Friday, June 25, 2010

it drizzled continuously for the first eleven days, and every morning we woke up to find the snowline creeping lower and lower towards the hostel. consequently, the hiking was wet and dreary, and the vistas that usually provide incentive for arduous climbs are obscured by a steady, slow fog which renders distance meaningless and time far too expansive. everything is far apart and isolated. then, on the twelfth morning, like something out of a bible story, clare and i returned from our 7am run and spotted, by JESUS, a bit of blue sky, peeking out on top of a mountain on the other side of the valley. it is now the fifteenth day and everything that had previously been a set of contextless, secluded moments suddenly are now snugly together, intimately connected. the mountains frame valleys of a particular exact schematic and the whole universe forms a singular, comprehensive experience.

there is something odd and almost ... magical ... about this place. it just grabs some people by the balls and refuses to let them go, so they just keep coming back year after year after year, for reasons they can't explain except to say that they have to go back to gimmelwald. there is a book on summit of one of the mountains that contains twenty years of open letters between these people who cant help coming back. for several, it is their sole means of contact. an episolatry time capsule at the top of the world.

somebody wrote on one of the walls of the hostel:

i fell in love with a girl named eliza in gimmelwald. johnny g, you were right. i'll be back.

and who should show up some two weeks later but johnny g, who has been coming back for twenty years with his guitar. he saw the message and laughted -- that has to be from one of my students, he said.

another person who cant help but come back and back again is a nutty british boy who is also working here right now.after enough time with him, i've figured out that his usual rate of hiking is approximately three units of time to every eight units of time spent by regular -healthy- people. a four hour hike becomes an hour and a half; a one hour detour is done in twenty minutes or so. one of his favorite activities is extreme ironing, and so he straps a heavy-ass bright red ironing board to his backpack and proceeds to sprint with it up the mountain. this is one of my favorite of his photos:

he knows a great deal of the local lore and modes of operation. we passed a small barn at one point and he told me, 'that builing is packed full of dynamite.'


apparently, the owner's husband, the man who complains about people being tired, is the regional expert on explosions and demolitions. at one point, joel met him at a worksite and found him, the stout swiss man that he is, working on all fours with a stick of dynamite in his mouth. as if to prove the point, a couple nights later, walter brought his video camera over to the bar and proceeded to show us a series of things he had blown up. rocks. roads. sides of hills. and then, his voice, which is usually pure testosterone, let out a series of high and girlish giggles that were kind of manic and maybe even a little bit disturbing. he has an electric wood chopper below his house, and we joked for a moment that perhaps he uses it to decapitate stupidtired tourists, giggling like a little girl the whole time. and then the joke became quite scary and our laughter was quickly arrested.

a couple of days ago he wore a t-shirt that said ' i like canadian girls.' somehow i think that helps explain him.

time passes differenly here. i feel like i have been living here since the beginning of time. i will be staying until september, and then going back to arcata for the fall.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

i am getting very good at ironing tablecloths and folding fitted sheets. the laundry room is a like a tropical jungle of sheets that block out the light and trap in the moisture and i feel sometimes like i should navigate it with a machete. meanwhile, the weather outisde has also been foggy and wet, but colder, and it clears up every now and again, which is nice. the hostel is on one side of a glacial valley and sometimes you can see the entire height of the mountains on the other side and sometimes you cant see past the laundry room, which is about ten paces away from the main building.

murren is a town about a 30min (steep!) hike away, and it has a pool and a grocery store and small dead-end of a mountain train stop. if you need wine or chocolate or trashy swiss-german tabloids it is the place to go. apparently, it is one of the oldest tourist destinations in the world because of a ski slope that attracted a bunch of wealthy english people starting about 60-70 years ago.

gimmelwald, where i'm staying, is described by tourist books as 'a relaxing, intact apline town', or 'a car-free resort,' which translates to: some million-year-old famers and a hostel. i asked the woman who runs the hostel what the farmers think of the tourists, and she replied, 'you dont bite the hand that feeds you.'

the town is very old; nobody is totally sure how old. the oldest building was built at least 500 years ago, and the main strucutre of the hostel about 350. different sections used to be a cow barn, a hay storage area, etc.

a woman and her husband bought the structure here 14 years ago and renovated a good deal of it. (adding showers, etc.) she was raised in the most nearby city and he was raised here in gimmelwald. he is very much a stodgy old farmer man; the other morning, one of the guests tried to use the bathroom during the cleaning lock-out, and he asked the guest why they had slept in so late.

