Geneva Diaries #11



Dear Roger,

There is much excitement all around, and we seem to be in the center of it all. Geneva is celebrating its annual festival L’Escalade, where the Genevois repelled a surprise attack on the night of December 11th, 1602, by the Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel II. who was forever eyeing rich and independent Geneva. The Genevois legend goes that a mother of 14, poured a cauldron of burning soup on Savoyard soldiers which roused the citizens and helped foil the surprise attack. The Genevois returned victorious and remember this momentous event, I think symbolizing their essence, an innate desire for liberty, by drinking hot vegetable soup, a passionate run through the streets of old town by young and old (which passes almost by our home), mulled wine and not so mulled cheering. We joined the crowds and cheered the spirited runners, bought our chocolate cauldron, drank vegetable soup and hope to end the evening with a couple of bottles of wine!

See below Geneva – Fête de l’Escalade

Do see Tara below racing up the mountain in the 33rd Course de L’Escalade in Geneva:

Regarding our tete-a-tete, or shall I say face to face, apparently in French Tete-a-tete has altogether another meaning…yes, amorous overtones and our very adversarial “face to face” is the equivalent of tete-a tete! So, shall we say ???

Let’s meet and find out!

See you Thursday at 12:30, ok?



Dear Purnima,

I’m still haunted by the ending of Hard-boiled …..  Such wonderful, evocative prose and sense of nostalgia. I was shocked that he decided to stay in The End of the World, but then again, she had recovered (or better yet, he had recovered for her) her mind.  In a way it makes sense, but then again . . .

Now I’ve tackled the beautifully written Trois femmes puissantes by Marie NDiaye.  She won this year’s Goncourt Prize for the novel and also set off a storm of contention with her remarks about why she chose to move to Berlin shortly after Sarkoz’s election.  She said she hated the coarseness and the climate of fear inherent in the Sarkozy administration.  Her remarks prompted a rather ridiculous call on the part of a majority deputy in the National Assembly for recipients of literary prizes to be held to honor some nebulous “duty of reserve” when making statements about France and/or its political regime.  I loved her response when she said that she still stood firmly behind her earlier statement and that the suggestion of a “duty of reserve” was nothing more than an excellent example of what she had been referring to.

Glad you enjoyed the Escalade with all its overtones of hot soup (Quasimodo used boiling oil).

A tête à tête Thursday at 12:30 sounds intriguing.

Tendres bisous,


Dear Roger

I was also shocked when I read about this reaction to Marie NDiaye and the expectation that she is no longer free to express as she has been elevated to this “highest of literary podiums”, what a clever way to restrict speech, enforce censorship!

How about censorship as our topic for Thursday?

A long long letter is brewing…

C u later


Dear Roger,

I do hope the eye operation went off well… All the better to see me with???

As you know, I have taken my time to meet all the glittering ghosts of Geneva, but there are a few I would appreciate being introduced to, and the one currently topping my list is  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (and I can’t think of anyone better than you Roger, to make the introduction). I have kept the card to the gallery Espace Rousseau right here in the Old Town, but await the right moment for such a momentous meeting, will you join me?

The current (minaret blowing) events that have taken Geneva by storm, in my mind, propels this son of Geneva right up and center.

Rousseau:  The goal of government should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority.

How I wish to meet him, dashing, handsome, brilliant… he could be the one!

However, I found my adulation coming to a abrupt halt upon reading Rousseau’s response to d’Alembert’s article on Geneva where he  very critical about a theatre in Geneva, citing its adverse impact on the morals of the citizens, fervently conveying that there is no place for it in this city. “OHH..”I plead, “but the theatre is the essence of me, don’t let me down!”

