Seven o’clock in the morning arrived quickly as I rolled out of bed and to the villa to leave for the day trip to Lugano. Not feeling very awake, I ate some yogurt and granola in hopes of boosting my energy. Minutes later I found myself out the door and on the way to new adventures.
Walking to the train station, I passed by two young middle school students who looked to be enjoying the brisk Thursday morning with a bike ride to school. With chipper faces, they turned to me on their bikes and greeted me with a “buon giorno”. I stopped for a second in puzzlement before I responded with a hesitant “buon giorno”. It was not even eight o’clock in the morning and these young students were kind enough to greet a sleepy stranger. To my surprise, I received the same type of welcoming from an elder man as I neared the crosswalk to reach the train station. The sun had not yet crept over the mountains and my early morning was already delightful.
The feeling must have emanated from the intimacy and kindness of the small-town setting of Riva San Vitale, because the minute I stepped onto the train I felt like an outcast. As I took my seat next to an elder woman and middle-aged man, they both picked up their newspapers and turned their head in discontentment. My eyes scanned the rest of the train car for a friendlier face but there was none to be seen. Everyone had put up their walls and had no interest in any general conversation. Did they not like the fact that I was a tourist or was it just a bad morning?
The rest of the ride continued in the same, quiet manner. As we approached Lugano, everyone seemed to gather their belongings and make their way towards the doors to exit. Why Lugano? After the introduction of the steamboat and railway in the mid to late 1800s, travelling became more accessible and practical amid Switzerland’s diverse landscape. Surrounded by a gorgeous lake and mountains, Lugano began to attract many tourists and travelers who wished to experience the city’s natural beauty. Consequently, the city of Lugano has become one of the largest touring cities in Switzerland. The development of this service sector has expanded the city’s job capacity and led to many commuters, which was evident on the train. For every one person that commutes out of Lugano for work, seven more commute into the city. This would explain the stampede of people hustling off the train at the Lugano station.
Entering the city, I expected to find a hustle and bustle of people and crowds. To my dismay, the city seemed quite empty with shop owners just arriving and barely opening their shops. It was almost nine o’clock already. By this time I thought most shops would be open and people settled into work for the day. For a second I must have forgotten that I was in Switzerland and not the United States. I obviously was not accustomed to such a slow way of life. As I continued to walk through the streets and passed local clothing stores, pastry shops, and fresh produce stands, I could see the city’s endeavor against becoming another industrialized, “cloned” town. Despite the rapid development of industry and tourism, the slow and tranquil way of life seemed to be unaffected by the cities growth.
Continuing to the central square, along Via Nassa, I still found the city asleep. Few people were up and about, and those that were looked like they had been forced out of bed. No welcoming words of “buon giorno” or “ciao” was to be heard, even when I attempted to start the conversation. I sat in the square for a few minutes as restaurant owners began to climb out of their caves and place table cloths on the outdoor tables. After observing for fifteen minutes I realized my hope for action and conversation had quickly withered.
For the next few hours I walked along the path surrounding Lake Lugano. A steady stream of cars drove past a lull. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere but getting nowhere. Even the pedestrians, who mostly walked alone, seemed to embark on a hopeless journey around the city. The fog continued to droop over the lake like a blanket of white as a hush lay over the city.
After eating my lunch on a nearby bench so that I could observe the lake and those that passed, I ventured back towards the central square. To my surprise, there had been a great awakening. The sun decided to awake and creep over the mountains as the fog faded away from the lake. It was one o’clock and the city had come to life. The elder women looked ready for tea with the Queen as they walked around in their leather boots and fur coats with an air of dignity. Likewise, the elder men strolled around in their tailored coats, walking their pampered dogs. The teenagers just got out of school for lunch break and had crowded the streets with their skinny jeans and school books. At the same time, businessmen and businesswomen seemed to magically appear and sat themselves down for a nice, long lunch. Almost everyone was in a jovial and hospitable mood. Even some musical entertainers entered the square to provide entertainment for the tourists.
What caused this great awakening? Whether a result of changing times or a morning cup of coffee, it was obvious that the city like its history had transformed from a sleeping town to a lively city. Things have drastically changed for the city of Lugano since the age of industrialization and globalization, and it seems that things will only continue to transform. After all, life is about new adventures and our personal “great awakenings”.