Friday, December 23, 2011

When you are in Geneva around December 12

Old Town Geneva
chances are you will find yourself among soldiers in 17th century period costumes, marching bands parading to the music of drums and flutes, the air filled with the thundering sound of cannon fire and thick smoke from hundreds of torches.  If you also find a cup of mulled wine in your hand then you can be sure that you happened upon La fête de l'Escalade, an annual historic celebration marking the defeat of the Duke of Savoy in 1602.  

Here is the gist of it:  the Duke of Savoy launches an attack on Geneva in the middle of the night, night guard raises the alarm, church bells are rung, the good citizens of Geneva fighting alongside their militia defeat the attack.  But legend has it that a mother of 14 children who lived right above the town gate took a cauldron of hot vegetable soup and poured it onto the attackers who were scaling the walls, killing a few and helping the cause.  For this reason, and to commemorate soup flinging Mother Royaume, street vendors sell hot vegetable soup, while candy shops offer miniature cauldrons made of chocolate and filled with marzipan vegetables called a marmite.  Of course we had to come and see all the commotion.  Since children also dress in costumes and participate in a lantern parade, Big Moose decided to wear his Guy Fawkes mask to town.
Marmites and marzipan vegetables
Big Moose en route to Geneva

We really enjoyed the Old Town atmosphere.  But the real highlight was the secret tunnel that is only open to public once a year, on this momentous occasion.  The Passage de Monetier takes visitors along the base of the old fortification walls under the Cathedral.  Legend has it that this secret passage played a key strategic role during the night battle.

Big Fish and Big Moose entering the secret passage

J and the torch boy
At the end of the tunnel guess what awaits those willing to walk in the footsteps of these historic ghosts:  more mulled wine.  This is a picture of me waiting in line to get some:

It is customary for children to break the chocolate cauldron and shout: "Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République! " (Thus perish the enemies of the Republic)  In the end, amid many guns, much liquor and battle reenactments galore, we, and the good citizens of Geneva, saved the town from peril once again at the Escalade 2011. 

Big Moose in the moonlight

Lanterns and cobble stone

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