Sunday, September 5, 2010

You Just Had To Be There - 9/4

Before we even ascended the Jungfrau (Europe’s tallest peak), I had a sense the Swiss have cornered the market on paradise. Little did I know, they secured Heaven for themselves, too.

From the Top of Europe, the first thing I noticed wasn’t the gargantuan peaks or the sprawling glacial ice beds. Immediately, my senses all focused on me, specifically, my breathing. It was like breathing in an icebox, cold and clean going in and visible coming out. My breaths were shortened, as expected, but as I stepped into the sun, those peaks and ice beds finally appearing in their fullest, they quickened to the pace of my racing heartbeat. It wasn’t the thin air exhilarating all five senses anymore, the scenery had taken over. From the observation point, The Sphinx as it’s called, Jungfrau peers down at you like Zeus from Olympus. There is nothing grander, nothing more imposing. From the Sphinx, we climbed to a snow-covered rocky crag where the red and white Swiss flag flapped proudly in stark contrast to the hulking gray rock summit in the near distance. Perhaps crawled is a more appropriate description of our movement along the icy walkway. Appropriate because Danielle wasn’t wearing the proper footwear and because there really is no other way to approach a natural deity than while genuflecting.

Like a couteur gown, the ivory white glacial ice beds, themselves hundreds of meters wide and unlike anything any American has ever seen in their own country, skirt the Jungfrau before flowing to the horizon. If you sit and listen carefully, I swear you can hear them lurching along underneath you, one meter per millennium.

Surrounding the Jungfrau the Swiss Alps pop like soft peaks of meringue and . . . you know what, I’m going to stop. I’ve realized something as I’m typing this. There is no way I or any other living writer, director, musician or painter could capture the experience I am attempting to describe. Hemingway, maybe? But he’s long gone. Perhaps Shakespeare way back when. But I am certain there is no living scribe who could adequately place you where I stood – the doorway to Heaven. Words can’t make you smell the cold air – yes, Swiss air has an odor, the smell of purity. Words can’t lurch your stomach when you peer over the edge into rocky oblivion only to have it lurch again when the hangglider swoops past your line of sight. Words can’t clang like the bells on the cows on the other side of the valley, just tiny, brown, grazing specs. Words can’t feel the gravel crunch under your hiking boots, the valley trail steeply declining and the all encompassing green foothills rolling in every direction. I could sit here all day weaving the most beautiful and elegant prose – and really I could, I’m on a train to Venice for the next six hours – and when you read this, you’ll still not understand the pure euphoria.

So I won’t try anymore. As Danielle said, everyone should make a trip to the Alps once in their life. I can only recommend the Berner Oberland because that’s where I’ve been. And I’ll echo her sentiment like the cowbells across the Lauterbrunen valley: you just have to be there.

Stupid American: The count still stands at 4 - we had no Stupid Americans in Switzerland. Maybe because they weren’t there or maybe because I was too encapsulated by my surroundings to notice, which perhaps made me a Stupid American? I’d like to think more like Awed American.

I will, however, mention a great experience, coincidentally at our favorite restaurant in Interlaken, Des Alpes. We ate dinner there last night and had a fantastic waiter. But when a couple sat next to us and blurted out something in a language even he didn’t know, he resorted to the next best thing. Our waiter looked at us and said, “I have no idea what he just said.”

“I don’t know what language he’s speaking,” I replied. Not that I could’ve helped even if I could ID the vernacular.

“Oh I may not know what he said, but I know what he wants. See?” And the waiter turned to the couple, who turned out to be from the Czech Republic and were speaking Czech, and made a peace sign. He said, “Two.”

The couple nodded.

Then he put his hands together in front of him, one on top of the other, and separated them to about a foot apart, up and down. “Large,” he said. They nodded again.

Then he made a fist, held it in front of his chest, brought it to his mouth and then abruptly down to the table, as if slamming an empty stein. “Beer,” he said. Smiles and ferociously happy nods. “Two large beers,” he said.

He turned to us and smiled.

“The international language of beer,” I said to him.

He replied, “Everyone understands it!”)

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