Geneva Diaries #7, #9

Geneva, Romania, Privacy, Pirates Manifesto,Magritte Museum, Rahu Ketu, Diwali and Diderot and d’Alembert


Dear Purnima,

I feel like I’m still floating in a sea of neglected chores and catch up after being gone for four days, and that after wading through the throngs of tourists in Barcelona on Sunday afternoon.  We did catch a wonderful exhibit at the Barcelona Cultural Centre, “Le Siècle de Jazz” that traced the evolution of America’s one true and original art form and its influence on literature and art.  It was a veritable flood of images, sounds, album covers, sheet music, books, paintings, more sounds, all of which evoked a cascade of memories from different times in my life and the countless hours I have spent listening and admiring, first on those little 45 rpm records, then on 78 rpm vinyl disks, then on cassette tapes and finally on CD’s and MP3 recordings.

Barcelona Cultural Center:

When do you want to do lunch ?  I had hoped to be able to come into Geneva this week, but it has been impossible.  Would Monday work for you ?  We are leaving again on Weds. for New York – yes, I know, I feel like a gadfly with all these trips, and it has only started.  At least flying on Swiss will be more comfortable than the Easyjet flight we took from Barcelona to Geneva on Monday.

I hope you’ve been well and enjoying your car and the nice weather.

See you soon,


Dear Purnima,

We got home late last night after a return flight via Frankfort – an incredibly big airport, and it seemed like we had to walk for miles and miles to get to the right departure gate, but we were used to that after all the walking we did in Romania.

I have lots of ambivalent emotions about Romania.  It certainly has a rich history and a colorful culture.  Many of the old churches and medieval monuments are really marvelous, and then there are the grandiose remnants of the Ceausescu regime (He wanted to turn Bucharest into another Paris: there is a little Arc de Triomphe, an Avenue Charles de Gaulle, etc., etc.).  The parliament building he built is huge and imposing, as are his several palaces, none of which we visited, as I don’t get off on former tyrannical fear mongers who literally starved the population so he could pay off his debts through foreign exports.  However, we did go see one of the remnants of the monarchical past – the Castle of Peles in Sinaia.  It was the summer residence of the king Carlos and is in magnificent shape today.  It is richly decorated with exquisite wood panelling on both walls and ceilings, which is very impressive.  However, there is just a little too much of a mixture of architectural and decorative styles to suit my tastes.  It seemed horribly cluttered with all kinds of statues, paintings, ornaments, swords and pistols and armour.  The guide was very proud to announce the fact that the castle had running water and a central heating system and even a central vacuum cleaning system, but I couldn’t help thinking how much it all cost and at what point the population of the country had the same kind of creature comforts in their homes.

The Castle of Peles, Sinaia, Romania:

On the other hand, the country seems like it is falling apart.  The infrastructures are terribly dilapidated, and the older housing has not been very well maintained, and there seems to be litter everywhere – quite a contrast compared to Switzerland.  And while the Romanian women are a mixed lot – some of the younger women are quite exquisitely beautiful and the older women seem to have let themselves go completely –, I didn’t see one pair of enticing; deep brown eyes that could possibly turn my head.

And I’ll wait until I see you in person to tell you about our experiences with bribing, or at least being offered the possibility of paying a small bribe to avoid a steeper fine for not having the right ticket, a bus ticket controlleur and being victims of a really talented pickpocket in a crowded bus in Brasov !

It’s very thoughtful of you to invite us for dinner at Lipps tomorrow night, but I’m afraid that we will have to decline that part of the evening.  We are both, so very far behind after being gone for six days that all we will have time for is drinks at your place.  I trust that part of the invitation will still be valid.  I really want to meet your brother and I have a small gift for your birthday.  What time do you plan to begin ?

A bientôt,


Dear Purnima,

I loved your latest coloring book, especially your take on the nakedness of the global community.  I don’t know if you followed it, but a few weeks ago the former French Minister of Immigration and current Minister of the Interior, Brice Hortefeux, was caught on camera – an official camera of French TV – making a statement about Arab minorities during an end-of-summer political get together.  He was introduced to a member of his party, UMP, who happened to be a Northern African immigrant.  His reaction was : « We always have to have one of them. One of them is just fine.  It’s when you have a lot of them that you have problems » (“Il en faut toujours un. Quand il y en a un, ça va. C’est quand il y en a beaucoup qu’il y a des problèmes.”)

Le Monde put the footage up on its website, and it quickly spread to thousands of sites in the blogosphere and caused quite an uproar.  Those who sprang to Hortefeux’s defense roundly trashed the internet as the source of all his/their troubles.  It was a pretty feeble attempt to condemn the medium (messenger) and deflect attention away from the real content of his contemptible statement.

I’m sad that the Magritte/Keith Jarrett experience is now just a fond memory.  That’s the trouble with the passage of time.  Brussels is a really neat city on a much smaller and more human scale than Paris and considerably more lively and upbeat than Geneva, which sometimes seems rather staid. 

The Magritte Museum is in a brand new building and the exhibit itself offers a chronological meandering through his career that is punctuated by a lot of sketches, notes, letters, photos and paintings from the various time periods.  There was a lot of stuff that I had never seen before, but there were a lot of his more famous paintings that weren’t part of the exhibit.  There was, for example, only one green apple in the entire museum ! I could feel your heels kicking in protest on my chest. No green apple heads under the bowler or inside rooms.  But it was a wonderful exhibit and very well done – well worth the trip.

The Magritte Museum Brussels
Rene Magritte – La Chambre d’Ecoute – The Listening Room (SFMOMA)- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
Purnima with Rene Magritte’s Son of Man (SFMOMA)-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

After the museum, we wandered through the quaint and colorful pedestrian streets of the center of the city and listened to the amazing mix of languages uttered by the many thousands of Bruxellois and tourists who were milling around, checked out the outrageous prices in the shops, withstood the daunting onslaught of restaurateurs trying to entice us to eat and eventually made our way to La Mort Subite – an artists’ café famous for its beer and clientele, which included in its time Jacques Brel.

The Jarrett concert that evening was nothing short of magical.  He is a real genius, and the exuberant and enthusiastic standing ovations brought him back for five encores.  It was a solo piano concert that was probably 90% improvisation.  In fact, he stated at one point that he never knew what he was going to play when he came out on the stage, or when to stop, but I love his virtuosity, phrasing and very subtle way of expressing himself at the keyboard.

We decided that rather than catch our Easyjet flight back to Geneva at 8 :00 the next morning to instead take the train to Paris and spend Saturday night there.  It was one of those wonderful, mild days in Paris when everyone in Paris, it seemed, was strolling through the streets of the Latin Quarter.  In between window shopping, a cozy apero in a little literary cafe and dinner in one of our favorite Parisian restaurants, we caught two movies, including Ang Lee’s film on Woodstock.  It was quite a gathering and signaled such important changes in society and the way the youth of the time viewed the world after the many long years of lies and war and rigid social conventions that were totally devoid of substance.

Have you started reading Murakami yet ?  I’m anxious to hear what you think of him.

Hope we can get together soon – I may be coming to Geneva Thursday or Friday late morning.  I’ll let you know and we can see if that would work for you.



The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so I sat in the house coloring, All this cold, wet, Geneva day!

 Dr Seuss:

Dear Roger,

I’m home alone (with Thing 1 wrapped under the covers), captive to La Grippe on this dreary wet Geneva day. I was thrilled to get your recent email and await a longer one from Brussels. And, It feels so good to be able to share my coloring book with you, I am sure u smile at all my squiggles!

When I came across the article on Polanski by the law professor, Of course I was keen to share it with you, especially since you had recently brought him up in conversation, but, I also did it for myself as I thought it would be a good exercise to flex my severely diminished brain cells now clogged with olive oil and garlic (all that cooking) especially at such a time where my coherence and competence is being questioned by my near and dear ones. Do you know Roger, that there was a time where I used to call myself “The Fastest Gun in the West“, and strut around with a cool swagger, but like all good cowboys (girls), I guess I’ve been driven to dem dar hills awaiting the long journey home. The gun is rusty and the knee wounded, but i KNOW i can still ride!

Once again, and from your recent email, I understand your concern about the way the Swiss are dealing with the situation regarding the extradition of Polanski and i agree there are multiple complex legal issues surrounding this case but having spent as much time with the kids, I am now used to the 3 min elevator pitch. Regarding the Swiss reaction, I can only imagine the pressure this new world of technology poses to them and can’t wait to see how the Swiss reassert and redefine the Right to Privacy which they have managed to secure despite big burly neighbors and centuries of turmoil and change around them. The definition of this very sacred right with its wide and far reaching umbrella will not only secure them but also shed light on how the world should view the changes that technology is thrusting upon us at an accelerated pace (almost impossible to keep pace with legally).

Yes, technology has converted the globe into a huge nudist colony…a gigantic nude beach with the Swiss roaming around in Burkhas! What do u think everyone else on the beach is going to do, throw eggs on them of course. Strip them, pull off their floral underwear and place a nice big placard on their chests highlighting their every detail, name, birth, parents, school, girlfriends, bank account number, clients and what they floss with. Sorry, no more privacy, in the world of today IT JUST DOES NOT EXIST.

I was speaking to a friend from Afghanistan who has made Geneva home, and discussing how the two places had some remarkable similarities and striking differences. Both Switzerland and Afghanistan are mountainous landlocked countries with big burly powerful neighbors, and yet they could not be more different. Somewhere the Swiss had got their act together, and managed to avoid with their very intelligent policy of neutrality(?) (and possibly the only feasible one in their situation, love to hear your comments) exactly what the poor Afghans got caught up with (especially with Rahu and Ketu on their tail) and are still continue to struggle.

 However in this new flattened world (how i try to avoid funky Friedman but he always barges in), the big burlys need not be bordering you but could be all the way across the Atlantic, and this even the Swiss have to figure how to grapple. So, in their attempts to grapple with this new world, the odd Polanski will be shipped off along with the other fat cats that have taken shelter straight to the sharks. 

In Vedic astrology, Rahu is an asura who does his best to bring every area of life into chaos. Rahu is associated with the world of material manifestation and worldly desire. The mighty child of Maya (illusion/wealth). Ketu, has both good and bad ramifications as it causes material loss to force a spiritual outlook. The head of the great demon is known as Rahu and his tail as Ketu and one follows the others, they tyrannize together. Do these demons sound familiar???


In a previous mail, I mentioned the story of Rahu and Ketu and the Churning of the sea of milk (Samudra Manthan), but never did get down to telling you about it. The churning of the ocean of milk is one of the most popular stories in Indian mythology. The Gods who had recently lost their power made a pact with the demons to churn the ocean of milk for the nectar of immortality. They used a mountain as the churning tool and a serpent Vasuki (ruler of the nether regions and one of the demons) as the rope to churn the ocean. Lord Vishnu, the preserver, was supporting the gods and he helped them to trick the demons (without whom they could not have churned out the nectar) ensuring that the gods got to drink the nectar first and finish it. However, the serpent Vasuki (or Rahu Ketu), realized the trickery and stood in line disguised as one of the gods. He was discovered by the Sun and the Moon gods as he was gulping down the nectar. Vishnu chopped off his head which remained immortal, so he had a head which was the demon Rahu and a tail which was the demon Ketu with which he tyrannized the heavens gobbling up the Sun and Moon on which he had much revenge to spew. This gobbling of the sun and the moon and their subsequent release from his gaping neck is the mythology around eclipses of the sun and the moon. So everytime there is an eclipse, the children are told that rahu is slowly devouring the sun and its emergence is because it has finally come out of the demons severed neck. See below Eclipse Stories from Around The World:

However,  despite the challenges that technology poses, in my opinion, it also offers an incredible bonanza to such landlocked nations: For it offers them, for the first time, access to the seas, the Cyber-seas! Yes, a new parallel world HAS been created, and now it is for ones that can to rule!

