Dearest readers –
I know that some of you thought I was dead in a Geneva ditch somewhere, having starved to death because Migros closed at 7pm and I got there at 6:58pm and they wouldn’t let me in; the rest of you haven’t given my absence a second thought whatsoever, and that’s cool (jerks). But for the interested few, I thought I’d jump on board one last time to bid my farewells properly, as I am leaving – in fact have left – the warm confines of this blog and the slightly chillier confines of Geneva for bigger and better things, on both fronts. Indeed, I’m no longer a Genevois and now am proud to call myself… a New Yorker!
Now, there are some difficult transitions in life – from childhood to adolescence must be one (all those pimples… all that hair), from autumn in Geneva to winter in Geneva would be another one. But let me tell you, none of those compare to the transition of living in Geneva – the smallest, quietest, quaintest town in Europe – to living in New York, the loudest, meanest, craziest, most exhausting city in the world. I literally cannot catch my breath in this place. I had no idea how far down the Geneva rabbit hole I’d fallen until I arrived here and freaked out at having more than two supermarkets to choose from. Seriously, I lived off food from Starbucks (which also provides a confusingly large array of food choices in this city) for my first week because I was too scared to commit to any one grocery store. When I finally entered one and saw how many different types of cereal were on offer, I think I passed out for a second.
I’ve been going shopping at 10:00pm, just cause I can (that’s a lie, I’ve been going shopping at 10:00pm because people work seriously late here, but that doesn’t make it any less fun). I’ve been taking taxis at home at 4:00 in the morning because I won’t have to sell my entire wardrobe to do so. I’ve been gorging myself on museum exhibitions and gourmet food markets and quirky underground restaurants galore. I think I’m going to have a coronary with all this excitement.
For now, let me say that despite my repeated, and sometimes cruel, criticisms of that little town on Lac Leman, I was desperately sad to end my time in Geneva. Not, of course, because I would miss paying 5 CHF for bad coffee and spending every Saturday Night at SIP. Rather, I met and made the most wonderful friends that a girl could ask for while I lived in Geneva, and for that I suppose I should give the town a little bit of credit. It does attract some amazingly motivated and passionate (if a little delusional) people. I will always be thankful that I spent the time there that I did, if only for those people.
Thank you for your dedicated readership!
Everything old is new again, apparently, as remakes of and sequels to all those 80s movies that we’d really like to forget about – Tron, Wall Street, The Karate Kid, Footloose – are rolling out of Hollywood and into your local cinemas.* For those of you who want to take 80s fever a little further and infuse it into your daily lives (I don’t know who you crazy mofos are, mostly likely you were the ones who didn’t live through the 80s the first time round, let me tell you IT WASN’T PRETTY), I have the solution for you. I know exactly how you can relive the 80s:
Move to Geneva.
No joke, it’s as if Geneva got to about 1988 and then was like, “you know what? This year is awesome. Parachute jackets and hypercolour t-shirts are awesome. Let’s just stay here. Who needs the nineties anyway?” A bunch of crimped-hair girls and hammer pant-wearing guys got a petition together – which is basically all it takes to force a referendum and constitutional change in this country – and voila! It’s the 80s forever in Geneva!
Don’t believe me that Genevois are still listening to Earth, Wind and Fire and watching movies on VCR? Let’s look at the evidence:
- People rollerskate here! As in, they get up in the morning and they skate to work, they roll around the aisles at Coop, they weave in and out of the disgruntled cyclists in the bicycle lane. Seriously! You have to see it to believe it! And we’re not talking rollerblades (which, by the way, are bad enough, I’m pretty sure “let’s go blading” lost its coolness about the same time smoking cigarettes at your office desk was banned) but rollerskates! They’re ludicrious! Unless you’re a 15 year old candy striper living in middle America circa 1954, they are not a legitimate form of transportation!
- I’m pretty sure smoking cigarettes at your office desk is still legal here. In any event, smoking cigarettes EVERYWHERE ELSE is still legal here.
