The Argentine

Trip Start May 14, 2012
1
56
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Switzerland  , Geneva,
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

While I wake relatively rested and cat-fur free, my back wants to punish me for accepting a spot on the hardwood floor. Vertebrae, scapula, coccyx - there is a civil war somewhere. Yannick, Matylda and Maria are still asleep so I lie still for as long as I can. 

My body is used to waking up early but the traveling lifestyle doesn't seem to think this a necessary trait; I usually attempt catching as much shut-eye as the circumstances/biological clock allow. But sooner than expected Yannick stirs and offers some tea. 

I look around his obviously kitchen-less apartment but don't want to ask too many questions - I wouldn't be surprised if he opened some closet to pull out a stove or fridge. Tea isn't really my thing but I accept his offer anyway (it doesn't really take that much effort to prep an extra cup). He smiles, grabs his pants and trips down the cafe to the cafe two blocks down.
 
If I had known it was that much trouble I probably would have gotten one myself.
 
Maria and Matylda hear the commotion and begin their individual rituals. By the time they walk out of the room Yannick's returned, tea and baguettes for all. The girls eat quickly and head out to see the sights - as for me, I've got a bit of checking on the laptop before I do the same. You see, I've come to Geneva with a bit of a mission. I have an Argentine to find.
 
Jorge Luis Borges was an exceptional writer with staggering ideas for his time. Though he was writing in the first half of this century, his short stories (he never wrote a novel) aptly anticipated aspects of postmodern theory, philosophical debate and even the world wide web. From his crowded apartment in Buenos Aires he attempted to mirror the famous Aleph of his eponymous tale: a single point where the entire world may be percieved (or critically analyzed, as it were) simultaneously. 
 
I've been a large Borges fan for an number of years and was delighted, while still in Calgary, to read his biography and discovery how many of the places he frequented over his life are also on my itinerary. Particularly compelling was the interest he took in Iceland in his later years. He lived in Geneva during some of his adolescence and chose it as his place of death. And here he is, buried in this very city. There is a beauty.
 
There are a few local graveyards but Borges' body rests in the Cimitere-des-Rois, a noble-sounding plot near downtown. Yannick asks if I need to take a map with me, but I think I'll meander for a while. I bit him adieu and hit the street toward a nearby grocery store to grab food for lunch and supper. I'm glad they take Euros here - I forgot that Switzerland, like the UK, still supports a local currency (Swiss Francs).
 
Time to get lost.
 
Geneva's a great place to do just that - the city is beautiful if not overly-huge. You can see the Alps from certain streets, even if they aren't very tall in this region. On a clear day you can see as far as Mont Blanc but it's pretty overcast at the moment. I walk north along the river until I hit the old city, which is so used to tourists the shopkeepers are very likely to help foreigners - you can ask just about any Carl, Georg or Hans and they'll let you know where to go. One lets me know the cemetary is nearby.
 
The Cimitere-des-Rois holds some other important folk - John Calvin to name one. It's not as large a plot as some of the cemeteries my dad and I passed in Paris, but it's wide enough to wander for a while trying to find a specific grave.
 
Then I see it.
 
I wasn't expecting the way I caught my breath between my teeth. Or the force with which both cheeks hit pebble path across from the grave. I've seen pictures of it in the biography, but this is different. In front of me. I wasn't expecting how I didn't move. Not for a while. I ate baguettes. Wrote in my journal. Prayed. He was a man - just a man.
 
Words like "highlight" can be absurd. There's a peculiar brand of peace that refuses to stand for scrutiny. It lies in bed with some kind of river, one with steely undertow. There's much to like in this city. There's much to overlook. I look at the stone slab and think through the ways that this is all quite ordinary.
  
But the lake in the centre of town. The giant geyser in the middle of the port. The swans in the canals. The bicycles and bicycle lanes. Mountains. Cobblestone streets on steep. Jugglers in the park. Tourists in the park. Kids in the park. Ancient architecture. Squares filled with dozens of giant chessboards. Psychologists after psychiatrists after psychologists. And the one, lone Argentine who hijacked my head.

This is all quite ordinary.
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