Sunday, 22 May 2011

Swiss Roll

I've just come back from being on a roll out there, in a village overlooking Lac Leman and the miles and miles of vinyards on its northern side. Switzerland is lovely in springtime, not too hot and not too tourist-busy - but the traditionals are all there to be admired: cheeses and chocolate by the tonne, flags flying outside every chalet type house big enough to support a pole in the garden and everywhere cows clanging their bells - wonderful.

I used to work in Lausanne many years ago and my French was once near-fluent but it's rusted somewhat and it always takes several days to get my 'ear in' again. It's fun to be able to eavesdrop on conversations on the train in a foreign language! And as every writer knows, fellow-passenger-watching and eavesdropping are tools of the trade so I didn't even feel guilty about hearing about the recalcitrant children etc ...

The Swiss birds (in and out of the cuckoo clocks) all chitter in French just as loudly as they do in English, and the crickets answer back seemingly for much of the night. There are two churches in the village and both have chiming bells, one dong for the half hour and the correct number of dongs for the hour - but the two towers sound about a minute and a half apart: apparently the later ring gives the real time!

The scents of the open meadows - they're ready to be mown for hay any day now - are divine, so many different grasses and wildflowers and no ragwort or thistles in sight, how DO they do it?  There is no barbed wire in Switzerland (it's actually against the law to fence horses in with it) and the milch cows all graze right up to the lanes and roads with only a thin wire keeping them in their own places.  The wire is plugged in to the national grid though, so I guess yon cows aren't going to argue more than once about the grass being greener on the other side of the wire.

All is not wonderful, however: the lovely old chalet that used to mark the entrance to the village has been pulled down and hideous flats have been built in its place. Even though the whole village population signed a petition to prevent it, the authorities went ahead anyway.  Ghastly. There's a huge amount of building work going on in Switzerland, has been for several years and each time I go it seems another dozen of these horrid concrete block buildings have appeared, either for industrial or domestic purposes. Although the old villages retain their charm, all along the roads between them and crowding around the edges of the villages, wherever another few acres become vacant when someone dies and the heirs don't want to farm or grow vines, some horrible building goes up.  There are protected areas, of course, indeed UNESCO has just designated as 'special' the whole region around Lavaux from Pully to Vevey - thank goodness somebody has seen the problem and is starting to put brakes on.

Vevey is a gracious small town with a lovely lakeside area where I found the most beautiful carousel, dating from 1900.  It looks like a giant toy - it's a fantastically ornate merry go round of enormous proportions, with two tiers of 'rides' on it - separated by carved staircases.  On the lower deck are well-made and exquisitely painted carnival horses which go up and down on some unseen mechanism as the carousel turns.  There are Cinderella rocking carriages, into one of which I saw a delightful Italian couple climb and they spent the whole ride leaning against one another, holding hands and enjoying both their own relationship and maybe also memories the Carousel brought them. Every available surface of the Carousel was decorated - including the ceilings which had paintings of classical legendary scenes and other 'proper' artwork painstakingly set onto them.  The walls and supports were gorgeously decorated - in tasteful and classic pale green and pink and cream, with gilt finishing touches and mirrors everywhere, two-tailed mermaids carved on the uprights - I stood and watched for half an hour and I don't think I saw all there was to be seen even then. I wish I'd had my camera.

Switzerland is riding high as the dollar and the pound are at a low exchange rate - I've never known it to be so expensive and would caution anyone travelling there to be aware of how hideous the prices are - a very mediocre salad plate at lunch for two will set you back about £18 and afternoon tea and a pastry much the same.  Maybe I'm just out of touch, of course, perhaps even in the UK this is the going rate now.  As you know from previous blogs, I am not by nature or inclination a 'lady who lunches' - just as bloomin' well, at those prices!

On the whole though, the sounds and scents and sights of Switzerland continue to delight me and of course seeing old friends and spending time with them is always a pleasure.  But I don't think I'll be visiting again for another year or so. 


  1. I went to Switzerland when I was about 10. I remember walking through a sloping meadow full of flowering grasses and cows with bells around their necks. Glad to know such a scene still exists.

  2. It's wonderful to return, but it does pull at the emotions when we have to accept the changes.

    Welcome back!

  3. Did you bring me back a cuckoo clock?