The German for this day is the best: Mittwoch, mid week. That captures it simply, two syllables, everything’s pronounced, easy. Unlike the secular German word, the English and French words are pagan in their origins, Wednesday (Wodin’s day) and mercredi (Mercury’s day); nor are they pronounced as they are written: wennsday or mecredee.
These profound things occur to me on this particular morning because I slept about ninety (90) minutes last night. Just wonderful. Getting out of bed this morning, it was all the benefits of jet lag without having to pay anything, suffer the indignity of airport security, then sit for long hours in steerage, probably stuck next to a libertarian.
I’m thinking part of the reason for the 90 minutes was that on Tuesday, I made the mistake of getting up, making coffee, then shuffling to my desk, starting my work computer, and starting right in. No healthy morning rituals involving a change in clothes, exercise, and some sort actual human to human interaction. So I’ve started a new routine:
Wake up, bathroom, splash face
Put on clothes, maybe sweat pants and a pullover, maybe something closer to work attire
Take the elevator down, exit the building
Walk to the bakery
Socialize by ordering some chocolate croissants
Take the stairs up to the apartment (5th floor, European style)
The walk must easily be 100 meters, the bakery lady and I exchange easily twenty words, and man, those stairs. Adding this grueling routine to my day should make a world of difference to my sleep patterns.
I called my boss, Adrienne, and told her I was taking the day off. I suppose I could have finagled it into a sick day, but since I get six weeks vacation every year (in addition to the usual holidays), and I had not taken any so far, nor had Annie and I any vacation plans, and the year being half gone, that seemed greedy.
Wednesday is generally a quiet day: no meetings, right now Mike is on vacation for a few weeks, and while Vincent will be leaving soon, he’s around for another month, so nothing particularly urgent to focus on. Besides, it being August in Europe, a lot of people are on vacation, so not so much is getting done.
In my works and days in Silicon Valley, when building up a team I’d make sure my first hire was somewhat like me (this was usually someone I had worked with before), but thereafter, as much as possible, I’d try to create an eclectic team: across sexes, ages, nationalities, and educational background. Our team at Hamilton is not obviously eclectic, but nonetheless we seem to be pretty effective at what we do.
We’re all Americans, and alike enough that we get along, but different enough so that we complement each other, and are not at risk of groupthink. Boss Adrienne is a few years younger than me, from La Jolla, and her parents were Hungarian academics who fled that county after the 1956 uprising. She’s the only bona-fide technical writer, which is good, because Mike and I are refugees from other disciplines.
Mike is in his late thirties, and might be one of the smartest guys I’ve ever worked with. He’s a geo-physicist who studied at the Colorado School of Mines. After graduation, he worked intermittently doing exploration work for energy companies, either in the deserts of Mexico or maybe in the Canadian tundra. He’d make a year’s worth of money in two or three months, then spend the rest year travelling. One day on a sailboat in the Caribbean, he met a pretty Austrian woman, and the very next day, or nearly, they had two excellent children, a home in Laax, and all the trappings of domestic bliss.
Once again, I have lucked out not only with the company, but the people I work with.
Since I wasn’t going in to work, Annie told me to get cracking looking into all the particulars of a home purchase in Montpellier. She said it didn’t matter that I was really tired, just get it done. With us cutting loose the place in Chur, and us being more or less bona-fide in France (visas, employment, etc.) we’re looking to buy a place, and she wants it done soon.
I’ve been dealing with bureaucracy for a long time: that time I lost my military ID and had to appear before some sort of military tribunal at Ft. Belvoir (I was ten); the time my car got towed from in front of the Library of Congress, and I successfully negotiated through three different police and traffic offices to get my car back, all over the course about six hours on a Thursday evening; the time my car1Not the same car that was towed in DC was towed near the Moscone Center while working booth duty for MacWorld (fortunately, I already had some experience); and filling out several million SEC and IRS forms for some pre-IPO stock options that would eventually be worthless.
Now, having successfully moved to not only France, but Switzerland, I had kind of hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with any bureaucracy or paperwork for a while (‘a while’ = the rest of my life), but it looks like that’s not in the cards right now. I spent the next few hours investigating loans, terms, durations, deposits, and all the aspects of home ownership in France. It must be said that the Facebook group for Americans in France was extremely helpful for getting started.
Meanwhile, Annie kept sending me links of places she had found on real estate agent web sites.
