Saturday, 9 September 2017

A trip over the Roeschtigraben

I started today slower than was necessary to get the 09.43 train from Montreux to Gstaad, as I had planned, arriving at Montreux gare ticket office minutes after it left. Fortunately, trains on the MOB line (Montreux Oberland Bernois) run to Zweizimmen every hour during the day. I kill time I went for a walk through streets to the station north side, in the Vevey direction. I found two imposing churches, one belonging to a German speaking Reformed Church community, the other to L'eglise neo-Apostolique, a minority church community, curiously enough with British origins. Several decades before the Great 1904 Revival, a charismatic movement emerged in Presbyterian churches, leading to a break-away high church sect called the Catholic Apostolic Church, called the Irvingites after its first influential Scottish Presbyterian teacher mid 19th century. It drew people seeking for spiritual renewal from across established denominations. 

Deeply influenced by the Oxford Movement, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Great Advent Awakening, it restored hierarchical ministerial leadership, full liturgical praxis and piety, to its congregations after the manner of the Scottish Book of Common Prayer. Its wealthy followers built a succession of fine neo-gothic churches in major British cities, which flourished until the mid 20th century, then declined to vanishing point, with only the buildings as a legacy to be passed on to other homeless Christian groups. The London University Chaplaincy is based around one such church building, and Bristol's Russian Church was given by the foundation's trustees in the mid sixties when I was a student there, witnessing the transformation of its use from an eccentric version of Western Rite to that of an Eastern Orthodox Church. As a young man, both were fascinating to me.

The teaching of Edward Irving and his associates was far reaching, influencing nascent evangelical revivalist groups in the USA and Holland and Germany, as well as high church British eccentrics. This gave rise to the New Apostolic Church among those who see themselves as part of the Pentecostal movement. Montreux, like Geneva, has had a Russian Orthodox Church building for a century, if not longer, built by wealthy emigr├ęs. Recent decades of migration have seen the arrival of Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American Christians to Switzerland. Older established churches often offer hospitality to worship groups which are nowadays unable to afford to build for themselves. In my lifetime, as support for western churches decline, they find a sense of purpose in a new relationship to diverse global Christian communities.

On my walk I also discovered the famous Montreux Palace Hotel, which has a garden overlooking the lake, containing sculptures of legendary twentieth century jazz musicians who had performed there, plus a statue of novelist Vladimir Nabakov, who lived there from 1960 until he died in 1977. A concert auditorium opposite is names after jazz trumpeter Miles Davies, who performed eleven times at the world renowned Montreux Jazz Festival. What an amazing celebrity corner of the world this is!

Anyway, I caught the 10.44 train and ascended to the Berner Oberland in mist and rain. It climbs up 700m snaking aorund the north flank of the mountain behind Montreux, over or should I say through the Col de Jaman (1500m) in a succession of tunnels before descending to the valley below. The river Sarine runs through the first part of this valley, before it turns and descends to Fribourg. This represents the linguistic fault line between French and German speaking Switzerland, and this is witnessed in the change of place names. After the town of Rougement (which we first visited in the 1980s on a motor caravan holiday) comes Saanen and then Gstaad. Hence the river is nicknamed the roeschtigraben, (literally roeschti ditch) after the famed Swiss German cheese and potato dish.

It was wet all day in Montreux, and although no rain was forecasted up there, it rained nevertheless, although the cloud base was higher and afforded an atmospheric landscape view. Photography was far from easy, and there were several fellow travellers as disappointed as I was, despite having an old style train carriage with pull down windows, making it possible to take some pictures without soaking one's neighbours.

I met and chatted with a young couple from Bombay on their first outing to Europe, on their way to Zweizimmen, the next stop beyond Gstaad. As we parted company, they insisted on taking a selfie with me in it outside the train on the platform. I waited for the train to pull out and snapped them as their carriage went past. Disappointingly my photo was just out of focus.

Gstaad was cold and damp. It's not an ancient village but has grown up in modern times as a winter sports resort, but it has been built using attractive traditional regional designs in wood and stone. There's quite a lot of variety in the scale and purpose of buildings, and fantastic use of colourful floral decorations on balconies and window stills. Everywhere looks good, but despite the great care and attention taken to get things right, to my mind it lacks a certain character, hard to describe, which belongs to towns and villages that have evolved over centuries. I wandered around for an hour and a half, then caught a train back to Montreux, rather than get cold and damp myself. The photos I took are here.

In the evening the fifth and last of the present Inspector Montalbano series, a disturbing tale of fatal violent abuse of a prostitute involving Balkan and Sicilian mafias, which resonates with criminal activity involving trafficking and sexual exploitation of women across Europe today. Novelist Andrea Camilleri's writing has kept a finger on the pulse of the dark side of European life for over half a century, and never fights shy of addressing painfully difficult issues, though never without humour and pathos, despite tragedies recounted. He's now in his nineties and still going strong.

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