Friday, 31 August 2018

We ❤️ Mountains

There are 17 of us on this family holiday, so I’ve been wondering how to write about it. A communal experience needs a communal voice, so I’ve consulted the others.  “What should I write about?” I asked them. There has been a wide range of responses.

I first came here 49 years ago with my parents and 3 older brothers. Today, 15  of us getting into the cable car up to our walk to Elsighorn weighed in at 1 tonne. Or so the digital display on the cable car read.  We weighed the same on the way down, having carried up our lunch, eaten it after our descent from the summit. (2 were missing from today’s trip because of the demands of revision. But I’ve been asked not to write about that, especially as for others, this holiday is about rest - staying half board in a hotel, not having to think about cooking, shopping, washing up.)

Adelboden, Canton Bern, is a place where people work hard at continuity. There is little sign of change. There is little sign of decay. The shops in the main street are mostly the same as the ones we first saw in 1969. The place where we’ve been for ice cream treats, Tearoom Schmid, is the same tearoom we couldn’t wait to visit when we returned in 1975 and 1981.  The Coupe Danemark - vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce - is still on the menu, and still costs around 10 SF, although back then we got many more francs for our pounds. The stationery shop is set out in the same way - shelves of brightly coloured paper down one side, calendars opposite, islands displaying postcards, small boxes of paper clips, paper napkins bearing the Swiss flag, and other gifts and essentials. The chalets, which are lined up in the village and scattered on the hillsides, are still showing late displays of red geraniums. They conform to a shape and are made from wood. Newer chalets are roofed with tiles, though get further into the mountains and many are still roofed with wooden shingles.

The bears we saw in Bern yesterday, despite their expanded living quarters, looked depressed. They used to occupy a circular concrete pit. Now they have the river bank of the Aane, water to bathe in and trees to climb.  But they’re still fenced in.  Necessarily - we understand that. They’re a symbol of stifled creativity - or a symbol of Bern. It depends how you look at things.

In 1969, the first thing that happened to us children was a telling off. We rolled down the grassy bank in front of Pension Hari not realising that all grass is flesh - or milk - and someone’s livelihood. The cow is almost sacred here, and the sounds of their bells hanging around their necks are mellower than the peal of any church bells. We saw the cows being brought down from the grassy high summer alps, being walked through the village, their heads decorated with flowers, readying for colder weather.

This time some of us got told off for playing in the newly added ball pit. Not me, obvs.

Compared to holidays we had when younger, this holiday has been pretty much the same. Except there are more of us, and everyone is over 18. And it’s so easy. Last time we came en masse, in 2010, some of us - a lot of us - were under 18.  Not me, obvs.

The generations and the newcomers and the longest-serving family members have mixed well. Something new is the hot tub.  This has helped the mixing up. It’s a lovely place to relax after toiling up a mountain. Which reminds me, something that’s the same has been the weather.  Hot and clear blue skies for 2/3 of the time and low cloud and rain for 1/4. And a wonderful thunderstorm makes up the difference. It all goes down in the mountains. Or up - Mars rose red and bold two clear nights in a row to the right of Lohner.

Something that’s changed is that Wildstrubel’s flat top has a thinnner layer of snow on it than we’ve ever seen. This melting fact kept me awake for a long time the other night. But those who walked down beside the waterfall from Entsligenalp took longer than planned because it was so beautiful and they kept stopping to look.

There are amazing tall sunflowers in vases all over the hotel even when the sun is hidden by cloud or the Earth’s rotation. If you buy beer from the supermarket, they let you hire a crate to carry the bottles and refund you 35 cents per bottle when you return them.

The sunflowers weren’t here when we worked here, at the hotel, my brothers and I, one by one in our year between school and university. It’s odd how we can be nostalgic for something we didn’t particularly enjoy - but there was so much on offer in addition to the loneliness and isolation felt on living away from home for the first time. Learning to ski. Learning German (Swiss German). Chocolate. Being paid into a Swiss bank account. Learning how to wrap a boiled egg in greaseproof paper. Dreaming for the first time in a foreign language.

Each morning we’ve had the evening’s dinner menu given to us. When it said ‘Brokkolisuppe’, even those who don’t know German could feel they were getting the hang of things.

The cable cars are equipped with ladders and an escape hatch in their roofs. Is this reassuring, or not?

There are people who aren’t here. Hi to Ben, Becca, Naomi and Hannah.  Wish you were here.

One of the last holidays with Mum and Dad was here in 1987. Mum wanted to come another time. She loved the Swiss Alps - loved the purity of the air, the infinite variety of views of the mountains - glowing red at sunrise or sunset, and the friendship of people who shared her faith: the family Hari who welcomed us here after our parents had helped them out in London in the early 60s. Katie’s not here either: our stepmother joined in with everything in 2010, including speeding down the Rodelbahn above Kandersteg.

The way the Swiss have developed their countryside but have done it in a way that preserves so much of what is enjoyable is admirable, and much appreciated by marmots. The public transport deserves a mention all of its own.

Even as I write this, games are being played: Bananagrams, pool, table tennis - and some of us are going to re-watch the Sound of Music, sing along to ‘Climb Every Mountain’.

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