 Then,  I scrolled down through his letter and read his views on women, it left me gasping;  in his letter, his response to d’Alembert’s Article on Geneva, he suggests that women produce the only gossip, and the moral decay of men, women and children. He states that though men have their vices, like drinking, they are far less harmful to society than women’s vices. He argues that the presence and authority of women in public spaces corrupts the male youth, turning them effeminate and void of patriotic passion. Oh you MMCP’s (medieval Male Chauvinist Pigs!). Another chap off my list for sure!

And talking about male chauvinist, I have the grand daddy of MCP’s tied around my neck! Thank you for inquiring, but the situation has just gone from bad to worse over the past year that we have been in Geneva. We only communicate via email if at all, and every time I get fuming mad, I write down a list of choice words that I have scanned from the the Oxford English dictionary to describe him. It ‘s incredible fun, a MUST share! 

His choice of words for me however, cannot be put down in legible print, shocking, horrifying,   mortifying! My only response is to embrace the persona that he has created of me in his mind and with his words, and strut the streets with a swagger, a sexy mini and a cigarette (cough, cough). Which brings me to our conversation of a couple of months ago where you mentioned that Geneva had reburied its favorite prostitute and social worker, Catin Revolutionaire,  in the Cimetiere de Roi right next to Calvin, Jean Piaget and Candolle! Did you know Roger, that this revolutionary whore, Grislidis Real  was a dedicated social worker and a talented writer who devoted herself to campaigning for the rights and dignity of the sex workers (it’s ironic that a service as much demanded by society and thus in existence across ages and cultures, is the one that is most reviled and degraded).

See Grislidis laid to rest in the Cimeterie du Plainpalais next to Calvin and Candolle (Don’t miss me with Gris):

Grislidis, the name itself comes from Boccaccios loyal and patient Griselda, the victim of an inconsiderate and brutal husband who permits the Devil to test her resolve. In my instance, the Devil has eyes of brilliant blue (and is French of course). Je ne lui resiste pas!

 I thought since such shocking words were being leveled at me, why should I not assume the persona of the grandest and the greatest of all the whores to strut the streets of Geneva. So, in my mind, I became Grislidis Real (yes, the other persona being Tocqueville), but then something bizarre and mysterious happened, I found that the persona that I was wearing on my mind “the greatest whore in christendom”,(language plays a curiously insidious role for you are already prejudiced by the act of affirming that you are not Christian, not White and not a Man using the English language) was being reflected in the eyes of the people I passed on the street! This was impossible, I was certainly loosing it, how could anyone READ MY MIND! But, there it was, day after day, especially when I wore a particular coat “The Big Black Rapper Coat , with the …..”). I have never had so much attention from so many men from across the age spectrum. The plain “p”, “sis”, “cuzin”, the girl whose ponytail was always being pulled, has turned into a SEX BOMB in Geneva, all by using her imagination… wow! But then I sensed that it got lewd and lecherous, people had started eyeballing me, there was even a decrepit old man (at our notorious neighborhood park) that stuck out his tongue! I did not know whether to laugh or cry, so I ran! I found that the city that sported posters all over to an exhibition called “Stigmates”, was really reflected in the eyes of its people. So, I ran and I ran and I ran…

And I found myself back in the cemetery right next to Calvin.

 2009, as you know is John Calvin’s quincentennial year, but, this is a special year as not only is it Calvin’s 500th birthday but its (my absolute all time favorite) Charles Darwin’s bicentennial! There has been much talk about the father of modern theory of evolution Vs the father of liberty. The war of the world views. I see no conflict, but surprising parallels: Calvin, this brilliant theologian, this man from Geneva, certainly a revolutionary of his time, challenging the current norms and dogma and proposing a novel idea (Roger, do correct me. have I grasped it right?): predeterminism, that life is pre ordained, we are born with “game plan” and thus there is no sinner and no sin, all we can do is to do our best to make this life the best resting spot we can make it and of course the controversial idea of the pre-selected/the chosen few. Thus with these ideas he hoped to further light the path, to get a step closer to understanding the world we live in which led to the Reformation. Similarly, Charles Darwin, a brilliant evolutionary biologist, who first described biological evolution with natural selection and whose “On the Origin of the Species” transformed the way we see the natural world. His theory that all life is linked by common ancestry threw the norms and ideas that formed the base of society, that the world around us was the result of divine creation, into a tailspin creating a revolutionary, a pirate! Darwin was aiming to free the human mind from these shackles and light up the mind using reason and science, whereas Calvin, on a similar journey wished to free the human mind and soul through the path of reform, religious and structural changes which he believed would bring us closer to god, spirituality and freedom of the soul and spirit. Thus one took the path of science and the other religion to reach the same goal, to free the human mind from the shackles of dogma!

