swiss tradition...protecting the city and the heritage

saturday evening after stuffing ourselves on dinner at le bleu lézard and dessert at crêperie la chandeleur and in the company of our proud swiss friend, nael, we strolled to the cathedral to hear the famous guet. in 1405, following a large fire in a nearby district the city of lausanne appointed a guet or watchman to be on the lookout for signs of smoke and alert the townspeople if necessary. secondary to this important task he was also responsible for announcing the time every hour between 10pm and 2am. while the watchman no longer watches for fire, he has for the last 600 years continued to announce the time and last night we went to see for ourselves. sure enough after the clock struck 11pm and the belles chimed there was the faint sound of renato, the current guet almost singing in the distance. at first i thought, "that's it?" and just as disappointment started to creep in the sound grew louder as he made his way to all four sides of the cathedral to pronounce, "c'est le guet! il a sonné onze. il a sonné onze." (it's the nightwatch! it's eleven. it's eleven.) when he finished he looked down at his adoring crowd, cheering "bravo", and waved. i couldn't help but chuckle at the juxtaposition of people holding their iphones up to photograph a 600 year old tradition.

today is a swiss holiday and marks another very important swiss tradition, l'escalade. on the longest night of the year, between december 11 and 12 in 1602 the duke of savoy launched an attack on geneva, in an effort to return the calvinist city to catholicism. the attackers tried to enter the city by scaling the walls using huge ladders. according to legend catherine cheynel (mère royaume), seized a large cauldron of boiling vegetable soup (marmite) and dropped it onto one of the attackers killing him. with her contribution the genevoise were able to defeat the savoyards. now her soup is memorialized in confectionary form, with chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan vegetables, and candies wrapped in geneva colors of red and gold. tradition has it that the youngest person in the room smashes the marmite while reciting, "ainsi périssent les ennemis de la république!" (thus perish the enemies of the republic) on a side note the swiss don't mess around when it comes to chocolate. the chocolate that makes up the marmite and will eventually be crushed is delicious.
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i find comfort in the fact that as modern as the world becomes there are people committed to maintaining and preserving the richness of their history and culture and i love that this adventure has allowed me to experience and participate in a different country's traditions.