For my overnight in Geneva, I felt a little funny booking myself into the Nash Airport Hotel, mostly because “Nash” is a name I associate with the United States and not Europe, and certainly not Switzerland. My sixth-grade teacher enjoyed reading aloud the works of Ogden Nash, the American poet and humorist. I have visited Nashville, Tennessee, which was named for Francis Nash, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Nash was also a brand of automobiles, long since defunct.
For Swiss examples, a quick Google search shows that someone named Harvey Nash runs a professional recruiting service in Zurich. Perhaps he also owns the hotel.
Regardless, I have some complaints to register.
The Nash Airport Hotel is impossible to find. When I do find the hotel, it is impossible to get there from the highway. When I do get to the hotel from the highway, there’s no place to park.
I had booked the layover in Geneva with various romantic ideas, none involving actual romance, but akin to sampling a museum and a restaurant, or checking out the lakefront and the famous Flower Clock, or even, well, possibly…..you know, maybe taking in some skiing. Chamonix and the French Alps are about an hour’s drive away.
Also intriguing was the nonstop flight from Abu Dhabi to Geneva on Etihad Airways. Up until this booking I had never heard of Etihad Airways—which, for me, is really saying something. At least on paper, this flight appeared to be, by far, the most exotic I would ever have flown. It still appears that way, but the reality is more complicated. My fellow passengers might have included oil sheiks, bank presidents, diplomats, ex-KGB agents, professional yodelers, and of course, international playboys. But if so, they were disguised as your average, run-of-the-mill schmos; not too different—although somewhat different—from passengers on a typical flight from Houston to Fort Lauderdale.
The source of one of the differences was that Etihad Flight 20 departed Abu Dhabi at 2:30 AM, not a standard departure slot for domestic flights. All of us, including the flight crew, looked very tired and haggard. The flight crew put on their best professional faces, but still.
When I arrived in Geneva, I really just wanted to go to bed.
Instead I rented the car, which was the first of several mistakes of the day.
So here I am driving up and down this stretch of airport highway looking for the Nash Airport Hotel, which does not seem to exist, except I made the reservation and they no doubt took my money. I briefly consider that my money also does not exist, but confusion on a highway is poor framework for existential argument. Instead I stop to ask for directions, repeatedly, and in response I mostly get confused stares. The Genevois do not speak English, at least not very much of it, and my French remains grounded in constructions such as “Le canard est sur le table,” and “Le stylo de ma grandmere est sur le table avec le canard.” While I was capable of asking “Pardonez moi, ou est le Nash Airport Hotel, s’il vous plait?”, the replies back were mostly unintelligible.
Now at this point of the narrative, you—the sophisticated, technological-savvy and modern reader—may be wondering why I do not merely call the suspect hotel on my smart phone. Or perhaps, why I do not motor up to a convenient Starbucks or McDonalds, open up the laptop computer, and log onto the local wireless Internet?
Sensible ideas, of course—and indeed I try enacting them, with the following discoveries:
1. My cell phone does not work in Geneva. I have no idea why.
2. There are no Starbucks or McDonalds in Geneva, as far as I can tell.
3. All of the public wireless networks in Geneva, at least by the airport, including the airport itself, insist that you enter your cell phone number to obtain an access code.
So I keep driving up and down the highway where the map tells me to find the Nash Airport Hotel, until, finally, the hotel sign appears in bright green letters (maybe the staff illuminated it at that moment) along a stretch of the highway without an exit.
Do you know that the Geneva International Airport is partially in France? Almost all of the terminal is in Switzerland, but France occupies a small corner that is guarded by Duane. Here you can rent French cars and buy some French food at a little walk-up stand and use the French toilets. I have crossed over because I had reserved the car on the French side to save a few Euros, which winds up being pointless because there is no point to having a car in Geneva.
When I pull my newly-rented sporty Renault compact out of the French garage, I drive across a long (maybe 1 mile!) access road that hugs the fence that marks the Swiss border. The road deposits me unceremoniously on a city street where you either turn left into France or right into Switzerland. The border crossing features little booths and narrow lanes between them, but not much searching or interrogating goes on. Duane waves most of the cars (including mine) right on through.
I should mention that Duane is the French word for customs. Actually they spell it Douane, with an o, but I assume it’s pronounced Duane, which was the name of an autistic kid I shepherded during my days in medical school.
Although my adventure in Geneva consists of driving ridiculously in circles, sleeping away the afternoon at the hotel, acquiring a parking ticket that I have no intention of paying, and for dinner, a chicken sandwich and a Coke from a gas station—nevertheless, I account myself as having a good time.
In the evening, I sit in the lobby of the Nash Airport Hotel, noodling away at publishing work on my computer, surfing the occasional Web site, and eavesdropping on the conversations of the other guests. One man in his twenties is in town for a job interview. Another couple are heading either to or from the ski resorts, I can’t tell which. The desk clerks are pleasant but officious. I read some magazine articles about watches and chocolate and the trouble with Italians.
On this trip to Geneva, and Abu Dhabi before it, I have discovered a class of people, myself not among them, whose identity can best be described as international. They travel frequently and at will from one country to the next, sometimes making a temporary home there, but without belonging to the place in any sense of that verb. They are perfectly ordinary in other respects, not necessarily wealthier or more sophisticated, but marked, maybe, by their eyes not focusing on one subject at a time.
I am designating Geneva, Switzerland, as the capital of La Vie Internationale. I think you can live in Geneva and not really think of yourself as Swiss, or French, or anything else. That may be appealing to many people. For me, I was happy to head home the next day.