Geneva Diaries #19

Mulling over Morocco: Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Where did all the Good Guys Go? Kyoto Nuclear Arms Race


On Sun, Apr 18, 2010 at 2:15 PM.

Dear Purnima,

It’s our last night in Kyoto, and we’ve had a marvelous time here, although my feet are tired and sore from all the walking we have done. Yesterday was the fascinating Gion section of the city where the few remaining geisha who still work are a major attraction, but it is a part of the city with small wooden houses that are very traditional and a striking contrast with the otherwise modern architecture in the city.  We also went to the international Manga museum and a great museum of traditional crafts.  I am more and more impressed with the painstaking efforts Japanese artisans go to to produce such exquisite and beautiful things.  Nearly everything we saw (and see in many of the shops in town) is the result of very distinct procedures that have been handed down over the generations.

Last night we had an aperitif in a little Irish pub called The Hill of Tara, which, of course, made me think of you, and tonight we ate in an Indian restaurant, Kerala, which was really great.  The Japanese seem to be drawn to all kinds of international cuisine, and they sometimes do a better job at reproducing other countries dishes than many other countries I have visited.

So much to tell and so little time to do it. We’ll have to go for a long lunch when I get back so we can share all of our respective stories. 

Your mingling with the spirits of the Atlas mountains sounds ever so intriguing.  Thanks for taking the time to write it all out.  I’m really sorry that you are suffering so from loneliness.  I know just how down that can make one feel.  I very often experienced that during the final years of my first marriage.

We take the Shinkansen bullet train to Fukuoka tomorrow morning.  It is the port city of Japan that is the closest to Korea, and the Korean influence on the cuisine is apparently quite prevalent.  And the city is famous for its blowfish dishes – a poisonous fish that if not prepared right can be fatal. Not sure I’m up to trying it.  From Fukuoka  we go to Nagasaki and more wrestling with the conscience of a citizen of the only country that has ever dropped an atomic bomb on another country.

Take care.  More from Nagasaki,



Dear Roger,

A mail from you is such a cheerful thought, do keep writing! When I wrote to you last, I was in the throes of a low, it’s incredible what a difference a few days can make, the sun is now out and Geneva is glowing in the spring sunshine with glistening green hillsides and blossoming branches around every corner. Geneva is gorgeous again!

The other day, I had some (Sanskrit) verses coursing through my brain which I struggled to recollect but all I heard was the reciting of the verse that poured so melodically from my grandfathers lips and his face in bliss as he recited the glories of “madira” from our scriptures and ancient literature. Madira means wine, nectar, an intoxicating drink in Sanskrit, and it has the same meaning in Hindi, Urdu, Hindustani. Then upon further surfing I discovered that the Net seems to tell a different story: the story of Madeira, the principle city of a group of volcanic island in the Atlantic to the north of Morocco. Apparently, Madeira means wine as well, and this city is famous for its wine which it has exported around the world since the start of the age of exploration. It was taken to India by the Dutch East India Company as well as to the Americas. Thomas Jefferson even toasted the declaration of independence with his favorite drink, madeira. Incredible parallels between European usage and a Sanskrit word, I wonder if there is a connection, a journey? However, putting things in their correct chronological order, madira, a word so dear to us has appeared in our literature and scriptures millennia before Madeira became known as the wine port of call. 

See below Honey Wine(madira) from Ethiopia- Alison McBeth’s album:

And still on the subject of Madira, you had mentioned the difficult last few days of your first marriage, but did it last 10 years? Well, how about stepping into my shoes as try living as I have been living these last ten years with a delusional Captain Haddock imagining me to be a bottle of champagne, (The Crab with the Golden Claws) and continually trying to de-cork me! Try and out fizz that!! See pasted below:

Still mulling over our trip to Morocco, I decided to get the famous movie Casablanca, for the family to see, which captures a slice of the drama that was unfolding in North Africa during World War II. A movie that seems to always make it to the top of the list of all time greats but we never get a chance to see (all have to vote yes). The timing could not have been better, and we each seemed to connect on our own special plane. I was bowled over by Humphrey Bogart, the dialogue, the romance, the suspense, the setting and the story. He embodied the quintessential hero, the “All American Good Guy”, the guy who will “think for the both of us” which I often plead for someone to do… and do the right thing! I know somewhere in my heart, that’s what I went to America in search of and I left asking “Where have all the good guys gone?”

