I had gotten up in the middle of the night having to pee, and had half expected to hear Michael and Monika grunting and moaning in one of the shower stalls having sex again. But if they had had another clandestine sexual encounter overnight, it was not happening while I was using the toilet. Monika was so taken with Michael, and so uninhibited and self possessed, and he and all the rest of us guys so enthralled with her awesome sexuality, that I imagined they probably had figured out how to do it again, an “it” that I had not even come close to doing myself. It occurred to me, ironically, given the mountain to the southwest of the village called the “Jungfrau”, or “virgin” in English, that Monika was the “jung frau”, or “young woman”, but I was the “jungfrau”, the “virgin”. Though that word probably wasn’t applicable to a male person who had not had sex yet. In patriarchal culture that really wasn’t an issue, it was only women who needed that sort of certification of the provenance of their genitals.
Finishing the shower, stowing my t-shirt and toiletries in my pack, donning my hiking boots and rehanging my towel and washcloth on my pack frame, I ventured out into the common room. Through the big window out onto the deck I could see that snow was falling, big white flakes slowly drifting straight down, with no wind to blow them about. I walked out onto the deck, the big wet snowflakes fluttering down all about me, nestling on my shoulders, some caught in my big mane of hair melting from my body heat into tiny drips of cold water on my scalp. It was so so quiet and I stood dead still savoring that dead quiet. When the snow falls like that with no wind to generate any whooshing noise, the big flakes absorb all the sound. The only audible sound are the flakes that fall on the inside of your ear canal and make that ever so slight crinkle noise as they lose their structural integrity and transition from a solid crystalline matrix to a more mundane drop of water.
The awesome mountains across the valley, such a striking presence as they revealed themselves to me for the first time in yesterday’s sunny skies, were obscured again today by the snow clouds. The village of Grindelwald, was barely visible down the hill through the thick snowfall. I recalled weekday winter mornings of heavy snow when I was a kid, listening to the listing of school closures on the local Ann Arbor radio station until I joyously heard my own. Going outside into the pristine white world, several inches of fresh snow on our little street unsullied as of yet by any tire tracks or footprints. Feeling that sense of being totally in the moment, outside of time, sheltered at least for now from the standing edict to report to school for education and adult supervision. Unsupervised, unsullied, unleashed. I and my fellow backpackers here in Grindelwald were all probably as unleashed as we had ever been in our youths and might ever be in our adulthoods to follow.
Though in the moment and outside of time, there still was the matter of breakfast, wonderful granola and fresh fruit yogurt, already paid for and only served until 9 AM and I with no watch or other timekeeping device to monitor that approaching and enforced deadline. So I silently acknowledged the wonderful falling snow one last time and retreated to the hostel dining room. There were the alleged sex partners, Michael and Monika, sitting across from each other smiling and laughing and gesticulating with spoons full of big dollops of peach yogurt. Monika with yet another t-shirt, with those nipple sightings obviously signalling that her big killer tits were unsheathed underneath as they had been yesterday. I still hadn’t seen her wear anything over that chest other than a t-shirt and that light jacket of hers with which she brazenly scoffed at Mother Nature by keeping it unzipped except in the coldest night air. She seemed such a polar bear that I would lay odds she had a pair of shorts in her backpack that she would gladly don if the temperature got much above freezing.
As per usual there were other guys in her orbit, this morning including Peter, his two new British “mates” and Matt. Ragna was there at the table next to Michael across from Monika, looking like she was trying hard to stay involved in the conversation and not be just a third wheel to the granola crunching, yogurt slurping lovebirds. Noting the clock on the wall was almost at 9 o’clock I grabbed a tray and got my own big helpings of the hostel’s breakfast staples and was bold enough to sit down next to Monika and across from Ragna.
