Geneva Diaries #31

In the Belly Of The Beast – The UN and Modigliani


Dear Roger,

I revisited Coubert and l’Origine du Monde, and discovered that the art did not quite fit, the lines, the colors were somehow not really me. I would like to introduce you to Modigliani, an artist I have a deep connection with, one who seems to capture something essential, intrinsic, fleeting but familiar and very much more me. I have found myself somehow reflected in his art, as though he had me in mind as he lifted his brush and mixed his palette. This Italian artist who spent most of his life in Paris, I met and became intimate with in my favorite city, New York. Yes, another ghost, but one that captures my true colors. Do check out Red Nude below and tell me what you see.

See below a woman’s deepest desire…to be painted by Modigliani’s brush:

Modigliani- Red Nude

Ok, so I flatter myself and imagine the reflection of the red nude when I pout into the mirror, warm… no… sizzling, sensual and sexy. But then I look again and I see Coraline, yes that impertinent 12 year old with the determined stare and impish glare and I find myself yet again in Modigliani’s closet as the Head of a Young Girl, one looking achingly at the mirror waiting to grow up. Do check me out below:

Modigliani- head of a young woman

Roger, what I found in Modigliani was something i’ve been struggling to translate, a fleeting glimpse, a flicker or as we say in Hindustani “Jhalak” (झलक), something intimate, familiar. What would be the French (word) equivalent je ne sais pa quoi? In fact, talking about French and Hindustani, I seem to have stumbled upon something quite radical! I have discovered that even though English and French are both written in the same (Roman) script, the letters translate into completely different sounds and neither the French nor the English know that the other universe exists. It’s as though they reside in parallel universes and believe theirs is the only true one! Guess what, I come along and hear them both, am able to hear them both, and realize that even though they use the same alphabet they are doing so for completely different sounds. If I were to translate this into Hindi (Sanskrit as the basis) using the Devanagari script (and uncannily enough the script provides for the different sounds attributing it to different letters), I would write French and English using completely different letters, to the extent that it would appear to be two completely different translations. For example the letter “D” is used in English as “ड” whereas the same letter “D” is used in French as “द”. Now if I were to translate the sound for David in English I would use the “ड” whereas if I were to transcribe it in French I would use  “द”. Similarly for the letter “T”, in French it would be “त” whereas in English the same letter would most accurately be written as “ट”. So Tara would be written using completely different letters representing the distinctly different sounds of the same word in English and French. What is ironic is that if you run this by a bi-lingual English-French person, whether they have an English or French basis, they do not see the distinction as they recognize their universe to be the true one! My proposal (as usual the most radical of all options) is to use the Devanagari script to write both English and French, fun no???

Talking about adventures, journeys through language and terrain, I have much to fill you in with. My trip to the United Nations, which stands majestically in the heart of Geneva, draped by flags and adorned by fountains (, seemed just for a moment to be asleep as it threw open its nostrils momentarily as i slipped into its being, past the guards and the scanners, right into its inner opening. There I waited endlessly for a friend who would ferry me down the esophagus to the belly of the beast. I was getting anxious as the time flew by and I was in danger of being unmasked. Finally, an officer walked upto me, and after looking me up and down asked what I was waiting for. So, in my sweetest sing song voice (lifted from my French teacher), I said I was waiting for a friend who had the entry pass. The officer then promptly marched upto the computer system to investigate this “friend” whom he did not find in their employee list. He marched back to me, looking me up and down, lifted his Walkie Talkie,(as I held my breath) and seemed to churn out instructions to another in…German (yes, I remember Achtung! Achtung! from the commando war comics of my youth). He then looked at me with piercing eyes as his clothes transformed into a dull grey, and he said “run, run”, but I responded how could I run and go past the UN barriers as I still did not have my pass or ID. He then almost physically seemed to push me through the gate prompting me to run as he trained his gun down my back. Thank god for Hollywood, I recognized the scene from The Inglorious Basterds and I recognized the baddies (check it out below), and realized his game plan… entrapment! He would first ask me to run, and then when I was halfway over the fields he would summon the soldiers to shoot me down…boom, bang, uugghh.

