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The European Scene

Eurotour 2002: Switzerland
by Sam Yada Cannarozzi

"Europe, like nature itself, cannot abide a vacuum"
from Europe: A History, by Norman Davies

n the European world of French language storytelling, the most prolific countries are France, with over 80 annual national events (festivals, colloquiums, Storytelling Day, etc), Switzerland, which has recently begun consolidating the activities of a half a dozen groups and Belgium that yearly adds to its string of international Festivals.


For the past two years the Théâtre de l’Orangerie, under the direction of Mathieu Chardet, has set up shop in a beautiful botanical garden on the shores of Geneva’s Lake Léman. All summer long a stage occupies a huge greenhouse with thirty foot ceilings that accommodates drama, concerts and storytelling.

You might not think that 11am Sunday morning in the dead of summer would attract crowds to the spoken word, but the Théâtre de l’Orangerie will prove you wrong. Families of all ages, sometimes braving chilly rains, became a faithful audience four times through July and August, at shows that were arranged this year and will continue in 2003 with other tellers.

So if you are in the neighborhood, get yourself a delicious cappuccino or croissant from the bar next to the stage, inhale the luscious perfume of the flowering orchids or hibiscus and tilt an ear with the Genevois who each year are becoming more enamored with story.


Once every 20 years or so for the past century, the Swiss decide to have a big party—country wide! EXPO 02 this year has chosen as its theme "Living Together." There are four official languages in Switzerland—Suisse German, French, Italian and Romansh (this last tongue spoken by only 50,000 inhabitants in the Grisons valley region near the Austrian border) and Switzerland in general is known for its international ethnic mix.

Yverdon along with three other cities was chosen as one of the national sites, and in an architectural creation resembling a Bedouin tent, Patrick Mohr and his company created A Labyrinth of Words.

In total over 10,000 people visited the EXPO 02, and a goodly number of them came to encounter the dozens of storytellers, musicians and poets present. All afternoon the tents were packed to capacity as families, couples and parliamentary officials made their rounds from "The Tent of Dreams, Origins or Laughs" to tables or open spaces where they could sip a mint tea, or ponder over the answer to a riddle.

The day climaxed with a fanciful fireworks display, in which stories were shouted through megaphones next to twirling firely batons. Then a final, subtle choral piece was sung as helium balloons carried tiny spiral fireworks aloft, as if our words had taken wing...

So if you’re around Switzerland in the next 25 years, the EXPO is a must, for its range, imagination and Stories!


I arrived in Switzerland on a crisp autumn Sunday, just a day ahead of a projected meteorite shower. Omens, omens...

The MDA, a retired people’s cultural and educational institution, had invited me for a series of talks and mini workshops spread over the French speaking cantons of Switzerland.

I eventually instructed some 150 attentive, enthusiastic members in four cities—Martigny, in an alpine valley famous for its breed of St. Bernard dogs, Geneva, Neuchâtel (a lovely town bespeckled with fountains adorned with gilded pillars) and Lausanne; the last three all on the shores of different lakes.

The MDA offers everything from mountain hiking to computer science to ballroom dancing to activities in storytelling. And my schedule went according to world famous Swiss clockwork.

I was greeted in Martigny by the sculpture of a Minotaur at a traffic circle; in Neuchâtel, our session was held upstairs in the main train station, a really original venue. In Geneva I had the biggest crowd, almost sixty elderly women.

I have noticed in fact that some of the most rewarding audiences are retired people, simply because they have AND take the time to listen! A real treat.

Although the schedule for me was a bit hectic, four towns in four days, I am looking foward to being invited back in the spring for a series of three-day workshops in a beautiful mountain abbey. Ahh Storytelling- something to look forward to.

—posted April 2003

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