And, as for the demons that rule the skies, Rahu and Ketu, they will always remain in the heavens but let’s leave them to terrorize this world and escape to ours.

Good night, have fun!



The One Green Apple !

Dear Roger,

How I love your mails, especially the extensive descriptive ones like this. I do feel that I am journeying on your shoulder and viewing all the fun stuff u do. Brussels sounds delightful, and I can’t wait to visit for not only is this the home of my favorite Magritte but also the character I absolutely re-live, yes that slight yet determined youngster/investigative journalist, with a keen eye and smart instincts,  always ready for his next adventure in some exotic part of the world and fortuitously finding his way out of as much trouble as he finds himself into, accompanied by his faithful hound who can sniff out the “baddies” and there are always baddies galore with their varied hues and in their many accents. Yes, Tintin in Tibet has to be my all time favorite and I will never tire of reading it! Did you come across a Tintin museum, he apparently celebrated his 100th year in 2007!

Tintin in Tibet:

All what I have gathered about the French are from my many conversations with my grandmother since childhood who seems to have had a French past life connection (in addition to our family Pondicherry connection). In fact, I remember, my grandmother repeating my aunt Kadambari’s many adventures in Paris, reading her letters out loud, as I sat wide eyed in wonder. Apparently the French loved everything about this lovely Tamil woman (my aunt), the sarees in their colorful hues, the bangles with their glitter and the fascinating bindis (dots) that adorned her forehead. Every time she stepped out, she was complemented not just on the fact that she was and IS a highly intelligent and sophisticated woman and  but on her beautiful Asian attire and southern beauty. It appeared that she had landed in a place where people were curios, interested and thirsty to learn about different peoples and cultures.I wonder where those stories vanished? I do hope to find them one day. In the meanwhile, no transit through Paris!




And through us perhaps The Twain Shall Meet- In India, In the New India!

Dear Roger,

Today is Diwali. This is the day lord Rama returns from 14 years of exile back to a joyful Ayodhya where its citizens light up the streets and celebrate the return of the conquest of good over evil by lighting the lamp of light and knowledge to dispel the demons of darkness and ignorance. The epic Ramayana, as you may know is this journey , This odyssey (quite akin to The Odyssey) of a man and the demons and dilemmas he faces in this journey of life and how he surmounts it returning home victorious. 

This is our new year and celebrated like you celebrate Christmas but for us this goes on for two weeks from Dussehra (the burning of the demon Ravana till the day of Diwali) with much fervor and festivities all over India. Sweets are specially prepared and distributed, new clothes are bought and worn, homes are a glitter with lamps and lights, the sky resounds with the sound of crackers, people spend this auspicious day gambling (a part of our story), eating and drinking ( its rumored that more scotch is consumed during these days in India than produced through the year in Scotland). And I was …home alone in gentle Geneva, (so quiet that I could almost hear a slash on the lake, where the Tooth Fairy of the Lake was returning with her bag full of goodies), with Thing 1 and Thing 2 watching Popeye the Sailor Man! 

Some images of Diwali in India with sparklers, feasts, lights and floral floor decorations –Rangoli at home and at The Bangalore Club:

Diwali reminds me of my most recent memories, of my time in California. You know, my response during my French class to the question about the weather in my hometown , “Il fait beau”, and I was talking about California because I still could feel the warmth of the sun on my back. India had been long gone!

