Damien Hirst Spot Challenge: Paris to Geneva (8 down, 3 to go!)

Spot planking at The Gagosian Geneva - thanks to Johan for being such a great sport (even if we got funny looks from some visitors) 

Paris in the morning, Geneva for lunch, Rome for afternoon tea. 

The last time I achieved anything like this was in Japan, where the Shinkansen bullet trains let you eat breakfast in Tokyo, lunch with a friend in Nagoya and dive into a bowl of Ippudo noodles in Fukuoka at the other end of the country. All helped by having a folding bike that I could hop on and off to grab the sights ahead of plodding tourists.

On this trip I was a plodding tourist wearing skates to make it to the gallery on time. 

My CouchSurfing host in Paris, Patrick, got me up at the crack of dawn and onto the TGV bullet train at Gar du Lyon for the 3 hour trip to Geneva.

I was sure there would be wi-fi – this is Paris and Geneva, right? 

“Sadly no,” said my seatmate, an investment trader on his way to Geneva. He wore a Patek Philippe watch and I wondered why he wasn’t sitting in First Class instead of crammed next to me. 

On that trip I learned a lot about bond funds – he patiently explained the new fund his company had started up in response to the GFC – everyone was now very interested in safe ’n’ staid bonds. He also told me about the troubles in Greece, and how it all began when it “enlisted Goldman Sachs to make them look better than they were to become part of the Euro economy.”

By then he’d had a gutful of his garrulous seatmate and moved over to a free seat and plugged in his earphones. 

Geneva is an unremarkable city in winter – perhaps because most people with any reason to visit are on their way to Zurich. My friend Cat, who’d spent 6 months there, advised me to blow through it and onto Rome. “You can totally do it. 30 mins to stroll to gallery. 30 mins at gallery. 30 mins to look at watches and buy chocolate. 30 mins back to the train. 15 mins to the airport and you’re at the Easyjet gate.” Even John Klemme, who runs tour company Bike Switzerland and associated shop, told me that winter wasn’t the best time, except for eating fondue.

I’d entertained ideas of blowing through Paris after reading about its ”poor, noisy hostels with wafer thin walls and sheets that never get changed,” and staying a night in Geneva. That all changed when I wrote to the Geneva hostel and found it to be booked out – and I would not have had the terrific hospitality of my Paris CouchSurfing host, Patrick.

The Gagosian Gallery, Geneva

This little gallery at 19 Place de Longmalle is tucked away in upstairs in a little mall, although that word seems a misnomer when you’re talking about grand, historic European frontages with marble staircases and wrought iron banisters. You get the feeling you’re ascending into a place of old, old money, and a lot of it. I had received a really helpful email from Johan at Gagosian, who was the most obliging photographer to date. His colleague said something about “planking” and we hit on an idea to do … Spot Planking! This is my favorite Spot Challenge shot to date. 

Everyone in Geneva is smartly dressed. Every time I asked someone in fur gloves or a suit for directions the word “Swiss bank account” or “hedge fund” crossed my mind. 

I went to the Swatch shop (what else do you do in Switzerland?) and to see if they’d come up with any groundbreaking designs. My personal feeling is that Swatch start out with great dials, but deteriorated into something you’d get from a bubble gum machine. Just because the Japanese can get away with chaotic graphics, doesn’t mean that everyone can own that kind of kitsch.  I became far more interested in their Bijoux line of affordable modernist jewelry, not least because a lot of it is stainless steel which doesn’t cause reactions. They’re still in business so what would I know.  However, I almost fell for this Swiss Cross watch to match my Swiss Cross Assos jersey!

Can you believe I was moving so fast I didn’t even get a chance to eat the fondue that Jon Klemme suggested, or even a macaron … by 3pm I had my nose up against the next person in line for the EasyJet flight to Rome ...

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