Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Midnight Garden

Bronze shoulders flecked with light. The hotel ablaze with golden, square-paned windows. At midnight, the Musee Rodin was a land of waterless fountains, shadows feigning humans and darkness as crisp as clipped hedges. The sculptures looked as if they would be tempted to move if only the clock struck right.

Our feet ached from the seemingly endless night of museums, but when we walked into Rodin’s midnight garden, I felt suddenly awakened as if under a spell. This hotel, where Rodin worked in towards the end of his life, now had creaking bones and peeling paint but the sculptures inside writhed with life. There was the bronze of a man holding his hair back, so lifelike that envious artists took Rodin to court, accusing him of using a cast. There were the multiple renditions of Balzac and his great belly, its importance only rivaled by his ego. The many contorted female bodies, one flashing her innermost part. The beautiful cascade of marble hair from the sleeping woman was one I could relate to.

The true masterpieces were outside, framed by the impeccable garden and covered in artificial light. The Gates of Hell seemed far more sinister at this hour. From afar the twisting, tortured bodies looked almost like dead leaves, ruled over by the Three Shades and their joined fists. Their sinewy muscles looked tenser, more desperately strained as if they would burst into agonized movement any moment. On the other side of the garden, the Thinker was pondering more wisely as ever. The green metallic skin seemed to course with all his thoughts. We walked down the path behind the hotel where the dark trees were barely distinguishable from the dirt path. I imagined how brightly green the grass would be and how the fountains would laugh under the sun. Through a lit patch of leaves, we could see a golden dome of a monumental building, rebelling against all the surrounding black.

It had rained that day and unseen mud clung to my boots. We didn’t know it then but it would rain everyday in Paris. We laid down a museum map on a wet bench and I found his shoulder to rest on, warmer than weathered bronze.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Night of the Museums Geneva

It was a cool and fresh sort of night, and an inaugural one for Geneva's Night of the Museums. My friend and I went to buy our tickets at the Musee de la Reformation Internationale, devoted to Calvin and other Protestant reformers. It has a gilded courtyard complete with a pretty fountain. The Night of the Museum's ticket consisted of a white rubbery ring with “Nuit de Musees Geneve” engraved on it. What a lovely idea but the rubber turned out to be quite uncomfortable. Inside the museum an adorable, white-haired man was giving a printing press demonstration. His friend, a professional ink roller, assisted him by showing us a metal block of an assembled page. I had always thought that printing blocks were built letter by letter but I realize now that using assembled words would be much more efficient, assuming that the words one needs are all there! The presenter was so sweetly eager with his talk, spouting off the number of printing presses there were in Geneva throughout history. I admit that we were a little impatient and were just waiting for him to launch the presses. Finally, his assistant rolled the ink and folded the wooden slabs, cranked the handle and voila an engraved scene from olden Geneva was imprinted on the white paper.
We went on to the Cathedral Saint-Pierre’s archaeological site, a church basement like none other: a massive sprawling thing representing centuries of stone foundations. At least three cathedrals were built on top of each other before the currently standing one, evident in the markedly different layers of stone. Some layers were made of large blocks, others of little river rocks. When it was unearthed in the 1970’s, they had found tombstones as well but the bones were removed much to my disappointment. (My fascination with catacombs surely comes from Edgar Allen Poe's The Cask of Amontillado)

In the Parc des Bastions, the poppies and tulips were in full bloom, flaunting their bright orange, pink and yellow petals. Just as we arrived at the steps of the main library, a majestic building in the middle of the park, two women who worked there locked up the doors and told us it was closed. Even on a night of museums, the library was closing at 7pm. Looking at the hours posted on the door, we laughed. The library closes at 6pm every day, during lunch hours and on Sundays! Clearly no employed resident can be making use of the library. How I miss the New York and Palatine ones. Brimming full of books, CD’s, movies, and open at all hours of the day! The Parc des Bastions was truly beautiful though, and so was La Treille. The view looked like another city with the trees in thick foliage and dotted with spring blooms.

The Musee D’Histoire des Sciences turned out to be my favorite museum yet. But to get there we had to walk through a pitch-black path along the lake and park, where sketchy-looking men were hanging out with boomboxes and something to smoke. It was an alarming walk but we were relieved to hear the salsa music once we got closer to the museum. A full salsa party was in swing at the steps of the museum, with drinks, shaking hips and seducing shoulders. The museum itself seemed another world compared to the hot-blooded dancing just outside. There were fascinating trinkets from the early stages of Western science: old telescopes, a humidity measuring device that used hair as its main component, trompe l’oeil toys that demonstrated perspective, the frilly clothes and basic nail shoes that a famous Swiss scientist wore while scaling to the top of Mont-Blanc.

The Jardin Botanique was further up the park. The lights promised were faint dots along the path. A Rimbaud exhibit in the greenhouse was closed and from we could tell, mostly consisted of words like “soif” painted in red paint on the glass. The labyrinth was not made of actual plants as I had imagined. Instead, there were white linen walls hung up on wooden sticks. The “walls” were quite easy to see though and even more easily walked through with a parting of the hand. We soon ran into two drunk guys holding beers in the maze so we walked through many more walls for a quick exit. Sitting on the midnight bus home, I thought of the night fondly and of a small city that makes big cultural efforts.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

First Snow in Geneva

December 2012

The flakes were thick and feathery, drifting beautiful disorder to the green, manicured garden beneath me. The carefully cut shapes of hedges blurred to the descent of snow. The sharp lines of stone buildings became a little less certain of their direction. The mountains behind the city surrendered their stern rocks to a hazy white.

Now the sun has ripped open the clouds to reveal a soft blue sky. From behind the iron curves of my balcony, I catch a glimpse of neighboring roofs sprinkled with snow as scratches of blue-gray tiles peek through. Even the biggest of snowflakes have melted now. The green garden is back to green. The darkened stone of the balcony back to stone. A crack in the distant clouds glows with the beginning hues of a sunset. An occasional raven slices through the stillness with its sharp black wings.

I could get used to this much beauty.