"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 10 December 2007

Men with Guns

What was I saying about city patriotism? In Geneva at the weekend (don't mention the words "carbon" and "footprint" to me as 2007 draws to a close, and I haven't finished yet) to co-incide with the annual l'Escalade or Ladder festival. I had no idea this would be on but the streets were full of men in 16th century garb, mostly military, and there was shooting in the streets (see right) from ancient muskets, or possibly the long pointy thing that went "Pop!" was an arquebus. On the night of 11/12 December 1602 the dastardly forces of the Dukes of Savoy tried to storm the city by climbing up the ramparts at night using the fiendish ploy of, er, ladders. The heroic citizens of Geneva courageously repulsed them, hanged various prisoners and spitted the Savoyard heads on spikes etc etc. Each year a great historical pageant takes place with everyone in historical costume (mostly blokes for it's a bit macho) and horses and carts, a hangman or two, happy peasants, ladies in cloaks and white linen bonnets, lots of drums and pipes, and, my favourite, lashings of vin chaud. Whether any of this has to do with the recent controversies over racist political campaigning in Switzerland, including adverts showing black sheep being repelled at the border by white sheep, I pass over in silence. But I always wonder how much this historical mummery reflects the actual nuances of what happened and again I wonder what function it is performing in the present. The world of high tech and "private banking" in modern day Geneva seems a long way from all this Reformation ruff and pikestaff business.

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