Switzerland Day 20: Geneva Part 1
In the modest breakfast room of the hotel, I poured myself my first coffee of the morning. Tired and feeling dazed, I tried to focus on what I was going to do in the few days I had in Geneva. I had to find people to interview and to take some photos, that was certain but I also wanted to explore the city. As I sipped my coffee, I watched the other guests and searched the Internet looking for recommendations of places to visit.
Half an hour later, feeling only slightly revived I set out on foot. It was rush hour but the city felt tranquil, quietly industrious. I walked across the Pont de la Coulouvrenière and turned towards the center.
Outside a specialist coffee shop, I passed a man in a suit. I paused, turned around and went inside. I ordered a coffee, and then chose a table next to him.
‘Excuse me’ I said somewhat tentatively, ‘do you speak English’.
‘Yes’ came the reply.
‘I was wondering if you’ve got time to answer a few questions about Europe. I’ve just cycled across France and I’m doing a project. Um, I’m asking people, well because of Brexit, what it means to be European’.
To my surprise he was happy to answer my questions.
‘The thing about Brexit,’ he began, ‘is that the British people have been manipulated. They are following a game initiated by their leaders for their leaders gains. The people are the victims and it’s putting up barriers’.
‘Do you mind if I write this down?’ I asked, grabbing my notebook from my bag.
‘Please’ he said, then continued, ‘there is the Europe of the people and the political Europe. The first Europe has always existed. The tragedy is, is that we’ve been led to believe in Europe fore mostly as a political project. But Europe is not a new idea, the people have always interacted’.
‘When Switzerland had the referendum I voted to join Europe and I was initially disappointed when the result came in. But I think there are benefits and disadvantages to belonging to the EU. The EU has a role to play as a moderator. It means we can speak in one voice to counter balance the bigger international powers. And having the same currency is practical, convenient. Opening the borders, having no more customs has brought good points and ideas too’.
I tried to scribble down all that he said.
‘But I’m not in favour of the political project if it means losing the diversity of European culture, language and identity. There should be co-operation without compromising sovereignty’.
‘I like the Swiss system. The EU is kind of similar to what is established in Switzerland. The difference, is that the EU is still very new, it’s still evolving, while here it has taken hundreds of years to establish our political system’.
He told me then he had to go. I thanked him and asked if I could take his picture.
As he left he said, ‘whatever we do we can’t ignore we are a part of Europe. You know the UK has been lucky to have been a part of the EU, it’s something the Swiss have never done.’
As I sipped my coffee I thought about what he had said. Having crossed France, the geographical differences between Switzerland and the UK were fresh in my mind. France, Germany and Italy border Switzerland and I’d entered without passing through any controls. The UK in contrast is cut off from the continent by the sea and I wondered whether once we’d left the EU if we would feel as connected.
Afterwards I walked towards the centre. I stopped to take a picture of the Swiss flags on the smart Rue de la Corraterie and then followed the tramlines towards the main shopping street. There I peered into the windows of designer stores, knife and chocolate shops before heading towards the lake and wondering around the Jardin Anglis with the other tourists, viewing the Jet d’Eau.
For lunch I’d planned to meet a friend who runs a wellbeing centre. As we ate I told her about Outsider, and my impressions of France, the deserted villages I’d passed through. She wasn’t surprised, told me the economy in France ‘was really very bad’. But then added that even in Geneva things weren’t following the same patterns as before, that the economy was erratic and difficult for businesses to predict.
After lunch I followed the river back towards the hotel. I was shattered. I wanted to lie down but I was too tired to make it back to my room. I was accustomed to moving and passing quickly through places on the bike, and realised I hadn’t stopped all day. Unable to go on any further I stepped into the nearest café – a bar named Arthurs.
It’s a place described on their website as having charm and style while remaining beyond the modes, and where you can sprawl on soft armchairs and appreciate the greedy layover. When I looked at the menu covered with photos of the rich and famous, the prices were extravagant. I ordered a coffee and a tap water. Next to me sat two Russian men drinking cokes. Outside the tables were full, mainly with men, with red faces in light coloured shirts smoking and drinking in the sun. Fascinated, I watched a waiter carry out side plates of mini burgers, which according to the menu cost 32 Swiss Francs each. At the bar a petite, blond woman was ordering wine and food for a group of British businessmen.
As I was writing down my impressions I observed three young girls walk in. They sauntered passed, walking backwards and forward discussing loudly where to sit. I noticed one was wearing a t-shirt with the words Dior Addict on the front. Another was carrying a designer handbag. I watched each girl great and kiss the manager. Eventually they chose a table next to mine.
‘Excuse me’, I said once they’d ordered, ‘I’m doing a project and I wondered if I could ask you what you think of Europe?’.
‘What kind of project?’ came the surely reply.
I explained to them that I’d cycled from France and I was asking people what it meant to be European.
The girls looked unimpressed.
‘Well I’m from South America’ said one. Another was from the Ukraine.
The third told me she was Swiss and had been living in Switzerland for seven years.
‘But I don’t feel European,’ she clarified. ‘My Mother is American. I want to go and study in the US when I finish school’.
She paused. Looked at me directly.
‘So what are you?’ she asked, ‘are you a journalist?’
I explained to her that I was a researcher, writing about Europe, then asked her why she wanted to live in the States.
‘People are too serious here,’ she explained, ‘and there is nothing to do in Geneva’ she said looking bored.
‘What about the lake’ I asked, ‘don’t you swim in the lake?’
‘Yes of course, there is swimming, you can go to the Alps, drive to Italy but in Geneva itself there is nothing to do’.
The South American girl added ‘we just come to this bar’, then they giggled and turned back to their phones.
While we’d been talking the owner had come in. He sat nearby and shortly afterwards I was brought my bill. I handed over my money and left.