Okay, you’ve been procrastinating for the past year, the kids are out of school, you’re wondering what you’re going to do with them for the next three months, United Airlines has not gone bankrupt yet, you still have tons of mileage points to use before they do – the question is – can I still get it together to go to the reunion in Lake Como? The answer, of course – it’s never too late! Just make it happen – it will be worth it. If you really can’t get it together, because you have a family reunion in Iowa, or you’re planning a surprise birthday party for your neighbors cat, that is totally understandable. But that is no reason not to be part of the Lake Como activities – you can email messages to individuals or the group, dedicate soirée songs, email family photos or even better, send videos of your family reunion. Let me know if you want to telephone – we can try to hook you up on speaker phones (I’m thinking they have speaker phones in those quaint little Italian bistros). Now for those attending the reunion make sure to bring your cameras and video camera– we will once again post the reunion photos on the website. If last year you forgot to bring your ski medals make sure to bring them along, we all want to see them and hear the stories that go along. Thomas Barth has a particularly good one about who he beat at the 1974 Suisse Junior Championships in St. Luc. Don’t forget to bring your old photo albums those are always popular items at reunions. Keep the music requests coming in – Pradeep is having a great time putting it all together. I’ve even heard a rumor that he’s in the process of tracking down Deep Purple to see if they can join us!
Once again, if you have any articles, photos, comments or suggestions for the newsletter please feel free to contact either myself or Jean Paul Lewis firstname.lastname@example.org – we would welcome input from all alumni – whether you’ve been to a reunion or not – just let us know what you’re doing.
Schedule of Events – Como Reunion 2005
Thursday, June 30th
Friday, July 1st:
Saturday, July 2nd
Sunday July 3rd
Monday, July 4th
Tuesday, July 5th
2005 Lake Como Reunion Tally
Soirée Music Update
Hanging By A Thread
Did you ever wonder what it would be like if you never existed? Or, suddenly, if you ceased to exist? Probably not. Certainly not while you were a student at LR/PF because, let’s face it, we were invincible at that age.
On a sunny Monday morning in the winter of 1971, I was feeling more than invincible. I was feeling absolutely on top of the world, literally and figuratively. You see, I was on the first teleferique heading for Plaine Morte. Yes, it was a clear, picture-perfect ski day, a Monday, which we had off especially so we could ski when the mountain was relatively empty. But it was much more than that. It had snowed about a foot the night before, and being the first skiers on the glacier meant that we were guaranteed an hour of skiing fresh powder on the back side of the peak, where no snow cats could reach.
What would we do when we reached the top, we asked ourselves, those of us LR/PF students lucky enough to squeeze into the teleferique as the operator closed the gate and sounded the buzzer, which was echoed by the buzzer from the teleferique at the other end, indicating the ‘all clear’. Would we race to the poma lift on the far side and, starting on the eastern end, generate figure eights in perfect harmony, duets of skiers creating perfect mosaics in powder for future skiers to envy? Or would we be the first to take the long, wide piste down towards Les Violettes so that the next batch going up could watch us glide by, jealous of our good fortune? Ah, the possibilities were limitless, and we were giddy with anticipation.
Let me take a minute and ask you, dear reader, if you were on that teleferique with me. I need to know, because many people to whom I relate this story, even LR/PF alumni, are incredulous. If you were on that teleferique on that fateful day, can I count on you to verify what I am about to describe? To me, what happened is as clear today as it was 34 years ago.
One minute, you’re speeding up the mountain at about 9 feet per second, with eighty fellow skiers, hanging securely on three steel cables being pulled up by pulleys 20 feet in diameter, powered by twin 200 horsepower motors running at synchronized speed at either end. The next minute – bang – the teleferique cabin comes to a full stop. It just so happened that it came to a full stop at midpoint between two pylons, at the highest point above the ground – 250 feet above, to be exact.
