Friday, August 31, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 8

Der Ortler is the mountain dwarfed by this big rock
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The radio announcer says, in the most delightfully full-of-spit South Tyrolean accent, that today and tomorrow will be the hottest days of the year. They will, in fact, turn out to be the hottest days in years. And we're headed to the tallest mountain in South Tyrol: Der Ortler. We're not going to climb this mountain, but it will be there watching us as we walk up the mountain next to it.

About 30 minutes into the drive I look down at the navigation screen. "You must have entered the wrong location, Goaty. We're not driving to Norway, are we?" The screen indicates that our destination is almost two hours away.

"It's correct."

Stone towers built by hikers
"Goodness," I say, entering Oslo for the fun of it. "We'll be driving today longer than we'll be hiking today. Is this place still in South Tyrol? Oh, look. If we keep driving, we'll be in Oslo by noon tomorrow."

"What do I want in Oslo?"

"I'm sure there are plenty of goat-breeding jobs there."

What's left of the glacier
We drive and drive. The radio announcers' "hottest day of the year" repeats every five or ten minutes. One announcer gives advice not to drink sugary drinks, one warns the elderly not to spend too much time outside. "Hottest day of the year! Hottest day of the year!" It's the theme of the day. Finally Andreas the mountain goat breeder says, "It's going to be hot today."

"Really? I hadn't heard," I say. Humor.

"Hottest day of the year," he says.

Over 100 people fit into this gondola.
When we finally park our car at the Talstation, it is in fact over 90 degrees. The station is very modern. The gondola lift is enormous. In fact, it turns out to be the largest gondola in the world with a capacity of more than 100 people. We never ride the gondola up the mountain, only down.

The path begins in the forest but soon climbs out and curves along the side of the mountain. In no time, we are on a broad, steep path in the searing sun. Yay. This place reminds me of the path up to the Stubai glacier in Austria. The higher you go, the grayer and rockier it gets. There are no trees here and only a few patches of grass where tiny flocks of sheep graze. I talk Sheep to them a bit and finally get them to talk. It is amazing the palette of Sheep voices here: everything from cute baby Sheep to deep, moaning grandpa Sheep. I baa baa at them for maybe three minutes, and they're all baa-baaing back. It's a Doctor Dolittle moment.

We make it up to the Bergstation in less than two hours (exactly the amount of time it took us to drive to this mountain) and eat our lunch. Most people ride the gondola up to this station, take off most of their clothes and lie in the sun. One remarkably tan man is walking around like a broiled peacock. I wish I could have taken a picture of him without getting beaten up.

This is not the end of our hike. There's another hut higher in the mountains. The only problem is that we'll have to walk back down from there. There's no gondola. We do it anyway--because I'm game. The walk is steep but not steep enough to keep hundreds of people away from it. It's Saturday, so there are a lot of Italian families on the trails. One family has even brought their CAT along on a leash. Poor cat.

It takes about an hour to reach the hut, which at first sight looks like a futuristic igloo, but turns out to be a cheesy palm garden bar for the winter ski season. The traditional hut is behind it.

"I'm going to continue up the mountain," Andy says, in true mountain goat breeder style, as I return with my reward: a glass of weissburgunder.

"I'm going to drink this glass of wine and enjoy the sun," I say.

"Suit yourself," he says, trudging off. "But I will be thinner and you won't."

Two sips in to my wine, I hear Andy's voice. "Ohhhh, that was exhausting!" He's back, beaten by the mountain. "It's really really steep and goes nowhere. Is the wine good?"

It's a beautiful day. Up here in the mountains it's nowhere near as warm as it is in the valley. There are so many people here at this hut--which is obviously meant for the winter skiing crowd--tucked into a mountain of gravel. At the star-shaped bar where we're sitting I can imagine hundreds of après-ski bunnies wearing sunglasses, sipping on hot drinks with rum and talking about heavy boots.

