Geneva Diaries #37

Vagabond, Brothers Visit, Right To Be Forgotten, Schonberger, Rhine Falls, Schaffhausen, Zurich, WWF

On Thu, Mar 24, 2011

Dear Purnima,

How could you even suggest that I might forget you ???

Your last two emails have been really upbeat and positive, but how could it be otherwise after swooshing down the slopes of Chamonix in the shadow of that giant, glacier covered cone, and your anticipation of your brother’s arrival seems to have brightened your outlook considerably.  I’m jealous of all your adventures, especially the skiing and the pilgrimage back to Gruyère and the Glacier Express trip. Will this be your farewell fling with Switzerland before moving on?

The street scene here in Kuala Lumpur provides an almost constant tweak of my consciousness about you: there are enormous numbers of Indians hanging out in the shopping centers and the lobby of the Hotel Marriott – one of the nicest and most elegant hotels I have seen, and no, we aren’t staying there ! You are everywhere!

Yesterday we spent most of the day playing tourist downtown and sampling the spicy hot curry dishes, watching the multi-ethnic shoppers, imagining what delicacies are hidden under the elegant, black burkas with only two deep and beguiling eyes peering out behind a narrow opening (maybe I’ll have to change my attitude about Muslim traditions), dining in a fabulous Malaysian restaurant with a Thai waiter with a contagious and intriguing smile, and winding our way back to Celine and Vincent’s apartment in a taxi driven by the most friendly and talkative cabbie I have ever met.

Today will be more of the same with a planned apéro high above the city in one of the Petronas twin towers.  Tomorrow we fly to Kuching on the island of Borneo for three days of idleness at a beach resort, then back to KL for three more days before winging our way back to St. Pierre via Paris courtesy of Air Asia.

I had my very first Thai massage yesterday as well.  I was sufficiently warned that it would be a painful experience, but I was determined to see what it was like.  It was excruciatingly sensuous torture as a young Malaysian girl clad in black stroked, kneaded, crushed, stretched and twisted every muscle in my body.  I can still feel the aftereffects, especially in my back where she not only used her hands, but her elbows and knees to exert pressure on those muscle fibers. At times our two bodies were entwined in strange configurations as she seemed to have a unending source of techniques and new positions to inflict such sweet suffering.

Before leaving for KL, we spent two days in Paris at the annual Paris book fair.  I attended a fascinating question and answer session with the British writer Ian McEwan, whom I really love.  I’ve only read two of his novels: On Chesil Beach and Atonement, but his latest novel, Solar, has just been published in France.  It is about a Nobel Prize laureate who spends the rest of his life coasting through his decades-old fame but remaining void of new ideas and imagination.  The underlying theme of the book is climate change (one of the reasons the book wasn’t well received in the USA).  McEwan was such a treat to listen to, and I found him not only extremely intelligent and witty, but very human and down to earth.  I found his book in English at a bookstore in KL yesterday, and I am now in the middle of his tale of failed marriages and unfulfilled expectations.

Do enjoy your brother’s visit. I’m really happy that you can get away from the dreariness of your apartment in Geneva for a few days, and I look forward to hearing all about it.

Giant hugs,



Re Coucou,

Thought you might appreciate this take on the OBL killing by one of my favorite journalists in the Middle East.

Re hugs,


The Other Side of the Mirror


Dear Roger,

I was thrilled to get your mail before you left and then again from Tokyo. You must be curious about the silence from my end as I am always the eager beaver jumping up to react/respond. However, things on the home front, the rapidity of change, has set my mind into a tizz. Can you believe three years have passed, and now we have to be packed and out of our home by June 30th.  I have been completely frozen into mental and physical inactivity. There is also disbelief lingering in my soul, that very soon, I might just be free… finally!

In order to keep myself lucid, I have decided to travel, meet friends and family and spend as little time under one roof with my (in) significant other. I’m off to London for a week next Wednesday, a much awaited trip which I had put off for the fear of going through the motions of getting a UK visa. Yes, I’m still a part of that visa line and it’s long and it’s tiresome. The forms are endless, the questions relentless and the queries and cross examination continue through what seems a never-ending inquisitorial barrage just waiting to beat you down, to exhaust the applicant, to catch you weak and vulnerable so that on the umpteenth query, putting the same questions in a slightly different language (to trip you up of course) on whether you are a part of a terrorist organization or are in some form or manner duplicating for OBL you spill the beans and pilaf all over the application form. Exhausted after responding to the 130th question, I find myself hollering and running out with the application flying YES! YES! YES! I’m  a baddie. Yes, my mother’s origins are from the region near Abbotabad  where Osama was found and finished(Lahore), Yes, I speak in strange tongues and certainly can understand and communicate with most of the chappies(can’t call them baddies) you have bombarded in the region on your long search for #1. “But hold on” I say, “I wish to plead the case for the Crane, for it’s a long migratory bird, a fact that you (English) should know well. These lands of my ancestors (which you bomb) were the waters of the Siberian Crane, but it flew, it fled the fires that destroyed its home and journeyed to Bharatpur, India. Now this very bird for a land far, far away continues its journey (despite its faulty radar) and has found a magical lake to rest a bit before it flies on. No, I just come to visit, I don’t intend to stay!” The message was received and the visa was granted.

