From Paris to the Pectinarium (2004)

We pulled out of Paris on the TGV precisely on time – a level of railway punctuality only achieved by the French and Japanese. I read somewhere the other day that Japanese trains run a combined total of fifteen seconds late in an entire year; an extraordinary thing, if true. We had purchased second class tickets in an effort to be economical and I noted, as we glid out of the Gare du Lyon, that the compartment was perfectly civilized. First would have been an unnecessary extravagance. Being Easter Bank Holiday Monday, our fellow travelers comprised only a group of Japanese tourists at the other end of the carriage. Tiring of the suburbs of Paris and hearing an announcement that the buffet car was open for business, we lurched to secure ourselves a croissant.

Ten minutes later, we were back in our seats with an assortment of food spread out in front of us that was born more out of curiosity than hunger. The natural yogurt we bought only because of the darling little terracotta pot it came in, but the contents proved to be astonishingly good. I had a vague notion that the pot might be well suited for some subsequent use, but never came to any firm conclusion as to what that might be. A butter pot? An ashtray? Home to a small cactus? none of them appealed. I had ordered a Croque monsieur simply because I could and because it reminded me of my childhood; my mother spent much of hers in Paris and cooked them for us every now and again. The croissant was obligatory and Dearly Beloved (as she is rather eccentrically wont to do) chose a smoked salmon sandwich; it was good, but her taste buds couldn’t handle it at that hour of the morning so it languished on the table for the rest of the trip as if admonishing us for being so extravagant.

Le Train had by now achieved “Grand Vitesse” and the French countryside blasted past at bewildering speed. Bucolic villages, herds of Charolais, charming farmhouses and the odd Chateau were here and gone faster than you could say “Oh, look a .... too late”. There was the occasional startling “THWACK … whoooooooooooosh…. phhHTT” as we passed another TGV at a closing speed of about 300 miles per hour – in stark contrast to the musical burbling of Little Tokyo somewhere at the back of the carriage. Pastoral fields gave way to rolling vineyards and finally the Alps hove into view and we were rolling into Geneva. Thats the wonderful thing about Europe; you just hop on a train and you are in another country in time for lunch.

The Noga Hilton Hotel on Lake Geneva was a quite remarkable example of neo-fururist-post-modern whorehouse. Every surface was chromed and mirrored to the point where it was hard to tell which way was up. The interior decoration had been done by a graduate of the Vladivostok School of Brothel Design and all the lobby shops sold an array of merchandise that would have made Liberace jump for joy. We were escorted to our room down a long corridor that bore a strong resemblance to the night sleeper to Edinburgh and eventually arrived at a spacious suite entirely decked out in royal blue formica and white marble. What were they thinking?

Desperate to escape from formica-land, we rented a nifty little Audi A3 and took off in the direction of Lausanne at a satisfying 100 miles an hour. Well, it was satisfying for me, but apparently not for Dearly Beloved, so my pleasure was short lived and we resumed a more leisurely pace. Deciding that the concierge would have probably recommended the most predictable places to go, we ignored his advice and turned off the Autoroute, heading blindly into a maze of pleasant back roads. The weather was spring-showers with puffy white clouds, the mountains impressive and every single tree seemed to be sporting a thick blanket of pink or white blossoms. At one point we came around a corner to be greeted with a picture postcard sight of a herd of furry Bison-esque cows surrounded by hundreds of free-range chickens in an orchard of fruit trees under a canopy of blossoms. This was it - the picnic spot i had been looking for my entire life. The only problem was, we had no picnic.

Having cruised around aimlessly for an hour or so, we suddenly found ourselves in a stunning little medieval village called Romainmôtier.  Set low in a small valley and built around a spectacular and newly restored church, the village boasted a most unusual (and rather Terry-Gilliam-esque)  shop called the Pectinarium. It sold the most dazzling and eccentric jams, jellies and preserves, like Raspberry Lemongrass and Jalapeno Plum. Half an hour later we were on our way again loaded to the gunwales with jars of assorted preserves, unsure as to how we would safely pack them for the return.

After some more whiling and swirling through lush valleys and impossibly sweet villages we rather unexpectedly arrived at the Swiss border. This was odd because we were quite sure we had not left Switzerland. There had been absolutely no indication of us ever having crossed a border, yet here we were in a small queue waiting to pass the checkpoint. Maybe the Pectinarium was in fact a warp in the space-time continuum and we had been bounced temporarily into another dimension. You just never know with the Swiss.