So the Swiss greet a pair or more (one person alone gets an unadorned Grüezi) and we’ve had good opportunity to practice it today, moving beyond Heidiland and into Graubünden, the remote part of Switzerland where the very old language Romanisch still has a tiny stronghold in the population.
As we left the hotel in Bad Ragaz this morning, the proprietor was looking at our website, very enthused about it, though he calls himself an “unbeliever” raised under communism in Croatia with relatives who are both Catholic and Protestant Christians, Muslims, and Jews. He was curious about prayer; we told him we’d pray for him as we continued on.
The weather was once again beautiful, clear, and even hot. Unfortunately we got a late start (again) and just as we were leaving Bad Ragaz were startled to see the road signs indicating the distance to the next destination, quite a bit farther than expected. It turns out that our Google browser, being set to the American version, calculates distances in miles, not in kilometers, but we are so accustomed to using kilometers in Europe that it didn’t even occur to us to check which measurement was being used. Which means a distance that we thought would be a breezy 18 km turned out to be a lengthy 18 miles (about 30 km). That was discouraging. It turned out to be a long day’s walk physically as well as psychologically and we were really feeling it by the end. (On the bright side, my flawlessly lanced blisters have given me no grief at all.)
As difficult as anything is the fact that we are too tired to read at night or follow the news or really anything else, so we have no new input going into our brains. In the long hours of doing nothing but walking our minds get stuck like scratchy records on the same thoughts over and over. I have never been so bored in the presence of my own mind. I also note that we are just about at the midpoint of our trek. The monastic tradition came up with the handy term “noonday devil”—in the morning you’re fresh and eager, in the evening the end is in sight, but at noon you have neither benefit and that’s when the trouble comes. This is the noon of our pilgrimage and the restlessness has struck. I’m hoping the striking changes in landscape, flora, fauna, culture, and architecture in Italy will cure this.
The little variety in the scenery today was that, unlike in days past, we walked by a lot of industry. It’s amazing how the alpine landscape is marred by an enormous factory declaring that it makes “energy out of trash.” In principle we like the idea, though we kind of wish it could happen somewhere else. Same for the endless string of concrete factories. It occurred to me that this is a good argument in favor of tourism—there is a vested interest in preserving the natural landscape unspoiled. Heidiland may have its own tackiness, but at least it’s on a small scale and more congruous with the surroundings.
Besides the human impact, we saw still more of the Rhine—the most striking part was where a tributary from the valley, gray with silt, flowed into the milky turquoise of the main branch, creating two distinct colors of river flowing side by side. There were a few lizards, a few cows, a few crows, and still more corn—makes you wonder what on earth they grew before corn came along! We are presumably walking uphill but our altitude has stayed steady in the 500 m above sea level range. Only at the end of the day did we climb a bit higher to the town of Tamins for the night.
Tamins is a Reformed village—as in many other places in Europe, towns are actually confessionally aligned, though the residents are free to be whatever they want, they just might have to travel to the next town to get it—and our evening hosts were another pastor couple serving the Tamins church, Georg and Anja. Anja grew up speaking Romanisch in one of the nearby villages; until the age of 12 half of her school hours were in Romanisch and the other half in German. The two of them live in a picture-perfect Swiss chalet which happens to be the parsonage (and perhaps more importantly has a washing machine, so our cumulatively stinky, hand-washed daily outfits can get a more thorough cleaning) and they welcomed us with a lovely dinner featuring the local specialty, kugelhof—a sort of bundt cake, but a bread, studded with big chunks of bacon. Just the thing for weary, can’t-distinguish-kilometers-from-miles pilgrims.
This morning we’ll turn away from the Rhine and begin the steady upward march in earnest, an estimated 1000 m. The weather is supposed to be nice again today and not too bad tomorrow, but on Saturday—when we are due actually to cross Septimer Pass and begin the descent down the Italian side of the Alps—the forecast is for highs of 0 degrees Celsius with mixed rain and snow. We are trying to be cheerful about the chance to experience, once again, Luther-like authenticity (he would’ve crossed in December 1510), but this definitely falls into the category of making the best out of a bad situation. Prayers for safety (and incorrect meteorologists, just this once) would be much appreciated!