Inglorious Basterds:

Fortunately, my (mis) adventure with the Germans ended peacefully as my friend arrived just in time for the rescue and I sailed all the way down to the belly. Here I encountered characters from across the galaxy, yes, a scene from Star Wars (The Bar Scene), where every life form draped in all their glorious finery was present and parading up and down the halls exhibiting their wares, artifacts, foods, clothes culture to share with the other life forms. I looked around in wonder and amazement at the exotic dishes, fabulous feasts spread out in front of me. I sampled as many as I could recognize as being from my planet the others I passed silently but with a smile as they encouraged me to take a bite of what looked like fish with gigantic eyeballs winking at every passerby. I was keen to see the people and their foods, the sights and smells, the colors and flavors, some welcoming some huddled like the penguins(Russians) from Madagascar the movie around their food stalls. I struggled to peek at their secret table and their mysterious spread, but they seemed to form a barricade all the while whispering at each other (the script in the bubble over their heads was completely indecipherable but did take me back to my favorite comic book Tintin, (bbbbaadddiiiees again!) as their eyes darted all across the room. I guess the table had some interesting foodstuffs or perhaps it was laden with covert designs accessible only to select eyes. As i passed the spicy Thai counter and tried to slip in through the penguin barricade, I thought I saw a bazooka, so i decided to drop that adventure and silently left the room. As I walked around the hall, I noticed that I was being followed, who could this be…I guess where there are Russians, there are the Americans! Why do all the baddies dress alike, the same overcoat/raincoat as though it were a prescribed baddie uniform. He trailed my every move, every pause and even peered into my booklet at I wrote down some numbers… an American for sure! Do you not think they would have had enough chasing me (Captain Jack Sparrow in the Black Pearl/Jeep Grand Cherokee) up and down California on highway 280 for 8 long years, now they were here shadowing me in the bowls of the beast!! See below Penguins of Madagascar in their secret hideout:

Unable to shake the Yankee off my trail, I quickly made my way to the ground floor where I encountered the Italians. Unmistakable, distinct, smooth, quiet, covert as they whispered into their cell phones which they slipped out of their slickly tailored suits. Each one a wanna-be Travolta, the unmistakable swagger, the smile, the eyes that check out the “good stuff”, I was immediately transported back to Place Du Molard, my favorite square in Geneva, bordered by Italian restaurants/cafes. Where the waiters with their slender waists seem to dance around the tiled floor of Place du Mollard transforming the slate and illuminated glass tiles into a snazzy discotheque. Yes, Place du Mollard becomes Travolta’s dance floor every night, complete with the disco ball, as the waiters twirl and assassinate you with their deadly moves and flying trays, and the waitresses pierce you with their weapons carefully concealed in their padding…oops, bump, ooouch (return of the pink panther). Do check out the irresistible Italians below in John Travolta’s Stayin Alive:

Saturday Night Fever- Travolta

Place du Mollard Geneva Switzerland – At night the tiles turn into a disco dance floor fit for Travolta:

Having covered the globe I’m left with the French, and what more can I say about the French! The froggies are everywhere, no I’m not paranoid…they are everywhere. I wish I could tell you our favorite family story (one we make up) where there was a world race to reach Mars, and the various nations try to outwit each other to do so. Upon finally making their way to Mars and encountering a Martian, they discover that he has a French accent (of course he also has a curly mustache). Yes, the French got there first! So, since we have to live with a cocky bunch of amphibians in our midst, I have taken it upon myself to make froggie hop, and its a spectacular sight…keep watching. Of course, as we know, they have a mug shot of me pasted at every signpost across Froggie-land which says “Wanted”. Yes, it is for that one Euro(darn that toll booth machine), that I will forever be on their most wanted list. Unfortunately, one can’t even call them baddies, they might feel flattered!

The final encounter was with the Chinese as I tried to make my way out of the building I was reminded of the mini-train that tours Geneva choo-chooing all over old town as its many tourists peer out of the cubicles viewing Geneva’s magical sights. However, my encounter with the Mini-train was not all that cosy. I found as I made my way up through Veille Ville up Rue du Perron towards the famous hotel Les Armures which has been frequented by Carter, Clinton, Kasparov and Cloony towards home, I invariable encountered this mini-train with its cabin full of Chinese tourists distinctive with their hat and cameras clicking away as though they had spotted an Amish (You do know the story of the Amish, who live till this day in Pennsylvania their 17th century world without electricity and technology traveling by horse drawn wagons and wearing their dark clothes and bonnets), I sympathized as I felt that while they were carrying on with their daily lives, they too were being “spotted”, chased, clicked! I feel with each click the assassins bullet and did my best to dodge them, get out of the way but often to no avail. However,  I successfully dodged the bullets, the assassins, the secret agents, and left the UN building unscathed in a gust of odious wind. 

