Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tradition with a Twist

If you were to ask a Swiss person what the nation's most sterotypically Swiss region is, he/she might mention Appenzell. Known for breathtaking mountain vistas, quaint dairy farms and a potent cheese by the same name, Appenzell in the eastern part of Switzerland fits the bill. When our friend Martin, who grew up in this serene spot, invited us to spend the weekend at his family's home in Appenzell, of course we didn't think twice before saying 'ja!'

Saturday began with a rather strenuous but rewarding hike up a mountain. While huffing and puffing up the trail I remembered that I do not like hiking and do it only for the guilt-free meal that follows. Indeed, the hike was rewarding not only because of the view from the top, but because I allowed myself to order french fries when it was over. Lucky for me, Switzerland is a haven for hikers who don't really like hiking. You can always find restaurants along the clearly marked trails and can opt to take the gondola back to your car in case you wuss out.

On Saturday evening we had a traditional raclette dinner and then visited a cheese factory and an authentically restored Swiss farmhouse/museum the next afternoon. We saw paintings and photos of traditional Swiss wrestling and people voting on local laws by raising their hands in the town square. The biggest take-away from this place was the notion of tradition, cultural practices that the Swiss embrace and carry on into the twenty first century.

Before we drove home on Sunday evening, Martin led us on a walk up the hill from his parents' house to a neighbor's farm where he used to shovel hay when he was a little boy. He introduced us to the farmer and we all stood around and watched while he milked the cows by attaching a vaccuum pump to their udders. When the containers holding the milk became full, the farmer would dump them into a larger tank which wouldn't pasteurize the milk, but simply refrigerate it until the milk trucks came to pick it up. As he shoveled fresh hay, the farmer pointed out which cows were pregnant and told stories (Martin translated) about how he'd sometimes wake in the morning to find a new calf in the pen. Everything on this farm sounded very natural, like things had been happening the same way for centuries.

We said goodbye to the farmer and Martin led us further up the hill, toward a quaint farmhouse with a black Audi parked in the driveway. "This is the farmer's house," Martin said pointing to the house "and this is his boyfriend's car," he said pointing to the Audi. I asked Martin to repeat himself because the notion of the farmer being gay just didn't jibe with my notion of who Swiss farmers are and how they live their lives. I think it's great, though that in this small pocket of Switzerland we cannot assume that the country folk are all 'conservative' just as we cannot lump all urbanites, especially in Zurich, into the 'liberal' category.

In this beautiful picture of Appenzeller life the farmer still rises at 4am to milk the cows, but does he return to the farmhouse for a breakfast of eggs and bacon with the Frau? No, perhaps this farmer checks his email and sits down for a cappucino with his partner. It's tradition, but with a twist.

No comments: