The vista coming in to Pontarlier is long. I walked out of the woods, past a little chapel to Mary (which intrigued me- Mary-worship– but which I have come to have a glimpse at understanding). The Mary chapel was built in 1860, as the U.S.A. was heading straight for civil war. The road suddenly bursts out of the woods to reveal a valley, in which Pontarlier sits. The walk down through that velley took me through the industrial part of town, and a light drizzle started. Eventually I put on my blue poncho, whereupon the sun came out; I took it off and the drizzle resumed. My right ankle started cramping terribly and I could hardly move the right leg past the left. The going was slow and painful, wet and hot, surrounded by big trucks and fast cars. I had my first traffic circle crossing– a harrowing dash for life.
When I arrived in Pontarlier there was an inexpensive hostel that I couldn’t get in until later in the afternoon. I found the cathedral in town and did my favorite thing to do: listen to the quiet. It had really started raining, so the quiet was often broken by the rush of wind and rain.
I put my poncho on again as I went outside and a group of freshly dressed teenaged boys saw me coming down the street- like a big blue blob floating along- and just cracked up laughing. Reminded me of a time I was climbing a mountain near Todos Santos, Guatemala and as I was walking up an Indian was walking down with his horse tethered. He was wearing a big oiled canvas to protect himself from the rain; I had on some bright red athletic rain gear. We stopped a looked at one another for a minute, and both started laughing. He had a few teeth, a friendly wrinkled face with red-brown skin, his face and body dwarfed by the oilcloth. And that horse towering above us needed to keep moving so off we went, on our separate ways.
Back in Eastern France I decided to take the next day off. I was worried about time and I decided to shave 3 days off by taking a 1-hour train ride. In hindsight I regret not walking that bit, but in my cramped-leg mindset, I can still understand why I did it. I took the train to Laussane, Switzerland the next morning.
Laussane was a beautiful town. It is amazing how the Swiss have adapted to living in the hills. Tunnels are everywhere, as are dams and waterfalls. Switzerland is the only country in Europe that has never been invaded; every man does 2 years in the army when he is 18, then 6 weeks per year until he is 40. They all have rifles in their closets; every single day I was there I heard gunshots. Walking through the hills of Switzerland there are signs of defenses everywhere. It is clean, efficient, beautiful, and expensive.
As it turned out, my “day off,” though it did involve a train ride, involved a lot of walking. I estimated about 18 km. In the evening I went downtown and heard the stories that american girls were telling one another about the adventures of their french language classes. I drank beer and watched the lake get dark.
The walk from Laussanne to Vevey was a highlight of the trip. I walked along the northern shore of Lac Leman, which face South. The Romans figured out that there is a little mediteranian microclimate there, good for growing wine grapes. They started the cultivation of those slopes that conitues today. I walked along a road, just wide enough for one car, that twisted and turned along the mountain side about 500 feet above the water line. All along the way there were teams of people maintaining the grapes- tying them to wires that directed their growth to maximum sun. And it was hot. The other side of the lake still had snow on the ground, but on this side it was probably 95 degrees plus the strong sun. Every 2 hours or so of walking I’d pass through a village and started drinking from the fountains again. The water was refreshing and cold, tasted like minerals. I’d dunk my head (it was already wet from sweat) and it took my breath away.
The final descent into Vevey was longer than I’d’ve liked- the hill just kept going down and down and down. I saw an interesting Le Corbusier building- The Nestle headquarters. That building seemed to use the orientation toward the lake and the topography well. It also showed a mastery of materials and detailing that I didn’t know he had. It was very clean, Miesian almost. I didn’t get to go in because there was a bunch of suits having their picture made, and I, with my wet shirt and big dirty backpack, didn’t think it was appropriate and didn’t want to worry about it. On the next trip to study buildings I’ll go there.
I stayed the night in a pleasant B&B. It was the first time I stayed in one- it was just someone’s house and they let their extra room.
Tarver on Via Francigena in retrosp… Pat Desmond on Via Francigena in retrosp… Tarver on Pontarlier-Laussanne- Vevey buddhistartnews on Pontarlier-Laussanne- Vevey aunt Edie on VF map