Mont Blanc stands proud as the highest Alp. Yet one of the most photographically reproduced is Matterhorn with the village of Zermatt at its feet.
When I first saw Matterhorn from the ground up, I felt as if I was looking at a solidified ardent flame. A native who saw me look at it with awe said: “You can climb it,” as if it were nothing. I laughed…not at him but at me. I wouldn’t dare think of trying that.
In Zermatt, as well as other places, locals show off their skill by the number of times they have climbed the Matterhorn; although, many fall numerous times. A local had climbed it more than 300 times. His wife shrugged: “Useless to say how many times,” she said. “The mountain is going nowhere. It stays there and only the workless (also meaning worthless) do the climbing.”
There are no cars in Zermatt. Transportation is possible by using the cog train and horse-drawn sleighs. Sitting in a horse drawn sleigh with a lap robe, which is a folded small blanket, with an eternal snow around is one of the most romantic things.
Zermatt has narrow streets, hotels and inns with a relaxed air of history, sports shops, boutiques, jewelry stores and rows and cases of world’s finest watches. One wonderful thing in Zermatt is the food. No matter how big, small, cheap, or expensive the cafe or restaurant we stopped in, the place was spotless. Everything was spic and span clean with flowers at each table. The food was of very high quality and some Swiss wines were at least at par with that of the French. Most lunchtime fare among the natives consisted of soup, salad, sausages and potatoes and of course “Bier” in long thick mugs topped with thick foam.
Unlike the other little towns I knew from earlier visits, Zermatt has a large tourist population year-round, with a good number of young people. You have to be young and agile like a mountain goat to dare climb anything.
People in Switzerland are not only mountain climbers. They also enjoy Alpine Festivals, William Tell plays, yodeling, Swiss wrestling, beer sausages, but they conduct direct democracy with 25 sovereign states and enjoy great diversity from village to village. In some places in Switzerland the language is French as there are places where the language is German. In one Canton around the Italian Alps they speak Italian, too. Not to worry though, most of the Swiss know several languages and quite a few of them are fluent in English.
The winter in Switzerland is a fairy tale, especially at nights. The falling snow flakes blur any other light while they accumulate everywhere, even on steep roofs. Everything is softer, magical, and gentle.
Like the snow blanketing mountains, rocks, boulders, ridges, and crags, maybe people too need to deal and work with hard things, sharp things, puzzling things, to soften the edginess inside themselves, especially when a mountain’s magnetic draw pulls them deeper and deeper, and forces them to create something, anything for a feeling of elation and a pride of accomplishment.
That is why the Swiss women must have created such fine laces and embroidered clothing while their mates took to clock making in Switzerland as they counted time while snowed under. Somebody had to count something in the whitened solitude of the Alpine nights.