Every fall now, my memory turns to Lausanne, where I had my first vendage (the cutting of the grapes) at my friend’s place in Lutry, two short stops east of Lausanne’s main train station. And I quaffed mout, the frothy stuff that heralds the first pressing of the year’s grapes.
Their condo rests smack in the vineyards on a rise overlooking Lac Leman, itself a ten-minute walk away through a medieval village. And the man whom you’ve seen tending the grapes all summer brings you a ritual basketful still warm from the fall sun. heady stuff, the vendage.
Lausanne itself is a cultural cornucopia, with something for every interest. If you walk five minutes up the street facing the outdoor buffet at the station, you arrive at the Museum of the Olympics. I’m no sports nut, but the swatch of posters they have adorned their exhibition rooms walls is a fine romp, especially rich in the Art Deco era but covering all their do’s, winter and summer. Upstairs is a library, if your mind runs to records.
Lausanne seems built on a ten-degree slope, and there is a boppy funicular that takes you from the medieval down to the rivage, where one of Byron’s favorite inns is still at your disposal. Try first the Fine Arts Museum, which really runs up a slope, with fine art on one floor, natural history on another, a kind of progression of the humanities and sciences. It’s actually a recycled university, the new digs for which are prize-winning architecture in the suburbs.
The cathedral has its own mini-museum, and since there’s been a lot of ebb and flow in the religious life of the region, it too is a must stop for the intellectually curious. The last time I dropped by, there was a fascinating exhibit on the 400th anniversary of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Sent me scrambling to a history book.
It was a big deal in Lausanne because much of the economic energy of the Swiss came form those Huguenot refugees from France, which shot itself in the foot fiscally by throwing the freethinkers out. Later, down the road in Geneva, Voltaire took refuge.
One of the newest museums there is the Elysee’ Photography Museum. Last spring and summer, it showed no fewer than five concurrent exhibitions on the theme of India, which followed up its USA art-as-tourism extravaganza of 1985 with a similar one all over Switzerland. The museum itself is a recycled stately house with a spectacular view of the downside of the city and the lake.
Like the Hotel de Sale Grasai in Venice, the Elysee’ tells us what we ought to be doing with our Fairmount Park mansions if our money went where our values say they are.
The Elysee’ is also notable for its sales room of postcards, posters and prints of photography. Its offerings are among the broadest and deepest in Europe—and that from a dead start! It also has the friendliest gramp of a concierge, who is almost a show on his own.
There is also a singular museum of so-called Art Brut, that genre of art by the disturbed, or insane, or merely obsessive. Their permanent collection is a nightmare of wonders. Sometimes their temporary exhibitions seem to me to be merely quirky folk art, but it’s definitely one of a kind stuff. The museum has a somber tea room to wind down in as well, a short walk through park grounds.
But aside from the Museum of Applied Art—which staged a succulent Art Deco exhibit of objects manufactured in plastic two summers ago and is always worth a visit—the main attraction in Lausanne is the annual retrospective of the Hermitage Foundation.
This year (through November 14) it has been Magritte’s turn. I’ve grown tired of many of the moderns, but never of Magritte. At first it was the Belgian’s spooky surreal night-light pieces. And those still give me the shivers. But now it’s his transformational pieces, in which stones become trees, and trees become flesh, and clouds become earthly.
The Hermitage has them all, as well as a first-class catalog, in which I was amused to learn that the two important things that most interested Magritte on his only visit to New York City were Edgar Allan Poe and cop thrillers of the kind he battened on at home. Very surreal.
Another great thing about Lausanne is its railway station lockers. For two Swiss francs, you can park your gear and wander up in one direction to Geneva, down in the other to Zurich. It’s a good entrepot for exploring Switzerland by Eurail pass. The last day I spent at the Basel Air Fair, having scooped up my gear between trains.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, November 4, 1987
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