Landschlacht, Switzerland: 30 January 2016
As I age I am beginning to notice my mind functioning increasingly odd.
I can be at home or work and be walking from one room to another and forget why I made that decision to change rooms.
Yet I can be doing a normal, average activity and something or someone will suddenly trigger an old memory that I recall with astonishing clarity.
Lachute, Quebec, Canada: 14 May 1977
As stated in a previous blog…
(See Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim of this blog.)
I was not raised by my biological folks, but rather by a succession of foster parents until I was 10 – when the last set kept me until I was 18.
I cannot, for certain, describe how foster children are today supervised and monitored by the state, but in the province of Quebec in the 70s and 80s, each child was assigned his or her own case worker.
My case worker was an unusual man.
Seymour Haider is a name one would expect to assign to someone of Germanic origins, yet Mr. Haider, despite his name, was as far away from Teutonic roots as one could possibly imagine.
He was born and raised in India and had immigrated to Canada sometime before he was assigned my case.
It was part of Seymour´s job description to transport, to the nearest major hospital for regular health examination, the children he was responsible for.
So every year, usually around my birthday, Seymour would show up at Bleak House, my Charles Dickens-inspired nickname for the grey stucco home where we lived…
Just outside the hamlet of St. Philippe d’Argenteuil (de la Paroisse de St. Jerusalem)
(Today simply called Chatham and mispronounced by Francophones as “shatt-tam”),
…to bring my foster mother and me to the hospital in distant St. Jerome, the city where Seymour both lived and worked.
The actual medical examinations were not particularly memorable, for the doctor (every visit a different one) would look into all my nooks and crannies, question us about my dietary habits and then send us back on our merry way.
What stands out in my memory though about these journeys from St. Philippe to St. Jerome was the car rides themselves.
My foster mother preferred to sit in the back of Seymour´s long car, while I would sit up front with Seymour, my legs dangling over the seat.
As he drove he would chat with me, while I simply, shyly, nodded my head to whatever he would say.
There was, and I hope there still is, a forest by the side of the highway outside of the town of Lachute that Seymour always commented about and it was these comments that have inspired within me the wanderlust that still haunts my soul to this very day.
The forest loomed tall and dark with pines nude of lower branches yet with splendid full tops.
Seymour told me of his home in the Himalayas where he grew up playing in the coniferous pine, cedar, silver fur and spruce forest.
I wish I had had the maturity and the foresight to have recorded his conversations in the car, but what I do recall is that he spoke with such love, such longing, for his homeland, for his pines so high, so dark, that there remains within a burning desire to find those forests in India.
We lose track of people as we age, as we move on, but new people, new places, new experiences arrive instead.
I have, since those St. Jerome car trips, done some exploring of my homeland and the world on my own.
I have, since Seymour, met other Indians as well.
I briefly shared a flat with an Indian family, the Savarimuthus, in Kingston.
I have a good friend, Sumit, from the tropical state of Orissa, who now resides in Toronto with his wife and baby boy.
What always strikes me about conversations with Sumit and other Indians I have known is how they constantly curse and lament the problems that continue to plague the Subcontinent yet the love they still feel and exhibit, expressively, fervently, towards India never fails to impress me.
Now maybe the India of Seymour´s day may not be the India of today.
I also know that India is no Paradise on Earth.
Deforestation continues to be a problem.
There is, even today, inadequate access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation.
There remains significant levels of air pollution around the nation, especially in the major cities.
Almost everywhere in India plastic bags and bottles clog drains, litter city streets and stunt the growth of plants in sanctuaries and parks.
The list of endangered species of animals, both in India and abroad, continues to grow.
I know that India is crowded, noisy, corrupt, dangerous, chaotic, and yet…
I need to see India, just once, before I die.
I want to stand inside a Himalayan forest and venerate the trees.
I want to be bombarded by the cacophony of sound and the kaleidoscope of colour.
I want to get lost amongst the myriad of languages and religions that is India.
But for now I must console myself to my life as it is, here in Switzerland…
Bischopszell, Switzerland: 28 January 2016
It is not my first visit to Bischopszell.
I had been here when I had followed the Thur River from the base of Säntis Mountain all the way to where it meets the mighty Rhine.
The Thur´s oldest bridge stretches between its shores just below Bischopszell.
The weather has been unseasonably mild for January so I decide to go a-walkin´.
A train ride from Landschlacht to St. Gallen and another from there to Bischopszell pass quickly.
Bischopszell, as the name suggests, was a former bishop´s residence, but today I am uninterested in historic buildings and tales of days gone by.
I long for open fields and sheltering forests, the peace and tranquillity of the trail, to walk free on a day when others have to work.
I leave Bischopszell behind and begin to walk.
Bogen Tower, part of the Bischopszell city walls
The first site I meet, just past the Bischopszell Stadt railway station, does not inspire.
Here is the “Hipp’sche Wendescheibe”, the first electrical train signal in Switzerland (1862), used until 1975, was invented and built by Matthaeus Hipp (1813 – 1893), the “Swiss Edison”:
I pass a small cheese shop and follow the familiar yellow diamond trail signs:
Up, up, I climb to see a sleepy Buddha on a mailbox:
Up, up, onto hills and into forests and atop Bischofsberg (Bishop´s Mountain).
I smell the scent of pine here in the Thurgau forest and suddenly I am back in Seymour´s car again, dreaming of India.