Monika kept up her conversation with Michael but acknowledged me with a flutter of her fingers in my direction. Just 18 like me, but she had a palpable presence about her: six feet tall like me, athletic, gorgeous curvy body even more gorgeous when it was in motion, stunningly beautiful face with high cheekbones and blue blue eyes, and a kind of magnetic charisma that just demanded your attention and respect. There was no situation I had seen her in where she wasn’t the obvious alpha person in that milieu, yet she was not the least bit “stuck up” or ego involved in any sort of way that I could see, though my judgement could easily have been torqued by my own libido. She was in one word, awesome, and to be around her and to have her acknowledge you as a unique person made you feel awesome too, even if she had some other guy on her sexual radar, that being Michael across from her. He was very good looking too, chocolate skin, broad nose, deep brown eyes, almost six feet himself but his big afro making him seem taller, but more cerebral and inward in his energy than she was. I could see why she was attracted to him, I was a bit attracted to him as well, with his own quieter, subtler, maybe not yet completely developed charisma.
Then there was her older almost stepsister Ragna, sitting across from me. A more conventional five foot seven height making her a bit shorter than most of the guys and definitely diminutive to her de facto sibling. She had long brown thick straight hair which hung down to the middle of her back and over her breasts in front. Her face was dominated by nerdy thick framed black plastic glasses, that magnified the size of her intense gray eyes, and rested on a long narrow nose. Her body was slight, without the obvious curves that Playboy and Penthouse and other such respectable skin magazines had trained most of us guys to lust after in a female person’s body. You wouldn’t say she was intensely shy, but she was shy and definitely intense in a very cerebral, mind like a steel trap sort of way.
All us guys had a thing for Monika, but I had a thing for Ragna too, but my whole sexual radar, or whatever you call it, was so underdeveloped and untrusted that I was doubting the pretty obvious evidence that she was developing a thing for me as well. I certainly had spent all that time with her playing cards, including the session yesterday morning where I had taught her to play Russian Bank, after she had theatrically said that she’d “love me to teach her” to play. Maybe in her cerebral shyness, “teach” was the closest she’d ever get to “fuck” as a stand in metaphor for sexual interest.
And last night down in the tavern we had that moment after my singing along to that German folk song, “Du, Du Liegst Mir im Herzen”. My mom had taught me the words in German, but not the English translation. Ragna, who knew her German, had asked me to tell her each line of the German so she could translate it for me. We had both had several big glasses of beer, I suspect more than Ragna normally drank, so she was probably buzzed and less shy than normal. So there we were in that very noisy environment, looking at and leaning toward each other to try to hear the other’s words. Me saying to her in German, “Die, die zärtlichsten Triebe… fühl’ ich allein nur für dich” as I looked into her intense gray eyes, and her saying back to me in English, eyes still locked, “The most tender desires I alone feel only for you”. In the moment I thought she was just being helpful and translating the words for me, but several minutes later it occurred to me that there might have been more to it.
But now it was the next morning, those moments well in the past and not acknowledged in any way by me. Ragna was back to her usual sober, shy cerebralness, and it would take me making a proactive effort again to get inside those defenses should I have and take advantage of the opportunity to try again. Ragna seemed to be at her best and most comfortable playing cards, and playing the persona of the dealer, the croupier. I had a sudden humorous sexual fantasy of her and I playing strip poker, her saying to me in her modulated deadpan croupier voice, “Three of a kind beats your two pair, please remove your underwear.” With all those thoughts going through my head I smiled at her and hoped she was somehow telepathic.
Maybe she even was, but she delivered bad news. She and Monika were leaving on the train that evening down to Interlaken to head on to Venice, coincidentally retracing in reverse the route I had taken coming up to Grindelwald. Their plan for their last day was to take the cog railway, which followed a tunnel up through the Schreckhorn and the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch railway station near the summit of the Jungfrau, and from there then go up to the Sphinx Observatory. At nearly 3600 meters above sea level, it was one of the highest observatories in the world, in the “saddle” between the Jungfrau and the Monch, with what they had been told was an amazing view, of the Aletsch Glacier, part of an entirely alien world up there of ice, snow and rocky peaks, kilometers above the Earth environs we humans frequented.
