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An Unusual Memento

July, 2012
James Tarpley

In the summer of 2012, I applied to the Montreux Jazz Festival for a position as a staff translator, known as a ‘Traductor’ due to a hilarious typo. This resulted in me spending two weeks of sleepless nights preparing the bilingual Festival newspaper, The Chronicle, in between concerts of all types in the beautiful lakeside town that gave the Festival its name. I could never have predicted all I would take away from the experience.

As a member of the Festival staff, I was technically a volunteer, but I also received a daily stipend. In addition to the 100 francs that were supposed to keep me alive, I earned special tokens called ‘Miams’ and ‘Glous’ that I could exchange at the various food stands along the lakefront promenade for food and drinks, respectively. I became a regular at the Asian stands, shoveling down spicy Thai curries and savory Indian potato croquettes and watching the sun setting over the lake before heading back into the basement of the 2M2C for another long session of waiting for articles to arrive and then scrambling to finish translations before the 3am deadline…

On the last night of the Festival, we were all completely fried. We had managed to turn out a bilingual periodical from a makeshift underground communication office for the two weeks of a major international cultural event, but we had sacrificed sleep, exercise, and even breathing fresh air to make that happen–each evening, scantily-clad ‘Lucky Strike’ representatives handed out free samples at the Montreux Jazz Café, adjacent to our dungeon. It was getting to the point where the photo spreads showing life at the Festival were dominated by images of staff sleeping in improbable positions and locations–I was featured using a trashcan for a pillow in a corner of the tchotchke storage closet.

Just as we turned in the last of our translations for the summer, my finely-honed ‘free food’ sense started tingling like mad. Sure enough, a group entered our office and an older gentleman with a sweet face said “Thank you for your work! The Chronicle is a major success. J’ai apporté du saumon!” Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival (and also involved in a variety of up-market gourmet specialties), had brought us an enormous slate platter covered with huge piles of the best smoked salmon on Earth. Completely out of Miams and Glous, deliriously hungry, we feasted for hours. When the sun came up (soon thereafter), I grabbed the serving platter and then made my way to the station and home for some well-deserved rest. That turned out to be the last ever Festival for Claude Nobs, who died suddenly the following winter, but I will never forget his generosity. I think of him every time I serve my favorite Asian delicacy, sushi, on that huge slab of slate!

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James Tarpley 7
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Dec 19th, 2018
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