It's a bad year for snow in Zermatt. Mont Cervin is mostly bare red rock. Even the Matterhorn has only a frosting of snow. But the pistes are all right: every few hundred yards bright yellow snow-making machines, like small snub-nosed cannon, soak up water from the lakes and shoot it ten metres into the air to do what God can usually be relied on to achieve, and keep what skiers there are on the move. Still, the shopkeepers and hoteliers are not a happy bunch, and there are nothing but shopkeepers and hoteliers in Zermatt. The lights in this tacky twinkletown flitter merrily, gold watches glisten in the jewellers' windows, but the faces are glum. There is no other point to the place except to enable wealthy folk to slide down the mountain into the shops and bars to spend their crisp Swiss francs. Except, that is, for one long weekend each year when two hundred people gather together in a windowless, air-conditioned hall in the basement of one of the swisher hotels in order to learn how to be creative. The director-generals of Lancôme, Ciba-Geigy, ABB and Nestlé, along with their underling executives, have all paid four thousand or so Swiss francs to discover how to add a mysteriously desirable cache of creativity to their already accumulated, though more concrete, store of wealth and power. Like so many overbred princesses, they still feel the pea, no matter how many feather mattresses they lie on.
LRB 22 February 1996 | PDF Download