I’m a mechanical engineer, so I’ll do my best to explain what happened in layman’s terms. When you come to such an abrupt stop, the energy of the momentum must be dissipated somehow. Our cabin obeyed this simple law of science by swinging back and forth like a pendulum. As luck – or science – would have it, on the third full swing, the front edge of the cabin hit the steel cables above, and dislodged two of them from their runners. Now hanging by the lone third cable, the cabin started to bob up and down like a yo-yo, first stretching the overloaded cable to its elastic limit, then catapulting us upward. Pendulum, yo-yo, these are convenient descriptions that someone watching from afar may use, but inside the cabin, I assure you, it was pure bedlam. I was in the middle of the cabin, holding my skis, stacked shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else, the moment the cabin stopped. I remember turning to Ross, my room-mate and ski buddy, and our eyes met for a brief moment, just brief enough to say, ‘goodbye, dear friend, it’s been fun’. Then all hell broke loose. We crashed into each other as the cabin swung first one way, and then again as it swung the other way. With each crash, people screamed, skis went flying and the cabin shuddered. As we went from pendulum to yo-yo, from swinging to bobbing, we actually saw the two empty cables rise and fall outside the window. When we realized what we were seeing, people screamed all over again.
Time stood still. We stood still. The cabin finally, miraculously, stood still. The teleferique operator shouted, “personne ne bouge”, “nobody move”. Anticipating a 250 foot plunge at any moment, we didn’t have to be told what not to do. Eighty separate minds prepared for imminent death – mine flashed through 14 years of life within seconds. And then, and then… nothing happened. For 5, 10, 15 minutes, nothing happened. The tension, the bracing for a fatal plunge gave way first to relief, then to hope.
The operator got on his walkie-talkie, took instructions, explained what he saw, and waited for more instructions. Those of us who spoke French quickly translated to those of us who didn’t, but there was not much to report, except the obvious – there was a malfunction, the motors were frozen shut, and, with two cables off the track, it was too risky to bypass the controls and move the cabins manually.
An hour passed. Nervous energy turned to humor – a skier offered 100 francs for a sandwich. Another reminded everyone that the powder was still fresh on top of the mountain. Each communication on the walkie-talkie brought new hope of a solution. When the operator bravely climbed out of the cabin on to the thin ladder and up to the top of the cabin, we held our collective breaths. Would we have to do the same, each of us, to be rescued?
Suddenly a helicopter arrived, hovered directly above us and lowered a cable with a hook. Relief of being saved mixed with fear of having to cling on to a rope, one by one, to be lowered to safety. The turbulent wind generated by the helicopter must have scared the poor operator to death, but he held firm on top of the cabin and – to our relief – guided the hook to the first of the two loose cables. Slowly, painstakingly, the helicopter got both cables back on to their runners. As we witnessed the third cable being guided to its runner, we erupted in cheers. The operator climbed back down, turned the cabin to manual operation, and slowly, an inch at a time, started the descent back to the base.
When we touched down, we raced out of the cabin, yelling, hugging, crying. We were quickly ushered to the main waiting area, and there, with a big smile on his face, was Mr. Marcel Clivaz, owner of school and teleferique alike.
If you knew Marcel like I knew Marcel… He apologized for the inconvenience and offered us each a steak meal as compensation. We all cheered. And then, I kid you not, my friend, without skipping a beat, he said that the steak lunch was waiting for us at the top of the mountain, and all we had to do was take the next teleferique up. Nobody chose the meal.
I have been back to that mountain, to that same ski lift many times since then, most recently with Giancarlo Felli in February, 2004. Each time I get to the exact spot where, on a perfect day in 1971, my life hung by a thread, I smile to myself. Life is a series of miracles, never to be taken for granted.
Ecole des Roches Forever in the Annals of Rock and Roll History!
The following is a true story. Let me take you back to the distant, murky past of September 1971……..
September 1971 was when I first joined Ecole des Roches. It was September 27th to be exact. I was 14 years old at the time, and I have clear recollection of the events leading up to the day that changed my life forever. My father was posted in Belgrade at the time as the United Nations Resident Representative (Dieter Habib, current resident of Belgrade with Serbian wife, kindly take note: I was there 35 years before you!). We had moved from India to Yugoslavia, where I had been at the American Embassy School for a couple of years. The school in Belgrade only went up to the 9th Grade, after that children of diplomats and other expats were sent off to boarding school elsewhere. For me it was a choice of boarding school either back in India or somewhere closer-by in Europe. Switzerland was an obvious choice. It was within driving distance and I could come home thrice a year for holidays. This would have been quite impossible from India.
