Friday, October 7, 2011

La Désalpe

Each fall, Swiss cows return home from their alpine pastures. They receive a warm welcome as they parade through their hometown during a cow festival known as Désalpe in French and Alpabzug in German. This year, my mom and I attended the Désalpe in the town of Semsales, in the canton of Fribourg.

The Désalpe in Semsales also features many other working animals, including goats, sheep, donkeys, and horses. Lots of dogs came to watch the parade and cheer on their comrades who were marching in it with their families. One St. Bernard decorated with flowers pulled a cart.

There was also a donkey family with an accordion player. The donkeys marched back and forth down the main street in Semsales, making the parade feel like a perpetual loop as cows and goats and donkeys and dogs and families all blended together. But then a Swiss marching band came through town. It’s as if some Swiss guy, some hundreds of years ago, woke up one day, and said, “Hey, we could all march together in unison and swing these big-ass, heavy cow bells in unison, too.” And that’s exactly what the young men do. It’s wotten waven.

After the Swiss marching cowbell band, a group of elderly men walked through carrying cheese wheels that sat on top of flat wooden boards above their heads.

At the festival there is, of course, cheese available for purchase: cow, goat, or sheep.

The neatest part of the parade was when a herd was led in by a little guy my size. My mom thought he was no more than eight years old. He led in his cows with his own call, and the crowd went wild. The cows didn’t take their eyes off the little guy. Neither did I. Unlike the older farmers who had cell phones (or wore Bluetooths), the little guy had only himself and his cow stick.

I’ve never heard so many “bravos” for cows before. When each family arrived with their cows, the crowd clapped and hooted and yelled, “Bravo!” The sounds of the human crowd combined with the clanging of the cowbells around each cow’s neck made an enormous racket. It made me shiver.

A woman from the local café greeted each family. She came out to the street with a tray full of red and white wine glasses. The farmers took a gulp of wine while nudging their cows forward.

Actually, the cows didn’t need much nudging—except for the Scottish Highland cattle. They were very shy, and stopped to stare at everyone before walking through town. Scottish Highland cows are super cute and very fuzzy.

They are supposed to be gentler on duff. Thanks to their smaller form factor, they don’t rip up alpine pastures as much as regular cows. Size-wise, they are to other cows what I am to other dogs.

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