I had heard from several people and had read the pamphlets at the hostel check-in desk about the Jungfraubahn, one of only a handful of cog railways in the world, this one employing the Strub rack system with electric powered cog wheels in each train car gripping a special toothed third rail between the other two. The railway began at a station near the base of the Schreckhorn and stopped at several underground stations inside the mountains with viewing windows on the side of the Schreckhorn and the Eiger. The final Jungfraujoch station at the top was also underground but had a way up to the observatory and a tunnel to a place called the “Ice Palace”, a giant cave inside the glacier. It sounded like a real unique thing to do.
Monika asked all of us if we wanted to go with them. I was tempted to say yes, both for what sounded like a great adventure to a unique place, plus getting to spend one last day with these two bigger than life female people, and maybe have some sort of special moment with Ragna, as if that were somehow “in the cards” as it were. But the train up and back cost a total of 60 Swiss francs, about 20 US dollars. I had just $100 US in American Express traveler’s checks plus about 15 Swiss francs left. I had 13 days to finance until my plane flight home, scheduled for December 11. At six dollars a day that was $78, leaving me a reserve of just $27, and I would have to use some of that reserve to pay for the boat ride across the North Sea. So blowing $20 of that reserve for the cog railway ticket seemed like taking a big risk. There was time in theory to get more money wired from my mom, say to Amsterdam or London, but that would involve making an expensive phone call, plus I did not want to hit my mom up again, knowing how tight her budget was and with Christmas coming up when she generally spent what little money she could squirrel away for gifts. And what a nightmare for me to run out of money a day before my plane flight.
So reluctantly I passed on the cog railway excursion. Peter, Matt and notably Michael passed as well. To us backpacker types, 60 Swiss francs was a great deal of money! Beth and some of her Aussie guys went along, as well as several others. Their plan was to be back before dinner.
It was frustrating to ponder if this would have been one of those once in a lifetime unique experiences that I would later regret not doing, one final memorable adventure with Monika and Ragna, particularly since Michael was not going. I certainly had my share of regrets of missed opportunities in my life to date, but most of those were all about my timidity, this was more about pragmatism. So they headed out, all full of anticipation of their adventure ahead, and the rest of us stayed behind, hoping at least to hear some details when they returned.
Peter suggested that we grab trays from the dining room and go out sledding. He seemed transformed in the last two days from his sourness when I first met him and his Cleveland buddies in Florence, and when I had reconnected with them what seemed like a long two days ago here in Grindelwald, when he had gone on about Monika being a “slut”. Now he seemed mellower, more at peace, even a bit joyful, and not worried about asserting or protecting some sort of “alpha” status. I had first noticed this new (or at least different) persona that first night at the tavern in town when he joined with me leading the singing of the Beatles “Yellow Submarine”, like he had found some larger purpose beyond angstily defending some imaginary entitlement and status. And then he had befriended the two British guys, who seemed to truly enjoy him as a peer, unlike Matt and Michael who seemed to just put up with him, given I assume past baggage between the three of them that I did not know about.
So Peter and I, Michael and Matt, plus the two Brits, who I was finally introduced to by Peter as “Malc” (Malcolm) and “Dred” (Mordred), headed out into the snowy wonderland with our trays. We found a fairly steep gully by the hostel where a bunch of kids were sledding on real sleds and plastic saucers. The first time we did a hair raising ride down into the gully on our little trays, through the snow that continued to fall, all adult pretense left the six of us. We were kids again too, laughing, screaming, crashing and stumbling and throwing snowballs at each other like the others half our age. We tried hooking our trays together in various configurations, the most effective one was forming a sort of train, hooking your legs around the person on the tray in front of you. But it always ended in a very theatrical “train wreck” somewhere down the gully, the one behind tumbling over the one in front.
After we tired of the tray riding, at Peter’s suggestion, we organized a game of Bull Rush in the snow, with some of the younger kids joining in too. It was my opportunity to get close to Michael, a friendly competitiveness developing between the two of us as we tackled each other in the snow. Once I ended up on top of him as I had heard Monika had when the two played “bumper trays” sliding down the road to the tavern. I sat on him and put snow in his face as he laughed and wriggled playfully pretending to try to escape. Again I could see why she had a thing for him, he was gentle and playful and always had such a good energy about him. Our escalating physical encounters in the Bull Rush game were framed as “punishment” or “payback”, but their was an attraction there between us which in some parallel non-patriarchal universe might have been something more.
Then as the game petered out, a bunch of the younger boys challenged us to a semi-organized snowball fight, each side taking an initial half hour to build a snowball fort before the “hostilities” began. The fresh snow was great packing and beachball sized snowballs rolled carefully in it soon became the spherical building blocks of our “Fort Danger” and their “Grosse Festung”. We mostly hid in our fort and lobbed snowballs at theirs. They would occasionally try to outflank us but we would beat them back. Malc and Dred were particularly fun, playing the part of two whacky commanders giving contradictory orders and then descending into chaos to the delight of the youth on the other team. We were right there with those preteen boys on the other side. Yeah we were almost a decade their senior, but we all remembered being them, spending a joyous day living in the moment out in Mother Nature’s wonderful winter offering. Finally when we had had enough and it was getting to mid afternoon, we very theatrically “surrendered”, and were led out of “Fort Danger” single file, and then the kids went crazy destroying it.
Finally back at the hostel we arrived just before the group returned from their cog railway odyssey. From the deck we could see them trudging up the road to the hostel, through the now deep accumulation of snow, with more still lightly falling, Monika in the lead, as usual. My libido would be remiss if I did not once again mention her breasts, which pointed the way forward, and noticeably oscillated from side to side as she planted each step. Oh to see her naked, like Michael supposedly had and more, though he never confirmed their sexual encounter, and I had no intention of asking him, whether that was motivated by respecting privacy or jealousy, probably more of the latter. He and I and several others waved at them from the deck, and Monika replied with her signature finger flutter, a few others behind her waved, though Ragna just continued to trudge ahead, head down. We retired from the deck to the common room to greet them. Schuman was at the piano playing the beginnings of Jethro Tull’s musical epic “Thick as a Brick”, his shivering tenor voice quietly grasping for the lyrics…
Really don’t mind if you sit this one out
My word’s but a whisper your deafness a shout
I may make you feel but I can’t make you think
Your sperm’s in the gutter your love’s in the sink
I caught the words of that last line for the first time having only heard the long song a few times previously. “Sperm” and “love” seemed reversed from where they should be, but maybe that was songwriter Ian Anderson’s little twist. Schuman continued in his trembling tenor, singing an instance of the title line of the very long song…
So you ride yourselves over the fields
And you make all your animal deals
And your wise men don’t know how it feels
To be thick as a brick
The returning group entered the hostel, removing their gear in the large entryway, hanging jackets, hats and scarves on the hooks, and boots along the wall. Monika, stepping out of her big clunky hiking boots like mine, even took off her socks, every bit of her body one had the privilege to see unclothed was a treat, she just in her normal short sleeved t-shirt and jeans, her toes wantonly naked. Ragna in jeans as well, but a long sleeved sweater rather than just a t-shirt under her jacket, removing her less clunky boots, revealing multicolored toe socks. It was a nice whimsical touch, a revelation perhaps of another side to that no nonsense croupier persona she presented to us most of the time.
The Aussie guys and the other male types that had returned from the cog railway excursion, chatting animatedly with each other, scattered to various other venues and next activities. But Monika sauntered into the common room and plopped herself down in the middle of the big couch facing the fireplace with a self satisfied grunt, leaning back and stretching her arms in either direction along the top of the couch and spreading her legs like a guy would, with her big braless breasts prominent under her t-shirt, but not the slightest shred of ladylike modesty. I laughed to myself to see her, so obviously and unabashedly female but not the least bit feminine in her behavior.
Schuman was still at the piano, crooning Tull to no one in particular…
Spin me back down the years and the days of my youth
Draw the lace and black curtains and shut out the whole truth
Spin me down the long ages, let them sing the song
See there! A son is born and we pronounce him fit to fight
There are blackheads on his shoulders and he pees himself in the night
We’ll make a man of him, put him to a trade
Teach him to play Monopoly and how to sing in the rain
Ragna sat on the couch to Monika’s right, legs together with hands on her knees and sitting upright with much better posture than her younger semi sibling, trying to assert some sort of alphaness or at least parity with her. With pursed lips, her dark intense eyes scanned all us guys beginning to gather and find all our quantum orbits around Monika.