The walk back down is easier than I thought it would be. The gondola is packed to capacity. Back in the valley we visit the Messner Mountain Museum because we have free tickets. It's a tiny museum devoted to ICE. There are lots of mountain paintings and a few exhibits of mountain climbing gear. After 10 minutes, we want to leave, but we're embarrassed to do so. We walk around for another 10, feigning interest in the paintings, and then make our exit. I can't help thinking the Messner Mountain Museum would benefit from a gelato bar. There was one fun exhibit. What looks like a wooden door (and is in fact) on the wall is actually an interactive video of an avalanche. When you open the door--the guy at the front desk had to urge me to do so since I was wary about touching the art--the video of an avalanche wiping out a little hut begins. I opened the door eight or nine times and said "Cool" each time.

And now I must be off,



Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.   

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 7

Apples everywhere
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Time to reflect. Seventh days are always good for that, right? While doing my best to do the backstroke in the pool this morning, I take inventory of the last few days. Six days times an average of 5 hours of hiking each day equals 30 hours. I do this without a calculator.

"Thirty hours," I say to Andreas the Goat Master when I return from the pool. "How many calories do you think we've burned?" I cannot do this without a calculator.

"Well," AGM looks up at the ceiling as if there's a much-needed calculator up there. "I'd say about 500 calories an hour while hiking. That's and extra . . . hmmm"--searching the ceiling I suppose for the X button?--"2500 calories each day."

"That's a lot. Why don't we look any thinner?" I say as I drink the last few drops of the wine from last night's bottle. In the middle of my Absolutely Fabulous moment I say "Oh" and wipe a dribble of Gewurztraminer from my chin. "Maybe we should do seven hours today."

Andreas Master of Goats is twiddling around on the iPad, which means he's up to no good. "I want to check out garden centers today."

The Passer River
"After we hike."

"After we hike," he says, not hearing that I said it first.

"I said it first."

He's scribbling down addresses for garden centers. "I want to ask people how they fertilize their magnolias."

"With silver bells and cockle shells I'd imagine," I say. On a scale between 0 and 10, I get zilch reaction.

"Right!" Andy suddenly shouts. "We're off!"

"Can I just check my emails before we leave?" I sit down, scroll through my mails. Opening one from my mother, I discover that my aunt has died. Since moving away from the US, I haven't had much contact with anyone in my extended family, but I know my parents, my uncle and my cousins are certainly going through a very rough time. There's no way I could get to an airport in time to reach home for the funeral.

"We're going biking today," says Andy.

"Yeah, sure," I say. "My aunt died last night. I'm not sure what to do."

Apples and more apples
The time difference is a problem. I can't just call my parents and talk to them. It's the middle of the night there. I send my father an email and get dressed to go biking. It is a pleasant change from hiking, but after 20 kilometers, it starts raining. We eat our lunch on the porch of a Valley Tram station and wait for the sun. After a 20-kilometer ride--mostly downhill--we end up back in Merano with mountain-bike mud stripes on our butts.

I must be off,

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hiking In South Tyrol -- Day 6

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It's day six. We have the same goal as yesterday. Well, it's sort of the same goal. Today there will be a party at the top of the mountain. Today we have a GOAL. We take a different route, one worked out with little metal instruments and a calculator by Andrew the mountain goat breeder. He's serious about this route business. Me? I look up at the peak and say, "Up there! That's where we're going!" As long as you're going up, what's the problem, right?

Mountains aren't that simple.

Today, I make my gluten-free pasta for myself and Goat Man. He's finally decided he likes gluten-free pasta. Today I drown it in a tomato and artichoke sauce I made the night before, bang it into two Tupperware-like containers, wind rubber bands around them and ease them down into my backpack.

Taking a different route pleases me. I'm not sure one can learn anything about the world by taking only one path all the time. Sometimes in Munich, I'll walk down a street I've never been on before just to see if the world works differently there. Sometimes it does.

The days in South Tyrol are growing hotter and hotter. We rub sunblock all over ourselves before we set out. It's so hot that we're drenched in sweat-slash-goopy sunblock after only 30 minutes and stay wet and goopy all day. Thankfully Andy Goat Guy is carrying three bottles of water in his backpack today. Yeah, he gets to carry the water. I'm not an idiot.

