Geneva Diaries #3

Servitus, Black Swan, Ashland, (in)Tolerance


Dear Roger,

Do you believe that Servetus, a refugee from Spain, hunted by the inquisition in France and executed in Geneva, can still today burn here in Geneva?

The shadow of the Black Swan that fluttered above my head whispered into my ear, “Purnima, what are you doing here in Geneva?”. I looked up to see the kindest face furrowed with concern, it was MICHEL SERVETUS. What was I doing in Geneva, living here in Champel, (not too far from Spain) and two weeks short of my 42nd year!

 He said that that he was on his way to Italy, and seduced by the lake and Calvin with whom he had many fiery exchanges, he came to rest here for a night. Servetus, this Spanish physician, philosopher, theologian, humanist was arrested, imprisoned, declared a heretic by the city council and burned at the stake in his 42nd year.

We walked together across Bourg-de-Four Square, him in chains and me in air, up rue de Saint-Antoine out towards Champel. My home, and the place he was tied with his book and burned. This burning of Servetus by the canton of Geneva symbolized the sacrifice of the freedom of conscience and due process of laws.

 It was here that he, Servetus’s spirit, turned towards me and said that the judgement against me has been long delivered, it just waits execution. I must not hold out, I must not test my strength but beg for the sword, just beg for the sword!

See Servetus in the wikipedia link Below:

Purnima on Servitus’s Trail – the Walk of Death Up Rue de Saint-Antoine to Champel.

Through the underbelly of Geneva…Remembering the errors men make and then ERR AGAIN:

Rue Michel Servet Geneva:

A Plaque erected condemning the error attached to the denial of the freedom of conscience:

Above translated: Respectful and grateful sons of Calvin our great reformer but condemning an error which was that of his century and firmly attached to freedom of conscience according to the true principles of the reformation and the gospel we erected this expiatory monument.

I may have left but my spirit still lingers with Servetus in Geneva. See Purnima with the Servetus Plaque:

So with this dramatic end, I must say goodnight and hope tomorrow is a sunny day.



Dear Purnima,

There is no intolerance the equal of religious fanaticism in the guise of tolerance, and no religion has an edge over any other in terms of devising monstrous ways of keeping the « faithful » in line.  Burning heretics, and witches or Jews during the Spanish inquisition, are all precursors of modern political renderings, assassinations and disappearances (the Bush and Co. meme about « If your not with us, you’re against us, and, therefore, a traitor keeps turning over and over in my mind).  It was fine for the Protestants of Geneva to set aside a day of fasting for the other beleaguered Protestants all over Europe, but they turned out to be just as ruthless and diabolical in « rooting out » anything that represented a threat to the status quo.  Even modern so-called secular society brims with examples : Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and national hero in England because he broke the German communication codes during WW II, was figuratively « burned at the stake » of sexual conformity and suppressive Victorian moral codes because of his homosexuality.

Have a wonderful trip to Basel.  Are you taking the train or driving ?

New York is now officially off, so any day that fits your schedule next week will work, but Tuesday would work well for me.



On Aug 14, 2009, “Roger Stevenson wrote:

Dear Purnima,

Wow, Talk about a random event – I just found this email in my spam box.  It

is the first and only time that an email from you has been dumped there.

Totally fascinating that you should relate Black Swan to the theatre – at

the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, my very favorite theatre there was a small

(seats about 80), very intimate setting where they do more modern and

somewhat experimental plays.  It’s called The Black Swan !

But on the other side of the mirror, I can indeed envision randomness in the

theatre.  I think it would be outrageous to write and produce a play where

the action and the eventual outcome was based on the intrusion of totally

random events during the performance.  It would have to entail actors who

were really capable of improvisation, and the potential for really boring

and meaningless performances would have to be accepted, but there would also

be the possibility of that extraordinary theatrical moment when new vistas

and visions were cracked open by the arrival of the Black Swan.  To my

knowledge, nobody has ever attempted such a play.  The Surrealists and the

subsequent Absurdists in France created some really fascinating plays in

which random happenings and chance occurrences were an element in everyday

life, but the structure of their plays was not such that such events had any

bearing on the way the play was staged – each night’s performance was the

same as the previous night’s.

