The Echo


Every once in a while, recalling a distant memory, what you remember is shot through with such brilliance that you can relive the experience, invoking each time the scene in its original intensity. There was such a scene during our Easter vacation that April, a moment of sublime beauty mid-way on a boat ride in Königsee.

Königsee: long, narrow, winding, and hemmed in by steep, rocky mountains, the lake feels like a fjord. They say the lake was formed by a glacier in the last ice age. There is a remoteness to it, a timeless atmosphere. On a quiet day, looking up at the uninhabited slopes around, one can imagine a time no humans walked the earth.

Water touches rocks on all sides, steep edges keep the perimeter inaccessible by road: only a boat can ferry you from one point to another. We were on such a boat, oblong, wood-paneled, driven by electric motors that leave the turquoise blue water unpolluted. The boat was full. Adults clicking photos, children running about, mothers behind them: solitude was unattainable. The tour guide, a grey-haired man with a moustache, spoke through a microphone, his voice betraying a boredom that accrues from repeating jokes a dozen times each day. In the middle of his routine, when we expected another of his quips, he announced that he would now play the flugelhorn, a trumpet-like instrument. The lake was known for its echo, he said, but few were privy to the real source of the echo: his twin, up on the mountain, parroting the notes that rose from the bowels of Königsee. We laughed. He lifted the instrument out of a black leather case, well-worn but elegant. Windows on both sides of the boat were opened, and a hush descended in anticipation. I heard gentle waves lap the sides. A seagull shrieked somewhere. Cold air clipped my ears. The blue-green lake merged with shoreline grey. For a few seconds the silence was total. Then he began to blow. Four notes, barely musical: tra la ra laaa. When he ended, and before the notes trailed off, we heard a distant yet startlingly clear echo, a mirror image of the notes he had played. He blew again, carrying on the tune, and the echo followed, like an obedient pupil following the master. The echo reached us as he finished each sequence, the repetition took off just as the original faded.

And I imagined a figure up in the mountains, in a conical cap and a clown’s cape, running around pines blowing a flugelhorn to match his twin below, laughing at the trick they played on the tourists.

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