One advantage of the sweltering heat is that we are almost alone on the path. We walk fast and rhythmic with about twenty meters between us. Neither of us likes to talk when we hike. It's not the time to talk; it's the time to think. And I do. I think about the book that will be coming out near the beginning of September. Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. A very risky, neither-fish-nor-foul type of book. It's humor, which some people will get, some won't. I remind myself that I like the book. Very much.

When we reach the first hut, we decide to have a rest on the wooden sun chairs and refresh ourselves with wine/beer. After considerable difficulty at communicating with the girl pouring drinks, I come back with a beer for Andy and a wonderful glass of Gewurztraminer for myself. The wine order turns out to be what the Germans call "ein schweres Geburt" (a difficult birth), but finally I get a cold glass of really really good wine. This is what we call "die Belohnung" (the reward).

Another hour to the top where the festivities have already begun. We sit on more wooden sun chairs and drink more wine. The music can't keep us there long, so we head back to the valley. Andy the mountain goat breeder is dying to go shopping again.

I must be off,

Keep up with ALL TEN DAYS of hiking in South Tyrol.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 5

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The temperature is climbing. Already at 10:00 a.m. it's approaching 90 degrees. We pack extra water and head for a trail we've done before. It's only a short drive from our apartment. Today, I've brought along gluten-free pasta instead of my usual ration of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. The hike to the top will take more than three hours.

In the broiling sun it's a lazy ascent through orchards, meadows and communities smaller than villages near Merano. Villagettes? There are enormous sprinkler systems to water the meadows. Ahead we see an obstacle course of sprinklers moving toward and away from the road we're on. It's like one of those Japanese shows where the contestants have to time their moves just right to get through the course without being sprayed with some awful ooze.

I get about three-fourths of the way through when I'm pelted from above with wonderful, refreshing water. A family of three hikers ahead watch me and laugh. I laugh. I want to do it again. It brings back memories of hot Tennessee days in the yard: me and my brother chasing each other with the hose, neither wanting to stay dry.

When the path isn't dangerous or steep, you have time and mental space to think about life. These are the moments my brain arranges and re-arranges my life so that I have more mental space. What it called when a computer does this? Defragmentation? I think mostly about the book I'll be publishing in a few days. I think about how I'd answer questions about it. My brain orders and re-orders my thoughts.

I also think about my niece a lot. She has a disease called Wegener's Disease.Whenever I'm in South Tyrol I think of her. She went hiking with us in these mountains a few years ago.

I think about my shoulder less than I did a few months ago. It still hurts, but the laming pain when I move my left arm quickly is over. I try to move the arm as much as possible so that the shoulder remembers I need it. I breathe and sweat buckets. I am drenched from head to toe with sweat.

Today we stop to eat our lunch on a bench next to one of the typical crucifixes seen all over this part of the world. The bench is almost in the shade. It's been so hot and I'm so tired that I have no appetite. I eat anyway because I don't want the gluten-free pasta to go to waste. And, well, we also stop at a GREAT little restaurant to "drink" something, but the food looks so good that I have to eat a salad. The owner of this place is so kind. He gives the guests grappa. Sweet guy.

We walk on for another hour until we reach a plateau of sorts. There's a lift station there (the one we'll take back to the valley), but we're headed even higher and farther to a group of mountain huts almost in the clouds. When we arrive we, men are setting up tables for a Bergfest the next day. There'll be music and lots of people, so of course we know what we'll be doing then.

To finish the day we have a glass of wine at the Bergstation and the Gasthof Klammeben while an elderly man plays his accordion and sings traditional German songs. These songs strike an emotional chord in me, but I have no idea why. I'm not German, and I can barely understand his dialect. The man at the next table sings all the words in Hochdeutsch, so I get a few lyrics here and there.

The best hike yet. Day 6 next time.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, available from Amazon Anything and lots of other online stores.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 4

On a rarely used trail near Meran 2000
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We can see Meran 2000 from our balcony. It's one of the many peaks towering over the basin we're in. When I come from my swim--the calves and knees have recovered from Day 2--Andy Goat Man has decided that we're going to do Meran 2000. And although there's a perfectly good speedhiking trail, AGM has decided we're going to take a trail that is "rarely used."

"It'll be an adventure," he says.