Michael was eying the spot to Monika’s left and she may have been expecting him to take it, but Beth assertively laid claim to it, like the goddess’ new acolyte, sitting close enough so Monika’s outstretched arm was behind her, and doing so diminishing Ragna’s claim to positional parity. She mimicked Monica’s grunt as her butt hit the couch cushion, as well as with her own sprawled repose, with her left arm stretched out claiming what remained of the top of the couch on that side. Her right arm could not extend that way without tangling with Monika’s shoulder, so instead she held it in and placed her hand on the couch between her own and Monika’s jean clad thigh.
Arrayed now as they were on the couch, the energy and power of these three female people was palpable, at least to me and my libido, and I sat joyfully and anticipatedly in attendance on the adjoining couch at a ninety degree angle to the right, on Ragna’s side of their triumvirate. Michael sat on the corresponding couch across from me, nearest to Beth, Matt sitting to his left. Peter, Malc and Dred hovered behind me shuffling around, with body language that was at times focused on the three young women and at other times focused away, but always in their orbit.
Monika looked at all us male types and frowned, “It is too bad you guys did not come with us. It was something I will remember”, and I watched with rapt interest as she laid her hand on Beth’s thigh and patted it several times. Beth seemed unfazed by what looked to me a very intimate and provocative gesture, seemed anointed instead, and she nodded her second and started the retelling of their shared narrative, the other two women joining in at points, Monika more to move the narrative along while the other two women, with more command of the English language, filling in a lot of the more geographic and technical detail.
They boarded the first “cog” train at the Grindelwald station, which ran on its own special track with a middle rail called a “ladder rack”, and took them up to the Kleine Scheidegg station up on the south side of the valley at the base of the Eiger. From there, a second cog train, using a different sort of third rack rail, took them up to the Eigergletscher station in the little village of Lauterbrunnen at the base of the Eiger. From their the train continued up and literally into the Eiger to an underground Eigerwand station, where it stopped for a short time so riders could get out and look out special windows in the station built into the sheer north face of the mountain that looked down on Grindelwald maybe half a kilometer below. The next segment of the ride took them farther up inside the Eiger to the Eismeer station, with similar windows but these looking out to the southeast at the Grindelwald-Fiescher glacier. Finally the last leg taking them to the end of the line, the Jungfraujoch station, at about three and a half kilometers above sea level apparently the highest altitude train station in all of Europe, situated underground, underneath the Sphinx Observatory. From that station they were able to walk through a long tunnel to the “Ice Palace”, a series of ice caverns beneath the glacier. They also took an elevator up to the observatory itself, one of the highest in the world, which sits on a rocky protrusion in the “saddle” between the peaks of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger, and had amazing views from its exterior observation deck of those three peaks and the massive glacier between them.
I could tell by their words, their passionate delivery, and their body language that the three women had been moved by their shared experience. Beth was the hyperbolic one, confessing to being overwhelmed by views that were all “stunning”, “mind boggling” and “unforgettable”. Though the other two women nodded in assent to every ratcheted up adjective she called up in her descriptions. Even the normally poker faced, seemingly unmoved Ragna, shook her head with disbelief at what she had witnessed, saying at one point that it was like they had been transported to some other icy planet. At Ragna’s comment Beth burst out with an overwrought, “God yes… it was a fucking other planet!”, reaching across Monika to smack Ragna on the thigh to show her impassioned affirmation, causing Ragna to start for a moment and then laugh.
It struck me that I had never heard Ragna laugh before, and that Beth seemed to have the knack of drawing the emotion out of the other two women with her endearing, wide-eyed kid in a candy store though a bit full of herself style. It also struck me that Monika was taken with Beth, not unlike the way she had been smitten by Michael. Having seen two other women from my backpacker cohort, travel partners Jenn and Sarah, passionately kiss each other in the Venice hostel, just five days ago, this sort of erotic female to female connection had become real to me, not just some aberrant “lesbianism” that I had heard about strange women who I had nothing to do with engaging in with each other. If Monika and Ragna had not been leaving Grindelwald this evening, might not Monika and Beth ended up clandestinely naked in a shower stall with each other, this time more easily accomplished in the women’s bathroom where neither would seem out of place. Maybe they had already done so last night.