- Speaking of illegitimate forms of transportation, people scoot here! Like, with regular non-motorised foldable scooters! ** Talk about ridiculous, these things go marginally faster than an elderly person’s walker and necessitate a seriously embarrassing set of exaggerated bobbing movements, not to mention the fact that they must be carried around at all times – nothing quite screams “douchebag” like a guy trying you pick you up at a bar with his metal scooter strapped to his back. How do these people swallow their pride and do it? It’s like riding a Pogostick around town.
- Decadence is alive and well, and greed is good. It’s all about money – how much you have, how you spend it, where you keep it – and people aren’t afraid to talk about it and to flaunt it. Geneva is like the pre-recession 80s, where fur and gold encrusted things and convertibles are perfectly justifiable ways to express yourself as the European financial system goes down the gurgler and scores of people drift further into poverty. The Swiss franc is strong! Let’s celebrate! Baby dugong and Cristal Brut for everyone!
- If the posters on the walls at every single hairdresser in Geneva are anything to go by, the following hairstyles – and only the following hairstyles – are available: mullet, undercut, side pony tail, teased fringe, afro.
- People eat fondue as if it’s a) a flavour sensation; b) remotely interesting and c) not going to cause you to die of coronary cancer.
So, obviously, the only conclusion available on the evidence is that Geneva is, indeed, stuck in 1988. There’s nothing you can say to convince me otherwise. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to don some leggings and shoulder pads, adopt an appropriate hairstyle (see #5), pick up a box of wine and scoot off to the closest bar playing something – anything – by Cindy Lauper!
*When I say “your” local cinemas I mean those of you who don’t live in Geneva – we’re a little behind here in terms of new releases. I think we’re just about to get Wall Street, but the first one, not the sequel.
** Okay, I know these probably technically didn’t even come into being until the 90s, but they’re so eighties-esque, right?
My most sincere apologies for my ridculously extended absence. I have no excuses to offer you, other than that I spent the whole summer travelling elsewhere, a concept I know that you – as fellow Geneva detainees – can understand. Now it is cold, I’ve spent all my money, and my tan has faded, and I have what? A deserted blog. I’m like the bloody grasshopper who travelled all winter.
But, let’s not cry over spilt milk, shall we? I’m back, and I’m about to send a pearler your way, I promise!
As an embarrassingly wannabe writer living in Geneva, I do my best to blame my lack of any genuinely inspired substance (including on this blog) on the lack of any genuine inspiration in this city of ours. Seeing as I’ve just about run out of things to complain about (although I’m not above repeating myself) I’ve discovered that my muse of fire is nowhere to be found in Geneva, not even at La SIP (what a surprise!). And I’m left, once again, wondering whether this indeed is just a soulless city that sucks the creativity and curiosity right out of you and replaces it with a taste for for expensive, sickening fondue.
Alas, a New York Times travel piece this week made me realise that the problem might not actually be with Geneva, but – bizarrely – might lie, in part, with me. For, as the article details, Geneva and its surrounds was once home to some of history’s most celebrated writers, the location for the composition of their most famous works. Henry James. Vladimir Nabokov. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in a house in Cologny. Lord Byron composed an array of poems, including The Prisoner of Chillon, inspired by the Chateau Chillon near Montreaux. John Polidori – Byron’s personal physician – wrote a short story called The Vampyre, which would later influence Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
How can this be possible? How could they have been so inspired here? Was Geneva so different in 1816? I guess the food was probably better, and the G&Ts cheaper. There were probably more people out on a Friday night back then, and I’m sure that accommodation was more plentiful and more affordable. But could these things alone have been enough to propel them to churn out great literary masterpieces while the best I can do is wax lyrical about cheese?
Rather than conclude that the problem must just be that I’m not a very good writer, I have instead turned my attention to the history of Byron, Shelly et. al, and identified three factors in their Geneva experience which most probably contributed to their abundance of genius and which adequately explain my lack thereof.
1. They were taking crazy hallucinogenic drugs.
Their indulgence of choice was laudanum, a form of liquefied opium, which caused them to see freaky shit like Mary’s breasts turning into demonic eyes. Apparently old Mary was dosed up on the stuff when she passed out one night and dreamt of a scientist who creates a man from stolen body parts and gives him life; voila, Frankenstein!
