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Swiss Tryst

Looking for lunch, we wandered into the spectacularly opulent lobby of the Kulm Hotel and sat by a picture window looking out on the lake and snowcapped mountains. Our drinks were served on doilies as thick as down comforters. Lunch was over, they said, but they could bring us a little something, which is how we came to enjoy the world's most dramatically staged ham and cheese sandwich. No crust, a few gherkins arranged on the massive plate as if it were a sculpture garden. We sat and stared at the water. Eventually the piano player arrived to warm up for the evening drinkers. On the road again, we skirted past cyclists by the lake and nibbled chocolates through the forest, blasting the radio; Elvis came on, singing "Walk like an angel.…"

By the time we got to Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, I was ready to get out of the car. Honeymoons are meant to be recuperative as well as romantic—which is why some people sit on a beach for a week or two doing nothing, having just survived not so much the wedding day as the planning of it. I wasn't regretting the Alps trip, but as we made our way through drizzling rain, I began to see the appeal of the honeymoon focused on more or less nothing.

"Here we are!" I nearly shouted when we saw the sign for Zermatt.

My enthusiasm was premature. When we got to the town we were greeted by numerous waving and gesturing Swiss people. For a second I thought the waving was a kind of greeting extended to visitors, but that didn't make sense. People waved at us as though our car were on fire.

Finally a hotel doorman came running out in the rain. He told us that cars were banned here. I was supposed to have parked in the previous town and was in danger of getting a 600-franc ticket. We turned around and hurried back down the tiny road, laughing—we must have missed the signs, we're such idiots, etc.—but I had the sinking feeling that we might not be up to the navigational task of traveling, of being lost without anyone to help us get found.

The Hôtel Ambassador's lobby looked like the lost-and-found in a train station. An American tour guide leaned both elbows on the front desk, talking on the phone. The subtext of every line she spoke seemed to be that it was not her fault that it was raining. All around were suitcases of unseen travelers who had presumably just spent several days not being able to visit, or even see, the mountain that gives meaning to the town of Zermatt.

But in the time it took us to go up to our room, collapse on the two pushed-together beds, rally, wash up, and get our bearings, the low, cottony clouds retreated back toward the sky. The light shifted. And so I was lying on the bed staring out the window for nearly a minute before I realized I was looking directly at the Matterhorn.


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