The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

Author:Padraig Rooney
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Quercus
Published: 2015-12-15T05:00:00+00:00

When you leave the motorway for the lakeside road to Montreux, the town takes you by surprise. One overgrown fishing village blends into another: St Saphorin, Vevey, La Tour de Peltz, Clarens. They sound like wines or perfumes or skin creams. They smell of money. You’re there before you know it. The streets slope downwards, following old vineyard paths on the hillside, conveying you to the lake. Distracted by the view of the Dents du Midi, reined in by the speed cameras, you need to keep an eye on the road. Only past the forecourt of the station – a gap between tunnels – does the playground character of the town begin to assert itself. Jewellers and casinos, Carpe Diem Nails, a gold medallion in the chest hair of a gigolo or an off-duty croupier. But an espresso machine bangs and clicks, there’s a wide selection of international glossies on the racks, and as you swing onto the promenade you begin to think in terms of a drink with a paper umbrella in it.

Parking is a problem. You roll the windows down on both sides. There’s plenty of eye candy. The women look kept. The men have the swagger of keepers. Balmy air off the lake adds a chop to the water, carrying smells of frying fish and Chanel No. 5 across the promenade. Palm trees this far north. Then a little red T-model hatchback pulls out just below the Montreux Palace, pumping drum ’n’ bass, the shaven-headed driver in shades, and you slide your thirteen year-old Peugeot into the vacant space and let it idle there for a minute, not believing your luck. A Caipirinha, you think. Maybe a mint julep.

The atmosphere of a nineteenth-century spa still clings to Montreux and to the gold coast towns of Switzerland. None is new to the hospitality business; they’re all grown-up babes. In A Little Swiss Sojourn, William Dean Howells describes the town’s charms and seems to pre-figure Vladimir Nabokov’s stay here:

What struck me principally in Montreux was its extreme suitability to the purposes of the international novelist…

There is a very pretty theatre in the Kursaal, where they seldom give entertainments, but where, if you ever go, you see numbers of pretty girls, and in a box a pale, delicate-looking middle-aged Englishman in a brown velvet coat, with his two daughters. The concert will be very good, and a young man of cultivated sympathies and disdainful tastes could have a very pleasant time there.4

By 1960, the writer Vladimir Nabokov was an older man of cultivated sympathies and disdainful tastes. What brought him to Montreux for the final sixteen years of a wandering life? He was returning to Europe after two decades soaking up American Cold War democracy. The runaway succès de scandale of Lolita (1955) had made him wealthy,5 following émigré poverty in Berlin and twenty years of postwar teaching in American Ivy League colleges. But why an ice-cream and casino town like Montreux?


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