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July 22nd 2018

Rhaetoromanic in practise

Yesterday afternoon I arrived in Scuol after a overnight stay in Frankfurt am Main. In my luggage also were my schoolbooks for the course rumantsch which starts tomorrow, Monday July 23rd. But first still a day of leisure: and time for a walk that will help me to adapt to the weight of the 1½ kilometre extra air on my shoulders. So I went by Postal car to Ramosch and from there by minibus to Vnà.

From Vnà one can walk to a nice mountain inn in one-and-a-half hour, Hof Zuort, which also has a touch of the Netherlands: the famous conductor Willem Mengelberg used to come there frequently and enjoying it. I have made this trip more often – I like it very much.

Vnà is a village that kept its authenticity well. On many walls of houses and stables signs are attached with verbs in rumantsch. Quite a good exercise for tomorrow! Hereunder a selection:

At the start of my walk the weather wasn’t that nice – it had been raining all day yesterday. That was a kind of “breaking news”, because there haven’t fallen a single drop of rain for the last couple of weeks! This immediately made the area look somehow greener, and it gave charming details as well, like active large snails and raindrops on grass blades.

When I left the village my eye was caught by something very blue: three fake sheep were standing near an authentic wooden stable… Would they have been eating too much gentians, or have they actually been painted gentian blue (RAL colour 5010)?


Vnà: did these sheep eat too much gentians…?

Once outside the village I walked over a broad road into the valley. Along the road a large stable was built, that now was empty, but through the cracks between the wooden bars I could still see straw and hay laying on the stable floor. Several times road signs pointed towards Hof Zuort. Other signs pointed to the Val Sinestra Valley, a. o. across a suspension bridge – that will be for another time!

On the way I saw many interesting geological aspects: streams flowing together of which one carried reddish-brown water and the other just clear water: the difference between water containing iron and plain water!

Further into the direction of Hof Zuort erosion is clearly visible: a sharp horizontal line between the soil that is still overgrown and a steep slope with scree, intersected by deep down-going ravines. In winter these are even better visible.

Another feature are the hoodoos near Hof Zuort. A hoodoo is an ultimate effect of erosion. By erosion the soft rock erodes. When a piece of hard rock lies at the surface, then it forms a kind of “hat”, around which the soft rock in the course of many, many centuries will further erode. This gives towering pillars of stone. The occur here near Hof Zuort, but they can be found all over the world (and in Switzerland a.o. in the Canton of Valais). This is also better visible in winter than in summer.


Vnà: near Hof Zuort hoodoos are visible (in winter)

These hoodoos should be distinguished from the so-called “cairns”, which are made by hikers and travellers from all times alongside the road, in river beddings of at pass crossings: here a stone will be added to the stack or pile – like a kind of ritual or road sign. These “cairns” can reach a huge height and volume – sometimes they are just small and humble like this cairn on a sawn tree trunk: here I haven’t dared to add a stone because I feared that otherwise the whole pile would collapse…


Vnà: on the track to Hof Zuort there is a really small cairn (“Steinmännchen”)

Finally after one-and-a half hour Hof Zuort came in sight. The main building is situated in an idyllic landscape and is opened all year round. In the past it also was a customs office on the border between Switzerland and Austria – the sign above the entrance is a witness thereof.

Inside the “gute Stube”, the “Stüva”, the best room, really looks like an authentic Engadin house from former times: a wooden-clad stove and a cabinet with the best tableware. From the menu I chose the soup with a cheese dumpling (“Knödelsuppe mit Käse“), or in rumantschSchoppa de canedals da chaschöl”. “Chaschöl” is one of those words in rumantsch that can not be traced back to something recognisable in Latin of French…, like “ün majöl” for a glass… That is why, to my opinion, languages are interesting!

After that I climb a little further uphill to have a look at the small Chapel of Willem Mengelberg. He was born in Utrecht in 1871 and he passed away in Zuort in 1951. He was a famous conductor of the Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam and was very much admired during the years before the Second World War, also because of his contacts with Gustav Mahler: that is why the Concertgebouworkest has such a strong Mahler-tradition. Due to his choice to continue his conducting activities during the German occupation of the Netherlands, he has been discredited; therefore he could not stay on as a conductor of the Concertgebouworkest any longer. He died in his Chasa Mengelberg in Zuort, shortly before his six-year ban on conducting in the Netherlands would be lifed. The chapel, built of wood, has been constructed by Willem Mengelberg out of gratitude that Switzerland as well as the Netherlands have been spared for the misery and destruction of the First World War. That is also mentioned on the plaque on the wall. Also on the website of Hof Zuort a lot of information is given on Willem Mengelberg and his stay in Zuort.

While walking on still further I arrived at an unstable small bench. On a tree nearby a handwritten poem was attached, written by Giacomo Leopardi, an Italian aristocrat from the beginning of the 19th century (1798 – 1837). His poem “L’Infinito” (“The Infinite”) is internationally renowned; here as well infinity, fear for death and melancholy are central themes. From this point the view was not quite infinite because of the shreds of clouds, but the quietness surely was there. Also the view on the Chasa Mengelberg, with her history is moving: apart from musicality other gifts are apparently also necessary…

During my walk towards Hof Zuort and back I still saw many flowers still in bloom, and some butterflies as well, like the Five-spot burnet (Zygaena trifolii). Somewhere in hiding grew the Alpine Columbine, an orchid with pink flowers: the Marsh fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) and the Round-leaved wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia) with white flowers. Here again it was a festival of colours.

Once back in Vnà I took another road through the village than the one to the bus stop: the minibus to Ramosch did not run at 2 o’clock. I passed old houses in the Engadin style, with lovely wall paintings and sgraffiti. On the walls of many houses meaningful sayings are displayed with beautiful decorations around them. The Engadin building style is characterised by the thick walls of stone with the sgraffiti, the windows retreated into the walls, the bay windows, and the double entrance gates in the working area (sulèr) and the stable on the front side of the building. It is a three-storied building for combined living and livestock keeping. In Vnà a lot of attention is paid to the maintenance of the original way of building, although there are possibilities for modernisation. Often the renovation is subsidised by the Canton of Grisons. Therefore a lot of authentic villages have fortunately survived, especially in the Lower Engadin.


Vna: a modern version of an Engadin house

The walk on foot downhill from Vnà to Ramosch took less than an hour. Halfway one passes the ruins of a borough dating back to the 13th century: Schloss Tschanüff Castle. On an information panel, on which in two languages (German and English) some of the history of Ramosch and the Castle is told, a sticker was put, with the concise question, why the text wasn’t in rumantsch as well: “per rumantsch?”.

The Postal car took me rapidly back from Ramosch to Scuol, where I could prepare myself for a week of studying on the question: “per rumantsch?”. It is nice to be back.