Academic Travel: Lausanne

Lausanne, CH

Thursday, 15 October

    Morning sunlight streams through the windows of the Cosmos bus. The scenic streets of French Lausanne roll by, the waves of Lake Geneva shining in the distance. I try and pretend it’s the ocean. The horizon is nothing but endless blue and beams of sun.

   We left Gite du Prilett yesterday morning immediately following breakfast. I was sad to leave the mountains and the tranquility of rural society, but we said our au reviors to the smiling chalet employees and once again boarded the Cosmos bus. Sat curled in our garishly upholstered seats and marveled at the world passing by. Valleys of vineyards and agriculture cultivated in stripes and rows, ancient chateaus and snow-capped mountains lining the horizon. Signs all in French and an increasing prevalence of art deco styles in architecture.

   Our first stop was the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, a small art museum with an impressive collection of Manet, Picasso, and Van Gogh. We toured a beautiful exhibition of paintings in impressionist and cubist styles, viewed an overwhelming selection of old cars, and took a walk in the outdoor sculpture garden. Such intricate, glorious representations of even the most minute details of life, so varied and full of emotion – and all gathered in small-town Switzerland, in a small, dark building. I was unsure if the location did such masterpieces justice, but was brought once again to the thought that always lingers in the back of my mind: Why not just become an artist? What better use of time than to express the joys, sorrows and transitions of life through something as unusually powerful as art? I must remind myself of the privilege of studying. The desire to create beautiful things is overpowering.

   We ate lunch at an overpriced roadside stop by an artificial lake in a shocking shade of turquoise. Sat outside in the sun and drank fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. If only all roadside stops could be that classy… It was very Swiss. Kyle made the interesting decision of spending his 50 CHF food money on maps and starving instead, and proceeded to eat birdseed (more or less) and Nutella® with his hands on the bus. It could also be of note that Kyle has begun a trend of photographing Adrienne whenever she falls asleep on the Cosmos bus. He is assembling an entire album that he plans to later present to her as a gift. Surely the cause of much hilarity later…

    The road led our bus to the shores of Lake Geneva, which reminded me, at a glance, of the ocean – endless grey-blue water, soaring seagulls, sailboats, and crisp, cool breeze much healthier than in Lugano. A massive fortress loomed in the waters ahead. Chateau Chillon, our next destination: a huge compilation of medieval towers, spires and flags surrounded on all sides by water. We disembarked from the Cosmos bus and shuffled, shivering in the lakeside wind, inside the stony walls of the castle. A grueling 2-hour tour ensued, during which I did my best not to pass out due to fatigue, hunger, cold, or a combination of all of the above. We toured a huge variety of rooms inside the chateau and their functions – a prison/storage room, which Lord Byron engraved his name in – then a church, banquet halls, living quarters, artillery rooms, etc. The purpose of the chateau changed continuously, so its history was very complex… if only I had been more awake or interested. It was an incredible structure, but such guided tours rarely succeed in holding my attention. While I enjoy being spoken to, I have less appreciation for being talked at. I was truly delighted to once again board the bus and continue to Lausanne.

    Lausanne exceeds my expectations in every sense. It lacks the quiet, uneventful feeling present in most of Switzerland’s beautiful cities. On the contrary, I find it quite lively. Perhaps I, personally, am better suited to French culture than to German, or Italian? It encompasses all the romantic beauty of the essential Switzerland- mountains in the distance, clean streets, nature present everywhere- but also pays greater attention to fine detail and an appreciation for modern society. Buildings rise from cobblestone streets in exquisite styles and colors, every window complete with a balcony, its metal worked into intricate designs. The airspace between the buildings is cluttered with cables that carry trams throughout the city’s framework. People are everywhere, rushing from one place to another in the fresh, healthy air. I immediately love Lausanne.

   Dinner was an independent affair. I ate Chinese food with Adrienne, Kyle, Cam, Neil and Thomas, and decided to stay at the hotel in the evening (a wise choice, I feel, after the fondue experience of the night before).

