Wandering in the Garden of Time

Yesterday, early in the morning, we headed to Porta Susa station to catch a train to Switzerland. 

As we headed for the border, the landscape became ever more beautiful and alpy, with peaks jutting up, some snowy, some in the far distance topped with lenticular clouds. The hills near the towns were all attractively covered with deciduous trees going through The Change.


In the towns around Lake Geneva, vineyards started popping up, which surprised me. I’d never thought of Switzerland as a wine-growing region. In fact, even when we were technically in Geneva it all looked pretty rural.


Looking up from his Kindle, John asked, “Where are all the big buildings where rich people make the decisions?” It was a fair question. The first big building we saw was actually train station. We disembarked and John went to get our onward tickets, which he did so successfully that we were soon running to the platform. The trains were punctual, clean and comfortable. They also had electronic signs announcing the next station. This was reassuring because we had two transfers to do.


It seemed that every stop was a little smaller and prettier and every train we got on was more like Thomas the Tank Engine. On the last stretch, we passed through small villages (all with the same kind of witch-hat church), a colorful forest, several lakes and a couple of bigger towns. The train stopped to think things over for about twenty minutes but eventually got going again. Our destination, Le Brassus, was the very last stop.

As soon as we got to the hotel, much sleeping ensued but this morning we were in the mood to investigate the place. The first thing we noticed as we stepped outside was that it was cold. We immediately returned to the room and emerged a few minutes later in coats and hats.


Across the street, we paused by the bridge to admire the fast-moving stream for which the town Le Brassus is named. Sun was starting to warm the nearby meadows, creating a white mist and frost clung to the roof tiles of some of the funny old houses. In the hills around the town, trees were splashy with color, reminding me that ‘Jura’ derives from the Celtic root ‘jor-’, or forest.

As we wandered down the hill, I suddenly caught sight of a little building with windows—it looked like a zoo exhibit.

“That’s odd,” I muttered, and ambled over to investigate.


Lo and behold, there was a mammoth skeleton! Well, the mold of a skeleton. Around 16,000 years ago a young male was caught in an avalanche of mud. Scientists nicknamed him Sapy and his bones now rest in the Vaud Geology Museum in Lausanne.

Next to Sapy’s house was a little area called, somewhat romantically, the Garden of Time. There was some system of organization related to geological eras. Next to each sign was a garden plot in which there grew vegetation associated with that period. After all, it makes patriotic sense that the locals are aware of geological eras, since the Jura Mountains give their name to one: the Jurassic Period (201.3 million years ago to 145 million years ago). This is because the Jura Mountains were the first place that limestone strata from the period were identified.


Pretty soon it became clear that the town’s main claim to fame was all the fancy watchmakers with offices in the area. Clues were big posters advertising watches, huge buildings with ‘horloger’ in big letters on the side, and other subtle hints. I don’t know why exactly they all chose this tiny spot to do business, but at least seven companies have warehouse-sized watch offices here. 

The afternoon at 14.30 p.m. I went for a walk to Le Sentier to do some grocery shopping. I got there at 15.00 and did the shopping in an aimless, dawdling manner, inspecting all the foreign stuff. At about 15.45 I emerged from the supermarket and saw across the street a store specializing in Spanish food. A little bell went off in my head. Huh, I thought. At 16.00, I strolled past a building that said ‘Spanish Language Center.’ Another bell went off. Hmmm, I thought. What is all this Spanish stuff? Then it came to me! I had carefully, painstakingly told my Spanish teacher that we should have our lesson at exactly 16.00 today. And here I was, 3.5 kilometres from Skype, with a watch factory every 500 metres between me and the computer. Strange. A good example of the sinister, illusory nature of time.


Pillar decoration at the school in Le Sentier, down the road.

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