Arnex-sur-Orbe & Charlie

Thursday 28 to Friday 29 March

Train journeys are a great way to see Europe. They are fast and efficient and well-signed, or so we thought.

We crossed the border into Switzerland and past the Rheinfall. We’d visited a couple of years ago, but the water was low and the falls unimpressive. This time, after winter, there was a nice amount of water cascading over the falls.

We missed the connecting train in Zurich for the regional train to Yverdon-les-Bains. We had seven minutes to make the connection. It had been easy in Nuremberg to find the train by its number. Our train from Stuttgart arrived one minute late and we had no idea how to find the next train. The train number on our ticket wasn’t on the departures board – we had a German ticket and this was Switzerland. Obviously, they don’t use the same train numbers. We finally arrived at the platform half a minute after the train left.

The conductor on the next train to Yverdon-les-Bains was unimpressed, he saw no reason why we should miss the train, we still had six minutes. He finally agreed to let us stay on the train even though we had special price tickets. Special consideration for silly tourists.

It was great to see Denis and Martine again. Denis and Bruce quickly took up conversations lubricated with a few beers.

They treated us to a dinner of baked salmon in pastry and a lot of chatter.

On Friday Denis had a lunch date with past Nestlé colleagues, so he dropped us off at the new Charlie Chaplin museum on the former country estate of the Chaplin family, Manoir de Ban in Corsier-sur-Vevey.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in 1889 in London to Charles Chaplin snr and Hannah (Hill), when both his parents were music hall entertainers.

Chaplin’s father had become the legal guardian of Hannah’s older illegitimate son Sydney John Hill, who would play an important part in Chaplin’s life. His parents were estranged by 1891 and life with his mother and brother was fraught with poverty and hardship, in and out of workhouses as their mother struggled with mental illness.

Both Chaplin’s parents were descendants of performing gypsies, and he was interested in performing from a young age. His first opportunity came as a member of a dancing troupe, but he wanted to form a comedy act. He went on to perform in plays, even in London’s Westend by the time he was 16.

His brother Sydney had joined Fred Karno’s comedy company and later secured a two week trial for Chaplin. Despite being considered too pale and shy, he made an impact and signed a contract which took him to America. During tours of America he was invited to join the New York Motion Picture Company and began working for the Keystone Studios in 1914 where he developed the Tramp character.

By the time Chaplin was 24 he had signed with Essanay and was earning $1,250 per week with a signing bonus of $10,000. He soon became a cultural phenomenon. By age 26 he was earning $670,000 per year and was one of the highest paid people in the world.

But it wasn’t just The Tramp that made Charlie Chaplin famous. Frustrated with the direction and production of the movies he was appearing in, he undertook to write and produce them himself. He taught himself to play musical instruments and then wrote and conducted the musical scores for his movies.

His movies always combined slapstick with pathos, The Tramp struggles against adversity.

Although talking movies were introduced early in the 1930s, Chaplin did not embrace the technology until The Great Dictator which he filmed in 1939.

As a result of his political commentary, considered bad taste for a film maker, the FBI became suspicious of his political leaning and moral turpitude.  At the same time he married Oona O’Neil, his fourth wife. When they travelled to England for the premier of Limelight, the USA revoked his visa. He moved to Switzerland and continued his film making in Britain. Charlie and Oona had a happy marriage with eight children.

What impressed me about Charlie Chaplin was his breadth of skills and his inventiveness – truly one of the greatest influences of 20th century film making.

On the way back to Arnex-sur-Orbe we dropped by to visit Dylan’s farm. Dylan and his partner have created a commune where they grow organic vegetables and deliver veggie boxes to the ‘rich people in Geneva’. It is progressing well and they have plans to expand in the future.

After a ‘rest’ and chat we went to the Toucan for dinner. The Toucan is an institution in Arnex-sur-Orbe and probably the best restaurant in the area. We enjoyed some local treats – perch fillets, chicken with morel mushroom sauce and very decent ice cream. Great food.

Unfortunately, Martine’s mum Luisa had a fall the night before we arrived, so there was great concern for the 99 year old, just two months off her hundredth birthday. Martine has five siblings so there was lots of sharing news and progress.

NOTE: Sadly Luisa did not reach her hundredth birthday, but is well remembered as a loving mother, grandmother and g-grandmother.