Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wagner's Christmas Present: Siegfried Idyll

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

listen to Siegfried Idyll: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=891JUSQplzU

Wagner's Christmas Present: Siegfried Idyll
essay
by Greg Larson

           I leaned out the dormer window on the top floor of the historic waterfront Hotel des Alpes in Lucerne, Switzerland, to view a panoramic sweep of the landscape. The radiant morning sun was a gift, creating sparkles and reflections from the placid surface of Lake Lucerne. The city was coming to life, and the lofty Alps created a hazy backdrop to the Chapel Bridge and the Reuss River directly below. It was a grand view to wake up to on our 2014 overnight trip to Lucerne. 
Hotel des Alpes, Lucerne, Switzerland
          Gretta tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a tourist map. “Where would you like to go this morning? We have enough time to do some more exploring before we have to board our boat.”

          I perused the pictorial map — the type with color drawings of the points of interest positioned on hand-drawn streets — and noticed a small museum in a historical structure, located near the shore of Lake Lucerne, just outside of the downtown. Then I viewed the index: Number 38 . . . Richard Wagner Museum. I turned to Gretta, “There’s a Wagner Museum along the shore. At least we can’t get lost. It would be a nice walk, and it doesn’t look too far.”

          Gretta flipped some pages in her Rick Steves travel book. “It says it’s only a ten minute walk. Let’s go.”

          We paced briskly over the river bridge, past the train station, and the boat landings. During the ten minute walk we passed a park, a tour bus parking lot, and a maritime museum, then noticed we were in the middle of some type of campus. College students were sketching each other along with the plants and the wild grass on the campus grounds. There were no signs directing us to the museum, and it seemed we were lost, but we exited the campus and kept following the sidewalks to stay close to the lakeshore while attempting to keep a rapid hiking pace. After another ten minutes we came to the end of the sidewalk path at a local boat dock. A path beyond was not visible. Gretta noticed a man near the docks and asked him, “Entschuldigen Sie.  Wissen Sie wie wir zum Richard Wagner Museum kommen?”

          He replied while pointing up an adjacent road, “Ja.  Gehen Sie diese Straße entlang.  Nach 100 Metern werden Sie ein kleines Schild für das Museum sehen.  Biegen Sie links auf den Pfad der zum Museum führt.  Es ist eine Strecke von nur fünf Minuten.”

          “Danke schön.”

          “Bitte.”

          Gretta turned to me, “He says we’re close. We’re supposed to go up that road to the opening in the woods. There will be a small sign and a path to the museum. It’s about five minutes from that point.”

          Following his directions, we entered the dense woods which eventually opened up near the end of a peninsula, with the tidy-looking Richard Wagner Museum directly in front of us.

Richard Wagner Museum - Tribschen
          
“This looks like a historical house . . . a residence.” We slowed our pace and walked up to some points-of-interest plaques.

          Then something clicked as I looked at the surroundings. “Hey, is this where Wagner gave the Christmas present to his wife?” I looked at Gretta with amazement. “Remember the story the symphony conductor told us at the concert last December?”

           The associate conductor for the Kansas City Symphony, Aram Demirjian, had shared with the audience a poignant Christmas story regarding Wagner and his wife, Cosima, when they lived in Switzerland, in a house named Tribschen. Wagner rented the house in 1866 for a year, and he and Cosima were happy there, so they stayed for six years. While they lived in Tribschen, Wagner wrote a simple piece of music, a symphonic poem, titled Siegfried Idyll, named for their youngest son, born in 1869.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

          Richard Wagner (1813-1883), a complex man with a big ego, was known for saying, “I believe in God and Beethoven.”  His music is noted for its fullness and grandiosity, but Siegfried Idyll is different from the typical Wagner fare. It is subdued and sensual, with a peaceful nature. His intent was for the opening of the piece to represent a sunrise on Lake Lucerne. The grandiosity attempts to break out now and then, but Wagner quickly tamps down the fullness to create a deep feeling of peacefulness.

          The music was written for thirteen instruments, something suited for a chamber orchestra. It was also written as a private gift to Cosima — a gift that was presented as a surprise birthday present on Christmas day.  Wagner completed the music in early December and then had a chamber orchestra practice the piece. He convinced the musicians to come to his house before sunrise on Christmas and secreted them onto the main staircase. As the morning arrived, while Cosima was still in bed, the orchestra began to play Siegfried Idyll.

