Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

wedding crasher

The deer walked casually up the stone steps onto the wide terrace like he owned the place. Looking like a Martha Stewart paint swatch, the pale green water of the mountain river below, flowed past unsuspectingly. The hotel terrace was filled with bridal party, family and wedding planner; all standing and listening, taking cues from the pastor. The wedding day was tomorrow, but tonight was the buck’s dinner party. We had not received the invitation.

The terrace overflowed with flowy, short dresses; pointy, high heels; sparkly, small handbags. The young men, all looking like they’ve just walked out of a Tommy Hilfiger ad, moved into their places, taking direction with a clinking cocktail in one hand while the other rested coolly casual in a pant pocket.

The wedding rehearsal ran smoothly, the bride’s black hair and bright smile matching her short, white, ruched strapless perfectly. Groom to match. The couple listened, the family waited, the wedding planner (yours truly) noted. We were all facing the valley in front of us. The buck munched.

His huge rack of antlers, like a kitschy western lampshade, weighed his head down as he ripped the blooming violets in mouthful chunks; petals dripping from his mouth.  I’m not sure why I all of a sudden turned around, but then I saw him. Shocked, I just stood there, staring at him. About four metres in front of me was a large wild animal….eating the wedding décor!

He munched away as if these rows of reds, purples and pinks were planted there for his personal dining pleasure. I didn’t know what to do. As the others on the terrace began to notice, the pastor became as important as day-old bread. The rehearsal was over. Cameras and cellphones came flying out; mothers swept their children up; restaurant and hotel guests peered over railings and through windows;  the daring walked closer. Imagine George Clooney strolling into your neighbourhood Keg, heading to the salad bar and loading up with veggies; same reaction.

I honestly had to fight the urge to grab the deer (in this case) by the horns and just lead it away, like a horse that has broken into the oat bin. But his head was full of sharp, pointy gouging tools, and we weren’t in a petting zoo. We were in Banff: no better example of mountain glam meeting mountain wild…and both parties owning it.

The next morning the sun rose early, the first wedding guest, eager to get a good seat. It was a balmy 29 degrees as the black, tuxedo-clad groom and groomsmen made their way to the Grill lounge to wait. First problem to be solved: how do you tie a bowtie? Go to Google. Second problem: where are the chiavari chairs coming from Calgary? Get on the phone, raise some hell.

The bride and bridesmaids, mothers and flower girls, with sparkling, bright eyes, were up in the bridal suite getting ringlets curled and updos pinned. Guests mingled and waited. Deer was nowhere in sight. I will admit that I spent a few sleepless moments trying to figure out how I would remove said buck if he again appeared on the same path as the bride and groom would be taking. One guest asked if I had cued it.  

Eventually bows were tied, chairs arrived and were setup (quickly, with half hour to spare); blush and cream-coloured roses cascaded from heavy urns, cellists strummed, and ushers took their places. Vintage linen handkerchiefs, a gift from the bride, were placed at her mother’s, soon-to-be mother-in-law’s, and grandmother’s seats.

The bridal party’s procession down the Persian rug-covered aisle, was completed by a scattering of rose petals enthusiastically tossed by the two flower girls. While the pint-sized ringbearer’s mad dash with the rings caused the best man to give chase, providing great entertainment for the sun-soaked guests.

After a tear-filled ceremony, from male and female participants, family and couple photos were taken with a background of pointed peaks and river-filled valleys. And the wedding planner set to work on the reception hall.

The Mt. Stephan’s hall at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel looks like it once held the Knights of the Round Table. Its medieval feeling, with low chandeliers, heavy oak tables, stone archways and a row of mountain-view windows dropping almost to the floor, gives one the impression of walking back in time. Tall, silver candlesticks stood at attention on each pale-gold, linen-covered, round guest table. With a silver julep cup of planted succulents, chunky rose floral arrangements, and Etsy-printed table numbers, the tables were ready for guests of a queen. The thin, gold chairs in circles of ten completed the perfect table.  

But, the true crown jewel of this room set-up, planned by the bride, was the head table. She had wanted a long row down the centre of the room, of heavy-footed, bare oak to seat the closest and dearest of her bridal party and family. At 28 it was the largest head table that I had seen….and set. Like a true royal affair in the middle ages, the guests rambunctiously laughed and greeted one another; toasted and drank the finest wines, and feasted on venison medallions, filet of beef in glacé of veal, and salmon steak.

The family members who flew in from Ontario, raved about the impressive Rocky Mountains and the generous Alberta hospitality. Heartfelt speeches sent more tissues around and guests amused themselves with selfies in the polaroid corner.

To the tunes of Billy Holiday, Michael Jackson and a smattering of country rock, the revellers partied and danced until one am. Tired smiles were worn by bride, groom, family and friends.  A perfect day.  Let the tear-down and clean-up now begin. Wedding planner on duty. No deer in sight.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

a mountain high - part II

“I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue…”

As we set out for the mountain top that I wanted to stand on, on this Saturday morning, I had already begun to reflect on the why’s, where’s and who’s that have dotted my life. Great guy and I would also be marking three years together on this day, and thinking about then and now had made me both melancholy and excited. Is that possible? Life. What an adventure; just realizing that you have no idea what or who lies around the next corner, but around that corner you should go. And, now I had the boots.

