Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A Sentimental Journey

I have already mentioned that I first came to the Tyrol in 1966, as a 12-year old boy.  It was our first holiday abroad as a family.  Except, we were no longer the complete family we had been a year or two previously.  My sister, rather older than me, had unexpectedly left home, and her absence was, obviously, felt rather keenly.  I think the decision to go abroad for the first time may have been both a sort of consolation prize for me, and a way of drawing a line under the happy memories of former family holidays.  The choice of Austria was, inevitably, a direct consequence of having recently seen the film The Sound of Music.

It was all so wonderful and strange.  We travelled by coach all the way from London, crossing the Channel on the ferry, driving down through Belgium and Germany, to arrive late in the night at the Gasthof Lamm in Tarrenz, in the valley of the Fern Pass.  To awake for the first time in the bright, southern light, and to open curtains onto a vista of sunlit, snow-capped mountains is something you never forget.

That was a watershed time in my relationship with my parents.  We were never again to enjoy the uncomplicated, unconditional familial love we felt then, during that holiday.  They seemed to age, thereafter, and to have less ability to cope with a bumptious know-it-all teenager.  There were rows, threats, tears, and sulks. I developed a liking for the unconventional, the illicit, and the strange, and these were all things that -- probably rightly -- filled my parents with anxiety.  They were good, but conventional people, who found the world of the late 1960s an alien place.

When they died, just a few years ago, having stoically endured much ill-fortune and declining health, I felt very deeply the unbridgeable gulf between us.  There is less talk of a "generation gap", these days.  Certainly, the young resent the magically smooth, prosperous path through life enjoyed by their so-called "boomer" parents, but we live, mentally, in much the same world as our children.  This was not so back then.  The generation that had been born into the aftermath of WW1, lived through WW2, and established the British "welfare state" found the frivolity, rebelliousness, and pure ingratitude of their own children baffling and at times repellent.  Such breaks in the continuity of social life are, of course, the historical norm, but are also what can sever, irretrievably, one generation from another emotionally.

So, I had a personal agenda of "unfinished business", a sentimental journey I was finally ready to make by returning to the Austrian Tyrol, and yesterday I drove the 60 or so kilometres from Mutters to Tarrenz, taking the slower, scenic route.

I had two goals in mind.  First, to see the Gasthof Lamm again, which in 1966 was on a steep bend in the road, and emblazoned with a painted slogan on the blank gable end: Ei, ei, warum vorbei? (something like, "Hey, friend, journey's end!").  Second, to see if it was still possible to walk straight out of the village into open, cultivated fields and pasture, and stroll along a network of paths to the town of Imst, visible across the flat valley floor a mile or so away, where I shared a first ever cold beer with my father.  The first I knew would succeed, due to the Internet; the second I was pretty sure would fail, due to the passage of time.

But I was wrong, on both counts.

Yes, the hotel is still there, as I knew it would be.  But the bend has been straightened, and the hotel much extended, and although it still bears the same slogan, it is no longer painted but applied in plastic lettering, and on a different wall.  It seems to be something of a local hotspot, now, with discos and music nights in the bar.  Frankly, I would never have recognised it, and found that I felt nothing much at all, which was no real surprise.

So I then followed my nose, and walked along a deeply-culverted stream, and down an alleyway between some tumbledown, barn-like, traditional houses, past a calvary at a crude fountain and drinking trough, and found myself on a path that led out into the flat, open valley floor, where in the distance, across neat patches of barley, vegetables and pasture, I could see Imst gleaming in the warm afternoon sun.  I looked around at the steeply-cliffed, enclosing valley sides, with a hint of rumbling thunder up in the mountains, and realised with a surge of unexpectedly intense emotion -- I actually wept -- that I was finally back in the most beautiful place in the world.


Tarrenz said...

In the summer of 1966 my friend Maureen and I caught a ferry from Dover to Ostend then by coach to Tarrenz. We had seen The Sound of Music and longed to see Austria for ourselves but because we were Student Nurses it took some time to save enough money.We arrived at the Gasthof Lamm only to be told they had over booked and we (the teenagers) would be staying in a family house. We stayed with a lovely family in Trujegasse and had a wonderful holiday.On Sunday they drove us to Hotel Linserhof for coffee and cake. Wonderful!. Well a lot has happened since that time and my friend passed away in 1998. But as long as I live I will never forget beautiful Tarrenz and its kind people. Susan Dale Dunning.

Mike C. said...


Did either you or your friend Maureen wear your hair in a distinctive bun wrapped with a scarf? And did you perhaps go on a visit to Seefeld with a couple and their young son? if so, I may have a surprise for you. I'm away from home at the moment, but will follow this up when I get back.