February 27th, 2010


So where was I?

Ah yes, Annecy.

Annecy is massive. By which I mean the architecture is massive- lowering house fronts with buttresses and cavernous arcades. I'm guessing the old town is mostly- or at least basically- medieval. Has the massiveness something to do with living among mountains? I think so. I am reminded that Le Corbusier-  modern master of the massive- who found a kind of world-denying spirituality in the massive and brutal- was from this part of the world.

The town's most famous former citizen is St. Francois de Sales- who was bishop here in the early seventeenth century- and on the frontine of the war between Rome and John Calvin's Geneva. All I know about him is what I've read in Wikipedia, but he seems to have been charming, witty and humane. The Counter-Reformation is not my favourite intellectual and cultural movement, but if I'd been around at the time and forced to choose between Calvin's Geneva and de Sales' Annecy I don't think I'd have had much difficulty choosing de Sales. He is, on the strength of having written a number of stylish devotional works, the Vatican-designated patron of writers and journalists.

There's a campaign to get Annecy and its lake declared a World Heritage Site. Right on! I say. Also they'd like to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

This is a famous view. The bridge at the end of the vista is called "the bridge of love".

This is a detail of the facade of the late 17th century Hotel de Sales which- according to a wall plaque- was where the Sardinian court (and no, I've no idea what they were doing here) used to hang out.

A typical square with a typical fountain.

Just dig how massive it all is.

A corner tower of the castle.

Climbing Taillefer

Following morning- Sunday morning- I climbed the hill behind the house. As far as I can make out, it's called Taillefer and it's over 600 metres. Part way up there's a grotto dedicated to Notre Dame du Duingt or- as she's variously called- Notre Dame du Lac. Which in English (lets spell it out) is The Lady of the Lake. I love the fringes of Roman Catholicism- where it shades off into Paganism- and even Animism.
A little higher up there's a statue of St Michael- spearing a rather fishy devil. He is so positioned against trees and sky as to be almost impossible to photograph.

I had no intention- on starting out- of going all the way to the top, but I'm ridiculously proud of myself  for managing it. Standing on the snowy summit I felt like Hilary and/or Tensing.

Because it was there...

Le Chateau Du Dhere

Sunday afternoon- as If I hadn't done enough- I went and had a look at the Chateau du Dhere- a 15th century house which lies about half a kilometre outside the village. In Britain a property like this would almost certainly be in the hands of the National Trust. But this is France- where there's no equivalent to the Trust- so it's in private hands- and there's no admittance.

In the evening we went and collected Matt with a view to us all going on a trip to Chamonix the following day.

Mont Blanc

Ruth had this dream of riding a cable car to the top of Mont Blanc- or as close as you can get- and drinking chocolate there. So we did what we could to realise it. To be honest it was a bit of a nightmare. The cable car was crowded and swayed like a ship and by the time we emerged on the pinnacle of L'Aigulle du Midi- and it really is a pinnacle- like something on the borders of Mordor- we were suffering from a combination of altitude sickness and sea-sickness which was seriously weird and unpleasant. I don't know if there was hot chocolate on offer- but if there was it was just about the last thing any of us would have wanted to contemplate- and the posh restaurant was closed. Ailz and I made a dizzy tour of the souvenir shop- which sells crud- and came down again on the next available car. Ruth and Matt lasted half an hour longer- but only- we learned later-  because Ruth was initially too giddy to move.  I would like to have some pictures to show you of the view from the summit, but it was blowing hard and cold on the observation platforms and I was afraid of losing my hat. At the bottom of the mountain- in the building housing the cable car- there's a nice, clean, little cafeteria to recover in. I had rabbit pie and frozen raspberry mousse- and I'll tell you what- it's almost impossible to get a really bad meal in France.
A few mountains have highly distinctive profiles- the Eiger for instance and the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc isn't one of them. The last of these photos certainly shows Mt Blanc. I'm not sure about the others.  


And here are my dauntless companions.....

CERN And Ferney-Voltaire

Monday morning was all about packing and cleaning the appartment. In the afternoon we drove Matt home to CERN. We'd hoped to take a tour of the visitor centre- the wooden globe in the photo below- but it was closed for repairs. CERN above ground looks like a business park.

With time on our hands, we went to Ferney- a not particularly pretty, small town-  famous as the home of Voltaire- and the site of his many, philanthropic and daring social experiments.   There's a statue- inscribed to Le patriarche de Ferney, a fountain with his bust on it, and a painting on the side of the hotel which shows him in silhouette, sitting, drinking some enlightenment beverage, legs crossed, with a slipper dangling from his toes. Voltaire was a very great man and a very good man- a secular saint- and I was moved to be in his presence. His so-called chateau, on the edge of town- is a tasteful and modest country house. I don't know if it opens to the public, but it was certainly closed on this occasion- and I got no closer than the gates.

In the evening we dined at the Coq Rouge in St Genois. I ate foie gras, fried in a raspberry vinegar sauce, veal kidneys in a gingerbread and mustard sauce and a coupe colonel- which is lemon sorbet with vodka. I've racked my brains to remember if I've ever had a better meal in the past 59 years- and I don't believe I have.