Of pools and saunas
I took a couple naps late morning and early afternoon. I knew I was pretty tired because not only as soon as I laid down on the couch was I out, but there was none of the usual nasal-neurological events associated with normal sleep: just as you fall asleep, you emit a sort of rodent snort/snore that wakes you up, and your wife gives you a sad look; or the electric cattle prod to the legs jolt, where, nearing sleep, suddenly your entire lower body convulses in some sort of spasm that throws you several feet in the air.
Instead I just lay still, out, not moving, no spasms or snorts, waking in the exact same position as when I fell asleep.
But by late afternoon it was time to get out and do something. A swim was in order. It had been rainy and cold here most of the summer, and today was no different. Since it wasn’t going to be much more than 15 and was raining hard, I expected the outdoor, 50-meter pool would be nearly empty.
Actually, it wasn’t; apparently there were others with the same idea. But there was a lane free, and I had it all to myself. I hope to get in about 2,000 meters, but by 1400 meters my shoulder was bothering me, so I eased up, and after a few more laps went in.
At Chur’s main sport center at the Obere Au, they have a separate wing called the Sauna Landschaft, or sauna landscape. There are changing rooms, lounging areas, outdoor terraces, juice and coffee machines, and a series of hot and cold stations: a Finnish sauna, a bio-sauna (I’m not sure what makes it bio), some cold plunges, many showers, and a steam-bath2There are family friendly pictures here..
There’s nothing quite like going from a cold swim into a hot sauna. Although not in the pool all that long, a few of the fingers on my left had gone slightly numb and looked a bit pale, the same with some toes – signs I was getting cold. I stashed my suit and swim gear in my locker, wrapped the heavy, white cotton 3-meter towel around me, and went first to the Finish sauna. There’s a stove with a shelf of rocks on top, next to it a bucket of water with a ladle. The room itself is a series of terraced wooden benches, and there’s room enough to lay down. Normally there could be about eight people in there comfortably, but because of covid, occupancy is limited to three.
When I looked in there were already three people there, but one just shrugged his shoulders, and I took a spot away from everyone else, higher up, so it was hotter. Soon everyone else left, and I had the room to myself. I stretched out to be a little lower, and therefore cooler, and to be heated equally, not just my head getting hotter than my feet. As it was I was already hot through and through.
A little later I ladled some water on the rocks, and immediately burning waves of air flames scalded my face. Bad idea. Elder you are not as young as you used to be. I lay back down, but that was no help: if I had already been very hot before, now I was some sort of unwilling, non-superpowered human torch. I left the room.
The faucet on the shower was set to all the cold, and I left it there. When the water hit me, I was like some chunk of medieval iron sword, first heated and hammered, then immersed in cold water. I gasped for breath while I slowly turned numb in that glacier melt alpine shower. I sat in the lounge for a while, until I estimated my temperature had lowered to something like 200, then I did it again.
After the time in the sauna, I went to the steam-bath area (Dampfbad). On the way there, I passed on of the cold plunges, a sort of 6 x 6 x 6 tiled tub filled with cold water. In it was a man, face down, near the bottom, not moving. I wasn’t worried because he must be holding himself down somehow to stay so close to the bottom, but I wasn’t absolutely certain something wasn’t wrong, so I stood, watched, and waited, noting where the nearest SOS button was.
A few more seconds passed with still no movement, but just as I started towards him, he surfaced looked up, smiled, knew that I was wondering if he was dead or not, and gave a laugh and a thumbs up.
Until I started swimming at the Obere Au, I’d never been in a steam bath. I was skeptical about them, thinking they belonged to a generation of outdated exercise methods, like those vibrating belt machines that were supposed to jiggle you to fitness. I was wrong. The steam bath is excellent, and always the last station in my Sauna Landschaft ritual.
The steambath is a large room, tiled all over, with maybe a seven foot ceiling. Around the wall is a tiled bench. There are two doors: one to enter from the men’s lounge, and the other from the women’s. There are two thick white hoses hanging by either door; when you first enter, you detach the hose from its hanger, turn on the water, and rinse down the area where you want to sit. Courtesy has it that you do the same thing when leaving.
The steam is generated from a single appliance covered by a grate, and located in the floor near the men’s door. It cycles on maybe every seven minutes or so, running for about two minutes while sending hot steam around the room. For me, the first time, it was unexpectedly intense, and while in some ways hotter than the Finnish sauna, more enjoyable. If the sauna is a Weber grill, then the steambath is a fast acting crockpot.