"I'm game." I really do have to change this about myself.

We drive to the Meran 2000 Talstation (valley station) where we plan to return with the lift. From there, we walk on a curvy road to the beginning of the trail, which is nothing more than a tiny path into the forest. Well, UP into the forest. Like climbing stairs except that each stair is a wobbly rock or mud or gravel and there's only grass and saplings to hold onto.

An old? forestry warning lying on the ground
After about 20 minutes we come to a forestry road. It's gravel and dirt at first, but then--maybe too slowly for us to realize our error--it becomes grassy. When I see a little sapling growing in the middle of the tracks, a little red flag pops up.

"Hey, Goat Guy."


"Just how rarely is this trail used?"

Do you see a path?
We pause for a breath and a swig of magnesium-enhanced water. The forest is completely silent. No rush of a river. No family hikers blabbering on. No birds. No sounds of people cutting down trees--although there's evidence they've been there recently. Even the wind has hushed. We are alone.


"Sure. I'm game."

We keep walking up and up and up until the trail is now an even--maybe even pristine--grass path. We can't find a sign now to tell us where to go, so Andrew the mountain goat breeder decides he sees a path (and in his defense it does turn out to be one) zigzagging up the slope above us. It's a grassy slope. It's a steep slope. It turns out to be the most dangerous, stupid thing I've ever done. To the left of this grassy, slippery, steep slope is a drop-off of about 100 meters that I try so hard not to look at. About 20 minutes into this climb the path disappears altogether. The only thing to do is to turn around and go back down.

The end of the path.
Going down is so much more dangerous than going up. When you're going up, your natural inclination (pun intended) is to lean into the mountain. When you're going down, gravity is actually pulling you away from the mountain. It wants to pull you straight down to the valley floor. Gravity is not your friend. It wants to kill you.
Definitely a path.
New Valley? No idea.
We reach level ground and I walk on a bit to see if there is another path. Voilá! I find a sign. There it is down there. The condition of the sign says it all. This path is disused and forgotten! Go back! But I went on toward the ledge in knee-high grass, poking my walking sticks in the grass in front of me to test for solid ground. The path ended in a bramble, impenetrable jungle. We went back.

It took us two hours to get back to the road. Then we walked through apple orchards for another hour to get back to our car because I refused to be walk on the curvy road with the wild drivers. There were no sidewalks. In South Tyrol, the cars drive fast, the cyclists drive fast, the motorcyclists drive like sadistic crazy people.

Back at the Meran 2000 Talstation, we hop in our car and drive into Meran to catch a bit of the (very boring) Dorffest and to drink to our safe return to civilization.

Next time Day 5

I must be off,

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 3

The Maiser Waalweg near Merano
I've forgotten to tell you about our holiday apartment. Zea Apartments in Merano is a great, friendly place with a nice pool and plenty of places to rest in its beautiful garden (which we never had time to use, but hey). I did, however, go swimming every morning for my shoulder. Who knew? Swimming actually helps.

So I'm up early--way before Andy the goat guy--and eager to get my swim in before the hike. One problem: bending my legs is not happening. My calves are shot and my knees are shotter. For a few minutes, I think I've screwed up the whole trip. I hobble to the bathroom. I hobble to the balcony where my swimsuit is. I hobble to the kitchen and make coffee. I hobble.

After a few minutes of hobbling, my legs actually start to feel a bit better. Maybe life is good after all. I head for the pool. Hmmm. See, we're on the third floor of the apartment house, and we usually take the stairs--as a matter of principle. My principles hurt like hell after the first three steps, so I climb back up and take the elevator. Shhhh. It's our secret.

The pool feels good.

When I return to the room, Andy (goat breeder), has already found "the perfect" hike. "We're going to stay in the valley today. I've found the perfect trail."

"You mean a granny trail."

"Yep." Andy stands up with difficulty and hobbles to the bathroom. "Yep."

Annoying water wheel clunker
The Maiser Waalweg is truly beautiful. We started walking from the apartment, through the streets of Merano, leading to a path into the apple orchards. A Waalweg always runs along the ancient--but still working--irrigation channels of the orchards and vineyards. An interesting fact: This water wheel to the left clunks with every rotation to indicate how much water is flowing through it. Supposedly, this was a way to see who was getting how much water. It's an annoying, loud clunk, and this one is about ten meters from someone's home. I would go nuts.

