Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bern: To Market, to Market

Having checked the weather, we’ve decided to risk waiting til Wednesday to go to the Jungfrau region, so we decide to hit the famous farmers’ markets in the streets of Bern to stock up for the Alpine excursion.

The markets, which line various arcades along the streets and then spread into the Barenplatz and beyond, are wonderful, with gorgeous produce that positively glistens in the bright sunlight. I’m still recalling the sweet succulent cherry tomatoes I had with my Costoletto on our last night in Milan at the canals, and all these tomatoes have that same beautiful red color. The onions – apparently Bern has a famous Onion Festival every fall – are so shiny I think they’re winking at me, and then there’s cheeses.

Now, looking over the selections we’re confronted with in the Swiss market, I have to say we get a very fine choice of cheeses in San Francisco. In fact I think it’s amazing how much terrific stuff we get in San Francisco, but the cheeses here are definitely different. One woman gives us a taste of Vacherin de Jura (Swiss definitely) and we succumb and buy a hundred grams. I’m quite pleased actually to have conducted the entire transaction in a kind of pidgin German/French mix. And I think that I’m flattered that when I try to communicate in very poor German, most people immediately switch to French, not English. So maybe all along they’ve been thinking I’m a crazy French tourist.

We collect grapes, meat, nuts, and a challah-like zopfbolle of bread (transaction completed in French) and then swing by a supermarket to get some water and a local rose. We should be set for tomorrow.

On our way back to the hotel to drop things, we stop in the Einstein Haus, where I am jubilant to see that in the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis (1905 was the year that he published five papers, four of them seminal, on topics ranging from electrodynamics to Brownian motion to the Special Theory of Relativity) his wife Mileva Maric’s contributions and sacrifices have not been forgotten. There is even a sympathetic note that calls her his intellectual equal, a woman who gave up her own academic career to work on the mathematics of relativity, only later to be trapped in housework and nappies.

The house is very small, and I try to imagine Mileva and the baby and Einstein smushed in here, but I do recall one or the other of them saying that their years on Kramgasse Street were the happiest of their lives. In pictures you can see Mileva go from a pretty young woman to a sad-faced almost resentful-looking hausfrau. For that matter, Einstein himself looks sadder and sadder as the years pass too, although it still steams me to see him sitting there amongst Lorentz and Dirac, Curie and Schroedinger and think that Mileva should have been there with him. As Anna Quindlen said, in his private life he was no Einstein.

In the afternoon, we search unsuccessfully for a little underground tapas place that was recommended in a guide book, but fail to find it and settle instead at a local bar, which serves late lunch. Then we wander into the Munster Cathedral, which, I must say, is very Gothic looking for a Protestant church. OF course the interior isn’t much decorated if you don’t count the highly Baroque organ that dominates the rear of the nave. Everything seems to be in the midst of cleaning though, and they’re setting up for a performance of Haydn’s Te Deum that night, which we consider going to. If we’re not exhausted. Hah.

A quick bus ride puts us across the Aare on our way to the Rosengarten, or Rose Garden, which is in full bloom and filled with an orderly riot of pinks, reds and oranges. As promised the view of the city is spectacular from this side and I think that if I were a spy, I’d set up shop someplace over here and watch all the streets from the convenience and shade of the terrace.

For dinner we try to find Cave 49, the place under the sidewalk, and finally locate a bar in a cellar, although the proprietor tells us that it’s changed and is now just a bar – no food. I ask him for a recommendation for dinner though and he sends us to Restaurant du Webern up the street and we wander up that way.

It turns out to be a good recommendation – the food is not too expensive and we have a gazpacho, and share a “farmer’s dinner” which is composed of Rosti, and egg sunny side up, a slice of cheese and two thick slices of ham. I muse that it’s just like the breakfast at Denny’s except that the potato pancake is WAY better, the egg is real, the ham is fresh cured and the cheese is Tete de Moine. Otherwise it’s exactly the same.

I have a Gebrunntecreme for dessert which turns out to be a lovely caramel crème. A lot of it. In a big bowl.

We decide to skip the concert and instead walk around examining the fountains, some of which seem to have been removed from Kramgasse for the construction work that’s going on. But the one outside of the opera house on Kornhausplatz of an ogre eating small children is amusing enough for all of them.

Eating children. Hmmm, no thanks… I couldn’t have another bite….

No comments: