St.Moritz : 'The Gift of Stones'
Saint Moritz Travel Blog› entry 24 of 268 › view all entries
‚ÄėPeople are like stones. You just have to know what to say. Strike them at exactly the right point and they will open up.‚Äô - The Gift of Stones (paraphrased from the novel by Birmingham-based author Jim Crace)
- ‚ÄúAre you checking that the train driver it taking us in the right direction?‚ÄĚ
The elderly lady I have sat opposite on the morning train to St.Moritz has been scribbling little rune-like entries on a pad for the last 5 minutes and has just placed a tiny little tin-pot compass on top of our window-table.
Her name is Donata, a Swiss lady who is travelling the lengths and breadths of these rail routes on an unlimited 2 day rail-pass that has been issued to her as part of the regional celebration of the fact that the astonishing feats of human engineering that are the enormous stone-built viaducts that make these rail-tracks over, under (and often through) the Swiss alps possible have very recently been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status (i.
Donata is a fascinating lady to talk to. Very creative. A teacher. She collects different minerals, and rocks from her various journeys through her mountainous homelands which she later grinds to fine powder for pigmentation that she then mixes with egg-whites to create different colours for painting.
Most illuminating for me though is her further considerations of the nature of stones and our relation to them. She has further stones, hard to get a hold of, that when struck together or in the right place make harmonious, musical sounds. She has many of these and the larger ones she says produce notes of an increasingly higher register as you strike higher and higher up the stone in question.
Donata is very engaging and kind, sharing with me her book with the old monochromatic photos of the builders struggling against nature at the end of the 19th Century to build up, brick by brick the incredible railway viaducts (some of which we cross today), but the most impressive of which I will pass over on the Glacier Express to Zeermat tomorrow. She points me in the direction of a few cultural things for once I‚Äôm in St.Moritz. I am chuffed to have met her and am put in mind of the quote that started this entry from a novel by the Birmingham based author Jim Crace where in his novel ‚ÄėThe Gift of Stones‚Äô the narrator muses at one point about the skill of the true stone-cutter who can strike any rock or stone, precisely in the right point, directly on the seam and split it cleanly to reveal the treasure and the beauty that lies within it‚Ä¶ and in a small way by teasing Donata and her compass, and striking up the conversation with her I feel I have managed this today, in my own small way to my great reward.
(I am also reminded of a scene from the fabulous animated movie ‚ÄėLaputa‚Äô (or ‚ÄėThe Castle in the Sky‚Äô) by the genius Hayao Miyazaki where the two heroes having fallen into an old mine shaft meet an old lonely miner who too shows them that the stones all around them are alive with light and beauty and celestial music, if you take the time, in the dark, to listen and observe. It‚Äôs a magical film. One of my faves. ‚ÄúCheck it out!‚ÄĚ)
Although she‚Äôs heading further on Donata disembarks with me at St.Moritz. Quite taken with my cheery company she is keen to try and look up an old friend who lives here and she believes would be more than happy to put me up for the night.
There is a light drizzle and the sky, whilst light is clouded-over and greyish misty white. The odd glimpse of the snow peaked mountains that encircle St.Moritz and it‚Äôs lake can be gleaned occasionally. It‚Äôs not skiing season yet and so the town is almost surreally quiet and calm. I stroll to the Youth Hostel the other side of the lake but Reception‚Äôs not open for another few hours so I chuck my bag in one of their lockers and stroll back into town.
I am in great luck as Donata, from her various leaflets, brought to my attention the Segantini Museum in St.Moritz. Named after a famous painter who settled in the region in the late 19th century, Giovanni Segantini, the museum today is on its final day of a 4 month special exhibition to mark 100 years of the museum‚Äôs existence and 150 since the birth of Segantini in 1858. He is not an artist that I believe I have encountered before despite his apparent fame and renown both in his lifetime and within the general cannon of Western Art, but then I am not so broadly cultured on such subjects. It‚Äôs my former flatmate Diana who‚Äôs the art curator. I am however now an ardent fan of this man and his beautiful paintings!
This is a small museum, created by Segantini‚Äôs admirers 9 years after his death in 1899 but the collection of his work on display here (only 3 rooms worth) for me is breathtaking.
I leave the exhibition and walk through the winding, often steeply ascending and twisting hillside streets of St.Moritz Dorf (town) and then down to the edge of the lake which I stroll all the way around the clear water‚Äôs edge, still in light drizzle before getting back to the Youth Hostel and booking myself a room both for the night and at the Youth Hostel in Zeermat for tomorrow night. It‚Äôs a large spacious and clean hostel and considering the part of the world I find myself in, excellent value at CHF48.50 (Swiss Francs: approx ¬£24) for a good room, a 4 course dinner and breakfast included. The inclusive meals are a real life saving surprise as St.Moritz high streets seemed nothing to me to be nothing but fine dining, 4 and 5 star hotels and shops all of which I would have to take out a new mortgage to buy even a business card in one of them! Prada sits next to Bulgari sits next to Gucci sits next to Cartier etc, etc‚Ä¶you get the idea.
The meal is lovely too! But glancing over my shoulder I see that finally, the sun already having glided down behind the line of mountain tops, the clouds have begin to dissipate and unravel to create the most incredible sunset composition in the sky. I absolutely wolf my four courses down in the blink of an eye ‚Äėcos I really do NOT want to miss this moment and dash out of the hostel back in the direction of town as quickly as I can to get a clear view. It is a stunning sunset moment I have to say and the finest skies I‚Äôve yet seen in my travels. The rain has been stopped for some time, much more of the snow-streaked mountain tops are visible now and I feel (I hope!) that this all bodes well for conditions on my special journey tomorrow! As it is I recall the words of the great artist himself, Giovanni Segantini that I had noted swiftly down earlier who loved and painted these scenes so well.