Hope you enjoyed the adventure, I really hope to catch up next week. lots of love to all!


Dear Purnima,

Merci bien de ton petit Happy Thanksgiving !  C’était bien gentil !

Thanksgiving for vegetarians isn’t such a very special day.  I think we had

quiche instead.

We made a quick trip to Basel over the weekend.  I had only been there twice

before but  always just for a change of trains or to catch a plane from the

airport.  I had never really explored the city, but was delightfully charmed

by the downtown area with it’s pedestrian streets and quaint shops, and I

thought the system of trams and buses was really superb !  It reminded me a

lot of Copenhagen before they made the horrendous and rather stupid decision

to take all the trams out and replace them with diesel buses.  Why is it

that some city fathers seem far more enlightened than others ?

We ate in a wonderful Thai restaurant Friday night.

We went to the Tingley Museum for a special exhibit entitled “Under

Destruction” that focused on the negative elements of our mass-production,

consumer society.  It was interesting, but not very aesthetically pleasing.

It featured such items as a machine to crush empty beer bottles and two

large American cars in a time-lapse, extremely slow head-on collision.  The

two cars were slowly being forced into each other by huge hydraulic presses

that pushed them against each other at something like a millimetre a week.

Not quite as visually pleasing as a La Joconde, or a Modigliani, or a Monet

(By the way, you never told me if you made it to the Monet exhibit at the

Grand Palais on your last trip to Paris ???)

It started to snow quite hard just as we were leaving the museum, so we had

snowy roads and poor visibility all the way home (I had a hunch Friday

morning that we should have taken the train instead of driving), but my

trusty snow tires on the Toyota got us home in fine shape, just slightly

frazzled from the five hours on snowy roads.

And there is more snow predicted for tonight and all day tomorrow ! ! !

Hope you are doing ok.  Getting ready for the ski vacation to Zermatt ?  I’m

extremely jealous.  We are just going to L’Alpe d’Huez, but we’ve rented a

charming little chalet for the five of us, and with the new snow, it should

be a great ski vacation.

Hope to see you soon,

Hugs and bisous,


Dear Roger,

When I began my mail to you Thanksgiving morning I did not realize what the day lay in store for me… My grandmother, the one who invariably comes up in every conversation and the one for whom I charge back home (a reason why I call home home), one who has  played such a pivotal role in my life, raising me and moulding me, passed away on Thanksgiving. I must remember her and celebrate her life and so I did amidst my many tears streaming with the memories of a wonderful childhood and carefree youth with her as a pillar to learn from and lean on. So the mail to you that I left at greetings, I sent it along that evening from the Lutheran Church (doubling as our favorite little library) were I celebrated Thanksgiving with my children. 

Now that I am home, sad and very alone i find myself drawn back to my one constant, the keyboard, are you ready for a deluge of salty unforgivable mails, for all that the ocean throws up?



Dear Purnima,

I was so sorry to read about your beloved grandmother passing away.  From our conversations about her, I have somewhat of an idea of how much she meant to you and what a strong influence she was in your life.  I appreciate all the more your Thanksgiving greeting knowing that it was sent during your celebration of her life, but I’m curious as to why you chose to do so at the Lutheran Church ???

It must also be comforting for you that she really had her final wishes come true: to remain lucid almost up to the very end and to pass away peacefully in her sleep without suffering.  

And, it is always at times like these that those deeply-submerged memories come floating back to the surface, some bringing on a faint smile and others provoking tears.

I’m just wrapping up John Irvine’s latest novel, Last Night at Twisted River .  Did you read, or see the movie of, Cider House Rules or The World according to Garp?  Twisted River is very much about loss and coming to terms with loosing loved ones, but it’s also a long narrative with a cast of rather quirky and marginal characters as they move through life in Twentieth Century America, peppered with all the important events that have shaped American history over the years.  He manages to weave a rather zany scene of scattering the ashes of the father of the main character into a depiction of the reaction of mountain dwelling former loggers in New England to the events of 9/11.  But the book is largely about the effects of loosing someone and learning how to cope with it, if at all possible, and revisiting the many, many memories that other encounters in life inevitably stir up.

