Geneva Diaries #26

Privacy, Coppet, Mdm De Staël, Met, Princess Broglie, Lucretia, 4th A


Dear Roger,

This story takes me back a couple years to a lazy spring afternoon, where I lay in my glorious garden bursting with flowers enjoying the sunshine of sunny California, when my little daughter came running out (to disturb my peace once again) and begged me to go through an old diary full of pictures. The diary was full of graphics, artwork and many portraits. As I flipped through mindlessly, one struck home, an arrestingly beautiful face, an elegant manner, a gentleness, draped in blue silk but there was something more and I returned again and again to read it. I could not get that haunting look out of my mind and that’s how I was propelled onto this journey. I searched her, I googled, but did not get it then. All I got was that this was the portrait of Princess Albert de Broglie, married into the famous Piedmontese family (yes, some places keep returning… mythical Piedmont) that had emigrated to France in the 17th century, a family known for its literary achievements with noble laureates and members of the French Academy. I realized that this painting was a part of the Metropolitan Museum collection and thought that I was recognizing a face I had most certainly seen during my years in New York City and my many visits to the Met, so I put the whole thing out of my mind… no, no ghosts in this closet! Do see this fabulous portrait pasted below of Princess Albert de Broglie that so mesmerized me.

The Met: Princess Albert de Broglie

Then of course, as you know, life tumbled along and we found ourselves as inhabitants of magical Lake Acchoda… oops Lake Geneva. The two years passed with the usual ups and downs, as I continued determinedly on my journey to unwrap the ghosts of Geneva. It was then that I stumbled across Madame Germaine de Stael, who happened to be observing me curiously as I scampered through the streets of Veille Ville for the umpteenth time. Upon confirming that I was for “real”, she held out her hand and led the way. The rest of it is a heady dizzying adventure, my repeated walks through old town in search of her, the many nights of surfing in the the dark trying to read about her, read her and read what she had written for me. The journey took me through an enjoyable book about the first modern woman (Germaine de Stael), a visit to the Chateau in Coppet and that evening out to view the fireworks by the shore of Lake Geneva in Coppet (in celebration of Swiss National day).

Chateau Coppet:

Purnima visits The Chateau of Madame De Stael in Coppet

Coppet is charming small hamlet on Lake Geneva, just a stones throw from Geneva. It is here that Germaine de Stael’s father, Jacques Necker bought a chateau and settled down (see the Chateau of Coppet). Jacques Necker, a banker from Geneva who had settled in Paris achieved great wealth and prominence as the banker to the king, Louis XVI, and  his wife Susanne Curchod was known for one of the greatest literary salons in Paris. Germaine who was raised in this environment which helped hone her skills and intellect was known for her brilliant mind, liberal views and her many literary and political publications and her books (which I am dying to read) Corrine, The Considerations on the French Revolution and on Germany (an insight into the mind and culture of a people). 

Her salon in Paris was renowned and this she carried with her to Coppet when she fled during the “terror” thus transforming Coppet into the intellectual center of Europe, with the greatest liberal ideas of its time flowing through its doors, walking its grounds and dining at its table where it was said that more wit is expended in one day than in the rest of the world in a whole year. Her scintillating salon with its writers, artists, poets and critics where Germaine entertained novel ideas about liberty and constitutional monarchy thus seeding voices of dissent. This resistance to Napoleonic imperialism caused her to be under virtual house arrest in Coppet and for extended period of time barred from venturing near Paris, the place she most yearned for. So, this dynamic, modern, liberated woman who was not afraid of voicing her opinion and participating actively in the politics of her day either in Paris or Coppet, gathered around her all the luminous minds and voices she missed in Paris and thus grew the Groupe de Coppet.