Though my own libido was pretty tuned to women, as evidenced by my fixation with Monika’s breasts, I too had had some erotic feelings for a couple other men while here in Europe, and men for me. When my former travel partner Steve had suggested that he climb into bed with me in our hotel room in Granada, frankly I had wrestled with the idea before I finally balked. Jacques in Venice, though a lot older than me, seemed to have feelings for me that were venturing beyond mere friendship, though he was very low key and polite about it and never really tried to hit on me in any obvious way. And just hours before had I not had a pleasurable experience on top of Michael in the snow, smashing it in his face like I had heard Monika had, both of us laughing and enjoying our “embrace” of sorts, connecting with each other at some physical level. And if I was really honest, perhaps even for some of my male friends back home, because it seemed like all my close relationships, beyond my family members, had some sort of erotic component to them.
While I pondered all this, and whether I would regret having passed on an “unforgettable” experience to save a mere 60 Swiss francs, Schuman continued his own narrative, his Jethro Tull “Thick as a Brick” rendition, quiet but relentless at the piano in his own parallel plane…
See there! A man born
And we pronounce him fit for peace
There’s a load lifted from his shoulders
With the discovery of his disease
We’ll take the child from him
Put it to the test
Teach it to be a wise man
How to fool the rest
Exhausting the details finally of their shared narrative, Ragna invoked her croupier persona and scanned all of us guys in attendance and said, “Gentleman… my younger sister and I must take care of a few things before dinner so we can catch our train after.” Monika exhaled and looked in Beth’s general direction but not directly at her. Beth visibly sagged into the cushions of the couch, deflated. Monika and Ragna were headed to Venice, the lagoon city, where I had had been before Grindelwald. I piped in that I had come from there, and thought Venice was a one of a kind place that would likely be memorable for them, not as much to do perhaps as here in Grindelwald, but very “atmospheric”.
It was a twenty-one year old young woman speaking with six eighteen year old guys (not sure about Malc and Dred’s ages but just guessing) with two other eighteen year old women as key participants in the conversation as well. But the dynamics of the interaction for the past hour or so had been nothing but adult in so many ways. Nowhere were there the older adult overseers that had been a part of our lives in school in previous years. We were all functioning on our own, several hundred or even several thousand miles away from our homes and away from parental authority structures that might have previously guided our conduct, wanted or not. We were building a new community, our own generation’s larger community, on our own, thank you very much!
The rest of us assembled shared our leave dates from this little mountain winter wonderland that had brought us briefly together. Peter, Matt and Michael were headed to Vienna, and had even convinced Malc and Dred to tag along. Such were many of the backpacker’s loose travel plans that they could be changed radically on a whim. Beth, who was actually traveling on her own, unusual for a woman, said she was planning on spending another full day here before heading to Greece to escape the winter weather, which unlike here in the mountains, was not so pleasant to travel in down in the big cities. She and the other Aussies, so so far from their homes, often extended their European travels even longer than my ten weeks. Having heard Monika and Ragna’s plans to go to Venice, she said she might stop there as well on her way, and I noticed Ragna purse her lips just a bit more than usual.
I shared that I was planning to leave in the morning, down to Interlaken then via several trains to Munich and then on to Amsterdam, making my way to my flight home from London. A profound sense of sadness gripped me as I shared those words with the assembled group of my cohort and peers. Would we could have all launched into some joint project to keep us together for the next couple months. Something comparable to staging a play, like I had done so many times with my theater group comrades, that would give us an opportunity to collaborate and so many moments and venues to develop those intimate shared experiences and connections that were highlights of my theater experiences. What a group we could have been – I knew there was more inside me that I had not shared with them and it seemed we were just scratching the surface of what was inside each of us. Maybe Michael had gotten further “getting inside” Monika, but maybe that was just sex, for the sake of relieving the percolating hormones but not much more. Anyway I fantasized, with sadness, about what could have been.
