~e ticket~

January 27th, 2008

As a kid my favorite place to be (besides fighting riptides in the Pacific Ocean) was Disneyland. Nevermind I was later refused admittance because of my inappropriate hair color (something quite fascistic about any place claiming to be The Happiest Place on Earth). At nine, Disneyland was the place to be.


I loved the Haunted Mansion most of all, but for sheer adrenaline rush, the best was The Matterhorn Bobsleds. Tucked between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, Disneyland’s first rollercoaster (and at the time, tallest man-made structure in Orange County) opened in 1959 and was pretty much untouched well into the 1970s.


Along with the Submarine Voyage (featuring those enchanting grooming mermaids), and Pirates of the Caribbean (featuring those enchanting drunken skeletons), The Matterhorn was a totally E-Ticket ride.


The lines were always crazy long and featured recorded sounds of yodeling and alpine wind. Later, when they added the Abominable Snowman—an animatronic yeti (named Harold) who roared and flashed his electric red eyes at the bobsledders–you could hear that too.

(The first mention of an Abominable Snowman comes from Charles Howard-Bury, who coined the term in his 1921, Mount Everest The Reconnaissance. By 1959 the craze for Snowmonsters became so rampant that actor James Stewart smuggled the remains of a supposed yeti, the so-called Pangboche Hand, by concealing it in his luggage when he flew from India to London.)

Skipping geography for make-your-own-film-strips with the so-called gifted kids in my school, I never gave much thought to the fact of the real Matterhorn Mountain. Now I see it on my daily walks.


This week Ali and I took a ride on our neighborhood Funiculaire–a sort of trolly that travels short distances up the very steep mountainside–and it immediately brought back memories of The Matterhorn Bobsleds.

The Funiculaire Ecluse~Plan was originally built in 1890 with hydrolic traction, but has been an automatic lift since 1922. The last update was more than twenty years ago, though as our neighbor Kate from Venice said (over a glass of Tocai Friulano, as our first in-house guest), it looks more like someone’s idea of what you’d ride to Mars in the 1950s.

Please observe the uncanny resemblance. Which one is the Matterhorn Bobsled I wonder?



The name comes from the Latin funiculus, a diminutive of funis, or rope. There are several in town, and all over Europe (I’d highly recommend Wiki’s Funiculaires of the World) Ours begins on our street and finishes at the edge of a forest turned park, Plan du Belvedere.


It was zero c (freezing), and there were icicles on the fountain and frost edging the ivy.


Our Sunday outing was to the Centre Dürrenmatt, a museum celebrating Neuchâtel’s most famous writer, dramatist, collagist, print-maker, painter, and all around curmudgeon, Freidrich Dürrenmatt.
Apparently all the German kinder had to read his avant-garde, Brechtian theater, but I had not heard of him.

Sean Penn’s film The Pledge is based on one of his stories.
Another story opens, “A story is not finished, until it has taken the worst turn.”

We saw a great interview from the sixties, all horn-rimmed and cigar smoking, with a disembodied hand brandishing an awkward microphone.

I especially liked the maquette for a stage set for one of his plays.
Just like our new home!


This week we also found a lovely place for dinner, Brasserie Le Cardinal. Charming ambiance, buzzing room, kind staff, superior menu. Possibly a Friday night ritual has begun?


My plate included prunes wrapped in bacon and grilled—known as Devils on Horseback (the oyster version are Angels)–a testament to human ingenuity.


I also commenced my (self-taught) French lessons this week–did you know the word Prune en francais means Plum, and a Prune is called Prunelle?


Now that I have grown beyond film-strip class, I can offer a map and a few fun facts about Neuchâtel.
We are here, right on the French border. North-East is Germany, South is Italy:

A few things I know:

Neuchâtel was first mentioned in a document in 1011.

There are currently 32,000 residents; one-third are estrangers.

The majority of registered voters are a gauche (left—primarily socialist, some liberal, some radical).

At the lake (lowest point) it is 430 meters above sea level, at the highest point (Chaumont) it is 1180 meters above sea level. (For reference, Manhattan at its highest is 129m above sea level, the Matterhorn is 4478m.)

If I had one of those great export maps with little oil barrels and bushels of wheat, every territory here would feature a chocolate bar and tiny smiling cow.


Noria reminded me of Funiculì, Funiculà, a song written by Italian journalist Peppino Turco and set to music by Italian composer Luigi Denza in 1880 to commemorate the opening of the first funicular on Mount Vesuvius.
It was made famous by Mario Lanza in the 1950s and everyone it seems has had a crack at it since.

Some lyrics translated from Italian include:
We go from the ground to the mountain, baby! Without walking!
You can see France, Procida and Spain…I see you!
Pulled by a rope, no sooner said than done, we go to the skies..
We go like the wind all of a sudden, go up, go up!
Let’s go on, let’s go, let’s go, funiculì, funiculà!

In case you are in need of a reminder,
here is Grace Moore’s version in 1935’s Love Me Forever.

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