Archive for February, 2010

A Day in Geneva

Well, half-a-day, actually, but quite nice, with arctic temparatures and snow having moved aside to make room for the sun to come out. We strolled around in the Parc des Bastions (right next to the University), watching people playing Chess and Checkers on life-size boards, skating on a (smallish) ice rink, and taking note of the Wall of the Reformers with sculptures and reliefs. Conspicuous by absence Luther and Zwingli, who were acknowledged only with rather large stone quadrants bearing their name, one on each end of the Wall. On to the old town.

Wall of the Reformers

By and large we found the architecture we saw in Geneva somewhat overwhelming. Lots of neo-classical buildings exuding wealth and solidity. While nice to stroll around in, it is not an architecture opening itself up immediately. Or maybe it is us who have to open ourselves up…? Anyway, an exhibit in Maison Tavel gave us a first lesson in Geneva’s history (badly needed).

Grand Theatre in Geneva

The day came to conclusion with a perfomance of Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydike (concert-version by Berlioz), performed by the Geneva vocal ensemble Motet with a small orchestra and very powerful soloists, in particular Orpheus. While maybe not the very best orchestra and the very best soloists we have ever heard, the whole performance was very well balanced and emotionally engaging. What a great way to end the day.

Victoria Hall, before our concert.

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We traveled to Lyon today to visit the German Consulate: Our passports needed renewal. It is actually easier here than in San Francisco, where the attitude is now such that one cannot even call the consulate anymore and has to pay to set up an appointment. (Should there ever be trouble in the US I seriously doubt we’d try to get in touch with that consulate!). Anyway, after getting the paperwork done we did some sightseeing in Lyon, incl. a tramway up one of the hills Lyon is built upon, Fourvière, with a rather spectacular view aided by the first clear day we have had in weeks.

View of Lyon from the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière (click on picture to enlarge).

We have lunch with the same kind-of view and enjoy the old town, with lots of antique shops and used-book stores. There is actually lots to see in Lyon, well worth a visit on its own. We are looking forward to picking up our passports with a more serious visit to the town and exploring its treasures.

Lunch with a view

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Finally something got unstuck: the Olympics show up on France 2! So we have a satisfying evening watching—a glass of Beaujolais in one hand and a piece of cheese in the other—the Canadian and the French woman take Gold and Silver in snowboarding at Cypress, our favorite skiing area once upon a time. At that time, not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the mountain where I learned skiing to become an Olympic venue. Go Canadians!

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Via Cordis Retreat

View from St. Dorothea Haus

This weekend I decided to follow my friend Christa’s recommendation to visit the St. Dorothea Haus in Flüeli-Ranft. This is the retreat center that practises the Via Cordis way, the way of the heart. There people practise meditation with a Christian basis called contemplation. Some of the prayers recited are by brother Klaus who lived in this area, was a hermit and had visions, finding his way to God in prayer.  A good part of the methods used were inspired by Eastern thought and practises (use of mantras, Zen and mindfullness meditation), but the way to pray here is based on 3rd and 4th century Christian traditions. I went for the whole weekend to get a flavor for this meditative way to approach God—the actual instructional part was Saturday. It was beautiful to sit in mediation in the chapel in the early morning, see the snow fall and observe the light slowly coming into the chapel. Our leader had a gentle way with singing and wise words to prepare us for the day. Some of it was spend in silence like the lunch meal, other times lively discussions happened about experiences. A private talk with the leader of this house clarified some roadblocks in my spiritual life for me and gave me new inspiration and direction. I hope to return here during our time in Europe.

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This was mostly a full work week; we fine-tuned our plans as far as the LARP-related design and analysis work on the proposed accelerator is concerned & I discussed projects with several other groups. This weekend I am home alone; Sylvia is on a meditation retreat in Flüeli-Ranft, a village several hours by train and bus away from here in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. So I am getting some technical work done besides catching up on paperwork that somehow does not just stay in the US but is following us around. I also tried to watch some of the Olympics, but alas, so far without success: none of the French TV channels we get carry anything other than short summaries, and the only Internet stream I could finally manage to get access to was in a format that is decidedly Mac unfriendly. I guess they really want us to pay extra for this (bonne chance!). In lieu of the real thing I saw a piece about Vancouver on the German ZDF channel. Needless to say that most of what was presented was a bit cliche (probably unavoidable in 45 min), nevertheless it triggered a pang of sentimentality. More satisfying was the restored version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, a silent movie from the 1920s that I stumbled upon last night on Arte (a French-German-Austrian TV channel). This was a real treat. Clearly influenced by the industrial revolution and by Marxist ideas the movie was absolutely gripping. I was drawn in by the ambivalence about religious leadership (the heroine, embodying the message of salvation, gets cloned into a robot (by a mad scientist, no less!) and the robot goes on to lead the masses into peril); and how Lang employs the Revelation to demonstrate the decay of society I thought was quite masterful. While some of it maybe on the surface a bit romantic for modern taste, the message is still vivid, nuanced, and perfectly applicable to modern life (and ignored as well). How can someone create a work like this that lasts for close to 100 years??

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This week we attended  three very different “events” in our town. On Thursday early evening I went to an opening of an art show. The show is in an intimate room next to the tourist bureau. The artist, Fidelie Cardi, a painter presented her colorful cheerful oil paintings. I stayed there an hour talking French and very little English!

Today we attended an international church called Crossroads here. The service rocked with beautiful gospel-like  music and lots of prayer. We liked the sincerity of it all. There is also a German Lutheran church in Geneva that we may visit soon.

In the evening we listened to a concert with Trumpet and Organ music in the “Temple de Ferney Voltaire,” which is the protestant church. It was packed to the last place on hard small benches. Romain Leleu (trumpet) gave a brilliant performance, accompanied nicely by Mathias Lecomte (organ). They played lots of Bach but also Vierne and Händel and a few more modern ones (Brandt, Sauguet). The concert ended with a fun piece by Ponchielli, which evoked a carnival-like feeling. In between they explained the pieces so could practise listening to French!

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Car, anyone?

With the days on our car rental contract numbered, we finally got serious with our car search and ended up with a Renault Twingo. It is one of the smaller cars you can get this side of a Smart (which is way out of our budget). A bit of an interesting experience, our car search; one of the vehicles we checked had these interesting brakes that let out a long squeal whenever the pedal was pushed… even with the car standing. When I stopped the car after test driving it, & turned the engine off (foot still on the brake), there was a final, quite loud and drawn out squeal, slowly ebbing away. Clearly, this thing had it for the day (which, to give it credit, was cold, wet & dreary)! Anyway, the Twingo seemed to be more amenable to driving duty so it got the nod. It brings back good memories: as a student I used to drive Renault R4s (which aren’t around anymore). For Sylvia, it’s going to be a motivation to resuscitate her stick-shift skills (she actually learned stick-shifting when we still lived in Germay); small automatics are mostly non-extant here.

Our latest addition

For once, the bureaucracy was actually fairly efficient and the clerk really friendly at the “sous prefecture” where we registered the car. She laughed seeing my look after she asked me to hand her a signed, blank cheque(!) (they have the amount printed in by computer afterwards).

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