Saturday, February 22, 2014

Great First Lines: Econo-luxury Edition

Izabella Kaminska writing for the paper rather than for Alphaville.
From the Financial Times:
I am on the train from Geneva to Zurich, bound for the annual forecasting dinner of the Swiss Chartered Financial Analyst society...
Here's the rest of the story:

The Diary: Izabella Kaminska
‘The Dolder Grand, where I am due to speak, turns out to be Zurich’s most prestigious hotel’ 

James Ferguson's illustration of the Dolder GrandI am on the train from Geneva to Zurich, bound for the annual forecasting dinner of the Swiss Chartered Financial Analyst society, where I’ve been invited to speak about the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin. All I know is that the gathering is at the Dolder Grand hotel, that most people will be CFA society members and that I’ve had about an hour’s sleep the night before.
All in all, I have a love-hate relationship with public speaking. On one hand, I love to do it because it’s a great honour and a wonderful opportunity to articulate one’s views without fear of interruption. On the other hand, I suffer from stage fright.

How monumental the stage fright is depends on a number of variables: how much sleep I’ve had the night before – itself dependent on how intimidated I am by the event; how familiar I am with the topic I’m discussing; the composition and hostility of the crowd; and, finally, the nature of the appearance.

I make myself do these things, nevertheless, because (a) I’m a glutton for punishment and (b) I’ve been told that it’s only with practice and conditioning that I can suppress my public-speaking demons. And true, sometimes it can turn out absolutely fine. Other times it can be . . . well, awkward.

To the annoyance of most of the train’s dining carriage I find myself muttering and gesticulating furiously as I rerun the key points in my head in a vain attempt to memorise some emergency phrases.
. . .
The Dolder Grand turns out to be Zurich’s most prestigious hotel, which is another way of saying that it’s more intimidating than I ever imagined. An impressive “movies are made of this” driveway leads to the gargantuan modernised castle, which sits prominently on a hill overlooking the city. I arrive by taxi. But all around me there are supercars.

The evening air is crisp and my breath lingers as I thank the randomly Russian-speaking taxi driver, and wonder to myself whether I should ask him to pick me up later? After all, how do you get an affordable taxi around here?

As I walk through the corridors on my way to the drinks reception I note that the place is filled to the brim with creepy modern art, illuminated by extremely moody and artistic lighting. Everyone is serious. Everything is sparkly and shiny. Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut rushes to the forefront of my mind.
I’m slightly late, because of a train timetabling error on my part, and the drinks reception is already in full swing by the time I enter what seems to be the gold room. The lack of sleep is beginning to make everything feel very dreamlike and blurry. Like Jack Torrance in The Shining, I would do anything for a drink to relieve my mental block. But I decide it’s better to ask for coffee. A bow-tied waiter appears out of nowhere to take my order.

A Swiss-German man tries to explain his Bitcoin valuation model to me. We’re being constantly interrupted but I think he’s insisting that the currency’s value lies in the inflexible supply. I think I hear a reference to Austrian School economics. I can’t really make him out because it’s noisy and he has an accent. All I know is, if he’s any indication of what the audience will be like, I could be entering hostile territory. I seem to fervently disagree with almost all his points....MORE
Unfortunately much too good for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest, Adventure category:
“I told you to wear sensible shoes, but no, your vanity would not allow it!” he yelled at me as if that had something to do with the airplane crashing into the jungle and all the bodies draped in the trees, but it was just the sort of nonsense I was used to from him, making me wish one or the other of us was hanging dead above us, instead of Rodney.
Or even the Fantasy category:
There once was a nasty, evil troll who lived beneath a bridge and took pleasure in collecting gold from the unsuspecting users of the infrastructure; however, no one used the bridge because an evil troll lived under it so the troll didn’t do much of anything.