Her personal life was deliciously unconventional, she had an arranged marriage to the ambassador of Sweden, Baron Stael von Holstein (for the title and the immunity it afforded her as the ambassadors wife) with whom she did not communicate, and then a series of glittering lovers like Talleyrand and Narbonne, Count Ribbing (the mastermind of the assassination of the king of Sweden-Finland) and most importantly Benjamin Constant. Benjamin Constant, a Swiss born French nobleman was the true love of her life (I’m afraid, my stories are always filled with True Loves and Dragons and we know where one large beast is lurking). Theirs was the most prominent intellectual pairing of their time, they not only shared their love and passion but their thoughts and ideas on liberty and constitutionalism (I have so much to read… it appears from one of my surfings, that Benjamin Constant, while comparing Liberty between the Ancients and the Modern, giving the example of the United States, essentially re-iterated the Bill of Rights and all that we take for granted today… just like me). Yes, somewhere I know, if I were Germaine, Benjamin would be my true love!   

Germaine had two boys and a girl who grew into adulthood and it was wonderful to hear that the descendants of her daughter Albertine still are in possession of the Chateau. Now comes the really interesting part… Albertine married Victor 3rd Duc de Broglie. Yes, the same brilliant literary Piedmontese family as mentioned above! In was while touring the final room of the Chateau de Coppet, that I saw those familiar eyes once again, and my hair stood on end…a portrait of Louise de Broglie, the same pose, the same blue dress of luxurious silk, the same lines! It was Louise de Broglie, the grand daughter of Germaine Stael, drawn by Ingress who apparently also later painted a portrait of her sister-in-law Princess Albert de Broglie, the one who had invited me on this journey in the first place probably peering at me from her mantle as I ambled along the corridors of the Met, whiling away my hours in New York. Louise de Broglie or countess D’Hausonville though married to a diplomat writer and a member of the French Academy was apparently herself no pushover, she was independent, outspoken and liberal and published a number of books.  This portrait of Louise de Broglie was acquired by the Frick and forms a part of their core collection (with my 100 percent approval as she is now French American and the face of the American woman I recognize).

Do you know the Frick, the fabulous New York Mansion in the 70’s and 5th bequeathed by the coke and steel magnate (when you guys give, its gargantuan)? I guess this is one way of importing the culture, the people, the magic of Germaine Stael. Check out the portrait of Louise at the Frick below:

The Frick Collection: Louise de Broglie/ Countess D’Hausonville

Of the many personalities that visited Coppet, Lord Byron was a prominent visitor often found by Germaine side during her not so well years. This was also probably around the time he composed the poem I keep returning to, the one that keeps churning in my mind, the one I have made mine, The Prisoner of Chillon. And, like Kadambari, somehow all the pieces fit, fall into place somewhere, sometime… but as I think of Byron and Germaine de Stael, ones who shared my passion for love and liberty, and as I think of liberty I fall into my usual self created tar pit/quicksand of “privacy”, as there is no liberty, in my opinion, without the protection of that sacred inviolable space, private place, which man takes for granted in society and one which is under repeated assault. And, its is only after we secure this space that we can dream of liberty.

With Byron back on the banks of lake Geneva, my mind drifts again and I also think of my blue bird, a story that seems to have flown far far away. But then I reassure myself, that my blue bird exists, my story exists, I dreamed it, I lived it and expressed it, it lies somewhere in some plane…a place that can never fly away… for we’ll always be together in electric dreams. Do check out my all time favorite movie/song “Electric Dreams” on youtube:

Electric Dreams- (Phil Oakley)- We’ll always be together in Electric Dreams!

Still on the subject of journeys and daring and dynamic women, did I ever mention my trip to Basel to view the Van Gogh exhibit at the Kuntzmuseum, one of the cities most prominent museums? 

Basel Kunstmuseum:

Well, the exhibit we journeyed to visit was a suffocating squeeze with a gadzillion people nose to nose and all we wanted to do was get OUT of there. But in this desperate struggle for air, my kids slipped into a neighboring gallery which as a stark contrast, was completely empty. That is where my daughter spotted the art that would impact her life, “The Rape of Lucretia”. As expected, there were an endless volley of questions all the (long) way back home, about definitions of words and of course the story of Lucretia. I told her about the Etruscans unique culture and civilization that occupied most of Italy and their dominion over the mediterranean, the dynasties of ancient Rome from the 7th century BC onwards before the Republic, where women enjoyed an elevated status and liberty unknown to their Greek and Roman counterparts. The women participated fully in public life and were often literate. Here the goddess Menrva, the counterpart to the Greek Athena (Roman Minerva), unlike the Greek goddess who was a goddess of war, the Etruscan Menrva was concerned with matters of marriage and childbirth, which shows us that the women had a say in identifying the important duties for their prime deities.

