09 May 2010

The Quintessential Sound of Switzerland

Can you hear it? Can you hear that magical sound outside my window?

Well of course you can't, but I hope you'll forgive my silliness because I'm under the spell of perhaps the most quintessential Swiss sound there is. No, not the ticking of a 5,000-franc watch. Nor the whistle of another approaching train that has arrived exactly on time down to the second. Nor the drone of alpine horns in the Ricola commercial. Nor even a yodeling fraulein bouncing her arpeggios off of alpine peaks.

No, I'm talking about cowbells, of course.

A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk madly trying to make a deadline when that suddenly became impossible thanks to the melodious clanging of bells tumbling through my window.

I live across the lane from a farm. The field right outside is planted with oats and alfalfa that is destined to be hay for cowfeed. But just beyond is a rolling pasture that has been getting thicker each day with long grass and buttery bright dandelions. I'd read that one of the signs of Swiss spring is when the cows return from their winter barns into the pastures. Now, here came 10 very happy cows, gamboling through the grass like death-row cellmates who'd just gotten liberating DNA test results. And each one wore a wide leather collar upon which hung a big brass bell.

Their music reminded me of a girl's bell choir I once heard in a church, except the cows weren't wearing lacy dresses, and their bells were full of chaotic joy.

Of course, I'm anthropomorphizing worse than William Wordsworth, but cut me some slack, I've never lived by a farm before.

Now, here I sit on this otherwise silent Sunday morning, again watching the happy music-making cows even as I type, and I am happy too. Such a bucolic scene is utterly charming to a suburb-bred American, especially since I know those munching cows are cheese machines on the hoof. For I am a new and enthusiastic fan of Swiss cheeses -- but my pilgrimage to Gruyère is a story for another time.

This morning, I am half tempted to go frolic with those contented cows, but of course, then I would also be frolicking with fresh, steaming cow pies. I think I'll just go have a chunk of cheese, instead.

And by the way, if I ever write about being sick of the incessant, monotonous, tuneless noise of cowbells! just hit me in the face with one of those cowpies.


  1. We will definitely hurl a cowpie your way if you complain about those Bessie bells but will definitely check it for fungi d'magique before we throw it!

  2. That is champignon d'magique

  3. Welcome to Switzerland! My Swiss sound is ding, dong. I live across from a clock tower. However we get them, whether through cows or clocks, bells are definitely an essential part of Swiss life!

  4. Thanks Chantal. I actually thought of you when I was writing about our melodious cow bells because I remembered reading your blog about the bells in your clock tower. I bet your dreams are full of beautiful bells.