We re-join our story on the morning of my 123rd day on the road. I am in Brugg, Switzerland and poised to ride to Zurich in time for the Zurich Film Festival and a screening of Inglorious Basterds to be attended by Christoph Waltz. If, as you are reading this, you find yourself wondering what my thing about Christoph is, I’d point you to the explanation in this earlier post.
Thursday 24 September 2015
Today is my last day riding in Europe.
I wake with that thought and it weighs upon me. I have 40 kilometres to pedal and I refuse to cry through all of them.
The weather is beautiful, and the riding is glorious – a few hills, some canal-following cycleways which pass apples and corn ready for harvest. I am teary at times, and exhilarated, almost giddy, at others.
The Droving Woman written by Kev Carmody performed by Paul and Dan Kelly with Missy Higgins begins playing in my ears as the fields give way to the outer suburbs and I am passed by school kids riding home in the early afternoon.
Under the best circumstances, this song makes me ache. It makes me feel the pain and the love. Today it makes me feel my longing for home and the loneliness of the road and an envy of the droving woman. Her life was horribly hard, but she shared it, in love, with her man. I would like to share my journey, this journey, any journey, in love, with my man. Maybe someday, but this trip – right now, is about being alone – in the good ways and, sometimes, the bad.
The feelings brought on by the song meld into my heavy-hearted feelings about the end of my ride. I’m trying to think of it simply – I went for a long ride, saw some things, met some people. I just rode – and really that’s what this portion of the trip was always meant to be. In some ways, riding through places of which I was ignorant, and all but indifferent facilitated simply riding. When I was riding in Italy I kept catching trains, so I could visit places I wanted to see. Crossing France I didn’t care as much, so I was able to just ride. Just be me, on my bicycle, riding.
The planes landing at Zurich airport jolt me out of my thoughts. I’m in the city now and navigating urban bike-lanes which lead me to the centre of town and then on to Sechseläutenplatz – home to the Zurich Film Festival.
Three thousand three hundred and eighty-seven kilometres since I pedalled away from Scone, New South Wales to begin my Australian hit-out ride – then too with tears – and I am done.
The day is too beautiful to feel too sad. But even as I write of it, sadness is what I feel – or is that wistfulness perhaps? I want to keep riding, to see more roll past me at bicycle pace. But I can’t – I’ve made decisions which preclude more riding right now. I miss it already.
I am glad I have arrived in Zurich for something – regardless of how that turns out – rather than merely having it as a finish line.
So … here I am. Zurich. The end of pedalling, for now, and on the eve’s eve of whatever weirdness Saturday’s screening of Inglorious Basterds with Christoph Waltz will bring.
Friday 25 September 2015
Esther is my fantastic Warm Showers host. She’s done several big bicycle tours – in South America and Asia. She’s a mountain biker, a hiker, a climber. She is also a Zurich native and her family, on her mum’s side anyway, have been here for a long time. The building she lives in was built by her grandparents in the 1970s and it’s where she spent her early childhood. There are two residents (of five other flats) who have been here since she was a baby.
Even though she is going away for a couple of nights she is happy for me to stay all weekend on my own. The hospitality of strangers is a wonderful thing.
But, first, this morning, we meet up while she has a break in her work schedule. We climb the tower at Grossmünster to enjoy the view of Zurich, the old town and new, wrapping around the end of the lake and hugged by a circling bowl of hills. We have coffees and Apfelstrudel at a 19th-century coffeehouse. I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve been in a city just to be in it, to explore it, to enjoy my time. I’m not making forward plans or stocking up on food or working on my bicycle. It’s nice.
After she returns to work I visit The Fraumünster Church with its Chagall stained glass windows. Then pop into the Film Festival headquarters to buy tickets to a couple of other films. There I find a few free festival magazines with Christoph on their covers – giving me plenty of German to read if I ever have the ability.
I’m feeling … tired but calm, really. Whatever will be will be. I don’t think this is the only time I’ll be in the same town as Christoph Waltz – so if I don’t meet him, that’s okay.
Saturday 26 September 2015
So … here I am, in the lobby of the Dolder Grand Hotel, having what will be like a $10 coffee hoping Christoph Waltz will wander past. There are plenty of conference attendees about and film conversations abound.
This is definitely the hotel where the festival VIPs are staying, Kiefer Sutherland is having a smoke out on the balcony. There are IWC & Film Festival cars lingering outside. Christoph Waltz is in this building someplace – how weird is that?
He’s scheduled to speak at a delegates’ conference happening here, but I don’t know the actual running order of who is speaking when. So, I sit, keeping an eye on Twitter – as a few people are tweeting about the conference – while enjoying my expensive coffee, writing in my diary, and watching the world go by.
