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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsSaunterings - Alpine Notes - Entering Switzerland Berne - Its Beauties And Bears
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Saunterings - Alpine Notes - Entering Switzerland Berne - Its Beauties And Bears Post by :rossl58 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1798

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Saunterings - Alpine Notes - Entering Switzerland Berne - Its Beauties And Bears

If you come to Bale, you should take rooms on the river, or stand on the bridge at evening, and have a sunset of gold and crimson streaming down upon the wide and strong Rhine, where it rushes between the houses built plumb up to it, or you will not care much for the city. And yet it is pleasant on the high ground, where are some stately buildings, and where new gardens are laid out, and where the American consul on the Fourth of July flies our flag over the balcony of a little cottage smothered in vines and gay with flowers. I had the honor of saluting it that day, though I did not know at the time that gold had risen two or three per cent. under its blessed folds at home. Not being a shipwrecked sailor, or a versatile and accomplished but impoverished naturalized citizen, desirous of quick transit to the land of the free, I did not call upon the consul, but left him under the no doubt correct impression that he was doing a good thing by unfolding the flag on the Fourth.

You have not journeyed far from Bale before you are aware that you are in Switzerland. It was showery the day we went down; but the ride filled us with the most exciting expectations. The country recalled New England, or what New England might be, if it were cultivated and adorned, and had good roads and no fences. Here at last, after the dusty German valleys, we entered among real hills, round which and through which, by enormous tunnels, our train slowly went: rocks looking out of foliage; sweet little valleys, green as in early spring; the dark evergreens in contrast; snug cottages nestled in the hillsides, showing little else than enormous brown roofs that come nearly to the ground, giving the cottages the appearance of huge toadstools; fine harvests of grain; thrifty apple-trees, and cherry-trees purple with luscious fruit. And this shifting panorama continues until, towards evening, behold, on a hill, Berne, shining through showers, the old feudal round tower and buildings overhanging the Aar, and the tower of the cathedral over all. From the balcony of our rooms at the Bellevue, the long range of the Bernese Oberland shows its white summits for a moment in the slant sunshine, and then the clouds shut down, not to lift again for two days. Yet it looks warmer on the snow-peaks than in Berne, for summer sets in in Switzerland with a New England chill and rigor.

The traveler finds no city with more flavor of the picturesque and quaint than Berne; and I think it must have preserved the Swiss characteristics better than any other of the large towns in Helvetia. It stands upon a peninsula, round which the Aar, a hundred feet below, rapidly flows; and one has on nearly every side very pretty views of the green basin of hills which rise beyond the river. It is a most comfortable town on a rainy day; for all the principal streets have their houses built on arcades, and one walks under the low arches, with the shops on one side and the huge stone pillars on the other. These pillars so stand out toward the street as to give the house-fronts a curved look. Above are balconies, in which, upon red cushions, sit the daughters of Berne, reading and sewing, and watching their neighbors; and in nearly every window are quantities of flowers of the most brilliant colors. The gray stone of the houses, which are piled up from the streets, harmonizes well with the colors in the windows and balconies, and the scene is quite Oriental as one looks down, especially if it be upon a market morning, when the streets are as thronged as the Strand. Several terraces, with great trees, overlook the river, and command prospects of the Alps. These are public places; for the city government has a queer notion that trees are not hideous, and that a part of the use of living is the enjoyment of the beautiful. I saw an elegant bank building, with carved figures on the front, and at each side of the entrance door a large stand of flowers,--oleanders, geraniums, and fuchsias; while the windows and balconies above bloomed with a like warmth of floral color. Would you put an American bank president in the Retreat who should so decorate his banking-house? We all admire the tasteful display of flowers in foreign towns: we go home, and carry nothing with us but a recollection. But Berne has also fountains everywhere; some of them grotesque, like the ogre that devours his own children, but all a refreshment and delight. And it has also its clock-tower, with one of those ingenious pieces of mechanism, in which the sober people of this region take pleasure. At the hour, a procession of little bears goes round, a jolly figure strikes the time, a cock flaps his wings and crows, and a solemn Turk opens his mouth to announce the flight of the hours. It is more grotesque, but less elaborate, than the equally childish toy in the cathedral at Strasburg.

We went Sunday morning to the cathedral; and the excellent woman who guards the portal--where in ancient stone the Last Judgment is enacted, and the cheerful and conceited wise virgins stand over against the foolish virgins, one of whom has been in the penitential attitude of having a stone finger in her eye now for over three hundred years--refused at first to admit us to the German Lutheran service, which was just beginning. It seems that doors are locked, and no one is allowed to issue forth until after service. There seems to be an impression that strangers go only to hear the organ, which is a sort of rival of that at Freiburg, and do not care much for the well-prepared and protracted discourse in Swiss-German. We agreed to the terms of admission; but it did not speak well for former travelers that the woman should think it necessary to say, "You must sit still, and not talk." It is a barn-like interior. The women all sit on hard, high-backed benches in the center of the church, and the men on hard, higher-backed benches about the sides, inclosing and facing the women, who are more directly under the droppings of the little pulpit, hung on one of the pillars,--a very solemn and devout congregation, who sang very well, and paid strict attention to the sermon.

I noticed that the names of the owners, and sometimes their coats-of-arms, were carved or painted on the backs of the seats, as if the pews were not put up at yearly auction. One would not call it a dressy congregation, though the homely women looked neat in black waists and white puffed sleeves and broadbrimmed hats.

The only concession I have anywhere seen to women in Switzerland, as the more delicate sex, was in this church: they sat during most of the service, but the men stood all the time, except during the delivery of the sermon. The service began at nine o'clock, as it ought to with us in summer. The costume of the peasant women in and about Berne comes nearer to being picturesque than in most other parts of Switzerland, where it is simply ugly. You know the sort of thing in pictures,--the broad hat, short skirt, black, pointed stomacher, with white puffed sleeves, and from each breast a large silver chain hanging, which passes under the arm and fastens on the shoulder behind,--a very favorite ornament. This costume would not be unbecoming to a pretty face and figure: whether there are any such native to Switzerland, I trust I may not be put upon the witness-stand to declare. Some of the peasant young men went without coats, and with the shirt sleeves fluted; and others wore butternut-colored suits, the coats of which I can recommend to those who like the swallow-tailed variety. I suppose one would take a man into the opera in London, where he cannot go in anything but that sort. The buttons on the backs of these came high up between the shoulders, and the tails did not reach below the waistband. There is a kind of rooster of similar appearance. I saw some of these young men from the country, with their sweethearts, leaning over the stone parapet, and looking into the pit of the bear-garden, where the city bears walk round, or sit on their hind legs for bits of bread thrown to them, or douse themselves in the tanks, or climb the dead trees set up for their gambols. Years ago they ate up a British officer who fell in; and they walk round now ceaselessly, as if looking for another. But one cannot expect good taste in a bear.

If you would see how charming a farming country can be, drive out on the highway towards Thun. For miles it is well shaded with giant trees of enormous trunks, and a clean sidewalk runs by the fine road. On either side, at little distances from the road, are picturesque cottages and rambling old farmhouses peeping from the trees and vines and flowers. Everywhere flowers, before the house, in the windows, at the railway stations. But one cannot stay forever even in delightful Berne, with its fountains and terraces, and girls on red cushions in the windows, and noble trees and flowers, and its stately federal Capitol, and its bears carved everywhere in stone and wood, and its sunrises, when all the Bernese Alps lie like molten silver in the early light, and the clouds drift over them, now hiding, now disclosing, the enchanting heights.

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