December 08, 2004
Escalade is one tasty time of year
It's a holiday in Geneva, Switzerland, celebrated on the night of the 11th to the 12th of December. Escalade literally means "climbing," and refers to the unsuccessful attempt of the troops of the Duke of Savoy (from neighboring France) to scale the walls of the City of Geneva in 1602 and conquer it.
So you had these Savoyard soldiers climbing up ladders and threatening to take over this wonderful Swiss city. BUT! But, but, but. You see, there was this lady, a mother of fourteen children, who is now honored as "Mère Royaume" (mother of the realm) because she was brave enough to throw her big hot pot of scalding vegetable soup on the heads of the encroachers! Clearly that was the decisive factor in the failed invasion, don't you think?
And this is why all Geneva celebrates the holiday by smashing to-die-for chocolate "marmites" (pronounced Mahr-MEET; it means big soup pots) filled with marzipan vegetables, and eating them with gusto! Just before the oldest and youngest people in the room smash the marmite with their fists, everyone has to shout,
Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République!!!
...which means "This is how the enemies of the Republic perish!" (smash!)
Gare, gare, Savoyards!
...which means "Beware, watch out, you Savoyards!" (smash!)
Other than marmite-eating, the holiday is marked with sales of real vegetable soup on the streets, a footrace through the Old Town, children dressing up and singing for tips in restaurants (a bit like Hallowe'en, but with some talent involved), and a special narrow passageway in the city walls being opened for curious pedestrians (only one day a year!). There is also an Escalade song, whose tune I don't know. But here are the lyrics, in some kind of ancient French I only partly understand.
One site says:
The highlight of the festival is the torchlight procession through the Old Town by participants in period costume, with musketeers, horsemen, pipers and drummers, to the accompaniment of crackers and gun salutes. Many people appear in fancy dress and the carnival atmosphere is enjoyed by all.
But I completely disagree about the parade being the highlight. As a chocolate lover, the marmite eating is clearly the best part of the holiday. ;-) Especially as a sort of ex-patriot, an American who grew up in Geneva, now living thousands of miles away from regular consumption of Swiss chocolate. I order my annual chocolate marmite via email from Rohr.com (they don't even have it on their website, and I have never been able to find any site offering marmites; it's too specialized and seasonal, I suppose). I eagerly await the arrival of the package. Then I think extremely briefly about waiting all the way until the 11th or 12th of December, and decide it would be a shame to let the chocolate get any less fresh than it is, already having travelled so far and all. And the first night that the four of us are home and available, we review the history and geography and French language with the kids, and: CHANT! SMASH! CHOMP! GULP! SMACK! SMILE! It's a holiday celebrated from afar with delight. We received our precious, delicious, fun, historical package yesterday, but David was working late. Hopefully tonight?
Our 2004 marmite was transported by air 6,000 miles and arrived intact except for all three handles falling off. I managed to coax them to climb back on for a few minutes to take photos. Doesn't it look like it has its hands on its hips?
I wish I could transmit the intoxicating aroma of this true Swiss chocolate on my blog. All the chocolate lovers would be swooning. There is something really different about Swiss chocolate than American chocolate. Less wax, for one thing. Perhaps also something about the milk from those European cows, so happy in the beautiful Alps. I don't know. My two years in Massachusetts, 15 years in Geneva, and now 15 years back in the U.S., have left my heart feeling part Genevan, part New Englander, and part Californian. But I still feel an intense loyalty to all things Swiss, lo these many years after having moved away.
December 8, 2004 | Permalink
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Thanks for sharing! What a wonderful holiday. Enjoy your chocolate!
Posted by: Sami Perkins | Dec 8, 2004 8:38:27 PM