It had to be done. I hadn’t had anything to drink all day, and it was nearly thirty degrees centigrade. I stood there, staring into the lion’s hard eyes, watching the water sluice down his chin and into his tangle of mane. The muted sounds of the playground replaced the soundtrack of wild west stand-off noises of tumbleweed, clicking revolvers and crickets that one would expect to hear, or at least play in her head, during a moment of absolute stillness. Instead, there were swing hinges, idling, and mottled chains that rasped in the wind. The squelch of sneakers. The rush of a hug—all car keys, rustling jumpers and little, grabbing hands—and French laughter spilling out like the Rhone.
Running around Geneva, unbearably hot and thirsty, wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, but, looking back, something like it was bound to happen. I mean, the “Peace Capital” is home to the usual slog of European history tropes: the Protestant Reformation, faltering leagues and compromises between greater nations, and a violent demonstration of French intolerance (in this case the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre), so why not throw some wholesome bourgeois dehydration into the mix?
Heat aside, the look of fall and the accompanying smells—rot that’s altogether crisp and refreshing—are nearly the same as those in New England. Geneva’s a lakeside city with flagged roads, Gothic churches and boats mooring out on the Rhone’s mouth. All of that, of course, is ensconced by the Alps. There’s plenty of green-blue water to revel in, but none to drink.
I had stopped in the park because of the shade: Gauguin-swathes of cobalt that, in the hot haze, gave off the impression of being rather pleasant. Taking a seat on the lip of an abandoned swing I had (again) counted up my meager amount of Swiss Francs. The money appeared fake: large, silver coins the size of pocket-watches and bills so red and so blue they could have formed the patchwork of some hot air balloon cloth. I had refused to spend six and a quarter Francs on a bottle of Evian, and I was now regretting that decision, even in the shade.
The playground was small, hedged close to the side of the high-road’s wall, on top of which was a street of shops and apartments. Trees grew tall and in stands like poplars, except hunched over due to the weight of their branches. Swings, a pair of wooden spring-mounted horses, a carousel and an abandoned sandbox, overgrown with nettle, completed the park.
The fountain, off against the wall, grabbed me most though. A stream of water trickled feebly from the toothed mouth of a lion and into a stone basin the color of sand. A green line of residue ran from the tip of the lion’s chin down to the base of his throat, where his neck and shoulder-bones melted into granite singularity. It was inviting, clear and cool.
I walked over to it, abandoning the swing. A sign read “Potable Water” in both English and French. Despite this reassurance, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, Is this a trick? Do They (whoever ‘They’ are) want to pull one over on tourists? Why would They? Who’d be watching? Sure, it was well-carved, but that didn’t change the fact that it was a water fountain.
Tentatively, I reached a hand out and touched a finger to the rippling surface. Cold, like the shade turned liquid. I looked back over my shoulder. No one seemed to be paying me any attention. There was a kid on the swing, hinges mewling, and another two whirring around on the carousel. Maybe they’d get thirsty soon? Maybe I could wait it out and see if…
I rolled up my sleeves, slowly as I could manage without being ridiculous, unclasped and re-clasped a few straps on my backpack, and checked my phone for the time before I realized I was being absolutely ridiculous. The sign read, in plain English: Potable. Why doubt it? It did seem strange though. One didn’t just walk around Rome sipping from Bernini’s Three Rivers or gulping gallons from the Trevi. Of course, this was no Trevi Fountain and the lion was no Neptune, not even a naiad.
A sound from my right. Sneakers.
“Excuse moi!” said a girl, using her hand to create a gesture that could only mean ‘move’. She was probably around five years old, and she had her hair done up in bright pink and yellow berets, the plastic shaped into butterflies and little sprites.
I stepped back from the fountain, the water still streaming, unchanged and un-quelled. “Sorry,” I said, motioning to the basin. It was clear that she didn’t understand a lick of English, and as I only had a vague grasp on French—and by French I mean any and all cognates—there was really nothing else to say.
The girl plunged her hands into the water, all of it pooling up and then dispersing between her pudgy fingers. She turned to me and said something that sounded like ‘Bon’ and then drank a few handfuls. When she was done she clapped and pointed at the water before running off to the carousel.
“Merci,” I said, cupping my hands under the stream of water. It was thirty degrees centigrade. Either this was customary or no one gave a damn. I took a sip.