Maybe the problem with Washington — all the partisanship and political rancor — is because we never see one another in our bathing suits.
I came to this conclusion after vacationing in Switzerland. That nation seems pretty copacetic, at least to this outsider. The Swiss are neutral, which probably helps. They appear to have directed any martial tendencies into the creation of a reliable train system, complicated watches, tasty chocolate and comically large dogs.
And you should see what they’ve done with their mountains!
Of course, a country doesn’t just happen to function on its own. There has to be a government, and Switzerland’s is headquartered in Bern. It’s a city many tourists skip, but I wanted to go there precisely because it’s Switzerland’s Washington, the plain/boring stepsister to places like Geneva and Zurich.
There are similarities — Washington has its giant pandas, while Bern has its bears — but there are differences, too. The biggest one is that on hot summer days, everyone tosses their trunks or bikini into a bag and heads to a public swimming complex called Marzili on the banks of the Aare River.
Many nip over during their lunch hour, but the place really comes alive after work. The nearby streets of Bern look like a zombie movie: crowds of people single-mindedly threading their way along the steep lane that leads to Marzili or the funicular that creaks up and down the incline.
Once inside, they shed their work clothes and change into swimwear, lounging on towels in the sun and taking the occasional dip in one of Marzili’s three pools. Many stuff their street clothes into waterproof sacks and keep walking along the Aare. They jump into the cool, fast-moving, snow-fed river and let it carry them back to Marzili.
You’ll see all body types there, from fit young couples to men of a certain age, their ample tan bellies resembling varnished oak casks. There supposedly are areas designated for nude sunbathing, but I never found them. Probably just as well.
Marzili sits just below Bern’s triple-domed parliament building, in the city’s old town. Thus, if you are a federal worker in Bern, you will see your colleagues nearly naked. You will see your subordinates. You will see your boss.
I tried to imagine such a thing in Washington: Mitch McConnell stripped to his Speedo, Nancy Pelosi rubbing in her La Roche-Posay sunblock, chiefs of staff and general counsels comfortably sunning next to interns from the EPA and the IRS.
Would Jim Jordan have wanted to impeach Rod Rosenstein if the two had once stood barefoot in the grass, tossing a Frisbee back and forth?
Air travel has become so horrible that it’s a thing to be endured, not enjoyed. I had an aisle seat in the four-seat middle row on my eight-hour flight back to Dulles — or at least I did until the guy next to me explained that his girlfriend was sick and would be getting up a lot to use the bathroom. Could she have my aisle seat?
What could I say? I switched to the middle, then decided she had wanted to swap because her movie screen was broken. I entertained myself.
Didn’t we used to talk to the people next to us? Once, on a flight from Amsterdam, I had a lovely chat with the daughter of diplomat George Kennan. This impressed my neighbor Tom, who had worked at the State Department.
Now, though, we’re all in grumpy moods. Maybe it’s for the best. But I’m curious about your experiences. Have you ever had a stellar in-flight conversation? Email me at
Warren Brown died last week. I used to edit his column when it ran in The Washington Post’s Weekend section.
Warren’s car reviews weren’t like anyone else’s. Horsepower and MPG were important, but he used to talk about a vehicle’s “boogie,” too. He believed that a car was more than just a means of moving from Point A to Point B.
But Warren was pretty good at that, too.
In the 1990s, I asked The Post’s marketing department to buy a go-kart that the Weekend section could enter in a charity race to be held in downtown Washington. I said it would be good publicity, but the fact was I just wanted to drive a go-kart.
To my amazement, they bit. They shelled out thousands of dollars for the go-kart, for custom decorations, helmets and nifty matching polo shirts.
The race was held one Saturday morning on a closed city block around 19th and M streets NW. Most of the other teams were from bars and restaurants, many of which had selected as drivers the lightest people from their staff: teeny-tiny waitresses who wouldn’t stress the lawn mower engines.
We didn’t have anyone like that in Weekend and before long, no matter who was driving, we were mired toward the back of the pack.
I remember that when Warren’s turn finally came to drive, we had to kind of shoehorn him behind the steering wheel. Warren did not possess a lean, Formula One physique. But every time he completed a lap and hove into view, he had gained back a little more time.
Warren could find the perfect line, hit the apex and power out of the corner. Godspeed, Warren. It was a pleasure to watch you drive.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.