BILL AND CINDI, Episode I: A Cheesy Adventure

July 22, 2001

Originally, our plan for the first weekend of the GTR (Great Twin Reunion) was to take a long train ride up to Jungfraujoch, with a side trip for an hour or two of hiking behind the waterfall I spoke of in an earlier episode. We had to regroup, however, after Cindi and Dave agreed to indulge Bill's and my mad urge to check out Lausanne's dance club scene late Saturday night. I was just as glad to escape the hiking plan anyway, having burned my heel rather badly in a freak water-sliding accident two weeks earlier (see footnote). Yeah, yeah, I know, but my style of dancing doesn't involve the heels much - must be all those ballet lessons I took as a kid. So, the morning after our little alcohol-free bacchanalia (the club was great, but you wouldn't believe the drink prices), we slept late and then hopped a train for Gruyères.

Our train arrived and we jumped out eagerly, to find ourselves in the middle of....a parking lot. Also visible were a road, some scrubby plants and trees, a single rectangular building, and a bus schedule; this last told us that the next bus to Gruyères (!!!) was in half an hour. The rather ordinary landscape didn't seem to offer us much, so we decided to check out the building.

Inside we found cheese lover's heaven, on a small scale. The building was a cheesemaking demonstration facility with attached convenience store (with cheese), restaurant (with cheese), and information/ticket desk (with cheese). I'm not kidding about that last one; every admission ticket to the cheese factory comes with a packet of gruyère samples at various stages of ripeness. The idea is apparently to involve as many of the senses as possible in the tour.

Having a little time to kill, we paid our admission, took our cheese samples, and went into the facility. It was the wrong time of day for a live exhibition, but there were pictures, scent canisters (see remark about senses, above), and plate glass windows overlooking the factory floor. There was no guide; instead, we were given devices that allowed us to listen to the remarks of Cherry the Cow in our choice of several languages. Unfortunately, this particular piece of cuteness was not well thought out - most of the spiel was simply silly, but then came the point where Cherry explains the importance of rennet to the cheesemaking process. Listening to an alleged cow chirruping cheerfully about using the lining of a calf's stomach in this way ("So you see? It's all coming together!") is a bit creepy, to say the least.

Speaking of creepy ... no, I'm going to do this in order. The Giger museum comes later.

After a lunch of bread, sausage and you-know-what, we got on the bus. Instead of taking it to Gruyères proper, though, we decided to go on up the hill to Moléson-sur-Gruyères so that we could watch a demonstration at the cheesemaking facility. No, no, the OTHER cheesemaking facility. The Moléson facility is a period piece, where cheesemakers demonstrate the old-fashioned process complete with bare hands, cheesecloth and an open fire. Even the building was rustic, and made an interesting contrast to the Frito-Lay sterility of the modern factory.

After the demonstration we bought some more cheese (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and headed down the hill. On the way we passed a circle of costumed men giving an old-fashioned threshing exhibition - or, to put it in less fancy terms, beating on straw with flails. We paused only briefly, though, as our real goal lay just ahead: Go-carts!

Actually, that word probably doesn't convey the idea very well. The ride is set up on a steep, rocky hillside, and uses an apparatus that probably doubles as a ski lift in the winter. Riders are given their choice of a low plastic cart equipped only with brakes and a low center of gravity, or a large two-wheeled scooter equipped with, well, brakes. The vehicle-of-choice is hooked to the lift, which tows it up the hill; the rider then releases the tow and makes his or her own way down the winding, bumpy, rutted path to the bottom. Bill and Dave chose the scooters, of course. I wavered, but eventually chose a cart on the grounds that I would feel less need to keep its speed under control. It was certainly not a boring ride - I don't think the vehicle ever became airborne, but I'm pretty sure I did once or twice. We all came off the ride eager for more, but the line was long, the afternoon was waning, and the Giger museum still lay ahead in Gruyères proper. So, instead, we munched our cheese samples while waiting for the bus.

A bus ride, a short hike, and there we were in the walled, vehicle-free little town that is Gruyères.

After seeing the museum, I have to conclude that H.R. Giger is an artistic virtuoso with a twisted imagination that would do any misfit teenager proud. The steel-taloned killing machines of the ALIEN movies are among his least disturbing creations; most of his work seems to be based on a hauntingly harmonious blend of the monstrous, the technological and the blatantly sexual, with frequent use of idealized female forms in, ahem, unconventional ways. The man definitely has issues about women. Still, one has to respect his ability to turn his own nightmares into a brilliant artistic and financial success. Stephen King, move over.

We had intended to see the castle next, but time had escaped us and it was closed. Instead we wandered around for a bit and eventually gravitated toward a restaurant that served "raclette". Yup, you guessed it - more cheese. In this case, we were served a large block of it arranged under a portable heat source ("raclette oven"); the idea is to scrape the melted part onto your bread or boiled new potatoes, then enjoy them as more cheese melts.

After supper, we headed home, dreaming of carrots or any other source of much roughage and no milkfat. It was hard to imagine ever eating cheese again.

(Yeah, right - we are in Switzerland, after all. Swearing off cheese is about as likely to be successful here as swearing off chocolate.)

Till next time,
-- Lyn

FOOTNOTE: I really did manage to burn my foot watersliding, but the real story is less interesting than the mysterious reference, which is why I left it for the footnote. It was one of those fiberglass tube slides, it was slick and steep enough to induce very good speed, and there wasn't quite enough water in it. My heel rubbed against a dry bit for less than a second - which was more than enough. Ouch!

Copyright © 2001 Lyn Pierce