Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Treasures at the Gianadda

I left Meyrin on the 08h16 commuter train to connect with the inter city train at Cornavin, to arrive at Lausanne for my 09h15 rendezvous with my old friend pastor Valdo Richard. The train was one of those double decker affairs with a splendid view from upstairs. It filled the whole length of the station platform, the best part of 400 yards. Hundreds of people got on, and there were already many more passengers who'd got on at the airport. Swiss trains are well used. This one was going to the far east of the country - Zurich and then beyond to St Gall. What surprised me was just how many trains, both local and inter-regional, were operating, despite a night with snowfall. 

Since a third rail track between Geneva and Lausanne has come into service the journey time non stop to Lausanne has come down to thirty five minutes, as well as services being more frequent and of greater capacity. Swiss railways have had their economic problems like any other. Marginal services have been cut, but the demand for main line services crossing the country has increased, with economic development and further integration into the European Community. Although not without its problems, Switzerland truly is a place which continues to benefit from the globalisation of commerce.

Valdo and I breakfasted on hot chocolate and and croissants before taking a train to Martigny, along the shore of Lac Léman through early morning mist and low cloud. By the time we reached Vevey, the end of the low cloud was in sight ahead of us across the water, and sunlight was beginning to transfigure the panorama from the train, like a Turner painting. Such joy! By the time we reached Aigle, the skies were blue and the surrounding mountains on all sides were pristine with a fresh layer of snow. Martigny lies in a deep steep sided valley, and in winter, the sun doesn't appear above the crags until late morning, so it can be very cold, as low as -5C most of the day. A shuttle bus delivered us to the vicinity of the Gianadda art gallery, our destination for the day. Clare and I often came here when we lived in Geneva. It was Valdo's first visit. 

We'd come to an exhibition of Russian ikons from the Tretchiakoff collection, examples of fourteenth to seventeen century painting, featuring a couple of huge images of John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian, two of the Nicene Fathers by Andrej Rublev, and a crucifixion by Master Denis. My favourite icons in the collection are one of the Holy Face, reproducing the much older image 'not made with hands' (i.e. miraculously) the painted in the late 14th century, and a Trinity of earlier date, though not Rublev's famous one, but a rather simplified one with exquisitely subtle colouring. These, for me were images worthy of long contemplation.

We lunched in the St Bernard (dog) museum, and then went for a brisk walk up to Martigny's old town area. The mediaeval church in the central area is now re-deployed as a mortuary chapel, with three biers for coffins in separate viewing areas. All other liturgical furnishings had been removed, so it was only used for vigils. The door was open, and the place unattended. A notice advertised the presence within of an old lady recently deceased, and indeed, there she was uncovered and lying in state on public view. I've seen this arrangement in a village with a small ancient and a larger newer church the other side of the Alps from here, in Macugnaga. I guess it's local custom. It says a great deal about social stability and the low level of crime and disorder enjoyed in this community that it's possible to leave a corpse on display in an unattended public building, although I am of course forgetting all about CCTV cameras.

After our walk we re-visited the icons for another hour, then made our way back to the station, and left on a train that took me straight back to Geneva, bidding Valdo farewell in Lausanne en route. The return trip down the Rhone valley in evening sunlight was exquisite. By the time we reached Lausanne we'd re-entered the low cloud zone, and it was dark by journey's end.

After a quick shave, Keith Dale drove me through snowy streets across into France - for a supper date with Michael and Barbara Bell in Prévessin - Möens, border crossings no longer manned by douaniers, since Switzerland embraced the Schengen Agreement (open borders within the EC). Claudine tells me that the result of this is a nightmare for people visiting from outside the EC, as all visa applications now have to be done via Paris, rather than Berne, with a six week delay commonplace. I was given a lift home at one in the morning with snow falling fast and the roads empty and silent, not a soul around in this normally busy city.

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