Janet and I had suffered through weeks of gloomy winter weather, when at last the sun god rode his fiery chariot over the rooftops of Basel.
"Let's go for a walk to some place where it's not too crowded," she said.
I proposed driving to the Jura, or La République et Canton du Jura, as this French-speaking part of Switzerland is officially called. It is the most recent of the Confederation's 26 cantons, created in 1979 after a long and partly militant struggle, including arson attacks, to gain independence from the German speaking Canton of Bern.
In Delémont, the capital of the Jura, it struck us how empty the streets were, and out in the countryside the roads were practically deserted. With an average population density of 83 per square kilometre, compared to Basel's 7553, it was not surprising people weren't milling about. I suddenly thought of the hordes of skiers and snow-boarders descending upon Alpine resorts, and revelled in our new-found tranquillity.
The Jura does have some skiing areas but they are mainly cross-country, not the real he-man, she-woman downhill variety. I remembered that Saignelégier is a pretty centre for cross-country skiing, as well as hiking, and drove in that direction.
"We can go for a nice walk there," I said to Janet, who was gazing at the glittering white surroundings dotted with old farmhouses.
In Saignelégier, however, we couldn't find a parking spot! The place isn't big and consequently the few spaces were already taken. Never mind. We drove on, searching for other trails. The situation looked more promising in the village of Les Bois. To the right we saw a small parking lot at the end of which was a path leading across the field. We stopped there. As we got out of the car, la bise cut through our heavy jackets, making us realise why some parts of the Jura are the coldest in Switzerland. In La Brévine, for example, temperatures can drop to as low as -30C.
The walk through the fields was wonderful, with wide-open spaces that reminded us of parts of the foothills of the Rockies. Even more so when we came to a bend in the path and saw a sign: Maison Rouge – Fondation pour le cheval. Of course, the Jura is famous for its horses and we assumed this might be a horse-breeding ranch. At the Maison Rouge, we realised something was not quite right. Dozens of horses stood around in the snow-covered fields, looking listless and bored. A few had backsides as bent as Don Quixote's Rocinante. We continued in the direction of the stables and saw more horses and a donkey with the same depressed expressions. We cheered up at the sight of a restaurant nearby with a sign advertising vin chaud. While sipping the hot wine, we browsed through some brochures that lay on the table. Then we understood – this was a retirement home for horses! We learned that one could subsidize a horse or donkey's care by donating a small sum of money per month. It was a good way, I mused, to prevent them from winding up in lasagne.
We left the restaurant and walked around the grounds. As we approached the fenced-in compound where the horses were kept, a couple of them turned and stared vacantly at us.
We felt sorry for these poor creatures, who reminded us of some residents we had seen in retirement homes for elderly humans. Perhaps the horses also needed a program of entertainment to rouse them from their lethargy, such as coach trips to equestrian events, or line prancing. Anything but that triste existence.
On our way back to Basel, we noticed that there was more than just one of these senior equine homes. In fact, there were three.
"Why don't we start one for ageing cows?" I said to Janet. "They spend their short lives providing us with milk, butter and cheese, and how do we reward them? We turn them into stews, hamburgers, and filling for unadulterated lasagne."
Being a true vegetarian, she was enthusiastic about the idea, and wanted to be the first to adopt a cow.
If you would like to adopt a retired horse or donkey, go to:
Edi Barth, a Swiss/American cartoonist /tattoo artist, will draw a witty cartoon (also in colour) of whatever subject you want for that special occasion. He is the author of "Menue Surprise" (available from the author). His cartoons and illustrations for ad campaigns have been published in many magazines and newspapers.