Friday, October 23, 2015

Geneva 2015

At the tail end of September, Rico and I went to Geneva for a mini-reunion of Mozambique friends. Kelly and Marcos, our fellow American-Brazilian couple, have been living there for about a year, as has Helen, our badass friend who heads up land mine removal operations. Europe's geography helped out the reunion effort, as Brighton-based Jenny was able to fly down for a few days with no problem.

It was a much-needed get together. Nothing like old friends to make you feel all is right in life, and to give you objective but well-founded perspective on your current concerns and opportunities. Us girls held a Council of Elders and basically advised each other on the Major stuff: relationships, career, family, health. The boys also had boy time, which I imagine was just as satisfying. 

Amid all the talking, we managed to squeeze in some leisure. Kelly and Marcos, who hosted us, actually live just over the border in France. I neglected to take any photos, but their house is right next to some lovely agricultural fields beyond which are the Alps in the distance. I went running along tractor paths that criss-cross the fields, through corn and kale and what looked to be radishes. There were self-serve farm stands with pears and quince and apples, and signs for a co-op vineyard with local wine.

Interestingly, the farm roads I was running on actually crossed the border into Switzerland but save for a sign saying you should have an ID on you, it was an almost imperceptible passage. Borders were on my mind a lot during the trip: who can cross them, who can't, and how unfair it often seems.

We only had a short few days in Geneva, but we managed to get in some tourism. One afternoon we cruised the lake in an old paddleboat and had lunch in their chic on-board dining room. All along the perimeter of the lake there were gargantuan old world mansions with manicured grounds, which Marcos told us cost a cool 50 million Euros.

Apparently Geneva is up there as far as real estate prices are concerned, and that was definitely the feel I got being in the city: that it is a place for the well-off. With the UN headquarters there, as well as many other international development organizations, there is a bubble that brought flashbacks of Maputo. The people working to help the world's least fortunate often have a cost structure and lifestyle that is among the world's most expensive. Irony at its finest, for sure.

Anyhow, the boat was lovely as was the wander around old town that we took after lunch...

On our last night, we went out to a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant called La Ferme de l'Hospital. Innovative food, well-curated atmosphere, but also one of the biggest shocks of this trip: only the men at our table were given menus with prices. Us ladies all had menus with descriptions of the food but no prices.

The assumption about gender roles left me drop-jawed. If we had been a table of all heterosexual couples, maybe I'd have been mildly offended but let it go. What really perplexed me was that we were four ladies and two men. So were Rico and Marcos supposed to also pay for Helen and Jenny (who have boyfriends of their own back home?) What if there were a lesbian couple at the table, would the more masculine-seeming lady have received a menu with prices? Or would the men still be "expected" to pay? What if a table of all ladies came to eat?? I was incredibly shocked at this old-fashioned gender BS, but my dining companions had all seen it before and thus it was less of a thing for them...Gender issues aside, the meal was delicious and ridiculous in the way that 7-course formal dining usually is. 

The next morning we said our farewells and headed to the airport to continue our vacation. Actually in the airport I had my #2 shocking experience of the trip. We checked in to our flight and were only asked for boarding passes, no ID. We went through security, and still no ID. Boarding the plane we went through an automated gate that scanned a bar code on our boarding pass.

As an American used to US security routines, this was shocking to me. How on earth could it be possible in 2015 to board a plane all willy-nilly with just a cell phone boarding pass and no positive ID that you are actually the person traveling? I understand that within the Schengen countries there is free movement of people and goods, but it was shocking to experience it in an airport. I guess land borders seem more anti-climactic as far as unhindered passage. Also, it brought up thoughts again about who can freely move between countries and who can't. So much seems linked to money, privilege, and xenophobia. Lots to question, and lots to be grateful for.

Next stop: Croatia!


Mandi | No Apathy Allowed said...

Sounds lovely! After living in the heart of Europe for the past 7 years, I've come to love the open and easy movement across borders. I definitely take for granted how simple it is to travel via car, train or plane from one country to the next (with the UK being a major exception). EU citizens don't even require a passport to travel within the EU -- just a personal identification card! And the Euro makes it even easier.

But I also would have been shocked at the restaurant's menu! I still find it crazy that women didn't gain the right to vote in federal elections in Switzerland until 1971. Gender relations there definitely seem to operate according to their own rules. ;)

Ali la Loca said...

~Mandi - I am still amazed by the ease of movement in Europe. Even more amazed (in the not so good kind of way) at Swiss gender relations. 1971??? WTF!