But the high priest of Surrealism in France, André Breton, made many forays

into the world of dreams and chance happenings in his quest for a reality

that was superior to what we commonly refer to as reality.  He and his

followers used such techniques as automatic writing and many of them used to

spend their afternoons wandering the streets of Paris in search of random

events that would then be incorporated into their art and poetry.  Breton

met one of the women in his life during one such jaunt.

And in the virtual realm, we would have to infuse the many exciting features

of the theatre with elements of chaos theory.  I’ll have to give that more


Hope you have a good weekend.  When do you fly off to the land of illusions?  You might find this book by Chris Hedges revealing:

Gros bisous,


Date: Sat, Sep 12, 2009

Subject: Servitus

Hi again,

Now it is I who is on the verge of bombarding.

There is scant reference to Servitus on the web, but I did find this interesting bit that sheds further light on why he was arrested, brought to trial and burned, in a rather ghastly way.  But the author of this short piece seems to find some kind of redeeming light in Servitus’ martyrdom.  Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !

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.

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,



Loki and Co

Dear Purnima,

I’m back.  It was a short but strenuous trip to the land of the Vikings and my Dutch steed was even a bit late ferrying me back to the shores of Helvetica.  I dutifully kept a watchful eye for any unicorns in the various forests I travelled through and over, but the local bards all informed me that except for their symbolic  representation as the principal motif on the Danish throne they were last seen as they began their migration to warmer climes in the mountains of Transylvania in eastern Romania and Moldavia.  The forlorn mermaid in question was left dangling on the horn of indecision unable to make that fateful and often fatal choice, and even the counsel of Thor and Freyja could not budge her one way or the other.  My suggestion to her was that she resume her lilting pose on her partially submerged stone at the entrance to Copenhagen’s harbor where she can at least observe, if not fully partake in, both worlds.  As I slowly retreated into the alluring depths of post-modern Copenhagen, I could see her staring wistfully out over the horizon.

I always have real pangs of nostalgia when I leave the fairytale-like country of Denmark, and that was especially the case last night as we took off into the sunset and headed south.

Hope you had a good week.  What are you up to at the beginning of next week?  I’ve lots to relate and so do you.  Hope we can get together then.  I’m leaving again on Thursday, but headed south this time.

Sweet dreams,


Dear Roger,

This is my first communication from my new ship, I’m very happy as its quick, sleek (platinum blonde) and light, quite a head turner!  

loved your email, It sounds like you are in for quite an adventure. Wherever you go, you must promise to carry me on the tip of your spectacles. I wish to hear all. I hope I will get a chance to meet the “merry” mermaid after your great rescue (does she desire to be rescued?) and if possible receive news of unicorn sightings, I believe they frequent those northern waters. And if you manage to bring them both back, I would love to be finally invited to the Ark (you must be close to the finish, you seem to be building forever) especially now, as I fully expect to find a collection of the worlds most exotic creatures preserved for posterity.

My trip was an adventure from he time I embarked the plane, and now that i am back home I have been mulling over it. You mentioned the mermaid and the undercity, well I also visited an undercity, the New York subway system (it was straight from the game I had mentioned earlier-knights of the old republic). It sent a thrill up my spine as I descended deep down into the subterranean network, with varied accents, frenzied glances and exotic looks, each man for himself, I saw Rakghouls and Gamorrean traders around every pillar. I then approached the ticket collector who was standing outside her protective cubicle, she visibly geared up, reinforced herself as I approached as though her 6 foot frame must be prepared for a full frontal attack(, again right out of the game). And after making a quick assessment with her razor sharp vision, not perceiving any immediate threat(from tiny p) she was very helpful. 

Dear Purnima,

Just returned from my little jaunt to Munich last night.  Delighted to find your email.  I’m glad that you’re finding Zinn so engrossing – he is such a refreshing whiff of honesty and reality in face of all the sugar-coated pablum that most Americans are spoon fed through their education, the main-stream media and other organs of propaganda used by the institutions that control the unreality of the American dream.  It sometimes feels a bit like The Truman Show.  You don’t have to go far to find the “official” version of US history.  It’s everywhere.

