The white-tiled kitchen glows in the dappled sunlight. Aromas waft from the South American cocoa beans and Madagascar vanilla, mingling with the scent of freshly baked bread. Just about then I nearly bite into Charlie Chaplin's shoes. The boots have nowhere to run off to, sitting lazily on the scrubbed white, marble table top. Brown and knobbly, they're identical to those worn by the hapless tramp in the cinematic classic, “Gold Rush”. The footwear's delectable in its current avatar as chocolate miniatures, I'm told, quite unlike the insipid boiled clog Chaplin gnawed on, while twirling his shoelaces spaghetti-like on a fork, in 70mm.
Master craftsman Blaise Poyet, one of the last standing artisanal chocolatiers in Vevey, the birth city of chocolate giant Nestlé, coaxed me in to devouring a box of pure sin. Bitter drops, sweet nothings, others soaked in tea, and even a few doused in garam masala — a swashbuckling tribute to Mumbai, stained my lips chestnut and strained my seams. I politely declined an offer to nibble into the slippers, quite regretfully — Blaise's tribute to the auteur is the only such confection in the world. Flecked with bitterness, you can taste Chaplin's onscreen toughness. Balanced with a sliver of caramel — you savour his lovable onscreen persona. Completing the triad of flavours is the pine nut, for you to glimpse his revolutionary style — all three making a succulent mouthful of Charles.
I had trundled into the charming lakeside town of Vevey, settled on the shores of Lake Geneva, the night before. Walking through cobbled streets lined with pastel-washed homes and shuttered windows; I passed walls flush with art. An army of giant lobsters crawled up one facade. Boats and noblemen flourished on others. A silver gelatin photograph of a lady of the night was draped across an innocuous looking prison. And a solitary fork was pitched vertically, prong down, in the lake, having fallen straight from the heavens into its watery grave.
It's the city's natural affinity to beauty and silence that perhaps drew Chaplin to Vevey. Escaping political manoeuvring, the comedian sought refuge here. He spent quarter of a century in an elegant manor, spending a few more years under the arc lights after he moved here. Chaplin finally hung up his tattered shoes in retirement bliss in Vevey, till he ascended the skies. Strolling by the lakeside I bumped into the man himself. In the centre of a rose garden was a moustachioed statue of the tramp. Clasping a rose blossom, he was clad in his trademark suit and bowler hat. Still a favourite with lovely lassies, many, including me, linked their arms shyly with the lovable vagrant, a photograph for posterity.
In Wine Country
If my nose led me to Poyet's chocolate marvels, my feet took me right into the heart of Swiss wine country. Still hot on Chaplin's trail, I trekked through magnificent vineyard terraces of Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a sunny day a short train ride from Vevey dispatched me to the village of Chexbres. Cosseted in a stunning landscape, my eyes swept over glacial blue waters, girdled tightly by the Alps. Yonder were unending, meandering rock walls; whitewashed homes with sloping eaves; and an undulating landscape braided with vines of fat Chasselas grapes, a typical white variety that dominates the region. I popped in a few luscious grapes, flicking off the bees buzzing around, and made my way to a tiny fairy-tale like hamlet, Epesses. Brilliantly coloured homes sat on either side of narrow, crooked streets, leading to the quaint dwelling of Patrick Fonjallaz, the 13th generation in a wine growing family. Sitting under a gazebo on his terrace, with a view of the vineyards and the lake, we savoured a decadent meal. Robust, peppery wine from Fonjallaz's wine cellar was paired with tasty ratatouille, a steaming hunk of pork stewed in pinot noir and perch, plucked fresh from the waters. Groaning cheese platters followed and the meal ended with cake, drenched in lashings of wine. After the decadent repast, we creaked down shadowy steps into his ancient cellar. Lined with gargantuan, cheekily carved wine caskets, Fonjallaz pointed out to a sepia toned photograph hanging in a corner. As a young boy he had met Chaplin, a comical yet memorable encounter at the vineyards, etched sharply in his memory. I squinted at the fading picture taken over half a century ago. “Oh he's a tramp,” his grandfather had whispered about their distinguished guest. On cue, the tiny Patrick crinkled his nose in disdain for the highly amused Chaplin. As the sun melted into the lake, inky darkness enveloped the lush landscape that had so enamoured Charlie. A few fire flies flitted around, drunk on wine, making merry on crumbs. As we got ready to leave behind Chaplin and his world, I could almost hear the comic having the last laugh.
Vevey is well connected to major Swiss cities by the rail network.
Find details of the multi-faceted Swiss Pass at www.swisstravelsystem.ch
For additional information on the Lake Geneva Region visit www.lake-geneva-region.ch