Antone Jain, ’07
We explored Lausanne, hiked in Leysin, walked through the Castle of Chillon, visited Bern and Geneva, rehearsed and performed two concerts in the Cathedral of Lausanne, and ate like the Swiss.
First Day in Lausanne
Our troop of 40 MIT concert choir singers from all over the United States and the world arrived to the Lausanne, Switzerland, Main Station on Friday. We were greeted by our Swiss hosts and dispersed by foot or bus to our temporary homes. After my host Nicolas walked me up the winding cobbled street to his apartment, he took off for the lab, and I went exploring. The old French speaking city was full of fashionably dressed people and new hip shops. Many people casually smoked cigarettes. I made my way down the hill to the Main Station to buy a bus pass for the week. On my way back I heard the voice of my fellow tenor Jeff call out my name. Jeff was roaming around the city with Pak, Tania, Jingwen, and Vicki. I gladly joined the group, and we made our way downhill towards Lake Geneva. We came across a full sized poster advertising our concert. Apparently, the posters were all across the city. Our concert tickets were selling for 20 to 30 Swiss Francs!
We continued onward to the expansive clear blue Lake Geneva. Small French towns dotted the far end of the lake and behind them rose up the snowcapped French Alps. We strolled along the lake and gawked at the view. At dusk we happened upon a live band playing Spanish music. We sat down at one of the picnic tables to listen to classics like “Guantanamera” and contemporary méringue songs. Couples and children danced freely by the stage. After eating a bite and soaking up the music, we continued walking, and to our delight came to a carnival with a plethora of rollercoasters. We had a blast! Pak and I rode a log boat down a steep slide into water with a big splash. Tania, Vicki and I rode a five minute long tornado coaster, which would come to a stop three times, making us think we were done, and then speeding up again. Jeff and Pak rode the immense windmill arm coaster. (We had to buy their tickets since they didn’t want to ride it but seeing them fly by upside down was well worth the cost.)
Hiking in the Swiss Alps
We took a morning train to Leysin for our day of hiking in the majestic Swiss Alps. Our group consisted of five MIT students and two Swiss hosts. The Swiss led the way, taking us along a six mile trail to the peak. The views of the mountains were breathtaking! When we began it was warm and sunny, and yellow and blue wildflowers lined the trail. After three miles, we reached the snow and it got cold. We could tell that the mountains were relatively young on geologic time scales (just 100 million years old) since they were so jagged. From the ridge top we could see Lake Geneva in the distance. When we finally reached the summit we warmed up with a drink of hot chocolate in the visitor’s center. Then we rode the gondola down to the base.
The first day we went to Geneva, we accidentally took the wrong train an hour out of our way to Sion. However, it was not a wasted journey because we got to know each other and told stories and jokes on the ride. The tourist book says getting where you’re going is half the fun. We toured the first United Nations headquarters, the Palais des Nations. The halls and debate chambers were stately. We learned that the U.N. was founded after World War II with the goal of preventing a third world war.
Castle of Chillon
“Do, a deer, a female deer...” we sang jokingly as we rode our bicycles along Lake Geneva to the Château de Chillon. Along the journey we saw quaint old towns, wine vineyards draping the steep hillside, sparkling blue Lake Geneva, the snowcapped French Alps, and at last the Château. The thirteenth century medieval fortress guarded the narrow passage between the lake and the mountains and was used to collect taxes on merchandise heading to Italy. We walked through its eerie dungeons, the chambers of the princess and duke, the Aula Nova or festive hall of the Lords of the Castle, the museum with the crossbow and armor, the Knight’s Hall containing the crests of the Bernese High Bailiffs of Vevey, the Chapel of the Counts with computer-generated iconographic images overlaying the original paintings, the parapet walk, the treasury and keep. We could easily imagine the counts, dukes, duchesses and princesses residing in their chambers. The castle was cold, but the views from the artful windows and towers were exquisite. We were for a time transported through history to medieval Europe.
