Cows are intimidatingly large up close and personal, I found out during the Desalpes celebration in Saint Cergue, Switzerland last weekend.
In the mountainous communities of Eastern France and Switzerland, the village cows are herded up to Alpine meadows in the spring so that they can enjoy a summer’s worth of grassy delicacies which infuse the cheese which later is made from their milk. In the fall, they are brought back down in great parades, their heads dressed with flower garlands.
I had never witnessed these cavalcades, so early last Saturday morning I crowded onto the little three car train that carried hordes of locals and other visitors on a one track line along switchbacks up the Jura mountains to witness the event in Saint Cergue.
The sounds of Alphorns greeted our train’s arrival. Traditionally their tunes, specific to each village, signaled local communication and were sounded before a herdsman would lead the cows down from the high pastures. Now they signaled the start of festivities.
Throngs of people crowded along the narrow streets of the village, and finally the herdsmen came, leading their flocks. Positioned along the curb, I hadn’t really thought about the danger of massive cows moving swiftly within several feet of my body and jumped aside as they passed.
Each group was led by traditionally-dressed herdsmen. The cows' huge bells clanging from embossed leather collars noting the years of their passages, the cows seemed to enjoy the attention. While today their flower garlands are made of tissue paper rather than meadow flowers, the effect was impressive.
Everyone in the parade, including the cows, had a fabulous time. We too the bystanders. More from my Alpine journey on the next post.