Friday, February 21, 2020


The scenery–a mountain range of magnificent craggy peaks—turns astonishing as we approach Switzerland and enter the Upper Engadine Valley, itself six thousand feet above sea level.

Just before 2:30 we glide into Sils Maria, a serene, unassuming village between two lakes, surrounded by mountains, praised by Nietzsche as “heroic and idyllic.”

Almost immediately, we locate Neitzsche Haus, once a guesthouse where Nietzsche summered, now a museum devoted to his memory. 

It is a yellowish chalet, set back from the street, its nine front windows framed by teal blue shutters adorned with flower boxes filled with red geraniums. 

On this day, Monday, it is closed.

Next door, Hotel Edelweiss beckons us to check in. 

Nietzsche stayed here, says the receptionist, evidenced by a page from an antique hotel guest registry dated June 1883 that bears the German philosopher’s signature, framed on the wall next to reception lest anyone question their veracity.

We dump our bags and minutes later re-group for a hike to Chaste, a rugged peninsular on the lake which features, according to our hotelier, the rock Nietzsche frequented for inspiration.

We walk briskly, among brisk walkers to-ing and fro-ing—and nose blowing—in all directions, until we reach a lonely rock near Lake Segl. 

“Is this it?” I ask.

“Must be,” says Van Stein.  “Here, look at this.  Some kind of medallion embedded in the rock.”

A flying saucer within a pyramid inside an orb. With this inscription: Landes Vermessung.  

German for The Forgotten Landscape.

“This is where Nietzsche made contact with space aliens!” yelps Van Stein.

We walk further into the a-bliss, onto Chaste, a preserve of rocky trails and wilderness and oxygen-rich mountain air, as pure and chaste as Iceland.

We leave Van Stein to his paints and brushes, stroll back to the village for hot chocolate in the local bakery, and a discussion of JL’s troubles stemming from his secret work for Tubby Tompkins as my recruit.

He and Mazey steal away for a round of rootle and I ensconce myself on my room balcony overlooking a fast-moving stream, bare-chested, basking in sunset and pealing church bells.

Soon, Van Stein trucks forth, stopping in front of Nietzsche’s house with camera for a spot of early evening orb hunting.  

He sees me, points his camera upward.  “Ah, you’re doing Pablo Picasso.”

Our foursome ascends a winding road up steep hill that leads to Hotel Waldhaus, a fortress-like structure that lords over Sils Maria.  

More civilized than I, JL suggests a table in the lounge for an aperitif.

“I like to drink in a real bar,” I say, guiding the action into a wood panelled barroom with plain square tables.

A whiskey later, we’re whisked into the dining room and fawned over by obsequious wait staff led by Felix the Chef, who somehow knows that JL is part of Monaco’s royal family.

I ask about local lake fish, but the waiter’s peculiar expression suggests I go a different direction, so Carre d’Agneau for four, complimented with a bottle of Pomerol.

“I want to open my own clinic, not work in an institution,” says Mazey.  “Brain doctors now rely too much on medication.  They make fun of their patients, create nicknames for them, and laugh at them.  If I were locked up like that for six months I’d end up insane.  It’s quite horrifying.”

I nod self-indulgently.  “Maybe you can help me with something strange going on in my mind?”

“No, I can’t really,” says Mazey.  “I’m not allowed to treat you.”

“I don’t want to be treated,” I say.  “I’d just like your opinion.”

“No, I’d be reluctant to venture an opinion.”

“Are you allowed to listen?”

“Yes, I suppose I can listen, but don’t expect me to respond.”

“Of course not.”

I take my fellow diners back to when I was five years old, to my imaginary friend with red hair and freckles.  Then I fast-forward to the present, to my recent epiphany, encountering my imaginary friend as a real person.

 “So, let’s hear your overview in ten sentences,” I push Mazey.

“It’s so complicated," she wades in anyway. "It’s extremely deep, less the neurological side, very psychoanalytical, an extremely intimate dimension of the personality.  It stems back from very early development, the relationship with parents, and that’s all I’m going to say.”  She pauses.  “It’s extremely pathological because the earlier the origin, the worse it is.”

“Path-illogical?” says Van Stein.

“Good gracious,” I say.  “Would drugs help?”

“I don’t do drugs.  It could take ten years to work out.”

“But isn’t that a good reason for drugs?  I can’t wait ten years.  We need to resolve this during the course of dinner tonight.”

“It’s like asking a surgeon to do an operation at a table,” says Mazey.

“Okay,” I say.  “What if I was choking on a piece of meat?  If there was a surgeon at the table and the Heimlich manoeuvre didn’t work, the surgeon would conduct an on-the-spot tracheotomy.”

“You think this is something you can talk about over a glass of wine?” says Mazey. 

“I’d actually prefer to talk about it over a dry martini,” I say.  “But wine will suffice.”

“If I operated like that, I’d make myself more ill than my patients.”

“All right,” I say.  “So, if you can’t comment as a professional, can you at least pass judgment as an individual?”

“I can’t and I won’t.”

“But wouldn’t it be terrible if you could cure me but refrain from doing so on principle?”

“You have to get to know your patients in your office,” says Mazey.

“Yes, but I bet you wouldn’t serve wine in your office.  If I’m ever to resolve this, trust me, it will be over a bottle of wine.”

“Maybe she is still imaginary?” JL offers.

“Thomas has seen her, too,” I say.

“So maybe you’re both imagining her,” says JL.