 Roger, I wish I could tell you all I did to introduce my culture and my background, myself to the people in the Bay Area ensuring that they embrace me and my children and make it the home we were seeking…

However, fortunately, because of of me being me, and my being home alone with the brats, I took this occasion, to chat with them (a “pre-teenager” and one that is fast loosing interest with what mommy has to say) about our stories, our mythology our culture which is so entwined with our festivals and our rituals. Despite being minimally religious,  I embarked upon the whole puja ceremony (the rituals) with great gusto just so that some piece of my culture would rub off. Upon discovering that I had misplaced the ceremonial bell, my son return with his Swiss cow bell which he rang throughout the ceremony with devout fervor (holy cow I do have them hooked I think or do they…?). As you know, through the myths and mythology, many moral dilemmas are evoked and resolved and this forms the corpus of rules (informal laws) and customs which represent the  wealth of  knowledge of our people, and of humanity, that which has been handed down over millennia. Where ever we journey and what ever we leave behind, this I find I am unwilling and unable to abandon as this is tied to me.

So, I find myself trying to create this wormhole between my world and theirs, your world and mine; between the East and the West! Which took me on a journey, back to Rahu and Ketu, the demons that tyrannize the heavens, the churning of the ocean of milk , their representation in both Hindu and Buddhist art and so entwined with the culture and mythology found across Asia.

 The Tibetan Buddhist story is similar in many respects to the Hindu Rahu Ketu story I mailed earlier, except that the main deity who cuts off the serpents head and chases the demon across the heavens is not Vishnu but Vajrapani. In buddhism, Vajrapani is represented as one of the three protectors of Buddha, Bodhisattva. In Sanskrit, Vajrapani means literally the holder of the thunderbolt, the Vedic god Indra. And, there have been references to the Vedic god Indra, as Purandra the breaker of forts, possibly the Aryan invasions that came in waves to settle on the rich river fed lands speculated as one of the reasons for the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization (pushing history back 5000 years, another tale). 

As I continued on my journey, I found the Rahu Ketu representations in the Ankor Vat temple art where Rahu is represented as the eclipse deity and Ketu as the eclipse; My Son (Vietnam) Rahu and Ketu on either side of lord Ganesha (our friend the Makara , sea goat /monster also showed up in the sandstone carvings); Sky Womb, 15c. Japanese art, with Buddha representing wisdom and compassion with the sun, moon, five planets and Rahu Ketu below; Then in Sri Lankan dance which are focussed on various deities, male and female demons, celestial bodies, I found references to Rahu and Ketu.  

I then stumbled upon the Pole Star Scroll in Dunhuang, a dried lake bed at the end of the Tarim basin – Valley of a 1000 buddhas uncovered by Aurel Stein with a cache of the most extensive buddhist art found to date. As you know buddhism spread along the silk route from India all the way across Asia. The Indian emperor Ashoka the Great, 3rd century BC, did much to spread this by sending his monks/teachers to all four corners of the then known world leading the exchange of ideas and intermingling of cultures. One of the scrolls uncovered at Dunhuang represented the Pole Star with Ketu by his side mixing Daoist, Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and weaving the fascinating story of Asia. In fact, in Chinese art apparently there is a constant struggle at the cosmic level from keeping the serpent (Rahu/Ketu) from eating the moon, often represented by the pearl. Now u know what the designs represent when you look up from your bowl of hot noodle soup at your favorite restaurant!

See 1000 Buddha Embroidered art from Dunhuang at The National Museum Delhi, India:

Buddhism then expanded into central Asia and fused with Hellenistic influences resulting in Greco-Buddhism(the result of colonies of Alexanders troops left behind), a fusion of Greek and Buddhist features, like the details of the hair, the clothes, ornaments and the greek gods themselves. Here the Greek hero Hercules was adapted to represent Vajrapani . Lord Buddha that represents the light of the world, adapted to dispel darkness was represented as Apollo. The Vedic gods Brahma and Indra were represented Zeus and Achilles. All the while, shortening the gap between my world and yours to a point where our world met and married blossoming into a vibrant culture. It’s possible isn’t it in a world where “Anything is Possible“?