          Cosima wrote in her diary, “As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the household. Richard had arranged his orchestra on the staircase, and thus was our Tribschen consecrated forever.”

The staircase at Tribschen

           On the June morning in 2014, Gretta and I entered the museum, and before us lay the staircase. It looked much smaller than I had imagined, but I could picture the orchestra strategically placed upon the steps and the landings. Inside the museum, we found parts of the original music score displayed inside a glass-topped case. Other pieces of interest were Wagner’s cape and beret, as well as historical photos of some of theatrical sets and divas from Wagner’s operas.

          We climbed the staircase and peered out the big windows to view the Alps and Lake Lucerne. I could picture a quiet, crisp morning with the sunrise highlighting the surrounding peaks. For a moment I heard the violins in my mind, softly swelling at the beginning of Siegfried Idyll, and imagined a blanket of snow outside, with Cosima in the bedroom awakening beneath her blankets on Christmas morning to the music on the staircase.

          The Christmas of 1870 was a happy moment in Wagner’s eccentric life. His move to Tribschen was to escape creditors in Germany. Wagner was favored as a composer by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who became his benefactor and paid Wagner’s debts, but eventually Ludwig’s political and personal problems prevented him from continuing the patronage.

          After their time in the house on Lake Lucerne, Wagner’s debts rose again. Much to Cosima’s dismay, he wrote a second score of Siegfried Idyll for a larger orchestra, and sold it to be played at public performances.

          Although there was much strife and stress in Wagner’s life, for a moment on the peaceful Christmas morning of 1870, all seemed right with the world when strains of Siegfried Idyll wafted up the staircase.
Richard Wagner Museum - Tribschen

Sources:
http://www.richard-wagner-museum.ch/de/index/index.php
http://www.favorite-classical-composers.com/richard-wagner.html
http://www.chamberorchestrasa.org/siegfried-idyll-richard-wagner

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Royals Rock On!

Baseball fans stream into Kauffman Stadum for World Series Game #2
The Royals Rock On!
memoir
by Greg Larson

           The Kansas City Royals baseball fans have endured a twenty-nine year drought of mediocre baseball. With the team’s postseason winning streak of eight games, and the World Series underway, the drought has officially ended. The Royals fans now wear their blue gear with pride.

          For years, if anyone ventured out to a Royals game it was usually to go on a family outing or field trip with the office gang, just to be sociable. Kauffman Stadium, the “K,” was upgraded in 2009 to lure more people into the park. Yes, the restrooms and shops are bigger, the food venues serve gourmet items along with wine, beer and cocktails, and the park has more flash and dazzle with multiple electronic screens and billboards (they even have mini-golf, a carousel and a ball diamond in a children’s park beyond the outfield). But until recently, the improvements to the park didn’t include the quality of Royal’s baseball. “There’s a ballgame on the field!” someone would say. Imagine that! What a novel idea. “Ah, let’s go hang out on the concourse and eat some chili-cheese nachos with jalapenos.”

          Sporadically, the team improved, especially in the last year. They began to play something that resembled baseball – and they started winning.

          This last August I bought some tickets on Royals.com, and my brother, Dan, and I ventured out to the “K.” It was like the old days at the ballpark, watching players who were good at their sport, and full of energy. The experience stirred memories and emotions I’d had from the ’70s and ’80s. Although the Royals lost to the Twins in ten innings on that night in August, it was good to see real baseball, complete with offense and defense.

          Fast forward to the wildcard game with Oakland – the game with multiple personalities, both literally and figuratively. The Royals came back from a 7-3 deficit in the eighth inning to win in the twelfth inning with a score of 8-9. The Royal’s players showed spunk and moxie. My fan juices began to flow again. I had worn my old 1985 World Series t-shirt to watch the game on TV. That was the good luck charm.

          After that game, I received an email from Royals.com to sign up for a lottery that would give a selected few the chance to buy two tickets to a World Series game at the “K,” if the Royals made it that far in the post-season. I’m not one to gamble or buy lottery tickets, but I signed up online for a chance to go to the World Series, and then I forgot about it.