My parents, along with my grandmother, drove from Belgrade to Bluche to drop me off to school. This extended and leisurely drive took us through Yugoslavia via Italy to Switzerland, with halts along the way at Portoroz (Slovenia), Venice, Verona, Milan and the lakeside town of Stresa. From Stresa, a near-replica of Como, we left Italy through the Simplon Pass high in the Dolomite Alps and came down into the Rhone Valley, approaching Sierre and then ascending to Bluche. I still possess faded photographs of that trip, taken on my kiddie camera of 1971, in our family home in India.
When we reached Bluche we checked into Petit Paradis, where we had prior bookings. It was September 26th, 1971, and this was my first stay in Petit Paradis. It was impossible for me to imagine then my second stay in this obscure Swiss auberge would take place 33 years later, in June 2004, mainly on account of the persuasive charm of Ottavia Giorgi Monfort, a young lady whose existence I did not even know of back then!
Back to 1971. The day after we checked in my parents paid the obligatory courtesy call on M. Clivaz, to whom they had been introduced a few months earlier by Baron van Heemstra, a family friend. The van Heemstra’s were in Belgrade at the same time as us, the Baron being the Dutch ambassador. Their son Herman had attended Les Roches the year before, from 1970 to 1971, but this year he was moving on to a school in the U.K. (Atlantic College in Wales). The brief meeting we had with M. Clivaz was followed by a more lengthy one with Denis and Joy Hill. These meetings took place in M. Clivaz’s splendid living room, giving my parents a most impressive first impression of the school. During the course of the meeting Denis was very reassuring, especially to my apprehensive mother, and promised to keep an eye on the nervous boy.
I unpacked my suitcase in my designated room in Pavillon “A”. As one would expect, my first acquaintance in school was my new room mate, the eccentric, likeable, trouble-making Luc de Cock, hailing from Antwerp. Luc had already been in Les Roches for a couple of years and had earned for himself a well-deserved reputation for disorderly conduct. If anybody doubts me this, they are free to cross-check with Roberto Grisotti! Luc was the underlying cause of many of Grisotti’s headaches at the time. As the chief internat with direct charge of discipline, Roberto was a frequent visitor to our room. Most of his visits were accompanied by the familiar warning “de Cock, any more trouble from you and you will be severely punished.”
One day in Sept / Oct 1971, while we were having dinner in the salle a manger, Roberto Grisotti came around the tables with a check-list of names. There was a forthcoming performance by the American musician Frank Zappa in Montreux. A school excursion was being planned for this concert, and anyone who wanted to go could sign up. In keeping with time-honoured Les Roches tradition and M. Clivaz’s famous business instincts, the excursion was not free. There was a steep charge for the tickets, plus the cost of the bus, all of which would be added to the “facture” of the student concerned.
At the time I had not heard of Frank Zappa, much less his music. This, plus the cost factor, led me to decline the trip. But Luc de Cock was always ready for a good time and he signed up. Notwithstanding that he had never heard of Frank Zappa either.
On the day of the rock concert, the bus drew up in front of the Les Roches entrance in the afternoon. The travelers were mustered. Much to the disgust of Luc, every boy was compelled to be dressed in formal school uniform: gray trousers, yellow turtleneck and school blazer (in hindsight one must concur that our dear school knew a thing or two about killing joy). And so the school party, accompanied by a “prof” as chaperone, set out from Bluche for the concert. The concert would only begin in the evening – the school party was expected back in Bluche late, after midnight.
Those of us who did not go to Montreux had dinner and we went to sleep as usual when the pavillon lights were switched off at 10:00 p.m. But not long after that there was a rustle in my room and, waking up, I realized that Luc de Cock was back much earlier than scheduled. He was in a state of high excitement. This is what he had to say:
The school party reached the concert venue in Montreux and took their seats in the auditorium. There was a huge crowd there to see Frank Zappa. People were crowding the aisles and corridors, and many others had been left outside. The performance started as scheduled, with most of the audience flying high on drink and dope.
