They dont really do art here, unless you count giant santa clauses made out of chocolate.
Before I actually moved here, I heard several people describe Geneva as the Canberra of Europe. This description is pretty terrifying, especially when you consider the fact that I grew up in Canberra (hence the need to be strongarmed onto the plane by my partner and two flight-attendents). Now that Im here I can confirm that there are indeed some similarities - lots of diplomats and bureaucrats, serene shopping plazas, a crown of mountains, and even the same fountain, which shoots lake-water one hundred metres into the air. Nevertheless, now that Im here I can already say that Id rather live in the Canberra of Europe than the Geneva of Australia.
Another thing which didnt exactly fill me with enthusiasm was a travel-feature by Wallpaper Magazine (which I wouldnt normally buy in a pink fit, I promise). According to this article, the only interesting things Geneva have to offer are chocolate, more chocolate, and plastic surgery. Granted, there is a pleasing symbiotic symmetry to these industries, but I can vouch for the fact that there is something of a timidly emerging underground culture here, even if you have to invest several weeks looking for it. So I suppose that this piece Im writing now is an attempt to redress the injustice of that Wallpaper article, and the less-than-rigorous method it must have used to come up with content (i. e. check into a five star hotel and ask the fifty-year-old concierge where the young people go).
So lets pretend that you just got off the train from the airport, and managed to have a nap to help ease the jet-lag. Youre young, beautiful and rich (well, you better at least be the latter if you want to go out here more than once) and eager to see the decadent delights of a town more famous for its Calvinist attitude than its alternative art-scene. Cmon, vite, vite, dépêchez-vous!
First stop is to get you some new threads. The hippest place in town is a boutique at the bottom of the Old Town called Septième Etage (10 Rue du Perron). This place is run by Katharina and Thaddeus, two refugees from New York who continue to plug the Big Apples most bleeding-edge designers. After seeing the creations of Bruce and AsFour I feel slightly embarrassed that I used to get excited in Melbournes Flinders Lane. Most of this stuff makes Alice Euphemia look like the Myer Miss Shop. They recently had a fashion show for AsFour, which featured forty-four mechanical dolls wearing miniature garments, blaring Aqua and Wagner, and whirling around in frantic circles until the entire floor looked like a plastic orgy of designer destruction.
Okay, now weve got some party gear on, where do we go? Well, your options are not exactly limitless, but we can begin at Le Comptoir, which has a very retro-sci-fi 60s look in the all-white Kubrick style. Youll be set back 14 francs if you want a vodka (the franc being roughly the same as an Australian dollar) but beer and wine is more reasonable. Genevas beautiful people - of which there is no shortage - drape themselves over fluffy cubes and light each others cigarettes with jewel encrusted Gucci lighters. (Did I mention this place is sloshed in dosh?) If the avant-garde jazz music is starting to jar, then we can move next door to the darker and more intimate annex, where people eventually shimmy to straight-up Euro house.
But where are the real groovers? You know, the ones who dont dress like they have the same stylist as Tom Jones, and have the new Anastacia CD on repeat in their polished Mercedes. Well, if it was still warm we could saunter over to the lake and climb aboard the Bateau du Fête, which, as the name suggests, is a large old charismatic boat which hosts allnight parties during the summer. Local designers spend hours each day changing the themes and ambience of the main deck with projections, installations and strategically placed robotic lanterns, while (mostly French and German) DJs entertain the nocturnal ravers down below in the cabin. Its not quite the machinic delirium of New Yorks Frying Pan, anchored off Chelsea Piers, but its one of your best options in Geneva.
Unfortunately autumn is drawing its foggy curtain across Mont Blanc, and this festive ship now sits stark and streamerless amongst the remaining swans, heads bowed to the chilly wind. We could go to LUsine, which is a multipurpose space near the south Rhône river bank, but unless it is hosting something particularly interesting (Songs Ohia, for example, or some East London two-step) then this venue seems to have been deserted by the local population. ( Too early 80s left wing, explained one local, and indeed, my only experience there so far was being trapped by two middle-aged Bohemian women who insisted on doing an impromptu performance of 1001 Nights, of which I caught every fifth word.)
Maybe it would be worth checking out the Paquis: a down-at-heel area near the train station which features a galaxy of seedy strip-joints and kebab shops. I have yet to see a prostitute here who looks younger than sixty. Its almost impossible to guess whats going on behind these guady facades, but in my more optimistic moments I imagine that Tosca are playing a secret gig at Club LAigle DOr while Kofi Anan sucks on a hookah with one hand, and suggestively strokes the folds on the back of Madelaine Albrights neck with the other.
Stop looking at me like that! I know youre all dressed up with nowhere to go, but Im wracking my brains here . . . lets see . . . ummm, we could go to Le Chat Noir in Carouge, except its expensive even for Geneva, and they seem to have an inordinate fondness for Reggae and Salsa and Funk . . . you know, organic music for people in white shirts. Deuxième Bureau is pretty stylin by any standards. Some of the squats around here have drum n bass or hip hop nights, but you have to keep an eye out for the flyers or know one of the residents. According to their publicity, Le Pretexte features gogo-boys dancing inside shower cubicles, but I havent found the enthusiasm yet to either confirm or deny if this is true . . . hmmmm, Alembrah is very groovy, but usually full by 11pm on a weekend. If we knew more locals we could crash one of those Europarties where the guys look like cousins of Right Said Fred and the girls end up squirting each other with water-pistols filled with watermelon liqueur. Or if we had a car we could check out Weetamix, which, by all accounts is a banging club in the outskirts, especially for those who dont think Europe could ever have enough House music. In fact, if we had a car we could head off to Lausanne, which is only 45 minutes down the highway, and allegedly something of an antidote to doddery old Geneva . . .
Fuck it, lets just catch Easy Jet to London tomorrow. Its only 30 pounds - a couple of Swiss vodkas, really - and I hear Red Snapper are playing in Camden Town.
Dominic Pettman is from Melbourne and teaches critical theory in Geneva.