          On October 13th, I received an email titled WORLD SERIES TICKET OPPORTUNITY. Sounded like a scam to me, but then I realized it was sent by Royals.com. “Congratulations! You have been selected for the opportunity to purchase two tickets . . .” Holy Moly! This was the real deal. On October 14th, I was sent a password and a link to a website that put me in a virtual waiting room with all the other lottery winners attempting to purchase tickets. After twenty-five minutes of waiting, I was linked to the ticket-purchase website. Instructions said the tickets had to be purchased in five minutes or I would lose the opportunity.

          The ticket prices were sanctioned by Major League Baseball. I remember the prices varying from approximately $100 for standing-room-only to over $800 for the best seats possible. Then a rash of horror struck me. The ticket selection was color-coded, and I’m color-blind! The clock was ticking. I tried to stay calm. One category was listed as “Hy-Vee box seats,” for $245.00 per ticket. I knew the Hy-Vee grocery stores sponsored the upper-deck, and from past experience, I knew the upper-deck box seats were close to the railing above the infield and along the first and third base lines. Bingo . . . I clicked for the purchase of two tickets to Game #2 and a parking pass. I received a confirmation number for seats in the upper-deck section 413, near home plate. WOO-HOO! (After I bought the tickets to Game #2, I noticed on the internet that tickets in section 413 were selling for $1000 to $1200 apiece).

          It seemed bizarre. I printed the tickets in the privacy of my own home, and kept rubbing my fingers over them. Every so often I would pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I offered the second ticket to my brother, Dan, who is much more knowledgeable about baseball than me.

          The thought of going to the game with Dan brought back memories of my dad taking the two of us to Lawrence Stadium in Wichita, Kansas, in the 1950s to watch the Wichita Braves, Milwaukee’s farm team. I remember smelling the cigar smoke from the crowds, and looking at the stadium lights shining on big players who ran the chalk lines or chased the ball on the neatly trimmed grass. For me, it was the big leagues.

          Another early childhood memory was our tabletop baseball game, a pinball machine. We’d pull back the plunger and watch the ball arch and drop to the pockets for base hits, home runs, or strikeouts. Our teams were selected from Dan’s baseball cards, and we moved the players around the glass top as we scored or made hits. That was the beginning of our interest in baseball, and now we were going to witness, in person, a live World Series game.
Dan and Greg at Game #2 at the "K"
           On October 22, 2014, Dan and I left in the afternoon for the “K.”  We packed the car trunk with tailgate items including food and beverages, and I put the World Series tickets in a big envelope and locked it in the glove box. The 1985 World Series hats I’d pulled from a keepsake box added a nice touch to our blue jeans and Royals sweatshirts.

          The baseball gods delivered perfect weather, with a cool breeze and warm sunshine washing over us in the parking lot. We sipped our beers and kept saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
Pre-game view from our World Series seats
          The party atmosphere pervaded the sports complex from the parking lot to the stadium. Since the Royals lost the first game of the World Series (7-1) on the previous night, the fans were hungry for a win. It was a raucous crowd. The chanting was loud and constant, much like a football game. The crowd screamed on every pitch to the first batter for the San Francisco Giants. The count went full at 3-2, and on the next pitch, he hit a home run. You might have thought the crowd enthusiasm would deflate, but it didn’t. We just kept on screaming as if to will the Royals a win.
Royals fans scream for a San Francisco Giant to strike out
          The Royals scratched out a run in the bottom of the first inning, and we knew it would be a dog fight the rest of the night. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Royals put two men on base with a hit and a walk. The crowd was restless and the noise level continued to rise as the designated hitter, Billy Butler, came to the plate. On the third pitch, Billy hit the ball to left field and the crowd exploded as the leading run scored. The Royals kept up the scoring, with the piece de resistance being a two-run homer by Royal’s Omar Infante. By then, the San Francisco pitching had come unglued, the score was 7-2 in favor of the Royals, and the fans were ready to party the night away. Our arms were tired from twirling the souvenir towels we’d been given at the gate, but I didn’t care. This was the big leagues, and our Royals had whumped the San Francisco Giants! Royals manager, Ned Yost, relied on the trademark succession of relief pitchers (Herrara, Davis, and Holland) to wrap up the win.
The Royals team celebrates their win in Game #2
          Game #2 is now etched in my baseball memory. Who knows how long the Royals run will last? Whether or not we win the World Series, I’ll always remember the 2014 Royals, with a roster full of unsung heroes who stepped up to the plate to make a key hit, or an impossible catch . . . a team who played their hearts out for the love of the game.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Asterio Pascolini (1932 - 2014)

