Geneva Diaries #29

Tech Troubles, Vagabond(er), Marche des Huguenots


Dear Roger,

It was wonderful as usual to see you last week, and as usual I was thrilled you enjoyed my cooking. Unfortunately, the rest of the day didn’t quite unfold as I had planned, we didn’t tour the old town. The weather was awful, and Leo wouldn’t give us a moment to pause, my apologies for that. The streets of veille ville are littered with fascinating nooks old homes, streets with exciting names that are oh-so-familiar, placards decorating old buildings and gnomes sculpted in various nooks and crannies… so much to discover, would have loved to do so with you! 

Though the week started dull gray and very slow, it certainly has gained momentum, I have much to share! The excitement started with unravelling French vocabulary with my new french teacher, a student at the University of Geneva.  The lessons were progressing brilliantly (even though she primarily speaks and explains everything in French) and for the first time, I felt I was actually getting a grasp of the grammar asking completely irrelevant questions and deviating off the prescribed schedule just to connect and exercise the few remaining brain cells for the first time without any embarrassment. As I sat sipping hot coffee on a foggy cold day, I attempted to describe my day (and myself) in French to jumpstart our French lessons. As I progressed through the motions of my day I attempted to romanticize my existence by describing myself as a “wanderer”, an ethereal being, a cloud (lonely, wandering) floating above the grinding core mechanisms of this earth, but unable to find the French word for wanderer, I looked at her for assistance. She returned the look with the same smile that always adorns her face (sweet and gentle) and responded “vagabond(er)”. I felt I had been slapped, I crashed back onto earth from my ethereal plane, and eyeballed her to catch a smirk or smugness in her smile was she using language as a camouflage to describe what she really though of me?!? She had just called me a vagabond, the English language equivalent of a low life, good for nothing, dubious and  deviant element of society who aimlessly moves from place to place! Of course, I asked for the dictionary, and then my iphone dictionary and then pleadingly at every passerby that this could not be so… but there it was wanderer was defined as vagabond(er). Roger, you know my favorite painting by Friedrich Caspar, the one I have described endlessly, the one I have dragged you to see at the museum bookshop … it was really me, yes,I was The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, see link below:

and now I am reduced to a vagabond c’est impossible!

All this of course brings us back to our favorite subject of language and how much can be misinterpreted, lost in translation.

And talking about being lost in translation, i’m afraid there appear to be some people who are in danger of being lost in prehistory unaware of the challenges posed by the new universe, the cyber/virtual world, the Net. The realms, the boundaries, the jurisdictions have all changed, expanded and many people out there seem oblivious or in denial… all this was gleaned from a very interesting conference I attended last week on E-Bay and the legal challenges faced in Europe. We all know it as a company that can help us purchase products (and for me its games, game consuls that cost the earth and are discarded by the kids without a blink) at substantially reduced prices. However, I learned that when it comes to luxury goods manufacturers, the story was not quite so rosy as they wish to have control over the distribution channels and their goods till the end and that is impossible with E-Bay and its likes around, i believe it’s impossible in the new tech world. So there have been cases and penalties and litigation to control and restrict the flow of these very special high end luxury goods from permeating this marketplace at the first instance or percolating through the grey market on resale. Upon quizzing the speaker who just happened to be seated next to me through the duration of her meal, I realized that the cases being decided in favor of by the luxury goods manufacturers and the resulting restrictions imposed only harmed their own citizens. I just could not understand it, as it effectively prevented the average French person (in this instance) from being able to access the sites where these goods were being sold at a great deal! Essentially, if I were a French woman (and the litigation continued to be decided in this vein), I would be blacked out from the new world of cyberspace “goodies going, going, gone…”!  Yes, I know I’m sounding very much like Funky Fred in his article in the Herald tribune this morning (It’s morning in India) on the appalling state of affairs in France due to the strikes, where he recommends the youth look over to India (which has tipped in the other direction, not good in my opinion) and get their act together and up to speed to face the world of tomorrow/their retirement. 

On the subject of India, Roger, as you know, I have spent my life waiting in lines, queues at various embassies and airports to get visas to the places I’ve charted to visit, often a frustrating and humiliating experience as the rest of the world seems to just breeze by for no other reason but that their governments have the power or savvy to ensure that the maximum gates remain open and welcoming to their citizens. Well… that certainly got me thinking about the persons across the globe with governments who are just not able or capable of comprehending the new realms, new jurisdictions, the new gates of the cyberworld and do not have the legal and political savvy to get their citizens the best deal possible. These are the boundaries, netizens of tomorrow, the passports will have to cleverly negotiated, relationships fostered so that the citizens of your nation can travel as freely and trade as openly without restriction as they take for granted in the real world. I’m afraid, not everyone seems to be up to speed, by denying the existence of the Death Star, The Net as I have called it ( depends on your control, it alternates between that and Paradise, and control is not denial), it will just not go away! What do think Roger, do you not agree with me that the legislators and the judiciary should not be wearing the blindfold, leave it to the one holding the scales.

And more action…

Once upon a time a sweet little froggie whispered in my ears about the journey of his people, the Huguenots to New York and their impact and influence in shaping my favorite city. Well, i got an opportunity to join my friends who were organizing Marche des Huguenots, a walk following the migration of the Huguenots, the French protestants who fled from France in all directions after the Edict of Nantes (which was created for their protection a hundred years earlier) was revoked. One of the first waves went through Switzerland (I learned that Geneva became the bastion of the Huguenots as they followed Calvin), all the way through to Germany and from there onto the United States. There was another connection as I had visited Pennsylvania and the Aamish country (the Swiss German branch that migrated to the US) and was fascinated at how they managed to maintain their rural ways (just like they were when they arrived in the mid 1700’s, no electricity, no computers, no cars) without the impact of technology or influences from the world to this day. The Huguenots migrated to Holland and England but most interestingly, they migrated apparently aboard the ships from the Dutch East India Company on their way to India via the Cape of Good Hope to South Africa and developed a wonderful vibrant settlement there sparkling the environs with wine and French culture. Our hike started in the charming Swiss village of Cartigny across picturesque Swiss landscape to the other charming village of Bernex. I reminded the kids that this hike was not only to explore Swiss countryside and learn some history but also because it was a part of the American story as we are; a migration of a people, as we emigrated(from India); in pursuit of a dream, so Dhruvum, Tara, Leonardo and I walked in the footsteps of the Huguenots on the path of liberty and tolerance. Do check out the photos:


Dear Roger,

Upon re-reading my mail to you this morning, I chocked when I reached the last line… did I say “tolerance”? Tolerance sounds like some one holding their nose till the stink passes or  one proclaiming that he/she is can take eggs in the pastry crust without developing hives! Persons elevating themselves to a position where they are able to bear, “tolerate” the presence of an essentially repugnant sight, smell or thought ! Oh gosh, we are desperately in need of a word… harmonious co-existence… but then we would need to teleport ourselves to the hippy happy sixties, no?

Dear Purnima,

With Obama visiting India and other points east this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about you and your Indian/American roots.  Is it the new hi-tech era and all of its power of bringing cyber-tekkies together that will seal a long-lasting bond between our two cultures ?  Are we not all becoming cyber vagabonds (chasers of comet tails) ?  It is also interesting that almost all the countries Obama will visit during this foray are, at least partially, Anglophone.

And talking about Obama’s trip, have you followed all of the outrageous clap trap from the ultra-conservative right and the tea party about the costs of Obama’s trip ?  It seems that nothing the man does meets with their approval, and they find the most spurious arguments to put him down.  As one commentator I read said,  “If Obama does it, it is wrong, because Obama is wrong”.  I personally think that America took a giant step forward in electing an Afro-American as president, but, unfortunately, they simply aren’t ready to let him be president.  On the other hand, he has sorely disappointed the progressive left in the US for his lack of determined leadership and unwillingness to take bold steps to bring about the change he promised.  Even Michael Moore, a fervent supporter during the election campaign, has attacked him for his lack of courageous leadership.  But then, one has to remember that he owes his election victory in large part to Wall Street and the financial interests that made his campaign successful.  Rather than bold change, he is marching to his taskmasters’ orders.

Are you off to the gym today ?  Have a good time ogling the cute instructors!



Dear Roger,


Dear Roger

Having experienced complete disorientation, lost all sense of time and space and most of my human sensations since my free fall down the rabbit hole and especially during the last two years over this protracted visit to wonderland, I find myself slowly petrifying, turning to stone, and fear that I am being returned to grace that distant corner of my living room with the other Gandharas…However, i know there is one who can break the spell and breathe life back to the Gandhara, and he is to be found at the high temple of the white devil, I’m on my way…  I’m actually on my way to Paris!


Dear Roger

There is a price to pay for a beating heart, I feel everything, pain sorrow exhilaration with Whitesnake playing my favorite tune in the back ground, “slow and easy”. Do you know it… “take me down slow and easy, make love to me slow and easy, I know that hard luck and troubles are coming my way so rock me till I’m down on the floor, rock me till I’m down on the floor”. That’s all I can hear over and over again, how I love whitesnake so much a part of my youth (as a rockers sister)! Do chk it out on YouTube:

I’m off for my French lessons the chief inquisitor awaits( did I tell you that my French teacher was Spanish).

The Grand Inquisitor continues with her sessions, who would have believed a reincarnation in this form so petite sweet with a decidedly sing song tone. We are visiting the cavernous halls of the torture chamber next, I will need to spit out legal terminology in French and English! Yes, it’s the library next. 

See you next week and think of me whenever u hear Whitesnake!


Chère Purnima,

Nous aussi.  Je te souhaite bonne route.  Je garderai avec moi mon téléphone portable au cas où tu as besoin de me téléphoner.  Je peux toujours venir te “guider” depuis la sortie de l’autoroute.  Si tu as le moindre problème, n’hésite pas à me téléphoner.

A demain,


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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