Following our afternoon in Bern, we headed south in Switzerland near Vevey. We didn’t stay in Vevey because there’s not a whole lot of places to stay.
We also didn’t stay in Montreux, which is expensive even by Swiss standards. And we only knew that from looking for a place to stay. It’s kind of one of those Mick Jagger-y places, except back when Mick was still neat. Actually, I know nothing about Montreux; there’s a festival which started as jazz but was going to star Lionel Richie this year, which….not jazz. And of course, it didn’t happen this year anyway, which is 2020 as I write in case this post somehow has legs and turns up in a google search in, oh, say 2030. Like there’ll still be an internet then. Ha!
Now we weren’t there in July, but in May, and I think on a weekday. So I never, ever want to go there on a weekend. In July. To hear Lionel Richie, of all people.
En Route to Vevey
We found an AirBnB south of Montreux, practically in France, and it was incredibly charming.
The host sat with us in the back yard, which had this cool converted ski gondola. I think maybe you sit in there with cocoa when it’s cold, but maybe it’s just sculpture.
We drank very small glasses of very good local wine, though of course I will pick a big glass of medium-quality wine—I draw the line at the product of a certain Mr. Taylor. Reserve, my ass.
Our hosts were both very, very French, meaning charming but a little fretful on her part and a little grouchy-yet-dashing on his. I had a friend who said that the French sound perpetually exasperated, even when they’re perfectly happy, which I think sums it up. Let’s all blame the language.
In the morning, they gave us this lovely breakfast. I mean, I don’t eat ham, but it was just so adorably arranged.
And then, we headed to Vevey.
Why Vevey? Chaplin’s World!!
Remember when the NYT 52 Places was this list of fun suggestions, before they sent one person each year two years in a row, and the people had all sorts of health issues after travelling to 52 PLACES IN A YEAR. I mean, it sounds really fun until you think about it for like 7 minutes.
Well, one of the 52 Places in 2016 was Vevey, expressly to see Chaplin’s World, which is Charlie Chaplin’s home after he quit Hollywood because he really hated the US for lots of reasons. Exhibit A, coming right up.
By the way, those reasons included but are not limited to: tax problems, flack for him being a little creepy in constantly hitting on underage women, who are technically girls, his super-left politics prior to and during the age of McCarthy, the FBI blacklisting him, and…well, of course he’s pretty crabby.
Chaplin ended up marrying Oona O’Neill, Eugene’s daughter. She was 18, he was 54. And….well, I’m not going to judge. They did end up having a ton of kids (including Geraldine and her daughter Oona of Game of Thrones fame), and buying this spectacular home in Vevey, high up above Montreux; you can see the Alps all around you, the air is fresh, and it’s really pretty heavenly. And in the pictures, they look wonderfully happy. I mean, when Eugene O’Neill is your dad, your perspective’s gotta be way, way different.
So you wander around the Chaplin’s estate, taking advantage of hilarious photo ops, like this one, where Winston Churchill stole my hat! Put that back, you scamp! (I am so awful at these types of things, but by damn, I keep trying.)
You get to marvel at many, many pictures of celebrities with and without Charlie, because he was one of those people everybody worshipped, like Michelle Obama except of course for his creepy parts. Which do not exactly dispel from the mind so many dandelion petals what with all the weird smiling statues around the house in awkward places.
Anyway, we happily spent a good hour meandering around this really beautiful place, seeing all these pictures of the whole Chaplin family who seemed blissful. And why wouldn’t they? Talk about the world being your oyster.
We thought we were done, but then we got to….
The Coolest Part
You walk into a theater which is kind of old-timey, and they show a swell documentary on Mr. Chaplin with lots of film clips. And then the screen pulls up and behind it, the room goes back and back and back into these corridors that take you past all manner of amazing film memorabilia. And you walk up on stage and into this massive labyrinth of costumes and props and set pieces, and more statues to pose with, and more hilarious photo ops!
I just realized, 4 years after the fact, that those are shoe boxes in back of Steve. I have no idea what’s going on. And also, that that high-heeled shoes looks like one of those hilarious gag machetes that seem to be sticking out of your head. TWO gags for the price of one. I tell you, I am sold on that place.
Chaplin’s World is the bomb, and that link has a ton more info, because honestly, I didn’t take a ton of pictures of the cool movie part. Of course it’s touristy as all get out, but it’s good touristy. I mean, this was also a long time before #metoo was calling into question basically every male director in film history, because most of them have been gross, because everybody is gross sometimes. And I’m all for cancelling the Harveys and the R Kellys of the world. But I don’t even know what to do with the Hitchcocks and Chaplins of the world, and I’m devastated that just thinking of Woody Allen, who I loved for many a year, I feel sick to my stomach.
So I’m glad I didn’t have that to sour the milk punch at the time.
(Let’s not get into an extended discussion on how all these people whose movies I continue to love are awful. At some point, sure. But in the current moment, we all have bigger fish to fry.)
Let’s move on to….
Not So Awesome Touristy
From here, we headed to Gruyére. Yep. The cheese place.
Everybody, absolutely everybody told us to go to Gruyére. Ok, like 4 people. It has a super cool setting. You can’t drive there but have to schlep up a hill outside Gruyére proper because it’s this old fortified walled city on a small hill.
So up we marched. It’s absolutely charming. It’s got an Alp. It’s got cobbles. It’s got charming little shops where you can buy Gruyére cheese in the shape of a goat or something. For a big fistful of Swiss francs. Because it’s Switzerland, and nothing costs less than a fistful. I mean, a latte is 8 euro. I’m completely serious. It’s nuts, I tell ya.
It has a super cool castle with these gardens….
And scenic places before which a woman can pose in her summer frock and shoes with 2-inch heels that just climbed a mountain, thank you very much. (Wonder no more where I get my highly-developed calf muscles.)
It’s got fondue, which is roughly three pounds of cheese and about the same amount of bread because those same 4 people who said we had to come here also said, you simply MUST get fondue when you go to Gruyére.
So you eat this massive meal and feel like hell, because, well, how else can one feel after three pounds of cheese and a loaf of bread and some wine that was ok but not worth the fact that we spent like a hundred dollars or something on a lunch that wasn’t even that good?
There is no doggy bag for fondue. I mean, they must throw away so much damn cheese. Why not just make it a lot smaller?
Oh, and the weirdest thing about Gruyére is it’s home to the guy who did all the alien designs, HR Giger. Now I love Aliens. It’s right up there in my top 5. I watch it when I’m depressed, because it cheers me to no end. At least those things aren’t after me, with their acid for blood and weird double sets of teeth. Phew!
But when you see room after room of these creatures, interspersed with all sorts of weird shit like people-ish beings with slave masks and things sort of sprouting out of them in disturbing places and you’ve just eaten your share of three pounds of cheese—well, take me back to my cozy little AirBnB.
Which, the next morning, served….more cheese!
But don’t get me wrong. I love Switzerland, outrageous prices, boundary-pushing lactose intolerance tests, cobbled streets that are hell in moderately high-heeled boots, and all.
Next up: Basel. Which makes up for aliens made out of Gruyére. Ok, that would have been awesome, and I totally would have bought one.
The Marcus Aurelius Moment* for 20-July, 2020
From Charlie Chaplin and many other artists, that genius doesn’t come in neat packages but in really confusing messy ones. And that having to grapple with messiness, aka complexity, is a gift, not a burden. So let’s all quit whining already.
*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, theRoman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.