Geneva Diaries #38

A Magical Week in Wonderland – With Family in Geneva

Subject: We are off to meet the wizard… The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

Dear Roger

Its been such a whirlwind ride that I’ve had no time to think about The Break-In/Burglary on the Boulevard, Trouble/ Theft in Tranchees! My brother is in town with his family and its been such fun showing the kids around Geneva. The girls are 11, they are the age when Alice first slipped into wonderland. 

My niece at 11 as Alice in Wonderland: See below the Viswanathan girls in Wonderland

We have taken a billion photos posing with all the personality and landmarks around Geneva as we’ve build our scrap book of memories. I have also attempted to introduce a taste of this unique Swiss French canton to the children (and my bro) without becoming pedantic still being the “ultra kool” aunt by asking them to point out the sights that excite them and then chatting about them. And as a prof you might be interested in understanding how the mother and home subliminally play a vital role in the education of the children/village: i periodically reward the kids with “brownie points” to point out the sights that interest them and thus keep up the competition between the girls and the boys and keep them excited. 

Since the girls are currently falling behind, i have recently modified the rules, not only do they get a single brownie point by pointing out the sculptures and busts of the personas the (French/Swiss )that have impacted the cultural literary and intellectual life of the city( the world) but  have granted them quadruple brownie points if they are busts of French/Swiss Women… There must be some glittering female French/Swiss personas that have impacted our universe that this wonderful wonderland deems worthy of placing on a pedestal! However, i silently fear that we may come across only a discrete handful in all of Geneva perhaps hidden in the Parc Bastion near the University of Geneva, i just hope I’m not being too unfair on the girls. However, i have told them the stretched mannequins on the store fronts do not count however glam and arresting though in my heart i fear that all the French Swiss women have been procrastinated (medieval torture) and entrapped in the forms of those magical mannequins that grace the store fronts. So Roger, we are off to emerald city, Gruyere, to meet the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz to plead with him to release the French/Swiss women from their magical entrapment. 

Gruyere The Emerald City – The Magical City of Oz:

Hugs will send u snaps. 


Dear Purnima,

What a bummer !  You are the second friend within the past week who has had their home broken into (the other friends live in France and their place is in an isolated neighborhood).  It is such an intrusive and depressing experience, and not the kind of feeling that you would like to go out on.  How did they ever break through your solid front door ?  I feel very distressed for you.

And what do the sages lingering above have to do with it all, other than observing your misfortune ?

We’re on the island of Borneo now at a beach resort at Damai Beach.  It’s very idyllic, but it’s just a bit too hot and steamy for my liking.  It will be fun to lounge and relax a bit and continue my reading of “Solar”.  Going to try another massage tomorrow afternoon, but I’m going to opt for a softer, more gentle approach this time.

There have been frequent reminders of you over the past two days.  I’ve seen several examples of your marvelous hand pieces in various shops in Kuala Lumpur and last night in Kuching.  None of which, unfortunately, is quite as delicate and beautiful as yours.  I’ll keep looking for just the right curve and length of the fingers.

Enjoy your brother in spite of the break in.

Gentle hugs,


Dear Roger,

My brother and family have left and it feels terribly lonely, sad and grey. I do hope to see you sometime next week, it would be a pleasure to sink into your adventures and share the flavors of South East Asia, a region I grew to love.

The last week was absolutely delightful even if it was chaotically so. The kids wanted to see everything, learn everything and inhale everything all at once. I wanted them to experience with their senses and enjoy these new environs before embarking on a barrage of information which was difficult as their attention span flitted from one object to another view as an entirely new universe unfolded in front of their eyes. Even my kids seemed to relive and view anew their surroundings from their cousins perspective. 

We covered half of our scheduled trips, which was a lot more than I expected. We walked around Vieille Ville, see below the center of old town Geneva:

 Of course and saw the Jet d’eau cloaked in rainbow hues,

Geneva jet d’eau

Then we travelled to Chamonix where I saw my brothers eyes sparkle at the possibilities, See below our kids in Chamonix: 

 Had chocolat chaud in Argentiere and went sledging in Col de Forclaz. 

The kids (my Himalayan Ibexes) scampered joyfully in the snow as they chased each other around the Alpine mountainside in pure bliss. Ironically my Tara was born in the year (2000) when the last female Iberian Ibex became extinct! Yes, our kids/the Ibexes are an endangered species and the only way to ensure their future is to protect the environment, the magnificent glaciers, the clean water and the green mountainsides so that they get a chance to enjoy what we have grown up to take for granted. And, this message could not have struck home with more fervor than when I saw them scampering in this spectacular Alpine setting, perfect, just as nature had intended it!