2. They were all shagging each other.
Byron took as his lover Claire Claremont (cool name), the stepsister of Mary Wollstonecraft who would later become Mary Shelley when she married Percy Bysshe Shelley. Byron and his physician, Dr. Polidori, lived next door to Mary, Percy and Claire, and Dr. Polidori may or may not have been shagging Mary. British newspapers labelled their enclave a sordid “league of incest.” When Claire got knocked up, Byron wondered “Is the brat mine?” A recipe for fruitful inspiration, no?
3. They did ridiculous things like travel with a peacock and a monkey in a replica of Napolean’s coach.
I, for one, would like to see all of these activities returned to the realm of the “norm” in Geneva; I am certain that my writing would be better for it. Also, can we please adopt, as Byron did, the phrase “staring boobies” to describe all the annoying tourists who linger along the lake taking photos of the Jet d’Eau and obstructing my bicycle path?
Since leaving the dry and dusty land of my birth, where spring and autumn don’t exist and, until recently, rainfall was so infrequent that it was cause for celebration, I have developed an obsession with the weather that borders on maniacal. Whereas prior to moving to Europe I had generally only checked the weather report to see whether it would be hot enough to justify taking a day off study/work (anything over 38 degrees and kids get sent home from school, a principle which I have continued to apply well into my adult life), my years on the Continent and in London have engendered in me a laughable compulsion for weather-checking, weather-discussing and weather-predicting. Well, it would be laughable if there was anyone to laugh at me, but actually they’re all too busy weather-checking, -discussing and -predicting.
I’ve gotten to the point where I generally now regard the weather as kind of ever-persistent but not-too-talkative lover. Or, should I say, series of lovers.
There is the summer romance, who sweeps me off my feet in May with sweet nothings, a concoction of scents – mint, blossoms, sunscreen – and enough mojitos and Pims that I fall head over heels for him. Every night we stay out late, go dancing, sit on terraces, picnic in the park. Life is so good that even my paranoia begins to slip away, I limit my weather-checking to once a day, I start to think that this time, this time it might really last.
Then, sometime during September, he drops me cold. I didn’t see it coming and wonder what little signs I missed. I take up with an in-between rebound, and to be fair to him, he tries his hardest. Sometimes he’ll give me sunshine and take me dancing and I’ll think that this, too, could be the real thing. But the next day he won’t return my calls and leave me stuck inside all weekend. One day he’s hot, the next day he’s cold.
He’s long gone by December when I take up with my depressive winter lover. We hardly talk, preferring instead to spend long, dark days inside watching Grays Anatomy. My paranoia is at its height, and I’m weather-checking two, three times a day, just praying for a small sign of change. Sometimes, we’ll spend a weekend together in the mountain and things will start looking up – we feel fresh, energetic, alive – but as the sun sets at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, we return to our melancholy. After he finally leaves me in February (“it’s not you, it’s me”) I’m too wary to take up with someone else, and spend the next few months in tentative flirtation mode, waiting for my summer romance to show his face.
This past weekend, summer guy finally showed up, in the form of an amazing long weekend in Barcelona. Ridiculously bad sunburn aside, this was the type of summer adventure that renders the depressive winter guy a distant memory – days swimming in the Mediterranean, eating gelato and tapas and drinking jugs of sangria and freshly made mojitos right on the beach, and nights at Primavera Sound festival, dancing to Animal Collective, the National and Girl Talk.
It is without doubt in the form of the festival when the European summer really proves its worth. The long days and not-quite-scorching sun are totally conducive to hours perched on a grassy knoll listening to live tunes, and the mix of different nationalities and languages somehow translates into a joyful, easy going crowd of music lovers. It is the festival that really makes you fall for your summer fling. Dancing until the sun comes up, brown skin, salt in your hair, you feel like this is going to last forever.
Let’s forget that heartbreak and the winter guy are waiting around the corner. It’s festival time, and even Geneva and its surrounds are turning on the seductive summer charm:
Festi’neuch is on this weekend in Neuchatel – see Moby, the Wu Tang Clan, Gotan Project and DJ Shadow.
Fete de la musique on 17-19 June transforms Geneva into a completely different city – there are people! in the streets! dancing! and drinking caipirinhas!
On the same weekend there is the B-Sides festival in Lucerne, featuring The Go! Team, among others.
