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Bathing, Aliens, Raclette, Spirits: Gruyeres, Switzerland

Bathing, Aliens, Raclette, Spirits: Gruyeres, Switzerland
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  • Bathing, Aliens, Raclette, Spirits: Gruyeres, Switzerland

    Post #1 - January 9th, 2011, 8:22 am
    Post #1 - January 9th, 2011, 8:22 am Post #1 - January 9th, 2011, 8:22 am
    Bathing, Aliens, Raclette, Spirits: Gruyeres, Switzerland

    One day a few weeks ago, we all took a train from Geneva to Gruyeres, where there’s a castle I’d read about.

    We started by taking the waters in a popular mineral spring -- there must have been hundreds of people there, floating about and bouncing between saunas and steam rooms. It is quite a sensation to be in a hot pool, as snow falls, watching mountains. The word “sublime” came to mind.

    I did the extreme-heat-followed-by-jump-in-icy-water routine: it was bracing, my skin became very tingly, and my heart is in pretty good shape, so I didn’t die.

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    Suggestion: when in a nude co-ed steam bath, it’s politic to lie on one’s back, eyes to ceiling; sitting upright is considered potentially voyeuristic.

    The bath was cleansing and an excellent preparation for going up the hill to the castle, formerly occupied by Dukes of Gruyeres (place plural; cheese singular).

    The Gruyeres castle in winter reminded me that the medieval period was probably not a blissful fairyland but rather a cold and brutal though sometimes beautiful time. But mostly, I think, cold and brutal.

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    Oddly, H.R. Geiger, the artist who dreamed up designs for the creatures in “Alien,” “Aliens,” etc., has a museum in Gruyeres. The building is full of paintings, sculptures and other constructions depicting the insect-like extraterrestrials and their gear. There’s a small, red-lit room filled with Geiger’s graphic imaginings of what it must be like for his aliens to have sex; it was no more disturbing than anything else in this museum.

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    Pix were verboten (or rather interdit), so I can’t show all the wild stuff in here, including the coolest dining room set in the galaxy. I think this work is technically classified as “surrealist”: the Swiss, despite their seeming uptightness, have a thing for the absurd: Dada was “born” at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich (closed both times I tried to visit).

    Across the street from the Geiger Museum is the Geiger bar:

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    I was about as happy as I’ve ever been:

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    Then we went next door to eat hot cheese. I prefer the French part of Switzerland, because my daughter Abby and I can speak enough of the language to get by, but the next time I travel, I will definitely download the Word Lens app, which is one of the most brilliant smartphone tools ever (shoot pic of foreign language sign or page of print and get automatic translation; this would have been very helpful in the German portions of Switzerland).

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    There were six of us, and about three pounds of cheese. Here’s the raclette grill, filled with half our order, so we had about a half pound each. It was Gruyere cheese, not raclette.

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    I’ve had the raclette preparation only once before, in Paris, and as I recall the cheese came to the table melted on a large plate. In Switzerland, it works a little differently. Big blocks of cheese are delivered to the table and placed under electric heaters. We waited until the tops of the blocks started bubbling and then scraped off gooey globs with the knife [pictured]. The idea is not to cut into the cheese but to just slide the knife over the top to remove the hottest portions.

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    The potatoes, which I’d seen sold in grocery stores as “Raclette Potatoes,” seem a lot like Yukon Gold.

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    We were initially wondering if we’d be able to finish all the cheese, plus individual orders of dried beef, salads, etc.

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    We were.

    We also drank a bunch of wine, which you kind of have to do with a dinner like this (either that, or tea) so that the cheese doesn’t ball up in your belly. Leastwise, that was our excuse.

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    On the way down the hill that many peasants must have trod before us, I had an out of body experience or two. I fell down only once.

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    En route, I think I saw the spirit of Julia Child, fussing over a pastry in an otherwise empty kitchen window:

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    I’m not including the address of the Restaurant Chalet de Gruyeres because there’s only one street in Gruyeres. You can't miss the place.

