A night at the LibosonHome >> Experiences
Friday night I invited three friends for a memorable evening. I didn't tell my friends where we were going - all I said was to bring good shoes. We drove up to Caux, above Montreux, and left the car at the beginning of a snow-covered path.
At 1000m (3000') altitude, the snow already covers the roads. Lake Geneva is hidden below the sea of clouds.
As we enter the woods the suns seems to disappear and darkness soon surrounds us. We continue on the winding snow-covered road for about a kilometer...
When suddenly we come out of the woods and see our destination - Le Liboson. We walk down and start seeing the huge converted chalet d'alpage. Very mysterious but quite enticing. Christine knocks and disappears into the chalet.
Those familiar with the production of Hammer Films in the 1970s will undoubtedly think of Dr Phibes when, as they approach the chalet, organ music starts filling the air. As the door opens, an impeccably elegant old man with a painter's beret welcomes you in and you see that the music comes from a large organ being played by a young woman with long hair. Vulnavia playing for the Dr Phibes? Be calm, thou fondue guest. Paul du Marchie has nothing sinister about him His model is Leonardo da Vinci rather than Count Dracula, and the lady is Nicole du Marchie, his girlfriend for the last 28 years. He ushers you in and starts explaining where we are.
Paul du Marchie was born a Dutch aristocrat and lived the first 20 years of his life hopping from one palace to the next with his parents. The war started, and he became a medical student at the University of Berne. Then, suddenly, his parents cut him off and he had to stop his medical studies and go work as a field hand on a Swiss farm. When DuMarchie speaks about his philosophy of detachment from earthly property, clearly he thinks about the life he lost as a young man rather than about his amazing house. Every book in the house, every stereoscopic picture is inventoried, and he is justly proud of every single artefact he created. And don't ask him if his house is for sale if you want to see another day.
Du Marchie is not, like you could expect, a man turned towards the past. Behind a reproduction medieval tapestry is a huge plasma screen mounted on hinges to reveal a niche filled with audio video equipment carved from the wall. For an 80-something, I think is resolutely modern.
He bought a ruined chalet d'alpage above Montreux and over the last 50 years du Marchie built a world of fantasy, like a writer creating an imaginary world to escape the brutality and ugliness or reality. But whereas many ruined aristocrats live contemplating the past and ostentatious disgust of the present, du Marchie set out to build his world with monkish devotion. where some people spend fortune to build soulles mansions, he insufflated in those ruins a unique spirit and unique character. How many people own a historic house like an albatross around their neck, only showing the visitors the past grandeur of the family and its present disarray? After a sorry twist of fate, du Marchie decided to look ahead and create his own castle with stray stones and recycled beams. And 50 years later, he has created a whole world people come from all over the world to admire so they can see what imagination and work can achieve, no matter how empty your pockets.
As Nicole finishes playing and disappears from a side door, Paul du Marchie starts the tour. He tells us about the organ, The organ is electronic, with a real organ keyboard punching on a computer that sends music through two dozens recycled loudspeakers hidden in the room. The pipes are for decor. The sounds is muffled, like if your neighbours were having a late-night Halloween party, but the effect is quite impressive and Nicole plays really well. This sort of organ is popular with organ fans who are not Internet Zillionaires. In essence, du Marchie built a gothic extravaganza on a shoestring. He has no money at all, and yet his house is way grander than many I have visited in the 5-10 million Euros range. This is really 50 years of home improvement by Leonardo. Sure, du Marchie will tell you himself that everything in the house is a reproduction. But most items he made himself patiently or got them from Bedouins in the desert or from some old church. Nothing is original here, he says modestly, and yet the whole is hugely original. The story of this man's house is one of poverty and imagination and work and willpower.
If you need to whisper something to a friend during the visit, du Marchie will stop talking and patiently wait until you are finished. Otherwise I would need to explain a second time, he would apologize and then continue. You need to humor the man, this house is really extraordinary, it left me a much stronger impression than the tourist trap known as Hearst castle for instance. It is a man's entire world, the product of 50 years of hammering away in the silence of the mountain, and it is really well made. So you won't be surprised if Monsieur du Marchie feels the need to explain every nook and cranny even though you might want to move on.
We walk down a narrow flight of stairs into a maze of impossibly low underground passages only a Viet-Cong soldier would find cosy. I dug everything myself into the moraine below the house, explains du Marchie while I hold my breath to try and pass through the stairs. We arrive into the workshop, a beautiful Leonardesque space where du Marchie spends most of his time.
I had noticed beautiful old ceramic tiles in the bathroom and asked du Marchie about them. I made them myself, he explained. A man of taste, no doubt. In a small room separated by a glass pane to keep the fumes in is the chemical workshops.
Du Marchie brings us to an alcove where a dungeon model revolves on a turning table. Inside, dozens of scenes and figurines with characters playing dice and other boiling tea on working miniature fireplaces.
I had read about Le Liboson's «Egyptian Crypt». Sure enough, du Marchie takes us into one of the many crooked, low-ceiling and impossibly narrow corridors and down a flight of stairs. He opens a huge door and we enter the «crypt».
Despite his kindly demenaor, as du Marchie closes the giant stone door behind you and locks the claustrophobic "Egyptian" crypt, I could not help but wonder when we would exit. From the crypt another flight of stairs leads down to the library. Du Marchie start explaining in great details how each of the ornaments in the library had been made, This one was cut by a laser out of a former telephone pole. Some of them are really knick-knacks and this library is not as interesting as the other rooms. I leave the library for the crypt and try to open the stone door. No joy. I try again, trying to remember his instructions. The air is thin and heavy and I start sweating. After 5 long minutes and countless tries, the door slowly opens with Nicole right behind it. I heard somebody trying to open the crypt and came down to see if you needed help, she explains in a soft voice. I rush out. If somebody really wanted to have a claustrophobia attack, I think that crypt would be a fine place to start, I say, charging up the narrow stairs.