Lucretia, this legendary figure of ancient Rome, a brave and determined woman, a legend to revere, was born into a high ranking Etruscan family, married into another aristocratic family. The story goes that the kings son, Sextus Tarquinius, paid a visit to the province to meet the governor, Lucretia’s husband, who was away on a campaign, instead Sextus stumbled upon Lucretia and testing her will to resist he raped her. This represented the degenerate and autocratic depths the monarchy had fallen into where one individual controlled the life and death of many and wielded this power ruthlessly, absolutely. This strong and determined woman in order to highlight the depths to which her society has succumbed, and how her vulnerability and helplessness was reflective of the helplessness of her society. She called upon her elders and made a public case with the intent of taking the kings son to task. It is here, in this central square that she thrust a knife between her ribs to make her final statement highlighting the degenerative state of Roman society where her most sacred inner sanctum, her emotional and physical space, her privacy was violated. Her words were not spoken from the glory of a podium robed in royal splendor but doubled over and drenched in blood at the feet of the men of her society that had failed to protect her. It is resulting from this act that we have the most evocative and powerful voice of a woman rebelling, speaking, taking a stand and making a case which is remembered across cultures and immortalized in art in “The Rape of Lucretia”. Pasted below is Botticelli’s version of the Rape of Lucretia with Lucretia lying drenched in blood with a dagger in her heart in the central square surrounded by the people who failed her.

Rape of Lucretia -Botticelli

Basel Kunstmuseum – Lucretia

Images of Lucretia in Art:èce_(dame_romaine)

By now you must have noticed, I can never seem to escape from the quicksand of privacy. After the long tale of Lucretia, I told my daughter that we each have our private space which we must hold true and secure, defending it with our last breath. As for myself, the space I cannot and will not permit anyone or anything to invade… is my mind. Unfortunately, because of the ludicrousness of my apprehension, I am unable to present my case but as a story, theatre:  If this mind were compromised, violated, invaded, it would be more than a tragedy for one person, for I believe in this mind is the message of my people, the ancient chart that shows the best route for the eternal “journey to India” the words whispered into the ear of a two year old, the little hands held and guided and the mind exercised by the elders of my tribe. 

On this quest of identifying and securing the right to privacy, I venture back to the Bill of Rights, and find myself face to face with the 4th amendment to the US constitution- The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure… warrant shall issue only upon probable cause… must particularly describe person or thing to be seized. This sounds like someone was trying to identify and secure “private space”, right to privacy. It was further clarified to include all areas where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, yes that phone booth with the closed door even if it is in a public place, your home, personal phone conversations, private mail/email and yes of course it must include your mind and thought waves!!

I was most excited to read Brandeis’s dissenting opinion (challenging that wiretapping does not fall within the ambit of search and seizure) recognizing its relevance in this fast evolving technological universe of today. He highlighted that at the time of the inclusion of the 4th amendment into the US constitution, the only conceivable seizure was through force and violence but we cannot limit the protections to the “then” imaginable forms of force and violence but must incorporate all such translations of force and violence that evolve with the evolution of technology. Thus where once a physical seizure was the only recognizable option, technology has evolved to assist persons to seize remotely anonymously, without any physical contact. Thus if we were to rely on any literal construction of these protections afforded by the constitution without translating them into todays world, it would be redundant thus diminishing the value of the entire document. 

