This morning, just after breakfast I had a surprise video call on Viber from Rachel in Arizona, just returned from a gig up-country and winding down before bed. It was good to catch up with her and talk dad to daughter for a good long while. By sheer co-incidence, at the end of the afternoon I had another Video video call, this time from my sister June and daughter Kath, who was visiting her auntie during a London trip. She helped her out by adjusting her Galaxy Tab display setting to big font size, and completed the registration of Viber, which I'd installed for her on my visit last month, but failed to complete at the time. Hopefully this'll pave the way for video calls to my sister as well as the children, if she can remember how it works and use the app as intended.
Cousin Dianne sent me an email to confirm that she and husband Ian are going to be in Champex Lac, up above the Val de Bagnes for the annual local desalpage on my last weekend here. I'm going to make my third trip up there to join them for this ancient rural custom, only this time changing trains at Sembrancher to reach Orsieres, where they'll pick me up. Great to have an opportunity to see and photograph another part of the trois vallées, plus the bonus of this special mountain fête. In spring, animals are taken to higher pastures to graze, and in autumn when they are returned to the shelter of lower lying fields and barns.
These events are celebrated in a traditional way. Beasts are decked with ribbons, flowers and bells, walked from farms through the village and then taken uphill on the most convenient track, a journey which may take all day, and provide an excuse to picnic en route. In the autumn, festivities take place back in the village. Nowadays, with larger herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, the majority of animals may be transported by vehicle, with a select number decorated and walked up or down by road. I remember seeing flocks of sheep and goats herded down country roads from higher pastures inland on the Côte d'Azur one autumn fifteen years ago. I remember seeing a farmer in the Pays de Gex returning to his farm from high pastures with just a few cows, festively dressed. No audience, no welcoming party, not for the tourists, just something he and his forebears had always done.
I also had a phone call from a notary in Aigle, managing the affairs of an elderly Brit living in Bex, but now in hospital and close to the end of his life. He wanted to know if, when the time came, it would be possible for him to arrange the man's funeral in St John's, as his few closest relatives lived in Britain, and may not be so easy to contact to arrange things anyway. I reassured him that it would be possible, and we then exchanged contact details by email. It's not unusual for elderly single expats or those married but childless to end their lives alone in old age, known maybe to just a few neighbours, having outlived colleagues, friends and siblings. It's very sad, and one can only hope that living one's final years in a place of great beauty offers them the consolations of nature, when family friendships have already run their course.
After finding the old funicular railway yesterday afternoon, my mind was exercised by not having identified its point of departure, so I retraced yesterday's route until I found the first place where I'd seen the railway line, near the escalier de Collonges. Here, the line ran into a cutting, then went into what looked like a tunnel, except there was no sign of the line emerging lower down the hill. On closer inspection I concluded this dark space, enclosed by a security gate, was all that remained of the funicular line terminus. It was next to and beneath a large imposing old house in classic Vaudois style, which had been renovated with its lower boundary and approach road remodelled by generous application of concrete. It was impossible to tell if the house had been part of Collonge funicular station. To the left of the steps, I found a blocked of passageway shrouded with bushes, perhaps leading down the where the departure platform once would have been. If my surmise is correct, it wouldn't be impossible to restore this line for services, but it would, doubtless, be expensive.
And to finish the day, a Viber call with my best beloved Clare in Cardiff.