Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Swiss Didgeridoo

Recently it has come to my attention that some folks are confused by the fact that I have a didgeridoo that I made by hand during a stay in Interlaken, Switzerland. Despite all signs pointing to complete globalization, people still expect certain products to come exclusively from certain corners of the world. My didgeridoo should have come from Australia, preferably from an aboriginal community. But, the fact is, it did not. While I suppose it originally came from Australia in some sense, it more directly came from a youth hostel in the Swiss Alps.
My introduction to Interlaken came from my grandparents who visited the charming mountain town quite frequently. They spoke of enjoying glorious views and taking trains and gondolas into quaint mountain towns. Since I was already studying in Milan, a trip up to this quiet mountain village seemed appropriate. More importantly, my roommate in Milan, inspired by a homesickness only curable by hot wings, discovered that the nearest Hooters to Milan happened to be in Interlaken--so the trip was set.
Upon arriving in town, I discovered that Interlaken was a tourist town catering to two distinct clientele. First, folks like my grandparents enjoyed beautiful, lake-front hotels with picture window views of the mountains. The second group, which included myself, shacked up in crowded youth hostels while spending the day bleeding cash toward adventure sports. During this initial stay, we crashed at Balmer's Youth Hostel, more frat house and anything else, and enjoyed local delights such as beer and rosti (essentially skillet potatoes with various delectable toppings). This first trip passed far too quickly--we ate wings with a Miss Switzerland runner-up as a waitress, we watched hang-gliders sail around town, and we scurried onto Zurich to try to see more of the country. I knew I'd be back.
When I returned to Interlaken, I intended to stay a while. I also intended to ditch the frat-scene at Balmer's and unwind with a more laid back crowd at The Funny Farm. I checked into the hostel, claimed a top bunk in a room that slept sixteen, booked myself on an ice climbing trip, and surveyed my surroundings.
First, I noticed the mountains looming overhead. Then I noticed marijuana plants looming overhead as well and was soon informed that the herb had been decriminalized in Switzerland. Not one to partake, I quickly realized why the Funny Farm crowd was so relaxed. Later that night I went to shower and realized that my evening shower would have to take place under black lights and to the tunes of Widespread Panic. Fair enough.
The next days allowed me to enjoy the outdoors. I went ice climbing in a glacier with a gang from Cancun who had never seen glaciers before--they provided lots of laughs and greatly expanding my knowledge of Spanish epithets ("putissima madre," being my new favorite). The next day I discarded my mildewed sneakers and bought some Solomon hiking boots to set out on a long trek that took me from Grindewald to the foot of the Eiger and down to Lautebrunnen. The hiking was glorious, and I returned to the Funny Farm that evening with plans of hitting more trails the next day.
And then the rain came. At first I welcomed the moisture as a chance to explore the town, rest my legs, and plan new routes. The rain continued a second day. I filled this day by playing chess. Chess offered fantastic entertainment. Being the only clear-headed person in a hostel full of smokers, I absolutely dominated. I felt like a Russian grand-master doing battle against toddlers who could not decide whether to stare at the pieces and wait for them to move or just to stare at the pieces. 
Dominating chess offered two days fun and then I needed something new to do as the deluge continued. Finally, I asked the New Zealander who tended the bar if he had any brilliant ideas, to which he responded, "You need to make a didgeridoo, mate." Obviously.
It turns out that the Kiwi was himself a talented player, and he happened to have stashed away a massive pile of hollowed out eucalyptus just for this purpose. For extra cash, he made some to sell at the front desk of the hostel, but he also allowed bored guys like me to select a piece of wood and get to work. With some coaching, I began shaping the raw hunk of wood into something resembling a shiny raw hunk of wood. 
As the afternoon approached, all I lacked was applying varnish and crafting a beeswax mouthpiece. But, as this step rolled around, my mentor went missing. I searched the Funny Farm from the TV room where stoners had fused with the couches while watching some sort of Hungarian pornographic film to the front desk where students accepted rainchecks for cancelled bungee jumps and hang gliding trips. Alas, my Kiwi teacher was lost.
I retreated to the biergarten whether my didgeridoo awaited its chemical coating. Finally, the bartender wandered back, his eyes full of tears, the tears perhaps 9% alcohol. He was hammered. Ever the dutiful instructor, he tossed a bucket of varnish next to me along with a brush and told me to apply it evenly. He then stumbled away, and I began to grow concerned, not just about my musical project, but about the guy himself. 
I asked one of the Kiwi's compatriots why the drunken tears. Turns out the guy went home for a quick sandwich while I continued to haplessly craft my didg. He realized something was amiss when he stumbled upon a pile of clothing. His concerns only grew as he realized that the pile of clothing previously housed his girlfriend and one of his best friends. To make matters worse, the duo had apparently undressed together and were now engaged in activities similar to those documented in the Hungarian film being viewed at that very moment in the TV room of the Funny Farm.
Dejected, the didg-maker retreated into a bottle of something strong and returned to work where he handed me varnish and helped me hone a mouthpiece from beeswax. Later that night, he invited me to a concert where he would be playing the didg alongside a reggae band in an underground night club (not that it was criminal in any way--given the strict noise ordinances, most clubs were literally underground). He played beautifully, I rejected the advances of a sallow Swiss teenager, and I awoke the next morning, as usual, to the sound of Cake's "The Distance," blasting from the direction of the biergarten. 
So, this is how I ended up with a Swiss didgeridoo. As the rain continued and the ultimate rainy day entertainment complete, I decided to hop a train toward Belgium to work my way to my study abroad program in London. My Kiwi instructor stayed in Interlaken and just maybe learned how to get the didgeridoo to play some blues.

1 comment:

Jeanne Rhea said...

When I started reading your blog, I thought it may be joke that you would write about your travels. But, hey, you are a great writer! Entertaining and with an element of truth in it makes it addicting. Most blog entries over a few sentences are usually too much these days---but this was interesting!

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