    Today was absolutely brilliant. I ate breakfast with Adrienne in charming hotel restaurant. The atmosphere was hushed and all one heard was the gentle clinking of coffee cups against their saucers and the occasional crunch of a flaky croissant. Sunlight illuminated the pink tablecloths and garish flower arrangements.

   Off to a confiserie! Swiss chocolatiers led us into a laboratory, where we were presented with everything needed to make both chocolate pie and truffles! One by one, we heated cream, mixed it by hand with chocolate and butter, and poured it into butter crusts… the Swiss men strolled alongside our tables in white chef’s clothes, smiling and making gentle suggestions in French. They whisked our creations off to the refrigerator and presented us with balls of dark chocolate, which we rolled in milk chocolate smeared on our palms, and dropped into trays of bitter cocoa powder. Everyone in the group was soon covered in chocolate, licking their palms and pouring leftovers directly into their mouths. The Swiss men laughed at us as delicious aromas wafted from the doors of their workroom. They then presented a history of Swiss chocolate, which SSB translated for us. The Swiss were initially known for their chocolate because they were the first to mix it with milk. The chocolate that this confiserie uses is actually produced elsewhere, but it is the confiserie’s job to blend the different kinds to cultivate a unique flavor. Cocoa beans were broken open and spilled across the tabletop. Our entire group left in great spirits, with a bag of truffles and chocolate pie in hand.

   Adrienne and I wandered the area around the Lausanne train station in the early afternoon and bought panini from a street vendor. We munched on the steaming sandwiches on the way back to the hotel and feasted on our chocolate pies in our room. Listened to Regina Spektor. Sang along.

   SSB, in a brilliant display of group leading skills, managed to get all 17 of us aboard a tram to the Musee de la Brut – a collection of masterpieces created by outsiders of society. Those in mental institutions, mostly, created art not to seek the recognition of others, but because it was their only means of expressing themselves. SSS, explained the tour guide: Silence, Secrecy, and Solitude. Stories were told of desperate individuals locking themselves in bathroom stalls for hours or days on end with paper and colored pencils, of 40 years spent tracing figures from children’s books, of 15,000 page sagas with no sense of chronology.

     Aloise’s drawings were huge, numerous, expanding in every direction, wild with brilliant color and passionate life. Vivid scenes of human interaction, decadent, beautiful lovers with eyes unseeing. Extravagance. She lived out her sensuality in an imaginary world, they said – in her “theatre of the universe”. Colors depicted relationships in various hues and shades of brightness.

   The museum displayed, without question, the best art I have ever seen. Art created from the heart, with no consideration of culture or recognition, is truly rare. Emotionally, it was the most intense display of imagery that probably exists. Anne Deriaz said something interesting on the subject of personal and emotional involvement in creative work: “The more personal you are, the more universal you are.” People relate most strongly to personal emotions, and in the Musee de la Brut, no hesitations were made.

   Initial fascination and wonder at the museum’s works faded with time to a general unease. No pictures here were made for love – everything depicted emotional damage, frustration, and turmoil. I was slightly relieved when we left.

   Extremely satisfied with the day, we decided to make a party of our last night in Lausanne. We had been receiving 50 CHF a day for food, and discovered the economic boost this provided if we ate at McDonalds. For example: One cheeseburger costs 2.50 CHF. One cheeseburger is barely enough for a meal for me. Lunch, done. Dinner, done. 45 CHF in my pocket, every day! Needless to say, we dined at McDonalds after walking around town for a while and visiting an amazing outdoors shop with Kyle.

   Adrienne, Kyle, Thomas, Neil, Cam and I spent the evening hanging out at the hotel, at McDonalds, and at a lively pub serving artisan beer. Quite the evening.


2 thoughts on “Academic Travel: Lausanne

  1. Bonjour :) I really enjoyed reading your travelogue through this area I know well. I am happy you had a good time in Martigny (Giannada) and Lausanne, a town I lived in for a while. Bon voyage et bon séjour en Suisse :)

  2. The world could use a photographer/journalist like you!!! The imagery in your words combined with your photos are simply amazing…you have a gift and you use it well!!! Miss you bunches!

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