Monday, 14 December 2009

La Fête de l'Escalade 2009

Geneva during la fete de l'escalade

One of my favorite times of the year in Geneva is the celebration-filled week of the Fete de l'Escalade, the annual festival comemmorating with joy, pride, solemnity and song, the victory of the Genevois over the invading army of the Duke de Savoie (les Savoyards).

On December 12 1602 the forces of the Duke de Savoie, launched an attack on the city-state of Geneva. The troops marched along the Arve River at night and assembled at Plainpalais, just outside the walls of Geneva, at 2 o'clock in the morning. The original plan was to send in a group of commandos to open the gate door and let the other troops in. The Geneva citizens defeated the men by preventing them from scaling the wall (a climb in French is an escalade). The night guard Isaac Mercier raised the alarm, church bells were rung, and the Genevois were alerted. The populace fought alongside their town militia. The duke's 2000-plus mercenaries were beaten.

According to Genevois legend, Catherine Cheynel, the wife of Pierre Royaume, ("Mère Royaume"), a mother of 14 children, seized a large cauldron (marmite) of hot vegetable soup and poured it on the attackers. The Royaume family lived just above the La Monnaie town gate. The commotion that this caused also helped rouse the townsfolk to defend the city.

The story of L'Escalade is told in a song called Cé qu'è l'ainô, written in a Franco-Provençal dialect around 1603 and has become the "national" anthem of Geneva.1

1 Wikipedia

Friday night was spent escorting J and his schoolmates on a torch-lit cortege through our village and back to his school steps where the children gathered next to a piano and serenaded us with the anthems Cé qu'è l'ainô and Ah! La Belle Escalade. My little citoyen Genevois sang his heart out; makes me cry everytime. The evening ended with a dinner of traditional vegetable soup made by the kids during the day, raclette, saucisses, frites, wine, and the ubiquitous smashing of the chocolate marmite and distribution to we Genevois of chunks of chocolate and marzipan vegetables

We spent the rest of the weekend at Marc and Nat's apartment in the Vieille Ville where the celebration is centered. For these 2 days, the old town is majestically turned back in time 400 years and populated by chevaliers, townsfolk, blacksmiths, fusiliers, and steeds living as they did and where they did at the time of the attack.

The blacksmiths hard at work in the Place de Bourg du Four

A secret passage through the old town is opened during these 2 days of the year below the old La Monnaie town gate. J loved going through it, especially at night, in the dark, when it was lit by torches.

Inside the secret passageway through the old town

Marc and Nat don't spoil this kid much...

The previous weekend, both J and I ran in the annual Course de l'Escalade, a running race through the twists and turns of the old town. I twice ran through the elegant Place de Bourg du Four and past la cathedrale St. Pierre with its' clanging bells. About 20,000 people participate every year in various races throughout the day. The smaller kids ran 1.7 km, while I ran 4.7. It's a short race but remarkably memorable with spectators lining the sides of the historic route cheering us on as we grunted up the steep but picturesque hills.

Here is J running in his first Course de l'Escalade. About 10 seconds into the video, you will see him in the middle of the screen, green fleece, black pants. You might have to hit the PLAY arrow a couple of times.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Things you Definitely Don't See in Canada in December

I took Murphy for a walk this evening after dinner. She needed to stretch her legs I told C2 and J, and I fancied enjoying the Christmas decorations adorning our Swiss village on a quiet, warm early December night.

We wandered through our village's square, past the giant Christmas tree decorated by the little kids from our village jardin d'enfants (pre-school), and through the orchard of trees dripping with icicle lights and shooting stars. We ambled down the main street, and paused in front of the Auberge Cheval Blanc (aka 'the lovely place to eat' as J has dubbed it) to admire the candles softly glowing through the windows and the pretty tree shining on the terrace.

Then I realized that I wasn't alone. Less than a foot away from me, Mario the chef, was quietly plucking olives from the tree growing in the restaurant's garden behind a low stone wall separating the Auberge from the street. We exchanged polite "bonsoirs", he offered me an olive which I accepted with thanks, and then I carried on as if this was something a Canadian girl experienced regularly. He didn't hear me chuckle in amazement.