Monday, April 01, 2013

Geneve Journal: Dec 16-18, 2012, the final days

I sat in the Théâtre de Beaulieu in Lausanne, surrounded by 1800 young children and their parents.  In the moments before showtime, the hall was a a din of high pitched chatter.  I extracted details of the kind of attentive parental/ child interactions with some wonder and admiration.  The level of connectedness, dependence and trust embodied in these vignettes was heartening.  More so, even, given that in my mind I was contrasting this total moment of contentedness with my imagining of the blacker reality that parents and children were experiencing that very moment back in the US, in Newtown CT.

This was Sunday, late afternoon.  I had seen a few reports of the shooting online after having returned from Paris the previous day.  Those reports were provisional, details seemed vague, but the casualty count was concrete.  There are countless overlapping privileges the Americans and Swiss enjoy. The most profound of which are the ones we take most for granted, and perhaps think of the least, namely, the very remoteness of the chance that our families and our very own security can be ripped from us in an expression of another's malicious "death drive".  It's a privilege so elemental to our experience that one can assume it to be not  a privilege at all, but a basic tenet of life, until one is reminded of the vast territory of the world which can not lay claim to such luxury, even then such a state is unimaginable for anyone outside of it.  No such possibility could exist in this setting. It seemed unthinkable here, yet here I was thinking it.

The show we were about to see was Sonia Grimm's Christmas spectacular.  I arrived much earlier in the day to meet Sonia and hang around to watch all the behind the scenes action and to catch a full rehearsal.
A view of the set from backstage.

  It made sense to me, in a narrative sense, that seeing her again would happen at the end of my visit, as she was the beginning and object behind the casting of my gaze toward Geneva in the first place. The omega to the alpha, as it were.

Twenty years and effectively no change in her.  Pretty remarkable.  It was a strange, unreal, but not unpleasant reencounter.
Pre-rehearsal instructions.

Sonia's career as a chanteuse des enfants started with the songs she wrote and sang to lull her own children.   Her husband Marco Sorrentino produces her music and her shows.  The entire production is very much a family affair with her parents chipping in in various supporting roles - her father plays Santa every year.  The endeavor has developed into quite an operation, one which has resulted in several albums and produces around 40 performances a year.

What's extraordinary is that it's not just Sonia on stage; in this case, she was joined by a cast of some 40 children, and her shows in Geneva scheduled for the following weekend would have 50 children on stage.  A core of these children have speaking and solo parts, but all of them sing and dance on stage - and they are adorable and quite good.  Sonia and Marco operate a music school for children where part of the curriculum is concerned with training the kids for these performances.  I was told Sonia's first performance (in a library? I think) included three children and a walking bridge lawn ornament from her parents' yard as the set.  Now there's a full set, expansive and beautifully decorated, and a full crew of folks to get it all running.

When I arrived, there was a commotion of mothers and children checking in and getting settled.  The family and crew members were just sitting down for a lunch prepared by Sonia's mom, and I joined them.   Given the rush of the day, this was the bulk of the time we had to catch up and during which I met Marco and some of the other folks.

Sonia's sound engineer is a young man named Julian.  I wondered if he was American, or of American descent because his English was completely without accent.  He's actually Swiss, and from Swiss parents, but he attended English schools throughout his childhood.  As the conversation progressed over lunch, Julian asked me if I had a Kickstarter project. I said yes I did. He said he thought I looked familiar, and that he had seen the project online.  He asked if I had reached my funding goal.  I said I had and that that was the reason I was there that day. 

The performance was incredibly entertaining, more so, I think, than I was expecting for a concert for children.  It was sweet for sure, and it was touching to see the kind of rapport that existed between Sonia and the audience - and to hear the responses and singing that was echoing back to the stage from the rapt children in the seats.

There in my center section seat, my 19/20 year old self was being channeled through my viewing of this spectacle/specter.  In some ways what I was seeing on stage was the realization of the romantic conjurings harbored by my younger self.  What else but the most theatrical illustrations of beauty and romance can match the visions projected by youthful ardor.  How apt and poetic - I felt - that I was finding in this theater, on stage, in lovely gowns, under glowing lights and buffeted by a wind machine, an embodiment of the dream I dreamt twenty years before.  I was well aware of the boon this experience could be in the telling of this narrative, but I also considered it a gift to this younger self for whom an unrealized yearning had found a sort of resolution.

The omega joining up with the alpha, indeed.

All of this brings up the relationship between the body and the image, the disembodied image, the images we project into our desired worlds dreaming they meet bodily form, and the illusions we conjure for ourselves and the illusions conjured for us from the stage.  I don't have a position on any of this, but together, these thoughts are additional gifts for me that had been gathered and wrapped through my earlier experiences and conversations on this trip and were opened before me on this day.
Sonia with her fans.