An artist with a passion for beauty
memoir and tribute
by Greg Larson


Asterio Pascolini
         Ding! – an email arrived from Asterio Pascolini. I read it and then took a second look. In 2005, it was the first communication I ever received from Asterio. Included in the email was a copy of a photograph I had taken of Gubbio, Italy, during a bike tour. I’d shared some photos with cycling friends at Hallmark, and I discovered that the pictures had been passed on to Asterio, a retired Hallmark artist and photographer, who was born and raised in Italy. A red circle marked a building in the photo, and Asterio included the caption: "I was born in this building!"



Asterio was born in Gubbio, Italy
          Uncanny. What were the odds? We traded emails, and I discovered that Asterio was interested in seeing all of my pictures of the bicycle trip which my wife, Gretta, and I had taken across Italy. We agreed on a date for Asterio and his wife, Barbara, to come and meet us to look at the photos.

          The much anticipated day of our meeting finally came, and we warmly greeted the guests into our home.
           Asterio’s soft voice and Barbara’s gentle manner made us feel at ease.
          With a big smile and a twinkle in his eye, he handed me a manila envelope. “Here is something I want you to have.”  As I began to open it, he continued, “I brought you a print of a watercolor painting of mine. It is of Sorano, Italy . . . you may not be familiar with it because it is a small town off the beaten path.”
          I looked at the print and then I looked directly at Asterio. Chills ran up my spine. Our eyes met as I answered him, “Asterio, not only have we been to Sorano, but we stayed in the Fortezza Hotel which is in your painting!” I pointed to the building on the hillside overlooking the town. “We had a window view of the entire town, and I know your exact vantage point on the hillside when you painted the picture!”


Asterio's watercolor painting of Sorano, Italy
          It seemed like it was “meant to be” for us to connect. From that point forward I had a friend and mentor, someone who thought much like I did about the creative process and the composition of art and photography. Over time, I learned that Asterio had the ability to connect with many people, and he had been a valued mentor to many artists at Hallmark during his career.
Greg & Gretta's view of Sorano, Italy from Fortezza Hotel
          He and Barbara genuinely enjoyed listening to us talk about our bike trip across Italy as we looked at the photos. We learned that although Asterio was born in Gubbio, his family eventually settled in the Tuscany region near Florence.
          He showed one of his creations: a DVD slide show with background music, entitled “The Colors of Tuscany.” It was a countryside view of Tuscany from his camera lens during return visits to his relatives in Italy; photos of everything from vineyards to flower pots and doorways – an intimate view of his old turf. I was spellbound. He asked for a copy of the pictures from our bicycle trip, and said he wanted to create a slideshow with them. 
          “You want my pictures?” I asked. I was stunned. My pictures?
          “I like your photos. They give me something to work with,” he said.
          I wished the incredible evening didn’t have to end. Asterio and Barbara were so cordial and genuine, and we enjoyed sharing stories about Italy.
          As they left to return home, I looked at Gretta and said, “They are really nice people.”
          A few weeks later, I found a package in our mailbox - a DVD from Asterio. It was late in the day, so I waited until morning to pop it in the DVD player and turn on the TV. I was in a hurry to eat breakfast before going to work, so I began to eat as the pictures and music came on the screen. The bike trip photos appeared while soft accordion music played in the background. I dropped my fork on the plate, walked to the living room and plopped down on the sofa. Asterio’s slideshow creation mesmerized me. I was speechless. In the ten minute video, he transported me back to Italy. I was ready to jump into the screen and get on the bicycle.
          Through discussions with Asterio, I learned he was recruited by J.C. Hall in 1958 to come from Italy to work at Hallmark in Kansas City. Hall liked Asterio’s sketching ability, and he wanted to inject some international talent into the creative staff at Hallmark. Asterio told me that once he came to Kansas City, he desired to learn as much as he could about different art media and techniques. He taught himself the basics of watercolor and of photography as well as other media. At Hallmark he was always eager to try something new, including digital photo editing.
          Over the nine short years I knew him, we traded many emails. Asterio was one of my biggest blog fans, sending me an email after each posting. He would copy his favorite line from the blog and send it back with encouraging comments and a “Bravo!” or “Magnifico!” He also sent me many links to photography websites when he found what he thought were really good art photos.
          I don’t know if Asterio ever put into words his definition of beauty, but I do know that he knew it when he saw it. He looked at photograph after photograph on his computer screen, and when he saw something he really liked, he stopped, stroked his beard and emitted a soft, reverent, “Ohhh!” When I heard that “ohhh,” I knew what he saw was special.
          I loved his anecdotes of how he put his paints and supplies in a car, then drove around the Tuscan countryside to find a hill or vineyard to sketch or paint. After showing me a painting of a vineyard, he explained that he sat outside, next to the car, and proceeded to paint the vineyard scene.
Asterio creating a watercolor in Tuscany
          “As I began to paint,” he said, “I could hear two women talking loudly across the rows in the vineyard while they were picking grapes. . . and guess what? All the time I was painting, I learned the latest gossip and the history of their families. Ha!”
Asterio's photo of vineyard in Tuscany


