Château d'Oex 2001:
Paul's Journal, Part III

Between Part II and Part IV

January 24-26, 2001

Wednesday, January 24, 2001

As usual, I was the first person downstairs in the morning. Breakfast was set out and ready; I ordered my wonderfully rich coffee, to be mixed with its accompanying hot milk.

Another bad weather day meant that we would be bound to the ground again, so we went to the castle at Gruyères and the nearby Museum Giger. Both of these are fascinating places, with really, really strange art.

But first, we stopped and had lunch at a lovely (and practically deserted) little restaurant. (Actually, pretty much all of Gruyères was practically deserted, probably because of the poor weather that was our very reason for being there ourselves.) Steak on the SlateFrom our tables overlooking the rainy valley below us, we ordered "cook it yourself" steaks: beef for Mike, Alf, and me; horse for our faithful crew guys. (The healthier members of our party, Watcharee and the McNairs, made other, healthier choices.)

When it comes to restaurant dining, Switzerland is a country of do-it-yourselfers! In addition to the fondue and raclette for which the country is well know, plus the charbonnade that is a staple choice at the Ermitage, there is also "steak on the slate," and this is what the carnivores among us had on this day. The meat arrives basically raw, just seared slightly so it looks more like food than groceries. The meat is presented with a wooden tray bearing a flat rock that has been heated in an oven. It is hot enough to cook little slices of meat that each diner cuts and places on top of it.1 The meal also included frites and ratatouille, all quite good!

For dessert, we all had bowls of fabulous raspberries with double-rich cream.

1 One of the advantages of this "cook it yourself" system, either with charbonnade or the slate, is that the kitchen never has to deal with meat that is sent back as being too rare or too well done. It's the diner's own fault!

With lunch completed, we made our way farther up the hill, to the château. I had visited here before, as had Mike and Alf, but it's always eye-catching. The focus is on fantasy art of various kinds, and there is much evidence of active imaginations in the minds of the artists.

The first room we entered had a selection of paintings based on the signs of the zodiac, with individual paintings for each sign as well as some all-encompassing shots.


We moved on to the other rooms, where many additional discoveries awaited us. Some of these were familiar from prior visits, yet still captivating. Others were new. I love this place!


Finally, on the way out, I noticed a turret with a spiral staircase inside. All the way up the stairs, the walls are covered with backlit paintings, some with photographic components. There were a number of works relating to Lewis Carroll, plus some additional interesting images. I had not seen this section of the museum before, either because it's new or because I just never walked through that particular door on prior visits. I'll save some time, next visit, to explore the turret a bit more thoroughly.


GigerAnd then, it was on to the Musée Giger! H.R. Giger's most widespread fame comes from his design of the Alien in the series of Sigourney Weaver movies. His museum in at Gruyére contains many variations on that theme, as well as some things that go considerably farther into the deep recesses of the imagination. Many would look at his works and say "Whoa, that guy is SICK!" And I think that's what we like about him.

This year, there had been some remodeling at the Museum. Among the elements that I don't recall seeing there before: "the red room." I don't know if that's its official name, but to get to it, you pass through a curtained doorway; once inside, everything is bathed in red light. Some of the most extreme of the Giger works are in this little room. This room is not on the approved list for the elementary school's art appreciation field trip ... of course, I'm not entirely sure the rest of the Museum would be on the itinerary either, for that matter.

While we were off having fun in Gruyère, poor Annie was suffering with a horrible bout with the flu. Hermann and Cindy thoughtfully brought her a fabulous bouquet late in the afternoon, however, and I'm sure that helped speed her recovery.

Thursday, January 25, 2001

Grounded yet again! The day began looking absolutely beautiful, and the balloon crews were out on the fields ... but it was all illusory: High winds would not permit us to go drifting through the valley today.

We had lunch in the Ermitage. As usual, most of us began with the famous Ermitage "mache salade."; The invisible devil on one shoulder whispered to me that I should have veau viennoise avec frites, while the angel on my other shoulder urged the salmon (without sauce) and noodles. The angel received a rare mark in the "wins" column this time.

At lunch, Alf told us about this story, which he had heard on the news:

The fully-clothed skeletal remains of a man found in the chimney of a historic Mississippi building were those of a bungling burglar missing for more than 15 years.

The remains of Calvin Wilson, 27, were found on Friday (January 19, 2001) by masons renovating a building in the historic part of Natchez, Miss. Wilson disappeared in 1985. At that time, there was a gift shop in the building, which dates from before the Civil War.

"His criminal record shows he was a burglar, so the suspicion is that he was crawling down the chimney to burglarize the business at that period of time, became lodged and died," Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell said.

Ferrell, who said police identified the remains from a wallet found with them, speculated that breezes from a nearby river may have kept neighbors from noticing signs that a body was decomposing in the chimney. "There is no suspicion of foul play," Ferrell said.

After lunch, we went to Gstaad again. This time, all the girls bought shoes.

Dinner was back at the Ermitage. Bedtime was at a reasonable hour.