After the performance, I waited to say goodbye until Sonia finished signing autographs and posing for photos with her fans.  This took over an hour.  During lunch, there was talk about the necessity that even as the shows are directed to young children, they must be entertaining for the parents as well.  And there is an awareness of the particular draw that Sonia has for the fathers of her intended audience.  Indeed there were many dads in attendance on this day, and one can imagine that the choice/chore paradigm of attending such a show with the family is made decidedly more pleasant for a father given the headlining attraction is in the form of an attractive Sonia Grimm and not some purple dinosaur or some such furry costumed monstrosity - or Bette Davis in drag.  Indeed there was at least one lucky dad who scored a photo op with her that night who, seemingly to wanting to diminish the thrill he was having (in the presence of his wife and kids), kept repeating "c'est juste pour souvenir, juste pour souvenir", as if to say "Oh, alright, I'all take a picture too.". Actually this guy had a perfect cover as one of his daughters was too shy to be photographed with Sonia, so he took a photo to demonstrate it wasn't so scary (....actually, he posed for more than one photo.)

We had very little time to speak, but I was happy to be able to get such a first hand knowledge of what her work is about.   I must admit that I was a little dismissive of this music for children before seeing the show, but having seen it I can more truly appreciate both the effort and craft she brings to it, and the great effect it has on her audience.  Sonia's working to improve her fluency in Swiss German well enough to tailor her music and performances for those kraut-tongued cantons of Switzerland.  I asked her if she'd consider working in English.   She replied that there are already enough children's entertainers in English, but there's a real dearth of contemporary performers for children in French.  She described two performers she listened to when she was young, one of which is a geriatric woman who dresses as a little girl (I'm conjuring an image of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, ergo my Bette Davis reference above) so there's a definite need she's meeting.

I left the theater being just a little outside of myself.  Somewhere between the me of now and that 19 year old me.  I gave that younger me space on my seat to watch the performance and on the way to the bus stop the two of us worked to reconcile and understand the day we just had.  A little of his melancholy overwhelmed my perception.

I had two bus options for returning to the train station.  I took a different bus from the one on which I arrived, oblivious to the fact that this bus had a different route and stops and I missed my stop - by a long shot.  It took me a little while to make my way back on another bus and miss my stop again (it was an issue of language the second time) but I got off, found a map on the street.....I actually found a map, somewhat soggy, laying in the street, and made my way to the station in the rain.  Lausanne's not that big anyway and I was never that far into being lost. I was thinking more about the fittingness of re-meeting Sonia at the end of this trip.  Although it was meeting her and falling for her that propelled me to Geneva in the first place, actually getting there and being there during those months went well beyond that initial catalyst, becoming something fully independent from it while still being colored by it.  Returning to the US was the last thing I wanted to do on that first visit.  A return was failure.  And at that time, to me, failure looked like this:

Christian In Me I, 1992, oil on masonite, 24"x24"
The taste of those dejected feelings rose, liquified, in my mouth as I mused over the impending close of this adventure.  With the close of any project one  has long worked for and now completed, comes a sense of loss.  Additionally, I was pressed by the question of whether I had even approached what I wanted to achieve during these three weeks.  Would it have even been possible?  By and large, I think I could say that I did;  but how can you be sure?  I had the thought, made the plan, took the trip, and having gotten there, the horizon eluded me at nearly every step.   This all made for a near perfect symmetry of the two trips - although my current swaying was nothing so severe as the previous instance.

I had a very early flight out on Tuesday and it occurred to to me that night returning from Lausanne, that I should look how I'd get to the airport.  I assumed I would go the way I came; bus to train station, train to airport.  But the buses weren't running that early.  Next plan, try to find a shuttle service that wouldn't cost me a bundle.   The process of securing a ride went into the next day.  I knew that I'd have to get up very early morning for my flight.  I was dreading - and fearful that I wouldn't make - the early hour wake up I'd have, so I devised  a plan for my Monday that would entail tying up loose ends, running some errands and making a final tour through town early in the day, then return home for a hefty late afternoon nap, which would fortify me in staying awake through to morning.  I was going to avoid that early wake up by not going to bed at all.

A horizontal jet d'eau.
I spent the morning finishing up a little work and packing up my materials and the work I had made during the trip before heading out to my first stops around Eaux Vives and the bord du lac.

I'm an awful buyer of gifts.  I'm always at a loss when I put some intention behind the purchase of a gift.  In Rome once, I was at such a loss for what to bring back for Angelika.  My friend Angela (with whom I was staying) suggested I buy her a silk scarf.  Perfect suggestion.  Purchasing such a scarf is like selecting an artwork in a gallery which one might imagine buying.  This is an activity I can handle.  The anxiety of finding just the right thing for a gift was suddenly subverted by the more familiar ground of simply making an aesthetic judgment.  So many of the miring variables were neutralized by Angela's suggestion; the parameters were defined,  all I had to do was follow my aesthetic gut - a process about which I feel fairly capable.  Angelika wears scarves, and does so very nicely.  With this plan, I could get something practical, something aesthetic, and something she'd certainly use and which would not be extraneous to her nature.  This was grand grand advice - and the start of a sort of a tradition.
Its been a long time since I had "occasion" to buy Angelika a scarf, and I had nearly forgotten about it as I started to fret on what to bring back for her.  Luckily, I recalled the power of the scarf  not too far into my gifting conundrum.  So one of my Monday objectives was to find her a nice scarf.

