THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
Woke up startled by the sound of clanging bells ringing all over Zermatt. Thee is no snooze on these things and I suspect no one sleeps in. From my bed, once the bells stop, fat little sparrows start choir practise on my balcony which is yodeladen with overstuffed flower boxes. I can see the mountain and watch climbers heading up the Matterhorn like tiny dots. These early bird hikers snake up in neat little rows of orange, white and red. They meander through the pines and in every group there is one or two stragglers and one exuberant orange dot leading the charge. I see a faster, even tinier line of dots wiggling up the mountain and can only assume these are kids heading for the school. Oh we are ants indeed. I could watch this show all day, but I need to get up and buy a sweater. Perhaps a full on winter coat. I seemed to have missed fall completely and plunged into winter. The air is fresh, the sky is bright and it's gonna be a fabulous day. Today I go up the Matterhorn! - Later.
This has indeed been one of those close call sort of days where mischievous sprites seem to follow me around trying to fuck up my day. It went like this;
I packed up a great deal of stuff in Italy but there was no post office so I have been dragging them around for a few days. I happily went to the Post office first thing in the morning. The Post office does not open until 2pm. Why? Because I have big heavy packages which I need to lug around Zermatt all day. I returned at 2 only to find they do not take Visa. I did not have enough cash, so I schlepped them back up the mountain to my hotel. Of course I cannot find my way and circle up and down mountain trails until I hit a clearing and finally could see my hotel. It was down in the next valley a million miles away.
After my three hour trek over hill and dale, I made it back to my hotel and considered a nap, but seeing as I had done nothing but walk, it was imperative I retrace my steps back to the Post office with my bundle. So much for lightening my load.
On the way I found a hair salon and felt this was a good place to park and rest. I would leave with a renewed sense of purpose and a fabulous hair cut. To my surprise the hairdresser seemed ecstatic to see me as if we were old friends. I smiled and we laughed, but I did not get his Swiss humour until he told me he saw me walking down the street yesterday and was thrilled I planned on cutting my hair. hmmm.
I told him to just clear a path through my bangs, and in his Swinglish he said "NO! Yoo an awtist! Yoo hair shood b edgy and cool!" Without warning Edward Scissorhands pulled out a razor and started slicing away. For about 20 seconds I liked the cut. I gave him a 20F tip.
Back at the Post Office feeling fresh and confident, I unloaded my packages, filled out a mass of paper work and with cash in hand approached the teller.
"Yoor 20F short. Ofcourse I am.
Undaunted, I grabbed the brown paper beasts and headed across town to get my ticket to ride the Glacier Express. Once there, I was informed if I wait until after 4pm it's half price! I wander around Zermatt sightseeing and looking for a sweater that does not look like one my grandmother made. No luck, so I return to the ticket booth.
"One ticket for the Glacier Express!" Says I.
"Yoor Visa decline." Says she.
No problem. I know the route to my hotel like the back of my freezing hand. Back up the mountain I go to get the left over euro from Italy in my suitcase. I need an Advil anyway for my very sore feet. These little Sketchers are doing their best, but even they know we have bit off more than their little soles can chew.
I head down the mountain and just for effect, it begins to rain. Not Canada rain, fat relentless, ice cold Glacier rain. Halfway down, my feet remind me I forgot the Advil. I exchange said euro to francs and with cash in hand, like a frozen wet rat with a crazy hair cut I buy my damn ticket. I call the accountant about my Visa, but they are in California and fast asleep. I reason I will be just fine as all I have to do is get up the Matterhorn and decide if food or postage is more urgent when I return.
It's almost 7pm when I finally board the train. To my surprise there are only 4 of us. Me and three men with bikes. I cannot imagine why they have bikes, but I dismiss the curiosity when I realize I am terrified five minutes into the trip. I am the only person in town without a coat. My t shirt and shorts are soaked so I huddle with my giant packages to keep warm.
The view is spectacular once I accept my impending death. I take a million photos of sheep as I can see Zermatt shrinking to the size of a postage stamp. The dots have been obliterated and there is nothing but snow, rocks and a beautiful approaching sunset. Truly magnificent.
