In my last post, I mentioned W.G. Sebald’s essay on Rousseau and his own visit to St. Petersinsel, or Île Saint-Pierre. The island, which is on Lake Biel/Bienne, is right on the Röstigraben, or the “potato ditch” that separates French and German speaking Switzerland. The Germans eat rösti, a fried potato dish similar to a giant hash brown, and of course the French Swiss prefer croissants. Biel/Bienne has French and German names, as does the island.
After posting, I saw a post on Vertigo about the same essay by Sebald, focusing on his experience of the island rather than Rousseau’s and thought it was an excellent complement to the essay:
Sebald, like Rousseau, found Île Saint-Pierre an idyllic, restorative place. Living in the shadow of Rousseau, Sebald shared many of his subject’s reactions to the isolation and the closeness of nature. There, he found “a stillness such as is scarcely now to be found anywhere in the orbit of our civilized world.” (One senses a distinct irony in the word “civilized.”) In fact,the Île becomes a kind of Eden, “a paradise in miniature” and while he is there Sebald finds himself “transported back to an earlier age.”
The island really is one of those rare, special places. I’d like to go back someday.