August 27, 2012

August 17, 2012

Sliding Doors: One Last Glance Toward Europe

We entered the Tube around 9:00 in the morning, a mass of noisy students and a few adults, taking up a section of platform. We had told the teens: "We'll start you on your journey, but you'll have to find your way back. Pay attention." The anxious ones stayed near us, the eager ones studied the green and red and blue and yellow lines on the wall map. "We'll need the Circle Line," one said, and after nodding, we passed the phrase among us like bread, or sweets, so when the train arrived, and the sliding doors opened, we all walked through them with enough nourishment and energy to know where we were going.

Later, we stepped out of trams into the high Swiss landscape at Pfingstegg Station. After London, most of the kids didn't even look at the trail map. They just started up. One foot in front of the other, one sore-muscled groan after the other, a collection of revelations. We walked under rock ledges and over small streams.  We talked about the pass we had planned on traversing, one covered that morning by snow, that had instead turned into this: an unfamiliar hike. Untested trails. A destination that not even one of us could imagine, full of turns and steep cliffs and thin, open sky.

At the village of Riquewihr, along the French Alsatian Wine Road, my husband and I and our German hosts, left our modern car and walked beside an ancient stone wall. It enclosed the entire town's historic center, and the only way to enter was through tall, arching gates. When we found the closest one, a few steps more brought us into the 13th century, and we walked and we talked without looking at each other, looking instead at the buildings, the timber-frames, the old wells, the tiny shops, the pots of carnations and vines of roses, the narrow alleys and pathways into another time.

In Basel, we were aware of being in the middle of things. In this Swiss city, butted on one side by France and the other by Germany, we heard shades of a dozen different dialects; could pay in francs, euros, or dollars; watched the Rhein and pondered where it came from, so white and icy cold, and where it was destined to flow. We strolled from the old side of the city to the new, my love and I, over a bridge with railings covered in a crocheted casing of colorfully patterned yarn, and we thought about all the fingers who twisted those threads before us.

And in Lahr, in the Kaiserstuhl, in Freiburg, and in Ettenheim, we moved into and out of a hundred different places. The Schwarzwald, Scheffel Gymnasium, das Rathaus, das ReWe, this vineyard, that restaurant, this doner shop, that gelato stand. Carolin's parents' garden. Annette's quick car. The door to Heimfried's and Ingrid's apartment, that solid piece of wood with the black handle that you had to turn and pull toward you to open.

We come in and we go out. We enter and we leave. In the very old parts of the world, we can see the marks of these back and forth footprints in the cobblestone. But more often than not, the only thing that remains from our passages through life--these places we've journeyed through that have changed us--are glimpses, fragmented light and sound and memories, that we hold on to with our heart.