My feet were nestled in the finest Swiss hiking boots, and I had just met their maker. I was standing in his small hiking boot and shoe repair shop, having just decided to purchase the wildly reduced pair on my feet. While I was waiting for great guy, this white-haired, white-moustached Grindelwälder told me stories about his time working in Banff as a mountain and ski guide. Home! I was interested.

In reply to my question, “When were you there,” he answered, “Oh, it was a long time ago, back in 1973. Gee, let’s see, how many years ago was that…” And as he paused to calculate, I said, “Well, actually that was exactly 40 years ago. Today is my birthday.” What a lovely reaction, as his wrinkled, bright, face lit up and he offered me his strong hand and his warmest congratulations.

Boistered by this sweet encounter, we arrived at First Alm, our starting point (no pun intended). The sun hung sadly in the sky, worried about the impending clouds moving in, but the fresh air was warm and breezy. The sound of the heavy cow bells bonging from the necks of the alpi cows surrounding us in each direction, was a steady concert. Like an entire chorus of bell players, whose soprano section got lost along the way. I thought it was the loveliest sound. Music, mountains, tiny purple berg tulips, a great guy and some alpi cows. Perfect. 

What followed were ascents up 1000 metres, then steep, shale-covered paths down, over rocky plateaus, and through green, misty valleys. The sound of cow bells was our constant companion. About half way through our planned 6 hour hike, the rain came. We had prepared for it, but after 2 hours of cats and dogs we were soaked through. We took a bratwurst and apfelschorle break in a rugged, lonely mountain hut, along with other wet hikers. Then we set out again into the rain and wind.

Needless to say, we were chilled to the bone by the time we got onto even the same mountain as my cow. The cow. Lotti. And the alpi cheese. We still hadn’t found her or her farmer yet and great guy was not eager (to put it mildly) to continue our journey. I told him that there is no way that I have come so far and am so close, not to go keep going and find her. I said he could turn around if he wanted to, but I’m going to find my cow and get my cheese. It was my birthday present.

“You see the smile that’s on my mouth
It’s hiding the words that don’t come out”

So, half an hour later we finally came upon a very simple, bauernhof (farm) with a pen of healthy hogs, two German shepherds, a dirty child and two stalls full of cows in the process of being milked. It was 5pm. The milking hour.

We definitely didn’t want to disturb…and I have to admit I felt quite stupid showing up at this busy place where hard work is the constant norm, asking to see a cow named Lotti. But, the young farmer, who this cow-renting program supports, was gracious and kind and gave us a quick tour auf Schweizer Deutsch (no idea what he said). He led us up the four, narrow, rickety steps, of a separate wooden hut standing a few metres away from the big barn. The door opened into a dark room with floor-to-ceiling shelves on all sides and a wide, circular scale hanging from a hook in the centre. The smell was shocking, a bit offensive, until I realized….cheese. On every surface was cheese. Huge wheels of cheese. Yummy.

The reception from the five-year-old, milk-chocolate brown Lotti wasn’t quite as friendly as her owner’s. She was busy. She very clearly didn’t care that I had rented her, which she proved by standing with her face against the wooden inside wall of the stall, backside out. Granted the milking hoses were attached to her, churning out milk, and as my only frame of reference for such an activity (breast-feeding moms) I decided to a) not take her photo and b) leave her in peace. So I whispered hello; so that no actual Swiss person would hear me, and then we headed back down the row of similar, rent-able milk producers. As we hiked down the steep mountain path, wet and cranky, my 4 kg wheel of cheese bounced along in great guy’s bag; it’s mild stench mixing quite nicely (at least I thought so) with the damp, forest air. Can you be wet, cranky and happy?

Back in our little hotel room, with great guy already snoring softly beside me, I try to reflect on the years behind me and think about how I should direct my future (if I can). My body is still chilled and sore from the day’s activity and I can’t seem to concentrate. I pick up a Grindelwald magazine lying on the bedside table beside me and lazily flip through it.

“And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed
They don’t know my head is a mess.”

A photo of the Eiger north face makes me stop page-turning. As I read the article about the 75th anniversary of the first successful ascent of the north face, I am inspired by the courage and perseverance of the teams who had tried (and often failed) in attempting this feat. I keep reading; names like Harrer, one of my favourite writers, or Kurz and Hinterstoisser, two Germans from the town where my dad was born and whose tragic story was immortalized on film. Then, the story turns local. To the first Grindelwald resident who in 1978 secretly; not wanting to worry his fellow mountain folks who had rescued and recovered so many others in their attempt to conquer this mountain, scaled the north face. Even weeks afterwards, nobody knew of his accomplishment, until eventually the news trickled out through his family. He became a soft-spoken hero and an exceptional mountain guide. The name rang a bell. Bohren. The photo looked familiar. It was my shoemaker.


"Today may there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
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