First Escalade Genève celebration in Shanghai

« Cé qu’è lainô, le Maitre dé bataille,
Que se moqué et se ri dé canaille,
 A bin fai vi, pè on desande nai,
Qu’il étivé patron dé Genevoi. »

Such unusual verses could be heard near the restaurant “Geneva” in Shanghai on the evening of December 12th, sung by almost 200 friends and spectators of one of the oldest and most known ancient customs in the French part of Switzerland. The text is in an old local idiom and tells about the “lord of the fight” proving that he is the protector of Geneva.

With the yearly celebration of the “Fête de l’Escalade”, the people of Geneva commemorate the successful defense of their city against a surprise attack of troops sent by the Savoyan Duke Charles Emmanuel I in the night of December 11th 1602. The citizens courageously prevented the soldiers from climbing the city walls (a climb in French is an escalade). The legends also tell the story of Catherine Cheynel, the wife of Pierre Royaume, also called „Mère Royaume“, who poured a large bowl of hot soup from above the town gate onto the attackers, significantly helping the town’s people to rouse against the Savoyan troops.

swissnex China and the Swiss General Consulate were proud to present the first Shanghai “Escalade” celebration, an evening filled with medieval flair, traditional costumes and delightful dining. Thanks to the perfect organization by Christina Myers (swissnex China) and Marc-André Siegrist (Swiss General Consulate Shanghai), every detail of the tradition had been taken care of, from homemade glue wine to a real Swiss Raclette. They even made the symbolic pot, the Marmite, from a kilogram of the finest Swiss chocolate with their own hands!

The front-court of the restaurant, covered by a huge tent, was beautifully decorated with Geneva flags, pennants and selected pieces of ancient armory and inside the restaurant the walls were covered with printouts of an impressive comic series telling the story of the famous night in December 1602.

But no Escalade celebration would be complete without the traditional race through the city, which has been introduced in 1978. Thus, at an early stage of the evening, a good 40 people, among which were about 15 children, got together in front of the restaurant and competed in a laid-back run around the block, observed by many amazed looks from the Chinese locals on the sidewalk.

Planning with a crowd of about 60 people in the beginning, the organizers were overwhelmed by the rush of registrations, tripling the number of participants to 180. Amongst those were about three dozens of Geneva origin, proudly representing the lead singers and dancers in a series of ancient performances. One of the evening’s highlights was the ardent chanting of two traditional Escalade songs “Cé qu’è lainô” and “Ah! La Belle Escalade!”, delivered as karaoke versions in phonetic language on a big screen for everybody to sing along. The end of a truly exhilarating celebration was marked by a rhythmic dance around a fireplace made of colored ribbons flickering in the airstream of an illuminated ventilator. One could really feel carried back to the 17th century, luckily no Savoyan soldiers were luring behind the walls of restaurant Geneva, waiting for the perfect moment to attack the party!


- Contributed by Niklaus Waldvogel, Academic Intern