A wall near Eaux Vives.
The former site of a squat called the Garage. An instance where fuzzy memory and an erased history lent a feeling of weird disorientation.

I decided that Carouge is where I would find this scarf.  This was perfect too, because I had intended to hit Carouge, a place where I had drunk and wandered on many nights way back when, but hadn't yet had the chance.  Plus, I knew there should be some suitable boutiques in which to source my objective.  Having left the apartment later than intended, I ran into a problem I knew all to well, namely, that all the shops in Carouge are closed for a couple hours at midday.  I was kicking myself for this oversight, but jovially so as I was experiencing something I had often run into on my first trip, particularly whenever I tried to visit Ferney-Voltaire.  So Carouge was a bit of a bust, and being there during the day lacked it's nighttime verve I remember, so after a very short time window shopping with no exciting prospects, I jumped on the tram heading back into the center of Geneva.

The Monument to the Reformation at the Promenade des Bastions.
I descended at the Promenade des Bastions and watched chess players in the waning drizzle and the crows picking over the detritus left behind from the striking of the tents from the Escalade events.  From there I wanted to head back up into the old city for some photo/video ops that had eluded me.  As I crossed the street and started my ascent, my glance was caught by a rain soaked GHI newspaper on the ground pushed up against a railing.  Several pages worth of the upper corner of the paper were turned back revealing an ad for the two Geneva dates of Sonia's Christmas show.  This was a trippy find and it conjured up past magically weird coincidences experienced on my first trip which I'll get into at another time.  This was an artifact worth keeping so I gathered up the soggy rag and luckily I had a spare plastic bag on me so I could deposit it in my shoulder bag without soaking everything else I had with me. 

I took my final turn among the cobbled streets, descending through the Place de la Madelaine where, for the first time, I took notice of a stall selling goods from Afghanistan & Pakistan, including some striking varieties of scarves.  I took time to find a pretty, iridescent woven silk scarf predominantly hued in shimmery and elusive salmon/orange and aqua blue hues.  BOOM!  I don't think a more perfect scarf could have been had in that city at that time.
Above the Bastions.

Feeling proud of my acquisition, I decided to head home to finish up on getting packed and fit in what was looking like an incredibly shrinking nap before I was to meet up with Mathias and Magdalena for dinner.  It was about 1:30 pm when I arrived at the apartment, ate up the rest of the spaghetti I had on hand, worked on a few more drawings and was down for my nap by 3:00 pm (I got a good three hours in.)
A window display of a Matta drawing at Galerie Interart.  A visit to this exhibit of drawings did much for me.

I arrived at Mathias' apartment at 7 with a portfolio of the things I had been working on in order to show him the fruits of my time.  We ended up trading a few pieces.  Mathias is a composer/musician and he's been focusing on video for the past year or so, but he's also created a number of very intriguing and clever small works on paper, two of which I brought home with me.

Our original plan was for another fondu outing, but I was quietly relieved when Magdalena said she wasn't feeling up for fondu, because I wasn't sure how another cheese binge would affect my early travel plans.  We ended up on going to an old school pizza joint purporting to be the first to offer that cuisine in Geneva.  It was a good light fare.

So I did end up sleeping a couple of hours, up by 3 AM to finish cleaning and then wait for my cab.  There were some truly bizarre obstacles and delays on the ride to the airport.  I was getting the sense that even the driver was getting a little nervous.  Halfway through, he told me this was his first day as a cab driver.  I was his very first fare, ever.  He gave me a discount on account of the delays and for being patient.  I gave him a healthy tip and wished him a good remainder of his first day at work. 
In the Geneva Airport.

There were a number of children and pets among those waiting for the TAP flight to Lisbon.  I had the sensation I was waiting for a bus and not an airplane.  As far as I can recall, this leg of the trip was free from any major delays.
In the Lisbon airport.

Toward the end of my sizeable layover in Lisbon, I sat next to a chatty young American woman studying fashion in Paris.  She was heading back to NY for her holiday break.  She was an amalgamation of all those Manhattan-raised prep school girls in tv and movies who, among all there other inheritences is the mandate to take on the world with the full force of their fabulousness.  A generous and authoritative fabulousness that was almost too much to bear.
A fog bank receding in Lisbon.

The upside of my drawn out flight from the US to Europe was the modern entertainment technology on board.  The downside of the flight back was the less modern entertainment technology on board.  Not much to complain about, though.  It's just easy to get spoiled.

The opportunity of this entire trip was one in which I was spoiled by the abundance of time and space at my disposal for this purpose of my own confabulation - and that's not lost on me.  In fact the richness of that time has been made more exquisite in light of the press of the work and task laden schedule I've been blessed with since returning.  I can't seem to get anything done in a timely manner, including this blog post - the last of the diaristic account of my trip which together has taken three months longer to finish posting than I expected.  But such is the unexpected nature of pushing forward - even when one is on a path of return: it took me nearly three hours to get from the Newark airport to Grand Central.

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