September 2009

Writing about Mylène and Sartre reminded me of my own brush with celebrity a few years ago, and I decided I’d indulge in a little first-hand name-dropping. Now, my friends often joke that whereas most people of the world are supposed to be connected  by no more than six degrees of separation, I am connected by just three! Of course that’s an exaggeration, but sometimes things do happen to me in such a way that I often seem to have more than my fair share of coincidences and links to unexpected people. Here’ what transpired in the particular event I’m thinking about.

I was visiting my parents over ’06-Christmas/’07 New Year break since I had a more than a month off and Hawaii, where Dad had his visiting appointment  (quick segue – those of you who think I’m the globe-trotting peregrine, know this – I come by the tendency very honestly,having inherited it  directly from my father), seemed a darn sight more attractive than Eau Claire – rhymes with Oh Where? – at that time of the year. Anyway, as they always do, my parents by then had made a lot of new friends. My mother had wanted me to meet one of them in particular and so she invited her over one evening for tea.

Maya came over with her little daughter warning us ahead of time that she could spend very little time, so we wouldn’t be offended if she had to leave early. But once she got there, 1 hour slipped away into two and then three as we chatted away merrily about all manner of things. Every half an hour or so, she would make a genuine if reluctant effort to leave, but then we’d begin talking again and she wouldn’t. Tea graduated into dinner and it was quite dark by the time she said something like I really need to go now. My brothers’ friends are in town and I need to meet them. We have to talk strategy…

I didn’t see the next sentence coming, not in a million years:  He’s thinking of running for President.

“President of what?” you may well ask. Guess what folks, two years later, this past January, said brother was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.


School and Summer? Not the happiest of pairings. Or so most might think. But for me, summer schools have become synonymous with a whole bunch of the nice things in life. Besides the obvious (intellectual) gains, there is the opportunity to further my peregrinations. Last year it was Vienna. A two-week summer school on the philosophy and history of medicine, which became the hook on which I hung my entire summer . That I was able to do that at all, i.e. spend the entire summer in Vienna rather than just the two weeks, was thanks to Vittoria and Sebastien, themselves friends of mine from yet another previous summer school (Bologna in 2004 on historiography of science).

This year, the summer school is one on medical ethics at the Brocher Institute by the shores of Lake Leman in Geneva. (It’s the last bit of icing on the cake that has been my globe-trotting summer of 2009). This one came to my attention because of Rachel, who was one of the instructors at Vienna (and has since become a dear friend) though not in attendance here. This brings me to the second thing on my list of nice things about summer school – the opportunity to meet people. Perhaps it’s because of the special conditions of these meetings – after all they attract people with like interests – but I’ve always ended these gatherings a few friends richer than at the outset. And then there are the stories…

My favorite episode in Geneva happened over morning coffee today, the last full day of the meeting. I happened in on a discussion about  Simone Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Okay, maybe it’s a heavy topic for morning coffee, but hey after all,we  were among philosophers and the like after all, and one of them happened to be reading a book about these famous figures(I caught the title – A Dangerous Liaison). Suddenly he leaned over to ask this other lady, Mylène (someone with whom I’d hung out a bit this week) – Did you know Sartre?

Oookay, that was unexpected. I was rubbing shoulders with  people who hobnobbed with the legendary Sartre?

As always the story only gets better! Mylène hadn’t just met him, she’d evidently known him late in his life, by which time he was (her description not mine) – “Going blind and nasty.” And, she added,  I had to cut up his steak for him and he stabbed me in the hand with his fork …”

Stabbed by Sartre. Wow!  Could someone more versed in philosophy than I tell me please, would that count as an existential moment?

I am such a lucky girl. If someone had told me back in July after my birthday that the best and most magnificent show of my summer was yet to come or at least a show to match my birthday present to myself, I would have laughed in their faces. After all, I’d just seen Aida performed in the Sydney Opera House no less. But I would have been wrong to laugh, because waiting in the wings – thanks to Renu and Shomik – was … (Orchestral crash rather than the usual drum-roll here please although the title of my post has given it away)…

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. By the Russian Imperial Ballet no less.

For someone who has always been starry-eyed about ballet dancers since childhood, this in itself would be a major thrill  especially since despite said starry eyes the closest I’d ever gotten to a real performance was a kiddies performance of the Nutcracker. But this revelation was only the tip of the iceberg.

The next bonus was the venue for the show. Olympic enthusiasts would certainly be familiar with this picture from last year’s games in Beijing. imagesIt’s called the Water Cube and was the structure within which all the water sports – swimming diving etc were held. China has made a rather determined effort to not let their Olympian edifices turn into white elephants, and have been using them for all sorts of activities (including opening the pools for public use). Good on them. Anyway so without any active planning on my part I wound watching a show in an Olympic swim stadium.

Okay, so I got to see a famous ballet by a world-class troupe in a world-famous auditorium. But believe it or not, the piece de resistance is yet to come! Or to imitate those dreadful infomercials on TV for various products – “But wait ! There’s more...”

Still more? you may wonder. She’s just going into hyperbole. Well maybe but hold on just a little longer? And you’ll see why I’m indulging in such an orgy of ecstasy. You see, this was no ordinary ballet but a water ballet, making full use of not only the stage but the pools, there were synchronized swimmers and divers entering at key dramatic points of the story. Absolutely gorgeous. I was completely enchanted. As I said earlier, I really am a lucky girl!

P.S. Here’s a link to an article with pictures from the show here: