The Mystery Of The Anti-Personnel Mine In Geneva

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I was surprised when, on the way to the grocery store (it’s in the street between Migros and the Co-op at Eaux-Vives 2000 across the street), I saw this in the road.  It reads “Here laid an anti-personnel landmine.”  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  A land mine?  In Geneva?  Has anyone else noticed this?  Does anyone know anything about this?  I’d love to know who placed it there and why.

During the second world war, Geneva was virtually surrounded by nazi-occupied France.   Switzerland developed the National Redoubt plan to defend the country from the Nazis, but everyone knew that Geneva would have been left to occupying forces as it was not easily defended.  Landmines as we know them were developed during World War II (1939 – 1945).  They were widely used as anti-tank devices.  Smaller anti-personnel mines prevented the removal of anti-tank mines.   Even today, some land in France is not useable because of the mines on it.  Could it be from that period?

Since World War II the proliferation, production, sale and trade in landmines grew. Today, there an estimated 110 million anti-personnel mines in the ground around the world, another 100 million in stockpiles and 5-10 million more mines produced each year.   The Swiss Confederation signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  It took effect on the 1st of January 2013.

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Passage De Monetier, A Not So Secret Passage

Escalade

is an historical passage in Geneva’s old town.  You enter at the top of the Rue du Perron (by No. 19) and exit off the alley Monetier, at the base of the old ramparts.  The passage zig zags between medieval buildings for around 100 meters (328 feet), narrowing to 50 cm (20 inches)!

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Given layout between residential buildings, darkness and narrowness, it’s not surprising that this secret passage is open to the public only during the last two days of Geneva’s Escalade festivities.  The rest of the year, it is closed.  Get in on the action this weekend while you still can!

Snow Report Geneva

Occupied since Roman times, Geneva is ancient.   Over time, Geneva grew and extended its fortifications.  The passage began as a simple path between early fortifications sometime during the 600-1100 A.D. that protected the hill of Saint-Pierre (on which Cathedral St. Pierre sits).

Snow Report Geneva

In the Middle Ages buildings weren’t glued to each other.  As new fortifications and buildings were built, Passage Monetier became a passage or alley.  It took on its current route around 1300-1400 A.D. and allows access from one neighborhood to another without detours.  Without indoor plumbing alleys served as an open sewers and it probably didn’t smell great.

Snow Report Geneva

The Savoyards came along the Aarve River, assembled at Plainpalais and attacked from the back of the city.

There’s an urban myth that says the passage had something to do with the surprise attack by Savoyard troops sent by Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy during the night of 11–12 December 1602 to attack Geneva.  Alas, it is just that, a myth.  Neither attacks, nor the battle that night  took place near there.  Its opening merely serves as one of the festivities comprising L’Escalade festival which celebrates Geneva’s win and usually occurs in 12th of December.

L'Escalade à Genève, 1602. The Escalade in Gen...

L’Escalade à Genève, 1602. The Escalade in Geneva in 1602. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Tales From The Crypt

Geneva is old.  Really old.  The Allobrogians built a fortified settlement in Geneva that was conquered by the Romans in 120 BCE.   For me, pre-Roman = old.  Located at a strategic location between Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the Rhone, Julius Cesar came to Geneva on his Gallic campaign in approximately  58 BCE.   From the 1st to 4th centuries, they built a large building close to where the St.-Pierre Cathedral now stands .

Under the St.-Pierre Cathedral, in the crypt is an archaeological site.  The foundations of those original buildings are still there.   You can see the layers of building.    In the photo above, you can see the original monk’s cells on the left.  Cozy.

The site is massive, with many levels.  Some of our guests missed seeing an entire part of it when they took a wrong turn.

When I went back to look for them, I stumbled upon this gentleman (or lady).  The  hole is from the excavations searching for his or her head!

With so much history piled up in one spot, they have a handy color coded system to help you determine the age of what you are seeing.  The colored sticks correspond to different time periods.  

There’s plenty of evidence of the Romans, from mosaic floors to coins to wells.

I don’t think the coins at the bottom of this cistern date from Roman times.  I tossed one in.  It couldn’t hurt.

In the 4th–5th century, as Christianity spread across the Roman Empire and the  cluster of buildings on the hill began to include places of worship.  In 443, the Burgundians (a tribe of barbarians who invaded) took over Geneva. They made Geneva one of their capitals and the city contented to develop.  The site also developed encompassing multiple uses.

By the 9th century, cluster had grown significantly and undergone fundamental changes.  Three places of worship and annexes were built in the 4th–5th centuries.  These early christian churches have been extensively excavated.  In the 7th–8th centuries, a larger cathedral was erected.  In 1000, a monumental crypt was added and the choir extended.  The bishop built a himself a residence, a palace for him to live in.  Of course he did.

 

Frankenstein, A Swiss Character?

Once upon a time in Switzerland,  some English tourists spent an unusually cold, wet summer in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman).  The tourists weren’t just any old tourists, they were the romantics.  They wrote masterpieces, this dunce writes this blog.

English: Portrait of Mary Shelley

English: Portrait of Mary Shelley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One dark and stormy night, the literary group bet that they could write as a gothic fiction novel that was as good or better than the then-popular cheap works.  The others, Lord Byron, Percy Blythe Shelley and Claire Clairmont were all able to come up with a story quite quickly.  Mary Godwin was not.  After an evening of conversation about reanimating human bodies using electrical currents, 18 year-old Mary Godwin dreamt of corpses coming back to life and the image of Frankenstein.  She woke up and wrote a short story about her dream.

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philo...

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philosophy from William Godwin’s Political Justice. (Amelia Curran, 1819) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She ended up marrying Percy Blythe Shelley, becoming Mary Shelley.  He encouraged her to expand the short story into a full-length novel.  It became one of the greatest literary creations of the regency period and the first gothic novel.

Mary Shelley was taken with the area’s beauty, describing color of the lake, “blue as the heavens which it reflects.”  She visited many of the area’s tourist attractions and they feature in the story.

  • Victor Frankenstein is from Geneva.
  • She took the traditional iron tram from Chamonix to the The Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) on Mont Blanc.  According to legend, she used this spectacular, icy landscape as the backdrop for the meeting between Victor Frankenstein and his maker.
  • Victor Frankenstein’s home is called “Belrive.”  Villa Diodati, the manor where Byron, Shelley and company stayed, was originally named Villa Belle Rive.
  • Safie flees to Switzerland.

Les Incompetents Vol. 12 – Don’t Forget Your Train Pass

He left for work and forgot his wallet (with his public transport pass inside).  Wouldn’t you know it, that was the day the TPG (Geneva Public Transport) decided to check passengers for their passes.  In Geneva, you don’t have to show a ticket to get on a tram or bus.  Periodically, TPG officers will board busses and trams to check tickets.  They issue steep fines to riders without tickets.  Riders without any form of identification (to properly issue the fine) are taken into custody!

He had enough identification on him to allow them to check and see he had a TPG pass.  He received a fine that he will not have to pay if he brings his pass to the TPG office.  Of course, this being Switzerland, you still have to pay a small fee.

On a side note, I heard a hilarious story about one of the TPG checks.  It seems to be some sort of urban legend here.  Who knows whether or not it is true?  A woman took the only available seat on the tram next to an immigrant.  She began complaining loudly about immigrants, how they should go back home, and how generally horrible they were.   TPG officials boarded that tram and began checking tickets.  Immediately before the officials came to check their tickets, the man about whom she had been complaining grabbed her small paper ticket out of her hand, popped it in his mouth, quickly chewed and swallowed it.  When the officials came, she was without a ticket.  Proclaiming her innocence and claiming the man next to her ate her ticket was not enough to prevent her from being issued a fine.  Everyone who witnessed the incident remained silent, having been so offended by her behavior and remarks.

Geneva’s Jonction

La Jonction is the point where the Rhône River and the Aarve River converge, their confluence.  The Rhône descends from the Alps (the Rhone Glacier in Valais) into the far end of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman).  The water is then filtered while passing through deep Lake Geneva, coming out the other end an even clearer, brighter blue.

The Aarve is snowmelt directly from the Alps and is still full of sediment.  Since it didn’t spend time in the lake being warmed by the sun, it is also much colder.  Last August, I dipped my finger in in.  It was over 32 degrees (0 Celsius), but not much.  Bbrrrr.  Our friends rafted down the Rhône and said that the bottom of their raft became noticeably cooler after the confluence of the Aarve at Jonction.

They can see the drastic difference in their color and sediment at the point where they meet.  I’ve heard it described as Blue Curacao next to Bailey’s Irish Cream.  After they join, the Rhone becomes greener and cloudier.

There is a lot of natural beauty in Switzerland.  If Jonction were located elsewhere, it would probably get more attention.  Here, it has to compete with stunning mountain ranges and crystal clear lakes.

Geneve/La Jonction

Geneve/La Jonction (Photo credit: silviaN)

Jonction is also a neighborhood in Geneva, located near the rivers’ confluence, one side is bordered by the Rhône and another by the Aarve. By the way, if people tell you to meet them at Jonction on a hot day, make sure to bring a swimsuit.  The Rhône side of Jonction has a giant grassy area where people picnic and sunbathe.  They jump in the river and float downstream to cool down.  Oh yeah, they also jump off of bridges.  We’ll do it again soon.

Touring The Palais des Nations, The United Nations In Geneva

You know it’s the UN because if you squint, you can see the UN flag on top

We recently had some visitors in town (yippee).  They were the perfect excuse to tour the United Nations in Geneva, the Palais des Nations.  Guides update visitors on the current activities of the United Nations, tell its history and answer loads of questions.

The United Nations in New York hosts the legislative body.  Geneva host tons of meetings.  I’m guessing it may be easier for diplomats and delegates from certain countries to get into Switzerland than in the US.  They have hundreds of meeting rooms to host over 2700 meetings they host every year.  Many of them look like the one above.   All proceedings are translated into the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) using state of the art 70’s technology like this.

Miquel Barcelò massive sculptural installation decorates the domed ceiling of the Chamber XX of Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Although it was controversial for its $23 million price tag footed by Spain, everyone seemed to think it looked pretty sweet.  I wanted it for our apartment.

The Assembly Hall, the largest room in the Palais des Nations.  You can watch it on TV.  You are probably still more familiar with the large hall at the United Nations in New York from television and movies.

The Council Chamber, formerly housed the League of Nations and has stunning murals by José Maria Sert.  Many important negotiations have taken place in this room.  This room was home to the League of Nations and has hosted many tense negotiations.  It has two separate entrances so antagonistic negotiants can enter and leave at the same time.  They can also move the furniture around into a “V” formation (the tables in the other rooms are bolted into the floors) so that necociants don’t have to look at each other.

Go figure. Patek Philippe is the official clock of the UN in Geneva.

The gift shop is really cool and worth a visit.  I bought a board game about Switzerland in French and English!  You can also purchase and mail post cards from there (they will go out with the official UN stamp).

Gifts presented by various countries to the United Nations Office at Geneva are on display.  They are pretty sweet.  Germany gave this Günther Uecker picture made from nails.

Out in front of the building (at the Nations TPG public transit stop) is the famous Broken Chair sculpture by Daniel Berset.  The chair’s fourth leg is broken off, leaving shards of jagged wood, yet it doesn’t tip.  The damaged leg symbolizes the suffering of land mine victims.    I run by there often.  Between the chair, the fountain and the demonstrators that are usually around, it’s always interesting.

How Do You Know When Spring Has Arrived In Geneva? Check The Chestnut In Old Town

How do you know spring has arrived?  Flowers, spring showers, sundresses or swimming in the lake?  In Geneva’s old town, there is a tree, a chestnut, that is the official harbinger of spring.  Well, maybe it’s only the quasi-official harbinger, but it’s good enough.  In Geneva’s Old Town, on the Promenade de la Treille, is a tree whose first bud marks the official arrival of spring (Marronnier Officiel).  It’s known as “l’eclosion” which translates as “the hatching” or “the blooming” but in this case means “the budding.”

The first bud was charted since 1808!  It has always come sometime between January and the beginning of April, varying considerably (but generally getting progressively earlier).  This year, it arrived on March 13!  It’s official, spring is here.

Since observations began, several trees have been used.  The original from 1818  to 1905, the second from until 1928,  and the current since 1929.  The current tree is so bent over that it has to be propped up with a pole.

In 1808, Marc-Louis Rigaud-Martin began recording the tree’s first bud, likely out of a kind of scientific curiosity.  Since 1818, all the dates have been recorded on a parchment-roll in a special place in Geneva’s State Council chamber.

Workers of the city stroll past the tree over periodically during the key months and even use binoculars to examine the tree in greater detail.  Once, an employee hastily returned from vacation during exceptionally warm weather to avoid missing it!  They know exactly where on the tree to look as the first buds always appear on the eastern side.

Our Favorite Trees In Geneva

Geneva has Platanus, planes, or plane trees.  They are a hybrid of a couple of different types of Sycamore trees.  These ornamental trees are common here in Europe.

Their umbrella like branches provide shade and line country roads, promenades and town squares.  If not pruned back, they can grow quite large.

Everyone who visits remarks on the trees.  The produce lush foliage, are majestic and lend an elegant air to the lakeside.  However, most visitors are intrigued by/interested in its bark, which has a mottled, scaly appearance.  Mature bark peels off in irregularly shaped patches.

Plane trees have a storied history along roadsides in this area.  Napoleon ordered their extensive planting on roadsides so that he could take advantage of their grand canopies to keep his marching army cool.

Unfortunately, a fungus is attacking them.  During WWII, US soldiers brought munition boxes made from a US version of the tree.  They carried with them a fungus that has been attacking the trees and has spread.

Geneva’s trees look unaffected.  They prune them back in the fall after their leaves have fallen.  With their interesting bark and elegant shape,  we like the look of them in winter too.  Heck, we like them in spring and fall as well.

 

Geneva Auto Show

Many US cities have auto shows (Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Portland, Minnesota’s Minneapolis/Twin Cities, Orange County (OC), New York, Miami, South Florida, St. Louis, Richmond, Los Angeles (LA), Seattle, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Silicon Valley).  Click here for a 2012 auto show schedule and here for a list of Motor Trend shows.  He has even been to the Detroit show several times.  I’ve never been, so I was excited to see what it was all about.  The Geneva Motor Show is held at Palexpo every March.

Last Friday, we had date night.  I picked him up after work, but didn’t tell him where we were headed.  Tickets to the Geneva Auto Show (officially known as the 82nd International Motor Show and Accessories) are half price after 4:00 p.m., so it was cheaper to go to the car show than to go to a movie!  Although we know people who spent days there, a few hours was enough time for us to hit the highlights.  He was pretty excited when he realized where we were headed and we had a really good time.

“You got cars, they got rims.” There were countless booths filled with rims.

The show isn’t just cars, there is also a hall full of accessories booths.  From rims, to tools to garage doors, to car washes, it has just about everything auto-related you can imagine.  Walking through that hall, he said it reminded him of a trade show.

These doors are made to be opened by your driver.

Since this is Geneva, there were luxury cars galore.

Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?

I loved the matte paint job.

BMW 6 Series Grand Coupe

Despite the hype about the new Bentley SUV, the only thing we liked about the car was its sweet rims. We predict you will see these on Cribs soon.

You can see their appointment to the queen in the top right corner. He liked the Aston Martins better.

The name is Bond, James Bond. Yeah, baby.

Car enthusiasts were jazzed about the new concept cars (also known as prototypes), cars made to showcase new styling or technology .  Many of them were electric.  While these are not yet on the market, they provide a glimpse into what what we’ll see in the future.

BMW i8 Concept Car

The American Car companies were there and they offered great value for the money, running much less than comparable European models.

Chinese automakers were also there.  I’ve seen several SsangYong‘s around Geneva.

Some booths offered entertainment like foosball or a simulated driving game.

He was expecting to see more models, but apparently they only hire models in evening gowns and cocktail dresses for the press days and special events. The cars were the real eye candy.  The sports cars were some of the biggest attractions; they just looked sweet.

Kids loved this car.

Many of the exhibitors restored or modified cars.  I have never seen as many flip-up doors.  It was like a giant episode of Pimp My Ride.

Some of the modifications were more useful.

You can buy cars at the auto show.  Each of us decided on the three we wanted.  His top three: Aston Martin (any of them), the Jeep Cherokee and the Tesla Sedan.

Being small, I love a small car.  I wanted a Mini and any Lotus.  Although I am sure this phrase has never been written, for my third, the Maybach edged out the Smart Car.  The champagne in the back helped sell me.

Sorry Smart, you lost by a nose. If it is any consolation, I am more likely to buy you in real life since I can’t afford a Maybach.