Thursday, February 25, 2010

SUGAR TOWN

In the dark cave, her flashing eyes caught mine, and smiled. I smiled back… I saw her mouth move but in the spiraling mist, the thunderous roar of that crashing tongue of cascading water killed the words before they could reach me… The narrow cavern at Trummelbach falls, near Interlaken, Switzerland was packed with tourists, one serpentine queue rolling down in a hurry, with her, as she struggled to keep pace, even as I wriggled up absent-mindedly with the other queue, marvelling at the gorgeous gorges and little canyons that wound their way around us. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but even as we crossed, before I could stop and talk, the surging crowds had carried us away in opposite directions…

That evening, by a little bench in Interlaken… Behind me ran a quiet street where an elderly couple walked arm in arm, with a big black dog. They were both looking up at the evening sky… a canvas of bright blue, streaked with fl ashes of vermilion and gold to the west, and the tall slim spire of a moss capped mountain to the east. As your gaze runs along the contours of the mountain, at its foot, next to the street behind me, were the prettiest urban homes you could ever hope to see; sloping red roofed villas with tall French windows, hiding behind beautifully manicured gardens and surrounded with picket fences, hedgerows and flower bowers… The bench was looking over a grassy bank that sloped gently into the waters of the lake, where a pair of swans glided across the water, their reflections, slender grace painted in radiant white, painted exquisite patterns in the shimmering waters of the lake. As I sat on the bench, my wife put her head on my shoulder and we both looked at golden blue waters and I whispered an unspoken prayer into the gentle breeze that played with her hair… ‘that one day, many many years from now, may we too walk along such a street, immersed in the beauty of life and love by such a lake, with such a dog (now don’t you grudge me that dog, honey), just like the old couple that had now reached a handsome old arched bridge that stretched across the lake… It was, to me, one of the most beautiful and romantic corners anywhere along the whole length of the Milky Way.

Interlaken is not a town steeped in history. You won’t find monuments dedicated to heroes and their victories, nor modern architectural marvels that celebrate new-found prosperity. Interlaken isn’t gorgeous or grand and yet nestled between those green hills, it is subtle and serene in its beauty, more Norah Jones than Zeta Jones. And that’s how Interlaken is... If someone asks you what’s there to see in Interlaken, you wouldn’t know what to say, or what not to say… A Utopian wonder, for it’s a town born, not of Nature ravished by man, but of Nature courted and romanced… where the old and the new don’t jostle and bicker but blend to transcend.

Across the lake, I could see gardens and other villas. In one such garden, there were Falabellas, beautiful little horses no bigger than a large dog, prancing around, their long fl owing blonde manes and tails floating like golden rivers in the wind. It was like walking into a fairy tale. At that moment it was impossible to imagine that anybody who lived in this town could ever be sad, unwell or ever die.

And yet if you so choose, Interlaken’s kerb-side cafes packed with travellers from all over would rescue you from the reverie and it is only a few hours away from the cosmopolitan bustle of Geneva.

“Hi…!” We turned towards the voice. It was Sarah, the girl from the cave! My wife and I had been taking photographs along the bridge yesterday evening and struggling to take a picture of the two of us together when Sarah, who had been strolling along the bridge offered to take the picture. Eventually, we got talking and found out that she was a tourist like us, but unlike most tourists, she was out to discover herself… she and a friend of hers had set off from New York and landed in Jerusalem. From there, they went to Turkey and then back-packed their way through Europe… I remember making some terrible joke about ‘finding her Abraham’ which she ignored with a polite smile. Then I asked “Interlaken must surely be the prettiest little town you could ever hope to see, isn’t it?”. Sarah took in the view, and then she said “I’m going to Trummelbach tomorrow (so were we)… will tell you after I’ve seen it and the rest of this town…” But that was yesterday.

“Hello Sarah! What were you trying to tell us this morning?” I asked. “Oh, just that this town’s really beautiful, but you’ve got to believe me when I say, there’s a town prettier still…”

Prettier than this? Impossible, I thought… but that’s a story for another time, from another time…

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