Shakespeare in Splugen, exclusive

The payback is the next day. Unlike Tom I’m not in training. Everything aches, I walk like John Wayne after a three day ride. Brokeback Splugen.

There is another gardening centre past the railway station at Thusis, which makes three for a town of 2000 people; I’ll see even more today on the walk to Chur. One thing: they leave out the cafe tables and the gardening products at the centres, they just sit there on the street at night indifferent to crime. Perhaps the punishments are draconian, or maybe it’s just something in the Rhine water.

Under the railway and out into the sunshine close to the river, past the early morning tennis games and dog walkers, and into the distance the mountains are forcing the sunlight to emerge at 45 degrees, in an almost monochrome vision: like an old religious print, really. I head for Sils, crossing first the Hinterhine, and then the autobahn. I want to be away from the cars – which means I’m going to have to climb.

Tom mentions the flat meadows of the area, and the sheep and cows, as though the great mountainous beasts that surround us don’t count, I think that’s the point. Away from the river and the motorway Sils is absolutely quiet, not a soul has stirred yet, it is about 8.30. Late starting again.

I’m not lost, it is impossible to get lost lost when the natural map, the river, is telling you the rough direction. It’s just that I want to follow the hilly trail, take in some of the villages off the Lycra Track. I find a restaurant in Sils, close to the church. I order a coffee from a tall blond man and show him my map. He follows me outside and then calls his wife.

Daniella gives great instruction, up to the next church, right, down past the – how do you say? – well, and then head for Scharans, you can’t miss it. She asks how far I’m going. Holland, I say, following the Rhine. Bruno laughs, eight weeks, right? Something like that if I don’t – as Tom did – take a few boats. Daniella goes inside and emerges with a new glossy magazine about the Rhine. Rheinfluss. I find the editor’s email. Pull out my machine and email him. This you could not do even ten years ago. Keep it, she says, it’s easier to read than those computers.

There is a castle up on the hill, you’ll see it, Daniella says. There was a secret tunnel down to this building, my mother when she was a child walked about 500 metres of it, but it had collapsed.

How old was it?

I don’t know, this building was started in 1450.

Then Tom would have seen it? Quite so.

I explain a little about Tom. using the “he drank with Shakespeare” line as it at least gives context if not quite documented proof. “Ah you know that Shakespeare went to Splugen,” Daniella says, as if I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays including Measure fur Measure and Caesar Lear. “There’s a hotel up there with a sign on its walls. Shakespeare was here.”

Oh no!

I can’t go back, I’ll check the website for the hotel later. But…From my lite reading about yer man’s life I suggest the Splugen episode is not particularly well known. As we have no proof Shakespeare left the country, this is, er, interesting. During the 2007 walk I seem to remember an Italian claimed that Shakespeare was in fact a local. More pertinently, perhaps, I’m thinking that Shakespeare in Splugen might in fact be Tommy boy – he certainly crossed the Splugen Pass, the point at which I officially began my rewalk yesterday. Could he, in some boasty, bar room chat down in the town have either claimed to be the man, or told a few stories about him? This obviously needs a little more research and while I could stay with Daniella and Bruno in Sils and annoy them intensely by scouting around research papers online with my Athens log in, I’d rather listen to the sounds of the locals taking their shooting practice – which echo down the valley – have another espresso and get going. Tommy was an early starter, it makes sense, the midday sun is hot enough and really if I’m fit I could walk to Chur in about six hours. That’s what Daniella tells me, anyway.

You are staying in Chur? Bruno shakes his head. The festival is on, there won’t be any rooms and it will be very loud. This is double confirmation: at my hotel in Thusis they have tried to book a room, any room, in Chur. All that was on offer was a “worker-apartment” in a Best Western on the autobahn outside the town. Call me fastidious, but I decided to risk it.

Now I wasn’t so sure.

Walk as far as Ems and stay there, Daniella says.
Ok, thank you, how much to I owe? Daniella shakes her head. Have a great walk she says.

Fields. You don’t cross many fields in my walk of life: heaths occasionally; parks, but not fields that are either tended so that Tiger could putt on them, or chemical-free and abundant with every kind of flower. It is all very green, and above the mountains are that greeny-blue that comes with the haze of early sun. Tom mentions the ruins around here a lot and it is obvious why. God and his church DIY boys have flecked these hills with vertiginous buildings, some ruined in the appropriate gothic style others looking very much up and running. It is the sheer complexity and effort that must have gone in to getting them built that inspires. This now is Protestant Country as far as Tom’s thinking goes, though he notes many “papist” allusions.

