This place steals my words.
That is, obviously, an understatement.
Granted that I'm in the Tirolian Alps; granted that it's apparently the destination for German and Italian- not to mention Austrian- ultra-wealthy people. Granted that the village from which we started the hike that took me up into this glory- small place by the name of Igles- is so expensive that apparently only European cabinet ministers live there.
Granted all of that. But still... but still, I look around me and cannot help but think...
This place was birthed from the breath of the old gods.
And yesterday I pulled myself up the slopes of that aspiration, and it blew through me into the hollows of my bones.
Our group of law students wended our plebian way through Igles by bus, and at 8 p.m. yesterday landed at the base of a trail which went up.
We took lanterns and started walking. I was last on the trail, though not the only one having a hard time- even the younger folk were having difficulty breathing in the thin mountain air, and on a slope that was at least 35 degrees- but I walked with the guide who followed, Monica, and learned from her what it was like to grow up in the Tirol.
And had what breath I had left taken at every turn of the path by a dazzling magnificence that dried any words I had to ash on my tongue.
These mountains may be alive. Certainly they exhale, the mist birthed on their slopes blowing cool in the fading gold caught in the tall pines and scattered across our way.
Such respiration on an ageless and dizzying pitch has the effect of intoxication: Are the peaks really so far? How can they fade from green to grey and still be gilded? Why does the lapis of the sky not scratch as it drags across those points? Is what I'm breathing air or light?
Am I a sigh of this mountain too?
Monica picked stawberries for the two of us as we wound our way up, asking me about my studies, telling me about her husband, teasing me about having chosen to study so long, trying to describe the taste of apfelschnapp, explaining how late- for a Tirolian- she learned to ski.
We stopped once, at a bend in the path where she pointed out a tiny white hut. "A church," she said, "for those who come- who make the trip to the kirche at the top..."
"A pilgrimage?" I offered. "Yes," she smiled, "pilgrimage. They come to kneel, to pray-" by now we were walking again, ..."to ask, please, to Gott..."
She pointed to a sign ahead of us. Heilig Wasser Kirche, I read: Holy Water Church. "Die wasser," Monica said, "is good for the eyes."
And then we were there. Heilig Wasser Gasthaus.
We went inside. She gave me some of the schnapps she had been telling me about: made from apples, bearing not the vaguest relation to the beverage that goes by that name in the States, very much like downing straight vodka with more vivid a flavor.
Then beer with lemonade, another Tirolean specialty. Then jaegertee, hunter's tea, consisting of schnapps and hot water and a slice of lemon and a cube of sugar.
None of it as overpowering as the mountain on which we stood.
We sang and laughed and yodeled and danced and accordioned and guitared and drank.
And all the time I felt the mountain beneath us. Unmoving, impassive, but there: so steady in its presence that I could feel it like a pulse in the palm of my hand.
As soon as I could I went downstairs and out the door into the chill dark.
Looked at the lights of the valley before me, near-swallowed in the midnight silk of the mountains, a string of sapphirine glitter dimmed only a little by the faint luster of the mountains cradling them.
Thought, if I never come again, I must remember this for my whole life. I must always remember.
Stared into the darkness, memorizing the light, until my eyes ached and stung.
Felt the hand of Monica on my shoulder- she had followed me out into the night- pointing to the trough by the door of the kirche into which springwater bubbled. "Heilig wasser," she said.
Went to the trough. Let the water bubble through my fingers Cupped my hands in it.
Splashed my face till it ached with the cold.
Went down the mountain, last again, watching with Monica the string of flames bobbing and winding down before us.
Took Monica's hand at the bottom and told her, "It was my pleasure to have talked to you. Thank you. Please take care of yourself."
In response to which she touched my cheek lightly and said, "Danke, madchen. You take care also."
Went to my room. It was smaller and brighter than when I had left.
My vision had sharpened.
Breath and flame and song and mountain. And heilig wasser.
Very good for the eyes.
7/05/2007 at 05:32
Lanterns, Breath, and Holy Water from the Tirol
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