The part where I do cartwheels is where Brandeis elucidates the rights guaranteed by the 4th amendment, ”  The most comprehensive of rights and the rights most valued by civilized men, to protect the right, every unjustified intrusion by the government upon the privacy of an individual, by whatever means adopted, must be deemed a violation of the 4th amendment”

Yes, this is truly all encompassing and as I see it (as long as you don’t stretch the “justified” piece),  includes all conversation communication, correspondence, in addition to the physical space where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Once again, Roger, I reiterate, that like Lucretia, I wish to highlight and secure my most sacred, inviolable space, my mind, my thoughts my musings. And, if my mind has been invaded, seized and searched through any means of technology known or unknown, my stand must be as vivid and strong with its echos reaching into the hearts and souls of the blind and deaf men of my tribe. And, just like Lucretia, I must find a spot, a central place right in the heart where my presence and my words would carry, be heard. And, Bourg du Four beckons every time I pass, no not for Servetus, but for Lucretia. Yes, right here in the oldest fortifications, gates of the old town of Geneva, opposite the men chosen to safeguard the citizens and those chosen to administer justice, opposite the police and the Palais de Justice, that would be the fitting place for the final act: Yes, my mind has been violated, invaded, searched, seized monitored but not once and not twice but repeatedly, consistently, over an inconceivable stretch of time… and still there is silence!

See below Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian:

Do check out the song of our times, The Wall on youtube, great video.

Pink Floyd- The Wall (We don’t need no education, we don’t need no THOUGHT CONTROL… Hey Big Brother leave us kids alone!)

I now come to the last book, the final woman resting by my bedside and one whose life and fate is forever entwined with Geneva, The Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Empress Elizabeth of Austria, born Elizabeth of Bavaria, married at 16 to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was renowned for her beauty and dynamism, recognized as the finest horsewoman of the 19th century. Her free spiritedness and liberal views made it difficult however to reconcile a life in court and she pursued her travels with a passion. Her particular fondness for the natural beauty of Geneva, brought her to these shores on the fateful day in 1898 where while walking on the promenade she was struck down with a sword to her chest by an anarchist Luigi Lucheni. Her wish was to die at the shores of the ocean and she often called Lake Geneva as vast and blue as the ocean, she did lie down by these banks and is immortalized by the sculpture of her on that spot. Pasted below is the mesmerizing sculpture that I pause at every time I walk across to the other bank.

Empress Elizabeth of Austria

It was fabulous to see you the other day at the museum cafe, I would love to coordinate a date to have you and Annick over, how does the first weekend of September work for you (it will be just me and another friend, Mirko will be in the US). Good night and hope to see you soon!



Objet : Women!

Dear Purnima,

Yes, it was fabulous to see you last week at the museum café and to check out your new look.

And Coppet and Mme. de Stael !  She and George Sand (now, there is a literary personality that you really should add to your list of bedtime reading !) were two of the outstanding Francophone women writers of their time, but both in their own way.  Sand, a.k.a. Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, was one of the very first feminist activists in a society that didn’t, or couldn’t, tolerate a woman who wanted to be treated on equal terms with her male counterparts, thus the male pseudonym, but that’s for another chat. 

Cute pictures of you and the kids devant le Chateau de Coppet !

George Sand was a fascinating person and a very devoted writer.  She set a quota of pages to write each day, something like 50, and on most days she fulfilled her goal.  She had inherited a sizeable fortune from her mother, but French law at the time put all financial matters in the hands of the husbands.  Her husband, who didn’t approve of her writing nor of her desire to spend as much time in Paris as possible, had total control of the money she had inherited.  She had to beg him for an allowance that would enable her to survive while living in Paris, which he begrudgingly agreed to in the beginning, but eventually, he cut off her funding.  She adopted a male pseudonym and dressed like a male so she could get standing room tickets to the theatre, something that was not allowed for women at the time.  She had many lovers, but a long-standing relationship with Chopin, was probably the most important one.  An interesting women, and it is a serendipitous coincidence that we are chatting about her today, since it is the anniversary of the beginning of feminism in France.

And a pseudo for you !  I’ll have to give that one a lot of thought.

Hope you have a good end of the week.  When do the kids go back to school ?



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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