Hearing my words about my home stretch travel plans and maybe intuiting some of my thoughts, they all nodded their heads knowingly, there was that complicated spectrum of emotions around “going home”, and all gave me their own version of an encouraging look. Beth asked me if I was going to take the boat from “the Hook” to England (across the North Sea) or hitchhike to Calais and cross (the English Channel) there, and I told her the former, she nodding in affirmation. Malc and Dred invited me to come up to Manchester to visit them if I was still in England on the 20th of December, when they were returning home for the holidays, but I told them I was flying home before then. Peter, Matt and Michael agreed we should have some sort of reunion once we were all back in the states, since Cleveland and Ann Arbor were only a three hour drive from each other.
Schuman finished his long opus at the piano. I actually made a point to applaud when he finally got up from the piano bench, saying “Thick as a brick… bravo!”, since as a stage performer myself I thought it was important to acknowledge anyone engaging in our “craft”, of entertaining and presenting thoughtful work to others. Following my lead, most of the others in our informal gathering clapped as well. Schuman seemed a bit surprised, but immediately liked that someone had acknowledged him. I felt good as well that in at least a little way I had taken yet another step beyond my shyness and timidity.
It was dinnertime, noodles in cream sauce with pieces of some sort of marinated meat, a nice savory vinegar flavor ran through the dish, and the group adjourned to the dining room and various related conversations continued regarding everyone’s paths forward. Without any words exchanged we all decided to sit together at one of the long tables, wanting to maintain that sense of solidarity we had developed over the last several days together, topped off by the conversation we had just had. Schuman even made the point of sitting next to me, when he had previously sat off in a corner somewhere when he ate. Peter was on my other side and Malc, Dred and Beth were across from us.
As we chowed down on our sour noodles, I asked Schuman about his interest in Jethro Tull and the words burst forth from him like they had been building up inside for a long time. He was studying music at the University of Berlin, working on his thesis on British folk music’s contribution to the roots of rock and roll. This led to a general discussion with everyone at our table contributing their ameteur musical historian wannabe two cents. We talked about our generation’s music, which had been developmentally important to each one of us in its own way, and a key cultural thread that wove all of us together. We talked about the various strands in the fabric of the rock music we all loved and shared. The roots from the black R&B and white folk music. The merger of the two by bands of the “British Invasion” – The Beatles from Liverpool in the industrial north of England, the Kinks, Stones and the Who from London in the south, bringing their compelling hybrid to the U.S. Dylan helping to bridge that gap as well, and bring an expectation of more thoughtful gravitas to the song lyrics.
We shared and reinforced the common mythology around our beloved music. The implicit, and at times even explicit sexuality, with the word “rock” standing in for the taboo word “fuck”. I shared that my local Ann Arbor-Detroit band the MC5 titled a song “Kick Out the Jams Motherfuckers”, only to have the radio stations and the record labels censor it to “Brothers and Sisters”, and most of the others, even the Aussie Beth, on the other side of the world, had somehow heard about that. There was the legend of Dylan meeting the Beatles, with him convincing them to write more thoughtful lyrics and them convincing him to go electric. Apocryphal perhaps, but it was a great story that made such sense. And of course a shared bemoaning of the untimely death of so many great young musicians – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Duane Allman, and Gram Parsons – and speculating what great musical heights they may have achieved if they had lived.
Eccentric Nerdy Schuman, with his Albert Einstein horizontal hair and wild thick glasses magnifying blue eyes, was at the epicenter of the discussion. He was an odd bird, who never initiated conversation, and would stare down at the table in a sort of thoughtful trance, but he listened to every word said and would respond with bursts of very insightful thoughts to things that the rest of us chimed in with, without really looking at you when he spoke. I shared growing up near Detroit with all the Motown soul music coming out of the “Motor City”. Schuman threw in the gospel roots of the call and response lyrics that gave many Motown songs their distinctive edge. Beth shared about Australian “oz rock” music, how it continued to struggle to get airplay on the radio stations in her home country which pretty much played only the American and British pop hits. Schuman said that one American rock song from 1954, Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”, was credited with getting an entire generation of Australian youth starting bands in the late 1950s, what was considered the “first wave” of Australian rock.
