The plane departed from a landscape of little farms, all with blooming almond trees surrounded by the blue Mediterranean, and after not many hours landed in the grey drear that is Geneva in February. I was met at the airport by Madam Kaivani, a tall, mournful Persian lady in an enormous mink coat, and led out to her car: a huge, black 1961 Cadillac that was elderly even then. As a seventeen-year-old Californian, it was my first experience of an old city in winter; I found it very strange and depressingly ugly, but it was positively surreal to be driven around anywhere in Europe in such an unlikely car.
The purpose of my visit was the the final part of a year-long treatment for scoliosis, the removal of a body cast. My family was spending most of that year (1972) on a meditation course that began in Mallorca and ended in Italy, and the only doctor in Europe my orthopedist trusted to the task ran a scoliosis treatment center-cum-girls boarding school in the French Alps, near Annmasse. So, after spending the night with Madam K. we drove up to the mountains and were met at the train station in Annmasse by a parka-clad nun in a Citroen 2CV.
She drove me the final few miles to Le Village De L’Esperance (rather a melodramatic name for a place where a bunch of teenagers were being treated for something emminently fixable, I thought). There had been no question that the Cadillac would never make it up the tiny snow covered road to the school, but the Deux Cheveaux managed just fine, and the nun’s driving style was as much at odds with Madam K.’s stately proceeding in the huge old Caddy.