I had an absolutely delightful time in Munich.  My friend John met me at the airport Saturday and we spent the afternoon walking through the extensive and really wonderful English Gardens and strolling through the pedestrian streets of the downtown.  That evening we had a dinner in a quaint little restaurant near the zoo where there were about a dozen of their friends gathered to celebrate their wedding.  I sat across the table from a young Korean woman who had lived in the States since the age of 13, but who was now living in Munich.  We talked a lot about her integration into American society, and she shares many of your same experiences and concerns.  We ate and talked and drank (me, I had a really delicious white wine to go with my Dorade Royale meal) and forgot all about the time.  It was nearly 3:00 am by the time we got back to the hotel.  Surprisingly, I didn’t feel tired at all – it was a lot like my graduate school days when I used to pull all-nighters finishing a paper.

Hope the fireworks were great.  You must have had a super vantage point.  Too bad I missed both that and the lipstick.  I’m a great fan of deep, rich colors, especially on such tantalizing lips.

Tendres bisous,



Hi again,

Thought you would find this video of Obama interesting.



A People’s History of the United States: An Alternate Perspective

Dear Roger,

Thank you for the book, your recommended reading has set my heart ablaze. Reading Zinn’s “Columbus, The Indians and Human Progress” Chapter 1, and “The Empire and the People” Chapter 12,  has me down into the dreary dark depths of human nature; are we as a species truly capable of such insensitivity and how do we justify it? 

Just so that I may rebalance my perspective, reverting to my nature to view both sides, I sincerely request being lent the “Establishment Version” to review.

And for now, I will just have to put this wretchedly riveting book down, put on some lipstick and leave to join friends on their rooftop garden to enjoy  a wonderful evening viewing the musical fireworks that will light up Geneva’s skies this 8th of August. A world far, far away from the grotesque face of Truth!

I wish I could share my passion for lipstick with you Roger…Oh the constraints of being born a boy!

Kisses (in sun-drenched orange),


On Jul 20, 2009, “Roger Stevenson” wrote:

Dear Purnima,

Saw a delicious but troubling film, “The Reader”, an adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s best selling novel.  It seems to pose the question, “how do you react when you discover that the woman you had a brief affair with as a young student and who left an indelible mark on your soul is really some kind of amoral monster because of her past as a concentration camp guard?”  During this idyllic affair, the young student’s initiation to carnal pleasure, she loved to have him read to her and insisted that he read something, always great literature, prior to their love making.  That act of reading to someone else is the thematic thread that is woven throughout the film/novel.  (some of my fondest and long-lasting memories of my mother are of her reading stories to me as a child). And now I ask myself how that act could be adapted to this virtual, ethereal medium.  Can one be a virtual reader in a medium that is largely, at least for the time being, text oriented?  The real clincher in the film/novel is that the woman is illiterate and suffers tragic consequences rather than admit her shortcoming.

I’m trying to free up some time this week, but it’s not easy.  Celine, Vincent and Alexandra staying with us until August 19th (They’re moving to Valencia in Spain) and it’s hard to get away.  Weds. and Thursday are Tour de France days.  Maybe Friday afternoon.   Would that work for you ?

Looking forward to seeing you very soon,




Envoyé : mardi 21 juillet 2009 18:23

À : Roger Stevenson

Objet : Re: This week

Dear Roger

I saw The Reader in two parts with a gap of two months in between and I still absolutely loved it. I was keen to see the movie as it had my favorite Ralf Fiennes, the same intense and seductive character from The English Patient, but there was too little of him. I wanted to see him fall back in love with the same woman now in her sixties and have a passionate affair.  I guess Hollywood is not quite ready for that yet.

As for moving from this movie this experience from the physical, from text, to the virtual, it’s already done. It  transcended text and moved into the virtual by its conversion into a popular  multimedia format and our discussions of it, both the text and film, online!

And so the virtual world continues to be created the final form of this creature, an arena of collective experiences, whether this be  Paradise or the Death Star it is to be waited to be seen.  

Hope to see u soon.     


On Jul 24, 2009, at 10:08 PM, “Roger Stevenson” wrote:

Dear Purnima,

I should have realized that you had seen « The Reader ».  Ralph Fiennes is one of my very favorite actors.  I loved him also in « The English Patient » and he was superb in « The Constant Gardner » together with Gretha Weitz.  I always felt that he would have made a far better Denys Finch Hatton for Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen in « Out of Africa »  He even looks a lot like Hatton, and I thought that Robert Redford was really flat in that role.

