Blues over the Emme

But the water flowed past Fritz too, as he howled Howlin’ Wolf’s blues and dreamt of leaving the cold and the mountains. This was the wrong place for someone who didn’t like cold toes.

This afternoon he’d had his arm deep inside the goat, twisting around the half-born kid in the barn above where the Emme widened into pools for a moment, lingering a bit, before disappearing into the winter.

It was a Biblical setting, with cold sun the color of milk coming in through two opaque windows: light soaked by hay trampled by 20 white goats, each softly glowing. And every one of them staring at us.

Fritz dreamt of leaving the mountains, of leaving the hemmed-in Swiss-German life, where there was always a neighbour, the roads were narrow and you checked the oil in your Subaru every 5,000km. Most of all, he dreamt of France, where life, he said, was léger. He’d been to New Zealand on his honeymoon, but he’d never been to France. “When I was 30,” he says, “I thought I should’ve left when I was 20…”

But he stayed. He wanted to become a football player, a singer, a mechanic. His father, who he is named after, and who was in turn named after his own father, had wanted him to become a farmer. Everyone called Fritz Mosti because he was always making Sussmost, or pressed apple juice.

When he was 25, Fritz took over the Älpli called Imbrig and lived there 13 years, raising a family with Marianne just under the claw-raked cliffs of the Schrattenfluh. Those were perhaps the best of times, far away from everyone, with one side of the mountain all to themselves. They made simple mountain cheese called Hobelchäs, the type not sold to tourists. It is so hard and dry you have to eat it in slices so thin they’re almost translucent, shaved by a traditional slicer called a Hobel. Cheese made on the highest slopes is Alpchäs, while that made lower down the mountain is Bergchäs (Berg being mountain, and Chäs cheese).

“New Zealand was good. It was warm. You don’t have cold hands and feet.” But while Fritz spent his youth dreaming of faraway places, Marianne’s life and love revolved around farming, family and land. Her maiden name is Fankhauser, which means she comes from Fankhaus, the valley between the town of Trub and the mountain of Napf. And she isn’t interested in faraway places, or with cows that have numbers instead of names. Farming is very personal here, intertwined with family life.

“But they have hundreds and thousands of cows in New Zealand. That’s a problem. No Jessica or Petra. Only numbers.” Marianne is someone who takes out the baby rabbits for the children to play with, lets the hours-old calves suckle on her thumbs and is overcome with emotion when the cows are let out of the barn after the winter, running and jumping like puppies on the grass under the Hohgant.

“I’ll sell the farm when I’m 60 and leave for France…” says Fritz.

Im Eggli; Imbrig