I was 16 when my father took my brother and me on a skiing vacation. We went to the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. We stayed in a small town called Mannlichen. Our hotel was in the center of town. We discovered a local custom on our second night. Each year, the farmers come out of the hills, dress up in costumes, and march through the town all night… for the entire last week of the year. Ringing cowbells and beating drums. They passed under my window 4 times a night as they wound their figure 8 through the village. It didn’t end with dawn, either. Just as we would be rubbing the wake out of our eyes down at the breakfast buffet, a raucous, drunk band of bell ringers would charge into the hotel lobby. Local custom held that establishments had to provide meals to the farmers, since their cacophony was driving evil spirits back onto the mountain peaks for another year.
I remember standing there with a croissant in my hand, dumbfounded at the swarm of colorful revelers that descended on that buffet. The croissant was the only thing left to me for the next half hour after they finished. They even took the lettuce garnish from underneath the bowls. While I was waiting for the hotel staff to replenish the buffet, my eyes came to rest on their leader. It was hard to tell how tall he was, he was wearing the most unusual costume I’ve ever seen. Around his knees, the hand crafted visage of a crooked old woman snarled at me. On her back was an old fashioned baby basket from which sprouted the man. He had a giant baby rattle, a bonnet, and what smelled like dirty diapers. He grinned at my astonished gaze, gap toothed and stained. He was a baby that only a mother could love… a paper mache mother at that.
The night before we were to return to the States, Don pulled me aside. He was another broker in my father’s firm, and we had become friends. Don took me along to the boutique when he bought his $12,000 Rolex, a unique experience, I can tell you. Anyway, Don had a problem this night. He had WAY too much liquor to cart back to the US. He asked me to help him with his duty free problem. I had never had a gin and tonic before that night. Really, I haven’t had any since… but I had plenty of them that night. After a couple hours, Don and his buddies guided me out into the streets. We joined in with the Bell ringers, swinging bottles to some drunken tune we couldn’t have carried, even if we did speak German. An eddy of the parade swung us into a bar. We staggered up to the bar. Don had a plan. He ordered 4 cokes, one for each of us.
As we left, he jammed a bottle of whiskey down the back of my pants. “I need the room for the cokes, just carry this for a while” He pocketed the coke bottles inside his jacket.
I recognized our hotel as we approached it. I remember that because it was the only building I did know in town. In the lobby, I automatically started towards the elevators, and bed, but Don grabbed me by the bottle and guided me towards the elevator down. The door hadn’t even opened when I could feel the pumping bass through the floor. The sliding door revealed a Technicolor boombox of strobe lights and laser beams. Don plopped me down at a table, and he and his friends went out on the dance floor. When they came back, they had glasses. We broke out our smuggled goods, and poured some more drinks.
A couple drinks later, I was well planted to my seat. I woke up to the realization that I had been talking to the couple at the next table. They were laughing at me for some reason. I was saying something about how great it was to come here from the US and find friendly people to talk to. What? My quizzical look must have been extra funny, because their laughter followed me into sleep.
When I awoke, I could tell that matters had changed. The woman next door was looking at me all wrong. I only got a “Wha..” out before I realized that I had barfed all over the table.
Don and his buds magically appeared and carted me off to bed. Now, I don’t know about your experience with hang overs, but I’ll place this one here for your consideration. Imagine sleeping for 2 hours, packing two suitcases, riding on a bus for 4 hours. Waiting in an airport for 2 hours. Flying on a plane for 11 hours. Riding on a bus for 2 hours. Driving in a car for 30 minutes. Finally, I got home, having left bits of myself all across the Atlantic.
So, keep your Gin and Tonics in your Swiss Discos, thank you very much 🙂