Seeing the house where Frankenstein was born--and traveling to a key setting in the novel, the vast glacier near Chamonix, France.
As I said, there were workmen present at Byon’s former villa (site of the birth of Frankenstein), so—emboldened—I walked down the driveway as if I belonged there. But soon chickened out (something I rarely did on literary visits back in the States). I started thinking about Swiss law: Will they lock me in a dungeon until I’m, like, you know, seventy? (I’m seventy as I type these words. Think: I would just now be getting out of that Swiss dungeon!)
But I did take a number of photographs, which, fortunately, came out well—mostly. And remember—this was the time (1999) before digital cameras were really widely available, so I was shooting standard 35mm slide film and would not know the fates of the photographs until I had the film processed. (Oh, we had it rough back in them thar days!)
The weather—for one of the few times on my entire journey—became my enemy during the trip to Chamonix. On the morning of April 21, I wrote this in my journal: the rain is coming down, and the skies are low. If the visibility is zero, it would be pointless to go, but you never know what might happen this afternoon.
Oh, such youthful optimism …
An hour later, I was sitting on the tour bus with a half-dozen other disappointed people. The rain continued to pour. (Had another Mt. Tambora erupted?)
Two hours later I was in the coffee shop at the top of the ski lift at Chamonix. The snow is blowing, I wrote in my journal then, [and] I can’t see a thing.
Two hours later—12:30 p.m.—I was sitting in another restaurant, writing in disappointment about the day. The weather is truly terrible—with very low visibility … but the little village here [Chamonix] has some older buildings. I will go out later & get some drippy photographs. (I did.)
And then we learned the little train would not be running out to the glacier that day—no real surprise. I was profoundly disappointed that I would not get to see one of the key sites in Frankenstein—and one of the world’s wonders (though now greatly diminished by climate change).
Naturally, as we were on the bus heading back to Geneva, out came the sun, illuminating Mount Blanc in all its splendor. It reminded me of an experience I’d had a few years before out in Seattle, where I’d gone to the library at the University of Washington to see some of their wonderful photographs from their Klondike Gold Rush collection. (I was in the final stages of my Jack London research.) I’d arrived at the library in a cliché of Seattle fog. Could not see a thing. But hours later, when I emerged, the sun was blazing, and I saw—seemingly right in front of me—Mount Rainier in all its splendor. I nearly fell over with surprise. And gratitude.
Final words from my journal about our journey back to Geneva: The shadows of clouds—now gliding, now racing across the gleaming high glaciers, are so gorgeous that I almost forget that I saw so little for my $160 today.
IMAGES: Scenes of (and around) Villa Diodati in Geneva, followed by a photograph of the giant glacier, the Mer de Glace, which I did not see (see above) in Chamonix, France.