Danke Schoen

Well, my first year at EGS is over, and it has been the craziest experience of my entire life. We were located in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, a little mountain town that served as a Hollywood backdrop set-piece for the grand social experiment constructed by the school director. There were about 55 students of every stripe in Master's and PhD programs here — artists, filmmakers, philosophers, poets, musicians, etc. We were jammed together in classes with these really cool profs for 6 hours a day: deep political and aesthetic theory. Each night one of the celebrity guest profs made a special presentation of recent work and then had a Q+A with the students.

I wouldn't say that the work is any more difficult or special than anywhere else, but that the 3-week compressed period of schooling jacks up the intensity to a level I'd never been at before. Deleuze would say I was "deterritorialized" in a big bad way, as you can imagine the intellectual and creative ferment that is happening here when you are forced to be sequestered and "on" for 16 hours a day (including meals/social/drinking) with these really diverse people. But it was also very demanding emotionally as well. It seemed that people were having these minor cracking up episodes every day — the highs were very high and the lows were very low.

On our only day off a few of the group decided to take a gondola part way up the mountain and then hike the rest of the way to the top. It was a beautiful day: the sun was shining, the views captured by the mind's camera spectacular, and I was sharing it all with some of my friends. Yet emotionally I was in one of those low points, mired in contemplation about self and others. After making it almost all the way to the top, I didn't really feel like continuing anymore so I stopped in a little clearing to grab some sunshine and then opted for withdrawal and seclusion on the trip back down.

The bodily experience and challenge of eschewing the trails for a free climb down the mountain provided a brief respite from my melancholy, though when I reached the village to find the tiny cobblestone streets devoid of people it returned in a crashing wave. I slowly started back to my apartment and, turning a gentle corner, came across a solitary figure in the street.

It was a little blonde girl, perhaps twelve years of age, kicking a soccer ball by herself. Her actions were deliberate, as if trying to develop some skill that she couldn't quite muster. Since a few of us had taken to kicking a ball around in the hotel courtyard after lunches, I motioned her to send a pass in my direction. We started kicking the ball back and forth a few times, after which she asked me a question … in German. I didn't understand a word she said. I was also trying to ask her a question, and tried to communicate back to her in English, equally to no avail. Our gesticulations couldn't overcome the language barrier either, and I could sense her becoming increasingly frustrated with this inability to make ourselves understood.

Suddenly a woman came around the corner and, seeing our plight, asked if she could be of assistance. I replied affirmatively and the little girl began animatedly expressing herself to the one person that could understand her, who translated for me by saying "She wants to know if you'll kick the ball back and forth in the air [ie. 'juggle' the ball]."

"That's what I was trying to ask her!"

The woman relayed this information to the little girl, whose face lit up in a big smile. After the woman left, the two of us proceeded to juggle the ball for the next five or six minutes — poorly, as both of us lacked the skill to keep the ball in the air for long, but that is neither here nor there. What is important is that (with the assistance of the older woman) the ball had facilitated a channel of communication between us.

Isn't sport great sometimes? I left our random encounter and continued up the cobblestone path, spirits buoyed.

Danke schoen, little German girl, for making me smile as well.


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