Geneva Diaries #8

Brussels Tintin France US Sex Kamasutra Khajuraho Tale of Genji-Catalan Cutie


On Fri, Nov 6, 2009, Roger Stevenson wrote:

Dear Purnima, 

What a fantastic email, and no, I am not overdoing it when I say that you have many of the same traces of brilliance in your writing as does Arundhati Roy.  While there might not be so many parallels in your respective personas, both of you leave me gasping for air. Indeed, Le Mole, the mountain that sticks up in the middle of the autoroute as you drive towards Chamonix, is right next to Saint Pierre. It is an extinct volcano with an interesting shaped crater on the opposite side, but it is beautiful with its mantle of white.  I always gets excited for the ski season to begin when that first snow fall appears. I’m so glad you liked Murakami. I agree that he is one of the most interesting and bewitching writers I have encountered lately, and I love his eerie otherworldness that suggests there is another realm lurking behind everyday reality.  I thought that he might appeal to you. and all those questions he has triggered in you ! I was intrigued by your statement that “…all u need for sex is mind” (I would have added an exclamation point or two).  Is it really all in our heads ?  Are there not different kinds of sex, and what role does love itself play in it all ? (Interesting to learn that we share something else in common – our favorite subject) It was so refreshing in Norwegian Wood, the first Murakami book I read, that he treated sex as a very important and vital aspect of life and not as the taboo subject that many societies categorize it as.  He was very matter of fact about the sexual fantasies and practises of his main character, and the novel ends with a totally unexpected night of lovemaking between two characters that had had no previous physical connection or attraction.  It’s hard to explain without telling the whole story of the novel, but it was such a perfect way to end things. The next Murakami novel that we must both read is Kafka on the Shore. I’ll find it for you as a post-birthday present. So much more to say and tell, but time is short tonight.  Can’t wait to hear the tale of the matador and the Tapas bar. I have a French lesson in Geneva next Friday that finishes around 11:30.  How does lunch sound ? Have a good weekend.  I’ll think of you while we are enjoying the sun and warm weather of Tenerife.



De : purnima

Envoyé : jeudi 5 novembre2009

À : Roger Stevenson

Objet : Yes, Home Again to powdered peaks and peppermint waters and Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland andThe End of the World! 

Dear Roger, 

Do you see the magnificent vistas that surround us, the first snowfall of winter dusting the Jura and the Alps which rise like snow cones in the distance, crisp cool air, and of course glistening Lake Geneva… absolutely exhilarating!  I have so much to write about, to share with you, that I am unsure where to start. I did finish the book you gifted me for my birthday, but it was only upon reaching home and being confined at home because of the flu. All I can say in one short sentence, is that Murakami is absolutely brilliant! His words transport you to a bizarre multidimensional world where you become one with the animation. It’s fabulous and very current. It was so gripping reading the book, that I started getting an eerie feeling that in fact that I was being read! I connected with him and his style completely and could easily see myself in his coat, a body double, especially, as I found dotted throughout the book his many references to: The Morning Newspaper, Sex, Doors and DuranDuran!  I know you have often mentioned Arundhati Roy and I have been absolutely flattered by the suggestion that I in any way remind you of her (more so after reading this superbly written article). However, I cannot permit you to elevate me to her super cerebral level, and neither are there many “obvious” parallels in persona, the fervent female idealist perhaps. Unbind me! Roger, you must see that I speak in the tone of Juno (the movie) a naive mother of twins, who ten years and many adventures later stumbles upon a puzzling professor (The Wizard of Ashland). The Wizard then takes it upon himself to fill in the gaps: her education, her pronunciation, her non existent punctuation (of course an introduction to the world of magic: French)!

Back to Murakami and his journeys to the subconscious, It was incredible to find someone as obsessed with their morning newspaper, in fact most timeframes in the book were bench marked to the delivery of the morning paper. For me, my morning is incomplete without my tea and paper, sometimes I cheat myself and cast a cursory glance at the front page pretending my morning is complete.The last cursory glance yelled out “Azadi”, this was just as I was about to dash out of the front door to attend my French lessons. Well, that certainly made me backtrack, and pick up the paper to relook at something from home for the word azadi, means freedom in hindustani. But, this was an article about a place called Azadi Square in Aye-Ran! Yes, “azadi” was an Aye-Rain-Nean word, Farsi of course. But this word is so intrinsically a part of me, my mind and my subconscious…what is it doing all the way in Aye-Ran I pondered… 

Sex: My favorite subject and Murakami can’t seem to turn the chapter without a healthy reference to the same!  In fact, I have at all times TheTale of Genji, a fabulous literary work, and ancient Japanese tale written in the 11th century by an aristocratic woman: Murasaki Shikibu. Yes, a woman who so perfectly took upon the persona of a medieval Japanese aristocratic man, exploring his world and so realistically expressing his experience, writing perhaps the world’s first novel (which reminds me of another ancient great novel, another long tale which must be told: Kadambari by Banabhatta. 

The Tale of Genji revolves around the amorous exploits of Genji, the son of the Emperor, his passions, alliances and love affairs. Genji never misses an opportunity to experience and explore his passions. Similarly, by having this book, The Tale of Genji, forever open on my bedside, I hope to find some thing in my environment that excites me, entertains me and compels me to express bringing out my finest feelings and deepest emotions fully embracing the Genji in me!  Roger, I don’t know how I would write without the exclamation point, are there any bypasses? Help(!)    Of course, there is the tale of the Matador and the Tapas Bar... for another day (no exclamation point). 

Back to the book, Murakami says that without mind there can be no love, no feelings, just rituals and motion of life, and since we are still under the topic of Sex, I believe that all u need for sex is mind(no exclamation point ouch).  In this book he is trapped (separated from his shadow who retains all his memories and who is slowly dying) in the seemingly perfect walled town(a part of his subconscious) where no one hurts or harms anyone, where there are no needs or wants. A land devoid of mind and all the ill will and conflict within it. However, there is an escape, a whirlpool, a passage back to the world of the author.  Another instance of he walled town (the idea seems to resonate through popular media) reminds me of our favorite movie, Wall-E, where humans escape earth on a giant cruise (space) ship where every need and desire is catered to, every sense stimulated while lying laterally… humans degenerating into CyberJell-Os. A reality not so far, where mega corps control your mind, your life and all your desires leading us towards a mindless map like the walled town. Could we relinquish it all so easily, realistically? Or, as Murakami obliquely mentions in his book, would some other channels form, a spark from within the self jolting, drawing us back to the ultimate goal of the soul/self, leaving us much to think about. So in the book, the author is posed with the following choices: Does he stay in the walled town (relinquishing his mind) with the woman he loves who is without mind and cannot love him back. Does he leave with his shadow by jumping in to the whirlpool thereby regaining his old life and self. Let his shadow jump into the whirlpool leaving him without memories and banishment to the woods (perhaps with his love).   

Questions: What is the price for freedom as the mind represents freedom? Would you relinquish your freedom for the one you love and live in eternal mindlessness? Would you relinquish your freedom for duty and bind yourself within the old town in the mindless inner recesses of your subconscious? Is there a point where you may relinquish this duty and jump into the whirlpool? Are there circumstances under which there are absolutely no options? As you can see I still stay back in the walled town resigned to mindless eternity.



Dear Roger,

Yet another day under house arrest as the flu season has hit with a bang…”Thing 1″ is sniffling under the covers and I find myself, once again, home alone with the Cat in the Hat!

Upon revisiting your letters, I have found that many fascinating questions lie suspended and spaces unexplored, like SEX! So, let’s talk about it…

I was intrigued by your statement that “…all u need for sex is mind” (I would have added an exclamation point or two).  Is it really all in our heads ?  Are there not different kinds of sex, and what role does love itself play in it all ?  (Interesting to learn that we share something else in common – our favorite subject)

The statement “all you need for sex is mind”, or as it was told to me, “it’s all in the mind”, words I cannot honestly claim and must correctly attribute  to one of my fabulous female friends who owes humanity an encyclopedia on the subject. Yes, our very own modern day Vatsyayana, the Indian philosopher that lived during Gupta period, 4 century AD, and is known for authoring the Kama Sutra, the bible on eroticism.

Vatsyayana, returned in the most exotic female form to whisper these words in my ears as she saw me determined to embark upon this incredible journey of self exploration, anticipating the great CRASH ahead, “Of course there are many other FFF fixated on SIZE…and swear that that is what its all about; how little do they know, how far they have to go…!”

On the subject of eroticism, do you know that the erotic sculptures carved on the facades of the magnificent temples in Khajuraho, in central India almost a thousand years ago commissioned by the Chandella Rajput kings, depicting all forms of passion and intimacy, were reputed to have been sculpted by and possibly for the education of the “Bramacharis”. Brahmacharis are young men during the initial stage of life as specified according to Vedic tradition, who live in a hermitage and absorb themselves in education leading a celibate life. This is the stage before they re-enter into the world of the “Householder” where they marry and procreate. From what i was told, the very fact that these young boys were so deprived of female relationships, the sculptures they sculpted and the forms it took were voluptuous and exaggerated, reflecting in the female form the epitome of desire. Their hands carved the fantasies they could only visualize and had not yet experienced (similarly, have we not seen many authors of what was considered at that time seductive and erotic works in literature who themselves led a very staid and puritan life). The Brahmacharis were certainly exposed to these sculptures as a way to introduce them back into the world so they may fulfill the very important social role of householder. In fact, I just read something that cannot be put into better words about these sculptures of Khajuraho which I would like to share with you:

If the temples of Khajuraho can be said to have a theme, it is woman. A celebration of woman and her myriad moods and facets. Writing letters… applying kohl to her eyes… dancing with joyous abandon… playing with her child. Woman – innocent, coquettish, smiling – infinitely seductive, infinitely beautiful.

Warrants a visit for sure, shall we?

Back to Murakami, Miro, the Surrealists and the realm lurking behind everyday reality; you could not have got it more Dot On…it’s surreal, it’s for me! Similarly, in the Tale of Genji, art permits assuming a persona, which in “real life” can never be you; a wormhole to transcend the physical form or personality that shackle. So Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Tale of Genji,  a medieval Japanese noblewoman constrained by her gender, status and time was able to transcend it all and assume the form and passions of Genji, a character she created, and live him for a while in another world another existence: literatures version of “Second Life”. Yes, all this while retaining her own skin, her own form. For me, my expression is the escape I seek, as I realize I am entrapped not by anything else (the world, society, family), but myself and my sense of duty. And, the only escape is a journey into this surreal world, where I have “written in” The Whirlpool, permitting a return to my world. This way, I too can live, I live many lives, without relinquishing any…any piece of myself!

Foundacio Miro, Barcelona:

On the surrealists, I encountered references to your friend Andre Breton, all over Barcelona (if I have I told you how much I love that city, I could not have told you enough!). I need an introduction…please. The Miro museum was fascinating as usual, my second visit. But this time it was like rediscovering a whole new world. It seems like every visit unfolds something else, something new. This visit, I stumbled upon “The lion”, essentially a single black squiggly line over a brown paper canvas portraying a lion encaged in a circus. The only difference was that there were scratch marks on the canvas which added the multi dimensional multi sensory aspect to this incredible piece of art. With the scratches, you actually heard the lion attempting to burst out of the canvas. I think with this Miro took art to another level…engaging not just the visual but stimulating all the senses at once. Surreal for sure!

 I also found a lot of Miro’s brilliant works remained blanked out, incomprehensible, where the title has no relevance to the art itself…much too much for my mind to encompass. Yes, unreachable, waiting for another time, an accumulation of experiences, before the doors unfold and the art unravels. See below a charming animation of Miro’s work.

The Matador and the Tapas Bar: Barcelona, with its bustling life, wide boulevards and Art, Food, Art for Food can be quite a heady experience! The best meal yet was at a famous Tapas Bar in the Born district. The restaurant was a bar table with everyone seated side by side and the cute cooks opposite us whipping up one fabulous tapas after another. We also had the next seating, our line of spectators standing directly behind us drooling over the dishes, both the cooked and live ones! Yes, the cooks were gorgeous Spaniards! The one serving us was like a  matador with a narrow waist tied in red cloth and a charming smile. His brisk movements from one end of the table to the other, from one plateful to the next, juggling multiple demands of the hordes lined with their hungry heads towards him and the deftness with which he charmed and fed everyones appetite was a spectacle worth the wait! On our end, he was completely oblivious of the ogre seated at the other end, and proceeded to show me how to eat the tapas with my hands without removing his eyes from my face. I was hot, I was red, I was embarrassed by the flattering attention. He then offered me the first clam open with its juices and watched me eat it, he proceeded to do the same with the mussel dish…I had turned crimson by this point. So, I looked up and said politely “Thank you, that was delicious”. He held my gaze for a full minute before responding “YES”. Absolutely MIND BLOWING!!! Talking about mind, I have not been so turned ON for a long long long time. That man had certainly mastered the art of making love in the kitchen!

One Catalan for me please!

A Tapas Bar in Barcelona below (missing the best dish- my Catalan cutie):

 Now let’s journey to the exact opposite place: I found the most curious signs adorning the handles of all our hotels in Spain which read “No Molestar” instead of the normal “Do Not Disturb”. No Molestar, are you serious! That is like an open invitation to molest. Its like a little voice saying ” in case it has not crossed your mind yet, let me suggest it… I have this sign hanging which says don’t molest”… any ideas wink wink! I absolutely refused to have that sign outside my hotel room but desperately wanted to carry it back as a memento.

 Journeying around Europe has been quite an experience, between the “No Molestar” signs in Spain and the road signs that dot the autoroute in Germany which periodically say XXX”Farhts”, yes sounds like “Farts” indicating that you may exit (exit what???) . No one believes me, but the lady at the hotel we stayed in in Germany said “Goodbye” and “Have a good(ten) Fart(en)”, equivalent of have a good day, as we left the hotel. I was so chocked with laughter that I could not respond. Of course, I was ticked off by the ogre for being a brat kid as usual.

But, the “No Molestar” sign would have been very handy here in Geneva. As you know, I have had a bad knee problem but have been very hesitant to go for physio in Geneva. The last time I visited a physiotherapist, he set me up with his apprentice. I found myself on a bench with only my underclothes on and in walks a large obnoxious guy from Southern Cal who would have passed as a rogue football player. The rogue proceeds to stare and chat instead of working on my legs and getting me back on the slopes! Of course, after the appointment (I still cannot fathom what that was about), he tells the giggling nurse “Mal a tete”, yes, that I’m nuts! It’s for occasions like these that I need that “No Molestar” sign placed squarely on my chest with a skull and bones sign overlapping it!

So, I’m still hobbling but Megeve is not too far!

Hope to see you soon!

See attached Barcelona Adventures:

Dear Purnima,

What a tantalizing treatise on sex, visual seduction, Miro, Barcelona and Genji.  It arrived just in time to rescue me from the boredom of illness – Yes, it seems the travel bug has mutated to a malicious head cold bug.  It hit me Saturday morning and I thought I could shake it off quickly, but it feels a bit worse each day.  At least I have some time to read.  Now that I’ve finished my Danish translation of volume II of the Millennium trilogy with a truly original and unique female character and a plot so complicated that you don’t really fully understand what is going on until the final pages, I can move on to the next Murakami on my list, Kafka on the Shore (I’ll try and find a copy for you on my next trip to Geneva).

Wow, your matador/Tapas chef sounds like a master at seduction with his mussel shell demonstrations and enchanting eyes.  Too bad you were so shackled by the ogre and at the end of the bar.  It is almost criminal to get someone so hot and bothered and then leave them dangling and blushing.  And you didn’t even have your Tale of Genji with you for bedside reading.  How did you manage to get through the night ?

Your sensual pleasure from eating Tapas reminds me of the several films where food and sex are intertwined, some more successfully than others.  Did you ever see Peter Greenway’s The Cook,The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover ?  It stars one of my favorite British actresses who can be as sultry as anyone on a given day, Helen Mirren, who can leave you panting.  And then there is the famous eating scene in the film Tom Jones where each bite of a pear or chicken leg is as suggestive as a tender caress.  Speaking of films about sex, did you ever see the French film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover ?  It won the French Cesar award for best film two or three years ago, and was such a delightful rendition of a very lonely woman’s journey of self discovery and exploration of her own sexuality, all, of course, overshadowed by the moors and customs of a puritanical Great Britain where class differences were, and are somewhat still, very important.  The role of the neglected wife is played with such delicate innocence and yet delicious sensuality by a young French actress named Marianne Hands.  It’s one of the most refreshing, open and genuine evocations of female sexuality that I have seen on screen.

More later, but I have to go play cook tonight – I’m doing a salmon soufflé – for our week-long house guest from southern France.

Bon courage with your Florence Nightingale duties and try and keep your mind from wandering too often south to those warm climes, hearts and sexy Catalan Tapas chefs.



Dear Purnima,

Yes, in spite of the solitary green apple, Brussels was a real treat.  I had no idea you were a Tintin fan.  There truly must be an abundance of French blood cursing through your veins – inherited no doubt from your Francophile aunt.  Tintin is one of the favorites of French readers of nearly all ages, and he, of course, was omnipresent in Brussels.  We went into a shop in downtown Brussels that was entirely devoted to the books, many in various translations, as well as all the other derivative products, and the place was really packed.  We didn’t see a Tintin museum, but I’m sure there is one there just waiting to be thoroughly explored.

I found your description of your aunt’s encounters with the French extremely nostalgic.  I think you are correct in saying that the French « represent an exceptional group of very cultured and sophisticated people with whom you could not ever associate racist behavior (vulgar) and profiling (too American). In fact, it is just for these reasons that they appear to take a stance that is completely and in every way contrasting with and contrary to that of the US. »   In many ways that is true, but I fear that such attitudes are slowly changing, at least in the upper echelons of French society and the governing elite.  In the past, France was indeed a country that was curious about and fascinated by all sorts of exotic places and peoples.  Black American musicians and performers were always more readily accepted and revered here than they were in the States.  Josephine Baker is probably the prime example, but there were numerous Black musicians who found a welcome home in Paris and the freedom to perform and express themselves.  Many still call France home, such as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Archie Shepp, and where would Henry Miller have been able to write his wonderfully scandalous novels that form the backbone of his literary production (Quite Days in Clichy, for example), and that were banned for many years in the USA ?

However, that is not to say that there hasn’t been and isn’t today a certain French brand of racism, which, I’m convinced, has its roots in French colonialism.  The Northern African immigrant workers who were brought to France in the 1950’s and 60’s to fuel the economic recovery following the war have never been fully accepted into French society.  They have, instead, been shunted into housing projects on the outskirts of French cities that are today ghettos of despair – a stark reminder that the French national rallying call of « Fraternité, Liberté et Egalité » is a hollow echo in a society that is so hierarchically structured.  And since Sarkozy and his pals have seized power, it seems to get worse every year.  Brice Hortefeux’s not very subtle joke about trouble when there are a lot of them, I’m afraid, mirrors the official attitude of the ruling class in France today.  And, I should add that it has been just recently that France has begun to come to grips with the realities of the Algerian war and the outrageous atrocities committed there by French troops.

I agree that there are lots of good things coming out of the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden and Denmark.  I read a poll last week that found that the Danes were the most satisfied with their lives among the inhabitants of any other European country (I think France was 12th on the list).  And there are so many wonderful things Swedish – especially the marvelous films of Ingmar Bergmann.  I’ve been thinking that a trip to Stockholm is in order.  It’s not that far away and even in the cold of winter it would be a treat to visit.

What is a sqiggle ?  Whatever it is, I am always ready.

Have a good weekend.  Can I take you to lunch on Tuesday ?



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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