Sunday, January 26, 2014

Davos: Mary J. Bilge, Bono, and dark woods

                DAVOS, Switzerland – Davos’ brand is truly global. Come here and see 40 heads of state, 350 senior public officials, and 1000 industry titans, or Eric Schmidt, Bono, and Bill Gates. Or walk into a small bar off a hotel lobby (if you're wearing the exclusive wrist band, which grants entry) and listen  to Mary J. Blige belt out “Just Fine.”
                The reality of Davos is that, plus this: Deals in the side rooms, grumpy stars on stage, parties atop mountains, broadcasters on a rooftop in white tents, pure white snow-capped peaks against blue sky, and, for me, a few moments away from all of it.
                This was my first trip to the World Economic Forum and all I really knew ahead of time was that it brought together entrepreneurs, rock stars, development leaders in an atmosphere of sheer excess. That excess (some took a $10,000 helicopter ride from Zurich to Davos to get here; not me) was tempered by what organizers said was a record of results – new ideas were cooked at Davos that ended up doing great good.
                This year’s Davos focused on battling income inequality. There was a great deal of talk around inequality, and there was a great deal of head-turning in the hallways: In a span of 10 minutes, I saw Iran President Hassan Rouhani , a phalanx of Israeli Shin Bet security, Mary Robinson, and Bono. The truth: It was hard to stay focused.
                Walking through the hallways had the feel of speed dating your exs, or attending your high school reunion, with a maximum of 20 seconds per person, no time to get beyond what you were doing or where you were. The smart Davos-goer had back-to-back-to-back, all day long, 15 minute meetings (max), with five minutes in between to get to each meeting. Bartenders served non-stop double cappuccinos and espresos; other patrons seemed high on something else.
                At the end of the work day, 8 p.m., all I felt like doing was lying down in bed. But I knew at night, the World Economic Forum week at Davos picks up. Parties sprinkle the town. You could crash a dozen, drink until dawn.
                I didn’t have the tickets to the hottest parties – the ones thrown by Google that featured Mary J. Blige in a small bar off my hotel lobby, or Bono’s and Bill Gates’ mountainside shindig. I had other prospects, but I also had an anti-Davos idea: a night run through the valley.
                At 9 p.m., I laced up my shoes, put on my windbreaker, winter-weight running pants, hat, and gloves, and made my way off our little hilltop onto a hard-packed trail that I had run in the morning a day earlier. Hours ago, cross-country skiers swooshed  past on perfectly groomed tracks, while walkers (many with dogs) walked on a parallel packed trail that skirted Davos’ small downtown.
                At night, though, with patchy clouds overhead revealing a bowl of mountains around me, I was  alone. I ran across an open field, the only sounds being the crunch of my shoes and my light breath. The trail hugged a fast-running stream and then I veered off onto a trail that went straight up into the forest.
                It was dark. Icicles hung like sinewy beards from pine trees. The trees formed a crown over the path. The only light was the snow underfoot and that was dim. I felt almost blind. I came to a downhill and quickened my stride, a gamble, but it felt good, and I ran even harder, taking long strides.. I trusted the snow and my balance, and I stayed upright into the valley.
                Even in the wide expanse, the clouds cast shadows, and I felt invisible. To my right, I sensed something near, some motion, and I turned my head. Suddenly, large black objects swooped near, 30 feet away, closer still. I stumbled. In a moment, I knew could see their outlines – deer. Huge deer. Four of them. They charged right past me.

                One hundred feet ahead, they stopped. One turned to me. I ran toward them and, spooked, they headed to higher ground, night monsters fading into dark shapes, then gone.
                Ten minutes later, I was back outside my hotel. Swiss soldiers checked my ID. (5000 came to guard Davos this past week, including snipers on roofs). I asked one about the deer and he said to his friends: Where’s my gun! They laughed as I headed inside. A hotel porter told me that he had seen deer from time to time.
                “It was good you exercised,” he said. “Otherwise, you would not have seen them.”
                It’s true. I failed to have the true Davos experience. No Mary J. Blige for me. My highlight was a moment of running with four deer in the dark.


  1. There is not much at Davos that is pure as the driven snow, but you seemed to have found it on your run. There is a disconnect between partying in extreme luxury and solving the problems of extreme poverty, and you captured it very well without being critical.


  2. Thanks for sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the forum and a rare peaceful moment. It’s a powerful reminder of what is gained during the run.