Thursday, 28 April 2011

True Self-Expression; THE SWISS MISSION - PART 1


“I’ll meet you in the station at the little boulangerie, and you can play where’s waldo.”

That was all the confirmation I needed.

I had told James I could be on a train in 24 hours if the planets aligned themselves. They did.
The scorching heat of the day wasn’t in full display at 7am. But somehow you know that the furnace with be stoked for you later on. Walking to my local train station, a concoction of emotions stirred themselves with each step; excitement, language anxiety, curiosity, composure.

I would be taking a 4 hour train journey from Northern Italy to Lausanne, Switzerland, to meet James Clulow. An established Kiwi Slackliner, now residing in Lausanne, meddling with their science laboratories and even more so with the local talent, he’d organised a slackline festival in a local park for the Sunday, and I was on a trans-global mission to join in.

With somewhat confident, yet broken Italian, I managed to purchase a return ticket to Switzerland, albeit costing double what I had prepared myself for.
With a lighter itinerary and even lighter wallet, I picked my seats strategically, so I could gaze into some of Europe’s most humbling, yet epic scenery, losing myself before I’d even found it.

Adrenaline was obviously on this weekend’s menu.
For no reason other than enthusiasm, I attempted to converse with a local Italian paraglider on his way to Monterone for the day. Between us, like pigeons sharing prose, we managed to express the essential essence of our conversations.
The journey flew by as I felt myself sink into a semi-hypnotic trance. My train was my frequency, the scenery my pendulum, falling ever deeper into the eyes of the mountains.

Next stop, Lausanne.

This was my first official time in Switzerland. My last visit was an airport stop-over hook-up attempt, where I had less than an hour to kiss a Swiss-blonde bombshell I’d reeled in in Hong Kong.

It didn’t happen.

In that time she’d become taken, so the only souvenir I could take with me was that wrapped in foil, and contained hazelnuts.
This time I would have 3 days, and my mission would be to walk on as many slacklines as I could. Caressing a strip of nylon with calloused feet doesn’t sound quite as romantic but it congers up just as much passion.

James was rocking the Waldo outfit in true, striped style. As I spotted him from across the station, I felt smug, like I had just completed a real Waldo comic book challenge.
We wasted no time. James gave me a quick preview of the following day’s venue, then we headed straight to a part of the city where a 50m beast was awaiting our enthusiasm.

Captain Clulow demonstrates to the Swiss youth just how it's done

Switzerland’s public transport is pretty damn good. Even better if you have no money and are looking for free rides across town. The fine is 120 Francs if you get caught, but I guess that’s the beauty of having an international address.

The elation of achieving stage one of my mission; arrival, started to set in.
I began to comprehend just how rad it felt, to be able to suggest a mission to someone in an online forum, who you’ve never met, then to meet them in person, in another part of the world, all in the name of your mutual passion.
Already I could tell this was going to be a weekend of hilarity, community and ‘Balls Out!’ efforts.

We metro’d across the city to meet James’ friends who had rigged a longline over a grass football pitch, surrounded by numerous towers of concrete apartment blocks.
If it wasn’t in Switzerland, you would have felt like you were landcruising through a portion of The Bronx.
Graffiti productions smothered the scratchy wall surfaces.
Kids kicked footballs through the dusty remnants of industry, spliff-smoke sailed in whispy currents disclosing the presence of a breeze in the air.
The setting had that strange aesthetic that seems to accompany the inherent ugliness of urbanism. Steel re-bar stuck out of breeze blocks, like rusty chocolate-flake ice creams.
Yet the strangest part was that it didn’t feel unsafe at all. In fact, I felt quite at home there.


At first glances, the line was…long.
50m is well over double anything I had ever attempted to date.
It was rigged well over head height, waving in the wind like a ribbon of temptation.
I was blatantly getting on it.
There was no mistake I was in Europe.
Shirts off in April.
Pop-topped beers, open pages of foreign rock climbing magazines and half ripped packets of cheeses littered with crumbs of crusty bread.
A home away from home.

James sent the line as if he was just warming up. His friend, Alain, busted some moves mid-line which caught the attention of the locals so as to stop their game of footbag. I, however, mounted the monster and got flung off as if I’d just been shot from a human cannon! It’s alright, there was grass underfoot. And my bruises would be mostly internal.

My first impressions were just how strong the forces through the line, up into my body, really were. The distance of the line also meant that the weight of the webbing was far heavier than anything I had experienced previously. My initial reaction was to try and tame the beast, comparable to taming a bull, but barehanded.
The forces were just too strong to try and resist.
Instead, you had to absorb what shockwaves came your way, using your core strength to ensure those absorptions didn’t smother you to a point of imbalance.
Eventually, you get used to the sensations that began overwhelming you, gradually progressing further and further down the line.

The sun was pretty full force, so James decided we should set up a trick line down in the shade. There would be nothing glamorous about sun-dried tomatoes waltzing upon polyester string anyway.

Within ten minutes, James had won podium position for knarliest battle-wound of the weekend – a mach-10 line-whip across his whole right latimus dorsi muscle, looking like he came out from a 10 round, white collar, Thai Boxing match.
He definitely took it like a champ and I couldn’t resist snapping some shots for the ‘Bloodbank’ gallery.


The boys taught me some new tricks, including ‘Charlies’, that look like the walks that Charlie Chaplin used to do when entertaining the masses; something I thought I was really clever for noticing, until I realised the trick was actually named after Chaplin himself.
Alain practiced his backflip attempts, a trick that seems to slow down the essence of time when you witness it in the flesh. And James used his long-legged advantage, gaining super hang-time with some atomic leaps which seemed to make the local air- traffic jealous.

I was blessed with some sweet Swiss-Sativa, and between us, the trick session seemed to lean in a whole new realm. The local kids were fascinated (as kids the world over seem to be) and amongst us we just had so much fun, right into the blackened hours of the night’s hot air.

Swiss Kids in Awe

The camaraderie of a ‘Session’ for men really does give us a kick – it exhausts you but it’s that exhaustion that leaves a smile in its wake, a smile of satisfaction at what a sick day you’ve had.
With my newly developed taste for white beers, James and Alain were keen to grab a pint as close to our location as possible. We hauled the gear like urban sherpas through the surprisingly quiet streets, until coming across an empty hotel beer garden; the perfect location to reflect on the days events and make the last minute plans for the big SlackFest the following day.

Back at James’ studio apartment – a modern, 3 metres squared, European tech-tardis – he treated me to Spaghetti Carbonara, Clulow style; a badass mouthful.
Carb loading never felt so good, especially after not eating wheat for the last 4 months. Food Coma hit hard, and after serving for a game or two of snoring-tennis, it was time to awaken from our slumbers, for the big day.

Next Up: Part 2 - Sunday Funday

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