Sometimes the trail takes me close to the river, at other times I climb; soon enough I am in – well not Scharans as I should be but – Furstenau. Which is lovely and there is a huge house at its core which should be a hotel, but isn’t. On one of its terraces a couple – old Swiss man, young Swiss woman – look down on me from their newspapers. The Blofelds of Furstenau. It’s warm now and I’m travelling with everything, which isn’t much but enough. Including leather jacket. I’m hot.

Dogs. Rory Stewart, T.E. Lawrence, Tommy, you name them, they can deal with dogs. I’m not so good since a bite in Cappadochia in central Turkey many years ago led to the dread rabies injections in the stomach. And then there’s just the barking. Anyway, today every dog I pass is an untethered Alsation hungry for some red meat. And every owner is a laughing don’t worry kind of Swiss. I leave the paths and hit fields, see more ruins, spin around to take in the entire valley from Thusis, and then hit a narrow road where a woman passes in horse and cart.

So: inferring Tom. What wasn’t there? Easy sensory stuff first. No electricity lines humming about, no drones from cars, planes, trains. No pistol shots echoing (well not too many). The sounds he hears are the river, the wind, and in the fields the cow bells, church bells the most, surely? Perhaps the beat of hoofs, dogs. He’s enjoying the meadows, and the ruins, but he’s not marvelling at the mountains. He doesn’t have Darwin, or dinosaur bones to prove anything. He believes the world is around 4000 years old. He tells the time by the sun, and takes his directions from the Rhine. God made all this, he thinks. But the mountains are ugly, scary places of heathen ideas, best to move on to the towns.

Hmm. C – needs more work.

I take coffee at Pratval with a man engrossed by sand wrestling live on SF Sport TV. Men wrestlers, this isn’t volleyball. I check out the towns and villages ahead on Wikihood, and move on. Now I’m on a cycling path, one that goes all the way to Chur, which is now only about 16 kilometres away. I say hello to each cyclist that I pass in an attempt to break my prejudice. A particularly bad place in hell, perhaps the Walmart Wing, is reserved for the mother, an Alpha MAMIL [middle aged man in lycra], who sang “Bye” to my “hi” later in the afternoon when I was beginning to tire.

The pylon wires hum above, and the river flows to my left. I’m not really thinking about much more than the now. It is nice. Lunch – a double salami sandwich, ice tea, espresso, two glasses of fizzy water…and a Facebook post…is at Rothenbruhnen. An elderly Swiss couple sit behind me and shout non-aggressively at each other, deafening the accordion channel that is playing pop-ily on the radio. Then Madam has a volcanic coughing attack and I throw the Marboroughs in the Death in Venice (the German name for an ash tray sounds like Ashenbacker, or something. It made me laugh at the time).

The last part of the walk is inevitably the hardest and at the obligatory midday for all pasty Englishmen, like me. Was it just one relentless climb? There were great views of hilltop churches, ox-bow lakes, valley panoramas, etc. etc. But in fact all I seek is shade. Forests beat fields. Beat villages. Beat everything short of a pool. I make the 11 kilometres in just under two hours but I’m beat and my mood isn’t helped by my first vision of Ems being of its golf course. And my second being its Stepfordy hinterlands. At the station I drink a gallon of water and find the only hotel on Google Maps. Having sat down to drink I discover it is actually quite hard to stand. I BrokeBack off to the Hotel Sternen.

Which, of course, is Indian.

The garden view from my terrace reminds me, I think it is the rhodadenroms, (whoops) of the Theosophical gardens in Calcutta, a life time ago. There is a lot of curry on the hotel menu, and my wifi logon is Singh. It doesn’t work.

Much later I take a bus into Chur, which I remember in the rain as Croydon plus some alleyways. Today it is Mardis Gras plus Margate Funfair. The entire labyrinth of the old town is turned into temporary bars, stages, restaurants; an exercise in the communal. Everyone seems to having a lot of fun. I notice that there are many many tattoos. The entire city is in party mood. I am a bit of a party-popper, but only through tiredness. I’ll be back for the other culture in a day or two.

In the concert arena – free green wrist tag compulsory – a Swiss rapper is being sarcastic. And the teenagers are being bored, plus texting. Later a progressive rock band – full title – named Headache, play with suitable pain. Later still there is a Lene Lovitchy Elastica rip off. Plus tattoos. I eat a biryani, feel my legs begin to buckle, and catch a taxi home from a place next to a strip joint named Octopussy – my first genuine Bond allusion. While I am waiting in the taxi office a MAMIL sans Lycra comes in, takes half a dozen boiled sweets from a jar on the desk, and orders a Stretch-Limo. I hope he hasn’t made new friends at Octopussy – the evening could cost him quite a few superbikes.

Not to mention the saddle sores.

Brokeback Armstrong.

About robhunt510

Writer, artist
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