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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Ground They Touched

I retired a pair of shoes today, reluctantly.  They were Merrells, a brand to which I had not been previously acquainted.  They presented themselves to me on the discount rack and with their easy crossover appeal--good for the road, good for the trail, good enough for the public--I bought them two years ago.  Aside from the fact that they lasted through two years of very hard walking, I felt a moment of nostalgia when I thought about where they'd been.  They were brand-new when I took them around London 18 months ago, and in them I moseyed up to the bar for my first pint of cask bitter.  I hadn't actually realized they were waterproof, but the November weather gave me a quick lesson.  Maybe you've heard of The George in London?  I met Pete Brown there when he was still writing Shakespeare's Local.  Here I am expressing my American displeasure at the institution of the monarchy.

The shoes took me up the wall that encircles York--parts of which were built by the Romans.  They took me further north to Edinburgh, a heavy city gray with stone and cloud.  (They took me into a pub there where I had the worst curry of my life.  Patrick, a subject of the Queen, looked at me in amazement and asked what the hell I was doing.  I told him: the empire.  He said: yes, but Edinburgh.  He was correct.)  They took me next to Belgium, to the streets of Brussels, which are painted--to those with the eye to notice--with brettanomyces bruxellensis.  Later I stood next to fields of Brussels sprouts, smiling.  Up the bell tower I went in Bruges, and along the sides of those sublime canals.

A year later, they took me to Rhineland and south to Bavaria.  I spent three days rambling up and down the hills of Bamberg, stopping in at intervals to whatever cathedral or brewery happened to be handy.  I'm not sure which the town has more of.  On to Munich, the sun around which the beer world orbits, where they took me over the Isar and in and out of beer halls the size of stadiums. 

They took me to the land of pilsner next, where I hiked on and off bumpy trains and around old villages.  On a cold night after the season's first snow, I hiked up the hill in the center of Prague.  (Later, Max taught me a great deal about brewing and beer-drinking in the Czech Republic; principally, that quantity is a virtue not to be ignored.)

They took me to Italy, a country I felt had to be over-rated.   That was until on my first morning, as the clouds cleared, I looked out my window and saw the Alps.  A country that has both good beer and cheese and ready access to coffee is my kind of country, and I even had rare facility with the music of the language. 

They also took me up and around a number of beautiful rocky coasts and mist-draped forests in my own piece of heaven here in Oregon.  To a riverbank in Maine.  Up and down the aisles of the Great American Beer Fest.  (Fests, they saw a few.)  They even took me down some interesting streets in places like St Louis.

I don't expect to ever experience another two years like the last two.  Getting to write about beer sent me to some of the most interesting spots on the planet.  I shared a lot of the beer-specific parts of my journeys, though these weren't always the most interesting or memorable parts of those trips.  Shoes aren't really the kind of things you can get too emotional about, but in a very literal way they were the objects that connected me to these places.  Perhaps a particle of dirt from Piozzo still clings to them.  I have all my pictures to remind me of these places, but the further I get from them, the less they have real substance.  In a literal way, these old shoes were the objects that connected me to those places.  So I stop now and bid them godspeed.  They were good shoes.