As we entered Geneve I had already been watching the black stormclouds pile higher and higher in the sky. Karina was sleeping in the back of the van, and the Swiss border guards didnt seem too interested in my people smuggling. I found a parking spot in the centre right on the lake promenade, the nearby 120m high waterjet fountain near the lakes western end a handy reference point. I woke Karina up and we made our way to a lakeside van cafe just as the storm unleashed in torrential downpour of rain wind and lightning that the cafe’s canvas annexe couldnt hold back.
I’d been to Geneve a few times before, the first time when my Easyjet flight was predictibly late causing me to miss my bus to the ski field and forcing me to spend the night there. I remember walking the streets on a Friday night thinking, “what a quiet, dull town” as I searched in vain for a busy bar. However, on subsequent trips friends have shown us a different side to the town, of bars run by squatters and upmarket eateries. We caught up with our good friend Ernst, a longtime Geneve resident, UN worker(IT at UNHCR), and effortlessly multi-lingual, who has been a knowlegable guide for us in the past on all things Swiss. The lucky dog had a charming new girlfriend, Florence, and seemed in good spirits when we met him for some lebanese food in the Paquis district. We were also joined by our friend Soli, who we shared a chaotic flat with in London way back in 2000. Another annoying multilinguist, she had moved there from Genoa a year and a half ago on a company transfer and seemed to be really enjoying it. In fact, a lot of the people we talked to, americans italians and french, all seemed to like Geneve so I reckon the city must have something going for it. Great skiing on your doorstep doen’t hurt either. We were all a little hungover so it was a relatively early night, though on a sunny morning the next day we caught up Soli and some of her shipping brokerage mates for coffee at a nearby cafe.
Geneve doesnt tend to dub it’s movies as often as they do in France, so Karina and I went to see Sex & the City. Like an extra long tv episode, it managed to take product placement to levels not seen since the Pokemon movie. That evening was the day of the Lake Parade, a techno parade and party similar to Zurich or Berlin’s Love Parade. We had a cycle down to have a look at it, following the trail of empty beer cans to the lake’s southern shore where there were about 2 dozen floats anchored along a road playing different sorts of dance music. Some people had taken the trouble to put the full rave gear on, and there were a few big trannys around that were hard on the eyes. It seemed a little bit incoherent, with more people walking in search of god knows what instead of stopping and dancing. Karina and I had a dance for a whil, but her legs were a bit tired after carting the bikes down the mountain in Chamonix, so we left early. We caught up with Ernst and Florence at a traditional Brasserie and sunk beer from 5 litre dispensers. Ernst noticed some arab looking bloke leaning back in his chair and fishing around suspiciously near Florence’s handbag. Upon being noticed he cheekily got up and sat near a group of americans and started doing the same thing. I wasn’t having this and yelled at him from across the restaurant to piss off, which he did but his smile revealed that it want before snatching one of their wallets. In hindsight, I wouldnt be surprised if the waiter was in on it too.
The next day Ernst invited us to the Montreaux Jazz Festival, on at the time about 80km around on the north side of the lake. Leading us at our usual 85kmh all the way must have been a new experience for him. Rain and low cloud persisted, and pretty Montreux wasnt at it’s best as we cruised in singing Smoke on the Water. Herbie Hancock was playing that night and we splashed out as an English bloke was selling his excess tickets, and I really wanted to take the chance to see one of the greats. Herbie had played piano in one of Mile’s legendary quintets. It was a cookin’ show, mixing some of his classics with some Joni Mitchell song, and he had two exellent female singers in the band and Beninese guitarist who did some beat box stuff as well. Ersnt has thoughtfully brought along a bottle champagne to kick things off. After Herbie, Chaka Khan was next on the bill. She had turned into a big, slightly scary-looking soul mama. Her band was really tight as she belted out her big numbers, though her voice what it had lost in range seemed to compensate in volume. We moved off to the wings, and had a dance with Florence and Ernst before retiring for the night, Ersnt back to Geneve and us in the local carpark.