www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs)
The research for this piece led to a Guardian published article in october 2014, How I found my secret Swiss roots, see here
A couple of Christmases ago I organised for a book written in French by my great great aunt Anne Van Muyden-Baird (1855-1945) to be rebound. Anne (see pic sidesaddle above) grew up in a lovely villa, Bellerive by Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The village is called Ouchy (you need to say this in a very French accent, it shouldn't sound like you hurt yourself). Then I gave it to my mum. Two years on mum has translated the rebound book into English and printed 29 copies for members of our family as a unique present.
Like Lausanne, Ouchy used to be full of expats, including many retired ex-colonial solders, although Anne's parents were Swiss-Irish. The book was published in Lausanne in 1943, two years before Anne died at the mighty age of 90. In it she describes her young life (1855-1880) growing up in a world I know as history.
While wars spread across Europe her parents are able to pop to Florence for a ball, and wherever she visits there appears to be an Emperor (French, Italian, Austrian!) to put a pretty crinoline on for, or goggle at as they pass in a coach.
Friends with Dickens
Anne often recalls her adventures with all her de Cerjat cousins (who raised her father after his parents both died) and lived close by in various villas - Fantaisie; Montchoisi and Bellerive. At one stage Charles Dickens came to stay at Lausanne and rented a pretty "dollshouse" villa, called Rosemount, which shared a driveway with Bellerive. While at Rosemount Dickens wrote Dombey and Son (here's the free ebook link). Not surprisingly, given how close they lived, the de Cerjat uncle (William Woodley de Cerjat) and Dickens' family became friends. Anne recalls this story:
"The entrance to the house at that time was in the centre and it was necessary to go round to it on arrival and the ground was treacherous. The coach used was always a sidecar pulled by a single horse. We were waiting one day for the Dickenses to arrive for a meal; suddenly... cries... we went to look; the sidecar had turned over, trapping the Dickens family, who were lying on their backs with their feet sticking out of the windows calling for help!"
Anne also remembers (p29) that: "after Dickens left Lausanne, he and my uncle remained close and corresponded. The letters of the celebrated English writer were without doubt full of wit, and my cousins said that their father shut himself up for three days at a time to put together the ideas for letters to his friend which were worth reading."
Charles Dickens by Peter Ackroyd (p523-524). Ackroyd calls the de Cerjats "a rich but artistic and philanthropic couple..."
Things change. Money gets spent. And Bellerive was sold and is now IMD business school where you can be Chair of Coca Cola lecturing and orchestrate performance improvement (picture above is how it looks now - huge!). But it is wonderful to know that I don't have to define my past ancestors entirely as a hunting, shooting, fishing set. It also seems that a great number of them were also bi-lingual or tri-lingual - skills that completely impress me. Perhaps one day we will visit Switzerland and tour Ouchy. After all Nell, my nearly 11 year old, does want to go on a yeti hunting mission although I think now all she'd find in that area is the super rich. And the Swiss trains are renowned... Nowadays Ouchy is allegedly THE place to go for rollerskating and skateboarding - as well as a stunning view of France across Lake Geneva.
Here are photos from one hotel I found that gives a taste of what those villas, that were once family homes, were like.
A special thank you to my friend Helen Burley who roughly translated Anne's story in 2009 over a long breakfast at my house when the book was falling apart. The experience provided enough hints (and not just info about 19th century hair styles) that this was a fantastic story and the book deserved to be rebound despite the £40 price tag for repair! By chance there's even a book binder in a road near me, see here.
The actual book translation was done by Fiona Baird and Anthony Parish.
Ouchy mon village by Anne Van Muyden-Baird is also available on the web (slightly puzzling with a 1989 French reprint edition made in Switzerland available on the web here). The story of who else is interested in this lady, may well be a future post. Do let me know if you've got some clues - or have made a similar exciting family discovery.