The path was easy but long. We still hiked over five hours but always along a moderately level path. Granny trails have their place.

A little "Jausenstation" (refreshment stop) on the Maiser Waalweg.
And their rewards. At some point we happened upon a little Jausenstation with a bottle of red wine. You throw some money in the can and take a cup of (fairly awful) wine. We threw two euros in and had a couple of cups with our lunch. Later we even picked an apple, which I paid for of course. Right now there must be over 10 million apples ripening on the trees of South Tyrol. Does the world need this many apples--all at once? These are the issues one thinks of on a Granny Waalweg.

Next time Day 4.

I must be off,

Friday, August 24, 2012

Expat Author Interview mit Marcus Speh -- Die Deutsche Version

Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe
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Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe ist ein deutscher Schriftsteller, der hauptsächlich in der englischen Sprache schreibt, aber seine deutschen Kurzgeschichten und Essays kann man HIER lesen. Der Autor lebt in Berlin mit seiner Frau, die Künstlerin Carlye Birkenkrahe und deren Tochter Taffimai Mettallumai.

Folgendes Gespräch ist Teil eines zweiteiligen Interviews. Der erste Teil ist HIER auf Englisch. 

IMBO: Willkommen bei I Must Be Off!, Marcus! Endlich mal! Wie lange hast Du in London gelebt? Auch in Italien, Neuseeland, Argentinien und USA? Was hat dich dorthin getrieben? Die grosse Liebe, gel?

Speh: Ah, hier darf ich reden wie mir der Schnabel wirklich gewachsen ist! Ich habe neun Jahre in London gelebt; einige Jahre in Italien (eigentlich in München, aber wir hatten ein Apartment in Trieste und verbrachten so viel Zeit dort wie möglich); ein Jahr in Neuseeland (auf der Suche nach…etwas ganz anderem); und ein halbes Jahr in Argentinien. Ich bin immer den Frauen hinterhergelaufen. Obwohl ich, wenn ich tiefer schürfe, immer ein nomadischer Typ war. Das hat sich erst in den letzten paar Jahren gelegt, seitdem ich alle verfügbare Energie ins Schreiben investiere, reise ich ungern, besonders ungern ohne meine Familie. Die meisten unserer Verwandten leben allerdings in den USA, deshalb werden wir auch weiterhin das Land verlassen (müssen und wollen).

IMBO: Ich möchte langsam über’s Schreiben reden, aber zuerst muss ich fragen--was ich schon immer fragen wollte--woher Du deine Energie hollst. Darf ich ein bischen davon abzapfen? Vielleicht abbeissen?

Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe, Bild von Taffimai Metallumai
Speh: Das klingt als ob Du nicht nur das Absolute Interview, die Große Amerikanisch-Deutsche Begegnung erwartest, den letztgültigen Dialog zwischen Nationen, Kulturen und Schriftstellern, sondern auch noch die Lösung des weltweiten Energieproblems...bin nicht sicher, was ich von dem “will nur mal abbeissen” halten soll: als ich sechs Jahre alt war, wollte ein Mädchen “nur mal abbeissen” und ich war gleich für den Rest meines Lebens traumatisiert. Aber ich nehme an, dass Du es freundlich mit mir meinst. — Zu Deiner Frage: ich habe immer viel Kraft auf meinen Wandel verwendet (man könnte auch Karriere sagen, aber das wird meinen Seitenbewegungen nicht gerecht), und wenn ich an etwas glaube, wie in diesem Fall an die Schriftstellerei, dann finde ich immer neue, unvermutete Ressourcen. Hierüber zu sprechen ist schwer—Deutsch ist keine Sprache, in der sich leicht über Erfolg sprechen lässt. “Single-minded pursuit of success” kommt mir in den Sinn, d.h. auf Deutsch sinngemäß “Unbeirrbares Streben nach Erfolg” und hat für mein Ohr gleich etwas von V-erfolg-ungswahn...Die tiefe, gleichbleibende  Quelle meiner Energie ist ganz einfach meine Familie und ihre Liebe, die mich trägt wie ein fühlender, denkender Ozean (was mich an Lems “Solaris” erinnert). Das großartige an menschlicher Gemeinschaft ist, dass man drin steckt und zugleich getragen wird; dass man Energie hineinsteckt und man Energie entnehmen kann (nicht immer zur selben Zeit). Energie kommt auch von meinen anderen Tätigkeiten — als Dozent und Wissenschaftler beispielsweise — obwohl ich während des Semester stöhne, weil ich dort natürlich auch viel Kraft investieren muss.

