Auf Der Alm Dudeln
The “national drink of Austria”, of which I am myself very fond, is a mildly fizzy lemonade made of herbal extracts. Called Almdudler, literally meadow-yodeller, it plays on Heimat sensibility, or national-romanticism as we call it in Norway. The logo features a young farmer and his lady-friend clinking steins in front of Alpine peaks.
What intrigues me is how well-dressed they are, how far from Pythonesque mud-eating “peasants”. The boy has immaculate lederhosen, a neat green jacket with gold buttons, and a huge green hat dashing enough for D’Artagnan. The girl has a similar hat on top of her golden locks, and a dirndl with Snow White puffed shoulders.
Of course I know that “countryfolk” was not synonymous with “scruffy” or “ragged”. Even if poorer smallholders, cottars and labourers might have been quite dowdy, what we are looking at in this illustration is probably the fat cats of their valley. In the Alps these were likely to be allodialists (yeomen) rather than tenants and manorial serfs. It was the same in rugged Western Norway. There was a smaller pyramid above them than we might expect from over-reliance on the feudal paradigm. After the bishop, they were pretty well the social summit of their mountain districts. They may have thought of themselves in the same way as aristocrats in the lowlands; and in Switzerland they ran the show and had statues of themselves in armour.
This handsome young couple on the Almdudler bottle, therefore, may serve as a standing reminder that fine feathers are not reserved to the national elites – should we ever be so foolish as to forget it. Inasmuch as there ever was a time when well-off people were content to go round looking like bums, that era was very, very brief. Our green-hatted yeoman would not have understood the fad for distressed jeans, for example, any more than Indian farmers do. The Beautiful People of their valley can afford not to have holes in their clothes, and until recently this is what it had always been about. We may see subtle social codes in how the jeans are distressed, enabling the wearers to look down their noses at people who have gotten it wrong, but the codes of the meadow-yodeller were surely simpler, more direct and perhaps even brutal.
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers