Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Ecumenical World in 2029…and other new experiences

So, the Future Conference happened (and Geneva wasn't destroyed by the big bang while we were gone, to my great disappointment). It went smoothly, if not exactly the way we imagined it would, and we all had a good bit of fun (and an appropriate dose of frustration) trying to imagine CEC and the European Ecumenical Scene in 2029. Feeling that the creative possibilities had not been sufficiently explored by the participants, I drew 11 pictures related to the conference theme. Maybe one day I will publish them, but not right now (I don't have a scanner, quite apart from anything else).

Back in Geneva, it turned cold. The heating wasn't on at home or at work for several days and instead it was time to don scarves and fleeces and talk endlessly about how the autumn had arrived. There are also 6 new kittens at the ecumenical centre, which have been a common topic lunchtime conversations. They are exceedingly cute. AND the biggest news of the week after the conference was that we HAVE A FLAT. Now I shouldn't shout too loudly about that, because we haven't yet signed the paperwork. But, and we've been assured at least four times now, everything is in place for us to move in October and it's roomy and it's near work and I've *even* found a lovely family who are willing to sell us all their worldly possessions (by which I mean, mostly, furniture). So we are…nearly…sorted…*PHEW*

In fact, just around the time that I was feeling sad on account of not being able to go and sing for this with Selwyn choir, I also managed to join the English church choir here in Geneva, which seems to do some fun things, at a good standard, and where (the world is a small place) I immediately got introduced to an ex-Selwyn Organ Scholar. Geneva really is just a big melting pot. It's not managed to melt me yet though :)

After my completely crazy week of being out all the time, and the exhaustion that followed the Future Conference, I have not really been up to much recently. However, I have been busy arranging things related to our flat, thinking about holidays for later in the year, and suchlike important matters. And sleeping, which my brain tends to need after a day battling with financial support applications and constructing a website…
I have also managed to attend my first Geneva-ish event, which involved going to the International Conference Centre yesterday evening and hearing Joschka Fischer, a German political whizz, talking about the Role of the E.U. Quite interesting, especially his reflections on the current crises in the world, and where the EU stands in relation to those. A wise man indeed.

That's enough for now ;-)
I leave you with this remark…

Isn't it disturbing that Googlemail succeeds in reading the contents of your inbox so as to generate relevant advertisements? It unnerves me.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Big Bang, Geneva. Be there or miss out (on the black hole)

This week in Geneva: "could unlock the secrets of the universe"

See here

I thought the answer to the universe was 42. But maybe it's a special kind of 42…

Future + Conference = Now

When people asked me what my job was in Geneva, I tended to say it was about helping to organise one conference which is happening next July. As usual, this is only a sort of truth…in fact, there are several stages in preparation for that one big conference. The first preparatory event is happening this coming week, and is called the Future Conference. Essentially, it's about the future of our organisation, and the ecumenical movement in Europe in general…as if that could be solved in 3 days ;-)
Realistically, though, it's us trying out a 'futures workshop'. We've got a bunch of international, intergenerational, intergeneric participants. And they're going to set their ideas flowing onto the walls, floors and ceilings of the conference centre, as far as I've understood. I did ask if we needed to take pasta shapes for increased collage potential, but apparently this is not required. Still, it should be exciting to observe (if not so much to administrate…) and I will hopefully be able to write something a bit more detailed after it's happened. Who knows, maybe the world's problems will be solved…

In Chamonix I saw a Tree…

At 11.15 I was in central Geneva. 10 minutes later, the tram dumped me outside a building which, had I not known better, would have looked like a station that had not been in use for a good ten years: the Gare des Eaux Vives: a French railway station in Switzerland. This is not the kind of place one expects to find in Switzerland, least of all Geneva, indeed the last time I saw a station even vaguely similar was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in rural France near Le Puy... Still, in I went. Inside was a lino-floored hall containing six orange plastic railway seats and a pay phone. One door led to "acces au quai" and the other to "espace vente". There was no-one to be seen, no departures board, and no announcements, just a printed timetable on the wall. The railway line was overgrown, and there was an automatic ticket machine that looked like it had been there since the 1960s. Actually, it almost certainly had. Anyway, since I didn't have a ticket yet, I went through to the 'espace vente' and sat in the waiting area while an old man conversed with the one man in the ticket office about various journeys he wanted to make at some stage, and whether he could have a senior fare and a first class seat. Eventually, he finished his long ramblings. I bought my ticket for Chamonix-Mont Blanc and was told to wait patiently and that the train would be on platform 1 (which was no surprise, as there was only the one platform in use). Feeling slightly as if I had taken a step back in time, I popped to the boulangerie across the road to purchase some lunch, and then gathered with the few other people who had turned up in the waiting area. There was a sign fixed to the wall on our way out to the platform that said "Customs: nearest manned border Moillesulaz. Permission to pass with: valid ticket for travel; goods: nothing to declare." Since we then didn't pass any kind of border on the train, I guess that WAS the border.
At 12.01 a train pulled into the platform. There was no announcement, but we hopped on, and one minute later, it left. There weren't many people, so the train was quiet and I enjoyed reading my book and watching the countryside get steadily prettier as we headed towards the alps. Until, that is, one of the in-the-middle-of-nowhere stations, where a rather bizarre Tunisian man got onto the train. People often decide to talk to me on trains, and this was bound to happen at some point on the journey. In this case, it was because I was reading a book and therefore, he surmised, I must be intelligent and able to help him with his life's problems (uh-oh, thinks I, but by now it is impossible to pretend I don't understand French…). So the guy proceeds to launch into telling me his entire life story (which I will spare you) which, in short, involved a rather complex problem with some french bureaucracy (quel surprise) and ask me whether I think that he will be successful in his fight against said bureaucracy's injustices. So I told him that logically he was in the right but his chances of winning were slim. This seemed to satisfy him, and as he was only travelling two stops, he had to get off the train again. So I was able to return to my book, and the mountians, for a few minutes, before getting off the train at St Gervais Les Bains, and changing for the little mountain train to Chamonix (via some exciting viaduct scenery). At Chamonix, Helen was there to meet me and take me to her little chalet in le tour, together with her mother, uncle and walking-friend-with-broken-leg, Nick. I heard all about their last week of glacier-climbing, and accidents (yes, plural!) and then the adults headed off to take Nick to the airport, and Helen and I drank tea, watched Walk the Line, chatted and watched the rain pour down outside, before the adults were back and we went to eat lots of cheeeeeese in a restaurant just down the road. And sleep. It was just what I needed after a busy week, lovely to see Helen, and in nicer weather would be a beautiful place indeed. Hopefully I might make it back again in the ski season ;-)

