Discover Geneva’s many facets with Dorit

Dorit Konkolewsky is a political scientist and historian with a professional background primarily as an educator and within research.  Her origin is Danish, and for the last couple of decades she has had the opportunity to live abroad and travel the world.  She came to Geneva in 2006 and  quickly became part of the international Genevan community.

Dorit writes a regular column for Arenia.ch about Geneva for those who are new here as well as for those who know and love this city.  Be on the lookout for her witty and knowledgeable commentary on this page.

All Photography by Sonia Arekallio (c)

Fine Art, Swiss Landscapes and the Understanding of Everything  

 
This summer’s holiday began wonderfully with great expectation for an existing summer season. Copenhagen lay invitingly tempting to our feet, draped in a soft evening sun upon our arrival. The lights slowly lit the old friendly little alleys as darkness began to fall while we strolled along the streets.  Then, by a strike of fortune, I suddenly found myself standing before an important landscape painting « Lake Oeschinen in Berner Oberland, Switzerland », painted by Janus Andreas Bartholin Dornonville de la Cour in 1888.  The painting was on display for sale in a renowned Copenhagener auction-house.

Janus de la Cour was a Danish born painter.  As the name would reveal, he descended from French refugees, Huguenots, granted safe haven in protestant Denmark generations before.  He was a late representative of the Eckerberg School of Painting, a period often referred to as the Danish Golden Age.  De la Cour was to become a most remarkable Danish landscapist.  He would find great joy in painting Lake Oeschinen, which he did along with other carefully chosen sights in Switzerland suitable for putting his precise observations of nature to the canvas.  The artist would frequently travel to Switzerland in combination with field trips to Italy and France.

The Lake Oeschinen scenery before me was marvellous depicted.  Through the painter’s eye we see a calm light-shed lake in deep water-blue colours imbedded as a basin of creation placed towards a grandiose grey limestone-shaded mountain coulisse.  The landscape is, although majestic, intimate, natural and realistic, and is disciplinarily kept within a narrow range of shades.  The conscious use of light and shadow adds depth to the scene.

Delighted to have such a breath-taking landscape accompanying me throughout my summer holidays, I incline alongside the artist before the absoluteness of the Swiss sight.  Isn’t it gracious on an evening stroll in the streets of Copenhagen to be reminded of the wonders of the aesthetic and intellectuality of the 19th century’s visual arts?  Landscapists like Janus de la Cour transmitted universality through their conscious strive for the sublime when painting.

My summer ended similarly high-spirited when, during a stay in Canberra early September, being presented to a masterpiece of the Swiss landscapist, Louis Buvelot.  The artist, born in Morges, Vaud, again a Huguenot, was a widely travelled and renowned artist, both in Switzerland and Brazil, when immigrating to Australia.  He was to become famous in his new country of choice as a pioneer impressionist and a foremost representative of Australian 19th century landscape painting, in his case in relation to the Heidelberg School which he influenced and inspired.  Buvelot’s painting, « Near Fernshaw », from 1873, was shown in the current exhibition, « Australian Impressionism », set in the National Gallery of Australia.

How marvellously lucky I have been this summer to be able, through the eyes of the magnificent landscapists, de la Cour and Buvelot and their universal landscape paintings, to see beyond time and space.

September 24, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Public Transport – a Story of Success

Trams, trolleys, trains and busses in an amazing show-case condition make their way diligently and dedicatedly through Geneva and surroundings, as were they busy red blood cells rushing vividly through the arteries with crucial oxygen to keep society on the move.

The public transport system of Geneva is characterized by no such thing as arbitrariness. On the contrary; it’s a well-orchestrated micromesh web of means, infrastructure and providers encompassed, since the late 1970s, in the TPG system, the autonomous cantonal monitoring authority, since the 1990s under Genevan state contract.

The TPG answers to a public-service task as its core assignment. The fulfilment of this principal function takes place in cooperation with the political decision-makers within the multi-aspects of the given legislative framework and economic possibilities. Its employees are devoted to assure a modern optimum of efficiency and safety in the service of Genevan public transport for the myriad of users within the metropolitan area, as well as across cantonal and country boarders.

The task is met not least through constant development and meticulous planning covering all levels and aspects within public transport, strategically as well as down to the smallest detail.

Today’s public transport goes considerably beyond serving the customer and community. It is a central player in facilitating mobility, and as such an urbanistic and societal potent tool applicable to development models, would it be Smart and Green City strategies or models to stem the Climate Change. Congestion problems; traffic safety risks; noise and air-pollution need to be tackled. Increasing motorism demands to be met with efficient alternatives, and the augmenting volume in commuters has to be channelled to avoid further strain.

Autonomous driving is internationally making its way to public transport and is currently being tested in Europe alongside with a variety of Intelligent Transport projects and smartification initiatives in metropolitan areas. Switzerland, the Nordic Countries, Austria and the Netherlands, with significant traditions in collective traffic solutions, are in ideas in this respect each other to mutual inspiration.

As for Geneva, the TPG and public transport, the future is already there, and it spells RER and CEVA, the remarkable new electric commuter rapid-train line, Leman Express, soon to come. Covering West Switzerland and the neighbouring French Alp Region it counts as Europe´s greatest cross-border network of its kind. The new express rail is the giant step ahead in environmental friendly mobility efficiency and service long looked for.

The future also spells Mobility Plan 2030 and, among other things, CO 2 emission-free equipment to be inserted in synergy with CAP 2030 Strategic Plans towards renewable energy to fulfil agreements in the International Carbon Action Partnership.

Evidently, public transport keeps adding elements of proof to its story of success.

July 29, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Thunder over Geneva

During this summer’s long days of blasting heat with the sun burning from above as a ball of fire already before solstice, even the most incarnated sun worshipers sought for relief in the shade. Days turned to weeks and the heat granted little mercy. The open window at night-time only pictured a moonlit, oh so quiet nature morte: no breeze and not a single leaf were moving.

Eventually the natural laws prevailed. At the time when it appeared that the heat would never come to an end, cumulus clouds erupted in voluminous formations on both lakesides during afternoon as a sure sign that the heatwave would come to its defeat. Long roars of thunder approached from afar and grew unmistakably louder.

The first heavy raindrops fell one night as a deafening thunderclap broke. The electrical discharges kept lightening up the night-sky as the wind rose and shook the trees. The breeze and the characteristic smell of the summer rain after a draught, as of something slightly burned or caramelized, made the tension of the heat immediately dissolve.

The delightfulness and full power of nature appeared in its glory around the Lake Geneva. Thunderclap followed upon thunderclap as would the thunderstorm through its loud demonstration reclaim its right as a natural mechanism, challenging the nowadays frequent belief that natural phenomena are mainly man-made.

Prior observances had seen the interaction between man and nature in a more humble perspective: man was underlying the principal rules of nature and held no power to change them. When the Club of Rome released its first report in 1972, “Limits to Growth”, it became the main quote in the change of paradigm that was on its way in nature’s defence. Man was found guilty in interfering and overexploiting nature and its resources, a conduct which had to stop. Environmentally supportive alternatives, including “Back to Nature”- offshoots gained terrain.

The manifestation of the thunderstorm over Geneva was magnificent. It occurred to me that the Club of Rome’s main arguments completely questioned the currently equalized position of man towards nature. Would it be right, even in the best of purposes, to trust the ability of humans to successfully regulate nature in the worthy name of a Climate Change? This critical dilemma or cross-pressure-situation couldn’t find any easy response.

The night brought no cease to the lightening and the rain kept superseding the heat allowing a cool freshness to penetrate the room through the curtain opening. This transferred me to the sweet remembrance of my Nordic childhood nights, where my parents, following an old practice in the Nordic Countries, woke up the children during nights of thunder to bring us to the living-room to watch the flashes of lightening from the windows with the drapes withdrawn. While my mother would brew a strong cup of so called, “thunder coffee”, my father would tell us the story of Thor, his wagon thundering over the vault of the sky on his patrols defending the World from giants in slaying them with his powerful hammer, Mjolnir.

July 4, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Lake Geneva and Romanticism

An advertisement in the “Economist” by a Genevan real estate company calls for auction bidders on a mansion situated in a superbly picturesque setting on the shore of Lake Geneva.

A photo shows the spectacular home mirroring itself like a swan reflecting its beauty in the lake. The afforested land behind seems to be draping an airy stole around the villa as if in an eternal tender embrace.

The splendid villa in the picture is a worthy representative of the architectural style of Eclecticism. In its case, a slight touch of Romanticist Gothic has been added to its construction, most likely upon the initial purchaser’s special request.

Quite a number of equivalents can be found in the surroundings of Lake Geneva, placed on its banks or dwelling in the countryside. At times they are cut out in a fashionable Eclectic or sophisticated Belle Époque style. Or efforts have been taken to make reference to landlords and heritage in equipping the mansions with manor-house flair. A great appreciation for the Ancient can also be identified, since a majority of the mansions are constructed in a Neoclassical or Neo-Classicistic air du temps.

The characteristics of the Lake Geneva area are still very much defined by this specific dosage of splendour. Places of emphasised discretion in magnificent surroundings lead the thoughts to sights and sounds like the “Villa Diodati” by Geneva or other similar mansions, where authors would find peace and quiet to take their literary performance to the highest of levels, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called “Weltlitteratur”, with reference to authors like Alessandro Manzoni or George Gordon, Lord Byron.

And it was exactly here by Lake Geneva that prominent representatives of Romanticism wrote corner-stone works. It was here on the lake that Lord Byron’s splendid poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon”, found its inspirational source and romanticist tragic, in this case in the fight for freedom, tremendous suffering and martyrdom of the incarnated, 16th Century Swiss patriot, François Bonivard.

Further up the Lake Geneva, in similarly breath-taking settings as “Villa Diodati”, lies a rather more discrete and newer mansion uphill Vevey named, “Manoir de Ban”. Its modern comfort has little to do with the traditional Neoclassical and is of minor importance. Never the less the villa, now an interesting museum, insists upon being visited as it holds a story of romanticist significance and grandeur as for the tragic heroism and destiny of its famous inhabitant, Sir Charlie Chaplin.

Why not make plans this summer to visit the Château de Chillon and, like Lord Byron, it could be made by boat. It will be a magnificent opportunity to refresh a phrase or two from Lord Byron’s poem while the splendid villas on the lake and hillsides slowly pass by.

May 27, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva 1947 – Rebuilding ties with the humanitarian perspective in focus

Easter Holidays were around the bend. Before the vacations, I was finishing an article for the magazine of the Danish Church in Switzerland on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of this Geneva based community. The Danish Church in Switzerland of today is a modern socially and culturally engaged small expat-church which, together with other Scandinavian Lutheran Churches, coexists alongside other foreign and Swiss protestant churches and other congregations.

The purpose of the article was to frame the spirit and conditions in Geneva in 1947 when the church community began to form, a purpose that involved a historical journey back to a vanished age of devastation with millions of lives lost and of many more in despair. The state of the world in 1947 described a general picture of Europe still in ashes after the Second World War. Major parts were divided into Allied Occupation Zones with thousands of allied troops on high alert guarding the fragile peace.

Roberto Rossellini describes the level of destruction of material and moral values through World War II in his movie, “Germania anno zero”, released in 1948 and shot on location in the ruins of Berlin in 1947. The story portrays the young boy, Edmund, and his bewildered search for direction and guidance in a completely deconstructed world. The boy sees no future when he realizes being misled by his teacher and peer to believe that nature calls for the strong to eliminate the weak. Following this belief he had committed horrific deeds.