Not long into the show, one of the audience, no doubt in a heightened mental state, lit a firecracker and threw it onto stage towards Frank Zappa. The cracker missed Zappa but landed close to the stage curtains which had been pulled aside. Within seconds the curtain was on fire and the whole stage was engulfed in flames. The musicians fled in panic. However this being Switzerland, there was a very calm and orderly evacuation of the rest of the auditorium by the authorities. The Les Roches party reassembled outside, there was a head count, they boarded the bus and set off for Bluche.
Within days of this remarkable incident we had forgotten all about it. A schoolboy’s life is busy, with school work, new experiences, new friends, the changing seasons and the oncoming of winter sports season. Life continued as normal.
Until one day in 1973, almost 2 years later, an amazing thing happened. We were at school. Deep Purple had released their classic album “Machine Head”, which somebody had brought back from vacation. Upon listening carefully to the album, we noticed something about the song “Smoke on the Water”. We just couldn’t believe it.
The lyrics went as follows:
We all came out to Montreux
They burned down the gambling house
We ended up at the Grand Hotel
What do you think of that?
FOOTNOTE: I have not seen or heard of Luc de Cock since I left Bluche in June 1974. Does anyone have news of him?
je me souviens de tes yeux noirs petillants et surtout de ton sourire chalereux, de ton magnifique rire et de tes bonnes blagues. Tu en avais toujours une de prête et c’était toujours marrant de te rencontrer… Fort heureusement je ne me souviens pas avoir discute’ souvent ecole avec toi mais que ce qu’on a rigole’ ensemble en parlant professeurs et en se moquant d’eux! Encore je t’entends imiter la voix de Mr Pellet ou la demarche de Mr Sherry; tu arrivais a’ nous faire rire même en imitant les gestes de Monsieur le Directeur Marcel Clivaz…
Le dernier souvenir que j’ai de toi c’était celui d’un coup de fil il y a une année et demie. Tu me disais regretter de ne pouvoir vraiement pas venir a’ la reunion de Bluche car tu avais trop de travail, tu me donnais des nouvelles d’Artine, on s’exchangait des nouvelles sur nos familles respectives et on s’est enfin quittés avec la promesse de se revoir certainement a’ une prochaine reunion et le projet de passer une fois les vacances tous ensemble au bord de la Mer Rouge .
Et puis il y a eu la reunion de Bluche… On a eu la joie d’y revoir un moment Artine et on a su que malheureusement, subitement, tu etais tombé tres gravement malade.. mais que tu te battais…. On a espere’ que la science et ton courage puissent vaincre. Ils ont perdu. Tu t’en est alle’, trop vite, trop tôt.
Prochainement il y aura une nouvelle reunion, a’ Como cette fois. Tu n’y viendra plus mais tu seras toujours avec nous, dans nos souvenirs d’ecoliers et dans notre heureuse enfance. Et s’il est vrai que les gens ne meurent que lorsqu’on les oublie alors Stephan tu ne mouriras jamais.
A ta femme, a’ tes deux enfants, a’ Artine et a’ toute ta famille nos plus affectueuses pensees.
I remember your sparkling dark eyes and especially your warm smile, your magnificent laugh and your good jokes. You always had one ready and it was always hilarious to hear it… Fortunately, I do not remember often discussing school with you, but we certainly laughed together while talking about the teachers and how we made fun of them! Even today, I can still hear you imitate the voice of Mr. Pellet or the walk of Mr. Sherry; you managed to make us laugh even when you imitated the gestures of Mister Director General, Marcel Clivaz…. And now we have grown-up.
The last memory I have of you involved a phone call between us. You told me that you regretted that you could not come to the reunion in Bluche because you had too much work and you gave me some news regarding Artine and we exchanged information about our respective families. We ended our chat by promising each other that we would see each other at the next reunion and plan a vacation with every one on the beaches of the Red Sea. And then there was the reunion in Bluche… We had the joy of seeing Artine for a moment and we leaned that unfortunately, and suddenly, you became sick… but that you would beat it… We hoped that science and your courage would prevail. They lost. You passed away, too fast, too soon. Soon, there will be another reunion, in Como this time. You are not coming but you will always be with us in our school day and our happy childhood memories. And if it is true that people only die when they are forgotten, then you, Stephen, will never die.
Heard On The Web
Reunion Drop Out