IMBO: Hast Du erst in London angefangen auf englisch zu schreiben, oder früher? Gibt es zwei verschiedene Marcus Speh Birkenkrähe (ist das überhaupt der Mehrzahl von Birkenkrahe?) — einen Marcus wenn Du auf englisch schreibst und einen auf deutsch? Schließen verschiedene Sprachen auch verschiedene Türen auf?

"Wenn man zweisprachig ist, kann man immer (mindestens) zwei Meinungen zu einem Thema haben."

Speh: Wenn man zweisprachig ist, kann man immer (mindestens) zwei Meinungen zu einem Thema haben. Ich kann hier also ganz anders antworten als sonst: ich schreibe schon lange auf Englisch. Ende der 90er Jahre war ich mal in London in einer Dichtergruppe: dort habe ich einige meiner (englischsprachigen) Gedichte vorgelesen; die waren sauschlecht und die Reaktion der Gruppe war entsprechend. Dann habe ich Englisch wieder eingepackt bis wir in Neuseeland waren: dort schrieb ich einen schlechten Roman ganz auf Englisch. Ich habe aber immer noch Anfälle von schlechtem Gewissen, in denen ich denke: «Ich muss doch Deutsch schreiben!» Obwohl ich dadurch, dass ich auf Englisch schreibe, dem Wettbewerb mit meinem Vater aus dem Wege gehe, und das ist für einen Sohn eine wichtige Sache. Mein Vater schrieb nämlich nur auf Deutsch. Selten schreibe ich allerdings auch im Original auf Deutsch (hier sind einige Beispiele) — Zur Frage des Plurals: der Name «Birkenkrahe» hatte ursprünglich einen Umlaut, der aber in der US-Botschaft in London verlorenging. Komplizierte Geschichte…

IMBO: Ich möchte so gern diese Geschichte hören. Gibt es eine Kurzversion? Ist dieses Geschehen vielleicht Stoff für einen Roman?

Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe
Speh: Die kurze Version habe ich schon in einem Interview für GALO Magazine wiedergegeben. Aber hier gerne noch einmal auf Deutsch: Birkenkrahe ist komplett erfunden. Wir sind die einzigen dieses Namens. Die “Birke” ist mein indianisches Baumtotem; die “Krähe” ist das indianische Tiertotem meiner Frau. In England, wo wir lange lebten, kann man seinen Namen ändern wie man will, während in Deutschland der Name dem Staat gehört, d.h. man muss fragen bevor man ihn offiziell ändern kann (und auch dann braucht man gute Gründe). Wir haben den Namen meiner Frau zuerst geändert—dabei hat die amerikanische Botschaft den Umlaut “ä” verloren. Ich habe dann bei der Heirat den neuen Namen angenommen. Mein Autorenname, “Speh”, ist mein Vaters- oder Geburtsname. Stoff genug für den kürzesten und langweiligsten Roman, der jemals geschrieben wurde...

IMBO: Du bist aber wieder in Deutschland zuhause, oder? Wie ist es, wenn man heimkehrt?