You know you don’t need to ask if I am ready for a deluge of emails from you.

Thinking of you,


Dear Roger,

It’s wonderful to get your mail at a time when I am especially down and feeling very lonely. Memories of my grandmother keep flooding back. It’s incredible how the most obscure thought trigger memories, which when unleashed flood the senses transporting one through time with all the sounds smell and touch as though it were occurring right here and now. I wish to remember and savor every moment of the time spent with someone as incredible, one who not only lived and contributed to the story of the sub continent over the last 100 years but in her and through her unravels the story of the world, of the Raj, of England and France, the World Wars, the struggle for independence, partition, the formation of the Republic (India). I hope to retain within me her words, her message (the one she carried in her heart) of humanity, for she guided me by example, showing me what it is to be human, to treasure and safeguard the qualities of love, liberty, balance, empathy and art (creative expression and appreciation). I hope to carry this message to the new world when our ship touches ground again… its already been a long journey but something tells me many adventures lie ahead, Sirens perhaps!

In response to your question about “Why the Lutheran Church”, well that’s is an interesting story… Apart from the fact that they were hosting a special Thanksgiving dinner and the Church had a wonderful warm and joyful atmosphere (we were taken by a friend who arrived at my place to discover that I was in pieces and no dinner had been prepared), the perfect place to meditate on my grandmothers memories. However, there was another purpose, somewhere in my heart I sensed I might meet “The Librarian” as the lutheran Church also doubles as our favorite English language library, and the Librarian in our story holds a mysterious place… silently moulding our minds and charting our journey with her/his recommendations. The library is a place I have taken the children from the time they were ready to crawl, a dear place, another home one with a thousand doors leading us to our many adventures, through books, films and dvds. One of our favorite adventures being an internet game (Bookworm adventures) through which I taught my children English (spelling and vocabulary) as we journeyed down the “stages” exploring Greek Roman and Egyptian mythology. Yes, the final stage culminated with the fateful meeting with the Librarian and I will leave it to you to discover the rest. You see, I am on a lifelong quest in search of the librarian!

Hope to see you next week.


Dear Purnima

Merci mille fois de tes deux emails.

I agree that Modigliani’s females are more tantalizing models of feminine beauty and sensuousness ( I distinctly prefer the nude with loose hair on the same site  you linked to.  That direct and penetrating look from those magnificent eyes and the suggestive pose of her hand make her a much more seductive and intriguing femme.  The seeds of never-ending fantasies !)

I’ve got more to say about your descent into the depths of the UN and your encounter with the guards there, but not tonight.

I finished the John Irvine book I mentioned, and thoroughly loved it, especially the way he ended it.  Just when things seemed bleak and forlorn for the writer/main character (loosing your mother to a tragic accident, your father to a deranged cuckolded husband, your very best friend to an act of self-inflicted hirsute penitence and your beloved only son to a driverless blue Mustang on a snowy Colorado mountain pass, not to mention a wife — she saved him from going to Vietnam by having his baby and, thereby, providing him with a deferment from the military draft –, and a much loved fiancée doesn’t really leave one much room for hope and happiness) an angel of sorts drops out of the sky — Sky Lady — , for the second time, to succor and comfort him on his isolated island in the upper midwest.

Hope you had a good weekend.  Really looking forward to seeing you again,

Hugs and love from everyone here,



Great, see u tomorrow!

Btw, did u know that Assange of Wikileaks had registered Geneva as his place of residence. He lives here in Geneva, prowls these streets, tastes its chocolates (i think he should stay away from the sweet stuff for a while though) are these exciting historic times for the city or not, Pirates chiefs of the galaxy call this home! I can’t imagine being in any other place right now as I see skull and crossbones stretched over the horizon. 

And Roger, did you ever notice that little zip that seems to hang from my neck, well go ahead if you dare you never know what you might discover… Assange in Wonderland?!?

Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow, M gets back from India in time for dinner. 




Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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