Road Trip to Annecy

There are just some things that you get to do in France that you simply would never be given the opportunity to do in the United States. Today I went on a factory tour at the Paccard Bell Factory. I had no idea what we’d actually get to see. We didn’t just get to see the bells being made… we actually felt the heat of the job.

                    After a movie (that would have been a better 3-D movie than the one at the Chartreuse distillery tour) and a brief explanation of how bells are made from a tour guide, our group headed into the foundry. There, there was a man in a silver heat-protective suit stirring white hot molten metal with a big wooden spoon. Every so often he’d toss a hand full or two of sand into the pot, sending sparks flying. And all that separated us from that guy and his work was a little piece of yellow tape… like crime scene tape minus the chalk outline of a body on the ground. We could feel the heat of the furnace and the hot metal. The sparks landed awfully close to our feet. But none of us dared take a step back, for fear of missing some of the spectacular show. After the master mixer deemed his brass soup ready, he and some others (also clad in the fire retardant silver suits) poured the liquid metal out of the mixing bowl (or whatever it’s called) into a container suspended by chains and pulleys from above… from that they poured the mix into bell molds. As the molds filled with the molten metal, one guy would take a stick and set a fire to a vent in the top of the mold. It burned so hot it was green and white. When that flame goes out, the mold is full. We watched them fill half a dozen molds.

                        Back inside the safer museum portion of the factory, our guide told us a little more about how they tune the bells, and just how specialized such a task is. (there are only 5 bell factories in the world that actually tune their bells) Then, it was time for the bell concert. I was kinda looking forward to it. I like bells. I love that song, the Carol of the Bells (when played by bells). In high school, I played in the church bell choir. But when the concert started, none of us knew just what to do. The bells started playing along with some pre-recorded music… then the tour guide picked up her microphone and started singing. Not one. Not two. Three songs. We clapped politely after each song. But, really, this made the 3-D movie of the monks seem, well, not silly. Mundane, even.

                        Before leaving, I had to stop at the little gift shop. There were some nice bigger bells, but they were several hundred euros each. I settled on a little handbell with a decent sound and something about Paccard written on it. On the way out, another woman said the guy behind the counter told her those bells aren’t even made at that factory. What a waste. Oh, well, now I have a good bell for playing Bunco or if I ever get sick and need to ring for attention.

                        Lunch was included in the day trip. We walked next door to a place I’d have never chosen from the outside. Inside we walked past what looked like a salad bar and an open charcoal pit on our way to the table. And on each table were skewers hanging at each table. I guess you are supposed to go spear some meat from the salad bar (it must really be a meat bar) then you grill it yourself. The women from Peoria said it’s just like some restaurant there where you cook your own meat. Doesn’t cooking your own meat sort of defeat the whole purpose of going out to eat?

                        We didn’t cook our own. Since we had such a big group (it was a Sweet Home Grenoble outing), we were given a plate du jour. Sausage, cabbage and Gratin Daphinois. (creamy potatoes) I have mentioned my serious fear of French cheese. Sausage is in a similar category. You just can’t be sure what you’ll get… what kind of animal or what part of that animal it will be. I tried it. It was ok. I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again. For dessert (because no French meal is complete without dessert) we got to go to a little buffet. I had a couple of chocolate things. That kinda made up for the sausage.

                        Before driving back to Grenoble, the group hit two stores. The first was an outlet for pottery from Provence. It was all very pretty but I didn’t buy anything. I guess I prefer that my purchases be mementos of time here, not just something picked up at an outlet store. Although I may go back! The second store had decorations that were similar to some I can find at a couple places here. So all I came home with was my not-a-real-Paccard-bell bell!

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