Admin message Leysin Uncategorized

Luc and Paolo – by Phones

LUCAS JACOBUS van der KAAY. Born Deventer, Holland
There would never have been a Club Vagabond in Leysin without Luc. In 1960 three men, Thomas Allan Rankin, Ken Tait and Luc met by chance at the Casa Campello in Alicante on Spain’s east coast. They bemoaned that the choices for European travellers were hotels, pensions, youth hostels and camping grounds; there had to be a viable mixture. They decided on a mixture of pension and youth hostel but then came the problem of location. Luc had just finished a bicycling tour of Switzerland and had pedaled up to Leysin where he had skied on a couple of previous occasions and strongly recommended it as a suitable site. Luc returned to Holland to settle his affairs, Ken returned to what was then Northern Rhodesia to settle his following a divorce and Allan went to check out this Leysin place. Like thousands of travellers after him he fell in love with place. So Leysin it was.

Because of his fluency in French, Luc was pivotal in the negotiations with the Commune in the sale of chalet Les Lilas. All seemed well until the Vagabond sign was hung by the front door. The Swiss had disturbing visions of hordes of vagrants invading their quiet, bucolic existence; they never realized how close to the truth they came. If was only by the good offices of Silvio di Mercurio, head of the Grand Hotel, Guy Neithardt’s father Albert and Luc to persuade the Commune that the young visitors would not sleep in haystacks and steal chickens. They added that the tourists would bring revenue to the local coffers. That did it, you could almost hear the cash registers going kaching in their heads.

Luc’s range of languages was prodigious. Apart from his native tongue, he spoke English, French, German and a fair command of Spanish and Italian as well as Japanese ( he, his brother and parents had been in a Japanese internment camp in what was then the Dutch East Indies during the Second World War ) and two Malayan dialects. Every week he read in the original languages Time , Paris Match and Der Speigel. One evening I was drinking with Luc in the Vagabond when a young lady came in to the bar and with a foreign accent ordered a beer. Luc asked her where she was from. Copenhagen. For the next half hour or so they had a conversation in Danish. After she left Luc said to me what an expressive language it was and that it had been fifteen years or so since he last spoken it.

All those thousands of travellers who passed under the Vagabond sign please know how deeply we are indebted to this amazing man.

I have never met a man with more generosity or largesse to their fellow carbon-based life forms than Paolo nor one with more resilience to adversity. One example should suffice. I returned to Leysin in the spring of 1971 after a spectacular failure to adapt to so-called polite society. Getting off the train at Leysin-Village, I walked down to the Clinique Beau Site to retrieve the bilious lime green VW Beetle that Nancy Wells and I had left for safe keeping with Robin Alexander and drove straight to L’Horizon only to find a sign ‘Ferme Entre Saison’. Down to the Vagabond I went to find Paolo and Jon Travers having a beer and a hotdog for lunch. I had arrived at a fortunate time because Paolo had to go down to Aigle to see his accountant about some financial matter. In Aigle Jon and I sat outside the Buffet de la Gare drinking a couple of biere d’Orbs and presently Paolo crossed the road toward us looking extremely despondent. He said, I am broken. His accountant had told him that he was bankrupt and had a month to relinquish his lease on the restaurant. The three of us were stunned. Suddenly Paolo stood with a big smile on his face and said, I have money, we go up. Back to L’Horizon we went where Paolo descended through the trap to the bedroom below to reappear with four shoe boxes crammed with partially used green Vagabond bar cards that customers had used to in part payment for their food and drink. Down we went to the Vagabond just in time for Happy Hour. The usual cast of reprobates were in attendance. Paolo put the shoe boxes on the bar and, with an all-encompassing sweep of his arms, said, for all my friends!

Though the restaurant remained closed, it remained closed with Paolo, Jon and myself inside. He may not have the restaurant any more but the food and drink belonged to him. For the next couple of weeks we tried to eat all the food and drink the place dry. We failed but we had a bloody good time.

Paolo, his wife Gisa and daughter Monia now live in Urbino, Italy. For over forty years we have kept in touch and I have visited him on six occasions meeting his parents and sisters who showed me the same generosity and friendship that he has always done. Sometimes the phone will ring at round 1 am and it is Paolo well primed with white wine calling to say he loves me. My good friend.

Leave a Reply