Reality was no less scary. Time and time again, the instable situation as for systems and frontiers were on the edge to make the flame of devouring fire return, a scenario which threatened to rub salt into the still open wound. The global community had to take firm action in basic strategic questions, which 70 years ago were about stable and peaceful conditions as for governance, nation rebuilding and reopening of the world market.

Nations followed the call to “take to the oars” and a true wave of international organizations emerged in Geneva on neutral Swiss grounds. Cross-border ties were soon to be restored with a strong focus on humanitarian relief.

Lawyers, teachers, theologians, and experts of all kind arrived in Geneva. Quite a few remarkable personalities were among the newcomers, all were enthusiastic to serve and see things develop in the international framework. Many enrolled specifically in the worldwide organization of humanitarian help within associations such as the Ecumenical Refugee Programme or the Lutheran World Federation. The last mentioned had roots in the Nordic Countries and was founded in Lund in Sweden, to shortly after establish its main seat in Geneva in 1947.

The Danish Church in Switzerland saw its first beginning 70 years ago in Geneva in this dawning international milieu. Its founders helped, as a small piece in the huge fortress of support of Geneva based world organisations, to restore dignity after the Second World War.

April 11, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Spring optimism and careers

It is spring and time for new beginnings. The Spring Equinox brings brighter days along; we turn optimistic; playful; we reach for the sun and “the sky is the limit”. It is an excellent season for change. Spring is our best facilitator for even life-changing decisions, and we are so much more likely to bring new tasks aboard and add new activity.

What would we do without optimism through this year’s troubled spring? These days it is repeatedly stated that keeping dedicated to daily matters helps maintaining focus on resources and shaping the future. What could be healthier than imagining and planning the extension of the garden; than dreaming of refurbishing the home; of building and renewing; or of taking a long drive on the open highway with the sport topping down?

As a sure mechanism it starts raining advertisements in spring, and a stream of catalogues swirl through the letterbox slot, in case we would hesitate to make dreams reality. A large number of adds concerns boosting or starting careers. A new generation must decide on education and studies, and the signing up on that extended course that might give you the promotion you need to move on is due.

In today’s knowledge-society the career choice is more than complex and the spectre is wide. Providers assure you that your investment in time and money in their specific studies or courses will result in a success-full career. And why not be optimistic here too? Especially in times of demanding labour market conditions and accelerated change, it is crucial to be well prepared, accumulate results and develop competence. It is indeed hard to find a more adequate and future-oriented tool to spur progress both for oneself and society as education and knowledge.

Very few are fortunate to count among the selected to have been in space. It is even rarer to have completed two flights with the legendary Space Shuttles, and to have taken part in the installation in space of the International Space Station, the ISS.

The Canadian, chief astronaut Julie Payette, born in Montreal in 1963, has reached such unbelievable career highs. In fact she presents a full range of peeks in her extraordinary career and holds an impressive list of special honours. Julie Payette belongs without doubt to the world’s most exclusive subset of careers, which in her case was initiated with graduating as an Electrical Engineer and then adding a Master Degree of Applied Science and Computer Engineering to later on compete and win among the more than 5000 applicants to become an astronaut.

Julie Payette was in the Geneva recently to deliver a speech at the CERN. She additionally gave an “un-plugged” talk for a small group of invitees. You could have heard a needle drop when Julie Payette explained how to take up challenges with great optimism. It was a marvellous confirmation of spring to listen to Julie Payette describing how she saw our Blue Planet from an astronaut’s perspective. Spring makes us believe that “the sky really is the limit”. Let us keep it that way. Happy Spring Equinox to you all.

March 26, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Hard Rock and soft productions

Our women’s cinema-group of internationals and locals had summoned the other day in one of the Genevan movie theatres for the afternoon showing. Every time the door opened into the entrance hall and a participant came in, one would hear unmistakable remarks about the nastiness of the weather.

And so it came that we all were trying to keep up the moral against the deep breath of winter, which was reaching well towards March. We shook off the cold by joking about the climate in the rough and rocky streets of Geneva: “This town should be renamed”, we said, a small group standing together, and laughed, “It should be called Hard-Rock-Geneva”.

Our conversation had now shifted into being about hard rock music, heavy metal, melodic and alike, and apropos rock and Geneva, a fan among us explained that her favourite British melodic band, “Geneva”, exactly 30 years ago, in 1987, had released a demo of their 1988 EP, “Temptation”, which a few years back had made a revival when being reproduced on CD.

Within a few minutes we had talked ourselves warm on more facts and details about great rock music and bands. Among them was the Swiss band, “Gotthard”, who has just made a new release in connection with their 25th anniversary this year. The band has chosen to lean towards their more popular side, already climbing the lists of down loads of the broader public. We preferred the darker and more monumental “Gotthard”; we admired those great heavy rock musicians for being still going strong. How appropriate to name their band after The Massif of Saint Gotthard, we thought.

You might be curious about how rock in fact turned out to be so rooted and appealing among our particular group of women cited there in Geneva that afternoon. Especially if you knew that we were going to be watching the Hollywood movie, “La La Land”. Although it would not be our usual choice of genre of the cinema group, we were there to form our own opinion to be able to discuss the tremendously positive critiques the movie had received even in the non-main stream critique. Except for the fact that rock music ballades could elicit the most romantic feelings, you are right, soft film productions and rock music, heavy or punk sound like incompatible cocktail ingredients which should not be mixed.

Taking the permission to make a slight twist of George and Ira Gershwin famous lyrics, one can only agree that they should “never, never meet again on that bumpy road to love”. The two, hard rock and soft productions, ought to be kept apart.

By the way, if you want to enjoy a soft movie as for an American or Hollywood musical, why not turn to the real thing, the 1937 production, “Shall We Dance”, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a performance to perfection in which Fred Astaire sings that very Gershwin song, “They Can´t Take That Away from Me”.

Thanks to music and film even a cold afternoon can make you feel warm. And let the most beautiful version by Billie Holiday of Gershwin’s wonderful lyrics carry us into the spring.         

March 5, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

1227 Les Acacias

Might my pastime smartphone surfing on Internet be invalidating my reality perception? In the light of the increasing lack of uplifting reports, I ought maybe to replace the scrolling through the world news as one of my favourite commuting distractions. I will consider taking a break from the daily intrusive and apocalyptic scenarios.

Be that as it may, I indeed had my head in the Cloud when a voice announced: “Next station stop is Lancy-Pont-Rouge. The train service terminates here. All passengers should alight”.

And so it happened that when I got off the train on that particularly unpleasant and rainy February afternoon and descended into the tarpaulin covered pedestrian tunnelway alongside the railway tracks, the “Clash of Civilizations” in the daily news piled up to become indigestible dark trivia with an unmistakable resemblance to the science-fiction of Wells reflected in Spielberg’s movie, “War of the Worlds”.

Light was luckily in sight at the end of the passage, and what for a short moment from under my umbrella had seemed to be giant extra-terrestrial towering war-machines approaching from the gloomy horizon, turned out in reality to be long-necked building-cranes diligently swinging their loads of goods over the heads of grippers; caterpillars and trucks.

I had arrived in Geneva’s centre of commotion, in 1227 Les Acacias.

Les Acacias does not even come close to any science-fiction, on the contrary. Together with its neighbouring quarters, such as La Praille and Vernets, Les Acacias forms a fast growing stronghold of the real economy. A considerable amount of new infrastructure is put into place to support this Genevan epicentre of industrial redevelopment, and the district is indeed performing very solidly not only in production, but in service and trade as well. A steep increase in the number of workplaces has been one of many positive results.

As a group of friends we are appointed in Les Acacias to learn more about the latest developments within the scene of contemporary art. Simon Studer Art Associates’ industrial ware-house studios in Free Port surroundings in Route des Jeunes count for the perfect settings for our inquiries in this aspect. As we continue to nearby galleries, stakeholders here hit the nail on the head and convince us that 1227 Les Acacias is cut to the beat.

As for the special de- and reconstruction ambiance of Les Acacias, the exhibition of abstract photography by the Genevan artist, Jean-Paul Cattin, at the recently opened Cedart Gallery turns out to be a suitable introduction.

Jean-Paul Cattin’s biography states that his works “include large-scale abstract photographs in which reality is reinterpreted in a poetic and dramatic manner.”

What a fine afternoon in 1227 Les Acacias, I though, as the train stopped with a squeak. The crowd of commuters closed the umbrellas and stepped on board into the shelter from the rain. The train was leaving from Lancy-Pont-Rouge due to tomorrow to return again.

February 12, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Snow and white roses

Father Winter had decided to drape Geneva in purifying white. Changed; quiet and pale with contours of snow and ice, she lay there in the fog on her banks in silence as if, so it seemed, gone asleep for ever.

The cold had made all blood withdraw from her capillaries, and the new white-brushed appearance had consumed Geneva’s characteristics as a city with high pulse. The white, barmy stream of the Jet d’Eau had without resistance even stopped pounding at its usual pace and had surrendered its splash to the all-come-together reflection of Geneva as a forceless sleeping beauty. Snow White lay imbedded on her mountainous lake location. A “coffin of glass” surrounded her as in the tale of the Brothers Grimm.

Underneath Geneva’s pale skin, inside the squeaking trams; in the cinemas and cafes, life in colours was waiting throughout the winter to one day soon again unfold. A prince would touch the ebony-like hair and bring a red blush to the whitened cheeks.

Centuries before us, at Europe’s new beginning, explorers faced the tremendous challenge of sailing straight towards the rim of the world relying on their faith in Virgin Mary to lead the way in her wisdom and purity. Our Lady, Star of the Sea, guided them to the New World. Her purity was their Stella Maris, their guiding star at sea; a beautiful virgin with a symbolic white rose in her hand was their promise of a brighter future.

Since realism broke and new currents of ideology as well as new gender views became vanguard, the religious romantic symbolism and the significance of the immaculate or snow white rose do not appear to appeal too much to modern man or woman.

The leading American avant-gardist writer, Gertrude Klein, had in this spirit from her artists’ salons in Paris so triumphantly written, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, in her realistic poem from 1913. The woman architype represented by the white rose was from then on questioned; a new rational world had manifested itself.

Still the rose remained symbolic for romantic souls. Brides all over the world let the white rose speak for a happy new beginning. And Geneva is not just a city not just a city not just a city. It is a city like no one and there is no one like her:

During winter, when days turn foggy; the landscape is frozen and the bise leaves no glow; Geneva turns pale, holds her breath and just lies there as an untouchable beauty in the purifying snow. With her name broke in gold on her icy glass-box, she is waiting for a prince to come shake her to life.

Meanwhile we´ll take a walk in one of her snow-covered gardens; our number-one choice is the Park de la Grange. In this lovely romantic ancient Roman setting, Neo-Greek restyled, we´ll find a collection of around 10.000 roses waiting to set yet a countless number of pure new rosebuds. They will all burst open throughout spring, summer and fall. What a promise of a new beginning: roses will grow from the frozen snow.

January 28, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Swiss education

Equality is a human right, and because education is a cornerstone in social integration and participation, equal access to education can be regarded as an important precondition for equal opportunities. Exclusion from class or at school could imperil social integration and equality.

The message can be deducted from the European Court of Human Rights’ unanimous ruling January 2017. In consequence of the mentioned principals, the court ruled that Swiss authorities did not violate the right of freedom of religion when, in this case, Muslim parents were demanded to have daughters attend gender mixed swimming lessons at school.

Multiple studies have shown that the quality and flexibility of the Swiss educational system is the century-proven skeleton of the Swiss success model and the way we think Switzerland today.

