Saturday, January 05, 2013

Geneve Journal: Threads

I've previously mentioned the history of the Escalade, and the races that accompany the fete every year.  My day trip to Bern prevented me from checking out Saturday's Escalade related offerings.    The schedule of events for commemorating the Escalade was a full one, stretching from Friday night to Sunday night.  Various period demonstrations, tours of historical venues, food and drink vendors everywhere and intermittent canon fire characterized the run of the weekend.
A part of the soundtrack of my first trip in 1992 was Jethro Tull's War Child.  That was one of the albums I listened to on my portable cassette player as I walked Geneva's streets back then.  Given the martial nature of the celebrations of the day, I thought it fitting to load the album onto my ipod and replay a little of my own history while taking in a deeper history.  Bummed was I on the street when I discovered the album didn't sync to the device.  A minor aggravation, but one piled on top of others from that morning as I failed, multiple times, to leave the apartment in time to catch and record the post-service chiming of the cathedral bells.
Having missed the tolling of the bells yet again, I decided to visit L'Espace Rousseau and take in the exhibit there, which would pass the time until I could record a less grandiose chiming of the bells at 1pm.

L'Espace Rousseau is located in home of the philosopher's birth on the Grand Rue.  The second floor of the space has been given over to a walkable multi media display that takes visitors through the life, times and work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 

The half hour Rousseau tour gave me just enough time to get back to the cathedral and to discover the memory card in my recorder was full.  So, I finally decided to give up on that little project.
pencil on paper.

The day was bright and upon first leaving the apartment, seemed to be of a reasonably tolerable temperature.  Because of this, I thought I might be able to do some sketching outside which I hadn't  done to that point since it had been too cold for comfort - or raining/snowing on previous days.  Having walked and even sat on a bench for a short while, I conluded that it was actually pretty fucking cold and that stiff wind was of no additional benefit.  I did persist in making a sketch of some bricked over windows in a building adjacent to the cathedral...and took notice of an attraction, a pit in the ground which as it turns out was once a ye olde jail cell for children.  This practice of drawing from observation is something I have less patience for now, even when my fingers aren't frozen.
I moved on aimlessly from there.  
I neglected to mention the visit Mathias and I made to MAMCO the previous Wednesday evening.  I won't get into that visit here, but that night we met an artist who works as a museum guide and one task on my list for this Sunday was to stop by the museum and leave my contact info to do a recording session with him.  As I descended from on high in the vieille ville in the direction of the museum, I spied the chess players engaged in matches in the Bastions which provided the opportunity to fulfill another task on my list: shoot some heavy chess action.  

I spent many a moment, watching the players in the park, making sketches in '92.  I can taste the sound of the plastic chessmen hitting and scratching along the pavement.  I don't know why this cadre of sounds manifests as an almost-taste, but they do.  I recorded most of a game played to a draw by some older, I think, Eastern European men. 

A found composition just around the corner from MAMCO.

A minor dilemma I faced on this trip was balancing my time out on the streets versus time inside working and reflecting.   I didn't go to Geneva simply to sit inside and work, although I did go to Geneva with the idea that I would be creating some form of new work from what would be drawn out of the experience of being there.  In the issue of allocating time, these two objectives are at odds, and the two of them together are typical indications of my sometimes unrealistic expectations. 

It was about mid afternoon, and my plan was to head home, have lunch and work on some drawings and collages, for awhile, then come out later in the afternoon to do a quick run through of the museum before taking in a bit of the Escalade parade scheduled from 5-8 that evening.

I ate, but but I did little else over the course of two hours except trying to work a last minute trip to Paris for the next day to meet with and interview Magali Aubert, publisher of the culture & fashion magazine Standard, and 21 years ago an exchange student staying with my family in CO.  I ended up postponing the trip until later in the week.
pencil on paper.

This abortive travel planning not only prevented me from getting any work done, it delayed my departing for the center of town, curtailing whatever visit to the museum I could muster. Originally, I figured I'd hit the museum until it closed at 18h and afterward take in a bit of the parade - since it was scheduled to last for three hours.

Making my way from the bus to the museum, I ran right into the parade, and that was it for the rest of the evening.  I was immediately transfixed by the sound of the fife and drums and the smell and sting of heavy smoke...lots of smoke, from the torches carried by participants in the procession.  And procession is really a more apt term for this assembly than parade.  There were no clowns or shriners in mini cars tooting around.  The whole affair was a striking reenactment, bringing to life the character of 1602, the date commemorated by the Escalade.  Any grumblings I had over the pear shaped nature of most of my day were wiped away by the sensory entrancing stream of humanity threading into the past.  The first sound I heard was that of a fife and drum group, one of several that passed by.  A small brass section could be heard in the distance, occasionally letting go of some heraldic flourish.  But it was the fire and smoke that brought it all together, giving it all a dangerous and dirty authenticity.  

Several of the horses in the procession sported a special grooming that I had never seen before (I've spent no time looking at horses' grooming).  In evidence in this photo, the neck and flanks were shaved in a form like a sweeping wave.  The legs and top of the rump were unshaven, and appear darker brown.  I'm not sure of the purpose or historical significance, but I found it wild and beautiful.
When the last of the line came and went, I mounted steps to the old city to catch the procession again, twice more, as it wound its way through the ancient narrow streets which added heft to the splendor of the scene.  I broke away from the crowd that was maneauvering for another encounter with the human train and I ended up in the plaza in front of the cathedral where a pyre had been prepared, evidence that additional makings were afoot.

More and more people added themselves to the growing numbers waiting for something in the square, although it wasn't clear to me what all was yet in store.  A Long wait, (2 hours and then some) after which a chorus presented an extended performance which was irregularly audible in from my flank of the of plaza, after which another interval of inactivity reigned, after which, finally, the head of the procession made way into the clearing.  I was truly surprised to see that during the entire time I was standing in the square waiting, the parade participants had indeed continued winding through the city streets.  The area is not that large, and a lot of ground can be covered in 3 hours.  I assumed that at some point the parade would have broken up and everyone gone their separate ways by this point, but no, they all filed in, some filing through and some taking position on the cathedral steps.  Finally, the last of the horsemen arrived one of whom was a...was he a baron?  I don't know the proper title of the fellow portrayed, but he delivered a proclamation relating to the successful repulsion of the Savoyard, and finally, the pyre was set ablaze.  Smokey and bright, 20 foot flames and and swarms of cinders roiling and billowing wildly in the winds being channeled through the narrow cobbled streets.
drawing, pencil, gouache on paper.

Feeling satisfied I had seen all that was to bee seen, and satisfied that I had withstood the temptation to flee earlier, I fled with frozen toes down to the bus stop for my return home.  It was cold in the afternoon, and it had only become extreemely more so in the dark of the night, probably the coldest evening of my entire stay.

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