Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: Europe Trip Part One: Checking in from Newark; First Afternoon in Geneva

Wednesday 19 July 2006, 5:36pm (local)

So much craziness already. I'm at the airport in Newark, and today has not been my day. The first thing was, I had to wait half an hour for a bus to show up: any bus. So my plan to get to the airport on time already seemed to be off to a bad start. This got worse when it turned out that after transferring to the 80 on 6th street, I was on the wrong bus. I was on the right line, just the wrong bus. This was the airport-line bus that didn't go to the airport. Convenient, that. So, I freaked out when the bus came to a stop and rushed over across the street to another stop, hoping against hope that a bus would come along. Which one did. So now it was noon, right on the dot, with my flight leaving at 12:35. Unfortunately, my flight was right on time, unlike my last one, on my Boston trip. So I checked in, and it was too late for me to check my bag, which is colossal, designed to be able to peal away some of its contents as I go along. So I had to haul that with me, and the guy said I'd just be able to take it on board and that I should be alright.

In Security I got hung up because I thought I'd be able to check this bag and it had my Swiss Army Knife in it. So I was now being faced with the choice of having to get rid of this. The guy suggested that I could go out into the lobby and mail it back to myself, but I didn't have the time because we were already boarding. Now this Swiss Army knife is something that my Mom gave me for my 10th or 11th birthday: the best, most useful present I ever got, (especially having a pair of scissors in your pocket is especially handy) and something that means a great deal to me, having come from her. When faced with that anecdote, the guy volunteered to take it and mail it back to my apartment. So that will be above and beyond the call of duty, if that in fact happens. And boy, am I hoping it happens, 'cause that thing means a lot to me. [Edit: the knife was not here when I returned from Europe, July 26th, but to my delight was in my mailbox when I returned from babysitting the nieces on August 7th, but without any name or return address, so I can't reward the Security worker as I wished.]

So I hobbled on board with my giant bag, just as the last seats were filling in, which is where I was, up in front. The flight was very quick and uneventful out to Newark. I had to check in again, and so, fortunately, I was able to check my bag for this international flight. I'm flying Continental out to Geneva. I thought I was on Lufthansa, so I didn't remember that one very well. So I checked the bag, went through Security, and finally get down to my gate, only to realize that I forgot to get my keys, and watch, and pill box from the Security station. So I zoomed back down through the building after realizing this while buying my currency (Euros and Swiss Francs), to ask and see if I could find my keys, which, mercifully, were right there in the Lost and Found. That pretty much brings us up to date here: late bus, wrong bus, not able to check my luggage, losing my Swiss Army knife that my Mom gave me, losing my keys etc., gaining my keys back. It's been a rough day, but minor-league roughness compared to what some people have to endure. So lots of franticness and lots of last-minute saves. So: Newark.

Thursday 20 July 2006, 9:43am

I am in the airport lounge, sipping a Fanta, in Geneva. Kind of surprised by the airport: more of a mid-sized airport for the United States, something more like I'd expect from Rockford or Kalamazoo or South Bend. Just a very important location. I'm sipping a Fanta because these were my instructions from Erik: to break up my bills so that I could get exact change as needed to buy a bus ticket. The bus ticket will happen shortly when I get up the gumption to walk outside after I finish my Fanta. Nice flight over. Didn't get a lick of sleep: you know, landing here at 8:30 means it's only 1:30am back home, and of course I wouldn't be anywhere sleep yet. Noon here or one o'clock will be closer to when I'd be falling asleep, so that's when things will get difficult if I try to stretch the day through til Erik and I get on the train for Venice tonight at 10:30. My instructions are now to take the city bus to the World Health Organization Headquarters and to meet Erik there.

I had a great flight, though: I ended up seated next to a great girl named Kaley, who was part of a high school leadership group – 42 students from all over, here for mock-UN-type stuff, observing and learning and that sort of thing, with all that sort of camp arrangement. You have a very bright kid here: it was just fun talking with a high school student again at length, and to hear abbreviations like "AP" (Advanced Placement exams high school students take) instead of "DQE" (Doctoral Qualifying Exams). So just had a great time chatting with her through the night, both of us not managing to sleep a lick. Not a whole lot else going on. It's a shame to try to sum up the conversation with this kid so quickly because it was just absolutely charming. She was very mathematics-oriented; we talked very straightforwardly about manipulating statistics and so forth. She's interested in Law. She was looking at BC and Georgetown; she'd visited those schools already. I tried to chat up the Catholic schools, of course, and we talked about law and ethics, and international business, which she was also thinking about. Just fun. Definitely more of that business/legal/go-getter, not the liberal arts types that I'm usually surrounded by. Put ten years on her and she would have been just the "nothing in common"-type person I could imagine clicking with: she was very genial, curious, and a great conversationalist already for her age.

So now I'm hoping that I can figure out the signs to the bus correctly. I had a little bit of a hard time making chaahhnge with the bartender here. I was being too complicated. So. Off to see the wizard.

Thursday 20 July 2006, 2:36pm
Some thoughts I recorded later, but which might fit better here: Erik's directions were perfect, and I soon found myself getting off at the stop he described and walking over to the headquarters in Geneva of the World Health Organization, where he is interning for the summer in their Mental Health division. I was a bit disappointed by the architecture of the place. Indeed, all the architecture of the UN buildings in this international sector of Geneva were of that modern, 1950s/1960s, metal and concrete, "ultra modern" look, which no doubt seemed exciting and progressive at the time, but now seems rather ugly or dated. You can imagine it being sleek and impressive looking in the background of an early Sean Connery James Bond movie like Dr. No. I wondered what people 1000 years from now would think of us if some remnant of the thing would still be around for them to observe.

