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  • Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.
    (Voltaire - despite the fact that he was banned from Geneva for his theatrical performances)

    I walk through the grounds of Voltaire's manor house, where he exiled himself when both Paris and Geneva banned his outspoken criticism of government, militarism, intolerance, dogma of any kind. Although cows and sheep graze on the estate still, there is not much left of the experimental farms and village which he founded. He believed in giving people real jobs, a means of creating a livelihood for themselves rather than mere charity. Voltaire's Village is now a modern development, squat, none too attractive, unaffordable for anyone but well-heeled expats taking up jobs in the Geneva area.

    The local school is named after Jean Calas, an elderly Huguenot (Protestant), accused of murdering his son for contemplating a conversion to Catholicism. This was a notorious case of religious persecution (the equivalent of the Dreyfus Affair from a century later) and Voltaire managed to overturn the conviction and make life better for Calas's remaining family, although too late to save the man himself.

    Social reformer, fighter of seemingly lost causes, always speaking his own mind (and thereby making enemies)...

    But that's not what I feel in this place, where he lived for more than 20 years... What I feel here is lightness, contemplation, fun and beauty. Voltaire, I am sure, enjoyed the view of Mont Blanc which you can still see today from his terrace. He was curious and lively about gardening, exotic plants, animal husbandry. He would sit on a bench and read till nightfall. He would invite guests to see plays and listen to music and dance in his grounds.

    A few times a year, the grounds come alive again with music, theatre, fireworks, foodstalls, games and dancing, children running around, laughter and drinking. Tomorrow will be one such day - celebrating the Fall of the Bastille (where Voltaire was imprisoned twice).

    I am sure Voltaire would have approved.
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