Sunday, 8 February 2015
December: With Byron and the Shelleys at Cologny
During the December holidays, I did a bit of travelling and went first to Luxembourg for a couple of days, then to visit a friend who lives on the German/Swiss border, and finally to Geneva for one night before flying back to London. Luxembourg, a beautiful (and expensive) city set strikingly across gorges, was new to me. My German friend used to live in Basel - where she still works - and I visited her there a few years ago so I knew that area a bit. As for Geneva, I had been there before, but it was close to thirty years ago when I was a small child. At the time the city hadn't impressed me much (it's not a child-friendly city) but I was curious to revisit it.
Geneva was still quiet, and this time it was cold. I peered at the floral clock, wished the Jet d'Eau was operational (wrong time of year, too windy, or both) and wandered by the lake, listening to the sailboats ringing in the wind. That was my first afternoon, when finally it started snowing fairly hard and I fled to a cafe where I drank a couple of coffees and managed to write a poem.
The next morning it was sunny and beautiful, and I decided to take a bus to the Cologny suburb to find Byron's house, Villa Diodati. Byron rented this villa from June to November in 1816, during an unusually cold and rainy summer. He stayed there with his personal physician, while Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (later known as Mary Shelley) and Mary's stepsister stayed nearby. Over the course of a few particularly rainy days when the group stayed in at Villa Diodati, reading and discussing fantasy and horror stories, they decided to come up with such stories themselves, which eventually led to the creation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
I had a bit of a hard time finding the villa. First I went much too far on the bus, and as I walked back along the lake, the passersby I asked were either unsure of what I was looking for, or knew about it but didn't know where to go. Eventually, though, I found this:
After a good steep walk up the hillside, I eventually found the villa, which also looked over a beautiful vista of Lake Geneva. It is privately owned, but all I really wanted to do anyway was peer through the gates.
Apparently many writers have ventured to this villa to pay their respects to Byron, the Shelleys and Romanticism. I've never been a huge fan of Byron myself (more so of Percy Bysshe Shelley, while Mary Shelley's Frankenstein just isn't my kind of book), but it was good to catch a glimpse of the atmosphere which inspired these great Romantics - without all the rain.
All photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2014.