Inside, it was somewhat more attractive. I mean, it still suffered from the tired functionality of buildings of this era, but I will say that the UN people at least have a proper and healthy regard for the importance of art in human space, even if the buildings themselves seemed rather artless. The lobby was a fairly impressive and pleasant place, with tables where people chatted or brainstormed, with small shops – like a bakery, an internet coffeeshop, and a post office – opening off the space. Portraits of former heads of the WHO, a giant painting in the Pollock mode, and more representational works of art graced the space, which made it much more human. Erik drew my attention to the scores of old posters that lined the walls, all sorts of different public health posters of various sorts, representing years of WHO work around the world, summing up different sorts of health information and trying to put that wisdom into the hands and live of people everywhere. The design work in these posters, too, turned into a significant and impressive art of its own, and the cumulative effect of the efforts to aid and educate in them gave a great kind of history lesson about the work of the WHO. Work has become art. Then, the significant space given over to intentional works of art becomes significant on top of that. There is an openness to art in these buildings that is very attractive, regardless of the quality of the individual piece of art: the sheer fact that you had that kind of High Renaissance recognition of the role of art in a public space or public building, especially in a building like this which is dedicated to the betterment of the entire global civilization. It all became impressive, informative, moving, and very pleasing.

Back to my journal, more as it was recorded: So I split off the street to this sort of side cut that Erik, on the map, said he'd never seen or gone on. It's marked at the bus stop as the Vie du Champes. It's a beautiful cut through this small patch of woods, these huge incredible trees, massive white oaks leaning away from the path. I took a few pictures of this statue off the side which turned out to be the 1810 liberator of Mexico. Why that's here, I don't know, but everyone of that sort seems to be here. And this lovely path – I found myself just singing Randall Thompson's version of Frost's "The Road Not Taken," and that goes all the way back to high school, but I still remember it, Randall Thompson's melodies being so simple and brilliant and clean and beautiful.

I had a great lunch down in the cafeteria or restaurant of the World Health Organization, sitting out in the hot sun on a patio off the dining room. I just kind of loitered this morning with Erik, mostly in his office, although he took me on a walk around the building, particularly up to the deck on the roof from where he could show me all of Geneva below us on the lake, and France all around us. I was a little bit too weathered for a while to go right away to the Red Cross Museum, unfortunately, so we didn't do the jazz concert over lunch that would have been outside the museum. But we had a good talk, and catching up on the personal-type stuff, particularly a couple of episodes or turns of Erik's life that I hadn't been up to date on, so kind of getting the narrative straight.

I'm heading over to the Museum of the Swiss Abroad, to see an exhibition on the Pope's Swiss Guard, who are celebrating their 500th anniversary this year. I'll save the Red Cross Museum for Monday: Monday or Tuesday will give me a little more leisure. I met some of the people Erik's working with, including Claire, a charming English med student who was part of the group he went with to see the Matterhorn last weekend, and Tomas, a French medical student working here for just a month that he's hung out with, and who invited to go see – aptly enough – the Who play a concert tomorrow, which Erik had to decline on the grounds of us being off to Venice. Tomas immediately assumed we would be going there with some women, and immediately wanted to know who we were going to Venice with, and so we had to reveal just how messed up and sorry we were and that that was not the case. Tons of young people interning here. Lots of women between 20 and 25 from all over the world; a lot of Americans; some people Erik's been able to hang out with, although he feels that there's a little bit of an age gap with the undergraduates and those just out of their undergraduates, which is understandable.


I'm walking out the gate of Le Musée des Suisses dans le Monde, by the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations. This is a great place for gates, this walk from the WHO to the Museum. I finally did walk by the American Mission, with Swiss Soldiers on the outside and lots of American guards just inside the gate, with a new gate or entryway being worked on. The exhibit on the Swiss Guard was interesting. It was not the strongest presentation I've ever seen for a museum. There was a video offered as an introduction which turned out to be a full-length documentary. So after I'd been sitting there for 40 minutes I had a lot of information I still hadn't seen any of the exhibit yet, so since I had to meet Erik at 5, I pressed Pause and got going. A number of different uniforms. I learned that the whole thing about Michelangelo designing those uniforms was a myth, so that's one concrete, useful bit of information. A lot of variety with these uniforms, the present version only dating back to 1915 if I remember correctly. So there was a lot of different peraphernalia: old regalia, medals, old uniforms, portraits of different Commandants of the Guard through the centuries, oil paintings apparently being a traditional accoutrement to the position. They had a lot of items for sale afterward, baseball caps with the 500th anniversary commemorative logo, polo shirts, but the only thing that really caught my eye was a scarf that had the 500th anniversary emblem and the bold striped colors of the Guards' jackets, which I've long found attractive. But that was sold out, so certainly other people recognized that that was rather tastefully done and attractive. So I might look for that on the internet if I can, but they didn't have any left here. [Edit: I looked all over the internet in English, French and German: no such luck. Anyone wanna knit me a Swiss Guard scarf in that rich gold, blue and red? But it was cooler with that emblem....] So it was okay as exhibits go.

I'm certainly not thinking much of the Swiss penchant for putting sidewalks right on the narrow street, right up on the curb [lots of traffic sounds helping to explain that]. Walked past some of those Swiss soldiers standing guard outside the American embassy just now. They looked at me like I was rather strange, talking into this thing. I should probably be glad that I didn't get questioned for taking notes outside, like when Jen got us stopped by the police back in Northern Ireland for wanting to photograph the prison/"torture center." That was not a good idea. So... on my way back.

Go to: Day Two: Geneva to Venice
Tags: architecture, art, cultural, europe, friends-notre dame era, geneva, historical, musical, papacy, personal, photography, travel, travel-2006 geneva/venice/florence

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