Still on the subject of Abbotabad and OBL, which one can’t help but be on, considering all the various ideas and theories circulating in both the worlds, I find absolutely nothing that satisfies me (here I go again)! Roger, I’m afraid, not even after chomping on your dear Chompsy and his article did I find a sliver I could digest. The whole story is absolutely bizarre, surreal almost and all i can say, all I believe anyone can say on the matter of OBL, is that: There was a consensus… Yes, there was a consensus between the Network (the powers that be) and The Sponsors (the funders), crafted by a very creative writer. A Virtual Death!

Roger, believe it or not, May 6th was World Virtual Death Day! But jokes aside, as we progress deeper into this universe of mass digitization, there are some grave issues we confront in todays society such as the ability to access and persuade a wide swath of people in one quick swoop falling into the hands of those with superior accessibility and information. This alarming issue made me finally browse through “Delete” a book by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, which was lying for an eternity by my bedside begging for attention. The book highlights how Digital technology and global networks are impacting us, our minds and our social structure and things that were “natural” to man. A part of human nature (like our natural ability to forget and thus forgive) is being supplanted by immediate and accessible history, which due to being transcribed and stored in digital form is etched for eternity. If there is no forgiveness, how do we proceed to the next day, if there is eternal memory of pleasure and pain (god forbid we remember all the contortions of childbirth) how do we rationally take that next chance, have that second baby? 

However, as Schonberger points out in his “Delete”, what is most alarming is the fact that since everything is being digitized, remembered, often far surpassing our own memory, do we then defer to this extraneous collection as our collective history. What happens to humanity when we defer to history stored extraneously that has been contaminated (as has been done so throughout time) the only unfortunate thing in this scenario would be that there would be no opposing voices as we would not be able to revert to our own memories as we had already come to an understanding that since memory was imperfect, this source was tainted. We would be left at the mercy of the Network and The Sponsors armed with their crafty writers who would spin alternate realities and virtual deaths for us leading us to agree to be enslaved for eternity… Are we heading in to an abyss, is there a way out, what do you think Roger?

Back to happier notes and more colorful journeys, Tara and I visited The Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen this weekend, spending the Sunday exploring Zurich. It was a delightful trip where mother and daughter bonded as it was just the two of us Tara and Myself on an adventure of exploration and discovery, I have pasted a bunch of photos to share- 

See Purnima and Tara in Schaffhausen below:

The minute we got on to the incredibly efficient Swiss train network, (even second class was super cool, super comfortable) we found that the three hours just flew by chatting and  admiring the picturesque Swiss scenery framing the windows. What I noticed was that as we moved further away from Geneva and into the Swiss German heartland, the sounds slowly changed till the point where it was vividly guttural. Wow, the “GH” and the GHKK” were all around us, a train full of passengers turning blue chocking. I looked around to see whom I must immediately assist with the Heimlich maneuver, help get that apple out… “ghhhkk”! Yes Roger, I have been often asked what I inhale and that it’s only fair that I pass it around… “no no absolutely no cigarettes” is my perennial response.

After being drenched by the spray (of the Rhine Falls) and drenched by the rain,  we landed in Zurich to spend the night. Zurich is an absolutely charming city with much to discover. The cobbled streets of the old town, the Fraumunster Cathedral with the Chagall stained glass windows, the Candy Store (Chocolate Factory), the magnificent vistas of the twin towers of the Grossmunster cathedral etching the skyline. My absolute favorite, the giant clock face on St. Peter’s Church, supposedly one of the largest in Europe. So we wandered up and down the cobbled streets searching for this giant clock which was visible from every point in the city looming large except when you were very close to it, and we spent half a day playing Peep-a-Boo with the clock face till we finally caught him 

Do check out Zurich below:

During that walk around the city we encountered the name “Schmuck” pasted across a jewelry store that I absolutely had to capture.  I imagined inviting Mr. Shmuck for dinner and introducing him to our friends in New York (so much a part of the New York lingo)… I assure you we would have had a party of guests on the floor in splits. 