An ecumenical monsoon

This last week was rather a deluge in many ways. So much so, in fact, that I didn't open the fridge once between last Sunday evening and this afternoon. Here's why…

First, on Sunday evening, George(ina) arrived to visit for the week. She had just been in Taizé where it transpired that she had been ill nearly all week…and had come to discover the delights of the ecumenical centre and the genevan bookshops. So we had some dinner and a natter to catch up on everything that had happened since we met in london in April.

Secondly, on Monday, two new staff arrived in the office as well as many more coming back from holidays. One of these was Johan, the other intern, from Sweden, with whom I am eventually supposed to be sharing a flat. Also, the arrival of all these extra people, coupled with it being only a week before our conference and less than a week before the big Press Officers' meeting that the communications office were orgainising, necessarily meant that things got rather busier than they had been. Johan's arrival meant an invitation to eat homemade Italian at Luca's place (a good excuse for him to tidy up, apparently…) so we had the first of several crazy evenings with Sma, George, and Johan (and Luca). Yum.

Tuesday brought more stress in the office and not much excitement otherwise, although in the evening we went to Smaranda's for pizza. Which was tasty. And a good giggle. Especially as there were two large, and apparently Swedish-speaking, moths in Sma's very small apartment. Source of endless amusement…

Wednesday was raining. Hard. With thunder and lightning. And we finally got enough things working on the database for next week's conference, that we were able to create 90 individual PDF files, and attach them to 90 individual emails, together with various other attachments and a personalised blurb to go along with them. Inevitably not to be read, let alone understood, by most of those 90. Could be interesting next week! Of course, sending these things took rather a lot of time, and since the info wasn't finalised until after 4pm, this meant that (having taken a break to go and visit a flat-in the pouring rain) we didn't finish til 9. I finally went home (in the pouring rain) and found Katja and Anne-Laure still having dinner, and was lucky enough to be offered some of their yummy dinner.

Thursday was still pouring with rain, and we had website training for how to put things into the new website. Which was in a computer room with fluorescent lighting and old, fuzzy screens. Very unpleasant, and not really what we wanted on a day when we still had much to prepare for next week…but useful, of course, all the same. Stress levels were high and it was nice to be able to escape (in the rain) in the evening to have dinner with Jane and Steven in a "real house". Tasty and fun, and much chat of blogging and things ecumenical :)...and Glasgow (thanks to George).

Friday *phew* was Friday and, miracle of miracles, I even managed to make badges for next week. Wonders will never cease. Johan and I also visited *another* flat, and then Sma took us to Yvoire, which is a cute little medieval town on the lake (in France) where we sat at a mini table and ate crêpes. And laughed a lot :)

Saturday was also raining. I was not very impressed, and was even more disgruntled after a confusing conversation with the lady who runs this house about whether or not she might or then again might not actually book me in for the whole year. Anyway, saturday eventually saw me take a train to go to Chamonix, and that's a story for another post…

So where are you living at the moment? – The life of a Genevan flat-hunter

09:00 The day begins by opening firefox. There are several crucial websites that must be consulted immediately. These include easywg for flatshare offers, wrs classifieds, ghi classifieds, zannnonces and immostreet for agency adverts.

10:00 The desk is by now covered in print-outs of possible offers. All of them, save a few poky studios, cost around 1800-2000 francs per month, and are usually unfurnished. If they are cheaper than extortionate, there must be something wrong.

I begin the phonecalls. First, for a few marked "3 pièces" (3 rooms) which may or may not have room for 2 bedrooms (no living room) depending on the arrangement.
Then I phone the rest. 50% are already rented, even though the ad was only put out yesterday. 20% don't answer the phone. 20% turn out to be unsuitable. The remaining 10% are visitable, but the visit has to be this evening between 18.29 and 18.31.

13:00 Go to the ILO to look at the noticeboard, in case anything new has come up, and arrange to visit that too (if the phone is answered).

18.00 Work isn't quite finished but in order to be in the outer-outskirts where the relevant flat is, I have to leave. I see the flat, which is just as it was described on the ad. I note the name of the agency, and say thank you and goodbye.

09:00 I fax all the relevant documents through to the agency. Later that afternoon, we call the agency, who say that all the papers are in order, and we should call back next week.

Next week: We call back. They say that the owner of the flat is considering several people. Call back in a few days.

In a few days: We call again. They say there was nothing amiss with the papers, but the owner chose someone else. And so it starts…all…over…again.