But in this cosy corner of our graveyard, I see a bony hand being raised…Candolle! Yes, let’s not forget Candolle, a brilliant botanist and yet another luminous son of Geneva whose theory of Nature’s War, the warring of species and resulting evolutionary pressures probably lit the spark that culminated in Darwin revolutionary theory of Natural Selection. Of course, many loopholes to Darwin are “religiously” cited: brain development being one of them, which has not changed for millennia… have we reached the end? I always respond with: Perhaps our brains have reached that full potential (in any case, as we discussed, memory and storage are being kept outside), that perfect size where we can not only eliminate ourselves but everything else around us for eternity, so possibly, its time for the heart (metaphorically) to grow instead, to grow in empathy and feeling for our fellow humans which WILL give us humans the needed evolutionary advantage. What do you think Roger?

So much more to say but I have to be up in time for breakfast!

Good night.

All The Sons of Geneva:


Dear Purnima,

Wow, what a wonderful way to greet the day: I love reading your dazzling gyrations into history where you blend science, religion and sex into a mesmerizing concoction that leaves me weak in the knees.

I think your initial fascination with J.-J. Rousseau is quite understandable, but you were wise to probe his darker side as well.  He was truly one of the precursors of literary Romanticism and one of the first to write about the I, the ME, and proclaim loudly to the world the “I am important, my subjectivity can be the object of literature and the way in which I write about ‘me’ is also reflected in the narrative structure of my essays and novels.  Something we must be forever grateful for.  But on the other hand, he was indeed a MCP and a reckless and neglectful father to his children.

Your treatise on Darwin and Calvin, both moving toward the same  goal from differing viewpoints was inspired, but I still must take exception about Calvin.  While he may have wanted to free the individual from the accepted dogma of his day, he, nevertheless, created his own version of restrictive rules that defined what was acceptable behavior and imposed penalties for those who failed to view things as he saw them, like being slowly burned at the stake for daring to differ with his vision of the universe ! ! !  Need I say more. I find Darwin ultimately a far greater liberator.

And yes, the eye surgery went very well.  It’s really amazing when you think about it, but at least I can see very clearly now with both eyes, indeed, all the better to gaze longingly into your own penetrating, enticing and bewitching eyes.

And what persona will you adopt on Thursday ?

See you then,


Dear Roger,

It’s great to get your mail all the way here in India…a thread, a continuum of my life in a land far far away!

Yes, its does seem so very far away. I have crossed not only many lands and mountain ranges but feel that on this particular journey, I have travelled across many languages, many cultures. With my recent immersion and study of the French language, I seem to be finally connecting the dots. As you are well aware, language and specifically words, have over the millennia, embarked upon their own unique journey (since we are always on the topic of journeys), subtly moulding and changing as they go along from Sanskrit, to Hindi, to Urdu, to Persian, to Arabic and French and Italian, to English. I was always familiar with the first part of the journey, the basket of languages that fall under Hindustani, Hindi (with the Sanskrit basis), Urdu, Farsi which form our everyday parlance, and of course English, which is the language of choice and communication. But now, you have introduced me to the “missing link”, French, and my circle seems almost complete! It’s been fun and fascinating to see how the words I am familiar with have travelled, and have influenced the language I am anxious to learn. I would love to share this new found knowledge with you, if you care to indulge me once again just for a bit, a byte, a cup of coffee.

