Who are the most prominent comedians in film history? Sir Charles Chaplin -- also known as "The Tramp" with his small moustache, derby hat, big shoes, tight jacket and baggy pants -- is definitely one of them.
Born in London in 1889, Chaplin spent his childhood in poverty but achieved huge success after moving to the United States in 1913. However, "Modern Times," which satirized capitalism, and some of his other works were considered sympathetic to communism by some American officials, and as a victim of McCarthyism, he was forced to leave the U.S. in 1952. Until his death in 1977, he spent his life in the rural village of Corsier-sur-Vevey in southwestern Switzerland, on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, while making a few more films in Britain.
As Chaplin's manor was opened to the public this year as a part of a museum "Chaplin's World," I made a visit to the museum and other spots around the Lake Geneva region.
The museum consists of the renovated manor and a newly constructed building called "The Studio." In the former, you can get glimpses of Chaplin's private life through his possessions, family photos and so on. In the latter, memorabilia and replicas of the sets for movies like "City Lights" and "The Gold Rush" are displayed.
With his fame and fortune, Chaplin could have lived almost anywhere in the world after leaving the U.S., so why did he choose this small village, I wondered.
According to his autobiography, a friend suggested Switzerland. Then Chaplin started house hunting around Lausanne, where he stayed, and found the manor in Corsier-sur-Vevey. With a view of the French Alps beyond Lake Geneva, it is certainly a scenic place.
"He fell in love instantly," said museologist Yves Durand, who worked hard for 15 years to open the museum. "He was looking for a paradise with the birds, with the trees, a way he could feel free and at peace."
In addition to Chaplin's World, the village and the adjacent town of Vevey have murals, sculptures and other depictions of Chaplin. There is a factory and shop called Laderach, which makes shoe-shaped chocolate. Chocolatier Blaise Poyet said he was inspired to make this by a scene in Chaplin's film "The Gold Rush," where the protagonist is starving and cooks and eats his own shoe. Also in the village is a new hotel called Modern Times. Above the bed in each guest room is a photograph of a scene from Chaplin's masterpieces.
While traveling in this region, you can't miss the vineyard terraces beside the lake. It's not well known in Japan, but this region has traditionally produced high quality wines. The hillsides facing south get both direct sunlight and indirect sunlight reflected from the lake. This, as well as the temperature difference during a day and the limy soil, nurtures the Chasselas, the main grape variety here and the ingredient for the best Swiss white wines. The vineyard terraces of the Lavaux-Oron district, adjacent to the Riviera-Pays-d'Enhaut district, which include Vevey, became a World Heritage site in 2007.
In the village of Bourg-en-Lavaux in the Lavaux-Oron district is an old, family-owned winery that dates back to the 16th century. The Fonjallaz family were friends of Chaplin, and 13th-generation owner Patrick told me about his encounter with Chaplin when he visited the winery.
Patrick's father told him one day, "Patrick, today, The Tramp is coming." For the then-7-year-old Patrick, however, Chaplin looked like just an ordinary man -- without the mustache. Patrick said, "You're not The Tramp!" But Chaplin then shaped a little mustache with his fingers, and Patrick recognized him as genuine.
Patrick kindly offered me a glass of the winery's award-winning Calamin Grand Cru, which has a floral aroma and fruity flavor and is very smooth. It's so unfortunate, I thought, that we seldom see Swiss wines in Japan. Only 2 percent of them are exported because the production amount in this mountainous country is small, and the Swiss, who love wine, consume the majority domestically. I hope to see them in stores in Japan someday.
Montreux and Lausanne, north of Lake Geneva, attract many tourists. The villages of Corsier-sur-Vevey and Bourg-en-Lavaux, between those two popular cities, were truly hidden gems. (By Tatsuma Kasama, Mainichi Weekly)