    So, I’d taken a bath in the snow, watched aliens copulate, ate a lot of good cheese, seen a ghost. Overall, a good day with people I care about most.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #2 - January 9th, 2011, 12:32 pm
    Post #2 - January 9th, 2011, 12:32 pm Post #2 - January 9th, 2011, 12:32 pm
    Thanks for the report. Quite timely, we're headed to Switzerland next week.
    A Raclette dinner is high on my list as well going to dinner at the Palace Hotel in Gstaad.
  • Post #3 - January 9th, 2011, 1:33 pm
    Post #3 - January 9th, 2011, 1:33 pm Post #3 - January 9th, 2011, 1:33 pm
    Thanks for the excellent report, David. I am just the opposite when you say you can "get along" in French...I could handle the German side, having lived there for three years.
  • Post #4 - January 9th, 2011, 1:59 pm
    Post #4 - January 9th, 2011, 1:59 pm Post #4 - January 9th, 2011, 1:59 pm
    David -- that is one amazing photo. It got me thinking about all the wonderful places Julia must be haunting in her afterlife. Why wouldn't she be in Gruyeres? Or any other place filled with delicious food?

    And how fortuitous of you to have gotten a glimpse of the post-life Julia?

    You must be charmed!
  • Post #5 - January 9th, 2011, 2:31 pm
    Post #5 - January 9th, 2011, 2:31 pm Post #5 - January 9th, 2011, 2:31 pm
    And she seems to be ducking down to try to avoid identification by camera!
  • Post #6 - January 9th, 2011, 2:36 pm
    Post #6 - January 9th, 2011, 2:36 pm Post #6 - January 9th, 2011, 2:36 pm
    Great stuff, David. I've always wanted to have a genuine Raclette experience, even more so now after reading your account. Thanks, for the truly informative and entertaining post.

    =R=
    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #7 - January 9th, 2011, 4:02 pm
    Post #7 - January 9th, 2011, 4:02 pm Post #7 - January 9th, 2011, 4:02 pm
    TomInSkokie wrote:And she seems to be ducking down to try to avoid identification by camera!


    The rumor I heard was that she was cooking dinner for Elvis.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #8 - January 9th, 2011, 4:22 pm
    Post #8 - January 9th, 2011, 4:22 pm Post #8 - January 9th, 2011, 4:22 pm
    stevez wrote:
    TomInSkokie wrote:And she seems to be ducking down to try to avoid identification by camera!


    The rumor I heard was that she was cooking dinner for Elvis.


    Now that you mention it, that could have been a fried peanut butter n' bananer sandwich she was working on.

    Happy Birthday, King!
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #9 - January 9th, 2011, 6:54 pm
    Post #9 - January 9th, 2011, 6:54 pm Post #9 - January 9th, 2011, 6:54 pm
    Great post David! I have never had a raclette before. I get the feeling those itty-bitty home raclette "grills" aren't really going to get the job done.
    i used to milk cows
  • Post #10 - January 9th, 2011, 7:46 pm
    Post #10 - January 9th, 2011, 7:46 pm Post #10 - January 9th, 2011, 7:46 pm
    teatpuller wrote:I get the feeling those itty-bitty home raclette "grills" aren't really going to get the job done.

    Yeah, after seeing David's pictures, I completely agree with this.

    =R=
    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #11 - January 9th, 2011, 7:56 pm
    Post #11 - January 9th, 2011, 7:56 pm Post #11 - January 9th, 2011, 7:56 pm
    Beautiful post David, I found it moving, emotional.
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #12 - January 9th, 2011, 8:05 pm
    Post #12 - January 9th, 2011, 8:05 pm Post #12 - January 9th, 2011, 8:05 pm
    teatpuller wrote:I get the feeling those itty-bitty home raclette "grills" aren't really going to get the job done.


    I was looking at some of those little plastic things at Marion Street Cheese Market yesterday, and they just seemed odd. Mostly on account of you can't fit enough cheese in any one of them.
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #13 - January 10th, 2011, 6:37 am
    Post #13 - January 10th, 2011, 6:37 am Post #13 - January 10th, 2011, 6:37 am
    Thank you David. Very Strunk & White! Just the cheese, as it were.
    Chicago is my spiritual chow home
  • Post #14 - January 10th, 2011, 10:12 am
    Post #14 - January 10th, 2011, 10:12 am Post #14 - January 10th, 2011, 10:12 am
    I liked the photo of you as, "happy as you have ever been." That said it all for me. :D

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