Education is a highly estimated asset in Switzerland. It is a right and duty, and the educational system is often debated with vigour in the Swiss value- and consensus-based society. Education is viewed upon as much more than the provision of economic development, although awareness of the important role of education as for world market competitively is very present. Switzerland has a top world position in research and development to defend, and prestige and excellence in many other fields are at stake.

The Swiss educational system is although first of all a common good with tools to foster social integration and democratic participation. Elements such as mutual respect; loyalty; team-spirit and community thinking are promoted. And the individual has a strong case for support as well. A variety of choice of programmes is in place to assure flexibility, and along with those comes a positive perception of the individual, where qualities such as initiative; ambition and passion, and the willpower to persevere, are braced.

A set of clear norms; a high level of pedagogical and other resources, both specifically and in general, underpin the endeavours to reach the broader goal, social integration.

Some weeks ago the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency could report to the world press that the new European navigation system, Galileo, to be completed in 2020, would take up initial services as an independent operator under the Global Satellite Navigation System, GNSS.

Being substantially a fine-tuned “planetary clock”, where the precise measurement of time and position is crucial, it comes as no surprise that for instance Swiss atomic clock know-how takes part in the development of Galileo.

The specific example is just one of many. It points out which level of demands and opportunities the individual stands before. It is a great achievement of the Swiss educational system that the desire to learn is kept very much alive, and that the principal of equality is held high.

January 18, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

Filter Bubble

A new year has been launched with fireworks and joyful wishes.

The holidays were spent following tradition in the family’s Scandinavian beach house. The first morning of 2017 broke with a gorgeous winter sun. The whole local community, so it seemed, had found inspiration in the clear blue sky and beautiful sea to take a long stroll along the beach. The freshness of the air underlined the new beginning and people greeted: Happy New Year.

And at a large scale 2017 looks very promising:

Courageous negotiation results in 2016 have finally drawn up the horizon for a future of peace in Columbia after more than 50 years of conflict, a ground breaking accomplishment for which President Juan Manuel Santos was granted the distinguish Nobel Peace Prize.

The perspective of ending the rule of disorder in major parts of The Americas, together with openings towards truce in other burning and dreadfully tried parts of the world, have very positively reconfirmed the belief in the power of negotiations. The Cyprus talks will in a similar way for instance see a fresh start these days here in Geneva.

In spite of all prospects and good results, predicates of very different kind leave the impression that 2017 could be the year where known values would be subjected to crucial tests of reality; a brave new world will be knocking on the door.

Current debate urges us to be concerned about algorithms such as BrightView. We are told to be aware of the Dunning-Kruger-effect and idiocrasy. Excluding filter bubbles are supposedly spinning our likings and preferences into unrecognisable social media pseudo realities. The doomsday prediction is that a post-truth society is just around the bend bringing an end to reason.

Certainly data provision is in contemporary society overwhelming. But it is not the data, false or true, that convert voters into blind followers of reality-show-populists who show no coherence in their postmodern narratives. Data providers might well for sales purposes claim the opposite; but data haven’t changed definition and are still raw material which subsequently has to be subjected to analysis, and data are not to be confused with facts.

Luckily truth is not so easily subjugated. The search for truth is a driving force for mankind and basis for knowledge and progress.

Neither alcohol nor peasantry were the cause of Jeppe’s simplicity in the Scandinavian playwright Ludvig Holberg’s Moliere inspired classical comedy from 1722, “Jeppe on the Mountain”. The causal explanation to Jeppe’s stupid one-way behaviour was his lack of education. He simply didn’t know better than to give in to his immediate desires and likes.

Having improved so much in values and education 200 years after Holberg’s Jeppe, we should be ready to do better than him. Why not turn 2017 into a year of true reflection.

January 12, 2017   Dorit Konkolewsky

The power of cultural vision

According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office the population of Switzerland has doubled within the latest 80 years.

The steep curve of development in the population, caused by both an internal growth as well as an increase in immigration, has taken place primarily in urban areas, which, on top of the agrarian to urban internal migration, has added significantly to the high degree of urbanization in Switzerland.

Chunks of former rural areas, due to market-logic, have had to be sacrificed to the urban morphology. The conversion of the country-side into urban-type localities has unquestionably not only had an impact as for landscape alterations, but has and continues to be a momentous process of cultural transformation.

The continual increase of foreigners, which equals in the case of Geneva more than 40 percent of its current inhabitants, is a further significant element of change.

The mentioned trends particularly amount to the Canton of Zürich as well as the Cantons of Vaud and Geneva, and there is reason to believe that both regions will see more of the kind.

As a consequence the important Q emerge, how to protect and project the historical identity of the Lake Geneva region to the constant flow of newcomers.

It has many times been confirmed that the transmission of history and culture, especially in the form of symbols and icons, has significant meaning as common grounds.

Heritage landmarks offer resonance and are the basis of unity in a future in which the majority of the population possess the quality of being aliens per definition, re urban and international inhabitants.

On which common historical grounds can one unite and transmit a vision for the future?

On a recent trip to Panama it was a great experience to visit Frank Gehry’s architectural pearl, the “Biomuseo”. The colourful roofs of the museum could be seen from afar, and both the biodiversity of the isthmus, as well as how the land-tongue of Panama happened to become the precondition for the development of man, was explained with eager. An additional exhibition about Panama’s importance to European discoveries granted the small country a glorious significance to the world; no doubt a story to tell and be proud of.

Would a prestigious museum of art and history of architectural splendour placed above the World Heritage Site of the beautiful banks of Lavaux be a thinkable idea?

The cultural heritage of the Romandie could be an interesting additional narrative in combination with the history and traditions of winemaking.

The story of excellence in watchmaking would be a sure alternative competitor.

November 26, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Creativity flourish in Geneva

Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued in 1750 in his famous, “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”, that art, in order to be more than a superficial ornament which would bare the risk of renewed slavery for mankind, must represent no less than virtue.

When Georg Friedrich Hegel in his, “Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art”, from 1823, defines the character of art as the materialization of consciousness, and the piece of art as an object of man for mankind to reflect upon to create consciousness, we realize that art matters deeply to us and is an essential part of European history and modern age, as revealed by the great masters of philosophy.

Even for layman it is obvious that it takes much more than talent and careful nutrition in protected petri dishes for creations to convert into art. Geneva can, to the applause of the art world and enthusiasts, present an impressive number of preconditions for this complex process to unfold.

Not only are highly recognized institutions present, such as the HEAD, the Geneva University of Art and Design, which collaborates with universities and institutes worldwide as well as with local and Swiss museums of art to the benefit of students and artists. One can also find a tightly woven net of galleries and foundations, plus a considerable market for art through art collectors and otherwise largely interested art observers. The Fluxum Foundation and its Flux Laboratory is one among several to be mentioned as for networking within and promoting art in Geneva, in their case of a more experimental character.

One can imagine why and how artist have found it of interest and challenging to work in Geneva and have become peers to the upcoming generations. One of them is the very incarnation of a Genevan artist, the Andalusian born and internationally laurelled sculptor, Manuel Torres.

The following story about the meeting with one of Manuel Torres’s abstract sculptures should add a tiny piece to the advocacy for Geneva as a place of art:

There is a barely noticeable interaction between the park visitors who silently walk through their neighbourhood lunge. Minuscular smiles are interchanged; one sends a discrete nod as a silent, “hello”. People are busy fulfilling their purpose in their anonymous role as just another city inhabitant. They are gestalts rushing by under the umbrellas in the autumn rain.

The park is in the neighbourhood of Rue de Moillebeau. The sounds of footsteps as people walk through the park are quietened by a rug of yellow leaves that keep falling from tree tops above to the rhythm with the endless heavy raindrops pouring down.

And there it is this marvellous, rusty and robust piece of art which so strikingly and touching represents the faith in the ability of mankind to create and interact with each other, with society and with art. It is Manuel Torres’s sculpture, “Ouverture sur Rencontre”.

November 1, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Autumn Leaves

It’s autumn. The hills around Geneva project a warm and cosy feeling. Berry- and earth tones blend in with the misty air from the freshly ploughed furrows. The buzzard cries above prepared to stay the winter; the song of summer birds has fallen silent.

When that jazzy bluesy feeling of autumn catches up with you, it is time to go for a taste of excellent wine and enjoy the fruits of the harvest and hunting season by a cosy fire in your favourite restaurant in town, or to exit Geneva to the surrounding hills over the lake from where you can enjoy the rawness in the air and the magnificent autumn sceneries:

Clouds are never grey from the windows of Le Châteauvieux, and one can slide perfectly into the autumn mood watching the ships go by from Le Beau Rivage in Lausanne, while the beetroots of Anne Sophie Pic’s cuisine, supported by the Rosenthal and Baccarat glassware, lull any blues away, at least for a while.

Autumn inevitably sneaks in on you with that faithful greeting, “Bonjour Tristesse”. The bleak sunshine has no warmth; it is a last good-bye which forewarns you of the journey towards winter. The bise over the lake already introduces certain sharpness in the air from far away Alpine settings, only occasionally delayed by its visiting relative, the so much milder southern wind.

Autumn landscapes of Lake Geneva come to my mind as soft music lingers by my ears.

I am in the audience in The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

The egg shaped building is an absolutely breath-taking opera house, so unlike anything else in the world. The oval body of titanium and glass, designed by the French architect, Paul Andreu, lies asleep in its artificial lake like a giant precious pearl. It seems to want to come alive and poor the plasma of the performing art onto the world from its inner fountain of light and beauty.

Listening to the music and its soft tones performed by China’s Film Symphony Orchestra, I realize the source of my sentiments of autumn blues: the symphony orchestra is playing, “Les Feuilles Mortes”.

Returned home, the version of Stan Getz and his absolute sax recaptures all that can be said about the autumn blues, and so does the Bill Evans interpretation in which he embodies the rhythm and expression of fallen leaves. The sound of Eric Clapton’s blues voice and the lyrics in English, “Autumn Leaves”, from his 2010 record, “Clapton”, meanwhile simply refuses to leave my mind:

The falling leaves, drift by my window. The autumn leaves, of red and gold. I see your lips, the summer kisses. The sun-burned hands, I used to hold.

Since you went away, the days grow long, and soon I’ll hear old winter’s song. But I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.

October 9, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva among the world’s top 5 cities

Year after year, proven country and city index rankings place Switzerland in the leading group of the world’s top 10 countries and frequently rank the city of Geneva among the world’s top 5 cities.

Broadly speaking, Geneva shows to be a very capable competitor for the highest positions of the listings within a wide range of parameters adopted.

Geneva is worldwide seen to perform in a healthy battle with its sibling, Zurich, both showing great results along with other high ranking Central European cities, among which Vienna; Frankfurt and Munich would be counting. Also the Scandinavian capitals perform equally well on a global basis.

One might find it surprising that European cities of relatively smaller size and capacity reach such high scores, considering that the main contestants, such as Singapore; Hong Kong; Shanghai; Tokyo; Sydney and Toronto, are so called megacities or can otherwise be identified as centres of globally overreaching importance.

However, when completing the list of top ranking cities with for instance Vancouver or Auckland, both often appearing at the very top as well, an altogether picture begins to show how minor cities, such as Geneva, get the peak performance blueprint:

The template to be a frontrunner worldwide comes down to positioning; leadership and control of developments. Geneva is here branding itself as a gemstone with exquisite international and Swiss qualities.

It is characteristic for cities at the top level to have formulated an ambitious, but realistic and fiscally sustainable strategic plan, from which clear directives are derived to translate visions into reachable goals and fine words into action.

Evaluators also consider attractiveness, and allure and charm work like magnetism when cities want to appeal to investors; to attract service and trade and to seduce its inhabitants.

Safety; well-functioning infrastructure and the ability to provide its citizens with adequate health care and educational facilities; a green and environmentally clean profile; appear to come near to truisms. The availability of culture and entertainment are also predictors that count.

It deserves all respect that Geneva time and time again touches the ceiling and counts among the top cities of the world.

That such high standards come with a price is a fact that was underlined when Geneva this year reached a fourth place positioning on the “Worldwide cost of living survey” provided by the Economist. Geneva has the quality of both being one of the very foremost cities in the world as well as one of the most expensive.

September 6, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Future-oriented Lake Geneva Region

Opting for the cosy local film theatre after a long day of pouring rain at our summer holiday location our choice fell on the movie, “Captain Fantastic”.

Not only entertained by Viggo Mortensen´s sovereign performance in the role as the father; re stoic intellectual and strong clan leader; but also impressed by how clear and simple the tragicomedy treated its leitmotif, utopia, our evening at the cinema ended up lastingly stimulating a great deal of thought about ways and means in the strive for sustainable practices and prosperity:

In the search for alternative life forms and eagerness to create a “better world”, new-wave idealist groups and movements appear to at times overreach themselves and overshoot the mark, even having no difficulty in joining forces with anti-system movements in the critique of failures in contemporary society.

“Captain Fantastic” treats this theme by walking us through the father and husband´s major dilemmas in decision-making, having chosen to raise his family in the deep forest away from civilisation and modern commodities, and the movie leaves us to the big question, how far one can or ought to go to reach one´s goals in life.

Would the answer to malfunction in society be to generally reject existing norms and values, to refuse participation and exit society to form an alternative, a utopia, like in “Captain Fantastic”?

The ground-breaking achievements by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg and the whole visionary Solar Impulse research effort prove just the opposite. The success of such a project spells it out for us, and the answer cannot be clearer:

As long as all possibilities in finding solutions to problems in society have not yet been exhausted within the system, there should be no need to risk a complete discontinuity between means and goals by experimenting with utopia.

It is in fact the very maxim in our Swiss Western Region and the Lake Geneva Area to strive for excellence. Through the strategic planning of clusters of knowledge and business in an utterly international environment, supported by high-tech infrastructure a.m., a special dynamic of mutual advantage has been created, which has succeeded in spectacular future-oriented solutions.

It was therefore to no surprize that the Republic and Canton of Geneva recently could announce on its web-site, under the headline of “Excellence in Research and Development”, that the magazine “Science” had qualified the Lake Geneva Region as the “number one cluster for life sciences and research in continental Europe”.

With such promising development characteristics as for our region, one cannot but be optimistic about the future and the “real world”.

August 27, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

The Times They Are A-changin’

The summer of 2016 topped the head-lines announcing remarkable political change in Europe. What had begun in Southern Europe on both sides of the ideological spectrum seems to confirm anew that activism is a fiery political trend. Are voters throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Certainly charismatic “one-trick-ponies” are achieving unheard popularity, and not only in Europe, when voters are called to the election polls.

Is there a cry for political change to the extent of no-matter-what? Heavyweights among analysts are puzzled and concerned: The generalized angst combined with a lack of leadership through the plentiful of threats and crisis, stir up the protest-voter and give room for one-dimensional solutions, they claim.

Elitist analysts even dare to make parallels between voters and a flock of sheep obeying their barking border-collie. A picture is painted of the cluster voter casting his or her vote as a simple result of current main-streaming and game-behaviour, answering to likes or dis-likes on a political scene barely to be distinguished from a “super-star” competition. The mass voter is both ignorant of the consequences and unwilling to bear the consequences of ignorance.

Demagogues with ambition to take the democratic exercise over the rim, for personal or other gain, would certainly wish for voters to be so easily manipulated; but the stroke of one match will hardly be enough to light a fire. Left or right wing extremism is historically an expression of an anti-system power struggle, where gaining the free vote for parliament would have little to do with the final goals.

Creation of political opinion in a democracy is the result of a complex interaction process influenced by social and economic structures and conditions. Media do play an important, but no decisive role here, much more so the political parties and movements.

Bear in mind, the voter in the democracy is per definition clever and democracy thrives from the clever vote. The ballot box is the voter’s and democracy’s finest tool.

It feels right at this stage to quote Bob Dylan’s 1964 lyrics, “The Times They Are A-changin’ ”, from the golden age of mass movements and change:

“Come writers and critics, who prophesize with your pen; and keep your eyes wide, the change won’t come again. And don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin, and there is no telling who that it’s namin’. For the looser now will be the later to win, for the times they are a-changin’ ”.

Ergo, we’ll keep our eyes wide open and remember that the engaged and enthusiastic voter is the very vehicle of democracy. Could there be any better place on earth for our summer exercise of political observation and analysis than here in global Geneva, on neutral Swiss grounds, in the centre of Europe? Enjoy your Genevan summer.

July 6, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Sailing

Moving ahead full sail, taming and ruling the wave, exploring and competing in a way that creates glorifying stories, sagas and odes; this is when “men become men” and legends are made; when intelligence, strategy and power of decision are put to the ultimate test. It is the honourable sport of sailing.

To the ancient Greeks and the legendary Vikings; and to other great people with navigation in the blood who concurred the seas; the Spanish; the British; the Portuguese; sailing meant reaching new shores; braking new grounds and testing exiting new opportunities.

So it comes that our ancestors have cleared the way for our perception of sailing as a Sinnbild or parallel to life itself, which explains why we are so passionate about bringing home the trophy.

To be out there competing, dreaming of one day to belong to one of the great winning teams and to join the legends in the hall of fame of connoisseurs of sailing, has animated not only young optimist in the sailing schools, but has kept this highly dynamic sport moving towards new and honourable goals to the thrill of both participants and followers.

Emotions swung unbearably high and tensions topped when defender Alinghi from the Nautical Society of Geneva was challenged by Emirates Team New Zealand for the 2007 Match Race, America’s Cup. Parallel to the world wide technological and financial boom following the blooming of the financial markets and the globalisation, the whole world was watching this marvellous high-tech sailing sport venue held in Valencia, Spain.

The City of Valencia had even, in the name of it all, though urbanistic developments, established a spectacular Port America’s Cup for the event, from where the public could feel united with the sea and the blue sky and be actor in sailing history. In former times, from the 17 hundreds, it must have felt just as emotional to be around the Port of Valencia when the tall ships came in with goods from the Americas. At the venue, a firm knot was tied with an invisible hand between sailing now and then and the economic history of the world.

Talking about historical sailing ships and the old style training taking place on tall ships, The Tall Ships’ Races, earlier on The Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Races, counts among the most spectacular sailing events. The learning competition is a breath-taking show through miles of European waters, and having seen it once, it is unforgettable.

A true gemstone among sailing events to enjoy each year in June is our local and absolutely charming sailing competition, the Bol d’Or Mirabaud. It has since 1939 made a strong statement as an inland lake regatta, of which it has now reached the status as being the world’s most important. Everyone who has seen or participated in the Bol d’Or would no doubt ad that the competition certainly shows the world’s most eye-catching setting. When the overwhelming number of boats set sails from the Nautical Society of Geneva to compete in Lake Geneva’s full length, it is as exciting as ever every year.

June 17, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Genevan metamorphose

It happens every year, and it begins with a discrete sigh of expectation from the Flower Clock of what is to come. By the flashes of the first warm sunbeams reflected in the waters of the lake, she batts her eyelids, still a bit sleepy, and stretches her slender arms in her hibernation flower bedding in the English Garden.

She has done so since 1955, and she knows that from now on, there will be a noticeable increase in Geneva`s pulse sequence.

The municipality busses will cheerfully be waving their flags towards her with their bellies bursting with unbelievable swarms of passengers in a hurry to go both here, there and everywhere.

Off for sightseeing or to walk the sunny lakesides, many a tourist has made plans to shoot photos at the coolest hotspots.

People are enchanted to be out in the free on the Bridge of Mont Blanc. The flags of the eagle and key of Geneva symbolically placed side by side with the flags of the world unfold with special reflection in the fair summer wind on the bridge, allowing Geneva’s world city qualities, its connectivity abilities and bridge building efforts to come full circle.

When the Flower Clock closes her eyes, she easily recalls the dusty metallic smell and the captivating sounds of the fireworks from the Summer Fair last August.

She had turned 60 years of age last summer and had imagined that the show of the sparks in the sky over the Lake Geneva, was not only to the laughter and joy of the thousands of spectators on the banks and in the streets and parks, but were equally meant to include a celebration for her anniversary.

The memories of her bloom of youth and an innocent summer tic-tac as a timid teen flower had along with the flashes from the fireworks tickled her mind. She had dwelled upon the thoughts of the warm and sunny days of the never-ending childhood summers from the times when winters were winters and ditto were the summers.

Ever since the Flower Clock could remember it was such a great pleasure to her to dress up and put on the fashion of the year. She would definitely be trying to look her best to fulfil the expectations, and so she was to great attraction. Might there be many, seeing her today in 2016 in her new elegant flower costume, who would recognize her as the hippie girl she was back then in the early seventies with flowers in her hair?

Every summer has a story, so the saying goes. From her sunny side at the rim of the English Garden the Flower Clock lives them all. The summer story she loves most is the one about her beloved Geneva, which, after each grey and rainy winter, by the first warm sunbeams reflected in the lake, comes free of its cocoon and spreads its wings to fly from flower to flower through the joyful spring and summer and through the happy summer nights.

May 28, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Heritage and Heroes

Omnes viae Romam ducunt; the proverb is as well-trodden as the “sampietrini”, the volcanic basalt cubes which pave the streets of Rome. It is generally accepted that the same goal can be reached through different ways.

Opposite, to gain insight into a given matter, the winding roads bear risk to fail the aim and leave much to wish for compared to the proven and efficient paths.

If we give the lectures of Latin a miss, can we ever understand the signifying times of Augustus and the changes of Rome from republic to empire? So far no non-laborious roads have been found to take us through the established canons of knowledge. But bit by bit a mosaic materializes and stone by stone a solidly paved road appears; these are the ways to find Rome.

It is late afternoon when I reach Rome with rather a delay. The Roman taxi driver waves his hand with poorly hidden irritation towards endless groups of what he claims to be “easy-jet visitors”. The good man is not thrilled to find half his Roman streets taken into possession. In the hot afternoon sun everything seems to turn mute and slow. For a moment there I vividly imagine the stampede of headless consumers turning the world heritage sights into dust.

The cool vaults and the serenity of the Santa Maria Antiqua by the Palatine Hill, which I reach a few moments later, luckily quickly works wonders and presents the facts of the contrary being the reality: Small groups of people inside the ruins are carefully listening with quiet interest to the explanations as for images and worshiping in early Middle Ages.

It is the morning of Friday May 6 in Rome, The Holy Year of Mercy, 2016. It is a splendid day with clear blue sky to the thrill of the swallows and to the joy of the Romans on their way to work or out for their coffees. I walk the sun-blessed streets between two imposing Jesuit Churches, the magnificent Sant’Ignazio di Loyola with the Andrea Pozzo ceiling and the stately Chiesa del Gesu.

Suddenly a convoy of diplomatic cars granted the honour of a motor cycle police escort blast through the city streets.

All roads lead to Rome, and in this case this counts also for the right honourable Swiss President, Mr. Johann Schneider-Ammann, and the Presidents of the two Chambers of Parliament and invited delegations. The yearly change and swearing of oath of the recruits of the Swiss Pontifical Guard is marked with great tradition, solemnity and elegance. Swiss soldiers have been guarding the Pope for fully 510 years. The young heroes in spe are there to serve history.

“Oblivion” is broad-casted that week-end on Swiss TV. To the honour of the new set of youngsters in Rome, the hero Horatius is quoted from Lord Macaulay’s poem, “Lays of Ancient Rome”: “And how can a man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods”.

May 11, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

19th century art and roles – Marcello in Geneva

Luis Buñuel’s unequalled drama from 1967, “Belle de Jour”, is a well-known reference to Johan August Strindberg’s theatre play, “Miss Julie”, written in 1888.

Buñuel’s film is a brilliant reflection of Strindberg and the artist’s head-through devotion to the topics of his époque. Both masterpieces are a gift to anyone who might aspire to grasp the conflicts in women’s life roles as dangerously double edged. There is a constant inner interaction taking place keeping what lays wait in a woman’s nature in check towards the pressure of socially imbedded role expectations.

Strindberg’s play, “Miss Julie”, concerns the reality of a woman of high society, who, due to circumstances, chooses to follow the urge to outlive her desires in spite of the consequences: the condemnation by her surroundings of her refusal to assume her given class role and adapt to the expected adequate behaviour.

Many a 19th century artist would perfectly orchestra any role. It was play-time for the bohemian and outward personality who would use the new photographic media, the press or the theatre scene to experiment with role changes in order to add a veil of secrecy and mysticism to boost the idol image. The womanizer and womanhater, Johan August Strindberg, himself a contradiction, was to the full a worthy representative of the 19th century artist and the complexity with which they demanded to be understood.

With a daring bohemian touch to her dashing beauty; intelligent and dreadfully talented; the Swiss sculptress and painter Adèle d’Affry, herself of important background and Duchess of Castiglione Colonna through marriage, called herself Marcello.

Adèle d’Affry was also to challenge her upbringing and to play with the traditional gender positions. Still, or maybe because of that, she became of trendsetting importance in Paris. Already at a young age she found herself comfortably situated in her role as a modern woman of the 19th century: triumphantly feminine; ambitious; innovative and accessible; a world traveller open to new and exotic currents and influences.

Her magnetism had not only convinced the Roman Duke of Colonna, through which many an enthusiast in the European society, including the Court in Paris, became aware of her extraordinary talents as a sculptress and painter; but also the Emperor himself, Napoleon III, was struck by her persona and art. Marcello was to become the most prominent sculptor of the Second Empire.

An absolutely magnificent selection of Adèle d’Affry’s sculptures, a true jewel for art lovers, can be viewed for the time being at the Château de Penthes until the first days of June.

Might Marcello, a male pseudonym, represent Adèle d’Affry’s inner dynamic and strongly powerful side, her force; her drive and source? Her sculptures are indeed exceptionally forceful and appealing. D’Affry and her art represent a highly interesting reflection of society and role at her times.

May 3, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva Heritage – The Botanical Garden

They are wonders of the world; some World Heritage Sites; some precious urban gems; others vastly landscaped grounds, reaching miles into a picturesque setting towards mountains; along rivers and valleys, or reaching into jungles.

Whether it is the impressive Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden or the absolutely splendid Kirstenbosch by Cape Town; the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens of London; or the extraordinary Singapore Botanic Gardens with its orchids; to me they are like close friends or family who from time to time call me home to visit, to see how they are. Their welcoming organic embrace represents both the Garden of Eden as well as the very earthly existence of laws of evolution.

Spring, light, optimism! The Era of the Enlightenment was a manifesto of spring in the history of mankind with an outburst of new beliefs within philosophy and science.

While the 17 hundreds in both the Old and New World culminated in political revolutions and major economic reforms, a true explosion of new thoughts and discoveries found its way in science. Scientists would from then on, out of inexhaustible respect for truth and reasoning, be profoundly dedicated to discovering the basics and scientific proof of the natural laws of development.

Their ground-breaking findings would not only form exiting new found land for the great universal project of civic and moral education, which would characterize the Enlightenment, but was to become a true fountain for both fundamental and applied science per se and as such a lasting resource for development and outcome in all aspects for mankind.

The botanist and, among other fields of knowledge, connoisseur of classical literature and a poet himself, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle, born in Geneva in 1778, embodies the great scientific spirit of the Enlightenment. He documented a voluminous empiric of plants, which he systemized through his invention of a remarkable classification system that, together with his chronobiology and theorem of Nature’s War, would form a valuable contribution to the study of the history of nature. Candolle’s theorem even inspired the very Charles Darwin.

A splendid window, part of the new approach and supplementary to the existing herbarium, opened as early as in 1817 to the Genevan public through the establishment of a first botanical garden in the Bastion Park. The Botanical Garden of the City of Geneva was later relocated and extended. It reopened in 1904 on its site near the lake, where it still functions in the hands of dedicated scientists.

Appealing; playful and young in spirit it is a cherished representative of the very first botanical gardens, which were erected throughout the Era of Enlightenment. It is a sibling in a family of gardens of which the first appeared in the late 17 and the early 18 hundreds. The Botanical Garden of Geneva is a precious exemplar of the very heritage, which brought Europe and the world such new optimism. Enjoy the spring!

April 12, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva urban transversal

If you visit the small towns and villages in the proximity of Geneva you will be impressed by the way every single house appears in a state of utterly maintenance. It is as if owners and caretakers anxiously want to prevent a single piece of the idyllic jigsaw-puzzle-setting to become lost.

The intensity with which the Genevan country side is redefined and idealized seems to increase proportional to the degree and character of urbanization of Geneva.

While urban and rural operational behaviour can be traced back to roots of both ancient social division and also to the not so far historical distribution of the means of production, and Geneva and the Romandie would show us very interesting cases in this respect, it would amaze that both urban and country side living running along the same track would even begin to appeal to post-industrial society and the “urban man”.

Are Genevans demanding compensation through village lifestyle for each slice of pastoral landscape lost to concrete and steel on the growing city rim? Putting on the romantic spectacles, a noticeable belt of “paradise” could indeed be identified as lost around Geneva.

Never again was Geneva to be the same when modernity reached its banks and the waves of urbanization kept extending the city on the rive droite and slowly but surely added spectacular cosmopolitan and international parts to the urbs.

This attractive component would characterize Geneva from then on, and alongside with the transformations of the landscape through industrialism and related demands as for housing and infrastructure, Geneva grew into a city of the world with characteristics that would begin to add up to its ambitions to become what it is today, a global city and a world player.

Is now a day’s country living, whether chic equestrian or lake romantic, a post-modern “paradise reversed”, a change of former farming areas into the supplementary urban? It has its appeal to have the choice to escape the pounding pulls of metropolis when convenient and avoid for stress and estrangement to interfere with life and health.

Architects and city planners are once again challenged to come up with answers to new demands by changes in variables and currents in the division of labour. New global sociology calls for innovative solutions.

Exemplary and ground breaking architecture developed by contributors now left to the Walhalla of fame; one can find all this in Geneva. Among them was a radical, but brilliant architect, Le Corbusier, who’s constructive answers to housing in the époque of industrialization sprung from a cultural well of early functionalist developments related to watchmaking manufacturing in the small twin towns in the mountains from where he originated. Indeed such ideas represent the archetype of the Genevan way of problem solving and, don’t you agree, such urban transversal ideas could reach into the future.

March 20, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Airborne – the sky over Geneva

Looking up into the sky over Geneva on a bright and sunny day, you will find the sky vault painted in its characteristic airy blue, and high above in the celestial sphere there will be a white chequered pattern woven by countless jet streams.

These contrails awaken the urge to be up there instantly, aboard one of those jet planes, crossing the continent and traveling to far and unknown destinations.

Some are flying by, but others, and there are many, approach Geneva feeding the endless amount of air traffic shift of arrivals and take offs from the airport. It is especially entertaining in the evening to observe the head lights of the aircrafts hanging disciplined over the Lake Geneva waiting in line for their turn on the inflight to the airport.

One cannot but admire the orchestral efficiency and safety with which the daily large amount air traffic is directed to its destinations. It is not surprizing to find that Geneva Airport in that sense has reached the sky in excellence and has been awarded the best in Europe of its kind for several years in a row.

One after the other of stylish silver birds come roaring in over my head and cast an impressing shadow on the tiles and walls. It is late afternoon and I am in my roof gardens. Watching and admiring these jets so close, the magic and expectations of boarding one of these elegant jet planes in the youth of the jet era is easy to imagine.

“Silver wings across the sky, vapour trails that wave goodbye; to those below who’ve got to stay at home; wish that I had flown at night so I could take that champagne flight…” The pop song lyrics from 1971 occur to me, and as I hum along, I actually do recall the atmosphere of earlier days, as for us Nordics, on the Scandinavian Airlines aircrafts.

Dedicated stewardesses in blue uniforms would pop open the Lanson Champagne and serve the bubbly liquid to the impeccably dressed travellers with a bright smile. People would proceed to light conversation while lifting up their SAS design glasses in order to, with a nod, pronounce a polite “cheers” to thereafter exhale blue puffs of cigarette, Prince or Cartier, in appreciation of the luxury and comfort offered on board.

Did you realize that Geneva and Copenhagen share a special bond as for jet aviation? The Scandinavian Airlines System became the first commercial line to offer jet flights through Geneva. When four shiny new elegant Caravelle jets were added to the SAS fleet in 1959, it made it possible for the Nordic company to offer a pure jet service on all international flights. The remarkable jets with the Viking given names served in and out of Geneva on two routes connecting Copenhagen with the Middle East.

All this is barely anything to what the future will bring. Cheering the explorers Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg on their Solar Impulse flight around the globe, the world is right now holding its breath in excitement for the next era of aviation to unfold.

March 8, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Revolutionaries and reformers in Geneva

Geneva enjoys a historical identity throughout half a millennium of being one of the important European centres from where landmark reforms and ideas have spread.

Obviously John Calvin and his pillar contribution to the Reformation immediately jump to one’s mind as for cornerstone reforms which historically blew new winds from Geneva through Europe. One can benefit from the highly interesting explanations as for these remarkable developments given at the Genevan MIR, the International Museum of the Reformation.

For those who do not want to go as far back as the 15 hundreds, and whose main historical interest may not be religious reform, but revolutionary history, could take interest in the particular fact that Lenin, or Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, spent parts of his exile periods in Geneva. Lenin kept contact from Geneva with representatives of the Russian socialist revolutionary movement; strategy was developed; and Lenin could perform his editorial duties at the Iskra, a main Marxist publication that had changed its base from London to here.

Bibliophile as he was; he passed many a day at the French, “Société de Lecture”. More in-depth information about his choice of literature is available at this society, where members might even apply, if so required, for an exclusive access to Lenin’s unauthorized notes and comments made with pencil in the margins of the books he borrowed.

The possibility to find safe haven for freethinkers in Geneva bears witness to the existence of a certain mind-set which most probably already was set off by early waves of breaking change.

To achieve a fuller understanding of the famous spirit of Geneva, it is although an imperative to include other larger puzzle pieces of history, such as the Genevan Revolutions during the 17 hundreds; the Enlightenment; and the spread of the thoughts of the French Philosophy, of which the brilliant Genevan townsman, Jean-Jaques Rousseau, was to become a main contributor.