I’m guessing that collection of Andy Warhols above the reception desk is legit.
It’s funny, doing this, this sort of stalking thing. Yes, I know what I want to say to him if I have the opportunity – but the most likely outcome today is I will merely see him. In a way – in the project of Learning German with Christoph Waltz – that’s almost perfect. I mean, I haven’t learned much German yet, the project hasn’t gotten very far – I shouldn’t meet him yet. Meeting him should be a cosmic reward for learning German and having used his films as part of my education.
He’s on now – someone is Tweeting.
Weird, very fucking weird.
My palms are sweating – a little – and my heart rate is up a smidgen. I’m sure he can depart without passing the lobby but … what a strange feeling this is. Amusement. I’m feeling a bit chuffed for knowing how to do this thing – that is, figure out where he might be and try to put myself there too.
I wait a while. Delegates come out from the conference hall but no sign of Christoph. That’s okay.
I should pay for my coffee and get on with the day.
He’s supposed to walk the Green Carpet in the festival plaza – I presume before the screening so I’m hanging around. But nothing happens. Well, Liam Hemsworth arrives for a press conference and I am nearly stampeded by squealing, panicked, joyous teenage girls.
I give up and go to the one place I knew he and I will both be – the cinema showing Inglorious Basterds. I take my seat and wait. I will not be disappointed, whatever happens.
What’s there to say about it other than it’s all in German?
The film is in four languages and when I’ve seen it before the non-English parts had English subtitles; here they had German subtitles – perhaps Swiss-German because even the scenes in German had subtitles. Of course.
Having seen the film two or three times before, I knew what was going on but still, it was strange. In only understanding the sections in English, I realised how much of the film is in French and German. There were scenes which I expected to be in English – which my mind had remembered in English – which were not.
Weirdly, based on people’s responses, it seems many of the audience haven’t seen the film before and that some Swiss find certain comments about Germans and Nazism hilarious.
After the film, Christoph is called to the stage. And there he is – that funny little man who has wormed his way into my psyche and, in so doing, altered my story is some way.
And they spoke in German. Of course, they did. The host and Christoph in their little back and forth.
I had the presence to record the interview – so maybe someday I’ll be able to listen to it and understand what was said.
Now that the moment has come and gone I feel … deflated, I guess, and lonely. It was cool – to be in the same room as him. And it was cool to see Inglorious Basterds on the big screen.
I never felt like this was where I was going to meet him – I hoped, yes, but always felt it was super unlikely.
I learn later that Christoph walked the carpet while Inglorious Basterds was screening – a scheduling decision which made some sense, as he spoke at the end of the screening, but also made no sense as, presumably, his biggest fans were in the cinema then.
I rode 800 km to spend five minutes in a full auditorium with a man whose words I could not understand. I mean, that’s a little sad, no?
I guess I also feel … a little ridiculous. And maybe frightened that when this year is over it will just be over, and nothing will have really changed – that I’ll go back to being stuck in the uncertainty of what to do next.
I’m scared that my life isn’t ‘a project’ – but just a series of events and experiences that won’t come together into something greater than the parts.
I guess I feel like this moment is a microcosm of all that – a fluffy-fun experience but nothing important, nothing meaningful, not a puzzle piece to the project. How could it be?
Or how couldn’t it be?
I need things to come together somehow and carry me someplace.
I knew this time – The After, in the end, wouldn’t feel great – no matter what happened, even if I’d met him, I’d still be feeling low now. I knew that coming into it.
Look, the trip would only be a series of experiences if it didn’t have its ups and downs. If I didn’t have periods of doubt and introspection and sadness.
Someone Tweeted from the Summit that Christoph said he’d given up his fantasies of Hollywood before he was cast in Inglorious Basterds.
Maybe you must give up your fantasies to devote yourself to your project – it may be that the satisfaction and contentment comes in that devotion. But do I know what my project is? Well, I’m a writer. A writer who hasn’t written enough. And who hasn’t figured out how to gain an audience for my writing.
But I refuse regrets. Once it was announced that he’d be attending this festival, it was a given that I’d come. There’s nothing I’d have done differently – I put my story out there on social media, I looked for him at the right place but missed him. If my feelings about his story and my desire to meet him continue then I’m sure the right opportunity will come in due course because … that’s just what I believe. Now, I kind of want to stop thinking about him for a while.
Goodnight Christoph – someplace in Zurich, probably up at the Dolder Grande. Until next time – when, hopefully, we’ll meet, and I’ll be able to thank you and chat a bit in German and have made progress to be proud of on my project.