We performed the Ein Deutches Requiem by Johannes Brahms in the Notre Dame Cathedral of Lausanne. Built in the thirteenth century, the Gothic Cathedral was immense, with arched roof, spires, and flying buttresses. A spectacular stained glass rose window captures the sunlight on the South wall above the organ. Before we sang the President of Switzerland, Moritz Leuenberger, gave a speech about the importance of dialogue between cultures. He said that we students were taking the role of teachers and giving a lesson on international dialogue through our musical collaboration. We felt honored. We sang before a packed audience, every seat taken in the main aisles as well as in the fold out chairs along the walls. As we sang the sound echoed down the cathedral and reverberated back to us. We focused intently on the music and our conductor Jean-Christophe Aubert. He conducted with great emotion, his arms undulating up and down to emphasize the dynamics. We performed well with the orchestra, and the audience applauded us generously.
We visited Parliament, the bear pits, the Munster Cathedral, and the new Einstein museum exhibit. Parliament was ornately decorated with sculptors of historical figures and paintings. In the larger chamber of Parliament there is an immense wall mural of Lake Geneva. A white fairy is flying above the lake holding an olive branch to symbolize Switzerland’s neutrality. The smaller chamber is notable for having no interpreters, so everyone is expected to know German, French and Italian, three of the four official languages of Switzerland. The representatives are only paid for the time they spend in Parliament. Most of the politicians have a second job. After Parliament we walked through the city to the bear pits. Bern literally means “bears” in German. Bears are the city mascot. They have been kept in the two circular concrete pits since 1513. Plans were made to move the bears to a 10,000 square meter reserve, but funding has not yet been allocated (CNN 2004).
Since 2006 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, a new Einstein exhibit was opened in the Museum of History. In the exhibit we followed Einstein through his school years in Germany and Switzerland and through his career in science. Einstein lived in Bern and worked as a patent clerk while he developed the Theory of Relativity. He published six major papers there in 1905, including his paper on the photoelectric effect for which he received the Nobel Prize of 1921.
Our second concert was more relaxed then the first, but just as beautiful. We sang the Brahms Requiem, which contains unique meaning for each person. Some of the phrases in the Requiem begin with sounds like weeping (Die mit Tränen säen, they that sow in tears), and end with notes of hope (werden mit Freuden ernten, shall reap with joy) (Psalms 126:5-6). When I sang I was reminded of my grandmother’s death. The music lifted my sadness and brought me joy, just as the lyrics say.
After the concert we had a wine and cheese party to celebrate. Jean-Christophe thanked us MIT singers for coming and Bill thanked the Swiss. Jean-Christophe told many jokes and we were all giddy. To conclude the night we went to the Blue Lizard club and danced to international pop hits. We took over the dance floor with our black and red outfits and had a blast.
Needless to say, we were a bit sleepy during our morning tour of Integral and CERN. We learned about astronomy research and particle physics and saw an old telescope. The highlight of the day was climbing the spiral staircase up to the tower of the St. Pierre Cathedral where we enjoyed panoramic views of the city.
If you have never eaten Swiss fondue, you are in for a treat. The cheese is melted and served in a giant hot bowl like soup. You break off bite sized pieces of bread, impale them onto your long dipping fork, and then use the fork to dip the bread in the hot cheese melt. You swirl the bread around until a layer of cheese has formed around it and then eat your delightful hot fondue. The hot cheese moistens and warms the bread so it is soft and easy to chew. Whatever the Swiss do to their cows works because the cheese is extraordinary!
I’m sure you’ve tasted Swiss chocolate like Toblerone, but imagine eating it every day, sometimes twice a day! We consumed Swiss chocolate like it was water. On the train or mountainside or city bench, “Hey, want a piece of chocolate?” was always greeted affirmatively. Chocolatiers are the most delightful chocolate shops, full of chocolate of all different varieties and forms. The chocolatier ladies often didn’t speak English but were happy to give us whatever samples we pointed at, and they were well rewarded by our purchases afterwards.
And for all of you who eagerly await your 21st, it’s sweet sixteen in Switzerland. We frequented Les Brasseurs bar after rehearsals. They are known for their 5 liter beer towers and for being one of the few places that serve food after 7pm. We toasted to our favorite MIT Engineers Drinking Song.
Special thanks to our many MIT sponsors including: