Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ferney Voltaire and Geneva

The picture to the right shows Voltaire's residence in Ferney. It was a nice small town that I visited last week. After a life of wandering, 64 years old and endowed with a tremendous fortune, Voltaire settled in Ferney, an independent territory near Switzerland, from where he was to exercise considerable intellectual influence across Europe. This was in 1759, and after having lived in Geneva less than two years. A prime reason for his leaving Geneva was that theatre was forbidden in that Calvinist city, so he had decided to become the enlightened "patriarch" of the little village of Ferney, setting up potteries, a watchmaking industry and, of course, theaters, attracting rich people from Geneva to watch his plays. «Finding free land where one is the absolute master, being at one and the same time in three sovereignties and depending on none of them, is a singular happiness to which I could not have dared to aspire».
During Voltaire's residence, the population of Ferney increased to more than 1,000. Voltaire lived there for the last 20 years of his life before making a triumphal return to Paris, where he died in 1778.
In Ferney, and probably in Geneva too, the clouds and the sun is constantly being watched by residents, in case Mount Blanc is visible to refresh the scene, and the soul. This reminded me what Istanbulers do with their Bosphorous.

Then, and despite the freezing cold, I finally met spring in Geneva. The sun was shining on Lake Geneva, and the Rhone, so I couldn't bring myself to visit any museums. Instead, I spent most of my day walking all over the small streets in the centre, and watching birds, flowers, and bees (and numerous determined city-runners) in the botanical gardens. My opinion of the city is that it is a liveable city which would provide little inspiration for Mediterranean spirits.
It is however very interesting: despite being heavily Calvinist, and being highly proud of it, it is a city where UN-people, NGO workers, and corporate bankers reside in. Therefore it is not only cosmopolitan, but also a weird mishmesh of disagreeing lifestyles...
It is also interesting to see Gothic details all over the city, juxtaposed on the one hand with wonderful historical stone buildings, and on the other with heavily bureaucratic architectural styles for UN buildings, WTO, ILO etc.

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