It was Thursday November 29 1973 and I woke up to a softer more diffuse light coming through the small hostel bunk room windows, high up on the walls so you really could not see in or out very well. The energy of the outside felt very different, subdued and very quiet. A couple guys were still sleeping but most were up and out. I generally slept in a t-shirt and underwear, my long underwear here in wintry Grindelwald, so I pulled on my jeans, grabbed my towel and washcloth hung on my pack frame overnight to dry, dug my toiletries and my flannel shirt out of my pack. I sniffed the shirt to make sure it did not stink too much from past days’ sweat… so so. I headed to the bathroom and tried the shower to make sure it would actually get warm this morning before committing to taking my clothes off and entering the stall. This place had been the exception to the general rule that hostels did not have hot water in their showers, but after two morning’s of glorious hot showers I still did not trust it. But the water was hot, so for the third straight day, after a deliciously long hot shower, my body started the day completely squeaky clean.
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. But if they had had another clandestine sexual encounter overnight, it was not happening while I was in there. 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 gliding 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 dead quiet and I stood completely still savoring that lack of sound. When the snow falls like that with no wind to generate any whooshing noise, the big flakes absorb all the sound. The only thing even the least bit audible is when a flake falls on the outer part of your ear canal and makes that ever so slight crinkle noise as it loses its structural integrity and transitions from a solid crystalline matrix to a 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, maybe six 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.
Yeah I was in the moment but not completely outside of time, there still was the matter of breakfast, wonderful granola and fresh fruit yogurt, already paid for and only served until nine 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 unleashed underneath as they had been yesterday and the day before. 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 all the guys were in orbit around her, this morning including Derrick, his two new British ‘mates’ Malc and Dred, 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, clandestine lovebirds. Noting the clock on the wall was almost at nine, 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 with her spoonless left hand. Just eighteen 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 impared by my libido.
In fact it was surely my libido that dialed up the Door’s ‘Twentieth Century Fox’ on my mind’s jukebox, and I guiltily and greedily did not hit the stop button, hearing the band’s signature organ riffs in the background…
She’s the queen of cool
And she’s the lady who waits
Since her mind left school
It never hesitates
She won’t waste time
On elementary talk
Cause she’s a twentieth century fox
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 anointed some other guy as the object of her lust, that being Michael across from her. I mean I totally got it, 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 younger 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.
So all us guys had a thing for Monika, but I was late to the party realizing that I had a thing for Ragna too. It was the story of my life that 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 said that she’d “love you to teach me”. 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 could well 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 defences 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 down to her bra and panties, saying to me in her modulated monotone 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, or feared, she was somehow telepathic.
Maybe she even was, but she instead 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 continue 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 really unique thing to do, and a tale worth telling ever after once you’d seen it.
“You guys want to come with us?” Monica queried with her wonderful rendition of the word “guys” with that ‘s’ sound instead of a ‘z’ at the end.
I was so 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 types, and maybe have some sort of special moment with Ragna, 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. Derrick, Matt and notably Michael passed as well. 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 and thrift. So they headed out, all full of anticipation of their adventure ahead, and the rest of us stayed behind, hoping at least to hear all the details when they returned.
Derrick suggested that we ‘guys’ (with a ‘z’) 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 forever 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 with his travel comrades. I had first noticed this new (or at least different) persona that first night at the tavern in town when he had instigated and then 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, Malc and Dred, 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 Derrick and I, Michael and Matt, plus Malc and Dred, 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. As the big snow flakes continued to flutter down out of the sky, the first time we did a hair raising ride down into the gully on our little trays, 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 all tired of tray riding and the younger kids were starting to warm up to us in their midst, Derrick suggested that we organize a game in the snow and include some of the younger kids who wanted to join us. Like at the tavern last night and at the hostel earlier, it did seem like Derrick was an instigator.
Malc seemed keen on that suggestion. “We should play ‘Bulldog’. You Yanks ever do that one? You start with two ‘bulldogs’ in the center, and everyone else tries to run from one side of the field to the other without getting tackled by the two of them. If you get tackled you become another ‘buldog’ when everybody left tries to run back.”
Derrick nodded approvingly, “We called it ‘Bullrush’.”
Dred chimed in, always seeming to be the friendly contrarian to Malc, or at least providing a different perspective. “My mates and I called it ‘Zombies’. You blokes ever see Night of the Living Dead? We were all bricking it after that one!”
Matt, Michael, Malc and I all nodded that we’d seen it and had all shit a few bricks ourselves, while Derrick played it above the fray.
“Yeah”, he drawled, “Kinda’ scary I guess, undead and all.”
One of the young maybe ten year old boys standing nearby listening to us nodded and said, “Zombies!”
His friends looked at him unknowing and he said to them in German, “Untote”. I knew ‘tote’ was German for ‘dead’, so ‘untote’ had to be ‘undead’.
So we organized the game, defining the field and the end lines. To give the young kids that joined us the advantage, we older types who were ‘it’ behaved like slower moving zombies when trying to catch them rather than faster moving bulldogs when after each other. It wasn’t quite like the previous sledding and traying where the age differences between us older teens and the pre teens had completely disintegrated. We now had a role to play as relative ‘elders’, making sure the younger kids didn’t get injured.
Through many rounds of the game everyone was tackling everyone else, it was my opportunity to get closer with Michael. On several occasions we were the two who were ‘it’, and enjoyed our physical collaboration particularly tracking down Derrick (of course) as bulldogs, and the younger kids as zombies. Then it morphed into a friendly competitiveness when we were up against each other, bulldog versus pray. I found I enjoyed being tackled by him and it seemed he the same for me.
Once I ended up on top of him as I had been told in detail Monika had when the two played ‘bumper trays’ sliding down the road to the tavern. Me now squatting on his stomach and him making only half-hearted attempts to squirm and get away. The urge came upon me to put snow in his face like Monika had. Was it playful payback somehow for being jealous of the two of them supposedly having had sex? And if so, was my ‘revenge’ on him for stealing Monika from me or on Monika by stealing her ‘guy’ from her? Either way, I found myself flinging two gloves full of fresh snow in his brown friendly face. Though initially shocked, I quickly sensed his enjoyment of the attention, and we had a ‘moment’ of sorts though it wasn’t going to go any farther than that.
It was yet another instance of the intimacy I craved, regardless of the sex of my partner of the moment. And 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 continuing escalating physical encounters in the Bulldog game were framed as ‘punishment’ or ‘payback’, but there 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 snow fort before the ‘hostilities’ began. The fresh snow was great packing and beach ball 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 into late afternoon, we very theatrically ‘surrendered’, and were led out of our fort single file, hands above our heads, and then the kids went crazy destroying it. But I had taken my vengeance!