Sunday, May 27, 2012

Swiss Trip: May 27

Day Two
You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs!
Our Swiss adventure continues. We start off with a trek to the Gruyères Cheese Factory. (Evidently, they make Gruyères cheese here. Who knew?) A prerecorded happy cow (with a British accent) explains how this factory turns milk from Switzerland's ubiquitous beatific bovines into cheese. They don't show you where they put the holes in, but that's OK. You get samples.

Next, we hit the Castle of Gruyères -- a stout hilltop redoubt with a semi-circle of mountains on one side. And, no, it's not made out of cheese. To quote the brochure ...
Gruyères stands in the midst of the Fribourg green pre-Alpine foothills. The castle, one of the most prestigious in Switzerland, towers majestically above the medieval town. The tour of the castle offers a walk through eight centuries of architecture, history and culture.

That it does. There's not only a walk. There's a multimedia show. That's a fancy way of saying you sit in a room and watch a movie. A jester gets into the history of the castle in detail. Evidently, some French badass -- Charles the Constipated or something -- tried to take the castle and failed. The Swiss kicked his ass. Huzzah.

Show concluded, I go my own way and stroll about the castle. Mine eyes behold various tapestries, a relic of a severed human hand, old furniture, suits of armor, you know, pretty much the kind of stuff you'd expect to see in a castle. OK. Having confirmed that this castle is, in fact, a castle, I decide to leave. But it's not that simple. I can't find the exit. I keep retracing my steps. Up stairs. Down. Locked door. Up stairs. Down. Christ. It's like a freaking Twilight Zone episode. It's like Sartre. No Exit. Huis Clos. Agghhhhh! After a few more minutes of rat-maze wandering, I spy a couple and ask, "Where's the exit?" They look at me blankly. "Pardon?" Ah. French. My college language requirement finally comes in handy. I say ...

"Excusez-moi. Où est la sortie, s'il vous plait?"
"Ah! La sortie ... Allez dans le couloir. Prendre à gauche. Puis prendre votre prochaine droit."
Go down the hall. Take a left. Then take your next right. 
Something like that.
Shrug. Smile.
"De rien."

It works. I exit the castle and hit the "Medieval town" surrounding it. To American eyes, this town looks like the kind of clever simulation you'd see at Epcot, but it's the real deal. An actual, factual, Medieval town that's not made out of styrofoam. A true blast from the past -- with a slice of the dark future inside. The H.R. Giger Museum.

Sexy Giger robo-babe.
So, I duck into this shrine to my favorite Lovecraftian artist. (In case you're wondering, Giger is not the radiation detector guy. That's Geiger. Giger is the artist guy.) Never heard of him? OK.

Giger, for my non-nerd readership, is the Swiss painter/sculptor/conceptual futurist responsible for the original "Alien" character design and ELP's notorious "Brain Salad Surgery" album cover. He's one of the most influential SF artists of the last 50 years -- right up there with Syd Mead and Ron Cobb. Put it this way. Close your eyes, and imagine the future. What do you see? Dark and scary, right? OK. Much of what we think the future looks like comes out of Giger's sick head; the dark, dangerous concept of tomorrow that's supplanted the sleek, finned rocketships of the 1950s. Giger's vision is a mash-up of biological form, machine form and the fervid permutations of a dirty mind. Sexy, in a dark, disturbing way. I guess I like that stuff. To me, this feels like a pilgrimage. But let's move on.

And so I do. Across the cobbled street to the H.R. Giger Bar, natch. Throw back a beer or two. Eichof. Study the mold-injected plastic walls of screaming babies that this whimsical artist has plastered on the walls. Then split with the group.

Next, we hit the fondue place (the Fleur de Lys, I think) in MedievaLand -- which is nice, but heavy on the artery-clogging fondue comprised of Gruyères cheese. (Word is, the best in Switzerland.) I won't argue.
Creepy Giger babies

Next stop: the Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory. Predictable me, I'm cracking jokes about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. No Oompa-Loompas here. Just a cute tour of the factory's history -- and precious, living dioramas. Twee living dioramas. Towards the end, it starts to drag. After the end, we hit the disgustingly self-indulgent sample area and I pop one too many chocolate samples in my mouth. Then I start to drag. It takes awhile to round everyone up for the tour shuttle. We shuttle off.

Returned to hotel at 5p. Shower. Crash.
At 7p we go out to Le Gothard in Fribourg -- another fondue place, but they serve up salad and quiche instead. I figure this is dinner, but a heavy, heavy ham and cabbage platter follows close on its heels. More accurately, it's a ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, ham and cabbage platter. I eat it, having been trained to clean my plate. Bad idea.

Mmmm. Corporate beer.
After our meal, my Energizer Bunny Rabbit companions insist on a postprandial walk around Fribourg. Good idea, I suppose. Get the blood flowing after that heavy meal. Walk off all that jambon clogging my arteries. So we walk. And don't get back to the hotel until 10:30p.

Eichof Beer. Sweetish flavor with bitter subtext. Tastes like Heineken. By some strange coincidence, it's a Heineken product. Not exactly a microbrew, but tasty. Sorta like a Heineken.
According to the promotional literature, Swiss cows are "happy cows." California claims the same for its cows. Who ripped whom off?
Swiss cows may be happy. Swiss pigs are not. Swiss cows, for want of a better term, are cash cows. Why slaughter them? But nobody's making cheese from pig milk. Arnold the Pig, if he wound up in Switzerland, wouldn't last very long.
That line in The Third Man about Switzerland's feckless brotherly love is a slur. If you try to take their happy cows, they'll put you in the ground.

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