Between my seven visits to Zermatt, I’d say that I’ve learned this corner of the valley pretty well for a visitor. But ask about the valleys that surround Zermatt, or the mountains that ring Zermatt, and I can only identify the immediately recognizable. (Indeed, from my photos one would think I could only pick out the Matterhorn!) Beyond that valley, my knowledge is even rustier. The figurative breathlessness of the Alps is not limited to Switzerland; the breadth of these is imaginable but is practically unrealizable for those removed from alpine business, so it is with great happiness that I live so close now to the unimaginable vastness. While most of my hikes have been solitary, somehow the magic of the mountains burns stronger when a friend comes to visit.
The first mountain I was really drawn to was Mt. Rainier. Looming above the Puget Sound, it’s an emblem for the Pacific Northwest. The Matterhorn, too, stands tall above its valley. Here in the Allgäu, the familiar symbol is the Grünten: far from the tallest mountain in the region, but among the most recognizable because it’s among the northernmost mountains above 1500 m, a respected sentry to the Allgäu proper.
One might conclude from the last several blog posts that there are no mountains, or possibly even no life, in southern Germany, but this would be false. The mountains here are as rugged as any I’ve hiked — I’ve just been sitting on the photos for some time.
This has been a rather odd start to the year — for one, it’s the first time I’ve lived abroad in winter, but beyond that my trips have come rather unexpectedly quickly and furiously. Somehow, a trip to another German city was snuck into the itinerary, though only thanks to a visiting college friend who found time during his work trip to meet me in Nürnberg. Unfortunately, we were about a month late to make it in time to see the Christkindlmärkte, so we decided to check out the museums instead.
Perhaps surprising to some, German — or more specifically German spoken by Bavarians (… and Austrians and sometimes the Swiss) — features rolled Rs in speech, and more so when expressing extreme persuasion, like when finally convincing someone of a point you’ve been making (“R-r-r-r-richtig!“). It’s something I’m not particularly good at; Mandarin doesn’t have the sound whatsoever and French uses a guttural R, a sound which for some unknown reason I can make. But my lack of familiarity with the local treatment of the letter is not just with its phonetics: extrapolating the scientific certainty that two data points are always enough to determine a trend [n.b.: sarcasm], mountains whose names begin with R also seem to pose a problem.
The first several weeks of my assignment were hectic, from both the perspective of getting settled / moved in and that of the amount of work I’ve had. Fortunately, the workload has since decreased, so naturally to take the place of working breathlessly I’ve chosen to be literally winded: “The mountains are calling,” so the saying begins, but conveniently the strain of getting to be in the mountains is left to the imagination.
Since middle school, I always figured if I lived internationally it’d be in France — I spoke the language, I had studied abroad in the country, and I even visited the Caterpillar factory that was the reason behind my learning the language in the first place. It was also in Grenoble, I think, that my love of mountains was subconsciously awakened. It is thus admittedly strange that three of the past five Independence Days I’ve spent not in France but rather in Germany, and that the language I’m beginning to resort to is now German rather than French. This, the neighbor to what I thought would be my foreign language destination, is now my home for the next months. Round two began quietly, not in Stuttgart as before, but in the Allgäu, heart of the German Alps.
It’s been two years since I was last in Europe, and there are certainly things I miss about it: the camaraderie, the beer, the bread, the exact pricing on store shelves, die Autobahnen, a lack of humidity. Oh, and the mountains. So it was with great anticipation that I left for my lead plant in the middle of June.