by Marilyn Crockett
We flew Icelandic, Tony and I, with its stop in Reykjavik and we really did stop in Reykjavik for three days, I think. I liked Iceland for its oddness, little multicolored houses with corrugated roofs lining streets punctuated with little trees. The open, treeless countryside had its great falls, not as great as Yosemite or Niagara, and its hot springs, not as dramatic as Yellowstone – but all interesting. I liked the sheep turned loose to graze and the feeling of being in a Bergman movie with the Icelandic language surrounding us, so Scandinavian in sound.
But our real destination was Zermat and the Matterhorn. Tony, an Australian with a physics PhD from Cambridge, the English one, had the English climbing bug. I had gone along with jogging, hiking, and even two lessons in rock climbing, ever the cooperative girl-friend. Not that I did that well. My jogging on the paths around the Cloisters was intermittent, walking when the grade was too steep or when I just felt fatigued. The hiking, most interesting at the Delaware Watergap, was a plodding thing. I looked forward to the picnic with a demi of wine at the top. I met my match with the rock climbing. I did not like dangling off a rope and rappelling. I never got the hang of it, bouncing against the side of a vertical cliff. The first lesson went fine with a pro instructor that Tony had hired. But on the second try, I got stuck on the face of the cliff – sandwiched – and I could not go either up or down. Tony to his credit had the strength to pull me up. The misery of that moment surpassed my embarrassment.
Once in Switzerland, for my benefit, we stopped at an art museum but I had yet to really understand what I could get out of viewing a small regional collection. I wanted the big stuff, the Louvre, The British Museum, the Metropolitan. Tony was bored and I was dismissive. So on to Zermat. I liked the cable tram that clanked its way up to the town, no tourist cars at top. The locals had only a few cars hidden most of the time. Zermat is a tourist town, skiing in the winter and climbing in the summer. It was full of chalet style hotels and restaurants, all decorated with window boxes of red geraniums, never pink or white, just red. I imagined a chamber-of-congress meeting with a huge order of geranium planted on the first day of viability in the spring and carefully nurtured to capture the tourist dollar with their red-budded charm.
The Swiss cuisine seemed at that time to depend on fondue or raclette based on bread, cheese, and small potatoes, nice enough but not all the time. There was game, also, lots of it, but it was very expensive and I felt it rude to order from the top of the menu. Also, I am a “get too hungry for dinner at eight” Midwesterner, and with the level of exercise I was starving long before Tony was, and he wanted to pick out just the right restaurant for his mood at the moment, so we had to walk to restaurant after restaurant and examine menus before we could eat.
There was never any question of my climbing the Matterhorn and it turned out there wasn’t for Tony either. It was available weather-wise only one day and Tony postponed, feeling he was not acclimatized sufficiently to the high altitudes. He wanted to do it later and there was never a later without fog or threat of rain. We climbed up to a shed marking a rest point, on the Matterhorn, as far as you could go without a hired guide and we also climbed the Mettelhorn. One could do it without paying a guide. The trail was clearly marked and considered safe. This was climbed late in our two week visit and it was long and high. There was one point where there was a sea of fresh snow and I imagined a crevasse under it that I could fall into and I made Tony go first. Other than that I was sure footed enough and not bothered by being so close to the edge. Going up we were warmed by the sheer exercise of climbing. But when we got to the top it was instantly icy cold and extremely windy. My clothes were iffy. I could not enjoy the admittedly spectacular view while feeling so miserable. Tony wanted to plant two small flags, one American and one Australian. The Swiss disapprove of such things as it litters up the mountain. I disapproved because it seemed almost childish when thousands of people have climbed before. I also figured the flags would blow away in two minutes. Then he had to take pictures. At last we could descend. Then the trouble started. I was more careful and slower than Tony and I was feeling it in my shins. It seemed to take forever.
Once down Tony had to do the walk to restaurant after restaurant to choose the exact right one. I was again starving and the very worst thing – it was my birthday. Tony had bought an Icelandic sweater for me earlier because he knew my birthday was coming up but didn’t remember it on the day. Was I unfair to blame him? I was adding up the whole relationship and deciding I did not like my position as exercise companion. I could do without the sailing which seemed to be mostly following yelled directions in proper sailing vocabulary. The theater hadn’t lasted beyond the first two times, the Wiz and Equus, clearly an opening move to impress me. There was no more theater in sight. Tony was GU, geography undesirable. He lived in New Jersey and I didn’t like the long bus trips back. I didn’t speak of it at the time. I didn’t want to make the rest of the trip miserable, but I had resolved to break up with Tony.
I had seen the pair of ladies panties under the bed and I knew Tony had two or three girlfriends at a time so I was surprised when Tony refused to take my decision to break up seriously. He begged, but no matter how much his begging restored my ego, I was adamant until…I finally agreed to see him only once in a while. I did so until someone else turned up that I was interested in, someone who lived in Manhattan below fourteenth street with an interest in the arts.
Did I regret Zermat or Tony? No, it seemed to be something that I had to go through. I learned what I wasn’t interest in. I am sorry to have found Switzerland boring, I feel there must be something lacking in me that this is so. But I am an urbanite, I think. I thrill to the Elgin marbles and don’t really find a thrill in a mountain. It is just sort of there, or not even there, depending on weather conditions. My loss perhaps. I found out that I am not that interested in sailing, mountain climbing, jogging, hiking – when it doesn’t involve good architectural details or wonderful shop windows, and I am especially not interested in rock climbing. I mentioned climbing the Mettelhorn to an elderly chorus friend of Danny’s, who had done a lot of serious climbing and he said it was a “respectable climb.” I warmed to his respect.. Yes, I had done that. I certainly did climb the Mettelhorn and I lived to now – tell the tale.