conformity |noun| compliance with standards, rules, or laws
Only tourists have fondue when it’s hot and our Swiss permits clearly state we are not tourists. We are temporary residents. With this status comes great responsibility. Not only are all sorts of insurance and registrations required of us, but we are also expected to play the part. My investigations tell me conformity is very popular in Switzerland.
We knew we were cutting it close with our little Gruyères expedition, so we convened to discuss. The weather predictions for Sunday were a big yellow smiley-faced sun, but Saturday the sky was slightly overcast and a light jacket was warranted. Deliberation: we could still go and save face.
Thank God, because fondue is heaven. It is not to be missed – it’s oozy, it’s creamy, it’s a delight. We looked like a mini representation of the UN as we huddled around our Bunsen burner – an American, an Emirati, a South African and 2 Portuguese. (Two? But, of course! This is Switzerland where 12,32% of the foreign population is made up of Portuguese immigrants.) Losing your chunk of bread in the pot is tantamount to national disgrace. Unfortunately, I failed miserably, but Luís did pretty well, so the end balance was neutral – another thing the Swiss hold dear to their precise little tickers.
For dessert, the waitress brought round little wooden tubs of truly decadent Gruyères cream. Those strawberries were a mere afterthought and fooled no one. This last morsel was perhaps overkill. So we resolutely set to work recovering from our traumatic lunch with a stroll around the hilltop. With its one street (complete with cobble stones, fountain, castle and a not at all random Alien movie museum), this little hilltop town is the perfect setting for a modern day Brothers Grimm reunion – come Cindy, come (Rap)Zella, come Comatose Beauty, come Girl from the Hood. Some may call it too touristy. I find it whimsical.
To add insult to injury, we ended the day with a visit to the nearby Cailler chocolate factory in Broc – the oldest brand of Swiss chocolate still in production. The lack of oompa-loompas did not go unnoticed, but we were determined not to let that dampen our enjoyment of the voyage through the sexual undertones of chocolate assimilation in Europe back in the day. Apparently, people couldn’t make up their minds about it. At one point, it was considered such a powerful aphrodisiac that monks and nuns of the 1600’s were forbidden to touch the stuff; while later on, its medicinal powers were thought so effective that noble ladies drank it in church to avoid fainting spells. Thankfully, today the world has converted to chocolate liberalism en masse and we are less depressed, more energetic and have better cardiovascular health for it.
Although the Swiss did not discover the stuff or even bring it to Europe (those pesky foreigners with their colonies did that), they did make a pivotal contribution to the sweet ingestible thing we so adore today: they added milk – an ingredient the Swiss have in abundance. In short, the world will never be the same. So the next time you dig into a Swiss chocolate bar, pause for a moment and thank Mr. Daniel Peter (the first one to mix this concoction), Mr. François-Louis Cailler (whose chocolate has oddly inappropriate pharmaceutical sounding names, such as Femina and Frigor), Mr. Philippe Suchard (whose original shop still sells the goods in Neuchâtel’s Rue Seyon), Mr. Rodolphe Lindt (thank you, thank you for your new line of Lindt Excellence bars), Mr. Theodor Toblr (the pop of the duty free shop). We showed our appreciation to these industrious men through the stamina with which we embraced the chocolate tasting that wrapped up our tour. At this point, I had begrudgingly come to terms with the fact that Willy Wonka (more Johnny Depp, less Gene Wilder) would not be making an appearance, but that didn’t stop me from feeling disconcertingly like Violet Beauregarde as I rolled towards the exit – the part about her being round as a ball, that is, not the blue part.
It was a good thing that sunshine the next day. A 30km bike ride near Neuchâtel was most certainly in order.