How the intellectually endorsed Enlightenment was followed by large scaled social and political change through bourgeois liberalist revolutions, which not only reached France and The Republic of Geneva, but were to sweep through most of Europe, is very important to grasp in the effort of painting a fuller picture of liberal Geneva.

The exhibition, “Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours, un peintre Genevois dans l’Europe des Lumières”, shown at the Museum of Art and History, Geneva, until February 28, brings excellent and highly valuable pieces together of the revolutionary period of Geneva. To enjoy Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours’s magnificent paintings is an experience one cannot be without. The exhibition does not only rend homage to the Genevan artist and his remarkable life, but is a true gift to those who deeply cherish the history and spirit of Geneva.

February 21, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva International Motor Show

Do you remember our conversation the other day at the dinner table? Of course you do, and the occasion was a very happy one: we had just received our desired new car, for the connoisseurs of the species, no less than a rocket in disguise.

Cars represent an old and yet highly topical matter, and as for automobiles, Geneva will soon reach the top of the news when the splendid Geneva International Motor Show opens its doors and for the 86th time launches the auto industry early spring edition to its enthusiasts in Geneva and the whole world.

What is it that, in spite of excellent public transportation and the long reached overload of near to 6 million vehicles on our Swiss roads, keeps us so devoted to the car?

Well, with the emerging middle class and western suburban lifestyle through the 50s and 60s, the car certainly equalled mobility and symbolized the increasing living standard, but not only. It soon grew into a defined marker of the modern ideal family ready to embrace the growing leisure time and engaging in healthy activities, the car packed with all necessities for a picnic in the forest, sports, or maybe a week-end at the beach.

As you would imagine, the Scandinavian family would enthusiastically adapt to this kind of lifestyle, which was with a smile referred to as the formula of the so called 3 Vs, meaning the suburban Villa, the Volvo and the Woof, the latter being the family golden retriever.

Like many a Nordic my father would stick to the belief that the understatement was the strongest statement, and so it would be that one Volvo followed the other in a brand loyalty that was to be seen in many of the driveways of the neighbourhood where I grew up.

The cream coloured Volvo PV 544, produced from 1958, would be replaced by the even bigger success and icon, the Volvo Amazon, built from 1956 to 1970, which later again would give way to the Volvo 142 or 144. These cars as well as the equally iconic Saabs, were stylish statements, or rather understatements, of simplicity with enough space for all the things needed for the boat week-end or summer cabin stay.

It is early morning just before the opening hours, and we queue with other car fans to pass through the doors to the EXPO exhibition area to the “Salon international de l’automobile de Genève 2016” in order to be among the first to see the grand show.

Still not having enough of the of world of cars, we spend the afternoon at the “Musée des Voitures Anciennes” at Grandson Château to have a look at Greta Garbo’s 1927 elegant and speedy roadster, a Rolls Royce Phantom I. The actress was, along with other stars like Charlie Chaplin, who owned an extravagant 1929 Pierce-Arrow, the image of sublime Hollywood “royalty” during the époque of the Roaring Twenties. Will the cars of the 21st Century possess the same power of reach as for image and lifestyle as the cars of the 20th Century? One wonders.

February 14, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Global Geneva

The big Etihad bird glides silently through the night. The light is subdued and the aircraft-blinds are down; only a few is awake, some quietly reading or working on a paper, adjusting a few words on tomorrow’s speech or looking through relevant statistics; most passengers although are comfortably dozing off into a light sleep.

The jet set on board is distinguished and polite and the interaction with other travellers and passengers is distinctly discreet.

It is a long-haul flight from Geneva, in this case a flight bound for Abu-Dhabi; but it could have been another destination for global meetings; just as well New York; Washington DC; Moscow or Beijing.

Ahead lie days of work for the world wide cooperation that takes off from the international organisations with Geneva as their home base; important pieces in world negotiations; a World Congress or an Annual Meeting, they all are cogwheels in a well-oiled machine.

Fuelled from Geneva, a multitude of multilateral organisations as well as other prominent cousins, as for instance The World Economic Forum, are multiplying efforts in order to convert noble goals and idealism into viable steps and ways for a world-wide positive change.

The world has some weeks back had the pleasure of following The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos; the WEF having chosen a media intensive approach to its work in public-private cooperation on the global agenda.

Although back from Davos, the work in headquarters’ Geneva is far from over; in fact for each and every international organization it seems to have barely just begun. Only a few visionaries could have foreseen the exponential growth in the necessity to address global issues, as it has now become the case in a globalized world.

From Place de Nations or the banks of Lake Geneva, the settings for the global agenda change throughout the year for different climes and skies; the demands necessitate the convening of a true net of meetings and events at distinguished world spread destinations.

For now Davos has brushed itself off and has turned the clock back to normal until the next spectacular event will unfold between the pines in the snow covered village in the Swiss Rhaetian Alps.

Meanwhile the Etihad air-craft has landed into a spectacularly warm evening where the swallows fly high between the enduring light and the sharpening silhouette of Abu-Dhabi City. The fading desert sunset turns the sky purple, and through the dust it seems to be painting the desert sand greyish, a colour that is slowly inclining towards a pale green.

February 3, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Winter Sunday in Geneva

A big yellow fox looked me strait in the eye when I drew back the curtains of the windows facing the old rose gardens. Confronted with the unexpected, the beautiful creature froze for a moment before vanishing to where it came from, disappearing rapidly into the park.

I was still standing at the window. The surprizing encounter with the fox on that winter Sunday morning had made me dwell for a while looking into the gardens and beyond.

The scattered blood-red petals left on the summer roses made me recall some favourite poetry. Was there anything more adequate to reflect upon just there than “The Disquietude of the Rosebush” by the Swiss born, Argentinian modernist poet, Alfonsina Storni, or even better her “World of Seven Wells”?

As you would know, Alfonsina Storni or, “La Alfonsina”, was and continues to be not only one of the foremost poets in literary Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata, but is no less than a world literature icon and a legend.

A few months back, shown by Swiss TV, the public had the opportunity to watch the excellent documentary by Christoph Kühn from 2011, “Alfonsina Storni”. The portrait of the avant-gardist poet’s extraordinary life and work was done with great warmth, so considerately free of the kitsch that usually follows the legend. We understand through the portrait how the Swiss background, although leaving Switzerland with the parents already when being at the age of 4, had a great influence on the modernist mind-set of the poet.

What is it that makes a legend? Well, Alfonsina Storni had left her earthly platform the same way as she came, namely by the ocean. She brought great new standards to literature and was a visionary barely for us to grasp, although by far made of such material as of stardust.

It was her destiny not to shy away from working very hard, and she had to often redefine her life in order to maintain herself and her son. She was granted with a magnificent analytic mind and the extraordinary ability to see things from a bird’s eye view. Lucky for us, she maintained the urge all her life to pass on her experience to humanity in the form of what was to become universal poetry.

From the window towards the rose gardens I watched the first sunbeams reaching the snow on the top of the Jura Mountains.

Inspired by Christoph Kühn´s poetic film, I imagine how Alfonsina Storni wakes up her little boy in Buenos Aires by dawn to make him look out the window. One sudden night, Buenos Aires had been covered in snow, and there she was all exited to pass on her childhood remembrance to her son. “Look”, she would have said, “this is how Switzerland looks like, my boy, so fresh, so clean and pure in the early morning in the beautiful winter light”.

January 24, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Temptations in Geneva

“Péchés Mignons”; do you remember introducing me to those irresistible “petites fautes agréables”, your favourite Genevan chocolates bought at the Chocolatier Rohr, Rue d’Enfer near the Rue du Purgatoire?

I am having one of those right now with no less than a hot, slow-brewed, steaming, dark cup of Columbian coffee. Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo” is playing cosily on the Bang and Olufsen, and for every sip of the black brew I let my body and soul slide closer to a state of sloth. Is this pure gluttony? I repent immediately and try to ease my conscience thinking of the fact that the coffee beans have been produced in a sustainable way on a bio micro-lot.

One is certainly easily tempted in Geneva not only by delicious chocolates and flavours. The waterfronts are flanked by magnificent hotels with restaurants, bars and spas, each and every one of them competing in grandiosity. The city oozes of elegant show-rooms and its windows are calling for the eye to dwell on sparkling jewels and excellent watches. Potent sports cars as well as voluminous luxury SUVs hold a branding position in our town far beyond the yearly peak performance at the Car Show of Geneva.

I scroll through my e-mails and spot an invitation for an exclusive visit to the yearly held “Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie”, where the watch-making brands under the ownership of the leading multinational company in the luxury industry, the Richemont Group, present their spectacular products in the Palexpo.

Having had the great pleasure, on numerous occasions, to go behind the scenes and get to know the excellence and capability of corporate Geneva I will happily accept, already very excited to go.

Mirroring the catastrophic state of the Earth, the moral and ethical debate of capitalist production, overconsumption of goods, including the abuse of social media, has currently flared up again. Theologians, philosophers and psychologists agree that “less is more”. Are we getting close to a general state of being followers of “vitia capitalia”, of being too impulsively responding to selfish demands, putting our souls and even the Earth at risk?

Geneva was in its former days the centre of truth in Calvinist Europe, and the new learnings fired a rigorous moral behaviour, a right way of living inspired by main virtues. The citizens of Geneva took directions aboard to restrict celebrations, dress modestly and not externally show their wealth by wearing jewels or gold.

If it had not been for rereading Dante’s, “The Divine Comedy”, or for the books of the good old John Locke and Adam Smith literarily jumping out of my bookshelves, helping me to remember the moral defence of the entitlement to enjoy the deserved outcome of industry and hard work, I would only have possessed some weak arguments in the current debate about consumption. I am aware now how to keep the balance in relations between wealth and virtues and will also in the future without guilt enjoy my “Péchés Mignons”.

January 17, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva and great community perspectives

Back home in Geneva after the Holidays, on the first day of my return I am greeted in my neighbourhood with subtle smiles, a kind nod, a warm glimpse in the eye and a “Bonne Année!”; I am recognized, this is where I belong, it´s my community.

You are right, if the truth be told, “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien”, as the lyrics goes by Sting in his “An Englishman in New York”; that is, I’m a Scandinavian, a Danish woman in Geneva.

If, “Manners maketh man”, to quote Sting again, wouldn’t our differences in backgrounds and habits be a hindrance to sharing community, one might wonder.

Any reality check of Switzerland, of the Romandie and certainly when it comes to Geneva, will tell you that we have a lot of “legal aliens” forming part of the community, so the question is more how well we integrate and how we achieve and contribute to gaining that great feeling of belonging to the community.

Keywords are to my opinion to be receptive and to respect by knowledge the Swiss Genevan surroundings and culture. It is certainly also to be aware of the responsibility required as for forming part of an established and strongly normative community.

By learning, listening and responding, by discussing, agreeing and disagreeing, by joining, participating and networking, you will slowly but surely gain a place around that warming and integrating bonfire and be accepted in Geneva as an equal partner in what forms the continuous interaction-process of community building throughout great and small.

Being a multicultural centre and the principal player and window of Switzerland to the globalized world and society, Geneva forms an excellent locality to participate.

The leading contemporary sociologist, Anthony Giddens, has emphasized the great importance, in the complexity of a globalized and alienated society, to keep cultivating the ability to form communities as a natural democratic platform and environment for sound identities and norms.

Allow me to say that Swiss and Genevan qualities are no less than your opportunity to perform social, economic and political participation; principal integrative forces, upon which to build and develop robust communities.

And Switzerland counts on you in this respect. By the turn of the year, the President of the Swiss Confederation for 2016, Johann Schneider-Ammann, similar to his predecessors, in his speech to the public has underlined the importance of the effort and participation of each and every one in order to keep reinforcing the Swiss society.

