Jul 13, 2011

Of a certain pond called Lake Geneva

Tick, tick, tick, the time is flying by. Tick, tick, tick, almost two months have flewn by in this city where even the air smells of money - Geneva. Tick, tick, tick, those tiny reliable hands of all the Swiss watches continue racing in circles... but at the same time these two months have been full of novel tastes and activities that make it seem as if I've been living here forever.

Geneva. It is a lake city, which for me is almost equal to a sea city. Satisfied with the mountains, I had dashed to the Atlantic coast in the beginning of May in Morocco to smell some salty ocean air and fight the waves with the help of a surfboard in Essaouira.

Back on the supercontinent of Eurasia and still on holiday, I managed to pull together a team of people to rent a yacht for an evening and go sailing tourist style on Lake Geneva. It had been almost ten years since my hands had last grabbed the rope, but some reflexes apparently never disappear. The most important of them all - ducking suddenly when the sail even hints at the change of wind - aquired on a small one-teenager boat where getting a hard hit on the head by the boom and going for a surprise swim (and learning the lesson of why you should always wear a life vest) is an running joke, because most beginners in the history of the sailing camp I went to learned ducking in time the hard way.

A month later, once again on holiday, I was taking a break from chilling out by hanging out on my regular late afternoon hangout time on my regular hangout spot on the grassy beach of Creux-de-Genthod. All of a sudden, some sailors approached, looking for crew members to help them take their 1903-style yacht on the lake for the evening. How could I have said no to free sailing class with snacks, tea and white wine included?

At other times, one of my pastimes was to watch the baby ducks that had recently crawled out of their eggs plod in a line behind their mum, growing fluffier feather coats by the day and then all of a sudden - apparently I had been away and busy for a month - be big, strong and almost flying. Or I would keep a keen eye on my sandwich while reading and writing, because there would be someone else keeping a keen eye on it: a duck mum who's inching closer and pretending to look away until being forced to flee by a duck dad sneaking in for a rape attack in the hopes of making a new little fluffy nestling of plodding creatures. The social interaction patterns between the ducks of this bay are intricate.

Or we would rent a kayak and try to go as far as we could get with a mission of paddling to Montreux on the other end of the lake, having only two days at hand. We got as far as Yvoire and then some, which makes a little under a third of the lake's length. Having prepared more for pleasure than for sport, it was an exhausting two-day exercise nonetheless, particularly on the way back with the wind and the waves against us most of the time. Even the second morning started off beautifully, with hot sunny weather and the emerald green lake as smooth as a mirror. The treacherous sky around Mont Blanc rarely has mercy on the domain of this tremendous shiny watchman. An all too familiar surprise-storm transformed the mirror into an enchanting pool of quicksilver with metal spikes protruding from its surface wherever any of the billion heavy raindrops hit it. The chilly wind and the waves sloshing into the cockpit across the edge arrived later in the evening. The lake started demanding more attention. Fortunately we'd already done enough sightseeing to be tired of pointing at the villas of the rich Swiss, because by this time it was clear that those on the French side were much cuter. I knew which castle I wanted to buy and I was able to direct my affection fully to the water all around me.

Packing for pleasure and in haste made for an interesting survival course. Unpacking in the evening on a narrow strip of a pebble beach in order to build a bed under the stars and a fire to cook on revealed the lack of any kitchen gear. At lunch, in order to get the spaghetti covered in gooey tomato sauce from the pot into the mouth without the amazing eating skills of the Indians who eat without tools, we quickly improvised some chopsticks after a prompt glance in the direction of the nearest bush. Now, to boil pasta, the best option was to scavenge an empty coca-cola tin from the bin, add it to the one we'd actually bought and then collect a third one from under a bush for tea. Half a plastic spoon was to be picked up from under the pebbles and rubbed with sand in the lake, but fortunately several bits of wood, polished by water, presented themselves in time for dinner and proved efficient enough so that I could avoid that icky piece of used plastic. Keeping an eye open for possible plates, I couldn't help giggling when I found myself staring at a shovel propped up against the fisherman's shed, contemplating washing off the rust and adding it to our marvellous collection of silverware.

Eventually, the pasta boiled on coals inside coca-cola tins and glued onto slabs of tree bark by melted Parmesan, and a side dish of grilled veggies, must have been the most delicious, interesting and filling camping meal I've ever eaten. I had a hard time finishing the carrots that we eventually had to warm up in the morning and eat with freshly-caught perch for breakfast. For my morning coffee, of course, we needed to paddle into civilization. A good thing about small muscle powered vehicles such as a kayak is that it's easy to sneak it into a harbour or onto a swimming-only beach without disturbing anyone or paying for parking.

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