Do you think in « The Reader » that he ever really fell out of love with her ? 

I don’t, however, think that merely transforming the novel into a movie and discussing it over the internet really answers my question about how one can be a « reader » for someone else in this virtual medium.  There has to be an audible, comprehensible voice.  Skype, and, of course, cellphones are a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill.




Envoyé : lundi 27 juillet 2009 11:36

À : Roger Stevenson

Objet : Re: The Reader

Dear Roger

As I wait at the Swiss immigration office in Geneva for the nth hour, I am afraid I am going to be inundating you with mail ( even though I have the Black Swan sitting quietly in my handbag begging to be read).

It’s incredible how you seem to reflect my thoughts and put my words in such coherent language (finally I seem to have punctuation), whether it’s Ralph Fiennes or religion. A mirror image? Have u ever conceived of a female you? U know it exists.  

Back to the Reader, despite the fact that they made the female character illiterate and the male played the classic educating role ( when will the Anglo male get over the pygmalionesque fetish), it was good to see the female also playing an educating role, however earthy. 

I suppose I can find parallels in our philosophy,  a representation of Prakriti and Purusha, the earthly or rooted to the ground as represented by the female and the essence or the Spirit as represented by the male.  However, I have always understood the two sides to be equal parts of the whole, elemental and essential representing the balance of life. But we know in this concept, somehow the male element representing the intellectual educated voice, the essence or the spirit is viewed as somehow superior to the carnal basic earthy female element. When will u guys let go…give it up!

I would love to play the game of the image In the mirror, but on the condition u r willing to switch sides. Game?   


Jul 28, 2009, 1:23 PM

Dear Purnima,

Interesting comment about my feminine mirror image.  We have talked about this before, but I have always felt much more comfortable and willing to bear my soul to women.  Through the years I have had some wonderfully close friendships with women and on many fronts share a kindred spirit.  AND, I am often ashamed of my own sex for the stupidity and lack of sensitivity men often demonstrate in order to prove their « virility » and superiority.

I hadn’t considered « The Reader » to be a reflection of the pigmalion motif, although one could probably view it as such.  But there was no attempt or desire on his part to remold her and to make her into a more refined and cultured individual.  At the time he was, of course, enthralled with the sensual nature of their relationship.  She was a refuge for him from the stuffy nature of his family and school setting.  And while his education, even for a young man, was far more advanced than hers, I don’t think he really wanted to change her or make her into something more socially acceptable that would fit into his societal standing.  In fact, he was, at the time, completely unaware that she was illiterate.  They shared a common joy in reading great literature together, and were I in his shoes, I would never have questioned her motivation in wanting to listen to me read to her.  They shared both the pleasures of the mind and of the flesh and, as you point out, she played just as much an educating role as he did.  I actually think her position was the stronger of the two because she was operating in total lucidity as to their respective conditions, and it was really she who called most of the shots, whereas he was not completely aware of just who she was or the kind of baggage she was carrying around.  It wasn’t until the trial that he became aware of her illiteracy and her moral bankruptcy.  From that point on, his motivation for reading to her had completely changed, and I’m not sure that I can really put my finger on what that involved – a sense of shame, guilt, gratitude, love (he never really stopped loving her), pity ? ? ?

And as for the male/intellectual/superior vs the female/earthy/carnal dichotomy, there is much to discuss.  How can we be sure that such labels have not been imposed by the male dominated hierarchy over the centuries ?  Are such distinctions not simply intended to assure the male domination in society and to preserve his « rightful claim » to access to females AND at the same time their fidelity to him.  The abhorrent practice of genital mutilation, in my mind, has been conceived for just that purpose, and the clincher is that it is all couched in religious references that somehow justify such practices.

I’m always game !

Should we meet at the café in the museum around 9 :30 tomorrow morning ? 

Also, if I could pick up the inflatable mattress afterward that would be great.  We are having another house guest next week and with Celine, Vincent and Alexandra here, we are short on available beds.

A demain !


Dear Roger,

It was a pleasure as always to see you, to meet you and to speak to you. At some subliminal level, I do find between us a re-enactment of the Reader. I find myself compelled to read, to re-read in order to engage you. And of course there is always the unspoken unexpressed underlying sexuality…

See 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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