~la fête des vendanges~

September 26th, 2008

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“il faut prendre les gens comme ils sont et non pas comment l’on voudrait qu’ils soient.” (people should be taken as they are and not how they would like to be seen.) Such is the wisdom of Miss Fête des Vendanges.

Vines have been cultivated on the Neuchatel hillsides for over ten centuries, and the tradition of a harvest festival to celebrate wine-making reaches equally far back. Once a year–over three days–the better (or more thirsty) part of Switzerland descends upon our sleepy 16th century town to swill with abandon and be taken as they are.

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The building of seriously sturdy wooden vendor booths began days in advance, the men armed with power-tools in one hand and vino in the other. At 11am. Each day I passed and observed and wondered.

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By Friday night thousands of Swiss shoved together to watch the Guggenmusik–and we were among them. Generally I loathe a parade, but this one made me glad, with the wild wolf marching band, and the scary insect marching band, and the floats that shot rain clouds of confetti in the air while on the ground well-wishers poured wine into the cups of strangers.

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The air is something like Suisse Mardi Gras without the Lent. This includes of course those who will throw fistfuls of confetti right into your eyes (thanks) and mosh wildly, which was tolerated by me only for the novelty of moving en masse (and with no choice) past my preferred grocery shop on a street that generally—as one person next to me put it—“you could usually shoot a gun down and hit no one.”

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We missed the Sunday Parade des Fanfares with its Alpenhorn players, garland-draped cows, and men carrying giant Gruyere wheels on their heads. Instead Alfonso sweetly escorted me to the airport, where I headed to New York to begin the Month of Wedding (the all-consuming planning of which has been responsible for the silence around these parts…)

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We didn’t even know about “Miss Fête des Vendanges” until after the fact—I coulda been a contender!

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