Early in September, I visited David and Ben, twins who attended my high school for a few years, in Geneva. Born U.S. citizens, they are both now Swiss and give evidence of the saying: When all the chips are down, you know the buffalo is empty.
Geneva. An elegant cat stretched across a hilltop soft by two rivers and a clear lake. Swans and sunbathers and efficient looking locks, parks spilling down to the lake, stunning panoramas from the cathedral tower (once a Catholic church and now a Protestant reminder of the Reform), and nearly everywhere views of the great water jet. Why shouldn’t public spaces be whimsical? A growing art scene and East Village from back when neighborhood of people claiming, inhabiting, enlivening underused space. Skateboarders whooping it up alongside a seasonal amusement park/zoo of camels and pachyderms and French-speaking carneys – and to think I saw it all on the Plaine de Plainpalais?
Geneva is an international crossroads – Julius Caesar himself mentioned it in his writing - especially for environmental and humanitarian organizations. Just a short drive away is CERN, the world’s largest particle collider, straddling the border with France and saddling up to the infinitesimal. Did you hear the one about the hadron crossing the road?...
David and I spent one afternoon hiking up up up and then doooooown on the Jura, a pre-historic ridgeline that runs up to Germany, older than the Alps. Views of Mont Blanc, stately and large; the Rhone Valley, heading south and west through a gap in the hills, a terroir of excellent wines.
I got to watch a lot of soccer, calcio, futbol. Ben still plays on the team from his home village; he also coaches the under-17 team, and David and I saw parts of both games in addition to some others. In between games on a warm Sunday afternoon, he and I squared off in yet another example of the good life, French/Swiss/Italian style: bocce or its close relative pétanque. As attendees to a cetain backyard bachelor party this summer can attest, I’m pretty good by some standards. Some standards. David wiped the floor with me. Rhone Valley 1: Merrimack Valley 0.
Cheese. The Swiss are big into cheese. One night, before watching fellow countryman Roger Federer win yet another major, the twins, David’s roommate Piero (one of the most genuinely cheerful people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting), and I ate fondue – rich, heavy, creamy cheese with a touch of white wine kick, pushing us to eat more than we thought possible.
Another night, a group of us dined in the one restaurant in David and Ben’s childhood home village, Laconnex, 500 inhabitants strong. Rugby on TV, food rich with more cheese and potatoes and meats, wines from vineyards just down the road, engaging if sometimes unintelligible companions (French remains beyond my understanding) who share a bond grown over years, and of course the after-dinner digestifs and cafes – lucky am I to have such rich opportunities and hospitable friends.