Asterio's watercolor of vineyard in Tuscany
          Asterio and I met a couple of times a year for various reasons. At Christmastime, Gretta and I drove to Barbara and Asterio’s house to say ‘hi’ and give them a card or a small gift. On other trips, I took him CDs with our latest vacation photos. Even when his health was failing, he invited me to sit at the large table in the Pascolini kitchen where he gave me a watercolor lesson when I asked for advice on how to shade an architectural rendering. Another time, he offered to be my audience for a historical lecture and slide show that I’d developed. His encouragement and advice were always welcome, and I always went away from our meetings with something new that I’d learned.
          I loved his Italian humor that came through when we met. Whenever he got frustrated with his computer or when things were out of his control, he put his head in his hands and laughed. He shook his head and said, “Sometimes, all you can do is laugh to keep from going crazy.”
          The last communication from him was an email response he sent regarding my December 2013 blog relating childhood memories of electric trains. He included some photos of train layouts he’d made for his kids. I looked in amazement at the molded mountains next to the bunk beds, where train tracks snaked through tunnels and scale-model Italian villages hugged the mountainsides. His mind seemed to have a limitless capacity for creative ideas.
          Now, I miss his emails. I miss the visits to see his smile and hear his laughter.  To ease the sadness, Gretta and I watch the “Colors of Tuscany” DVD, again and again. I see the sparkles of sunshine on the dewdrops of the Tuscan flowers, and the memories of Asterio, his artwork and his stories come flooding back. The tears begin to fill my eyes, and I realize they are tears of joy for having known such a wonderful man.
Asterio Pascolini (1932 - 2014)
Author’s Note:

          I want to thank Barbara Pascolini (also an accomplished artist) for her gracious permission to allow the use of Asterio’s photos and artwork for this article. After she read the tribute, she invited Gretta and me for a recent visit. It was a happy time in which we shared memories and stories. We cherish Barbara’s friendship and the memories of Asterio, and wish all the best for her and the Pascolini family.
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Those International Symbols: Would We Survive Without them?


Those International Symbols: Would We Survive Without Them?
humor commentary
by Greg Larson

          International symbols have been in use for decades and are continually promoted by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is only fitting that I saw several interesting symbols while traveling in Switzerland.

          During my travels to different countries, I’ve selected my favorite “top ten” international symbols to share with you. In a multi-cultural, multi-lingual world, these symbols are used to warn and protect the public as we travel and spend time at recreation activities. I’ll let you be the judge.


1.     Welsh cliff tripper 

Whoops! The message is obvious: Bad things can happen if you get too close to the edge of a cliff. The ground might give way. Someone (spouse, jealous lover, or emotionally unstable person) might push you over the edge. If you are careless and go into a free-fall, you’ll have time to think about it on the way down.


2.     Running uscita man 

Uscita is the Italian word for “exit.” Sounds like an Italian obscenity. That’s why the international symbol is a good communication tool. It shows you how to get out of the building quickly – through an opening or down the stair. Just don’t rush out a second floor window. Definitely be careful running on marble stairs in Italy. They can be slick, and hard to negotiate, especially if you have had too much wine to drink or wear high heels.


