I saw another rainbow today. It was just as beautiful and just as mysterious as the one that I’d seen in Oberammergau last week, but this one, I found it in an “Antiquitäten & Raritäten” shop in Rorschach, Switzerland.
We started out yesterday in Oberammergau with the decision to drive to Lichtenstein for lunch. I don’t really know why, I had mentioned Lichtenstein to Scott at some point, it sounded interesting enough and it’s 2.5 hours away from Oberammergau, the question should be, why not? Lichtenstein for lunch turned into a great adventure; we ended up spending the night in Rorschach, Switzerland, and I found my rainbow this morning.
We had taken a change of clothes on our lunch outing (Lichtenstein for Lunch) just in case we got wild and crazy and after a very quiet lunch in Vaduz (the capital of Lichtenstein), we decided we needed a little more adventure on our outing and so we decided to drive to Lake Constance/Boden See (depends on the country), some place another hiker and fellow nervous mother had told me about as we both waited for our families to come down from a dangerous rock face in the Bavarian Alps. Long story short or long story long (Switzerland for Supper), we made it to Rorschach, found a hotel and watched the kids swim in the lake until a concerned citizen pointed out that it was lightening and the kids should probably get out of the water.
Fast forward to the next morning and Ashley needed to go swimming in the Bodensee again before we left and Grant wanted to check out the little town, so like any good parenting team, Scott went swimming and I went walking with Grant. We wandered aimlessly, trying to stay in the busy part of town. It seemed like most stores were closed on Mondays and so we were happy window shopping. Rorschach is cute, and although named for the famous ink-blot test, the psychologist never actually set foot in the town. He was however, born nearby in Arbon. It has some beautiful old churches and shops and cafes, but the main attraction is the Boden See or Lake Constance, depending on what country you are enjoying it from. We had just crossed a street and stepped up on the cobbled sidewalk to get out of traffic and there in front of us was a window full of random things. My eyes immediately went to the metal pig waiting just for me in that crowded store window.
There was no indication what the shop was or whether it was open or closed. I noticed a small metal sign hanging above the door later. Grant, being the brilliant child that he is, tried the door and it swung open. We could hear a man’s voice and he was asking or telling us something. I thought perhaps he was telling us to get out, but after a few attempts of deciding which language we would communicate in (Swiss German is beyond me at this point), I understood that the shop was open and he was merely asking us if we’d like something to drink, perhaps tea, coffee or water?
I am thankful that I took pictures because, just like the rainbow I saw last week; words just do not do justice to this little shop or the man who owned it. For all of you Harry Potter fans, Grant said it was the Room of Requirement and I had to agree. The shop was made up of two main rooms. From the street one could admire the store through two large glass window displays full of random treasures. The entrance to the shop was between those two windows and you walked into one large room stuffed to the ceiling with everything you could imagine. It was a cacophony of real antiques and absolute junk and everything in between. I know very little about antiques but it was obvious that some of the radios and cameras and dishes and bits and pieces were real treasures stacked among hangers and eyeglass cases and old wigs and broken ice skates. And the most interesting detail of all; scattered about the books and toys and scientific contraptions were ashtrays haphazardly balanced here and there and full of cigarette butts. It surprised me that I was not repulsed by the ashtrays, but strangely they were a contrast that just added to the beauty of scene.
Grant gravitated to the cameras and let me tell you, there were cameras; all makes and models and years, both video and film. The man wandered back and forth and in and out. He had another room full of things that he would retreat to, but I got the impression that it was the sorting room, it was full to the brim as well, but we never got back there. I told him he had a pig in the window that I liked and wondered how much it cost? He was surprised and said, “I do?” I took him outside and pointed to it through the glass. “Oh yes,” he said, “That pig is Swiss, almost 100 years old.” Someone passed him on the street with a smile and a greeting and said something to him. He laughed and said, “She speaks English.” I am fairly certain that the passerby told me that I was in good hands.