See The Great Himalayan Ibex:

We visited Chillon after a late departure from Geneva (coordinating four kids, bother and sis-in-law with her heart in Rive shopping, in a seven seater rental is more difficult than you can imagine). See below Chateau Chillon with family:

 And wrapped it up with a leisurely lunch in breathtaking Vevey. See a snap of Vevey’s famous fork sculpture below:

We ended up much too late for the visit but enjoyed walking the ramparts of the Chateau and up to the waterline to relive for a moment The Prisoner Of Chillon. The next stop was Montreux and the  Montreux Palace Hotel where my brother relived/recounted the story (by now interwoven with his soul having played the riff from childhood) behind the lyrics of the song “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. Do check it out:

Bro and Sis-in-law enjoying a private moment at The Montreux Palace:

This was followed by the much anticipated trip to Gruyere named after Grue which means Crane after an ancient folk tale about the founding of the city and the castle. The cobbled stones, the maze of stairs and stairwells, the magical rooms with panoramic views despite the drenching weather kept the kids excited and the adults entertained. The video presentation was exceptional and the kids learned that glimpses of the crane could be seen  in the reflection in the fountain of the cobbled central square till this day. Of course, our baby Siberian Cranes who had travelled all the way from India (Bharatpur /Sultanpur bird sanctuary where the Siberian Cranes migrate to during the winter) danced around the fountain adding to the reflection and the myth of the Grues in Gruyere!

However, the time soon came for them to leave, to return to their indigenous habitat and as I tearfully said goodbye, I was reminded about the much promised en-cashment of the “brownie points”. Over this week, they had enthusiastically pointed out every sight sculpture, sound, smell and design that excited them and I would assign them the “brownie points” based on the originality and perception. 

See below the sculpture of a girl (with my girls) in old town Geneva:

Kids in Old Town Geneva:

They found the fortresses of Agra in the ragged mountaintops on our way to Chamonix, they saw cobras in sculptures lining the facades of buildings in Geneva, all derived from images of their universe thus opening up the minds of my kids with their US/European perspective all adding to Alice’s Wonderland! I was thrilled to have this expanded audience with sparkling eyes and open minds willing and wanting to believe. So, I introduced them to Yuki Yuki salad and took them to the Librairie Ancienne in Vieille Ville where I whispered that the the window always displays the next chapter of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. This time the theme was La Mer du Sud, “I wonder where Alice is headed next”, I speculated… “perhaps, the sea of the south” to 8 enormous eyes. 

Librairie Ancienne in Vieille Ville:

We then walked past the exotic parfumerie Theodora an establishment in the old town of Geneva and sniffed at the delightful fragrances that wafted through the open door at the same time staring apprehensively as the array of beautiful bottles that lined the front, wondering how our cacophonous crew would be welcomed, as we jingled our pennies in our pockets. I then whispered to those four pairs of attentive ears that this Parfumerie was no ordinary store but enchanted and also a part of the story, the story of Alice in Wonderland. A story where the old town of Geneva, Vieille Ville, comes to life pulsating with the rhythm of the music and the personification of the verse. Magically, upon Alice’s journey to Morocco, Theodora transformed herself in to the ancient Roman settlement of Volubilis (which Alice visited on her trip to Morocco), infusing the surroundings with the fragrances of North Africa somehow mirroring and extending the dream… true, absolutely true!

Parfumerie Theodora – Old Town Geneva – Showcasing Volubilis:

See  Volubilis Wonderland in Morocco below:

The day after… after the clan left and the dust had settled and I though the unencashed “brownie point” story was over, and how I was mistaken! My son confronted me with his eyebrows perpendicular to his face and growled that they were misled, defrauded. The much searched for sculptures (for which they were all to be awarded quadruple brownie points) of French/Swiss women who have played a pivotal role in the artistic, intellectual, cultural history of this nation “THEY DO NOT EXIST”! And since the kids waited till the end to find these busts (not the size 36DD which the French/Swiss men are in agreement to put on a pedestal, they do not count), they were unable to encash anything. As their final attempt they pointed at the image of Minerva on the Swiss coins and adorning the waterfront (yet to be shown). However, the Roman Minerva, or the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of ware fare and wisdom, I informed my son does not really count as she is a mythic character, does not exist, never existed. the challenge was to find a real, live woman who has lived as a woman and been hailed as a woman, admired not for her mythic qualities but “real” ones admired and elevated for the same.

 I could not believe my ears when my son hollered back and said that these busts/sculptures did not exist(and I should pay up immediately the full quadruple amount to all four kids), I had a million questions for him and myself:

Did such French/ Swiss women who impacted the intellectual cultural history of their nation women not exist? Did the sculptures of these women not exist in all of Geneva? Did the women themselves not exist (after all the last email was about a Swiss canton which till recently debated whether their women could be categorized as “citizens”) and the ones we see around Geneva are actually beautiful bovine forms with mascara and lipstick that have wandered down from the higher alpine passes to enjoy the green grasses of the valley during the cold winter months? OK, so my son called my bluff. I sensed it would be difficult not impossible. However, upon endless surfing the Net, tragically I realized what my son said was true “they do not exist”! 

Do they Roger…?



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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