Our first week we spent entirely in Paris. It was our holiday week, and it was sunny all through. We walked all day savoring especially the evening light of June, which ended after ten. Are streets in heaven a better experience than those of Paris? Hemingway famously said you are lucky if you are in Paris when you are young, because afterward Paris goes everywhere with you, for Paris is a Moveable Feast. What has been said of Paris for them who find it only in the latter half of life?
Our second week there was for business and it rained through the entire week. We rode taxis after we rode inter-city trains, and sometimes we traveled the whole distance only in cabs. We were all right. We were always warm, and coffee and pastry waited everywhere we arrived. Business takes good care of the body; the challenge is to take hold of the mind. It was over a business dinner, in Vichy, that I was offered Chateldon, the spring water that Louis XIV received by mule from Vichy for his daily use four centuries years ago—to manage his gout, they say. Also, Chateldon was served at the king's big events. Its taste was thick on my tongue the following day, from having had too much of it.
After Paris, when we arrived in Frankfurt for some more business, it was the weekend, and the sun was out but his dazzle on the River Main—a sweeping length of which we could see from our room—was deceptive, because in the streets it was windy and the chill snaked into the dress. Young people were schlepping beer, a crate a pair, in preparation for public screenings in the city of the match in Ukraine between Germany and Portugal—which the Germans won. Their cries as they passed us by had strains of a growl in them, but the kids were harmless, out merely for an evening of fun in a German way with the German drink. Some kids looked as though they had time left yet to graduate to drinking age, but wouldn't wait the weeks, or the months, or the couple of years still left. Anyway, nothing seemed amiss, save the chill that lingered in June.
So I resorted to the treadmill in the comfort of the fitness center weekday mornings, and watched from its window young and old locals walk and jog along the promenade along the River Main. On Tuesday I took the train down to the very south of Germany, to Uberlingen. Everything was fine until after I changed to a regional express, and waited patiently at Bad Schussenried, a small station where the train paused unusually long. There wasn't much to see save two old men on the platform, each in his own state of geriatric decline. They shuffled about, walking away from each other, reuniting, and repeating the act. After a time they sat together on the lone bench. It was raining in a light and casual and constant drizzle. A good many minutes passed before it occurred to me that something was wrong.
The first to arrive were the firemen. They were in heavy garments which seemed to impede movement, but speed is not what they want as much as the ability to go anywhere, into anything. They went to the back of the train. I looked at the two fellow passengers in my carriage, both old men, both impassive. They were intent on the rain, and had no regard for what was wrong in the back. Then the paramedics arrived, starkly visible in the haze through the glass of the train, in orange vests. The last to come were the polizei, in serious dark blue, announcing their approach with a single up note and a single down note of the siren.
Everybody went to the back and returned in batches to huddle in the tiny shelter the station offered. The old men on the bench watched the huddles that formed and broke. The two old men in my carriage looked on at the rain, but the creases on their faces were deeper now, telling their displeasure at all the delay. I began to get harried myself, and called Bangalore to have them explain my situation to the folks was going to meet.
Two paramedics came into our carriage, with believable concern on their faces. They asked questions in German. The old men gave brief answers. "Are you okay?" the woman in the pair asked me, and thereby exhausted all the English she had. It was the only English I would hear all the way until Friedrichschafen, which place I reached after the Deutsche Bahn folks transferred us to a double bus, and then into another train in another bahnoff ten minutes away.
It was by now apparent that our train has ground down someone on the rails. Without basis, I deduced it to be suicide. Murder seemed improbable in this scene, among benign souls speaking solely German.
The taxi ride from Friedrichschafen to Uberlingen went also in the rain, and I watched it fall on the vineyards that ran on the rises on the right and the slopes on the left. In a while Lake Constance came up and stayed in view a good long time, being so large. The lake had risen up and the cloud was bearing down on it, and, far from them, on the fringes, one could feel the tumult of their union. Several cars passed, and they and the buildings, and the fences, and signposts, and every man-made thing that we passed crouched in the rain. When the elements mate, humans shiver, and the artifacts of humans cringe in step.
"This is not the weather for June," my host told me. We looked out his glassed window, holding black coffee in hand. Half his broad young shoulder was wet from the rain that it took when he walked me under his umbrella from their campus gate to his office; the other half of my shoulder was just as wet. "Normally people commit suicide in winter; but if it rains like this in June then they might do it also in summer. I don't know if others agree," he added, shrugging, curving his mouth, distancing himself from his statement. "It is my opinion."
It rained also on the way back. It was dry from Ulm onward and the fields outside the train window were pretty in the evening light all the way to Stuttgart. When the power lines and Frankfurt train station came up, with its innumerable rails splaying off to a great width, and the bank buildings sleek and tall on its back, it was past nine, and there was still light from the June sun.
I didn't feel the chill because I walked briskly to my hotel to fetch my wife and we walked from there to the very fine Tandoori Taj restaurant for an Indian meal, which has enough spice in it to fetch you back from any depression. The Tandoori Taj faces the garden path that leads to the Alte Opera, which is my favorite spot in Frankfurt, and which is so close to Goethe's home. Often, over espresso before the Alte Opera, I reaffirm my love for Europe.