3.     Woman walking with child 

This pleasant depiction seems like a good symbol. Mothers wearing balloon skirts are recommended to hold their child’s hand. It’s good to spend quality time with the kids. If there is traffic nearby, the daughter will remain safely with mom, as long as she does not yank her hand away and run into the street.

4.     Man wearing fedora while walking with girl 

I’m getting mixed messages with this sign. Like the previous sign, it is good for fathers to hold their daughter’s hand while walking near traffic.  But, this sign might be warning us that strangers or pedophiles wearing fedoras and suits have been known to abduct little girls in the area. Keep an eye out for suspicious characters, especially if they are wearing those hats you see in the old movies.

5.     Slippery rocks 

Switzerland spends a lot of money warning citizens and tourists that swollen mountain rivers are dangerous. Doing the Harlem Shake or Gangnam-style dancing on slippery granite rocks can be hazardous activity. In a country with few advertisement signs, Switzerland has strategically located these symbols on billboards throughout the countryside. Enjoy dancing in the outdoors, but play and spend time near the rivers at your own risk.

6.     Diving into shallow water

Another symbol warns us to not dive into the river head-first. Those granite rocks that you see on the river banks are also underneath the water. Of course, if you dive and hit your head on the rocks, you might shout an expletive, but you would not be heard on the surface of the noisy river.

7.     Rushing water or knife blades? 

If you somehow find yourself in the river with your head above the surface, you could be whisked away by tons of water in the fast-moving current. This symbol could also be used where there are dangerous farm implements or industrial knife blades.

8.     Whirlpools 

I had a “psycho” flashback when I first saw this symbol. I guess whirlpools can also have a hypnotic effect. I think a more effective campaign to warn the public about river dangers would be to create a claymation video and post it on YouTube. A “Mr. Bill-like” character would slip on the rocks, fall head-first into the river, then be swept away by the current and into a whirlpool. “Oh no.! Mr. Bill! Ohhh Nooo!” The video would go viral.

9.     Needle and syringe 

Have you found it difficult to dispose of your heroin needles? For those of you in the Switzerland Heroin Assistance Program, this symbol provides important information. These signs are strategically located in restrooms in public parks. Next to the symbol is a disposal hole, which allows drug users to safely rid themselves of the needles which are provided by the government at various clinics throughout the country. It is important to keep Switzerland tidy.

10.     Marijuana with slash 

There are several decal symbols mounted on the glass doors to a library in Kansas. It is important to know how to behave when visiting the public building. But the sign raises significant questions in my mind. Isn’t marijuana illegal in the entire state of Kansas? Is this sign telling us it is okay to use illegal drugs outside the building? Using this logic, shouldn’t there be a decal showing each activity not allowed in the library? I don’t think there would be enough space on all of the library windows. How would you create symbols, let’s say, for “no singing”, “noisy burping not allowed” or “no public sex”?

*  *  *  *  *

          The international symbols validate the age-old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But they can create as many questions as they provide answers. When should the slash be used? Is the color red more important than blue, green or yellow? When should words in the local language be added?

          Bottom line: Be careful out there. It is a dangerous world.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Mountaintop Experience


On the mountaintop above Locarno, Switzerland

A Mountaintop Experience
travel memoir
by Greg Larson

          It’s always good to get out of the daily humdrum routines, to venture out into the world and gain a different perspective. Our recent travels to Switzerland allowed us to see a mixture of Italian and German cultures and understand the changes that occurred in their civilization through the centuries.

          At first, I noticed simple things that were different from our American culture. As our train rolled through the Swiss valleys on a sunny morning, I noticed women opening the upper floor windows of their houses to wipe the sills clean before hanging out the down-filled bedcovers for daily “freshening.”

          Through trial and error we discovered that directional signage for hikers and motorists was much smaller than what we see in the U.S. and at times they were non-existent. More than once we took a wrong turn while hiking because we missed a street sign or hiker’s arrow on the small plaques mounted on stone walls underneath overhanging branches.

          Everything in Switzerland seemed to be on a small scale; from trucks, trains, and street widths to elevators, chairs and bathrooms. At the historical Hotel des Alpes in Lucerne, the rooms were equipped with recently renovated bathrooms. The bathroom tile, sink, and mirror sparkled, but the space was small. While showering in the stall with the sleek glass door, I reached to scrub my back, only to smack the hot water lever, which increased the water temperature and caused me to squeal in pain.  After doing this twice, I decided to rethink my body movements.

