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Susan Sawyers

Susan Sawyers

Posted: January 23, 2008 08:53 PM

Dish from Davos, Day 1


A friend who's attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos for many years wasn't kidding when she said, "it's all about the boots." Unless, as many do, you have a car and driver, walking is the sport of choice. The environmentally conscious Swiss don't salt or sand the village streets or sidewalks so appropriate footwear is tantamount. The physician/scientist/invited speaker/participant/husband and I arrived in the alpine ski town via train from the Zurich on Tuesday. In addition to the wearing the all important snow boots, here's a quick rundown of what we've encountered thus far.

Welcome

To say security is tight is an understatement. There is an abundance of dark clad, florescent orange vested, police and an obvious presence of personal and general security. Removing multiple layers of clothing prior to passing through metal detectors is par for the course but with international heads of state in temporary residence here and there, it seems prudent.

The initial welcome reception, on Tuesday evening, replete with risotto, duck, canapés and lobster cappuccino was followed by a "Gathering for Newcomers." Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum together with Mrs. Hilde Schwab and ex-McKinsey man, Kevin Steinberg, who heads up the World Economic Forum USA Inc., told us the program can be daunting. Professor Schwab suggested that we might be tempted to attend one panel and slip out in an effort not to miss a second one. Instead, he said "R-E-L-A-X." There's so much going on, so much information to synthesize, it's not possible to do everything. Rest assured, he promised by the time the Forum comes to an end, heads would be spinning.

No Stress

Keeping Professor Schwab's message in mind was helpful when we unsuccessfully tried to log-on and register via our "personal internet-enabled mobile device" (e.g. our Blackberry) for Wednesday and Thursday sessions. We "relaxed" and were able to log on when at the Conference Congress Centre later in the morning. Given the delay, this spouse didn't succeed in signing up for her first choice dinner session, "The Wisdom of Storytelling: Using Fiction to Attain Truth," with Nobel Laureate and Author, Elie Weisel, Nigerian Author, Chris Abani, British Author David Bodanis, Brazilian Author Paulo Coelho, American Author Brian McLaren and, my personal favorite, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the Academy Award winning Writer and Director of The Lives of Others (original German: Das Leben der Anderen), No matter anyway, since I had the chance to meet Florian last night. Charming, bright, humble and tall (my guess with or without boots) are all words to describe the German storyteller who speaks impeccable English sans accent. Instead, I attended a good alternative on Social Net-Working moderated by Löic Le Meur who's reporting live for CNN daily. Other star-powered Wednesday dinner sessions were "What Kind of Education for What Kind of World?" with Yo-Yo Ma, H.R.H. Princess Lolowah Al Faisal Al Saud and Food and "A Whole New World" with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, author Michael Pollan and Peter Sellars. Ms. Waters was hard at work Tuesday and Wednesday preparing the locally sourced meal. I was told that copper pots and pans that hadn't been used for many years by the Hotel Belvedere were discovered and put to good use and of primary importance to Ms. Waters was to ensure that food suppliers be paid immediately. Lunch and dinner sessions as well as receptions and nightcaps are an important, often serendipitous, element of the Forum.

Meet and Greet

And speaking of eating and meeting, over breakfast Wednesday, Actress and Model Naomi Campbell visited the 23andMe demonstration of the personal genome service. A handful of Forum participants were given the unique opportunity to spit into test tubes, separately of course. I was hesitant at first, less so about the risk of genetic pre-disposition to disease but because of privacy issues but never mind. In the ongoing search for self-discovery, at the very least, maybe I'll learn something. I'll never know Naomi's heritage, it's private, but it's no secret she lucked out with the beauty genes. Stunningly dressed in tall black boots and a black business suit, ever the lady; she spat with the greatest discretion.

What to Wear

I mentioned the boots. Dark seems to be the color of choice, mostly drab. A lot of men wear dark jackets with dress shirts. Some wear ties. The aforementioned model aside, women, in general, aren't terribly well-put together. Presenters are generally presentable in suits but, for the most part, daywear leans toward trousers and sweaters in exchange for jackets in the evening. No big deal though, as we are 'trudging," through the snow. Well, at least some of us trudge. And we aren't here for a pageant but for an information exchange.

Check Your Boots at the Door

Outer wear is checked at the door of the hotels and the Congress Hall. The people here, from Al Gore to Bono to H.R.H. the Duke of York, are grand, as are the world's challenges. Five program tracks include Business, Economics and Finance, Geopolitics, Science and Technology, and Values and Society. Where we go from here is anyone's guess. Tschüs.

Summaries of key sessions
The Davos Conversation
Video responses to The Davos Question


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