“A Jungian collective hallucination? No, she exists,” I say.  “And she’s the same person as the imaginary friend from my childhood.  Here’s what I think:  When I was a kid, I had a premonition of someone I would meet much later in life.”

“Does she represent an ideal?” asks Mazey.

I consider this.  “Yes.  I’m very taken by how smart she is.  She’s very intelligent, and well organized, and mature for her age.  I’m impressed by that.”

“She knows how to mix drinks,” adds Van Stein. 

“That’s a good point,” I say, attempting to over-ride Van Stein’s mirth-at-my-expense.  “When I first met her, she was mixing drinks behind a bar.  I noticed that when she was present, even if her manager was around, she was in control.  I was impressed by her situational awareness, the command she had over everything going on around her.  To a point where I even said to her, I don’t know what you’re hoping to do in life, but you will be very successful.  In our conversations the past few weeks, the depth of her intelligence, her awareness, at so young an age, made an impact on me, along with how in tune we are with one another.  She’s very organized, color-codes everything she’s doing.  I’m purple.  And she’s one of the few people who actually knows how to use a semi-colon.”

“So what?” says Van Stein.  “I use my whole colon.”

“There’s definitely an idealistic element in this,” says Mazey. 

“She’s a vegetarian,” I say.  “I’ve had discussions with vegetarians before, but I’ve never been so close to changing my own eating habits, listening to her reasoning.”

“But you just ate lamb chops!” hoots Van Stein. 

“Yes, but I’m not happy about it.”

“I’ve already given him my own opinions,” adds Van Stein.

“What is it?” asks Mazey.

“I can’t divulge that, it’s a doctor-patient confidentiality thing,” says Van Stein sternly.  “All right, one time only.  I told him he’s a highly creative individual and there are multi-facets to him that I’m still learning about, and because of where he is in his age category, maybe he’s experiencing chemical changes in his body and going through male menopause.  When men reach their 50s they are looking at young women.”

“You’re absolutely right,” says Mazey.

“Hold on,” I say.  “You’re misinterpreting this as a sexual thing.  This is way cooler than sex. Look, I talk for hours and hours with someone three times over a ten-day period.  And then I wake up with the realization that she is the imaginary friend from my childhood. This isn’t a leave-your-wife-and-run-off-with-a-younger-woman deal.”

“I understand that,” says Van Stein.  “The mind can play tricks.  You might be unconsciously projecting something that has been dormant for many years and it’s time for you to try to live out that fantasy in some way, shape or form.  Are you projecting your unfinished business onto somebody else because it’s time for that?  Just look at it for what it is, you don’t have to act on it, just say, Isn’t that interesting?”

“I hear you,” I say.  “But, but she was my imaginary friend.  There’s simply no question about that.”

“Maybe you were tapping into her soul,” says Van Stein, “and she had a soul agreement with you to manifest years later.”

“Now you’re talking!” I say.  “This is a supernatural situation.  Maybe this is why I’ve always been drawn to movies with similar themes. There’s an obscure movie called Made in Heaven, about a couple that meets in heaven.  Suddenly, it’s time for the female to be reincarnated on earth.  The male is inconsolable, his love for her so deep.  So, they cut him a deal:  You can be re-born before your time, go after her, but neither of you have any memory down on earth of having known one another in heaven, and you have to cross paths with her by chance before your 30th birthday or it’s all over and any spark of recognition will be gone forever.   Neil Young wrote the theme song, We Never Danced.  Well, we’re dancing now.

“And there’s something else:  My imaginary friend come-to-life gave me a novel to read called Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins.  Many times, I almost bought this book in bookstores, but refrained at the last minute.  It’s almost like I had to wait until she, my imaginary friend, gave it to me.  I start reading it–this is just in the last ten days—and I immediately adore this book for its sense of whimsy.  The theme throughout is How to make love stay.  I was almost halfway through when I woke up with the epiphany about her being my imaginary friend.  The ending is very unpredictable, another reason I like this book so much, and when it arrives, it is sublime.”

“What was the conclusion?” asks Mazey.

I have to steady myself.

“Got an issue?” says Van Stein.  “Here’s a tissue.”

I sip from my glass of water.  “It ends with this line:  It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Van Stein turns to JL.  “Now do you believe in orbs?”

“I believe in orbs.”

“I found my imaginary friend,” I say.

“That’s a lot of things to take in over a couple of weeks,” says Mazey.

“And we want an answer tonight,” says Van Stein.

“How do you feel now?” asks Mazey.  “Do you feel lost in it all because you don’t know what to make of it?  Do you feel content where you are with it?”

“Very content,” I say, returning Mazey’s eyeball grip with equal resolve.  “Because I think it’s fun, and magical, and stimulating.”

“It’s easy to blame things on external things–people and forces.  But the answer is inside of you.”

“But what if there is an ether world out there,” I say.  “Something very few people tune into, and those who cannot understand it are compelled to perceive it only as psychosis?”

“I believe what you’re talking about is incorporated into psychoanalysis,” says Mazey.

“So, you’re saying I’m nuts?  The important thing to understand here is that she really is my imaginary friend.  There’s no question, she’s the same soul I dialogued with when I was five years old.  And since this is a physical impossibility, because she wasn’t born yet, it becomes a metaphysical question.”

“That’s the case for you,” says Mazey, “for you, for you.  There’s a root to everything, and it’s not mystical–it’s either medical or scientific.  I can’t ask the question, Is it visionary?  Because there’s a psychoanalytical explanation to everything.”

“So, you’re doomed,” says Van Stein, pounding his fist in the absence of a gavel.  “Sentenced to ten years of psychoanalysis.”