When I flew back to Geneva from Copenhagen the other night after the Christmas Holidays, the Scandinavian Airline aircraft made a turn over the warm embracing lights of the city and suburbs. Looking down, I imagined it written by the lights underneath: “Welcome home, you are not an alien, it is here you belong”.

January 9, 2016   Dorit Konkolewsky

Thank you 2015 – Welcome 2016 !

The last grains of sand are trickling down through the hourglass.

While we bid farewell and express our gratitude to the year of 2015, we are peeping into the open door of 2016.

Normally, when a new year dawns we are full of expectations and curiosity of what the New Year will bring.  But what about this year, can we be optimistic or are we overwhelmed by a world shaken by conflicts and crisis?

As an historian I am fond of significant jubilees, and looking back upon the year running out, 2015 was a memorable jubilee year for the Swiss Confederacy.

700 years ago, in a remarkable and decisive victory in 1315 in the Battle of Morgarten, the confederacy proved to be the winning model for the future construction of Switzerland.  The outnumbered, but fiercely determined halberd-armed peasant army of the Everlasting League of the Three Forest Cantons or the Old Swiss Confederacy, won against the intruders, a well-organized Habsburg army of knights of the Duchy of Austria.

Am I getting too serious commemorating old battles, and why at all be hailing a battle?  Well, it’s not so much about the battle, but about how to construct and organize communities and coexistence, and about how to prevail in times of threats and uncertainties.

One is put to a test about the state of the world at the Swiss and World Press Photo 15, exhibited at the National Museum in Prangins.  Even so it is important to regain beliefs in a brighter future.

More jubilees reminded us in 2015 that we own the capacity to let optimism prevail, that we are much capable of reconstructing and developing societies.  Both the 200 years of the Vienna Congress and the 70 years of the ending of the World War II have been celebrated in 2015 as a proof to the world that every problem can be solved; that apparently insuperable devastation can and will be overcome by a common effort.

The breakthrough of the philosophy of « Reason » (die Vernunft) brought modern and enlightened thinking to history and helped form leading values.  Democratic constitutions and human rights as major results of this and lead the way in the search for a better world for mankind.  « Reason » might seem to go under through threats, crisis and wars, but modern history proofs « Reason » to be strong.

2015 was the year where we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, and indeed international collaboration and diplomacy play a decisive role in the reassurance of the leading values of the modern world.  Thank you, Geneva, and thank you, Switzerland, for a great and continuous contribution to this!

Thank you, 2015, for commemorating the historical proof that we can count on « Reason » to reappear in order to build a brighter future.  Welcome 2016 !

December 10, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

« Femme Inoxydable »

I love driving through the familiar landscape of my nearby world.  The front screen optic is a perfect frame for the views I so much like; the mountains, the fields, the roads and the lake.  My choice of music adds to this cocooning and underlines the beauty on my way.

All right, I admit to be idealizing my daily ways.  Your are right to remind me that more realistically a traffic jam or a road work would be out there to hinder a smooth flow of the day.  But you see, it’s just a welcomed opportunity to listen to the radio or dream the day away.

One day upheld in an endless line of cars, I switched from my music to the radio and was zapping through the channels to find the daily news.  It was then that I snapped up the words: « femme inoxydable ».

No, not « iron lady », but « femme inoxydable ».  The debate that I had been thrown into on « Culture » carried on without much hint to why this expression had been brought up.  I then left that channel for another, but somehow the expression kept occupying my thoughts.

Still caught in the traffic jam, my mind made a loop around our former Swiss President, Micheline Calmy-Rey.  I had had the pleasure of listening to her at a political talk she gave in my club: intelligent; diplomatic; cool!

Having switched to « Nostalgie » the voice of an unmistakable stainless steel woman manifested her strange warnings on the car radio: « Some of them want to use you; some of them want to get used by you; some of them want to abuse you; some of them want to be abused ».

It was Annie Lennox in the Eurythmics song « Sweet Dreams » from 1983.  Those words were a bitter-sweet echo of the androgynous « Women of the 80’s » with views on men as a « (T)horn in my Side », as another Annie Lennox song text from that time would read.

Nora Helmer, the main character in Henrik Ibsen’s « A Doll’s House », from 1879, had left her husband and children and their comfortable bourgeois life.  Her deed was a complete riddle to her husband Torvald, and we can still hear him calling « Nora! Nora! » after she had gone.

Did Nora perceive the dawning ideas of the change of roles for women?  What made her leave her golden cage?  Unlike the militant sisters of her time, Nora was no « Suffragette », no « iron lady ».  In his realistic drama Ibsen shows us a Nora who wants to be taken for full by Torvald and to be treated as en equal person in her marriage in spite of her apparently fragile feminity.

I grant myself relief from any more thoughts of the complexity of women’s roles.  The cars in front of me have started to roll and I am free to move.  Mont Blanc has turned purple in the afternoon haze making my day complete.  I leave the A 1 and drive down hill in order to reach home.

November 28, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

Art Walks – Art Talks

A great friend of mine is a recognized contemporary artist.  Her paintings, sculptures and installations produce a desire in the spectators to understand and discuss what they see.  Every object she turns into art, forms part of her and helps her to reflect and transform herself into the person she is today.

I am sure you have shared priceless times at exhibitions interacting and discussing art with great participation.

For my part I even recall a moment of friction in a debate about an installation by Robert Rauschenberg, who’s works were on display as a most fantastic retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

It was in the late 1990’s and I was living back then in the Spanish Basque Country and had gone to the Guggenheim with my art group to enjoy a viewing and art talk in the spectacular Frank Gehry building.

The works of Robert Rauschenberg must have provoked a sudden change of behaviour in our group of art enthusiasts.  Underlined by the sculptural dynamics of the architecture, the art had spun a passionate discussion about the mentioned installation making us leave our polite tiptoeing around the subjects of debate.  Surprisingly enough though, our clinch didn’t lead to later hard feelings; on the contrary, some great friendships grew from that art talk.

Robert Rauschenberg and his inspiring lifelong argument with the changes of society and the shaping of identities by the interventions of mankind had sent our minds off like a ball from a racquet.

What role does art play to you?  Is it primarily a debating and interacting tool of communication; even a possibility to speak up or to provoke?  Certainly art does not always assume such roles; it is much more, you would say, the search for the transcendental, a going beyond, even the reassurance of the creation and the existence of the divine.

We are fortunate here in Geneva to have a richness of opportunity to extend our knowledge about art and to be inspired in the discussion through the strong presence of excellent museums and galleries and the availability of great art expertise.  The fruits of yet another art season in the Geneva area are ready to be shared in a marvellous variety of exhibitions and fairs through autumn and winter.

And why not for instance start the art season by clearing your mind with a walk-through feeling of art and landscape by taking an open-air sculpture walk in the municipality of Cologny just up the Geneva Lake?  You will have a magnificent viewing there of the most beautiful autumn colours you will ever find on display.

November 15, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

Happiness in Geneva

The bise, which has the habit of showing its strongest forces upon our lake-side Versoix and along the banks towards Geneva, is a wind one learns to appreciate like a cherished walk-and-talk between friends in the good weather: It shapes you up; refreshes your thoughts and vaporizes any grey state of mind.

The other day the bise hadn’t let us down.  It has swept all reminiscence of foggy days away and after the rain the fresh wind was laying a perfect Hodler mountain-lake-landscape of Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva at our feet.

Scattered flocs of migrating birds were circulating in daring loops over the lake to the rhythm of the sailing boats having their hulls scrubbed by men ashore eager to finalize this task before the winter.

Your tomcat had granted us company on the short path between home and lake.  He joyfully tiptoed behind us, warming his stripes in the autumn sunlight, sneezing at the golden leaves that tumbled from the sky.  At some point the male cat unfaithfully left us to follow some other drive.

Uplifted by the oxygen from the remote mountain ranges that the bise had brought in and inspired by the overwhelming grandiosity of the landscape surrounding us, we left our usual conversational ping-pong patterns and let our talk dive into a possible definition of nothing less than happiness.

With the awareness of the often quoted well-being in our countries of respective origin, Switzerland and Denmark, we agreed that the floor of opportunities, the availability of resources and the freedom to build one’s life and to share community, are preconditions to happiness.

We shared the opinion that the commitment to learn and keep developing, to take responsibility and to be open in the interchange with other cultures as being premises to reach a happy life.  Thoughts about the ability to master crisis and to redefine oneself in changing surroundings were added to our conversation.

It seemed to us that happiness would crystalize in the balance between feeling individually capable and free on the one hand, and the profound feeling of belonging on the other hand.

Air, fire, earth and water; it adds a continuum to happiness to perceive the elements by the senses, to set your thoughts free under the open sky, don’t you agree?

The sun was on fire that afternoon letting its golden sunbeams penetrate the autumn-dressed trees.  The lake looked even bluer in the reflection of the cloudless sky.  The red-chested robin sang its song towards the mountains, feeling self-assured to be well out of reach of any tomcat with stripes.

November 1, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

« Stay Free »

Primary coloured election slogans sway on city buses, trolleys and trams; on squares and corners it reads: « BEWARE »; « STOP »; « STAY FREE ».

Drawings on election posters call for awakening, for mobilization as if it was for a revolution or Dooms Day was up ahead.

Campaigning autumn 2015 for the elections for the Swiss national chambers seems to project the understanding to the voters that we could lose « it all », that even Swiss identity and freedom is at stake.

Certainly cold winds have risen in the world nearby; severe conflicts and crisis have crept closer; corrosion of values through scandals has made headlines.

Challenged by these possible risks to the coherence of society, voters reconsolidate the mid-right definition of the Swiss-way-forward through well proven dynamics based on knowledge and tradition.

Within our European culture the word « free » would historically be interpreted within the qualitative framework of the bourgeois liberal revolutions and freedom charters.  A whole new way of constructing society and defining identity was set free to the Western world.

Freed of old canal locks of former privileges and structures, and with the promises of the rights of equal opportunities, new cultural waves emerged bringing exiting theory and practice as refreshing streams feeding Europe’s old mills.

Would the liberation of mankind be reached through the free flow of creativity in the art; through experiments in forms and material?

Would mankind reach utopia through alternative practise or would he find true identity unifying with the peasant and worker?  Would a return to origins through countryside living or alternatively the meeting with primitive or exotic art lead the way to ultimate freedom, break through to the other side?

Ethics of liberation were discussed along with revolutionary or utopian practice and new aesthetics were exhausted.  Artists and philosophers of the Modern Breakthrough and the periods that followed went beyond to make ways for a new individual and collective conscience, for a lasting opening of minds.

The early liberal movements left an invaluable cultureal heritage of milestone literature and other works of art behind.  We and future generations have the chance through the discovery and interpretation of this precious heritage to truly form identity, to truly « STAY FREE ».

October 26, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

Prosperity

Switzerland ranks among the most prosperous countries in the world; Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich are cities we relate to wealth.

Fortunately the reference to prosperity covers much more than an unusual density of high end watches in our Genevan Rue du Rhone or an image of Geneva as the city of Ferraris.

You are right, one ought neither to underestimate nor ignore the existence of social and socially related problems in Geneva.

But it is also of importance not to decimate the ongoing effort to tackle the problems.  Both on the decision making and institutional level as well as among citizens and voluntaries, you will find an extraordinarily open discussion as well as a high amount of idealism invested in the task of converting social dynamics.  The free debate combined with the broad participation in Geneva counts itself to the positive variables and provides a basis for any needed solutions.

