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October 24, 2011

In News

Call me Swiss miss


Last Updated: 12:42 AM, October 11, 2011

Posted: 10:22 PM, October 10, 2011


I’m Switzerland-ing. Switzerland’s clean, neat, got Swiss cheese, Swiss clocks, Swiss chocolates, Swiss banks, Swiss Army knives and no demonstrations. It’s also got TV. In Zürich’s Baur au Lac Hotel, my three sets repeatedly blared news about the US — unhappiness, unrest, unemployment and “America’s method of handling its debt problem is to borrow more.”

This place is mega-efficient. Comparatively, a military campaign looks messy. Swiss International Air Lines left on time, arrived early, my seat went flat so I could sleep and its washroom had hand lotion.

Arrival transportation was no yellow cab with a driver’s middle finger signaling a right turn. The Baur au Lac’s Rolls-Royce glides you to the hotel. Fresh orchids in your living room. I am not one to knock my city that I love, but I’m not sure the Sheraton does that.

In 1860, Czar Alexander II’s mom, the Dowager Empress of Russia, and her staff of 62 had two whole floors here. Brahms, Mahler, Alfred Nobel, Franz Liszt, Hans Christian Andersen and Richard Wagner stayed here. Of course, not lately. Lately it was Bill ClintonRoman PolanskiRenée Zellweger and me.

Me, they don’t mention, Renée Zellweger, they do.

Dinner was at Kronenhalle on Ramistrasse. Gigi Kracht, wife of the hotel owner Andrea Kracht, who’s also chairman of Leading Hotels of the World, took me. Above tasties like venison with mushrooms or salmon over sauerkraut hang hundreds of millions of dollars. Original Bonnards, Picassos, Chagalls, Klees, Braques, Miros, Tintorettos.

Early on, this restaurant fed starving artists with remains of dishes left over from rich customers. The artists paid back. Today, the place boasts no security. No cameras, no guards, just old waiters.

The walls were so breathtaking I could hardly finish the veal sausage — but since I wasn’t paying, I managed.

Switzerland is big with Swiss watches. I wear none, so locals immediately labeled me low-class. Magazines in town advertise $500,000 wristwatches. I mean, we’re not talking Timex here.

Famous for neutrality, not all Swiss are neutral. Bahnhofstrasse, the main drag, boasts Chanel, Armani, Chloe, Cartier, Tiffany, Escada, Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Benneton, Bally, Tod’s. In front of Hermes — smack in front — stood a huge half-block-long sign in white. With black block letters. It read “Free Palestine.” The sign was seen on Saturday. Yom Kippur. The Jewish high holy day.

Zürich is not cheap. This is not Canal Street. A movie, “Horrible Bosses” with Kevin SpaceyJennifer AnistonColin FarrellDonald SutherlandJamie Foxx, cost $20 per person. Mid-movie, halfway through a crucial scene, projection stopped, lights lit and it was intermission. This was the theater owner’s forced march for popcorn, Cokes and the concession to vacuum up a few extra francs.