Enforced Farrago Skink
The month was kicked off in merry style at 6am in damp and swirling mists by the Ferrette Morris dancers at the Landskron Castle. Symbol of Leymen, the castle, built at the end of the thirteenth century, is the recognized skyline and logo of the village. Although the very top of the square tower of the castle has been roped off for some weeks, preventing access to one of the best panoramic views in the whole region, visitors to it have sometimes been taken aback by a life-like statue languishing morosely behind bars in one of the cells of the castle tower. From 1690 until 1789 the castle was an annexe of the notorious Bastille in Paris. The most famous of its prisoners was American-born Bernard Duvergier, who committed indiscretions with a French lady in the court at Versailles, was served with a royal arrest warrant – a dreaded lettre de cachet – by a jealous witness to the act, then imprisoned without trial in the Landskron in 1769. He went there thinking it was some sort of open prison and had brought his mandolin, papers and writing materials, but the unexpected terms of the order were so strict that he was solitarily confined for over twenty years. It is said that the young lady, with whom he had so catastrophically dallied, never forgot him and never stopped looking for him after his enforced disappearance, and it was she who found him over 20 years later in Leymen and freed him. Tragically by then the luckless Duvergier had lost his mind completely and his body was too weak to survive. He died in a hospital in Strasbourg just a few weeks after being released by his lover. (Promenade pittoresque de Bale à Bienne, 1796. Publiée en 1809. T.ii, p.14.) The castle survived the French revolution but was destroyed in 1813 by the Austrian and Bavarian armies fighting against Napoléon. After that, the castle fell victim to the French national heritage following a brief relationship with a barrel of monkeys.
A Weberhaus has been going up next door, the second new house in the vicinity, and we had our future new neighbors to dinner one evening after a day in which the most of the three-floor structure was in place within hours. It changes our view of the road for the better, since the neighborhood has become even more communautaire than it was, and it replaces an ungainly car park. The essential social introductions have been made – between the neighbours’ brindle boxer Desi and our Bonnie (who, we have just learnt, is actually a Lurcher, and not really a Schnauzer after all).
All three of our girls have spent much time this month preparing for exams. Jessie went back to Brighton after a week of intense study for her university finals, which are now all completed, and having made and inspired Alli into making some amazing Master Chef style meals, especially curries.
Of particular note was an exceptionally fruity curry Jessie cooked one night. On the night before her birthday we had dinner at the highly rated Basel restaurant Der Schlussel zum Kunft.
Ella was elected Editor of the Loughborough University magazine, Label, for her final year. Cautiously, she had kept her candidacy a secret and only told us when she had won. This is a really impressive achievement, given the scope and size of the magazine, let alone the size of the university. She was also in a team that won a University award for being the most improved department, or something like that. It looked like a good excuse for a party, anyway. A very excited Gwen took some time off revising for her exams to go to the One Direction concert in Zurich with three of her very excited friends.
Alli and I drove them there and had dinner together at Le Muh in the vicinity of the Hallenstadion. I have never seen so many teenage girls in one place as outside that stadium. There was 60s-style screaming in the air. Boys of any description were nowhere to be seen. Somehow it felt thrillingly pre-revolutionary.
We had an evening of beautifully cooked Turkish meze dishes with Dawn and Andy and other friends whilst half-watching the very predictable Eurovision Song Contest. Where has the UK popular vote for its own song choice gone? Ever since the BBC decided to treat the decision as too serious for the general public, and one to be taken behind closed doors rather than subject to democratic vote (as in Britain’s Got Talent) our entries have been the genuinely mad choices of a few half-wits with less of a clue than the average High Court judge. The whole sorry farrago should now go to Ant, Dec, and Simon Cowell while the BBC Light Entertainment Division is blown up without prior warning. The Eurovision/Turkish meze evening was balanced beautifully later in the month by an equally brilliant evening of conviviality featuring Greek dishes cooked and hosted by our friends Koula and Andreas, and yet another at L’Ange with Maggie, Anne, Chris and Dave. Isn’t the sharing of food and wine a wonderful way to make and keep friends?
There was a service of thanksgiving on the 11th May at the Canongate Church in Edinburgh for the life of my cousin Jan Strudwick, who died of cancer late last month. Over the weekend I stayed at the Royal Scots Club (near to which I sampled a Cullen Skink for lunch at a local bar on the Sunday). I was very glad to spend time with Anne, Peter and their daughters Georgie, Liz and Anna, as well as Mark, Richard, Madeleine, Andrew, Juliet and many others. I saw my brother Clive and most of the many family descendents of the Vivers. Although I had been well informed by her sister over past months of Jan’s illness, the news of her death was nevertheless shocking. But the thanksgiving service was a perfect farewell, with a most appropriate tone set in the readings and recalls, and completed with a military bagpiper at the gate. I can believe her husband Mark’s revelation that after a quiet week at home from hospital, having allowed all her family plenty of time to arrive from around the world, she died peacefully, and then only after she had been assured that the garden was tidy and all the animals had been fed.
RIP Janet Elizabeth Strudwick