It was a quiet day!

Friday, January 26, 2001

Eeeuw. Sorry about starting out the day in this manner, but it fits in, somewhat, with yesterday's "chimney" story. (Or, if you like this sort of thing, I guess I'm sorry I don't have a photograph to accompany the story.)

Man accidentally saws off hand, then shoots nails into head
January 25, 2001

BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania (AP) -- A Pennsylvania construction worker accidentally cut off his hand with a power saw and then shot himself in the head with a nail gun several times, apparently hoping to end his pain, police said.

William Bartron, 25, had at least a dozen 1-inch nails protruding from his scalp, police said. He underwent surgery to reattach the hand and was hospitalized in stable condition Wednesday, said his employer Greg Soltis.

Bartron severed his hand Tuesday while using a miter saw in the basement of another man's home, police said.

On a different note, the front page of today's International Herald Tribune reports on office life in Italy:

The Bottom Line on Harassment
January 25, 2001

ROME (AP) - You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss. Now, an Italian court says a pat, even on the bottom, is just that - not sexual harassment.

The Court of Cassation, in agreeing with an appeals court ruling overturning a man's conviction, said Thursday it found no evidence he intended "an act of libido" and the pat appeared to be an "isolated" incident and "impulsive."

The case involved the manager of a public health agency and a woman employee who claimed the manager threatened to hurt her career if she reported the 1994 incident.

We're back in the air today! Although the weather looks, to my untrained eyes, about the same as yesterday's, it apparently is not.

At least it isn't raining any more. We were fervently hoping yesterday that all the rain would turn to snow. As we drove back from Gstaad, it began to happen ... but by the time we reached Château d'Oex, lower in the valley, the snow had turned to rain. Still, the cold of nightfall might have converted it ... but no, it simply stopped.

The primary problem with the current lack of snow, in addition to everything looking slightly less picturesque, is the likehood of getting the balloon envelopes dirty. Spreading the fabric on a blanket of snow is very cleanliness-friendly. Mud is not. We will almost certainly have to land in mud, however ... unless Mike in his piloting brilliance can get us to one of the few remaining patches of snow that might still accessible to the chase trucks.

We will be taking off in about 20 or 30 minutes. Outside my window, I see the Bombard crews spreading the envelopes in the aforementioned mud; I can hear the burners on the main field as many other balloons are being inflated.

Barring a mishap and a subsequent splat on the ground, I will report back on our flight this afternoon! Down to the field I go!

We landed safely! We had another lovely flight, thanks to Bob's flying skills in Corkscrew Balloon II. Richard Thinking About HeatherMy fellow passengers were Mike and Marg, Hermann, and crew members Richard and Alastair. It's always great when we have room for a crew member or two to liven up the inflight conversation. Richard spent much of the flight staring off into the distance, however: His mind was completely occupied with thoughts of his girlfriend Heather ... back home in England ... too, too far away.

Today's flight was substantially similar to Monday's: We headed down the valley past Les Moulins, and we followed the turns of the valley floor toward Gruyères. We ultimately landed a little bit short of that town. Most of the balloons from Château d'Oex set down a little farther up the valley ... but we did notice that the Screwmaid balloon - with Annie, Cindy, Alf, and Watcharee - passed us and drifted farther. No record for us!

We weren't especially hungry during the flight, so our "inflight" lunch became a "postflight" one. As the crew wrangled with the envelope on the patch of snow where it was laid out, Hannah's lunch was spread on a conveniently-placed boat trailer next to a babbling stream. We had atmosphere galore. We also had another delicious lunch. Among the more unusual items was a very large sandwich in the shape of a balloon; among the more tasty ones was a plate of sliced chicken with a delicious dipping sauce. From the two excellent Burgundies available to us, we selected the white Pommard. The red, a premiere cru from somewhere, looked like it was probably exquisite, too, but we had to draw the line somewhere.

We motored back to the Ermitage and set about our afternoon tasks: After GlowMike and Marg planned another multi-hour hike; I went to the Coop for newpapers and a cash machine. I also stopped at the Post Office and picked up some stamps. These will be used in a project directed by one Mr. Robin Weaver. We all suspect that he is up to no good, but he has asked for our assistance, and what are friends for? (Causing trouble, apparently.) As I walked back through town, preparations were gearing up for the evening's festival. Vendors of food and other consumer goods were constructing (or at least attempting to construct) their little stands. As Deutsche Bank airship kept watch over all these activites, tourists watched the inflation of more balloons from the terrace of the Ermitage.

Tonight was The Glow, when many balloons are set up on the mountainside in the darkness, and the pilots fire their burners in sychrony with music. It's always nice, and every year the show seems to get more elaborate. Tonight was easily the most impressive display I've ever seen. In addition to the balloons glowing, there were skiers carrying torches down the mountain, parachutists swirling sparklers as they descended through the darkness, and a wonderful display of fireworks. Alf got some great fireworks pictures with his Coolpix.

Next: Part IV

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