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?

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