Friday, June 15, 2012

A Literary Pilgrimage

Hey, where'd those mountains go?
The best day of my trip to Switzerland began with a grey dawn and a cool dampness in the thin mountain air. Unfettered, I dressed in layers and marched to the station. The only train that stops there is called the Mountain Train. I took it down the mountain to a larger station with more options, including service to Geneva.

The total journey took about 2 hours and for much of it, I had pretty views of the lake.

I spent the ride reading and thinking about Mary Shelley. Switzerland, and more precisely Lake Geneva, interested me ever since I first read Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus a decade ago. 

Going to the place where the book was written and where the title character, Victor Frankenstein, grew up just felt like something I should do. 

Jet d'eau

When I arrived I made my way down to the water to get my bearings. I'd looked at a map online (millions of times) beforehand, so I knew that the Jet d'eau (a giant spout of water in the corner of the lake) would have to be on my left while I walked about 40 minutes (thanks Google) around the lake to Cologny.

No sooner had I stepped onto the paved path that hugs the lake than the clouds dispersed. A bright yellow sun sparkled down. The steel colored lake turned to diamonds. 

Perfect weather for exploring Switzerland on foot. 

Joggers, walkers, and moms with strollers went by with many bonjours. I got to pet dogs.

In June of 1816 Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron at Villa Belle Rive in Cologny, a suburb of Geneva. It's the Beverly Hills of Geneva, full of expensive mansions with tall privacy gates.

They make it so easy.

Making the pilgrimage was the main reason I went on this trip yet at no point was I concerned it would be a disappointment. The Serendipitous Swiss Vibes wouldn't allow for negativity. And you'll be pleased to know they didn't steer me wrong. Not once.

Plaque on the main house.

I simply followed the lake until I saw signs for Cologny. Then I climbed up steep hills until I reached the thoroughfare of Cologny. There I found the above map. It very clearly showed where I was and where Villa Diodati was. I noted the two turns I'd  need to make and continued on.

I walked the streets Mary Shelley walked, though they are much smoother and easier on the feet now. If you can ignore the security cameras and the water jet added to the lake in 1886, you can imagine what she saw. I cannot explain why I wanted to do that so badly, but I wasn't disappointed.

Front Entrance

Today, the house they occupied is called Villa Diodati and it's owned by a private resident who 
does not-at this time-allow visitors or tours of the home. Not even for very polite American writers traveling alone and who have a purely scholastic interest in seeing where one of her favorite written works was born.

Sign explaining the history of the house.

Though I couldn't get into the house itself, they have a large public park right next to the gated and tree surrounded estate. The park allowed the traveling American writer girl to mildly stalk the place where Frankenstein came to life. 

View of the Villa from my park bench.
It may be hard to believe a dark tale of horror, unchecked obsession and revenge was conceived there. Seriously, butterflies flitted around the flower bushes while a girl sat in her boyfriend's lap laughing on a bench not far from mine. 

But it was a dismal rainy period which plagued Mary Shelley and her companions. The bad weather forced them indoors and they decided to make up ghost stories to entertain each other.


View of Lake Geneva from the same bench.

Of course, I had my favorite copy of Frankenstein in my bag and I did read some of it but I spent most of my time writing. 

I wrote 1,500 words on that bench. It was only hunger and wanting to make the train leaving at seven which finally got me to stop.

Back entrance

I took a different route when I left, which was lucky. I found a great spot for not-so-obstructed pictures. 

View from the lake.

I still have my fingers crossed that someday the current owner of Villa Diodati will allow tours. Maybe for the 200 anniversary of the events of 1816 or of Frankenstein's publication in 1818. 

Until then I'll settle for this. 

The lake was beyond anything my camera in all of its purple glory could hope to capture. I took my time walking back. Stopped for a scoop of Swiss Ice Cream. And I felt I understood why Mary Shelley chose it as Victor Frankenstein's home. His was an ideal childhood. His parents were affectionate, happy and wealthy. He was so spoiled they even adopted a pretty blonde girl for him to marry.

As you can see from these pictures growing up in proximity to Lake Geneva was definitely a factor.

Lake Geneva


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