Farewell to Rivendell?

Farewell to Rivendell? June 19, 2024


Mürren with Eiger
In the foreground is the Berner Oberland village of Mürren. In the distant background, looking pyramidal from this angle, is the Eiger. The Mönch, a bit withdrawn between them, is not visible in this photo, but the base of the Jungfrau is, to the right. Between it and the village, out of sight far below, is the tiny hamlet of Stechelberg in the Lauterbrunnental or Lauterbrunnen Valley.  We stayed in Stechelberg on one trip.  We’ve stayed many times in Lauterbrunnen, typically in the Hotel Staubbach.  We like one particular corner room.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

First of all, I wish a happy Juneteenth to everybody out there.  It’s a great day to remember.

I first visited Switzerland fifty-four years ago.  Yes, I’m that old.  It was a brief visit, on a six-week tour of Europe with a busload of recent high school graduates.  We stayed for a couple of nights in Saas-Fee and visited Zermatt, where we saw the Matterhorn.  I fell instantly in love with the country, and I decided that I wanted to serve my mission there.  (Curiously, Saas-Fee, Zermatt, and the Matterhorn aren’t my favorite part of Switzerland, and haven’t been for many, many years.)

To my astonishment, when the letter containing my mission call arrived — like many, I’m sure, I can still remember very clearly the moment of finding it and opening it — I was, in fact, called to the Switzerland Zürich Mission.  I don’t think that I had expressed — or even that I could have expressed — any specific preference

I have no idea now how many times I’ve been here.  After my studies in Israel, I came to Zollikofen and worked in the temple for a week or two, volunteering in the baptistry in the morning and then heading on the afternoons into the mountains.  When we’ve been in the Middle East, we’ve often managed to make a stop in Switzerland on the way back.  We’ve celebrated our anniversary in Switzerland, brought our parents and our children here.  You might say that we like the place.

Someday, perhaps even on this trip, I’ll visit Switzerland for the last time.  The thought saddens me.  But I’m reliably informed that the next world is even better.  Think of that!

A view of the Eiger (the pyramidal peak to the left) and the Mönch to ts right), captured today by my wife.. Only the lower shoulder of the mighty Jungfrau is visible on the right of this photograph, though the peak of the Jungfrau can be seen from just about everywhere in Mürren.  There is more snow here today than in the first photograph, further above.

We drove up to Stechelberg today, at the end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and caught the cable car from there up to Mürren.  We spent much of the day strolling through the town; reading; gazing at the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau across the valley; and enjoying traditional Berner Rösti washed down with Apfelschorle.  (There.  That should be enough to elicit considerable indignation over at the Peterson Obsession Board.  But I’ll hit the food theme again in a few seconds, just to make sure.)

I don’t think that we’ve ever before come up only to Mürren.  However, since we’re on our own and we’re not introducing Switzerland to any friends or family — and since we’ve done the Schilthorn more times than I can count — we decided to keep it simple this time.  The panoramic revolving restaurant at the summit, Piz Gloria, was featured as the headquarters of master criminal Ernst Stavro Blofeld (aka Telly Savalas), the head of SPECTRE, in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Probably the first time that I visited the Schilthorn, I think, was just after my mission.  I went up with my parents.  My father put his camera by the window while we ate, and was then shocked to find that it had been “stolen.”  I’m not sure whether he hadn’t realized that it was a revolving restaurant or whether he just hadn’t understood that it was the inner core of the structure that revolved, and not the outer portion with its windows and window sills.  Happily, it was simply on the other side of the restaurant.

Unfortunately, I’ve just  realized that I had forgotten to put a Chäschüechli on my must-eat list — for you Hochdeutsch-types, think Käseküchlein — and I don’t know whether I’ll have the opportunity to right that wrong on this trip.  Happily, though, I also made a discovery:  I’ve never been a really enthusiastic fan of the Swiss soft drink Rivella.  However, by sheer good fortune I discovered that I like it much better as a slush.  That’s important for the next visit.

Amazing how many there are!
Some wildflowers in Mürren, in a photo taken today by my wife.

Also important to note:  I’ve commented that Grindelwald may be the more spectacular but, in my opinion, Lauterbrunnen is the more beautiful (because, in a way, the more human and gemütlich) of the two adjacent valleys.  In a parallel way, perhaps, of the two fairly significant towns that sit high up on opposite sides of Lauterbrunnental, Mürren, which we visited today, is arguably the most spectacular.  But, if I were going to stay for several days in just one of them (something that I’ve never done but which I would like to do), I believe that I would choose Wengen.  I judge it to be prettier, in a way, and, again, more “human” or more to a human scale.  It has a wonderful view of the valley below, which was the model for J. R. R. Tolkien’s Rivendell.  (See the second photograph in my recent blog entry “The Most Beautiful Place on Our Planet,” which was taken from a train car ascending up toward — and very near — Wengen.)

“I am . . . delighted,” he wrote to a friend (Letter 306 in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien),

that you have made the acquaintance of Switzerland, and of the very part that I once knew best and which had the deepest effect on me. The hobbit’s journey from Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains, including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods, is based on my adventures in 1911 (he was 19 and travelled to Lauterbrunnen) . . .  Our wanderings mainly on foot in a party of 12 are not now clear in sequence, but leave many vivid pictures as clear as yesterday.

The conditions that Tolkien describes for the travel of Bilbo — e.g.  camping out, walking mountain paths, carrying packs, etc. — are, of course, very similar to those of the backpacking trip that Tolkien took back in 1911, when he was nineteen years of age.

Rivendell was the perfect house, whether you liked food or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness. — J.R.R. Tolkien.

Posted from Matten bei Interlaken, Switzerland



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