Pardon my French

‘I’m going to Switzerland’, I say to my boss. ‘Where’s that?’ he replied, unknowingly. ‘In Europe someplace’, I reply, lapsing into Americanisms to hide my disgust at his ignorance. ‘There’s a lot of hills there, and cuckoo clocks, and a really really frizzed-out system of medieval demarchy in their local government.’ My boss looked at me. He always looks at me like that. ‘Very well’, he says. ‘Off you trot.’

Two days and several hundred miles of car journey later myself and my extended family arrive in Savoy. Not Switzerland. Although the first paragraph of this despatch is made up, it is quite true that I thought the holiday was in Switzerland until we actually stopped outside the holiday house in France, which is where Savoy is. An inauspicious start. I recovered myself and made for the bookcase. My mind was blown. Here was a collection of DVDs so phenomenal that I could not fail to be entertained. It was a collection designed with the twentysomething male in mind and body; every conceivable sort of gang, drug and zombie movie, with the occasional eighties nonsense and feeble fratboy comedy hurled in. By way of an added bonus, the bookcase also contained books, including the complete works of Orwell and H. G. Wells’ total, unexpurgated gigastory ‘The Time Machine’. I couldn’t have been happier. I wouldn’t have to engage in human contact for two whole weeks.

Contrariwise, my normal source of antisocial behaviour was all gone away. There was no internet. The only internet was on Phone, and Phone was only letting me have internet for a very not paltry £3 a megabyte. It was horrendous. I am addicted to the internet. The withdrawal symptoms meant I saw a baby crawling across the ceiling towards me- and because I didn’t have the internet I couldn’t even check what film that’s a reference to. I was trapped in deluge of ignorance and I had no idea what to do. What literally does one do without the internet? I can only assume read books and watch television, since, with the exception of talking to people and looking round ancient monuments and ruins and shiz, that is exactly what I spent my time doing.

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Things to see. Savoy juts out like a muffin top underneath the great grey-green greasy Lake Geneva, and so it’s easy to look at Swiss towns and cities north of le lac, as they call it. Geneva. A modest town with much to be modest about, except for the colossal spurt of fountain right in the middle of it. This astonishing landmark pierces the skyline and sets the tone for the city, which is festooned with fountains in every other cranny. Rarely, the fountains will stop at the same time and make everything eerily quiet. But they soon come back on again and give us the impression we are walking in a sort of lakeside-shaped urinal.

On the subject of peace- and I assure you the potential pun of that only came home to me after I wrote it- Geneva is World Capital (Europe) of Peace Things. Footling around the town centre, one comes across a socking great fortress which is, one is told, the former headquarters of the League of Nations. More importantly it is the subsidiary base of today’s United Nations. I go in. Inside is a cavernous entrance hall constructed, with almost banterous absurdity, in 1939. Way to go guys. The hall of peace, I believe it is genuinely called, and what a piece of unpassable peace-piss it is. League of Nations. Epic fail. Never has the slang of the late noughties Facebook generation been more relevant to the Great Power diplomacy of the post-Anschluss eon.

I hope you’re keeping up at the back there with the historical references, because now we go into the main hall of the building. This is where modern-day conferences are held, and have been ever since the UN took over the building in 1946. The seats are very comfortable. They allow a stunning view of the assembly hall. At the front is a great stage, with the UN logo graffitied on top of it. I can just imagine Giscard, Brezhnev, Vance and Callaghan slogging it out beneath the dim strobe lighting. I refer to seventies figures because the whole thing really pongs of seventy-something. Concrete stairwells, hideous lino patina, a rather freakish crack in one of the ceilings- all these point to Cold War diplomacy and a hopeless sense of inadequate architecture. I come away depressed. If this is Europe’s offering to international diplomacy, then may the Lord have mercy on us all.

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Since it’s part of France, Savoy retains an indefatigable legion of fat men in ill-fitting polo shirts flogging militaria in roadside markets. But since it’s part of France, it also sports a distressing splodge of buffery. ie., when I went white-water rafting, the load of people who did it were divided into two camps. It was the French (tanned, twenty, and with the colouring and features of a peak-fitness Schwarzenegger) versus the British (fat, fifty, and with the colouring and features of a jaundiced badger). In the concordant splashing and rowing that went on, the Northern races were thoroughly put to task.

I can’t believe I’m so close to the end, there’s simply heaps to tell you. The mountains, they had this sort of greenish rim to them and accrued cloud, so gave off a very jungly feel when viewed from a distance. One of the more intelligent things done by the builders of this area had been to have an admittedly thimble-like swimming pool tacked to the side of the house. It wasn’t heated, so I only went in it once, and then for about thirty seconds. Still, lying beside it on hotter days enabled hillgazing on a dramatic scale. Presumably this is how the Finns feel, all the time. Fir trees pilfering theskyline and beside you a nice, clean pool of glassy water. It was very nice. Unfortunately there was a good deal of time occupied by rain, whereupon we would scoop up our towels, batten down our hatches and stay in to watch the F1. Holiday!