‘From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came.
I was told before arriving that I would probably be a ‘sight’ for the village; I took this to mean that people of my complexion were rarely seen in Switzerland, and also that city people are always something of a ‘sight’ outside of the city.
It did not occur to me-possibly because I am an American-that there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro.
It is a fact that cannot be explained on the basis of the inaccessibility of the village. The village is very high, but it is only four hours from Milan and three hours from Lausanne.
It is true that it is virtually unknown. Few people making plans for a holiday would elect to come here. On the other hand, the villagers are able, presumably, to come and go as they please – which they do: to another town at the foot of the mountain, with a population of approximately five thousand, the nearest place to see a movie or go to the bank.
In the village there is no movie house, no bank, no library, no theater; very few radios, one jeep, one station wagon; and at the moment, one typewriter, mine, an invention which the woman next door to me here had never seen.
There are about six hundred people living here, all Catholic- I conclude this from the fact that the Catholic church is open all year round, whereas the Protestant chapel, set off on a hill a little removed from the village, is open only in the summertime when the tourists arrive.
There are four or five hotels, all closed now, and four or five bistros, of which, however, only two do any business during the winter. These two do not do a great deal, for life in the village seems to end around nine or ten o’clock.
There are a few stores, butcher, baker, epicerie, a hardware store, and a money-changer-who cannot change travelers’ checks, but must send them down to the bank, an operation which takes two or three days. There is something called the Ballet Haus, closed in the winter and used for God knows what, certainly not ballet, during the summer.
There seems to be only one schoolhouse in the village, and this for the quite young children; I suppose this to mean that their older brothers and sisters at some point descend from these mountains in order to complete their education-possibly, again, to the town just below.
The landscape is absolutely forbidding, mountains towering on all four sides, ice and snow as far as the eye can reach. In this white wilderness, men and women and children move all day, carrying washing, wood, buckets of milk or water, sometimes skiing on Sunday afternoons.
All week long boys and young men are to be seen shoveling snow off the rooftops, or dragging wood down from the forest in sleds. The village’s only real attraction, which explains the tourist season, is the hot spring water.
A disquietingly high proportion of these tourists are cripples, or semi- cripples, who come year after year-from other parts of Switzerland, usually-to take the waters.
This lends the village, at the height of the season, a rather terrifying air of sanctity, as though it were a lesser Lourdes. There is often something beautiful, there is always something awful, in the spectacle of a person who has lost one of his faculties, a faculty he never questioned until it was gone, and who struggles to recover it.’