-flying financier, business in Switzerland - Swissperience - was unavoidable. And, sure enough, the call swiftly came.
Dread, anger, lethargy. Roland fell into a familiar pattern. He medicated with drink and drugs (this being The Nineties, it was easy for a man to annihilate himself and simply dismiss the behaviour as ‘’avin’ it’) until his departure date arrived.
A soused, belligerent Roland boarded his flight, guzzled tiny whiskeys the whole journey, and then, as the plane began its descent, had a fit, leading to...
He was returned to the same sanitorium, where no remedy or treatment could bring Roland around. There was, however, one trainee doctor who took a keen interest in the patient.
Careers of junior doctors are established on the diagnosis of new conditions. Therefore, a young clinician tried an experiment on the mystifying Brit. He put the patient into an ambulance and drove to the border. As they crossed into France, Roland stirred. Where am I? he groaned. The doctor then turned the ambulance around: no sooner had they travelled a few metres before Roland slipped back under. He repeated the experiment on the borders of Germany and Italy with the same results.
The doctor gathered enough evidence to make the groundbreaking diagnosis: Anthrophobie Suisse. Switzerland genuinely made the patient sick and might ultimately kill him.
This was huge for Roland. He finally had incontrovertible proof that he was essentially allergic to a country. However - and it’s a big however - Anthrophobie Suisse has never been officially recognised. A formidable triumvirate of Big Pharma, Big Tourism and Big Swiss won’t allow it. Not that Roland cared. He knew. He knew of the veracity of this terrible affliction, and so chose never to set foot inside Switzerland again.
He moved his work to smaller accounts - individuals like myself - and he moved himself out of London. Anything to avoid Swiss invitations along the lines of you can be there and back in the day.
It was Roland who first recognised that I, too, may be a fellow sufferer. He and I used to meet quarterly to go over my accounts. I looked forward to these appointments. Over the years, Roland became a friend as well as a trusted money manager. Not that I ever worried about money. Money isn’t rational, and it is certainly never sensible. Money is magic, and throughout my life it has always just been there. But I’m grateful Roland and I found each other. He facilitated ways my wealth could be used that were more shrewd than anything I would ever initiate.
His office was in Bishop’s Stortford. Roland found calm in its suburban, Mock Tudor ways, and I got a kick out of my visits. Half an hour outside London, Bishop’s Stortford might as well have been on a different planet - England’s funny that way, it truly is a multiverse.
June was the last time we met in person. I was in a bad way. Roland could see it, and we’d been meeting long enough that he could recognise a pattern - that Patric in June was always a wreck.
The second week of every June the entire population of Artworld descends on Confoederatio Helvetica for Art Basel - the Big Daddy, Giant Haystack, most ultimate of art fairs.
Ordinarily, I loved an art fair. These to-the-death tournaments represented the very pinnacle of our industry, and I buzzed off their unnatural pitch. The arena of the art fair is about one thing: intensity. Intensity of money, people, space, attention. In life, you discover those places you are your best self - where you’re happiest and fullest, most powerful and effective - where you know who you are. For me, that place always has been an art fair.
But something about Art Basel was different.
I should have been peak Patric there - fairs don’t get bigger - but instead of feeding the Farmer, it depleted me. Each year I underperformed. I was off my game. Melancholy and lethargic. I’d get sick. I never get sick - my body’s too wired for that - but always in Basel I crumpled in a phlegmy bed of used tissues.
It wasn’t just an Art Basel thing. There were other trips to other parts of Switzerland that I’d do all I could to evade, defer, delegate, but certain Swissperiences were unavoidable. Art and money need two things: unregulated markets and secretive places to reside. Alas, Switzerland provides both, and I’d often find myself on wretched journeys to this eldritch land.
Art Basel, the mainstay, was always the real horror. A black hole smack in the middle of the year. The pop of champagne on New Year’s Day was greeted with a private grief as it signalled there were less than six months until my next Art Basel.
Roland could see. Come June he must have recognised it was a shadow of Patric who sat across from him - and that shadow looked remarkably similar to his younger self - the one who came so close to perishing. It was then, at last, he fearlessly shared his truth.
I dismissed it as nonsense. Roland was an old man, eccentric - he lived in Bishop’s Stortford, for crying out loud.
I paid no mind. I went to Basel. I had my breakdown.
It was in Cheval Blanc, the 3-Michelin-star restaurant. Our gallery reserved the King Room. It was one of those endless nights of endless plates, endless bottles, endless guests, new and old friends, and competitors. Throughout, I was ashen but this was my terrain, the theatre where deals were cut, behind a saddle of suckling lamb, the King Room, velvet, mirrors and candlelight, radiating, reticulating Switzerlands, weak, dizzy, meek, a selection of soft and hard cheeses, and their stink, Switzerland, dizzier and faint and fainted. I came to in an ambulance.
Why hadn’t I listened to Roland? How brave he was to open up and share his experience, and what did I do? I discarded his caring words. Was it because I knew how mad it sounded? How if I listed the ways Switzerland made me sick - the colour of its skies, smell of its hotel foyers, touch of an Urs Fischer bronze, a phone call with the +41 code, sight of muesli in a breakfast buffet, mechanical clock, mention of ‘fondue’ - how any one of these things could send me into a rage, stop me in my tracks, or make me woozy and need to lie down - I would sound mentally disturbed.
That is because Anthrophobie Suisse is a mental illness. And unless it gets the recognition it urgently requires, sufferers will continue to be forced to set foot in Switzerland, even at mortal risk.
As I lay in bed, face down, shivering and wheezing, I almost wished I was dead. The hours I had spent in La Maison Du Délice in this precise state. Tragic, really. With all the time in the world, I could have worked on my case. Or read! Conquered those epics. But I didn’t have it in me. This disease robbed me of impetus. All I ever could bring myself to do in this place was sleep, weep and creep listlessly through days whose only true joy and centrepiece was déjeuner.
I opened my eyes to check the radio alarm-clock. 11:58. Soon, soon. Soon it would be lunch and I would be tucking into the heavenliest of cuisine...pommes aligot...cheesy whipped potatoes and a sausage.
I must admit, the first time I ate pommes aligot, I balked. Such humble fare. But it wasn’t long before I came to crave the knock at the door. Any time between 12:05 and 12:20 it would come. I pulled myself out of bed and went to make another cup of tea. I took it through to the living room and set it down with some cutlery by the settee.
Then I waited.
At the door, fidgeting, mouth watering.
Yes! The signature sound of the approaching trolley - eek-eek - and then - knock - one sturdy thump - I swung open the door, beaming smile, to receive my meal on wheels...
A middle-aged pair ‘greeted’ me. In spite of being bearers of comfort and joy, they were glum and unsmiling. I had tried over the weeks to exchange pleasantries without luck: this was only ever a transaction.
I returned yesterday’s plate to the woman. She put it on a stack of dirty plates. The man took a new plate upon which there already was a sausage. Red, wrinkled, wet. He held the plate with two hands while the woman lifted a ladle from inside a giant vat. Attached to it was a round mound of mash, yellow and springy. It clung to the ladle, extending as she raised her arm over her head, until finally it broke and slap! she sent the dollop down onto the plate.
One final attempt at conversation: I explained that as I was to be sentenced later that day it was unlikely we’d see each other again. Nothing. They moved along to the next apartment. Probably for the best. In such a place as this, one couldn’t grow attached to residents who vanished as suddenly as they appeared.
I carried my warmed plate through to the living room and flicked through the telly channels, looking for something to watch. I was especially ravenous and couldn’t wait to tuck in. Must have been the nerves, combined with my malady, tinged with melancholy that this was to be my last pommes aligo. Sure sure, I could visit the fine French restaurants and rural taverns who specialised in this dish, but nothing would conjure what that nameless pair did, and what happened to the ingredients as they sat in the heated trolley, or how their flavours melded with the air of La Maison du Délice: how these factors united to form the taste sensation sat on my lap.