Requiem for a Certain Era

Published on October 30, 2006 by in Writing Coaching

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From: ” Hotel Rubschen Braunwald”
Sent: Fri, 20 Oct 2006 16:26
To: Tedd Determan

Salü Monique & Tedd,

Danke das Mail und Eueren Beitrag eine Suche nach einen Investor.
Doch, die ist jetzt vorbei, Heute haben wir den Vertrag abgeschlossen.
Das Rubschen geht jetzt in andere Hände und wir sind ab 01. November Privat.
Neueres wissen wir im Moment nicht. 

Viele liebe Grüsse aus Braunwald

Horst und Rosli,

My friend Tedd forwarded me this news the other day. “What?” Mieshelle asked, some time afterward, upon seeing my face. She admitted later that she thought someone had died. She wasn’t far off.

“Rubschen,” I said. “It’s sold.”

That’s all I needed to say to her. For readers, however, I will add the following deciphering: the email was addressed to one of my best friends and a Feroce entrepreneur coach, Tedd Determan, who lives in Washington, D.C. I was with Tedd, crashing a World Bank party in DC, when he met his future wife, Monique. This was about 1998. Later that year, I was delighted to be able to share with Tedd the Hotel Rubschen, and Braunwald, a village in the mountains in the canton of Glarus, Switzerland. Tedd fell in love too; there was more than enough to go around.

The authors of the email, Horst and Rosli Pfannenmueller, are — were —  the owners of the hotel. Onkel Horst, wise-cracking brother of my German mother and now a Swiss citizen, came to Switzerland when he was 17 to be an apprentice chef, and bought the hotel in the early 1970s. He is, until November, the virtuoso Michelin-starred chef of the Hotel Rubschen, and Tante Rosli is the Tasmanian Devil-like whirlwind of energy that handles —handled — everything else. For me, in a life full of moving from place to place, seldom to look back, and after a decade, in the 90s, of losing one German relative after another, the Hotel  Rubschen had, until now, held the distinction of being the longest continuing place of return in my life.

My aunt and uncle’s email was a reply to Tedd and Monique, who had once again written Onkel Horst and Tante Rosli, as part of Tedd’s efforts to find a buyer for the hotel whom we would know, as opposed to a buyer we would not. Efforts in which I did not participate. Why not? Perhaps because I wanted to allow my aunt and uncle to let go, in private, of the container in which their very lives had been lived. Perhaps because I had no ideas. Perhaps because denial is a sure way to avoid feeling pain and as long as I stayed out of it I could be largely unaware of anything troubling happening.

Rubschen, light of my life, grill of venison loins, My mountainous dream, my child-like self. Rrrrrub-schen. The tip of the tongue, to further paraphrase Nabokov, sputtering Teutonically on the palate till the R elides into the ub as preface to the schen so like the chen (I see at last) that makes diminutives of Germans’ beloveds. A secret I was always eager to share with my closest friends.

So often have I gone there and seen in the unchanging mirror of those mountains, those paths, that place, how I have changed and not changed. If I could bottle the optimism and good-feeling I have felt over and over, on every arrival, as I glide from train to funicular and then begin the gravelly walk from Braunwald village to the hotel, I would be a rich man, even if I was the only person ever to nip at the bottle, before secreting it back in my desk drawer.

I remember myself there as a young boy, scampering up boulders during walks, reveling in being likened to a goat. I remember driving there at ten, with German friend of the family Harry, who thought my mindless repetition of a sentence I’d spotted in his pfennig Westerns, Zum Teufel damit – “To hell with it!” was the height of hilarity, and I recall the pride I felt in being entrusted for two weeks with the job of bartender – bartender! I returned with cousin Mike at thirteen, the pictures (rather than my memory) showing us riding like princes on the electric cart, and capering about with my uncle, none of us of course aware that Mike had nine more years, seven of them good.

At sixteen, reading outside as I suntanned my vanity in the liegestuhle, falling in love with the waitress Claudia, notwithstanding the obstacle posed by the endearing mutton-chopped waiter Hermann, who watched me demonstrate Chinese push-ups in the restaurant, went into the kitchen, and returned rubbing his nose, his tiny black eyes gleaming. At twenty-two, I was just done with college, bracing for a very large change.

