Interesting. Not ironic, merely coincidental. Merely an example of Littlewood's Law, roughly: "A person can expect what appears to be a "miracle", that is, something with odds of around a million to one, to happen to them about once a month."
What is this rare, nay, semi-miraculous proto-religico/mathematico occurrence, you ask. What has brought once prolific and popular blogger E@L back from the brink, yea, from staring into the blind, echoless abyss of not writing much these days?
E@L has come across the word "Savoyard" twice in as many weeks. It was a new one on him, as are most references to cultural things.
In his semi-autobiographical 1964 novel My Brother Jack, the Australian writer George Johnston* has his proto-self, proto-agonist David Meredith, working at an elite printing firm in Melbourne (as did Johnston). The printers were more than mere craftsmen: they were also artists, designing and etching the posters and advertisements themselves, as commissioned.
But they had other, dare I say cultural** interests:
"... because every one of them was a fanatical Savoyard, and at any hour of the working day would be as likely as not to burst into a chorus from HMS Pinafore or Yeomen of the Guard or Pirates of Penzance, then everyone would join and the whole studio would rock to Gilbert and Sullivan airs..."
(approx location 1210 of 6276 on Kindle)
Savoyard: 2: a person enthusiastic about or connected with Gilbert and Sullivan operas: so called from the Savoy Theater in London, where the operas were first presented. (Dictionary.com)
In her most-amusing 2004 novel (and aren't they all?) The Finishing School", Muriel Spark arranges it so that the students of College Sunrise in Ouchy, a lakeside town just out of Lausanne, leave their laptops and knapsacks behind and head off on a ferry down Lake Geneva to the Chateau of Chillon.
It was while he was in Ouchy itself, in 1816, that Lord Byron, who was with Shelley on holidays [i.e. fucking whomever they could catch], wrote an allegedly well-know poem [not to E@L] about a certain prisoner who was kept in a dungeon there (Chillon) for six years. François Bonivard, the Prisoner of Chillon, was imprisoned (with his two brothers, according to Byron) in an underground cell because of his radical political views, espousing the independence of the Genevese area from The Duchy of Savoy. The Duchy at the time of Bonivard's incarceration [1530's or so] included a chunk of what is now eastern Switzerland: all the shores of Lake Geneva, from Geneva around to Lausanne, and then to Montreux. Chambery, in what is now France (Savoie or Haute-Savoie, can't be fucked looking it up - E@L is 6hrs into this post already) was then the capital, but Savoy included the Piedmontese area around Turin, and down to the Mediterranean at Nice. Lots of geo-politics going on as you would imagine. But of that, more later.
OK, so the students are told to ponder on Byron's poem while they were at the Chillon chateau.
What next befell me then and there
I know not well—I never knew—
First came the loss of light, and air,
And then of darkness too:
I had no thought, no feeling—none—
Among the stones I stood a stone,
And was, scarce conscious what I wist,
As shrubless crags within the mist;
For all was blank, and bleak, and grey;
It was not night—it was not day;
It was not even the dungeon-light,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness—without a place;
There were no stars, no earth, no time,
No check, no change, no good, no crime
But silence, and a stirless breath
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!...
Listen: Chris, one of the more precocious students is writing a novel about Mary Queen of Scots, the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, and the assassination of her recently repositioned personal seckertary and alleged boy-toy, David Rizzio, formerly of, wait for it, the Duchy of Savoy - he was born near Turin. When Rizzio was stabbed 56 times in 1566, Lord Darnley was then estranged from Mary, an 'orrible 'usband [marry in haste, repent in hell not long after] who had been buggering none other than Rizzio for many a moon previously. He feared most murderously that his (Rizzio's) ascendancy in her (Mary's) eyes threatened him (Darnley) both politically and romantically. [E@L is toying most flagrantly with history here, having only half-remembered pieces of the story from a recent Melvyn Bragg podcast, and less-than-half-read Googled snippets to go on]. After Rizzio's body is disposed of, Darnley, King of Scotland, gets, naturally enough for those days, back with his once-hated and conspired-against Queen. But he is murdered himself next year by the Earl of Bothwell, who marries MQoS after raping her [rape in haste, marry and murder at leisure], and the rest is history. But Chris's "excitingly written" twist on the story is that Darnley was in fact murdered by assassins sent from Savoy by Rizzio's family of diplomats (aka spies). Whoof.
Anyway, [are you still with me?] Chris, the aforesaid precocious student and inchoate novelist at the Swiss finishing school of the novel's (Spark's) title, was on the ferry, thinking of Bonivard and Rizzio, who were, #foreheadslap, roughly contemporaries:
"They might have met. They lived in different worlds yet it was not impossible that the lordly Savoyard should encounter the young Piedmontese diplomat who won his way into the courts of Europe." (Pg 23.)
Savoyard: 1: a native or inhabitant of Savoy. (Dictionary.com)
But of course, checking the maps of the region, although it was difficult to pin down exactly the gerrymandering going on over the centuries with Google and not a proper historical atlas, E@L has discovered a possible misfiring in Spark's research/reasoning.
Turin was, as mentioned, in the Duchy of Savoy during the 16th century, and became the capital in 1563. It had been part of Savoy for six centuries and would remain so for two or more, um, more. Rizzio would have considered himself as much a Savoyard as Bonivard, rather than just a Piedmontese. [Perhaps, but for the sake of spectacularly iconoclastic blogging, let's say, Yes]. And, more controversially, Bonivard, imprisoned as a Genovese secessionist, might justly bristle at being called a Savoyard, when he most devoutly wished to be anything but one.
The history of the area is complex, to say the least at this time of night. Lausanne and Geneva did not remain in Savoy much longer. Those of the House Savoy became, firstly, the Kings of Sardinia (which included a state of Savoy that commenced below Lake Geneva, and had Piemonte as a separate state), and then the Kings of Italy, reigning from Turin, after the unification (also once called the "Piedmontisation") of Italy.
As another aside, while Muriel was writing this, her last novel, in a little village in Tuscany (about 60km from where E@L experienced the infamous "angina incident" of 2012), a political group in Savoie and Haute Savoie, the areas of France around Chambery (former capital of the Duchy, remember?), The Savoyan League, were calling for the unification and independence of the French speaking regions of l'ancien duché de Savoie. They gained 5.39% of the vote in the area in 1998, but failed to turn up at the 2004 elections.
Fascinating. Maybe not in your opinion, certainly in the opinion of
* E@L is reading My Brother Jack (he should have done so many years ago) because George Johnston is mentioned, photographed even, with his wife Charmian Clift, in So Long, Marianne: A Love Story, the bio-story of the muse of Leonard Cohen's classic song, which E@L found in Kinokuniya and still hasn't started reading because: see above.
This had prompted E@L to pull out his almost as unread copy of Garry Kinnane's wonderfully titled 1986 biography of George Johnston, George Johnston: A Biography. Inside of which, E@L found four mysterious pressed flowers.
After some Facebook sleuthing, it turns out that it was the Ex who had placed the flowers there when she was reading the book back in the day - we are talking nearly 30 years ago.
** "Culture" and "Gilbert and Sullivan" - uncomfortable bedfellows, some snobs might say.