          The biggest revelation came on a sunny day in Locarno, when my wife, Gretta, and I decided to travel up the side of the Alps at the edge of Lake Maggiore and the city of Locarno. After spending the morning at an outdoor café, where we indulged ourselves with the best cappucino and brioche along the lakeside, we picked our destination: Cimetta (a small mountaintop), about 4,000 ft. above the lake. The first mode of transportation was the funicolare, an incline cable car, which transported us up to the church of San Francesco, where the bells chimed over the city of Locarno. At that point, we transferred to a large modern gondola which raised us to a spot high on the mountainside. After snapping photos and walking on trails in the nearby woods, we savored a lunch of pasta and beer at an outdoor restaurant with a stunning view of the lake and the surrounding Alps. I had no premonition of the mountaintop experience awaiting me.
 
Our trip up the mountain began on the funicolare
 
 
The gondola lift put us much higher on the mountain
 
          For the final mode of transportation on our climb to Cimetta, we boarded a simple chair lift. While riding through the larch and birch trees, I turned to Gretta and asked a rhetorical question, “So when you go to heaven, do they just keep putting you on a different lift?”
 
At the top, snow-capped peaks were visible in every direction
 
          The view at the top was heavenly, with snow-capped peaks visible in every direction. The boats far below on the lake seemed to be in a different world. The sun warmed our bones as we walked the granite path to the uppermost knoll on the mountain.

          At the top, I realized my eyes saw more than I viewed. When I looked towards the city and the lake below, I saw the tourist side of the mountain: the trains, boats, gondolas, parasails and mountain bikes. I saw an advanced civilization of industry and technology, which I’m glad exists. The planes, trains and credit cards are what got me here.
 
Parasail above Lake Maggiore
 
          But when I turned my back on the lake and viewed the wilderness of the Alps, it all changed. In the dead silence and still air of the mountaintop, I faintly heard many bells, some tiny, some big. Peering over the railing, I noticed the upper hay meadows a couple of miles in the distance. I couldn’t see any goats or cows, but I knew they were there. The bells continued to tinkle in the clear mountain air. I saw an agrarian existence in the lesser-traveled valleys, a simpler way of life. I visualized the simpler way of life being overtaken by a rising tide of a growing population and advancing civilization.
 
Tinkling goat bells were heard in the distance
 
          What, at first, seemed profound while I stood on the mountaintop was just a moment of clarity which revealed the obvious: things change as our civilization and population advances. It has happened through the centuries all over the globe in different settings and cultures. The typical pattern started with nomads and tribes being pushed out or changed by people who were more advanced. Aboriginal tribes on different continents existed into the 20th Century before being discovered, but eventually patterns and customs were diluted by modern society conveniences.

           Agrarian societies were transformed by the industrial revolution, and now technology and computers have changed the world with a post-industrial revolution.
 
Rustici - remnants of an agrarian society


          Will the bells on the goats and cows be replaced someday with GPS transmitters? I don’t know. I like the bells. The low-tech solution still seems to work. Will the mountain valley grazing land become little villages of vacation homes? Yes, the remote valleys in Switzerland are being invaded to a degree. In the Ticino Region we witnessed some of that transition during our visits to the sparsely populated valleys. At different locations along the hiking paths, the rustici huts originally used as barns for the animals were being transformed into weekend retreats or vacation cabins. Some of them were quite fancy, with new doors and windows, wood-burning fireplaces and solar panels.
 
Modernized rustici cabins
 
          As hikers, we were voyeurs, invading the simple life in the remote valleys in an attempt to witness something pristine before it becomes too over-run with tourists and visitors, and . . . hikers.

          After our day on the mountaintop above Locarno, Gretta was sitting in the apartment, tapping away at her computer tablet screen.

          “What are you doing?” I asked.

          “I’m checking the train schedules for our trip to Lugano tomorrow. These online schedules have all the current times and track locations. This is so much better than when I traveled through Europe in the ’70s!”

          Good thing, I thought. I hope our civilization chooses the good things that come along, without discarding the good old things that work. I remembered earlier in the day when I heard the bells from the mountaintop. Maybe I will get to hear them again sometime. If not, I want to remember that sound forever.