There were only two people when I came in, and I rinsed my area and sat down. Not longer after the room filled up with steam. I took advantage of the heated tissues to do some stretching: of all the facets of athletics—strength, endurance, coordination, flexibility—flexibility is the first to go and the hardest to get back. The steam was hot, penetrating, and I sat through a couple rounds, then rinsed off my place, and left.
A back door leads to a terrace and sitting area. It’s raining, and while there is a covered area with chairs, I stepped out into the rain. There’s a sun’s worth of heat in me—I could melt an iceberg. I step out of my flip flops onto the cold wet stone – I’m so hot right now I need something to pull the heat out of me.
I look up. It’s overcast and the cloud cover is down low, covering the tops of the mountains. Lower down there are breaks, with moments of tree and stone, then a wisp of cloudfog goes by, covers it for a moment. There are moments when a view of the clouds and fog and trees on the rocks of the mountains, you feel like you are in a Chinese pen and ink drawing.
I miss horribly Annie-girl and Catherine-pig, les frères Sweetman, Kieran and Andre. But right now, just for this moment, I could stand here forever. There’s a moment of non-thinking non-being. I’m just a random collection of insignificant cosmic dust, individually billions of years old, but this particular instance is now sixty, dust that for just a moment, somehow, took the form of me. What the hell? In just a nanosecond I will be, it will be something else.
A crow flies past the clouds and trees and mountains.
It’s time to go.
Promenade sentimentale3After the movie Diva. The movie is … Continue reading
After the pool, I took the long way back to the Altstadt and my apartment. Instead of getting off the bus at the Bahnhof, closer in, I got off at the Bener Park, then walked through the leafy, green, quiet streets. Along the Obere Plessurstrasse lovely, large homes have been subdivided into apartments, with quiet yards behind iron fences and high hedges.
It was in Heidelberg (1983/84), that I picked up the habit, became a sort of urban night walker. My apartment was in a suburb of Heidelberg, a district called Leiman. I lived in a Wohnungemeinshaft, a shared apartment: Suzanne, another university student from Karlsruhe; Hatch, a garden laborer from Stuttgart; and Anita, a model from Poland. Because Leiman was further out, I’d usually spend the entire day in Heidelberg, going to classes, in between going to the student center, canteen, or visit friends who were lucky enough to have apartments close in. As often as not afterwards, we’d go out to a Kneipe, a student pub, and I was often late getting home.
The tram out to Leiman was at Bismarckplatz, a fifteen minute walk down the Hauptstrasse from where classes and friends were. Usually late at night, almost always after ten, especially, I would set off from the city center towards Bismarckplatz.
There was a peculiar satisfaction being the only person about in this normally busy area, now deserted. The only sounds were my steps on the street; maybe, probably the weather was rainy or cold; and over my left shoulder was that crazy, Romantic, war damaged castle, up on the hill, illuminated (here, once again the German word is pretty good: beleuchtet). Now and then I’d stop to turn, and look back at it.
If I was too late to Bismarckplatz and the trams had stopped running (0030 or so), I’d have to take a cab when, and the cabs were large, four door Mercedes, nicer than any car my family owned. Fortunately at that time the dollar was strong against the West German Mark, so I could afford the occasional extravagance. But that only happened two or three times.
Now in Chur, at the Grabenstrasse, I turn left and take an indirect route, the long way. Once again I have the chance to walk the pedestrian only streets of a lovely town, late at night, few or no people around. I’ve made my way to the Reichgasse. It’s been raining, but recently stopped; I stop by the tables and chairs are out in front of Cafe ELA, and of the sixteen or so chairs, one is dry (it was under an awning), so instead of going back to the apartment, I take the one dry seat.
The waitress, pale with dark hair pulled back, pretty, possibly Greek, takes my order. After a swim and all that heat, beer is needed as an electrolyte replacement. Mike always recommends the Chopfab beer, and while I don’t like it out of the can, I order a pint, and it’s perfect.
I watch people go by; there have been more tourists lately: I’m hearing high German and French more and more. With Italian it’s hard to be sure, because there are many native Italian speakers in Chur. It’s past nine, and still overcast, but even so at this latitude, there’s still some ambient light.
I’ll come here tomorrow night, with Julia and Matthias, German colleagues at Hamilton, who are a couple, who live just around the corner in Chur. After a second beer it’s time to go. I think I’ll be okay now.