On the weekend of June 30 to July 3 St. Gallen (waaay over the other side of Switzerland) will host Openair St. Gallen with a seriously awesome lineup, including TV on the Radio, the National, Queens of the Stone Age, Beirut, Dizzee Rascal etc.
Of course, the infamous Montreux Jazz Festival is on from 1 to 16 July. If you can afford tickets, there are some fantastic acts playing, including Arcade Fire, James Blake, Laura Marling and Paul Simon.
Finally, Paelo Festival in Nyon looks set to be a cracker, with a lineup that includes The Strokes, PJ Harvey and The Chemical Brothers. Alas, tickets are sold out, but surely there must be someone around town you can bribe, right?
For the last few weeks I have forsaken the balmy, calm shores of Lake Geneva for the windy, chilled streets of New York.* I have always had a slight obsession with New York, which may explain some of my overly harsh criticisms of Geneva, which could never but pale in comparison to what has always seemed to me to be the centre of the world. But what exactly is it about the Big Apple that so gets my heart racing and prevents me from achieving any truly relaxing sleep while I’m there? It’s not as physically beautiful as the Geneva surrounds, its certainly not as convenient to get around (although the taxis are cheaper), and the water out of the taps is no match for the Evian-esque drops which quench my thirst in Switzerland. And yet, New York seems to thrill and challenge and satisfy like no other city. John Steinbeck felt the same way, it seems; he said: “It is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal. Its politics are used to frighten children. Its traffic is madness. Its competition is murderous. But there is one funny thing about it – once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no other place is good enough.”
Now, I’ve never lived in the city,** but having been there with embarrassing frequency over the last few years, I totally understand what old J.S. was talking about. The city gets under your skin the way few others – including Geneva – ever could.
Unsurprisingly, New York has its own rules and quirks that are just as dominant as Geneva’s. New Yorkers may have a headstart over us Genevois (even just by virtue of the oversupply of good restaurants, the amazingly low (in comparison) prices, and the fact that, not only can you USE your washing machine after 10pm, you can BUY a washing machine at 3am if you want! ) but “making it” in NYC seems to nevertheless be just as exhausting as making it in Geneva.
So if, like me, you’ve got your eye on the Big Apple, educate yourself with a few of the tips I’ve derived from my brief sojourns there over the years…
1. Get your chat on
One thing that never ceases to amaze me about New Yorkers is the speed, volume and quantity of their speech. Everywhere you go in New York you’re participating in someone’s conversation – sometimes actively (god, New York taxi drivers can talk, right? And are not afraid to ask you for your email address so you can continue the conversation virtually) but more often as a passive observer, whether you want to or not. I used to think that many of the supposedly ‘overheard’ quotes on Overheard in New York were made up, but after only ten days of walking around that city I’m sure I have gained enough material myself to keep the site going for another year. Highlights include a conversation which included the line “So I called Ali, and I was like ‘Oh my god! My Grandma is probably going to die today!’, and she was like, ‘Oh my god! My grandma is on Facebook.’” Not only would most people never have such a conversation, they would certainly not recount it at the top of their lungs walking up Fifth Avenue. But such is the wonders of New York. No matter how loud you talk or crazily you dress or hard you play, it is never too much.
2. Be aggressive, be be aggressive
I don’t mean aggressive in the shoving-your-way-past-commuters-to-get-on-the-subway,-bowling-down-people-on-the-street,-pushing-in-at-the-front-of-the-line-for/sushi aggressive. That’s just part and parcel of living in any big city. I mean make-yourself-heard,-get-what-you-want kind of aggressive. The type of aggressiveness that propels people to spend a good five minutes stipulating their lunch order, ensuring that their wholewheat grain bagel with cream cheese has no sunflower seeds but extra poppy seeds, the onion and celery flavoured cream cheese (oh, flavoured cream cheese, another element that gives New York the one up on Geneva) is chilled, the bun is toasted but not burnt, cut in quarters, no pickle but with fries, etc. etc., you get the message. And if you DON’T get the message, let me explain it again! Because that’s what they do. Coffee orders take an hour to recite, Mexican food can be ordered without any trace of cheese but with chocolate sauce on the side if you like, cabs can be directed to ONLY take Avenues 4 or 8 and to park exactly 33cm away from the curve. Everything is customisable and debatable, but you’ve got to get in quick and you’ve got to say it with authority. It’s like every person in New York just spends their lives ordering each other around. But in a nice way.
