The borderlands


It’s an organic raspberry farm in Massongy, close to Geneva on the French side of the boarder and it’s beautiful. The snow-capped Mountains rise in all directions, their lower slopes thick with forest, blooming in the spring. Hawks glide above the fields and swallows flit among the trees. A cold mountain wind blows across the land rippling the daisies, dandelions and forget-me-nots. The wind cuts through my shirt, reminding me that we will leave soon, across the Alps to the East.

These borderlands may appear idyllic but they are defined by a smouldering political tension. The Swiss call them les frontaliers – a derogative term for the French workers that flock to Geneva attracted by the high Swiss franc, and whom the Swiss blame for their own rising unemployment. It’s no jocular rivalry. Elsa has lived here all her life but when she is in Geneva her French number plate elicits a stream of verbal abuse, while aggressive tagging along the motorway welcomes her and other French visitors with hate. Pier and Audrey are typical “les frontaliers,” an electrician and caregiver, they live in a house truck and have been lured here by Swiss wages. “We could never earn this much in France,” they tell me. Now they have a chance to live their dreams. Yet the Swiss are struggling. Genc, an electrician who lives with his girlfriend and two-year-old son, pays 2000 francs a month for their small apartment in Geneva – a sum unthinkable in France. He earns barely enough to get by and has no chance of competing with Frenchmen who will work on the black market for less than his rent. The frustration is tangible and right wing nationalism rises on both sides of the border.


I watch as a hawk hovers above the field, then swoops, catching a mouse in its talons. It’s beautiful here. Wasps, bumble bees and St Mark’s flies hover between the flowers. Firebugs, with backs like African masks, cluster on the trunk of an apple tree covered in white blossom. Yes, it’s beautiful here, but I remember the words of the wine sodden Frenchman, his flushed face illuminated by the candle light. “I am French, I like wine and sex. I am a typical French man, and you do not belong here.” He’s right. It’s beautiful but I do not belong here. The fights are not my fights. The cold wind bites my face, and I feel its pull. Tomorrow I will go, across the Alps to spend a sleepless night among the clacking shoes in Munich Central Station on my way to the East, to another place where I do not belong.