 But… hold on… all is not lost, I did meet some scintillating personalities whose lives brimmed with mystery and adventure, with travels to exotic lands, mastery of various dialects across the  globe, danger and dashing good looks. These real life stories which would even today out rival their Hollywood personas: The King of the Kasbah reclining in his grand room in an elegant Djellaba; the 6Ft tall Rock Hudson look alike championing for California Open Spaces; and of course my favorite, the Blue eyed Cowboy Counsel with a mischievous twinkle!  Unfortunately for me, they were also of Bogarts genre, I was just born 40 years too late! 

And of course, to shatter this fuzzy dream, there was that close encounter with none other than The Joker (Batman), a real life nightmare, one who said with the permanently fixed smile, “if you open your mouth”… and boom the fist came down symbolically on the table(The Firm); and heh, heh, heh “I guarantee you this, that you will NEVER work in the state of California”!!!  

With these memories and this endless silence, i find one hour melding into another. I find myself burrowing deeper into the Net, some print and of course my pen. As I try and race through The Rogues Gallery (a book on the history of the Metropolitan museum in New York and one from  my nostalgic past), I struggle to get to Phillipe de Montebello and his all so familiar voice guiding me through the galleries. I anxiously await this meeting, somehow I sense that he has the key, the key to my mystery! 

I wish to ask him for just one Night in the Museum, so that I might bring to life the relics of my culture, the sagas that have inspired me. So that I may unfreeze the friezes and breathe life into the Dream of queen Maya as she reclines on her bed waited upon by her attendants with the vision of the white elephant suspended overhead. I wish to bring her dream/ my dream to life in all its vivid colors released from its petrified form on a wall at the end of the Asian section of the Metropolitan Museum. See below The Dream of Queen Maya from the SFMOMA:

Another of my favorite story depicted in numerous forms across the ages is the romantic story of the handsome king Udayana which bears a striking parallel to the story of the Trojan Horse. Around the 6th century BC there were many changes taking place in India, new religions, rise of great states, (the sixteen mahajanapadas as old by the Buddhist texts) and many conflicts ensued as the states were battling to acquire new territory. 

The Tale of the Wooden Elephant:  King Pradyota of Avanti, made a clever plan to capture the neighboring king Udayana who was renowned for his love for elephants and music and  had a secret for taming elephants. The king of Avanti built a wooden elephant in whose belly he placed his soldiers. Upon seeing this curious creature, a blue elephant just across the river in the neighboring territory, king Udayana charged across to inspect it from near. He was immediately captured by the men hidden in the wooden elephants belly and taken to Avanti where he was held captive and assigned to teach the princess music, the secret which tamed the elephants. The princess was told he was a leper and he was told she was a hunch back and so the lessons continued through a veil. And, as it happens with most love stories, one day the veil dropped, they both saw each other fell in love and she helped him escape and became his queen. The story is romantic, but the characters are historic as buddhist texts even mention Buddha visiting Kaushambi during the reign of king Udayana.

How did you like the story? You must remember me when you visit the Met next!

In your email you mentioned:

“From Fukuoka  we go to Nagasaki and more wrestling with the conscience of a citizen of the only country that has ever dropped an atomic bomb on another country”.

Drona and the Code of War: Knowledge is the Greatest Deterrent! ( In case you go looking for this topic, I wish to inform you  that this is a product of my artistic expression/fabrication)

This had me thinking about the recent arms control/nuclear deterrence treaty that was the topic of most papers last week. The endless negotiations, airtight contracts tapping into the minds of the greatest pundits of our time to ensure that every issue is covered in order to secure the world from these weapons of mass destruction.

But, do you think that it is these discussions debates and endless treaties that secure the world from the devastating consequences of these expressions of man’s muscle? The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been out done a thousand times, resulting in not just bombs with a hundred times the power and impact of the dropped bombs but hundreds of those in the stockpiles of the world. 

In my opinion, it happened because of a lack of knowledge. Both the droppers (the US) and the nation impacted (Japan) along with the rest of the world were shocked at the extent of the devastation, not just from the impact but the long lasting impact radio active corruption of the air, soil and gene pool leading to severe birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities (do correct me). This was not a “bomb”, as conventionally understood, one that destroys upon impact, but concealed  in this false nomenclature, was unleashed a sinister core altering continuum of devastation.

 I believe, that had the world known the ramifications of using this against an adversary, as we do today, no conscionable soul/nation would have permitted it. Today, the greatest deterrent is the knowledge and the memory of the devastation caused on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unfortunately, there are possibly many other demons lurking in the closets of the giants, unknown to the world, unanalyzed, inconceivable and unfathomable by the average intellect.  Would the deployment of these will give us a second chance, an opportunity to put our heads together and draw up a deterrence diagram. The question is WHAT will be the guinea pig this time: our Earth, our blue skies, our soil, our gene pools? 

Good night and hope to hear from you soon!


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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