20s, aging, bad knees, Black Forest, classical music, Europe, exercise, G, Germany, iPod, journals, journey, Jung, Prayer of St. Francis, Schwarzwald, Simon and Garfunkel, training, travel, walking, youth
I’m always fascinated by how faster-than-the-speed-of-light my mind can be whisked away from one thought and whoosh right into another one that has absolutely nothing to do with the first or second or third. It was 7 a.m. yesterday morning and I was READY. I was all tennis-shoed and wearing my cat-haired-covered-holey tights (I bought them in 1996. They’re the only exercise clothes I own — I maintain it’s a waste of money to buy clothes that only I see). Anyway, they work fine for my daily, one hour This-Is All-About-Saving-the Knees-and-Staying-in-This-Apartment Exercises. After a knee surgeon told me that I wasn’t in enough pain to warrant a knee replacement right now (!) and if I wanted to avoid surgery for as long as possible (who wouldn’t) then I better damn well do something about strengthening these legs of mine — he didn’t say “damn“. It scared me just enough to propel me into action — I contacted Christina. Now you have to know that it took a lot of courage to call this particular trainer. I had been in her aquafit classes so knew first-hand her Boot-Camp-Drill-Sergeant-No-BS style. I also knew, for certain, that she was the only trainer who could get me up and exercising for one hour every day.
It’s not just that she developed an exercise program just for me and comes every Tuesday to make sure I’m on track, it’s that even when she’s not here — she’s here. So yesterday morning, as I was doing high steps across the floor, I could hear her voice in my head: “Place that foot don’t just drop it! Knees up Knees UP. What’s with the right hand?? Relax — it has absolutely nothing to do with this exercise! STOMACH MUSCLES!” I listen to classical music as an accompaniment to her directions — it has to be classical so I don’t sing along and miss my count. But yesterday something happened to the shuffling (I never understand how the shuffle works — I seem to get the same songs over and over again but that’s another blog). As I was high-kneeing my way back across the floor, Simon and Garfunkel were there crooning in my ears. Now I know they’re old but they’re certainly not classical!
They were singing Old Friends. And that made me think of my oldest friend, the other Christina, who’d also been hanging around my head (a crowd of Christinas) since it was her birthday. I met her in 1970 when we were both 23 and living in Germany. I didn’t know her very well — I thought she was just too clever and smart for the likes of Annie Eyerman but when she invited me to tea one evening I went. There was a map of the Schwarzwald on the wall over the table and she said in that confident, straight-forward-Minnesotian twang of hers, “I’m going to walk from Bönnigheim to Interlachen Switzerland.” Wow, I thought. Then she added, “Do you want to come with me?” Me? Me! Me who was so shy I made myself sick so I didn’t have to go on the holiday trip with strangers to Italy even though I had already paid for it. Me? Me who never joined in the conversations with the professors at the school because what kind of intelligent comment could I make? Me? Me who never walked further than the mile to St. James the Less School. Me? I said, “Sure.”
We went to the American army base to flirt with soldiers (Christina, not me) until someone took us inside to the PX. There we bought rain ponchos that could snap together into a tent (it leaked),
sleeping bags, and canteens (I still have mine). We filled backpacks with 60 pounds of books, a few clothes and a walking map of the Black Forest. Then, June 4, 1970, we walked out of Bönnigheim and headed south. When we passed some roadworkers a little ways down, they yelled out at us in that flirty, no-harm-done kind of way “Wo gehst du hin?” We proudly answered them, in German of course, “Wir gehen in die Schweiz,” — We’re Walking To Switzerland! They thought that was pretty funny.
We walked in the rain and more rain — there were signs on the trees in the forest that said something like — Achtung! There’s Been A Hell of a Lot of Rain So Watch Out For Slipping and Sliding Trees. (My German translations were sometimes very loose). We got chased out of the woods one Sunday evening by a man lurking just outside our “campsite” and went and slept beside a creek in a family’s backyard and had breakfast and smiles with the kids in the morning. When blisters broke, we hitched a ride with a truck driver who took us to a bar for a beer and nothing more. We would sit in cafes all through afernoons reading and writing. It ws on this journey that I started journal writing and smoking cigarettes and even had a puff of my first “illegal” substance — I got sick but felt great for a few minutes.
As we walked, Christina told me about R.D. Laing and Jung and Rilke (all of whom I had never heard of before). We memorized the Prayer to St. Francis (who I definitely had heard of) — Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;Where there is hatred, let me sow love…And where there is sadness, joy. And in between chats we sang old Broadway songs and 50’s rock n’ roll and lots of Simon and Garfunkel! Their lyrics all made sense walking, just the two of us, through those woods. High up in the Alps in a cafe across from our hostel, I heard for the first time ever the words, “I’d rather be a forest than a street, yes I would, if I could, I surely would…” They spoke my heart in the middle of that journey. On July 4, 1970 we arrived at Interlachen and the adventure ended. And I knew two things — my life had changed and I had a friend forever.
We don’t see one another very often or talk on the telphone or even email, but I always know that Christina is my good, “old” friend. Maybe when we’re 70, we can go find a park bench in the Schwarzwald and see if it
really seems that strange between old friends to be that age. We have a couple more years to go though.