Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Schwartzwald of Babel

Spent the weekend in the Schwartzwald/Forêt Noire/Black Forest. The trip was organized by my French teacher, Danielle – she invited all of her pupils plus a few of her friends. In all there was about twenty of us, with nothing in common other than mutual imcomprehensibility.

Nonethless, it was an excellent time. In all, there were about a dozen countries represented, everyone game for a good weekend of hiking in the hills of the Black Forest.

We arrived at the lodge at around noon. It was a fairly rough place – quite literally in the middle of an isolated cow pasture, without any cows. It’s main vocation is as a cross country skiing post. There were only four rooms for two – Amynah and I were lucky enough to snag one. Everyone else had to bunk together.

Considering that most of us had never met, conversation came easily. We set out immediately, led by Danielle’s dog and the Inn’s resident canine/host, sped on our way by a jaunty harmonica tune played by Danielle’s son.

The skies looked pretty threatening, but that actually worked in our favour – it is only appropriate that the Black Forest be shrouded in gloom, after all. We stopped for lunch overlooking a deserted valley, not a sign of human life disturbing the view.

We headed on just as the skies opened up. Amynah and I were the only ones who were completely unprepared for the rain (despite having been well informed by the German weather service that this eventuality was a near-certainty). However, a couple of folks with waterproof jackets lent us their brollies and we made it too the “tea house” lodge without getting entirely soaked.

After a nice hour long rest there, we headed out once more, under the curious gaze of some German cows. The rain let up pretty quickly and we were back in the lodge by 3 in the afternoon.

Back to the lodge

This being Germany, we then had to participate in some communal nudity – the lodge may not have had private rooms or adequate plumbing, but it did have a sauna. The girls went first, while I played cards with the Niky the Brit, Sami the Finn and Hiroyasu the Japanese guy.

Our turn came. Needless to say, we relied entirely on Sami the Finn to explain the etiquette. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the sauna concept – fifteen minutes sitting in 85 degree heat (that’s freaking Celsius people!) stops being pleasant after the first five minutes, unbearable after ten for someone of my delicate constitution. I understand why jumping into a hole hacked into a frozen lake seems like a good idea after that.

After we all showered (separately), we headed down for dinner. The innkeepers were unilingual, as was the menu, and I missed the translation that Danielle (who speaks Alsatian, French, German and English perfectly). I therefore decided to order the dish with the longest name on the menu: wildschweinruckersteak mit spaetzel. Apparently, word length is directly connected to cooking time, so I had to wait until everyone else was finished eating before my rump steak of wild boar arrived. Also, they ran out of spaetzel, which is a kind of pasta that I love (the steak was very good nonetheless).

Afterwards, Qi (a Chinese post-doc) suggested we play a game of “killer.” This is a great parlour game for a group of people who don’t know each other: everyone draws a card. All the cards are red except the joker and a black ace. Whoever draws the ace is the killer, the joker is the judge who runs the game. The judge asks everyone to close their eyes, then the killer opens theirs and selects their “victim.” Everyone opens their eyes, the judge says who has been killed, and everyone needs to guess who does it by voting. Whoever gets the most votes has to reveal their card – if they aren’t the killer, they’re dead, and the killer goes free for another round.

A game like this requires a certain amount of energy to be fun, and Qi provided it. Seemingly shy, she turned into a total drama queen (despite having no French and very little English) once the game started. She went out of her way to accuse me (“His face is so red! Why is his face so red? He must be the killer!”) in such an over the top way that it convinced everyone that she was the “killer,” (she wasn’t) thus sacrificing herself so that everyone else would have a good time. Anyway, it made me wish that I spoke Chinese, as there is obviously a wicked sense of humour on the other side of the language barrier: “you accuse me? You must understand – this is serious business! There is a life at stake here!”

I ended up being “killed” twice, by complete strangers both times. And both times, everyone blamed Amynah, as she would obviously have motive. Her defence, which I hardly found heartening, was that she found me too amusing to kill.

The next day was much sunnier and we all headed out for a 10 km hike through the hills. After the bonding through the murders, suspicion, accusation and counter-accusations of the night before, conversation was much easier. Amynah and I even scored an invitation to Aleppo from Lama a Canada-obsessed Syrian (who, incidentally, had killed me with no provocation the night before), which we fully intend to take advantage of.

Lama surveys her realm

It was interesting walking and talking with people – with twenty people, conversations tended to shift according to one’s walking pace, not language. Amynah and I had to make a point of slowing down so that we wouldn’t end up speaking only with each other for the whole trip), as we were consistently at the head of the pack along with the German dog. At one point, I therefore ended up in a conversation with an Italian girl who had very little French and a Lebanese woman who had very little English. My French, I was happy to discover, was pretty much up to the task.

Most delightful yet, at some point Danielle took Amynah and I aside and invited us to another hike for the following weekend. I feel like we passed an audition or something. More photos can be found here.


Anonymous said...

I like the phrasing:

Niky the Brit, Sami the Finn and Hiroyasu the Japanese guy.

Very PC.


Beejum said...

Wow, very beautiful! What was the name of the Inn you stayed at? I'd very much like to go hiking in the Black Forest when I get a chance!

Mark Reynolds said...

Hi Beejum!
Since I wasn't driving, I'm a little unclear as to where we were exactly, other than somewhere southwest of Frieberg, DE, and not far from Titisee (a major lake in the Black Forest). The Inn's website is entirely in German:
I see from your blog you're moving to Basel - lucky you! It's a very nice city. You should check out - she's an American ex-pat (and excellent writer) currently living in Switzerland. She might have insights on setting yourself up there.

Beejum said...

Thank you for the link, I will add it to my list of places to visit. I am attempting to learn at least a little German, and will most likely take a class once I get over there so I can puzzle some of it out. I have been gleaning all the information I can from all the Swiss Expat blogs I can find, thanks for the tip! :)