Speh: ich war vor kurzem in Hamburg, wo ich aufwuchs. Hamburg ist eine Stadt im Norden Deutschland, die zur Selbstüberschätzung neigt, was einen angenehmen Unterschied zu vielen anderen Städten macht, denn die deutsche Stadt, und vielleicht der Deutsche selbst, neigt dazu, sich zu unterschätzen. Vielleicht liegt es daran, dass Momente der Selbstüberschätzung historisch letzthin zu Katastrophen geführt haben? — Aber hier geht es schon los: siehst Du, wie leicht ich ins Philosophieren abgleite? Deshalb muss ich mich dafür hüten, auf Deutsch zu schreiben. Ich würde schon sagen, dass ich hier zu Hause bin. Für die meisten Deutschen ist das eigene Haus (oder, in meine Fall: die eigene Wohnung) sehr wichtig: unsere Wohnung ist wie ein großer, mit Luft und Liebe gefüllter Kokon. Unsere Tochter wird hier dereinst ausschlüpfen, und meine Frau und ich werden uns ebenfalls zu Schmetterlingen wandeln auf unseren verschiedenen kreativen Wegen. Die Rückkehr nach Deutschland hat uns Sicherheit gegeben; auch ganz praktisch: ich bin jetzt Beamter, sicherer geht es gar nicht; aber sie hat auch etwas Beschwerliches, und wir spüren regelmäßig den Zug in die Fremde, dem wir irgendwann auch nachgeben werden. Ob ich dann wieder zurückkehren werde, weiß ich nicht. Deutschland hat sich in den zehn Jahren meiner Abwesenheit sehr stark verändert: fast hätte ich es nicht wiedererkannt. Wenn ich als alter Mann noch einmal länger fortgehe, entfernt es sich vielleicht noch schneller von meiner Vorstellung. Ich habe vor Kurzem in einem Interview für PANK, ein amerikanisches Magazin, von meiner Obsession mit “verlorenen Welten” gesprochen.

IMBO: Marcus, es war mir eine Freude, mit dir über Gott und verlorene Welten zu reden. Unser kleines Experiment is also gelungen. Verschiedene Sprachen öffnen verschiedene Türen. Ich wünsche dir alles Gute. Das nächste Mal, dass ich in Berlin bin geht das Frühstück auf meine Rechnung.
Ich bin mal weg (I must be off),

Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type

Cover Art von Carlye Birkenkrahe
Die erste Kurzgeschichtensammlung (in der englischen Sprache) von Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe wird mit grosser Spannung Ende 2012 erwartet.  Mehr infos HIER.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 2

One of the many rock piles made by hikers.
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Hiking up mountains is very healthy. It's actually one of the healthiest pastimes one can have besides sipping wine. Hiking down mountains is just stupid. It's hard on your knees, your ankles and your last nerves. Our second day of hiking in South Tyrol was not a happy one. OK, half the day was happy; half the day was OW OW OW OW OW.

The way we usually roll: we hike up a mountain that has a lift to take us back to the valley. Many of the peaks in South Tyrol have these, so null problema, si? On Day 2 I left the planning up to Andrew the mountain goat breeder. Actually I always leave the planning up to Andrew the mountain goat breeder. Andy, well, he screwed it up on Day 2. The supposedly wondrously steep and grueling trail he'd picked out was closed, so we had to go with Plan B, whatever that was. I'm just the guy singing with Maroon 5's "Payphone" in the passenger's seat.

Day 2 might change my perspective on who controls the route. We ended up starting at the Hochmuth station above Dorf Tirol. We've been there before, and we've hiked in the Texel mountains group. I was not deterred in any way. I love the Hütte at Hochmuth. They have a great salad there. OK, I'm a simple guy.

The last few meters.
The hike was steep all the way to the peak--just like I like it. The last 200 meters was practically straight up. I kept turning around to tell Andrew the mountain goat breeder to be careful. "Don't let your extra pounds throw you off balance!" I kept yelling as he kept giving me the finger. "Lean your mass into the mountain!" I demonstrated. Finger.

Of course we made it to the peak with little difficulty. It's not Everest. The peaks in South Tyrol--and in the region generally--have crosses, although I think there's one that has a Buddha. The peak above Hochmuth is a pile of enormous rocks. Really. Just a big pile of rocks with a cross stuck in the middle. When we got there, there were three hikers writing in the book that hangs from the cross. What do people write in these books? I've never been inspired to do this.
OK, actually this is the last few meters.
As we ate our lunch at the top, sitting on the pile of rocks, we considered our next move. Actually Andrew the mountain goat breeder was considering more than I was. He had the map. I don't read maps. Ick.

"We could go down that way." Andrew the mountain goat breeder pointed to what looked like a sheer drop through the rocks but was actually a path (for mountain goats I assumed). "It leads back to Hochmuth."

"How many hours?" I asked. "And how much would we have to walk downhill?"

"About three hours. I don't think it's so steep."

I looked down through the fissure in the rocks. "Heh?"

"Well, after that bit." He pointed to the path in the distance. It did seem to level out. There were a couple of hikers approaching the peak from that side.

"I'm game." Why am I always game? I should change this aspect of my personality.

There were rewards. The descent wasn't so difficult. After a while we came to an enormous rock, and when I say enormous, I mean the size of a cathedral. I didn't take pictures of it because we were teetering around it holding on to a metal cable. But take my word for it: them hills are big.  We were having a lovely time.

Do not eat this.
At some point, however, we took a wrong turn. Wrong turns are always Andy's fault. Chris doesn't have the map ergo Chris doesn't have the fault. We were suddenly walking down the mountain in a grand, ugly way through spider-web tangled forests. My knees and my calves weren't happy about this at all. I was forced--forced--to walk like a 97-year-old man with arthritis, often sideways except when other hikers were present (at which time I of course pretended to be perfectly fine--Mr. Bean-style).

Eat this.
It took us six hours to get back to Hochmuth, where I ordered the biggest bottle of water they had and my salad. Service in mountain huts is notoriously awful. There's usually just one server for around 50 thirsty people. Hochmuth is no different, but at least the server is very friendly when she finally comes to the table.

Day 3 next time.

I must be off,

DAY ONE of Hiking in South Tyrol

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hiking in South Tyrol -- Day 1

Meran/Merano, South Tyrol (Italy)
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We head to the Dolomites and the surrounding mountains near Meran(o) at least once a year. I am a crazy hiker. I love trudging up a mountain--is it really "trudging" when you love it?--in the broiling sun. I love steep walks and narrow paths along 200-metre drops. I love nature! The sounds of little animals in the trees! The smell of freshly cut hay! A sudden cool breeze against my sweat-soaked . . . yeah, the first day in Meran(o) we ended up going shopping.

See, Andrew the mountain goat breeder had "grown out" of his only hiking shorts and needed an upgrade, if you know what I mean. I should talk. The shoulder injury that has plagued my last 12 months (that's a year!) has affected my workout schedule. Well, actually it has deleted it. I've also put on a couple of kilos, but thanks to genetics, I've kept the same waste size since I was 14 years old. My shorts will still fit me even when my belly is hanging a foot over them. Thank you, genetics.

Meran(o) draws us back every year for lots of reasons. A couple of years ago I published an article at Bootsnall Travel about the town, so if you want more information about this incredible place, go HERE.

 Here are my favorite photos of Meran/Merano (If you haven't figured it out by now, German and Italian are spoken in South Tyrol.)

I got up early in the morning to catch Merano sleeping.

The town is usually buzzing with people of all ages and lifestyles, but at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday I had Merano to myself.

Beautiful topiary. I have so many pictures of these.

The roar of the Passer River is a constant in Merano.

The best gelato in Merano
I hate shopping. I'd much rather be hiking. I hate any place where its concept is based on slow, aimless browsing. Museums and department stores are pretty much the same species to me; they're certainly in the same family. When I'm in a museodepartment store-type place, I can feel varicose veins spreading up my legs towards my soul. Moving sidewalks would be good for these places--to herd the tourists-slash-shoppers a bit faster. If it were possible to run through a museodepartment store, I might enjoy these places. But--sadly--I'd be arrested.

More sadness: Andrew the mountain goat breeder did not find a new pair of hiking shorts on our first day in Meran(o). And to make matters even sadder, we capped off our first day of "hiking"--we did take the stairs in the sportswear shops--with gelato and a drink called a veneziano (aperol, sparkling wine and a splash of mineral water). Well, this is what one does in Meran(o).

On day two of hiking in South Tyrol, we did end up eating our lunch on a rock at the top of a mountain. More about that next time.
Due veneziani

I must be off,