Monday, July 24, 2017

A Stranger Learns a Bit of Local History

Market at Riponne from steps of Rumine.

25 July  2017

            Musing on the subject of place names, I remember the stops on the Harlem Valley Line, through Westchester County, which I often took from Grand Central Station to Pleasantville or Chappaqua, where my mother lived, or to Brewster, to get to Pawling, across the state line from Hidden Hollow. 125th Street, Tremont, Fordham, Botanical Garden, Williams Bridge, Woodlawn, Wakefield, Fleetwood, Bronxville, Tuckahoe, Crestwood, Scarsdale, Hartsdale, White Plains, Valhalla, Mt. Pleasant, Hawthorne… and then beyond to Mount Kisco, Bedford Hills, Katonah, Goldens Bridge, Purdy’s, Croton Falls, Southeast, Patterson and Pawling.

            As long a list, and as interminable a train ride, these place names, this toponomy, as linguists call it, tells stories of local history and geography. Purdys, for example was named for Isaac Hart Purdy, who, in 1847, sold the right-of-way to the railroad for a dollar, on the condition that they always pick up passengers and freight there. Chappaqua and Katonah, on the other hand, were names tied to the Algonquin family of native tribes inhabiting the area when Europeans arrived to settle.

In addition, each name has a personal resonance for me or the commuter or other resident. Purdys for me was the place we bought cider. I associate Botanical Garden and Scarsdale with my mother, who was a volunteer at the first and school librarian at the second. Chappaqua was where I lived from 1955 until I went away to college in 1964.

            In the nature of toponomy, words are preserved, but often their origin is forgotten. What to say about the meaning of place names to a stranger like me in Lausanne? Learning their origin is learning a bit of the history of the city.

            In Lausanne, the #8 electrified bus is my neighbor and friend, from our street, Avenue des Alpes, up to the Wednesday-Saturday market in front of the Palais de la Rumine. I’ve written about the Cantonal Museums of Geology and Archeology that it houses. Why is it a palais? It was built at the turn of the 19th Century with the donation from Gabriel de la Rumine, a Russian nobleman, whose mother was a Lausannois.

            What about the market place itself: Riponne-M.Bejart? It seems that the market was to be an extension or addition to the established one at Place de la Palud, down the hill on which the old quarter is built. Riponne is derived from the Latin verb to replace or shelve. Or at least that is my folk etymology for the word; folk etymologies being the other thing that happens in toponomy. Both Riponne and Palud were constructed over marshy flat places formed by the numerous streams, Palud refers to malaria.

            M. Bejart, on the other hand, is obvious. Maurice Bejart was the founder of Lausanne’s renowned ballet, that I hope to see in December. Next stop is St. Francois, a small church, initially part of a 13th Century Franciscan monastery. Now it is a busy interchange, about the farthest think from seclusion imaginable.

            Down the hill is Georgette, named for the planned extension of the city to the north east of the railroad station. And after that, Alpes, my stop, named for the cross street. To which I must go to catch the bus. I’ll continue the downhill stops in my next post!

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