History: Demolition of the Ouchy quay walls [in Lausanne] has unearthed papers placed there in 1900, doubtless by Italian workmen
“Greetings to whoever has the honour of discovering this note!” A curious sentence but well founded. Handwritten in pen on a scrap of paper bearing the seal of the Lausanne City Works Board, it was unearthed in mid-March inside a glass capsule poured into the concrete at the time the Ouchy quay walls were built. Which is to say back on 7 July 1900, as specified on page one of the newspaper also stuffed into the gap. These documents are now to be analysed by the Archives Agency.
The discovery, made during works to restore the walls on the Quai de Belgique and the Quai d’Ouchy, works begun in 2015, came as a surprise, more unexpected than a baked bean in a cake before royalty. “We know that this was a pretty rare practice back then”, states Vincent Duffau, the press spokesman from the Traffic and Roads Agency. And whilst it is very commonplace nowadays, the signature appended tends to be that of the clerk of works – that is, the representatives of the authorities.
But in this instance, the signatories to the letter were “Swiss cement workers” and it is hard to make out their handwritten note in its entirety.
And whereas the authorities tend to slip a copy of the day’s 24 heures into their capsules these days, the cement workers went for a bolder option: the launch edition of Le Réveil, an anarchist fortnightly published in Geneva. That paper, a platform for the workers’ movement and international anarchism and launched by the Tessin printworker Louis Bertoni and containing some pages in Italian meant for immigrant workers, carried on publishing up until 1940, and then, in clandestine fashion, during the Second World War.
“Our impression is that this is more likely to have been a militant act by workers, rather than a formal act on the part of the builders”, states Frédéric Sardet, head of the Archives Agency, to which the papers are to be passed. Doubtless clandestinely, the placement of this capsule in the cement in Ouchy might echo the trial of three anarchists (one of them Bertoni) arrested in July 1900. “The anarchist movement in francophone Switzerland was then at its height and its members demanded freedom of expression and armed struggle against oppression”, Frédéric Sardet goes on to say. “They were looked upon as terrorists!”
Analysis by the archivists may well decipher another piece of data contained in the short letter, which is well preserved thanks to its glass and concrete seals. There we read that “all the dies [meaning ‘piles’ – editor’s note] have been moulded by cement-layer …” followed by a name that reads Frédéric for sure plus the surname which may be Reusser.
The discovery is confirmation that the quays that replaced what back then had been a public thoroughfare bordering the lake between Ouchy and the Haldimand tower are over a hundred years old (1896-1901). There are significant indications of wear and tear which prompted the City to embark upon a comprehensive refurbishment of those walls in 2015. Following consultation with passersby who were invited to vote on their preferred “shade” of cement and with experts in durability and heritage, the walls were remade using a pale yellow sand from the Jura and cement slag from the foundries. Final completion is scheduled for 2020.
Source 24 heures 27/03/2017 http://www.24heures.ch/vaud-regions/lausanne-region/capsule-temporelle-rappelle-lutte-anarchiste/story/10799886
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.