I am in the town of Schaffhausen, Switzerland. Schaffhausen sits on the banks of the Rhein. I am staying at a hotel in the center of town. Outside my window is a bell tower for the church. Each night, someone hits the bell on the hour. It’s a muffled sound, a kind of dead clonk.
I am here for a conference. The conference is taking place in an old hotel down the lane, but then everything here is old. Still the hotel in question is different. There is a a fireplace in the main entry hall. The fireplace has an open hearth, perhaps fifteen feet across. It’s only early spring so it’s cold enough to have a fire. The logs must be five feet long at least.
We have dinner in the hall. Spaghetti. I eat with the two Italians, who seem to have little English. They are amazed by my technique. I eat spaghetti with a fork, twirling it up without a spoon or a knife.
“You eat this way? At home?”
“Oh yes, how else?”
They gesture down the long table. The Germans and the Dutch have cut their noodles to pieces as one might a cutlet. I laugh.
“No, no. This is how we eat it.”
I demonstrate again for their approval. They invite me to come and stay with them when I am in Italy.
“We may not talk much, but we eat!”
I love them.
Night. I sleep. A priest or the monk steals into the bell tower and clocks the bell. It’s something that might have bothered me in any other place except here. At 5AM, I give up and go out for a run.
I run through the dark streets, down to the Rhein. I really have no idea where I’m going but I follow the river downstream. In places, I cross through quite neighborhoods. I skip back and forth across the river twice. Everything is dark until I come to a place where the houses give away and the trees rise up on steep hills.
Ahead, I hear the sound of the water moving faster.
On the other side of the river, the castle of Schlosslaufen clings to the rock. The castle overlooks the Rhein Falls. I cross over the falls on a rail bridge. In the center of the falls there is a massive stone, an island. The water rushes around it and roars. Mist hangs everywhere in the dawn light.
I keep wondering if a train will come along and crush me, but then I hardly care. I run back to the hotel and the town is alive with activity.
Later in the day, the conference breaks. We have a bus trip down to the Rhein Falls. I ride with my new friends, the Italians. I find I was wrong about their lack of English. One fellow was just being quiet at dinner. Now he cannot be stopped. He is intent on convincing me about his technical scheme and to demonstrate his prowess. His boss just shrugs in what seems to me the best gesture on earth and I decide immediately to steal it for myself.
Below the falls there is a cafe. You can take a boat from the cafe to the rock in the center of the falls. There is an iron staircase there and at the top the might of the Rhein comes blasting down on you. We take the boat. There’s no talking, just the pounding of the river. When we return, we relax on the deck and watch the other boats make the trip.
I explain to the Italians that I was here just this morning. I ran down here from the hotel. They are incredulous. The idea of running here seems fantastic. I have to explain it several times before they believe me.
One of the Swiss butts in, he says, “Ah but if you kept running, you would be in Germany within a few kilometers.”
“Good thing I didn’t go that way. I didn’t have my passport.”
“Oh, true. I should think that they wouldn’t have cared for that at all.”
How I Almost Started Writing is a series of brief portraits focused on the times in my life where I found myself on the verge of focusing solely on the writing life.