Just before we get to the top, the bikers get off and I realize they are going to ride down the mountain back to town. What an incredible thing to do! I watch them high five and zoom down the edge of the mountain, then realize I am the only person on the entire train.
When we get to the top, it is mind-blowing. The glacier's claw creeps so close to the tracks and the Matterhorn is nothing but awe inspiring and threatening. I wonder who would win in a fight; Mount Vesuvius or The Matterhorn. Tough call.
Just as I am pondering and taking it all in, the conductor yells from the front, "Yoo get off." But I don't wanna get off. I shake my frozen head. "Yoo go." I point at the restaurant further up the track, "Can I go there?" "No, yoo can't go there. Yoo come back one hour and one half. I go now." The bossy door opens and I go.
The train rolls away and I am standing in my shorts and t shirt on the top of a glacier all by myself in snow lit darkness. The good news is my clothes are no longer wet. The bad news is they are frozen as is my hair and my ice block packages.
Now I like to believe I am an optimist, but in that moment it all made perfect sense. My Visa was declined because I would not be needing it any longer. My Sketchers and I were at the end of our lives and my new fancy haircut was so my children could have an open casket service for their edgy mom. God must have wanted me to look my best for our meeting and I sadly accept Heaven must be like Milan.
Standing there on the glacier it was so remarkably quiet I was convinced this would be my final shut up. I had no Advil, because I would no longer know pain, I had no money because ghosts are frugal. For whom the bells toll? Got it. For me. But why God did I need to bring these packages? WHY? I set them down in the snow and decided to take my last walk in this world. Hypothermia won't care if I walk or stand still so I set out on the Glacier.
I didn't think I went very far and realized I just didn't seem to care anymore. This was a glorious place to die and they would bury me down in the town in the little cemetery of all the victims the Matterhorn had claimed. It was not how I expected to go, and I did want to cry, but my eyeballs were frozen and the whole idea seemed pretty exciting for a moment. I could see the headline, "Mother of Deadmau5 found dead on her solo trek up the Matterhorn." My children would tell stories of how their brave little morbidly obese old mother travelled from Canada to Greece, to Italy and Switzerland on a journey of self discovery and adventure.
My diary would become a best-seller and of course a movie. I was no longer a free spirited traveller trapped in the body of a chicken shit. I had taken my fear of flying to task, climbed mountains taller than my greatest fear of heights! Why I had been lost, injured, without wine and suffered innumerable bouts of credit. I had become edgy indeed. No, I had become what edgy aspires to! This was an excellent moment to die! I forgot to take photos! Oh these would be my best photos ever! Why one of these will make an excellent cover for the book!
No chance. Some fool filled the iPad with blurry photos of farm animals and like my phone, it was dead as I would soon be. More confirmation. Dead people don't tweet.
That whole confident scenario only lasted about 5 minutes. I reverted back to freezing and hating my packages so much I felt the need to kick them and then felt bad that I did. I picked them up and started to head back to die closer to the track so they could find my body. Almost immediately I fell through the snow so deep that my packages sat on the edge of the snow like a shelf at my waist. Heaven forbid they should go under. Fucking packages. I couldn't even remember what the hell was in them!
After a bit of clever snow stair making and flailing around, I got back on the crispy surface and considered my plight. Surely I had been there for an hour by now. Surely the train would return any minute. Surely if I have not died yet there is no reason to do so now. It must be the packages. God must want desperately for me to get to the Post Office!
So with that grand hope, I trudged toward the tracks. As anyone can tell you I have no sense of direction and in none did I see tracks. I believed I was going mad at this point. This happens to us explorers often. Because I cannot decide which way to go, I choose to just stand there. I could follow my foot prints, but oh look, lots of people have been walking around up here and they seem to all have chosen different ways to go.
In my insanity I hallucinate I hear a voice. "Halloooo!" "Halloooo!"
"Hello" says I to the voice I can only assume is Jesus.