3. Money talks
I know I’m not revealing any astonishing news to you – after all, if there is anywhere that money talks, it’s Geneva – but in New York it’s a little more nuanced. First, there’s tipping. A few dollars goes a long way and I am happy – nay, ECSTATIC – to pay it if it means that the waiter refrains from scowling at me, brings me neverending glasses of tap water, and says ‘no problem’ when I ask for more ketchup. It’s a real departure from, say, every single restaurant in Western Europe and Great Britain.
Also, though money may talk, what it says really differs depending on where in New York you are. Your money has to learn to talk the language of the Upper East Side, of Tribeca, of Williamsburg. It seems to me that even going from uptown to downtown requires a whole new wardrobe, set of skills, elocution lessons and four-week emersion course in order to speak the right language.
4. Your EVERY DAY best
Finally, the most bizarrely unique characteristic of New York and New Yorkers: the culture of the superlative. I am certain that most conversations I have had with friends and acquaintances in New York during my trips over the years have at some stage come around to “the best” of something or other – the “best” slice of pizza, the “best” cupcake, the “best” steakhouse, the “best” coffee, the “best” new restaurant, the “best” brunch, “the “best” rooftop bar that serves only drinks which start with the letter ‘z’, etc. “Best” holds a place of pride in the New York lexicon, and any discussion with a local New Yorker (or one who has adopted the city as their home) will inevitably come around to their views on all manner of things that are the “best” – the “best” combination of subways to go from downtown to uptown during rush hour with the minimum amount of body contact with other commuters; the “best” table at the “best” early 20th Century French bistro in Soho; the “best” part of the Hamptons to stay in on July 4th weekend. It is a never-ending and often frustrating past-time which you nevertheless quickly buy into as soon as you step off the plan at JFK and which you will spend the rest of your time perpetuating, by saying things like “now, I really don’t buy into the whole ‘the best cupcake in town’ thing but THESE REALLY ARE THE BEST CUPCAKES IN TOWN.”
How to demystify this strange cultural practice? My only explanation is that an inherent part of the American psyche is the unremitting quest for betterment. It is a continuation of the frontier spirit that engulfed America during the 19th Century, was encapsulated by JFK’s challenge to his own people to put a man on the moon (part of his policy that was aptly entitled the “New Frontier”), and which today lives on in the minds of people like Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt, people who are leading the guard across new frontiers.
This spirit, this indestructible determination, this undying loyalty to a noble cause, this is the answer. THIS is what drives New Yorkers’ ceaseless search for the perfect frosting on the perfect cupcake. I’ll drink to that.
Now, where is the “best” place in New York for a post blog-rant drink?
*That’s not exactly true. Actually, I’ve been back in Geneva 10 days now, but its taken me that long to recover from the whirlwind holiday/family reunion/shopping trip/drinking and eating fest.
**And am thus probably the least qualified person to be writing this post. Nevertheless, here I go…
So, we all know that Geneva is home to a plethora of people from all the wonderful corners of the world. Somehow, however, this has not resulted in a glut of establishments serving high-quality international food. Yes, there are some decent places to eat niche national/ethnic cuisines (Eritrean is my new favourite), and walking round the Paquis you’d be forgiven for being overwhelmed by choice. However, eating out in Geneva is notoriously expensive, the quality often underwhelming, and the aforementioned Paquis establishments are usually located in disconcerting proximity to strip clubs (i.e., in the same room). So, what to do for those of us who are sick to death of steak, cheese and chocolate and want to be able to feast on new and more bizarre delicacies multiple times a week without bankrupting ourselves or dining solo amongst ladies of the night? Well, Latitudinal Cuisine might just be your answer.
After proving very popular in London and popping up in other cities, we’re getting deliciously Latitudinal in Geneva.
So, for example, the first Latitudinal Geneva event will be held this Friday, the 126th day of the year, so we will be cooking food from Longitude 126 and thereabouts, which features the delights of Eastern China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Western Australia. YUM.