Geneva Diaries #40

Lights Out In Wonderland, Le Divorce, Casabianca, Hedda Gabler


Dear Purnima,

One last little blurb from Japan before we leave to come back to the land of rude shopkeepers and cashiers and nasty old men who chase beautiful damsels through the parks of Geneva.  It will be strange not to have charming and smiling young Japanese hand your change back to you with a quick bow and a thank you as they gently place your bills, with the coins on top of them, in your hands before thanking  you profusely for doing business with them, and that no matter the size of the purchase.

You’re probably getting ready for your London adventure.  I hope you have a wonderful time and that it energizes you for the packing and moving that will await you on your return.

Here’s a delightful passage from “Lights out in Wonderland” about wine.  Now, we have to decide if such a wine really exists or if we will have to step into another reality to find it.

Things have changed with wine, uh.  We’ve identified another element of taste – called travel. Nobody understands it yet.  A kind of propulsive length, a panoramic effect.  Almost a dimensional shift.  You’ll hear scientific types speculate about ethanol re-uptake, aldehyde lay-off and gas perfusions of nasal mucosa.  But your romantics whisper about hormones.  They say passions can imprint hormones – and as we know, hormones can fly.  A grape can receive them.  Anger, lust, despair, Love.  It becomes a vaccine.  That’s why a true winemaker sleeps within seventy metres of the head vine.  It’s about alchemy, about spirit, about the yearnings a grape can translate.  She’s an ovary inseminated with dreams… 

First, he says, get out of your head that wine’s just a drink.  Oceans of grape fermentations are  pumped onto the market every year – but they’re not wine.  True wine is  the missing gene in the human animal.  Second: forget about your wine-taster cunts with deck shoes and garden settings.  While they’ve been out wanking on the patio, a new elite has developed with high-octane senses.  People who won’t sit around guessing notes of flavor or nibbling cheese like fucking mice.  People who won’t wait forty years to discover that a cork, which is just a lump of wood, has fucked their evening.  People who’ve seen and done things nobody understands.  They want an invitation somewhere humans don’t go.  Somewhere they have to abandon themselves to.  They want a wine unchanged by a cork, a wine with a cap that locks like the tip of a missile.  Those people drink Toque.  There’s evidence that up to three in ten bottles have travel.  Production’s confined to ten acres of Mediterranean lava, ash and pumice,  with a cemetery in the middle – locals say widows’ tears cause travel in the grape.  Others say it’s lovers’ hearts decomposing.  Whatever it is, the next five vintages  are sold out.

Then there’s a world  above that.  A handful of palates who know of a decadent  wine with travel in almost every bottle.  Production limited to four acres of rare geology – very rare, a coincidence of a million and  a half years, dating back to the first human ancestor.  Some say four acres because that’s how far a virgin’s pheromones blow  when she cums.  Maybe true.  Maybe not.  But see where I’m headed ? First human ancestor, same mineral soil – the missing gene.  A correction of nature.  A unicorn vineyard, where the winemaker lives in the vines.

Have a great trip and see you when you get back,

Giant hugs,


Dear Roger,

It’s over, the story is done… I have just signed my divorce documents. Yes, right now, during these last few minutes, between our letters. I have accepted all, relinquished all just to end the story. And what a story! Ten years of endless anguish, harassment and intimidation right here in Geneva! This WHODUNNIT is now not a private question. I do hope one day the “WHO” is unravelled along with story.

My attorney/friend upon being told of my decision to take this final step, questioned, “why, why, why did you wait so long”, I waited in silence at the other end of the line sensing the anguish in her tone but realized that my story was much too long and deep to share over this brief conversation. It’s a story of ME, and all my pieces… a long story. A story that started on the lap of my father as an infant, then a child and finally a young girl who did her best to shine and impress her father with her charm, her memory and her creativity. I was always rewarded by my father’s words of encouragement and fascination with everything I did and everything I said. He often read too much into my silly words and praised too highly but that gave me reason enough to perform and pirouette which I did over and over again. As a child I sat on his lap as he read out along from his books especially the books on bird calls, till the point where I would mimic the bird call even before he turned the page. He trained me to mimic the calls of all the birds of Asia to a point where even the birds wouldn’t be able to distinguish. I then recited verses from memory and other pieces of information getting a “shahbash” (congratulations) every time. However, my most vivid memory was of reciting poetry while sitting next to my father who would often continue and complete the poems with the same passion as he infused in me the ideas behind the words weaving them into my matrix.

So today I journey back twenty five years and recite to you the reason WHY…Why I stood on the burning deck whence all but I would have fled: Casabianca by Felicia Hemans (from the UPenn Library collection of women writers) 

Roger, it was ingrained in me to NEVER ABANDON SHIP… So I stood, and stood and stood. See me below as the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled:


The boy stood on the burning deck

  Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck

  Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,

  As born to rule the storm;

A creature of heroic blood,

  A proud, though child-like form.

Yes, in my heart I was this creature of heroic blood, this proud though childlike form! I stood, and stood and stood for ten long years with an intrinsic belief that till I’m relieved I must withstand the storm, the flames, the fury…

The flames rolled on–he would not go

  Without his Father’s word;

That father, faint in death below,

  His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud–’say, Father, say

  If yet my task is done?’

He knew not that the chieftain lay

  Unconscious of his son.

And I often called out to my father in my dreams to ask if my task was done, if I may leave the burning ship as the flames engulf me … but my father was gone. He died when I was 17, there was no one to respond to my cries.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,

  ‘If I may yet be gone!’

And but the booming shots replied,

  And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,

  And in his waving hair,

And looked from that lone post of death

  In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,

  ‘My father! must I stay?’

While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,

  The wreathing fires made way.– 

Of course I stood stoic and strong as my father would have wished me, holding out till my final breath as the merciless flames burned my flesh and bone.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,

  They caught the flag on high,

And streamed above the gallant child,

  Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound–

   The boy–oh! where was he?

Ask of the winds that far around

  With fragments strewed the sea!–

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,

  That well had borne their part–

But the noblest thing which perished there

  Was that young faithful heart.

No Roger, I did not abandon ship but this I know, I did meld with fire, wind and sea relinquishing myself absolutely save a sparkling spirit that I believe will live for eternity!

With love,



Dear Purnima,

While I was fully aware that you had begun the process of divorce/separation, I was both startled and amazed and relieved (for you ! ! !) to read that it was finally over. The wheels of Swiss justice must move incredibly fast.

When I was Resident Director of the Centre Oregon in Lyon, my secretary divorced her husband.  He contested everything and it took her over five years to finally escape the marital yoke.  I was afraid that you would be in for a similarly lengthy process.  And while there is certainly a sense of relief and liberation attached to that final signature, it can also call up some really deep-seated emotions.  I remember the sleepless nights and anguish over seeing a 23 year-old marriage come to an end, and also, the second time through the gauntlet, the immense sigh of relief that it was over with and that I had a new life ahead of me.  And, one always asks that inevitable question:  “Why did I wait so long ?  Why did I put up with such a condition for so long before finally acting in my best interests? I have always been profoundly puzzled why M treated you the way he did and especially why he stopped any physical relationships with you so many years ago, you who have launched a thousand fantasies and driven, I’m sure, any number of men out of their minds.

I was really moved by your story of sitting on your father’s knee and wanting to live up to his expectations to never abandon the ship.  I think that society has far different expectations for males and females, especially when it comes to marital relations and such thorny questions as divorce.  Women are expected to toe the line, to persevere, not to rock the boat.  Although the play takes place in nineteenth century Norway, I always think of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler – one of the first literary renditions of an independent and self-sufficient female character who refused to allow herself to be compromised by society’s conventions and restrictions.  The final line in the play, after Hedda has chosen to shoot herself in the temple, with her father’s dueling pistol,  rather than conform, is “That just isn’t done !”

I’ve got so much more to say/write, including my thinking about your questions concerning women and the new French crime of covering one’s face (I thought the article in the Herald Tribune was very good, but a little shy on substance when he looks at the reasons why the law was passed.  I loved his logical and right-on deconstruction of the law itself and why it so very much runs counter to democratic principles of freedom, though.  But it’s been a long day and I’ve got a very early start again tomorrow, so I’ll pause for now with my   à suivre:

This week is really crazy for me.  We have a young American woman staying with us for a week to immerse herself in the language and it’s really hard to find time for anything extra-curricular, but next week will be much more open.  We should really celebrate with a bottle of champagne. 

Sweet dreams et à bientôt,

Tender 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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