Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2021
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Geneva's Lovable Loser

This year the Genevese toast the Duke of Savoy and his failed takeover bid for the 399th time.

Instead of heading straight from the airport to the Alps for some of the world's best skiing, why not head to Geneva and its non-stop, late night celebration weekend in mid-December?

Geneva's annual Escalade, which runs this year between December 7 and 9, is an homage to Charles-Emmanuel I -- the Duke of Savoy -- and his failed attempt to climb the defensive walls and seize the city in a surprise attack on the night of December 11, 1602. In what must be one of the longest-running celebrations of failure around, this year the Genevese will celebrate the Duke's botched seige for the 399th time, a tradition which continues to heat up the Old Town with fife and drum, torchlight parades, a massive bonfire at St. Peter's Cathedral and Mère Royaume's famous vegetable soup.

Legend has it that Mère Royaume's piping hot soup was simmering on the stove when she heard the Duke's advancing men and flung the cauldron out the window, killing an invader. You can still taste her soup (or at least a fresh version of it) at the Ancien Arsenal in the heart of the Old Town where it is ladled out in souvenir mugs for a few francs.

The Genevese celebrate the sweeter side of rebellion with soup caldron replicas made of Swiss chocolate and filled with marzipan "vegetables." The custom is for the youngest and oldest at the table to join hands and smash the marmite d'Escalade, scattering the miniature cauliflowers, carrots and radishes over the table for everyone to enjoy for dessert.

Taking it to the Streets
The highlight is the torchlight parade through the Old Town organized by Geneva's historical and patriotic Compagnie de 1602. Over 700 members of the group, including 150 children, dress up in periodic garb and with musket and pike, trumpet and drum, horse and carriage, parade through the winding cobblestone streets by torchlight. Look out for Mère Royaume and other Escalade personalities. The parade begins with demonstrations of arms of the period and ends with a massive, smoky bonfire in St. Peter's Cathedral square.

The Passage de Monetier is another pleasant surprise. Open to the public once a year, the passage takes visitors along the base of the old fortification walls under the cathedral. Braving the dark, extremely narrow passage earns you a reward of hot mulled wine at the end.

If you're claustrophobic, the Old Town's local bistros and cafés are another way to mingle with the crowds and share in the spirit of Escalade. Children dressed up in Halloween-style costumes roam the restaurants singing Cé qu'é laino, a song that tells the story of Escalade in 68 verses in the old Genevese dialect. A few francs dropped in the hat is appreciated as the money goes to the Compagnie de 1602 for the next year's festivities.

But don't worry about 68 verses of obscure Swiss dialect -- this is no "99 bottles of beer" -- as only the first and last verses are usually sung. And don't give away all your loose change to the first group of young entertainers. Like everything else at Escalade, the singing and patriotic celebrations continue non-stop 'til the last marmite has been smashed and the last cup of hot wine has been quaffed. In other words, this can last all night and well into the early hours of the morning.

Which, in fact, seems entirely appropriate, given Geneva's motto -- Post Tenebras Lux -- after darkness, the light


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