Friday, December 28, 2012

Past Ghosts

Castle Chillon in a stormy mood, Creative Commons - Pear Biter.

Watching an excellent cartoon Christmas Carol (Dickens) over the holiday period, the part where Christmas past comes to the fore made me remember, the Swiss Christmases I spent long years ago.  Widowed at the early age of 27 with a young daughter, I sort of got adopted by my then husband's family and my daughter and I spent our holidays in Blonay.  Blonay is a village half way up a mountain called Les Pleiades, the town below was Vevey and just along the lake was Lausanne and Montreux where my sister-in-law worked.  My other sister-in-law lived in Hong-Kong as a lecturer.
I must have spent about 14 christmases there, and of course summer holidays.  Con, my father-in-law had retired from Unesco, and in his retirement was faced by two young grand children, my daughter and her cousin Marc to entertain.  He would drive us up into the mountains to wander round a lake or to eat the most delicious meringues sandwiched with cream. 
Ex-pats of course live in Switzerland, though many of the people around us worked for Nestles the chocolate people in Vevey.  Down from Lotta's bungalow in our small lane there was a church 'house' which was used by vicars on holiday from England.
Lotta my mother-in-law was kind, had been very beautiful in her younger days.  She had followed Con round the world living in a whole host of places, in Africa, Mauritius, Haiti, Persia as it was then called, then Paris and America.
From the following photos you will see us all gathered, dressed up for a meal perhaps, Xmas Eve was the celebratory time in the household, midnight mass at Grandpa's church in Territet (he was a church warden) the xmas tree lit with real candles precariously held by snap on holders.
We could see the lake from the garden, and you could watch storms come over the French mountains, whipping the lake up to a frenzy in a very short time, so that the paddle wheel ferry boat would not be able to dock.  Out in the lake is a very small island, English owned, it was given to Queen Victoria in her time and has a small chateau on it.  Across from this on the main land was the famous Chateau Chillon of Bryon fame.

As I wander through the old photos remembering past times, and seeing the faces, some now dead sadly, it draws the nostalgia out of the air, the bright sunny crisp air of Switzerland, great brown cows with heavy bells round their necks up in the summer pastures, fondues, we still have the 'ritual' fondue at Xmas, the strong smell of Gruyere cheese at that pretty town, and on wandering through the net yesterday came across these few words about Con, a wise and gentle person who lived a good life.

"One of the troubles of living with the trappings of power, even though the power is very moderate, is that it quickly goes to the head even among those least likely to be corrupted. I noticed it in myself but I never noticed it in Conrad Opper, even though he had started his career in the colonial services in what was at the time Rhodesia. In Thailand he was greatly appreciated for his gentleness and was very content. In Tehran, where Conrad Opper was head of the UNESCO Mission, I fear that his gentleness was taken for feebleness and he was so unhappy that I fear he was 'walked over.' The day after I arrived there to join him, he was very happy to receive an invitation to move on to New York to serve as UNESCO's liaison officer at the head office of UNICEF, the UN's International Children's Emergency Fund"

front row; Marc, Karen, me; Back Row; friend,  Lotta, Florine, Sylvia, Eugene, Annabel, friend of Marc.

Note our finery, still got that dress!
Con, Lotta, me, Karen, Michael and daughter (Canadian side of the family)
You can tell from the photo that Marc is taking the photo and we are all cross with him..


  1. Thelma what a lovely insight into your past and a wonderful description of a country I've never been to. I have friends who have recently moved there so I feel slightly closer thanks to you.

  2. Your posts so often make me feel that I've journeyed into a life so different from mine. Fascinating tidbits.

  3. Hi Em, Switzerland is beautiful in places, dark wooden houses with bright red geraniums window boxes, but it is also very expensive, my family still go back. Marc now runs a sushi factory in the middle of a landlocked country can you believe it....

  4. Hi MM, I remembered last night that Lotta used to make patchwork dressing gowns lined with flannel for all of us. She collected batik fabrics, which I did not actually like.
    May think of doing another blog somewhere on family history as you do, if only for my grandchildren...


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