It IS Jesus! Jesus and his sheep! He's wearing a parka and snow shoes, but it's definitely him.
"Yoo don't be here! Go to train!" says he.
He is far away and pointing to what are obviously train tracks and relatively close after all. How did I not see train tracks and who grows sheep on the top of a mountain? Just as I have that thought, I see the train coming down said track. The shepard is waving madly. He clearly does not want any sleep over guests tonight. I wonder if my chances are better to get to the train or wrassle him for his coat and snow shoes.
I realize my chances suck at both, but I launch into a clumsy Quasimoto run and just when I think I will make it, one of my Sketchers gives up and leaves my foot. I know I swore at it and hurt it's feelings, but it was a dire time and there could be no mercy. I retrieved it and ran waving my packages in front of me as if that would stop the train.
With literally seconds to spare, I locked eyes with the conductor and heard the shriek of brakes. The doors hissed open like the gates of heaven and that so cold train was all of a sudden a balmy resort in Spain. The train did not move for a bit and a curious stillness set in. A moment later, the conductor came along with a blanket and some sort of Swiss scolding which ended with him pointing at a train shelter on the other side of the tracks.
Ah yes, a train shelter. Why that must be for people to wait for the train rather than standing out on the glacier. I am willing to bet my almost lost life it is heated.What a fabulous idea. Well done Swiss people. Well done.
As the train headed back down the mountain I tried to lock the views into my memory. My memory sucks so bad. When I got back to the station, the sheep were posed in stillness at the gate for that perfect photo with Clydesdale horses nodding above them. My hair and clothes had thawed and the brown paper of the packages had turned to a slippery mucky skin.
Making the trek back up to my hotel was easy. People looked at me with what I believe to be awe. I'm sure it was my edgy haircut.
At the hotel, the concierge greets me. He notices my sopping packages and tells me I can leave them at the desk as the postman makes a pick up there each morning. I can't even make words so I just smile and leave them on the counter.
In my room I run the hottest bath the Swiss will allow and bubble it up with two rations of complimentary shampoo. I open six tiny bottles of rye and line them up on the edge. Between each I put a chunk of Toblerone. I climb in and ponder. The bathtub is long and thin with a glass enclosure. I feel like I have been laid to rest in a bubbly coffin. So much better.
Pondering is a good way to understand when you zigged when you should have zagged. The packages did not have to be a part of my day. Two bottles in, I remember tucking 200 euro into a pocket I made in my bra (for emergencies) weeks ago. I flubbed over the side, found said soaking wet bra and said funds. Not only could I have mailed the packages and paid for my haircut, I could have bought my ticket AND eaten steak again. Three bottles in I remember the other clever pocket in my shorts for holding much needed Advil. Flub flub…yes…soggy, but there all along. I get so smart after a few tiny bottles of Rye. I remember my pin for my VISA. It is not the same as my checking account. As I knock off the last bottle I realize Toblerone is not a meal, so I get out, dry my crazy hair and put on every piece of clothing I have left. My shoes are still squeaking with water, but they are the only ones I have so I put them on and waddle back into town for dinner with my stash of cash.
In a sweet little Italian restaurant I sit by the fire and look out the window at the mountains. After only one glass of wine I have become a genius of recall. I know what is in the packages!
When I get back to the hotel I plan to retrieve them, but the desk is closed and the man has gone home for the night.
Here in my bed, I write all this and draw a few pictures of the matterhorn to make up for the lost images. Insane as the day was, it was also remarkable and from the warmth of these blankets I have only one regret. I should have listened to the packages. They tried to get my attention all day and I blatantly ignored them, even scolded them for their inconsideration. Who knew that if I would have opened them up, I would have found not only a pair of dry running shoes, but also the only sweater I brought (which I decided I would never need) and ditto on a pair of long pants which seemed a ridiculous thing to have in Italy in August.
I make a note to remember where there are mountains, there is probably snow and where there is snow, I should not be an idiot in shorts.
Out the window a million stars are shining and the Matterhorn has returned to the distance where it belongs.