At twenty-six, I was back after the disappointment that was a federal judge I’d clerked for, writing almost non-stop the story of now-gone Mike and I, praying for cloudy days on which I could stay inside with my manhood and adventurousness unimpugned by my aunt, on better days solo-climbing in just a few hours the serrated symbol of Braunwald, Ortstock mountain, realizing quite late that the pretty young Portuguese woman, a seasonal worker at the ritzier Hotel Bellevue, a friend of the Portuguese who worked at Rubschen, was a lonely newlywed and had seen in an American an exotic glamour, even rescue.

I wrote a short story after this trip, my second. “An American at the Hotel Rubschen,” it’s called. The narrator is Jorge, one of two brothers who works at the Hotel Rubschen. He meets the eponymous American when Herr Pfannenmueller asks him to go down to Braunwald village to fetch his nephew, who has just come up on the funicular. It is raining, but the American declines the offer to ride in the electric car, insisting on the longed-for walk, knowing that in the morning “the mountains will come out to play”. The first half (or two-thirds?) of this paragraph is representative of the place, the rest the license of fiction:

The hotel was smartly dressed, like an obedient Swiss child, with maple-colored wood-leaf shingles and red storm shutters. There were two floors of rooms above the restaurant. On sunnier days the sonnenterrasse was full of hikers who lounged at tables in the shade of the umbrellas that now stood dormant in the rain, and children who ran around them, and dogs who collapsed to sleep beneath them with their sides heaving. The American was greeted with a happy red face from Herr Pfannenmueller, who had just left the kitchen and was still holding a handmixer from which batter slowly dripped, and with a great storm of energy by the aggressive Frau Pfannenmueller, who hugged him tightly and clucked her tongue and welcomed him to the Hotel Rubschen where, she said to him, “you can rest your broken heart.” I struggled to understand more of their German, but the bastard Swiss dialect, like most bastards, resisted closer inquiry. I watched the American’s sure gestures and wry smile and wondered what the others would think. Rita and Rui, who loved American rock singers, Joze, who preferred the bottom of his beer glass to social discourse, lovely Emilia, who so loved new things.

I never saw any of that summer’s Portuguese workers again, but each visit back proved that between the Portuguese and Rubschen there was a match made in heaven. I returned when I was thirty, taking a break from working unhappily in the law, accompanied by my supportive and patient friend Rachel; I recall feeling grateful when she cut short a hike to the green, snow-fed lake Oberblegisee, leaving me to a memorable experience of solitude as I sat by the lake in the fog, feeling I was looking at my life from a great height.
At thirty-one, there I was again with Tedd during my first Braunwald in the snow and my first torn-up knee too, and a few years later to watch Tedd and Monique consecrate that ground in marriage, and finally last October, with Tedd and Monique and Mieshelle, who said it was like the place of her childhood dreams, that she didn’t know such places existed, and has ever since supported my dream of returning to live not far away.

Braunwald. It’s worth pointing out that when I have wanted to envision in my mind a scene of calm and happiness, or feel in my body peace, I have referred to that state of inner peace and happiness as “the Braunwald of my mind.  I loved it in a rare way, I loved it unreservedly.

And so the sense of loss I felt reading that email. Braunwald will always be there, at least, as long as I am here to be conscious of a there, but the absence of my relatives and my uncle’s food and a place that has always been mine means things will be different now.

Here it is again in English:

The era has now passed . . . Rubschen will go now into other hands . . .

Many loving wishes from Braunwald,

Horst und Rosli

For more information, see www.braunwald.ch.

Who’s coming with me?

One Response to “Requiem for a Certain Era”

  1. Coach Wanda says:

    Thank you Cameron for sharing “the Braunwald of your mind” with us. I was deeply touched as you reflected on different turning points in your life, anchored to one amazing place! I am sure that such breathtaking beauty and majestic glory of nature will continue to live on for generations. I acknowledge your loss and know that by sharing this special place with us, you have heightened its significance. Some day I hope to visit the magnificent Braunwald.
    Wanda

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