Views of an Imaginary City 6: Dastazuriki in the Little Switzerland Neighbourhood

Western traders first arrived in Sensuka soon after the city’s founding by the emperor Bulodi I as his new imperial capital. Two decades later, however, following a moral panic over the corrupting influence of Western values, religious beliefs, and food, the empress Nanèh issued an edict prohibiting all commerce with foreign nations. Nevertheless, another two decades after that, in the reign of Bulodi II, an amendment was made to this ban so as to exempt merchants from Switzerland. The young monarch held a personal soft spot for the Swiss for a curious reason: his extreme fondness for cuckoo clocks. This passion eventually led to the construction of the Great Imperial Cuckoo Clock over one of the gates of the Imperial Palace, thought to be the largest such clock ever built (See n. 27). As numerous Swiss clockmakers and clockmaking materials had in any case to be brought over to Sensuka for the purpose of completing this project, the emperor was persuaded to allow Swiss sailors to bring other goods as well. This policy has persisted, with the Swiss remaining as the sole go-between importers of all overseas products to the empire. The result is that there is now a fairly large community of Swiss residents in Sensuka, most of whom live in the neighbourhood known as “Little Switzerland” on the eastern side of Sensuka Harbour, facing Orepi.

The print presents a view of the Dastazuriki (Zurich Street), the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare. The street is lined with shops selling imported Swiss products, which cater both to the ex-pat community and to locals wishing to indulge a taste for the exotic. The Dastazuriki is also home to many restaurants serving both Swiss and Sensukan dishes. Swiss cuisine is very popular in Sensuka, although the traditional recipes have been considerably modified to appeal to local tastes. The restaurant with the red sign on the left side of the print specializes in the much beloved Swiss cheese fondue, which in Sensuka is always mixed with resinated wine and various seafoods. Rösti—potato fritters topped with spiced jellied eel—are also a favourite.

For the Sensukan child in the foreground of the image, a visit to the Dastazuriki’s quaint and curious shops—replete with perplexing trinkets and odd but tasty treats, and with painted images of white mountains, blonde dairymaids, and windowsills filled with flowers—could well mark the beginning of a lifelong fascination with all things Swiss. It is, however, as the child may already dimly realize, not the real country of Switzerland that is so captivating for him, but rather a dream Switzerland, as kept alive in the hearts of people residing half a world away from their homeland—and then filtered still more through the highly romanticized conceptions of the Alpine Republic that exist in the child’s own Sensukan culture. Even if, once the child has grown up, he were to somehow make his way to Switzerland, he would surely discover that the place he has fantasized about his whole life was never to be found in that actual country. The essence of what he was looking for will have always been back here, in the enticing, mysterious Dastazuriki shops of his childhood. It is hanging in the very air, intangible and ineffable, mingling with the dim light and the odours of strong cheese and mulled wine spices, floating over the stacks of fondue pots, the cowbells, the tidy landscapes on the chocolate boxes, the jumble of alphorns in a corner gathering dust.

The Dastazuriki terminates in a stone pier jutting out into Sensuka bay. Near the far end of this pier, sitting on a mooring post, we can see a Swiss sailor wearing the traditional lederhosen breeches. His pose gives him a somewhat wistful air as he gazes off to sea, dreaming, perhaps, of the far-off shores of his native land.

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