Good night,



Dear Roger,

After reading you, I can’t wait to jump into bed with Kafka; Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore lies by my bedside visibly, patiently.

As for The Pirates’ Manifesto, I need help… guidance… direction. At this point the doors appear shut and I don’t have the access codes yet. Perhaps, I need to read your highly recommended “Millennium” and fully embrace the persona of the Swedish Girl “Hacker”, Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, broke the codes and got her information! Did u say u had an English version or was it Danish?

As you know, it frustrates me endlessly to find that access to information is often restricted, denied, to the very people who might need it the most: the unpaid, unaligned, unfettered. I just cannot support subscribing to every journal and offering my contact to every site before gaining access. I wish to surf seamlessly, quietly and stealthily. But, as you mentioned in your mail, the world around us wishes to track and keep tabs, make tables and profiles, all of which I vehemently reject and work covertly (at least in my mind) to expose, sabotage these very schemes of control! 

Then of course, I stumble upon Diderot! With whom I find, I share the inherent conviction that knowledge should not be confined, restricted to any group, subset, academies, class. Like this enigmatic Frenchman, I am totally and completely for the free perpetuation of knowledge, yes, even in this programmed world of today… am I being naive? This militant passion drove me all the way, through many wormholes, to the doorsteps of Diderot and d’Alembert, and their incredible project of compiling the knowledge, thoughts and ideas of the world of their times, the summary of the Enlightenment: the Encyclopedie! I discovered that this compilation of knowledge went on to have a pivotal impact on the society of their times, through the expansion of knowledge and the development of the critical modes of thought, lighting the spark that culminated in the French revolution.

 The Enlightenment of course was about expanding the realm of knowledge to all people which struck a blow to all those that were out to control, contain and stifle reason and free thought. Knowledge was no longer in the hands of a select few: the Academies, the Clergy and the State, the average man (and what is even more important, the average woman) had access to the ideas of the age. No longer could the cosy relationship where the Clergy ( complemented and substituted in our day and age by the gargantuan educational institutions with their power, influence and billions) supports the divine right of kings (or presidents), and the other (the State) bestows an abundance of grants, tax free income and subsidiaries for such adulation and support! Yes, Roger, now you know which side of the argument I am on. Thus through the Encyclopedie and the free dissemination of information, Diderot aimed to erase the dogmatism of government, religion and illiteracy that pervaded. An idea more relevant than ever in the world of today, in this controlled and monitored world of today, the cyberworld of today. Carving out a mission for the modern day pirates!

See link – Diderot & d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, the Central Enterprise of the French Enlightenment:

This of course brings us back to the pivotal question: what language should this (The Pirates Manifesto) be written in! In the time of Diderot, Paris was the intellectual capital of the world, thus many of the ideas written in this language had the ability to spread. His Encyclopedia encompassing all the novel and radical ideas of the times, easily disseminated, perpetuated. What do you think would be the universal language of tomorrow where knowledge could flow effortlessly, seamlessly, a platform for inspiration and consensus?

Surfing through the colossus, I came upon a wonderful paragraph taken from the very controversial article written by d’Alembert for the Encyclopedia on Geneva. I find this 16th century piece amusing and as relevant today, would love to hear what you think:

This is very – strange that a city with just 24,000 souls, and whose territory does not fragmented thirty villages, do not cease to be a sovereign state, and one of the most successful of Europe: rich in its liberty and its business, she often sees around her on fire and never feel it, the events which agitate Europe are a spectacle for her, she enjoys without take part: attached to the French by alliances and by his trade, his trade by Englishmen and by religion, she pronounces impartial justice of the wars that these two powerful nations are to each other, although ‘ it is also too wise to take no part in these wars, and judge all the sovereigns of Europe, without flattery, without injury, and without fear.



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.

Purnima Viswanathan 

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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