By Elaine W. Ng
Geneva is not generally thought of as a creative hothouse. Most people associate the French-speaking Swiss city as a center for private banking, luxury watches, and international diplomacy. But as I traveled from the Lake Geneva village of Cologny to the ethnically diverse neighborhoods surrounding the Genève Cornavin Train Station, I realized there is more cultural depth to be explored. Cologny was home to many book publishers in the late-16th and 17th century, but is perhaps more widely known as where the poet Lord Byron holidayed in the summer of 1816 with his friends Mary Shelley and her poet husband. The environment and like-minded company ultimately inspired Shelley’s dark masterpiece Frankenstein (1818). Looking at the names of streets and cafes while driving into the center of town, I recalled that the ville’s contrarian hero Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the 18th-century intellectual giant Voltaire briefly made their home in Geneva. And passing the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, one cannot overlook the impact of Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, who premiered works by Igor Stravinsky and other contemporary composers at his early 20th-century concerts. Scratching beneath Geneva’s glittery surface, traces of disparate intellectual creativity emerge.