See Schmuck pasted across Zurich’s commercial skyline:

We then met The Stork. It was hoisted high on the wall and was petrified, immortalized, unable to respond to my query “Are you my mommy” , “Where did I come from?” I then descended into my pre-pubescent self (which is always hovering on the surface) and took photos of all the street names which seemed to all end with “Gas (se)”, I had just about forgotten Fahrt (Exit), that I was faced with the route (Gasse) that leads to the exit (Fahrt)!

We ended the day with a hearty lunch at the grand train station before taking the train back to Geneva. However, we realized we had an hour to kill, and decided to visit the Landsmuseum (which is the Swiss National Museum) just across the train station. This was the greatest treat ever, not only was the structure of the building, a castle, spectacular, I discovered that the much awaited exhibit on the story, a Biography, of the WWF, World Wildlife Fund was currently on. The central courtyard of the castle was converted into a biosphere footprint forum, detailing our impact on the environment, and how we (humanity) are out-consuming what the earth can replenish  in a wonderful interactive form that was easily comprehensible to both children and adults and did not really require language to understand. Roger, this exhibit was truly superb and I was wishing with all my heart that I could somehow carry this across to the parts of the world where there is an alarming confluence of both population pressure and scarcity of resources (especially water), to India and put this in front of the new generation encouraging them to think ahead and conserve, innovate. 

See Landsmuseum below:

A Biography, the exhibit that traces the story of the WWF,  founded 50 years ago by a bunch of British bird lovers (ornithologists), who has turned from passionate “Shikaris” or hunters into conservationists ( a story very close to home). This foundation was set up in Switzerland with the passionate involvement of a Swiss attorney in Gland along Lake Geneva. Interestingly enough, it was not only  for the beneficial tax status that Switzerland was selected (as England would have granted the same) but the fact that it was a neutral country and thus the negotiations would not be tinged with any flavor or color. This certainly made me sit up and recognize the incredible role and universal advantage to an organization dealing with a conflicted world Switzerland’s neutral status bestows. As I glanced at the photos of the men behind the organization, their stories which led them to this path, i felt a pang within. We then arrived at the fabulously reconstructed “Game Room’, with it’s typical hangings and  mounts, the books, the desk, the air, the feel and the sense of a time gone by, a people and their passion. A picture I was very familiar with, the faces I had seen, the voices that had raised me we here, in the heart of Zurich, surrounding me. I distinctly sensed, unknown to the rest of the world, somehow my physical presence in this space converted the Reconstruction into Reality… C’etait de l’epoque, sans le choses materielles, dont j’ai herite, l’essence et l’idea.

Good night!


On Tue, May 10, 2011 at 6:32 AM, Roger STEVENSON wrote:

Dear Purnima,

Greetings from Japan !  It’s delightful to be back, but it was really like walking through the mirror into a Murakami-like fourth dimension secondary reality.  Where just hours previously we were going through security in Geneva and Vienna in familiar surroundings, we emerged from a Japanese-filled flight (there were only something like four non-Japanese on board) to an eerily empty immigration counter at Narita airport, but once we settled into our Narita Express train car for the trip to Tokyo Station and the Tokyo Metro we felt we had returned to a familiar entity that we had really never left.

 Tokyo is still glamourous, lively, unending, invigorating, tantalizing and tempting, and the extremely beautiful and stylishly-dressed Japanese women gracing the sidewalks of Ginza are a constant head-turning distraction, but all that flashy fashion is somewhat tarnished by the relatively dim lighting in the streets, in the subway and even in some of the large department stores.  About half of the lights have been turned off to save electricity, and almost all of the escalators in the subway aren’t working.  There are also very, very few tourists.  Last year Ginza was full of non-Japanese strollers, but they are really few and far between this year.  I just read an article in today’s The Japan Times about how most of the foreign exchange students, and a large portion of foreign faculty members have left the country.

We’ve still had some really delightful and memorable meals thus far.  Last night we ate at a tofu restaurant that blew us away with the many creative and beautiful ways they prepared the myriad tofu dishes they served us.  Even the dessert was a soy-based ice cream with a little biscuit made from soy.

Alexandra and her parents arrive tonight and Thursday is sushi night at our favorite sushi restaurant.

What’s new in Geneva ?  Any new developments on the home front ?  Have you discovered any new female martyrs ?

Check out Noam Chomsky’s article on Common Dreams about his reaction to the killing of Ben Laden.  As usual, he is right on target.

We leave Friday for Nagoya and Kyoto.  I’m really looking forward to swooping past Mount Fuji in a shinny-white Shinkansen bullet train.

Giant hugs,


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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