Leo Tolstoi

The water, the mountains, the sky...

It is July 7, 1857. You hail from Russia, and your full name is Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Your 29th birthday is a couple of months off, you are not yet married and you live for most of the time as an estate owner in Yasnaya Polyana. You have not yet written the major works which are to earn you world fame, «War and Peace» and «Anna Karenina». It is the first time you have travelled to Western Europe; this is mainly an educational trip.

After visits to Paris, Geneva and Bern you have now arrived in Lucerne. The place is alive with tourists. You find yourself irritated by the English and their rather stiff, supercilious attitudes. Your destination is the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern; built just twelve years ago, it is the best establishment in town.

When you go up to your room and open the window that gives onto the lake, you are «at the first moment literally dazzled and overwhelmed by the beauty of the sheet of water, of the mountains, and of the sky (…)

everywhere motion, irregularity, fantasy, endless conglomeration and variety of shades and lines; and above all, a calm, a softness, a unity, and the inevitability of beauty.» Only the «white line of the quay, the lindens with their supports (...) stretched stupidly» you find «brutally opposed (...) to the general harmony of the beautiful scene».

At half-past seven you are called to dinner: two long tables, accommodating the hotel guests, are spread in the great, magnificently decorated dining-room on the first floor. The majority of the guests are your irritating English. The faces bear an «absolute absence of interest in all that surrounds them» and you yearn for «conversation, sandwiched with witticisms and puns».

Your post-dinner constitutional walk through the lanes of the Old Town fails to relieve your melancholy frame of mind. Until, that is, your ear is suddenly «struck by the strains of a peculiar but thoroughly agreeable and sweet music» which have an enlivening effect on you. It is «a diminutive little man» strumming on the guitar before the windows of the hotel, singing ancient Tyrolean songs. The most respectful silence reigns among the crowd surrounding him, until, that is, he asks for money, whereupon they «make merry at his expense» and give him nothing.

You, on the other hand, invite the itinerant singer to partake in a bottle of champagne with you. With much ill-grace you are allowed into a back parlour of the hotel with your miserably dressed musician, where your companion is subjected to further ridicule.

So outraged are you by the experience that you sit at your writing table that very night and pen the powerful social critique-cum-travelogue, titled Lucerne.

More than one-and-a-half centuries later, in 2010, a great nephew of yours and the director of Moscow's Tolstoy Museum will visit this room. Both are carrying an edition of Fables and Folktales by you,

Leo N. Tolstoy, one of the greatest thinkers and writers of your era.

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