Tuesday, September 8, 2009


The little car zig-zagged up the steep alpine road, piloted by a mad Englishwoman. Carol had adopted the Guitar Slinger and me for the month, attending every performance and taking us sight-seeing on our one day off each week. The first Monday we visited an exclusive resort town near Montreux. Rodeo Drive seemed like a bargain as we stared with open mouthed awe at the fortunes asked for the furs and jewelry proudly displayed in the shop windows. The second Monday she had us take the train to Morges, were we visited the Swiss military museum, Chateau de Morges, before being welcomed into Carol's apartment and treated to a proper British supper of shepherd's pie and Yorkshire pudding. Today we were going to Taveyanne.

Taveyanne is in the Villars-Gryon region of Switzerland, 32 kilometers southwest of Montreux. As Guitar Slinger chattered away to Carol I was happy to sit in the cramped back seat of her tiny car and marvel at the scenery. This part of Switzerland can make even the most inept amateur photographer feel like Ansel Adams. Point the camera in any direction and you'll see a perfect postcard through the viewfinder. We slowed as we approached a herd of massive, muscular Swiss cattle near the road to the village. Even Guitar Slinger grew silent as we rolled down the windows to take in the brisk, clean air.Carol stopped the car and waited for two of the cows to lumber across the road. As the rest of the herd grazed in the adjacent meadow, the only sounds to reach our ears were the clanging of a few hundred cowbells as they raised their heads to have a look at us. The sound was at once symphonic and peaceful, a spontaneous soundtrack to the cinematic vistas we enjoyed on our journey up the mountain.

When we reached Taveyanne we left the car in the only parking lot, about a hundred yards away from the village. Carol pointed to a short, stout, pole a few feet away and told us that we were looking at the lone piece of modern technology in Taveyanne. Housed inside the pole was a battery powered radio, only to be used during dire emergencies. Like a life-sized scene trapped in a snow globe, Taveyanne is frozen in centuries passed. There are no blaring televisions, no electronic hums and beeps from computers and cash registers. It's a living window into another time, its few residents leading quiet, simple lives. Carol suggested that we meander around the village before meeting at the refuge for a cup of hot chocolate. Guitar Slinger went east, video camera whirring. I ambled west, hands in pockets.

The smaller homes that surrounded the main lodge had the dates of construction proudly displayed on bronze plaques, or simply etched in ancient slabs of wood above the doorways. They were the oldest structures I'd ever knowingly gazed at, some more than eight hundred years old. Eight hundred years! Amazing that a structure made of nothing but wood and stone could survive the elements for so long. I thought of the countless generations that lived inside those four walls, hundreds and hundreds of babies grown into old men and women. I thought of the strenuous lives they must have led before they were finally reduced to dust, the houses remaining as the only monuments to the hard work, love and laughter, joy and heartbreak that these families must have experienced during their time on earth.

Later the three of us met back at the refuge. The threshold was a time machine, transporting us back a century or more. We remembered to greet the few people inside with a quiet Bonjour as Carol ordered hot chocolate for the three of us. A large cauldron bubbled in the enormous fireplace, and the proprietress grabbed a large metal hook from beside the fire, swinging the cauldron out into the room before dipping a ladle into the bubbling contents and pouring the liquid into our cups.

Among the three of us, only Carol spoke fluent French. I was content to listen to the soft conversations and the crackling of the fire, not understanding the words exactly, but feeling welcome none the less.

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