Moving to Geneva
It’s exciting to visit a country or city you’ve never seen before.
It’s something else entirely to take a job in a city you’ve never visited, and move there sight unseen: exciting, but nerve-wracking also.
I was lucky; the new position I’ve taken up at the United Nations is in Geneva, which has proved a lovely place to move to indeed. Apparently I’ve arrived the year before the bicentennial of Geneva’s joining the Swiss Confederation! And arriving a week before I was due at the office gave me plenty of time to begin exploring the city.
Everywhere you walk here, the mountains are always visible in the distance: the Jura chain on one side, and the Alps on the other.
Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Terms used by locals, and not usually used outside of Switzerland, are known as Helvetisms. Apparently some of these words have been borrowed by others over the years, and heimweh, or homesickness (in German) is one of them, first used by Swiss soldiers posted far afield.
An interesting new word for me was bise, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as: “A keen, dry N or NNE, wind, prevalent in Switzerland and the neighbouring parts of France, Germany, and Italy.”
I felt this wind for the first time the other day, and I could see its rippling effects on the lake, which is otherwise usually clear as glass.
But what does the word Alps actually mean? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word is derived from Celtic, through French, as a word for high mountains, possibly stemming from *alb (hill). Apparently, strictly speaking, the word alp refers to the summertime grazing pastures in the regions below the glaciers — not the peaks themselves!
I haven’t had a chance to visit the mountains yet, but while apartment hunting, came across an artist called Jean-Etienne Liotard. All the street names here have brief descriptions telling you who the streets were named for, which is very handy and interesting. Later, I looked up Liotard and learned that he was an artist and art dealer from the 18th century. Apparently he visited Constantinople and painted domestic Turkish scenes, as well as adopting Turkish dress even when back in Europe. Other artists and writers have done this, too, including Lord Byron – who also spent time in Geneva. The summer that he lived here, with Percy Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Godwin wrote Frankenstein and Byron worked on a number of poems, including “The Prisoner of Chillon”, inspired by a castle fortress on Lake Geneva/Leman.
I also saw a sign on a building near my apartment-hotel stating that Dostoyevsky had lived there for a year in 1867-1868, something I hadn’t known before. And Tolstoy used to visit cousins at the Villa Bocage in the Ariana Park on the United Nations grounds. That’s of course without mentioning some of Geneva’s own famous residents, such as John Calvin and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Ariana Park is situated on land that was originally owned by the Revilliod de Rive family, whose last descendant bequeathed it to the City of Geneva. One of the conditions was that peacocks should roam freely on its grounds. Apparently most of the birds there today were donated from a zoo in Japan and gifted by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations. Their calls can be heard throughout the park.
I’m looking forward to exploring everything else Geneva and Switzerland has to offer, especially in the summertime!
Deniz Barki Bevan / Bizim Anadolu / May-June 2014