Wednesday, March 26, 2014

La force de l'âge



I have a memoir by Simone de Beauvoir by that name. It traces her journey as a young woman before the Second World War. She starts by describing what she feels is absolute freedom- having her own apartment, making her own decisions, exploring Paris. As the memoir progresses and France is occupied by Nazi forces, she realizes that her individual freedom is completely conditioned and circumscribed by her environment. In her case, 'la force de l'âge' is a pun- it means both her physical age, as she grows older and wiser, and the era, its Zeitgeist. Both of these affect the way she understands 'freedom' (liberté).

I find myself in a similar position as Simone (I think we're on first-name terms!) at the beginning of her oeuvre. I, too, am starting out in my working life, living on my own, exploring the city of Lausanne which I now call home. And I find I am also discovering the force of age in two senses. The first is the real history of the constructions and the city (it has its origins as a Roman settlement in the first century B.C.). This includes the way it has weathered, and the way it has buried itself into and built out from the steep hill that is its base topography. The second is the attitude of the Swiss and the way the country functions today. There is a political system of "direct democracy" meaning any issue can be voted on by the people, not only by members of parliament. And that means that ignorance and fear in rural areas (where there is a high percentage of Swiss citizens- who have the right to vote) can affect my status as a foreigner in the city. It is a country that holds tight to its traditions and heritage, sometimes at the expense of freedom.

Yet it is this same heritage which I find so appealing. I like feeling the age, knowing the history, making connections in my mind between current and past constructions. It is even more exciting for the very reason that it is not my culture. I have to infer, from my position in the present, information about the past. So I thought I would leave you with some pictures from my apartment. What is the history of these objects? Who made them? What has been their journey since then? The mysterious force of age...