We went back inside. I asked him how much for the pig and he said, “for you, 3000 Francs.” I liked his sense of humor. Grant was mesmerized by the plethora of cameras. He began to tell Grant about the cameras and bring more and more cameras out, each with a story. I asked him how long he had been collecting cameras. He replied, “Since I was born.” He spoke with such reverence, “I love cameras, radios, and gramophones.” He told me a story of when he went away to school his room was filled to the ceiling, just like the little shop was with his collections and when he came home his parents had thrown it all away. I think he is still sad about it. He said, “My kids, they can collect whatever they want, whatever makes them happy. It doesn’t matter to me.” He held a cigarette in his hand as he told me the story and when he was finished he said, “I have to have my cigarette now. I love smoking. It is my hobby.” He said this with as much passion as he talked about his cameras and radios and off he went to smoke outside.
I think we were in the shop for over an hour and the magic of the overstuffed rooms wove some sort of spell around us. The proprietor spoke little English but he was a great communicator. I am noticing that some people have a true gift of communication and language barriers do not matter to these people. Reflecting on our time there and the little English he spoke and the little German I speak and the total foreignness of Swiss German to me, I came away knowing a lot about him. It must have been the spell that I was under.
He has five children, four sons and one daughter although he tells people he has eight kids because his daughter fought with all of the boys growing up so he said it was like having eight sons. His children are highly educated, two master degrees apiece, with the exception of the youngest boy. His daughter is working on a master’s degree in Geology now and already has one in Biology. In his words, she has always been “aggressive” but I think he meant “dramatic.” Two of the boys are teachers and one a business owner. The youngest boy is a musician. The man told me his youngest son came to visit him and said, “Pappi, I need to talk to you.” The man told me he thought it must be about a girl, but no, it was about following his dream to play music. “I have had it up to here with school Pappi (the man gestured to his chin). I want to play music.” I asked if the youngest son was happy. “Oh, yes, very happy and that is what is important. You want your kids to be happy.”
He told me his daughter had recently stayed with him while she was in school. He smilingly said, “You know, the, what do you call it in English, Frigidaire? She stays with me and it is (here he gestures with his hand like he is wiping something clean) all gone. I love it!”
His shop was the street level of what looked like a private residence. He told me that he lived in a big house in a different village, “fourteen rooms and they all look like this (gesturing to his shop). When my kids were little they said, we don’t need more Pappi, look at all the radios. We don’t need more.” He told me proudly I have no TV, no computer, no mobile phone (although his daughter wants him to get one) and no car. I (he puts he thumb up and looks at me for the word hitchhike) to the store every day,” “Every day?” I repeat incredulously. “How long have you been hitchhiking to the store?” He tells me for years. He hitchhikes every day and because of this he knows everyone in the area. He tells me people come to his shop and tell him their problems. He thinks about the problems and tries to help them. He is a friend to many, not only the people who need help, but the people who can help. He has contacts with the police and the government agencies (I am guessing Social Service type agencies) and he tells me, “I want to help. People come to me. This is my path in life. It makes me happy.” He meanders out the door to smoke.
When he comes back in he tells Grant, “I will show you a camera to bring tears to your eyes.” He comes back with an old Kodak video camera and he and Grant reverently remove it from its beautiful leather case and admire it like a fine work of art, exclaiming over the various intricacies of a camera of its age.
Just like it is hard to capture the essence of a rainbow with words; the brightness, the vividness, the eerie glow it casts and the unnatural brightness on things nearby, it is hard to capture the beauty of that man in the shop. He was happy. Most people, me included, would have taken one look at his shop and thought he had a problem but the opposite was clear to me. He was completely at peace with himself, walking his path in life exactly the way he wanted to and it was beautiful. I want to be more accepting of those closest to me, myself at the top of the list and this man stood out as one human being who is good at acceptance of his kids and himself. His kids and his parents have tried to change him, but he persevered. Let people be themselves and they may turn out amazing, just like a rainbow.
I asked him before we left the shop, camera and pig in hand, if he knew the word “inspiring”? He did and I told him he was inspiring to me.
Ashley wanted to visit the little shop before we left and Grant and I joked that just like the Room of Requirement, it might be near impossible to find again. I think we were truly surprised to find it again, but it was closed and so we just peered through the windows. That night I dreamed of my beloved grandfather who smoked the same cigarettes as the beautiful human in the shop.