Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Heidi Ho!

After quickly touring Liechtenstein, we proceeded south into the canton of Graubunden in eastern Switzerland for a tour of Maienfeld and Heididorf (or Dorfli), the “hometown” of Heidi, probably the most famous work of Swiss fiction by author Johanna Spyri.

One of the best-selling children’s books of all time, the story describes the events in the life of a young orphaned girl in her grandfather’s care in the Swiss Alps.

In a nutshell, the story goes something like this: Adelheid (Heidi) is raised by her aunt Dete after the deaths of her parents, Tobias and Adelheid. Dete basically deposits Heidi with her grandfather, who is at odds with the villagers and lives in seclusion “on the alm.”

The “alm” is the seasonal migration between valley and high pastures, a traditional practice that shaped much of the landscape in the Alps. This migration is still practiced in Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. Without it, most areas below 2,000 meters would be forests.

Cattle are tended by local farming families who move from the valley to higher places. Other herdsmen are employees of the cooperative owning the pastures. In Switzerland, about 130,000 milk cows summer on the high pastures and produce the local cheese specialties that are handmade using traditional methods and tools.

Heidi’s grandfather at first resents her arrival, but the young girl penetrates his gruff exterior and she has a delightful stay with him and her best friend Peter, the goat-herder. Her Aunt Dete returns three years later to bring Heidi to Frankfurt as a companion to an affluent young girl named Clara Sesemann, who is wheelchair-bound.

Heidi spends a year with Clara but after a bout of homesickness, sleepwalking and subsequent conflict with the family’s strict housekeeper (appropriately named Fraulein Rottenmeier), she happily returns to the alm with her grandfather.

Initially portrayed by Shirley Temple in the 1937 motion picture, Heidi was quite a success, with the young acting prodigy enjoying her third year in a row as the number one box office draw. Heidi has since been adapted in more than 20 film and television productions.

Heidiland is definitely a tourist trap along the lines of Graceland, Stonehenge and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it’s not without its charms. For one thing, the mountain scenery (below) is spectacular. 

No comments: