Archive for the ‘switzerland’ Tag

4 highlights of Geneva

Following on from the last post (All Souls’ Day) I have spent much of today reading most of Patti Smith’s new book, Year of the Monkey. It’s put me in the mood to write (which is always the sign of a special writer – her friend Allen Ginsberg has much the same effect from my experience).

GIFF Geneva International Film Festival 2019 Geneve

I am in Geneva on a flying visit to the Geneva International Film Festival. Late last night – after returning home from my second viewing of the brilliant Joker at Warner Bros., where I bumped into my old Channel 4 colleague John Yorke and chewed the story fat with him – I managed to find the old tobacco tin at home where I keep my Swiss money. It turned out I had quite a lot – I haven’t been to Switzerland for a few years and it has appreciated markedly in the wake of the disastrous Brexit referendum (I hear they are a bit better at referenda here).

referenda oui non geneva geneve switzerland suisse

So I shifted the Swiss francs to my Euro purse, a suede purse from California my grandmother gave me as a boy – it says something like Gold Nuggets on it, long since worn away. I notice in Year of the Monkey how attached Patti Smith is to particular (not monetarily valuable) objects in her life, attributing meaning through memory to them.

purse with swiss francs

I decided to blow as much of my purseload as possible – this is what I spunked it on…

1) Soup

pumpkin soup cream

I love soup – it’s a top food and generally healthy. In Year of the Monkey Patti has chicken soup, decorated with egg yolks (not sure which came first the chicken or the eggs), with her ailing friend Sam Shepherd on his ranch in Kentucky. This is pumpkin soup – I don’t normally like it, often too sweet, but this was delicious. I ate it outside Le Perron restaurant at the foot of the hill in the old town – I ate under the tree at that restaurant years ago with my younger brother. We did a sudoku outside another cafe in the old quarter that time too – I hate puzzles and crosswords but on that occasion it was fun. Patti seems much attracted to numbers both in dates (in which she sees magical coincidences – see All Souls’ Day) and in books of geometry. The fly leaves of Year of the Monkey have some kind of algebraic-geometric sketch and scribblings. I think it’s what she describes herself drawing on a white bedsheet in a moment of inspiration.

2) Perch

perch fillets geneva geneve

Fillet of perch is a speciality of Geneva – they get the poor little critters from Lac Leman. So I sat outside Le Perron – the only person to do so – but the weather was mild. The owner found it amusing but conceded the weather was soft. “Il faut en profiter” I told him – I’ve really enjoyed exercising my French today. Patti references Rimbaud’s Illuminations in the bit I just read – I made a mental commitment to read it soon. He wrote those prose-poems in London around 1873-75.

verlaine rimbaud camden town plaque

8 Royal College Street, Camden Town

3) Steak Frites

steak frites wine

The Cafe de Paris was a recommendation by the lugubrious hotel night receptionist – it is a stone’s throw from Hotel Cristal. It turned out to be a carbon copy of Le Relais de Venise in London’s Soho and Marylebone. A restaurant that just does one meal but one meal really well – a great idea. The meal is green salad followed by steak and French fries aka steak frites. There must be a model for this kind of restaurant I thought – checked it out, there is – Le Relais de Venise established in Paris in 1959. Of course the meal demands red wine so I had a couple of little glasses. Patti is always eating and drinking in this new book as well as the last, M Train. It’s like join the cafes.

4) Cherries

cherries in cognac

Cherries drenched in cognac. Frankly it’s one of the BEST THINGS I’VE EVER TASTED.

I love cherries. I’ve not really engaged with cognac. Perfect combo. Highlight of the highlights.

Geneva geneve autumn fall old city

The old town

Patti Smith – like myself – is an inveterate flâneur. I wandered over to the digital outpost of the Festival where the VR projects were on display. As usual, underwhelming. I contend that factual programming is not the strong point of what is a very important new technology. Games, health, retail, architecture, training – all no-brainers. Documentary – my jury’s out. The cobbled streets, small squares, narrow lanes and flowing fountains of the old town are charming – in stark contrast to the banks and luxury goods shops.

When I lived just over the border in Savoie (Savoy, SE France) there was an outbreak of graffiti that year in Geneva. At the end of the year they caught the culprit – a psychologist who contended that the place was too clean and boring for the citizens’ mental health. The thing is someone somewhere pays for these watch shops and luxury brands to be here – they pay in poverty and hardship. Le reverse de la medaille. Every coin has another side.

GIFF reverse banners geneva international film festival geneve

Too Long in Exile

stolen paintings

I’m sitting here in the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich with in front of me a copy of ‘Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the year 1904’ published in Dublin by Thom & Co. (Limited) of Middle Abbey-Street. 1904 is the year in which Joyce’s Ulysses is set. This big red volume is the reference book Joyce used to recreate the detail of Dublin from exile here in Zurich. Joyce came to the city on leaving Dublin in 1904 (hence the choice of date for the novel – it is Dublin as fixed at the point of exile) accompanied by his other half, Nora Barnacle. They moved on to Italy/Trieste, back to Zurich, and on to Paris. Much of Ulysses (1922) was written here in Zurich. Joyce left occupied France in 1940 for Zurich where he died in 1941 (aged 59) and is buried.

So I’m flying in this morning with my iPod Shuffle on and up pops Van the Man singing ‘Too Long in Exile‘ with the line “just like James Joyce, baby / Too long in exile” – one of those meant to be moments.

And on the subject of Abbey Street and occupied France, in my hands is a copy of a classy thriller ‘The 6th Lamentation‘ by William Brodrick whose two central characters are a monk and a victim of the occupation of Paris. Another key character is a refugee to Switzerland. So I’m psyched for the Stiftung James Joyce.

I’m welcolmed by a friendly American academic and by the Director and prime mover of the Foundation, Fritz Senn, a Joyce specialist and as near as a Swiss man can be to being Irish.

In the back of Thom’s is an advert for Uska-Slan – Water of Health – in the form of Cantrell & Cochrane’s Table Waters. Just the kind of ad Leopold Bloom would have dealt in. I’m fresh from a lunchtime conversation which included the benefits of Badoit and the insanity of bottled still water. There’s a wonderful passage in Ulysses about water I heard declaimed atop the martello tower in Sandycove, South Dublin on the centenary Bloom’s Day on 16th June 2004.

I can, for example, look up my sister-in-law’s street in Ballybough (PoorTown) and see exactly who lived there in 1904. Mrs Grace at No. 24. A draper at No. 1, a jeweller at No. 14 and Mr John Killen of the GPO at No. 16. It tells you where the pillar boxes were (“Pillar Letter Box adjoining Raglan-road”). I’ve just spotted my father-in-law’s namesake (Murphy, James, esq.) at No. 26 Clyde-road which was valued at 70 pounds – and a certain William McGee at Cobourg-place (next door to Jasper Monahan the spirit grocer, which I assume is a far more colourful name for an off-licence).

My wife has now lived in London – many miles away from the cemetry at Kilbroney, Co. Louth where James Murphy after James Murphy is buried – for more years than she’s lived in Ireland – she went past the mid-point a couple of years ago, very significant really.

When I was in Ireland for the summer holidays last year, staying at said sister-in-law in Ballybough, I picked up a copy (at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham) of ‘That Neutral Island‘ by Clair Wills about the Irish home front in the Second World War. I often wonder what similarities and differences there are between the Irish neutrality and the Swiss. Joyce spent most of the First World War (July 1915 to October 1919) in Zurich, as well as getting the permit for entry from occupied France in late 1940.

A few weeks ago there was a big art robbery just outside Zurich from another Foundation – the Emil Buhrle Foundation. Buhrle was a Zurich-based, German born industrialist who sold arms to the Third Reich. After the war 13 paintings in the collection, which was raided in February by armed masked men, appeared on a list of art looted by Nazis from Jews and eventually he handed them over, getting some compensation from the Swiss government. The provenance of other works in the collection remains shady. Much like the Russian collection currently on show in the Royal Academy, London (in the From Russia exhibition), where the British government had to provide an official ‘safe passage’ document to insulate the dubious pieces from any chance of investigation and return to their rightful owners – Russia’s art galleries are peppered with works ‘nationalised’ after the Revolution or looted in the Second World War, many ultimately from murdered Jews. So one has limited sympathy for the Emil Buhrle Foundation as whose work the masked raiders with the Slavic accents actually stole is a moot point.

I recently came across this quotation by the writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and man behind another foundation, this one a Foundation for Humanity, which bears his name) Elie Wiesel (through A.Word.A.Day – a daily email with an interesting new word – might have been Joyce’s cup of tea [my philisophical Zurchner taxi driver earlier today was tickled pink by this British idiom]):

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And this popular one attributed to Edmund Burke also comes to mind from the Last Message SMS competition on Lost Generation:

“It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Reckon I’ll give the last word to Van the Man (not to be confused with White Van Man – the Buhrle robbery was carried out in a white panel van) and his collaborator on ‘Song of Being a Child‘, Peter Handke (not Swiss but Austrian like Adolf Hitler and Simon Wiesenthal, born in 1942, also a collaborator with Wim Wenders [Wings of Desire], a writer who has lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin, the US and for the last two decades Paris):

When the child was a child
It was the time of the following questions
Why am I me and why not you
Why am I here and why not there
Why did time begin and where does space end
Isn’t what I see and hear and smell
Just the appearance of the world in front of the world
Isn’t life under the sun just a dream
Does evil actually exist in people
Who really are evil
Why can’t it be that I who am
Wasn’t before I was
And that sometime I, the I, I am
No longer will be the I, I am

A little more magic from the Hiberno-Germanic melting pot.

Warum bin ich ich und warum nicht du?
Warum bin ich hier und warum nicht dort?

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