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Cervin: Belle Epoque

Cervin: Belle Epoque. Gaston Rébuffat. Grand Vents, Genève, 1983. French text. 168 pages, black and white and color illustrations. 150F.

However it is called, the classically shaped Cervin-Cervino-Matterhom must be among the best known peaks in the world. In Cervin: Belle Epoque, Gaston Rébuffat graphically illustrates its allure for climber and nonclimber alike with only minimal text so that it is not necessary to read French in order to enjoy the book.

The introduction briefly outlines the mountain’s history, including the obligatory account of Whymper’s much-described first ascent in 1865. Following this, the reader is treated to a pictorial review of some less familiar aspects of the peak. To begin with, there is the section “Gazette, publicité et chanson”—not exactly wine, woman and song, but nevertheless appealing. Included in it is the title page for the “Journal de Zermatt,” hotel cards and stamps. On all of these, naturally, the Matterhorn is prominent. For the musically inclined, it is emblazoned on the covers of such songs as “Queen of the Alps” and “Song of the Alpine Storms.”

For the historically oriented, there is a chapter on Vittorio Sella, whose mountain photographs still rank among the best. For visual types, there are posters galore, ranging from charming tum-of-the-century concoctions filled with every conceivable alpine motif to a wonderfully sleek and streamlined 1930’s vision of a skier silhouetted against the peak. Even the more modem images are suffused with a romantic aura that typifies the book as a whole.

One of the most delightful chapters is devoted to postcards of the Matterhorn in solitary splendor, of romantic castles and edelweiss, and of improbably garbed visitors in all manner of poses.

As with his memorable Chamonix-Mont Blanc 1900, Rébuffat has once again put together a nostalgic volume that tugs at the heartstrings, even of those too young to remember. Through his astute choice of visual images, he has brought fresh perceptions to a very old subject. Cervin: Belle Epoque is both a delight for the eye and a feast for the spirit.

Patricia A. Fletcher