Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 14: The German Pianists

Dscn0241bAugust 25: I took my time leaving the hotel. With only 19 kilometers (barely over 10 miles) to Auvillar, I had no reason to rush. The chance of rain overnight never developed, but the clouds looked dark and stormy and certainly could start throwing out rain at any moment. In theory, I could have gotten an early start and tried to get in as many miles before the rain started as I could, but I didn’t feel like it. It seemed all but certain it would rain on me, and whether I walked for five miles or ten miles in the rain, it didn’t make much of a difference. No matter what, though, I planned to have a dry place to crash at the end of the day.

Because of the rain, I wrote out the major landmarks and mile markers on a small sheet of paper that I put in a ZipLock and stuffed in my pocket. I didn’t want to pull out my guidebooks to track my progress when it was raining, so I created my own abbreviated cheat sheet instead.

I followed the trail for perhaps a kilometer—not very far out of town—before it fell alongside with a canal towpath. Completely flat and utterly scenic. I had no complaints. An alternate route left the towpath and headed up into the mountains then came back down again, but I didn’t know anyone who planned to do that. It seemed like an unnecessary hardship. The canal towpath was wonderful—only a fool would leave it voluntarily.

And most of the day, I followed the towpath. The only places where the trail wasn’t completely flat was at the occasional lock where the trail would climb and over a road, then down the other side to the lower water level on the other side. But even those only involved all of about 20 feet of elevation gain and loss.

About halfway to Auvillar, the rain finally started. It was a light rain, barely a sprinkle, and I pulled out my umbrella to keep my head dry.

Eventually the trail left the towpath and headed to the hilltop city of Auvillar—a short but steep climb—where I walked into the tourist office to get some information about lodging. The rain had finally stopped, but I didn’t want to run around town looking for places with space still available. After how well it worked out in Cajors, I liked the idea of having someone call around for a available space. And the girl in the tourist office was kind enough to help me in this regard. She ended up directing me to a location that was, quite literally, across the street. “Just knock on the door really loud,” she told me.

While in the tourist office, I noticed that they had a stamp sitting out on a table, and they were kind enough to stamp my credential. At long last, I finally learned that the tourist offices always had stamps, and after that, I’d stop in every tourist office I passed that was open to get the tampon. My credential would start filling up a lot faster from this day onward!

I walked across the street and knocked on the door loudly, as instructed, and a young, cute girl answered the door. I asked, in French, if she knew English, and she did, but then quickly ran off to “get someone.” I assumed she must have been another hiker staying at the location, but I hadn’t seen her before.

Dscn0244bThe proprietor of the establishment, an older woman with a big smile, came in and welcomed me and badly accented English—the kind that I had to concentrate very hard to understand what she said—but she seemed excited that I had arrived and I couldn’t help but like her. She had me follow her up the stairs—a creaky,uneven, wooden staircase where I could see holes through some of the joints into the floor before. It looked like the kind of a staircase out of a horror movie, and woman explained to me that the building was constructed in the 15th century. I didn’t ask if it was haunted, but I hoped it was. Everything about the place looked 15th century. Even the walls seemed like they were thrown up haphazardly, never quite vertical. In many places, I could see through the small cracks in the thin floorboards.

After going up two floors, she paused to point out the bathroom and shower, then we climbed one more floor to the top floor. The room had three beds, all of which were empty, and I picked one in the corner and set my stuff down.

She left me, and I opened my backpack and pulled out a change of clothes and headed down to the shower.

The shower was also a bathtub, and I had an immediate urge to take a bath instead. I don’t usually do baths very often, but a soak in hot water seemed like just the way to heal my achy muscles.
After the bath, I took my laptop downstairs to get on their wi-fi connection, and the other proprietor, who also spoke poor, heavily-accented English, told me that the place was filled with professional pianists from Germany, and that I was invited to a free concert they’d be having that evening. I was sure I was misunderstanding him, but that’s what I heard coming from him. I thanked him and said I’d be happy to attend, not entirely sure what I was promising to attend.

While working on a blog entry, I heard a piano playing, and whoever it was, they definitely knew what they were doing. They weren’t playing Chopsticks—that’s for sure!

A little after 7:00, I heard another piano playing from outside, and I wandered out where the concert had already started. Several rows of chairs had been set up for the citizens of Auviller to watch. One of the fellows introduced each person who was to play, in French, and the only words I understood were the names of the composers. Beethoven! I thought. I heard the name Beethoven! He must be playing Beethoven! One of the girls played Chopin. Another person played Shubert. That’s about all I knew of the pieces that were played.

This went on for an hour or so, until they had all taken their turns and the concert came to an end. The proprietor told me she was going to go in and start dinner, and that I was welcome to join them for dinner. Normally, they didn’t cook dinner for their guests, but this was a special occasion. I went in and offered to help.
Dscn0250b“You young people are always volunteering to help,” she told me, and gave me the task to break up some old, stale bread into smaller pieces. I wasn’t sure what it would be used for, but I didn’t ask and just followed directions.

The rest of the pianists came in several minutes later and they started helping with various tasks as well, and it was the first time I really talked to any of them and learned their story. They were, in fact, all Germans. So were the proprietors, and so German became the primary language used this particular evening. Except when some of them turned to English for my benefit.

The few words I’d learned in French did nothing to help me when I was in a room full of Germans.
I finished breaking the bread and took a seat, hoping to get somewhat close to the cute girl that originally answered the door for me. Not just because she was cute either—but she also spoke very good English. She wandered over to one side of the dinner table, and I picked a seat at that end, not entirely sure if she’d sit next to me or not but I figured I would likely be close enough to have someone to talk to. She walked around me and took the seat next to me. Yes!

The other cute, young girl took the seat at the head of the table on the other side of me. She too spoke English very well, so I was happy to have her on the other side of me. And I wondered how much of that was coincidence. It seemed like the better people spoke English, the closer they were located to me. Those who didn’t know English at all sat at the far end of the table. Or maybe I’m just a chick magnet and the girls were drawn to me like a moth to a flame. =)

The two girls came from different parts of Germany and spoke with distinctly different accents. The one on the left seemed like she had a British accent. Not like a native British speaker, but had an accent like that was where she learned it. The girl on the right had an accent, but it didn’t sound like a British accent. An American accent? So I asked about why their accents sounded so different—was one of them taught English by an Englishman and the other learned from an American or something?
They didn’t think that was the reason, though. No, more likely, they told me, it was because one of them spoke ‘high German’ while the other normally spoke ‘low German.’ I’m not really sure what the difference between the two are, but they described the low German as a ‘lazy’ way of talking while the high German was tended to sound more “formal” and precise. Kind of like the British English, I suppose, and maybe that’s why she sounded like she had a British kind of accent?
It was all a fascinating discussion, and they taught me how to say “Good morning!” in both high German and low German. But now if I meet someone from Germany, I’m not really sure which one I should open with. Hmmm…
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They told me that they were told that it’s considered rude to pour your own wine in France, so one of the girls had a wine bottle and started pouring wine for everyone. I didn’t really want any wine—not my favorite drink—but I let her pour me a little. “Just a little!” I said, with my fingers an inch apart from each other. She poured half a cup—ugh!

Then she gave me the wine bottle, and I poured her a glass of wine.
It took me close to ten minutes to finish the glass of wine, sipping it slowly and trying hard not to make faces that would give away how much I didn’t like it, but I finally finished the glass and was proud of the accomplishment.

I continued eating dinner—the chunks of bread I made were poured into a soup—and one of the girls grabbed the wine bottle and poured me another glass. Crap! Are they trying to get me drunk?
I returned the favor and poured her a glass too.

Once again I finished the glass of wine, and this time I smartly poured water into the glass as soon as I was done. No refills for me!

Where I failed, however, was when I drank all the water and forgot to refill my glass with more water. I wound up with a third glass of wine, much to my disappointment. Good grief, I thought, maybe they are trying to get me drunk!

I was perfectly happy to fill their glasses whenever they got low, though. =)

The dinner came out as several courses—I lost count. I’m not sure if it was because I was having too much fun talking to everyone to keep track of if the alcohol played a roll in my memory lapse—and lasted for two or three hours.

One of the other women, who was originally from Tokyo but now lived in Germany, brought out a “French for Americans” book she had. It was given to her as a gift, but since she didn’t speak English well and certainly couldn’t sound out words written in phonetic English, she just found the book funny more than helpful. All the Germans thought the book was hilarious because it had pronunciations for French words, but to them, none of the pronunciations sounded correct. So they had me try some of the words.

“How would you say this one?” one man asked. And I’d sound it out, not even sure what the word actually meant.

He nodded his head in approval. “You totally have it!” he exclaimed, seemingly surprised. “It really does work for Americans!”

After dinner was finally over, the Germans started playing a game of 6-person ping-pong. I didn’t even know you could play ping-pong with six people, and I watched them, fascinated, as one person would take a swing at the ball then rush around to the other side of the table to wait for their turn to return the ball. At one point, of the girls rushing around the table tripped on a carpet and crashed quite hard to the ground. She picked herself up and dusted herself off, but I had to comment to her that I’d heard of people suffering “ping-pong injuries,” but could never figure out how someone could really hurt themselves playing such a simple game. I know better now. =)

And finally, the party broke up. Everyone went back to their rooms for the night and we all went to sleep. No other hikers arrived so I had the room all to myself, and all of the rooms below me were filled with German concert pianists. In France. I never had so much fun. =)

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Once the rain started, I started taking photos from
under the umbrella. (I deliberately let the umbrella
show up in this photo, though.)

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A bridge across the canal.

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Near the end of the canal walk, the trail crossed to the other side
where it wasn’t paved.

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Even in France, I know a nuclear power plant when I see one!
But it’s a little unnerving to see so much “smoke” coming
up out of them!

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After the canal towpath, it was a road walk the rest of the way into Auviller.

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A church in Espalais.

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A short but steep climb into Auviller. (This part actually isn’t very steep.)

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The central square in Auviller.

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Looking out from the central square.

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The clock tower in Auviller.

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My room for the night! =)

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The whole town turned out for the piano concert!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The town square looks more like a circle!

tiggermama said...

i would start with the "high German" should you meet anyone. greeting someone in "low German" is more like greeting them with "yo bro, whassup?" (Not quite analagous, but you get the idea). Next time we meet, i'll give you examples of the same sentences in both. They're really quite different when you hear them.