The other fascinating revelation traveling from Europe to Asia has been, the unique impact of culture and faith on language and the way it subtly, so very discretely moulds the user and the way he or she perceives the universe ( I would LOVE your feedback on this). English and the latin tongues with their Christian references, Sanskrit based languages with their Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist references, Urdu with its Islamic references, Persian with both Islamic and Zoroastrian references (this is the most fascinating of all stories which we need to fully explore, as it ties in with “our” Indus Project: the same three boat-full story, fleeing religious persecution to reach the shores of freedom, India).

Coming back to you mail, I would love to learn more about this offshoot of the Swedish Pirates Party that has anchored itself on your shores, what’s the core idea? Regarding the policing and enforcement of cyberspace, as we discussed, the current system of “Earthy Laws” are inapplicable, as there are no acceptable systems for monitoring and enforcement. This space needs its own monitors, legislatures, and enforcers. And as you know, this is the space where Pirates rule, and the only way this space can be organized is if there is a consensus among the pirates, a honor code (no, I didn’t intend to steal dialogue from the Pirates of the Caribbean…but I can’t think of a better reference from pop culture).

And talking about governments and their monitoring, their systems and their policing…spins me round and round, right back to places and people i wish to forget. Roger, I still find the impossible to remove stains of  the pomegranate. Granat Fatal, remains with its distinctive hue upon my lips. Donner pass, the road i took to my ski lodge innumerable times over all those winters in California, a place where over a century and a half ago California pioneer emigrants who (like us) journeyed in over the Sierra Nevadas to make it to California, instead found themselves trapped and snowbound in this cold inhospitable place. Their story of survival and rescue of course has taken mythic proportions but my mind often wanders back, back to The Emigrants Tale, to the grizzly piece about the Donner party and  their consumption of “the food of the dead”.

The Donner Party:

I thought it was a turkey sandwich, how was I to know that there was a finger in my Hamburger! Perhaps, the glares, the stares, the shifty glances from under upturned collars, that greeted me as I walked park Bertrand, perhaps the eyeballs that appeared to spring out from hooded cloaks seeming to inquire all the time “was it crunchy”,( to which i responded with an…eeeooow…please get that eye ball out of my face!) was a response to the vivid stain on my lips, on my body. For the longest time, the menu card at restaurants seemed a perpetual nightmare: finger fish, the fingers seemed to jump out and pull my nose, chicken breast (please no more body parts), leg of lamb and the list is endless! And then of course, there is the well known local restaurant just across the Palais de Justice, that I pass everyday on my way downtown, Au Pied-de-Cochon, or in English translation(perhaps not everything should be translated into English), Feet of PIG… I am still trying to reconcile with the palatability of that!

In bed in delhi nursing a cold, time to reconnect with Murakami!

Do keep writing and stay in touch. See you soon.


Geneva – Au Pied De Cocon

Fri, May 15, 2009, 12:30 AM

Dear Purnima,

Thanks again for the delicious lunch last week.  It was very thoughtful and I loved both the company and the food.

Have you blown up the mattress yet ?  I hope it worked alright.

I’ve been following the elections in India somewhat.  There have been some excellent articles in Le Monde about them.  It would be interesting if there were a new woman prime minister elected.  A was interviewed this morning on Swiss radio about a new book on Kofi Annan that she translated and adapted for the French edition.  One of the questions she was asked was whether it would be a good idea to have a woman at the head of the UN.  Her answer was an unqualified ‘Yes’ !

We’re going to Neuchatel today for A’s birthday and tomorrow we’re going to Milan by train.  I wanted to see a stage of the Tour of Italy and couldn’t resist the idea of the spectacular train ride through the Swiss Alps.  When are you going to Germany ?  Still planning on Freiburg ?


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 

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