Everyone contributed to the musical “pot luck” with Schuman supplying the connections between the dishes. The Clevelanders chimed in with the psychedelic music of Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, and more mainstream bands’ albums like the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Revolver, and the Stones’ Their Majesty’s Satanic Request, with Schuman callin out Pink Floyd’s Syd Barret’s seminal “See Emily Play”. And Malc and Dred spoke to the continuing cauldron for musical innovation in the British Isles, with the Glam Rock bands like T Rex, The Sweet, Roxy Music, and of course Bowie. In response to that, Schuman really lit up, saying the British really excelled at borrowing and even stealing from other musical traditions, and that was what had inspired him to write his thesis. Monika, the daughter of a woman who had been a writer and performer, was all about the women singer songwriters – Aretha Franklin, Melanie, Bobbie Gentry, Carly Simon, Carole King and Joni Mitchell.
Finally, the very animated conversation was spent, we had all shared and we all basked in the gestalt of our actual meal, now nestled in our warm bellies, and our metaphorical meal of shared musical heritage. Ragna, who had had the least to say in the discussion, announced that she and Monika had to head down the hill to catch their train to Interlaken. The rest of us, even Schuman, agreed to walk down with them and head from the station to the tavern for our now nightly ritual. In contrast to the spirited exchange we had just had, we all trudged down the freshly snow covered road mostly in silence, perhaps in honor of a shared sense of endings, or perhaps caught up in the infectious quiet of the still falling snow. Monika and Ragna walked together in the lead, their big colorful packs on their backs for the first time since their arrival in Grindelwald, reminding us of the transient nature of our little cabal, that we were all travelers soon to head off every which way. Beth walked pensively with Schuman and I, she staring at the sky a lot, perhaps pondering what had kindled in the past 24 hours between her and Monika. Similarly, Michael, walking with Matt, looked deep in thought. Peter, Malc and Dred took up the rear, quietly talking amongst themselves off and on.
The train came into the station, brakes squealing and spitting steam. Monika, pack still on her back, gave everyone one of us, even Schuman, a big hug, saving the last and longest for Michael and Beth.
I must confess that I had dressed in anticipation of the possibility of this moment, enduring the chill with just my soft flannel shirt on with no t-shirt under and wearing my down jacket open, like Monika did. So when she hugged me, she in one of her ubiquitous t-shirts and of course no bra, I could feel her big breasts press against me, her nipples touching just below my own through just two thin layers of cotton fabric. My libido went absolutely wild, and it was a good thing that my penis was oriented such in my jeans that it could react without embarrassing me. It was a heartfelt embrace, two or three exquisitely long seconds of our bodies pressed together and smelling the floral shampoo scent in her hair, the muskier scent of her neck tinged with sweat, and the faint smell of deodorant from below. She was at that moment, as always, awesome, and it had been my pleasure to have had these three days to make her acquaintance, though not as intimately as Michael or perhaps Beth had. She spoke softly in my ear, “Give your mom a hug for me”, and then broke the embrace and moved on.
Ragna, who might more naturally have just shaken hands, followed suit by giving everyone a hug, though more formal and perfunctory in her case. Still our bodies were joined for a second or two, with the scent of the same shampoo as Monika in her hair, and when we separated she looked at me with those intense gray eyes and said that every time she played Russian Bank in the future she would think of me. I responded that for me, Hearts would never be quite the same, and I was rewarded by the faintest twinkle in those dark eyes and a slight crack of of a smile on her pursed lips.
And just like that the two of them boarded the train and were gone, the rest of us silently feeling the power of their absence as we trudged through the still falling snow from the station to the tavern. Seven of us guys, six with our big hair, and Matt with his shorter coiffure, once neatly parted but now mussed in solidarity, now gravitating into orbit around Beth, ready to take her place as our new Monika, and soon leading us to the tavern with her own smaller, but still worth watching in action, rear end.