Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How I Was Chased By A Mad Farmer With A Pitchfork In Le Sentier Switzerland In The Summer Of 1964

Two photos above are of Le Sentier Switzerland

The Train Station Le Sentier Switzerland
In the summer of 1964 I went to Europe for the summer. Someone had sent me an ad he had found on a bulletin board at Vanderbilt University where he was a graduate student. It was an offer of a summer job in Europe and a charter flight over at the beginning of the summer and a flight back in early September. I was working teaching school and had enough money to pay the fee in installments. So when June came I was all set to go.  After going to the World's Fair in NYC I boarded a Saturn Airways(propeller powered)flight to London along with a plane load of American college age students who were headed to Europe for their summer jobs. The deal was we would fly to London and have a day or two there and then take the boat train to Paris where we would have a day or so and be given our job assignments.

    There were some nice people on this flight. I met a girl from Bates College. She told me one of her fellow students at Bates College was Robert McNamara's daughter. And that the girl was driven to tears by her father's demands at the dinner table and would get up and run out of the room.

   In London I spent the evening with a smart young freshman from Harvard. He and I drank so much we overslept in the hotel(The Mitre)and woke up to find all the other students gone. But we hustled to Victoria Station on our own to catch up. The other students were already gone so we took a later boat train.

  Oddly while at the Victoria Station I heard someone call my name. It was Rob Johnson. He was a language teacher at a University in Illinois and he was traveling with his wife.  We had gone to the same college and he was a friend of the guy from Vanderbilt who had sent me the ad. It was an odd co-incidence.
We chatted while we waited for our trains.

      In Paris we found our group and got our job assignments. I was going to work on a farm in Switzerland in a little town called Le Sentier not too far from Lausanne.

    Also in Paris that summer was a college friend of mine staying at the Hotel La Louisiane. I saw her briefly before leaving for Switzerland.  She friendly with all the jazz musicians and artists staying at the Hotel La Louisiane.

When I got to the train station I checked my baggage at a  place marked Baggage. I did not speak or understand French well enough to know that the bags would be staying there and not put on the trains I was going on.

       I took the train from Paris to Geneva. While waiting for the connecting train there I went to the American Library  and read Hemingway's story Big Two Hearted River.

      The train went from Geneva to Lausanne and then on to Vallorbe. Another connection took me on a small train to Le Pont and finally Le Sentier. I got off and discovered my bags were not there. It was all my fault.   I made a report. The lady taking the report said "Do you speak French?" A little bit I said in French. "Well speak it then", she said.  She put the wheels in motion to recover my bags. It would take several days.
    In the meantime I found the farm I was to work on. The peasant family put me up in a room over the barn.
The idea was we would bring in the hay crop by pitching hay from dawn to dusk every day.. For this I would get room and board and be paid one dollar a day.

   After doing this for several days I went back up to Vallorbe and got back my suitcases. Now I was ready to leave. The family had been nice to me and I decided to leave them a note rather than just slipping out at night.

   I ended up being cornered by the farmer in his house. He had a  large pitchfork in his hands. He had decided I wasn't going to leave. He wasn't hearing of it. He chased me around a table waving the pitchfork at me. We went round and round the table. Finally I found an opening and made it out the door and went off running down the road and street to the train station. He followed waving the pitchfork and shouting at me. I made it to the train staion. There the lady train master hid me until the train arrived to get me out of Le Sentier. She was friendly and played some nice classical music for me.

It occurred to me some years later that he may have paid someone for my services. But I still had to go. I wasn't going to waste the summer pitching hay for a dollar a day.  I had things to do and places to go.  I had to get cracking and see as much of Europe as I could in three months.

I went back to Paris. That was what I had in mind for the summer anyway not wasting my time on a farm.
   I went back to the Hotel La Lousiane. And I have other posts on this blog about my stay in Paris in 1964.

In due time I went up to Brussels where the guy who ran the overseas jobs was located. I found him and he got me another job writing letters in English for Madame Collete Stasse.
 She was the head of the L'Association Belgo- Americain.
  Her husband owned an ran Europe's largest sporting newspaper Le Sport.

   She gave me free tickets to the 24 hours of Francochamps sports car race in Francochamps. Also she gave me some tickets to see the play As I Lay Dying which came to Brussels that summer with the Dallas Theater Center Group.
Here is something on the Dallas Theater Center and its founder that mentions the play.

  Madame Stasse would get a pedicure while she dictated letters to me in English. I would write them down and type them up for her.

I met a couple of other American students who showed up in Brussels. One girl who had been sent to a bar near the Black Forest in Germany quit because there was a German Army base nearby and she said the soldiers refused to believe she was not a prostitute. She was going back to Oklahoma.

   Another guy showed up with a broken collar bone. He had fallen off his bicycle. He kept me awake at night in the student hostel screaming in pain. He kept demanding I take him to the hospital so I got up and took him to the hospital.

I answered an ad to teach English to a Belgian boy while I went with them on a camping trip. But the way it turned out I was to pay for all my own food.  Again I saw that it was a waste of time before we left Brussels I asked them to stop the car and I jumped out.

Later I left for Italy. I took an overnight train and woke up and looked out the window and we were in the middle of the Alps.  I went on to Florence and then on to Rome and eventually to Greece.
It was so hot in Greece in August I had to retreat to the room where I was staying with a friendly Turk who rented out rooms in his house. One afternoon I read in an English language newspaper that Marlene Dietrich would be performing at the Edinburgh Festival of arts and music. Since it said in the paper that the temp. in Edinburgh was in the low 70's I decided to leave the 100 plus degree heat of Athens.

 I came back through Yugoslavia on a train with nothing to eat but anisette cookies for two days. This train took 48 hours to go from Athens to Munich Germany. We went through Zagreb which was still communist at that time. There was only one English speaking person besides myself on the train. He was a Hungarian American art student heading for Budapest. He is the person who shared his cookies with me. He made a big point of showing me a German family who had a big basket of food and telling me "Watch they will never offer us anything". And they never did.

    I got back to Brussels and headed for London and on to Edinburgh. But that is another story. I have other posts on my blog about that summer of 1964 in Europe. Click on the label 1964 below.
I need to add that in June of 2007 my wife and I took an overnight train from Rome to Paris. We had just finished a 3 week tour of Italy and Sicily.
   We had a sleeping compartment on the train. In the middle of the night we slowed down and finally stopped. I looked out the window. I saw a sign that said Le Sentier. I was back in Le Sentier after 43 years.