Saturday, July 22, 2006

July 21st - 22nd, 2006 - Andermatt, Switzerland to Locarno, Switzerland

My email to friends and family from Locarno:

Benvenuti from Switzerland. Wait, what? Well, I'm actually in Locarno at the northern tip of Laggo Maggiore just over the Swiss border from Italy. In fact, as soon as I crossed the Passo Gottardo from Andermatt, the towns took on a distinctively Italian feel and most people speak Italian first and German second.

After exploring the Lauterbrunen Valley south of Interlaken including a trip on the Shilthorn cable car to the highest revolving restaurant in the world (as seen in some James Bond movie), I headed over the Grimsel and Furka Passes to Andermatt. The Furka zig zags dramatically up a steep face to the Rhone glacier. Once at the top, I paid 5 Swiss francs ($3.50 or so) to go into a tunnel cut into the glacier. As luck would have it, while I was in there, four nuns in full habits entered. I could barely contain my glee as I waited patiently for them to walk out in front of me so I could take a hilarious picture of these four little pious penguins walking down the ice hallway.

In Andermatt, I shared a table with a German couple who turned out to be touring on a motorcycle as well. Wolf and Katya were heading south the next day because they thought it was going to rain in the mountains. Despite (or perhaps because of) my suspicion that they were swingers, I accepted their invitation to head with them the next day to Locano. We rode the autobahn down and checked into a hotel (separate rooms, damn) before heading out on a ride over the border to Italy into Centovalli (hundred valleys).

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Sitting in a Mediterranean climate at a lakefront table in an Italian restaurant in Switzerland with a potentially promiscuous German couple, I suddenly heard a banjo. (I wonder if that sentence has ever been written before?) Turns out we arrived in Locarno on the night of an outdoor festival along the lakefront walk that this band plays every year. They play a mix of electrified bluegrass, country, and classic southern hits of the 70's, 80's and today and were joined by a harmonica player from Chicago who happened across them much the same way as I did (less the broadminded Bavarians I assume) three years ago and has been coming back to play with them every year since. I talked to the banjo player a little and he suggested I stay another night and come out to his mountain cabin 50 km up a nearby valley the next day. Long story short, we picked a little at his place that day and I played mandolin the first set with the band the next night (tonight!). A great night in Locarno ended with a spectacular fireworks show over the lake, the band still crankin' in front of the hotel, and me about to head to bed. No, alone actually. I don't know what went wrong. I’m new at this.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Because of my detour, I'm officially off script for the trip now. I think I will skip the Dolomites (but taking signups to join me to hit them via Locarno after my gig next Summer) and head back north via San Moritz and Innsbruck to Munich over the next few days. I'll prob return the bike a day or two early and head up by train to see Jimmy's bro in Berlin, then try to fly out of there sometime next weekend.

Thanks for the updates and drunken texts (I miss you too, Mom) from home. Wish you all were here.

Ciao for now.
dz

A few other observations from my time in Locarno. I was again reminded of the similarities between English and German and how much to an American ear, German can sound like someone making up words when using the computer in the hotel lobby in Locarno to write the email above. The computer was running the German version of the otherwise familiar Windows 2000 Professional, so while booting, instead of showing “Windows is starting up,” it showed something like (sorry for the imperfect recollection) “Ick Windows Startenuppen.”

Locarno was a great opportunity to actually spend some time with people who lived in the area. My ride up to Luca’s family house and to meet his wife and pick a little with him was great. Turned out, his wife has relatives in San Francisco and they’d been out to visit somewhat recently. What a small world. I also learned that as an acoustic musician living where he does, Luca has to go to pretty amazing lengths for access to instruments and even CD’s. As a result, they all pretty much play middle of the line Gibson instruments because they associate them with American music and have very eclectic music collections. While they were accomplished pickers and singers, when I suggested a song by Flatt & Scruggs, they pretty much looked at me blankly. On the other hand, they knew every word to Larry Cordle’s Black Diamond Strings. Well, let me rephrase that. They knew words to Larry Cordle’s Black Diamond Strings, just rarely the right ones and were eager for me to look over their transcriptions and make corrections. Before long, I had marked up their lyric sheets, changing “had my sheriff troubles too” to “had my share of troubles too” along with a few others, and they appreciated my efforts.

In addition to the ride up the Centovalli, Wolf, Katya and I took a side trip up to a waterfall they had heard about. We arrived at the end of the road as the clouds were gathering. The main attraction was a stepped waterfall that cascaded down a 500 foot cliff to the river we’d been tracing on the ride. Well, it cascades during tourist season. When we were there, they’d closed the spigot leaving only the smallest trickle over the edge. Apparently, they only “turn it on” a couple times a year. We took some pictures on a wooden lookout that hung over the falls before retreating to the gasthaus nearby as the rain began to fall. After a half hour or so, we mistakenly thought it was lightening up and started the ride back down the valley through the worsening rain.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

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