It's a crisp clear Swiss winter day. Geneva looks beautiful in the pale sun. That sun, which feels like a slowly failing 20 watt bulb, is the second clearest sign I'm a long way from the New South Wales I left behind on Monday afternoon. The clearest sign is that it's -2°C here, which is essentially 32° difference to the Sydney summer day I departed from. I wear a coat for the first time in almost 2 years.
It's my first time in Geneva, surprisingly, but being amidst the effortlessly elegant Mittel-European urban form again is a delightful confirmation of certain beliefs after getting all-too accustomed to the New World sprawls of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Bikes, trams, 4-5 storey apartment blocks, pocket parks and quietly civic squares everywhere - it's all so right, even given that Geneva is far from the best example. The other, more institutional bits of Geneva feel more like one's living amidst the giant sets of Tati's Playtime, which a part of me would be entirely happy to do.
The relative proximity of Africa, rather than that of South-East Asia, is visible in the faces around me on the streets. The flat northern European colour-scheme of white, brown, grey and black across the textures of stone, brick, bare trees and filigreed overcast sky is a subtle and beautiful counterpoint to the intense light and rich colours of Australia. I'm lucky to live in both these worlds.
I also encounter 3 examples of haughty Swiss brusqueness in quick succession, from airport to taxi to hotel, which is a shock after the naturally easy-going and friendly Australian service culture. Still, I'm back in the country of my birth and I can live with this. My Swiss-ness is something I've continually over-stressed, entirely out of proportion to the <2 years I spent here after my birth in Zürich, and have spent much of my adult life adulating the likes of Josef Muller-Brockmann, Le Corbusier, Max Bill, Jan Tschichold, Herzog & De Meuron, Peter Zumthor, Claudio Sulser. The coffee's predictably poor, given its French heritage, but I can forgive almost all these foibles given the sheer delight of being in a country with the world's finest array of door handles, locks, window fittings and banknotes.
This is the pleasurable sense of disorientation I'm feeling. The less pleasurable aspects are due to the fact it took me 4 days to get here, when it should've taken just over 24 hours. This is due partly to 3 malfunctions across 2 different planes on the runway at Bangkok airport, but mainly due to the ineptitude of British Airways and Thai Airlines, which shuttled us backwards and forwards from runway to airport hotel numerous times. It was a bravura performance of truly appalling 'customer service', a cavalcade of unthinking, desperate, flailing, inhumane incompetence, all too familiar when encountering the raw edges often left exposed by global capital.
The journey ends up being Sydney to Bangkok to Hong Kong to London to Geneva, the last 4 airports all experienced within in 1 day. Despite the intense fatigue, hassle and frustration - which eventually left me drained of anger and resolving into a zen-like state of near-calm, as if the body itself was beginning to fade - I did at least get to explore Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (pretty good; wonderful concrete alongside giant stretched-taut silver canvas loops; not enough places to sit; over-staffed shops (not a bad thing necessarily); no wi-fi), Hong Kong (night-time descent along the lights of Macau; currently being re-modelled but still delivering a sense of massive; cavernous escalator-threaded atria; great automated transit; old people working everywhere; good shops and good food; good free wi-fi all over the airport), London Heathrow Terminal 5 (disclaimer: Arup worked on it; actually surprised by how much I liked it; also good automated transit; the finish of many details was very good; beautiful exposed structural details; the shops entirely out of kilter with the times (a glance down the departure lounge: Prada, Harrods; Dior; Mappin & Webb; Smythson; Tiffany & Co ... all predictably empty); wi-fi everywhere but not free and therefore not used) and finally Geneva (classic small European airport; functional, efficient and pleasingly so; concourse roof being remodelled presumably; no need for automated transit or shops; surrounded by Alps and so a wonderful arrival:departure experience.)
The 4-day journey is actually much longer story, which I'll spare you in detail, but it did inadvertently provide me with the opening few minutes of my speech at the Lift 09 conference. For that's why I'm here in Geneva.