The current world refugee crisis has with a blow sharpened our awareness of the the fact that we have to differentiate and relativize opinions and reach for new inspiration in means.

The OECD Better Life index is one of the tools available for us to form our views.

To no surprize the indexing places the Swiss population among the top scorers in social well-being among OECD country populations.  The mentioned index for measuring living standard includes factors such as income, housing, jobs, education, health, safety, community building abilities and strength of social networks.

Especially the availability of social support among the Swiss is remarkably high, in fact the highest among all in the OECD, and when asked about their general satisfaction with life, the Swiss once again reach the top level of score.

It has been among the most important targets for the United Nations in its 8 Millennium Development Goals, with a 2015 deadline, to significantly reduce the rates of extreme poverty.  The very positive results in this respect and promising achievements in other Millennium Development Goals have boosted the ambitions of the member countries.

At the United Nations Summit in September this year, the world leaders have agreed upon a new agenda 2015 – 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, in order to unify actions within 17 main targets extending the work within the UN towards supporting a broad and solid basis for development and for a further reduction of extreme poverty.

Join in with your support for the world to reach social sustainability and prosperity.

October 17, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva and a new season of art and culture

My peer primary school teacher, the elderly Mr. Jensen, an in general mild and patient man, would make use of sarcastic humour when his teaching occasionally would fall on deaf ears.

In that sense, Mr. Jensen would remind his bewildered pupils every autumn, that the year had 4 seasons, spring, summer, autumn and the « museum season ».  Looking at his inarticulate flock over his gold rimmed glasses, he would then end his lesson stating that, in spite of our modest intellectual skills, there might still be hope ahead since God the Almighty had made the Scandinavian winters very long and anyway would temper the wind to the shorn lamb.

Ever since then the « museum season » has been my favourite, to be used to its optimum.

Would you join me this season for Paris, for Rome, Venice, and Milan?  We would indulge in music, architecture and art at your usual places of choice.  When we reach Vienna we would join exhibitions to the remembrance of the 200 years of the Congress of Vienna or add a tour to the Vienna University celebrating its 650th anniversary with homage to philosophy and science.  And why not continue to Budapest to explore the city to the delightful tunes of Liszt’s « Liebesträume » or to sound of the plunging fountains in his « Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este ».

We still remember a teacher’s remark from school because we know that the underlying question is how we can go on learning to find new ways forward for ourselves and for the development and understanding of mankind.

That is why we can relate to the urge of a Ludwig Wittgenstein, begin to understand a Victor Vasarely, believe in the modern and contemporary to provoke us to quite simply think and step out of the placidness.

Geneva once again offers us unique opportunities for this through the season.  Jack Milroy and Brendan Neiland are among others in town as representatives of the contemporary hippest, exhibiting with Sir Peter Blake at the Gallery Frank Pages, in « Prisms of British Art ».

One of Italy’s most famous contemporaries, the philosopher and artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, is here to speak to his audience at the Geneva Press Club and to reveal his sculpture « Rebirth » in the Ariana Gardens in the honour of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations in October.

You will be delighted to find Pistoletto’s extended perpetual loop and political, ethical philosophy adding a new and very positive dimension to the discussion of the development of mankind.  Please do read more in his best essay, « The Third Paradise » and let us continue the discussion.

October 7 , 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva and the Little Mermaid

In 2010, the Little Mermaid, a Danish national icon, travelled to Shanghai on the shores of the ancient fairy tale land of China, in order to be exhibited in the Danish Expo Pavilion.

The other evening at a dinner party in Geneva I was asked if the displacement of the Little Mermaid to China was real, or if just a copy was sent.

In the era of blurredness between real and fake, the question is understandable, but you see, mermaids do easily travel the seas and would thrive on following the slipstream of a majestic wooden tall ship or have fun riding the bow wave of a modern container vessel.

The Little Mermaid would always be very fond of visiting her large number of eternally seductive mythical relatives to her father’s house, the Kingdom of the Sea.  Being born as a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 and having her statue placed by Langelinie in Copenhagen in 1913, without being too precise about her age, she would certainly count a number of years of travel experience.

Her favourite Atlantic relative would be the Mermaid of Bermuda, the most embracing and generous sister to ever stay with, so adorable the pink sandy shores of her home.  However, not all her relatives would be of the gentle kind, and the Little Mermaid would always feel a slight chill of fear when staying with her remote cousins, the powerfully singing Sirens of the Lorelei.

The mermaids all fascinate us.  We admire their popular projection on the world screen by Ursula Andress stepping out of the sea in a James Bond movie, a conch in her hand, her thick fair hair dripping with water into the sand.

We get inspired by the mermaids and their reference to the existence of an eternal and divine beauty so pure, that the bearer only could be loved and worshiped from a platonic distance.  This divine creature has been so masterly eternalized by Sandro Botticelli in his painting, The Birth of Venus, where the young goddess has come out of the sea to appear on a shell like had she materialized from a pearl in a freshly opened oyster.

The Little Mermaid would most certainly enjoy visiting her relative from the Lake Geneva too.  By moonlight the sisters would swim out and let the Jet d’Eau tickle their belly skin.  Through sunny summer days they would stay hidden among the elegant white swans and listen to the screams of joy of the children feeding the waiting birds.

Occasionally the Little Mermaid would get caught by nostalgia and long for Copenhagen, for Oslo, for Stockholm and St. Petersburg, yearn for the smell of salt and for the sea breeze to take hold of her hair.

Then, as easily as she would have arrived to Geneva to visit her mermaid sister, she would slide through the passage of the Rhone, wave to her delightful friend and leave for the Mediterranean to head northbound to the places she would call her home.

September 30, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

A Place with a View – Geneva of All Times

It often occurs to me that there is a striking resemblance between our beloved and everlasting town of Geneva and a Judi Dench, a Vanessa Redgrave, a Maggie Smith or any of the unforgettable grand ladies of the world screen.

I myself am a dedicated fan of Maggie Smith, aren’t you?  Her rocksteady control of every register of the classical performance is remarkable; her trademark being a masterly restrained surface played against a plentiful of underlying currents.  Her face is aged by the depths of her expressions, the eyes although so full of youth.  One of Maggie Smith’s ever best performances was in the classical romance-drama from 1985, « A Room with a View ».

The world traveller arriving to Geneva will most likely ask for « a room with a view » and will find plenty a possibility to fulfil his or her wish in one of the legendary hotels by the quays of Geneva, why not in an historic and individually decorated hotel room of the Beau-Rivage.

Many a newcomer to Geneva has although through times sought for and found much more.  Settlers then and settlers now, foreigners and internationals of all kinds have arrived and have kept coming.  Some have been on the outlook for refuge, a safe haven, some for neutrality and discretion, and some for possibilities on the well communicated and prosperous Genevan grounds.

Our town has emerged upon this cosmos of input, has developed through this multitude of demand.  Geneva has in more than one sense developed into a place with a view.  Her receptive nature pared with her stone upon stone built character of tradition and value has made her stand grand before, and surely in the future she will keep up with the beat.

Apropos the charm and robustness of value and tradition, may I recommend you to watch Maggie Smith in « My Old Lady », a comedy-drama by Israel Horowitz from 2014, where Maggie Smith performs wonderfully together with Kevin Kline.

The story in the movie, a typical New World meets Old World thematic, is somewhat parallel to what many a newcomer to Geneva would experience.  The story goes as follows:

A down-and-out writer from New York arrives in the heart of Paris to convert an inherited valuable property into quick money.  He discovers that in order to do so he has to respect complicated norms, traditions and values, which he later to his own surprize begins to appreciate.  Through the acquaintance of an old lady (Maggie Smith) and her daughter who live in the appartment, the foreigner learns that his newly won heritage offers him a lot more than the antiques he wants to sell.  As you might imagine, the story develops letting the New York writer find a whole new belonging embracing love, hope and family.

September 17, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky

Green thoughts in Geneva – giant trees, timber and The Tinderbox

My family passed a first short period in Geneva in the 1980’s.  Our son was just a little boy back then.  As many would recognize, the eyes of a child bring many a fascinating and unexpected angle to an experience.

We had decided to make the trip from Denmark to Geneva by train, a charming idea and a beautiful ride, but also, as it turned out, a somewhat challenging effort.  It was shortly before Christmas Eve and, well, to cut a long story short, a snow blizzard hit us during the night ride in Germany and made us miss the planned train connection in Basel.  This meant having to change several local trains and short rides in order to reach Geneva before the celebrations.

This did of course not bother the little boy a bit.  He would look out the train windows upon the forests and mountains covered in snow, and time would pass reading out aloud from his favourite books and tales.

If it was due to reading The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen I do not recall, but suddenly the boy proclaimed that the trees were getting bigger and bigger.

Indeed he was right, those trees were enormous.  It would have been easy to imagine the soldier from the fairy tale entering the womb of one of them to fetch the tinderbox for the witch.  One could fantasize the brave young soldier entering even further into the alleys of the roots discovering the three rooms with treasure trunks full of copper, silver and gold coins, each trunk guarded by huge dogs.

Now living in Geneva and daily wallowing in the breath-taking sight of magnificent trees, the image of my little son standing under a majestic cedar often comes to my mind.

According to the tallying by The Republic and Canton of Geneva, one will find about half a million of free standing trees, meaning trees out of forests, many of them counting to the group of remarkable trees of high patrimonial value.

These trees are fruit of cherishing nature and creation, the result of love for shaping and cultivating the land.  They bear witness to an environment of surplus and the will to protect resources.

The recent WIPO Conference Hall has been sharpening our senses and added new dimensions to our Geneva go green.  The levitating wooden box made of indigenous timber makes a strong statement for the respect for natural resources playing a key role in supporting our container of intellectual property, in a broad sense both forming the raw material to construct our future upon.

One day having the chance of entering the womb of the timbered building, I could not but think of that tale of the giant tree and the treasures, the fairy tale of The Tinderbox.

September 7, 2015     Dorit Konkolewsky

Geneva – City of World Peace

Do you recall that beautiful clear and sunny day when we, from the corridor windows, caught that glorious view upon the main building of the Palais des Nations? The sunlit sandstone reflected the blue sky as a flash of Enlightenment itself.

Was it us being carried away by the sharp simplicity of modernism and it’s uplifting  architecture emphasized by the brightness of light on that sunny day?

I would love to think that it was not too farfetched to believe that, if it was not Kant himself who spoke to us and the idea rising since the dawn of the Age of Modernity of a peaceful world community, it was recent Genevan history touching us in those UN corridors making us look out of the windows and see the light.

Diplomacy historically and present, agreements on disarmament and ongoing peace talks, seats of a plentiful of multilateral organisations, Geneva may, if any, call itself the City of World Peace. Streets and places, buildings, hotel rooms, assembly halls, the environment oozes of narratives of hands-on talks and delicately succeeded negotiations.  A specific image comes to my mind from one day scrolling through the archives of the Reagan Library.

It was a photo taken November 19, 1985, showing President Reagan and Secretary General Gorbachev, during the times of the INF and SDI discussions, laughing and talking lively, clearly having a very pleasant time in a tete-a-tete conversation by the fireplace of our so familiar manor house, Fleur d’Eau, Geneva.

Viewing additional notes from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation to this informal meeting, it becomes clear that the humour of both world leaders was the key to an atmosphere of camaraderie, helpful in the difficult line of negotiations to bring the arms race to a halt.  It is easy to believe that the carefully chosen settings of the Fleur d’Eau that day uplifted the spirit of the two.

September 1, 2015   Dorit Konkolewsky