'because i was tired,' said the guest.
'tired! everybody tired, morning, afternoon, tired!' he's usually quiet and taciturn, and so when he finally looses it and has to shout, heavy accent and all, it is the most wonderful thing to witness.

sometimes his mother comes to help me with the washing. she doesnt speak any english and i dont speak any german so we just babble at each other morgen-morgen, das ist, guten tag, okayokay.

a couple of days ago after a particularly challenging hike, ladyfriend convinced me to take an ice bath in glacial melt. 'you can get the same effect from probably just five minutes in this as you would in 30 minutes in 60 degree water.' COLD COLD COLD COLD and then some hikers passed by and i waved to them, waist deep and pantless in fast moving pale water. i wasnt sore after i got out at all --- mostly because i couldnt feel anything anyway.

last night we pulled a prank on the guests: one of the waitresses came up from the bathroom downstairs and shouted at another staff member, 'joel, can you please get the snakes out of the shower?'
'sure,' he said. 'how many are there?'
this was followed by a girl running away from the showers, wearing only a towel. people in the dining area were quite worried for some time. we pointed out on a map how, 'right around this glacier, over here, there are sometimes rattlesnakes. but they'll leave you alone, dont worry.'

ladyfriend and i have a dormitory all to ourselves, essentially. last night, however, we returned to pick up our dirty laundry that we had thrown on the floor prior to showering to find a chinese family unpacking their things. we were embarassed about the laundry and they were embarrassed by, as the daughter described it:

'my daddy snores.'

we didnt think it would be too bad, so we assured her that it was no big deal at all and that we hoped they'd have a pleasant stay.

it was BAD. it was so bad it was just comical. it sounded like a gorilla trying to start up an aged weedwhacker. and then it would be refreshingly silent for two minutes, our laughter would subside, and right when we reached the edge of dozing off, he'd start again, and so would the laughter.

so we moved to another room.

where we could hear him through the wall. brilliant.

life is good. i have laundry to fold.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

23 and a half hours from my friend's doorstep in chicago to the hostel. two trains, three planes, two more trains and a gondola. i always have to keep my eyes closed on gondolas; riding on them with the rock face and the slight swaying back and forth just scares the bejeezus out of me.

23 and a half hours during which i made a couple of especially stupid decisions. however, i am going to blame them on:

an english man. i am riding the subway to the airport in chicago and it is the last stop. i am pretty much totally asleep, but i see a british passport on the ground where somebody had just gotten up and left. i grab it and dash out of the train. the gentleman is in a buisness suit and obviously not traveling for himself.

sir! sir! i say. he has headphones in. i jab his suit-sleeve with the passport and he turns around.
is this yours? i ask, holding it up.

his face, which had been tired and drawn and almost reptilian-cold suddenly opened into a totally human-soulful set of complex emotions which managed to combine the extremes of both horror and gratitude.

wow, he said, thank you, wow, wow.

i am going to imputously blame the following set of stupid decisions on the jitters i got following the dropped passport.


1. yogurt in my backpack. for later. and then i forgot to take it out of the backpack, and didnt remember about it until pulling the backpack off the conveyer belt in zurich and finding it having exploded over everything in that pocket. well done, me. stinky yogurt pocket.

2. leaving my water bottle in the side of my backpack after i had checked it. i had gotten the bottle at the dollar store, and had an extra one in the pack, so it wasnt so much of a problem to have it confinscated. the problem was when i decided to purchuase bottled water at the airport. it opened in my bag, deposited it's contents, and as i was sitting in the food court with a 7 dollar salad and not-crying about how neither of my cameras were turning on, two kindly southern women told me: put your cameras in a bowl of rice when you get home. it'll suck the moisture right out.

but i'm not going home for two months, i babbled at them.

nevertheless, once i got to the hostel i bought a bag of rice and put my cameras in them. my slr turns on now, but it cant access the memory card or show an image. i think it might still be taking images, though. the point and shoot is still shot.

i refuse to get upset about it until after a week or so of sitting in rice they still dont work.
there is a guest here who is a professional photographer for a magazine. i asked him what the best thing to do with a camera in this situation.

did you try to turn it on right away? he asked.
yeah. (stupid decision no3)
well, thats about the worst possible thing you can do, he said. if it doesnt turn on in like, 48 hours, then thats the end.


when i arrived at the hostel, the woman at the front asked if i was emily-who-will-help-with-the-washing.

probably, i said.

as it turns out, my employ is: putting several loads of sheets in the washers, hanging them up to dry, and then folding them in the evening once they are dry. it takes about two hours. i can also sweep. in return i get a bed and sandwiches and pizza and beer and coffee and the whole rest of the day to hike and/or lie in bed and read.

man. i am okay with this.