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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#Hierarchy. By John von Daler

                     Hierarchy comes to mind. A large room of light brown pine and white plaster, on two sides huge windows from the four-meter high ceiling to the oak floor. #Alps and other alps stretching away as far as one can see upwards. Everything from highest peak to lowest slat of wood has an order. These people are used to looking up and down more than back and forth, and so their lives also are constructed vertically.

                At our table against the wall by the window in the elegant, old hotel we had seven waiters. Wait. You must hear their jobs. The maître d'hotel with flat oily hair greeted us, seated the ladies and conversed about time, but not tide. He read the menu out loud sometimes just to keep his hand in the game, but otherwise he maintained a subtle importance by floating away with a bow to greet other guests and to whisper with his assistant.
                This assistant, a slight, blond man, read the menu out loud - and waited for our corrections, additions, subtractions, and the occasional change in plans (tomorrow we will want a bag lunch, as we will be walking in the mountains). He also lead the troops in with the first course, usually four hot soups with knödel served simultaneously, carried by several boys in one swing and sweep that, for all its motion, never spilled a drop.
                The wine waiter, short, fat and prone to flushed skin, handled the mostly green bottles of mostly white wine, the bottle of spritz and the occasional soda for a child. He made your choice look good indeed, whatever it was, and he served it with infinite accuracy and impressive speed.
                Then came the younger waiters. Their leader was a young man my age, round-faced and snub-nosed, who served the soup together with the first assistant. His job it was to oversee the removal of the finished dishes too and to be certain that the younger waiters moved in with alacrity and poise. He spoke quiet admonishments in their ears, swooping in on them as they walked, like a hawk hovering over mice. He also served the next courses and carried messages about wine and water.
                Then there were my favorites, the two small boys, one light, one dark, in black pants and white, ironed shirts who scurried around with their tongues lodged in their cheeks. They only removed dishes, never spoke and carried piles of plates in their small hands.
                Finally there was the dessert waiter with his trolley and portioning skills, a special older person, white-bearded like Franz-Josef. He had never made the top, but could not remain forever at the bottom of the hierarchy. Somehow his existence took place in a parallel world of sweets. He appeared only once each meal and then disappeared again.
                All of these people in the Grand Hotel, with its school for waiters and cooks, lived and worked with the precision of the clocks made by their neighbors, the Swiss. They were oiled and shined and positioned in the great rooms as if they could run on forever.
                Only one thing ever disturbed all of this. You never saw it, but once every ten days or so from behind the great swinging doors of the kitchen an unaccustomed crash would be heard, and an irritrievable and unstoppable shudder ran through diners and waiters alike. Time would stop, Einstein not withstanding, and through the swing doors you could see if you looked (and I did) one of the older waiters, the maître d'hotel or his assistant, poised over one of the small boys, the older man uttering something serious in what is called no uncertain terms, his finger raised, his face bent downwards, the boy's head bowed.

                Here it was that I learned both my respect and disrespect for hierarchy as it fell to the earth like some wayward boulder nudged off the top of Kitzbuhler Horn, splitting open the ground where it landed and slicing an unwanted and unexpected crevice in the foundation of my world view.

Tomorrow, Thursday Dec. 5, there will be no blog.
You can read an excerpt from my new book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) at my Facebook page: "Like" the page to receive coming blogs and excerpts automatically.
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