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July 18, 1999


Contributing Foreign Editor
 GENEVA - Eight hundred of what the Soviets used to call ‘rootless cosmopolitans,’ my rootless self included, traveled from the four corners of the earth to Switzerland last weekend to fete the 75th anniversary of the city's renowned International School of Geneva.

'Ecolint,' as it is known to one and all, was founded in 1924 to provide secondary education to children of the staff of the newly created, Geneva-based League of Nations, and its successor, the United Nations. Equally important, Ecolint was designed to teach students from around the world how to communicate, get along, and respect one another's cultures, religions, and languages.

I arrived at Ecolint in 1958, a political exile from New York, where I had been expelled from school for being a student revolutionary a decade before such bad behavior became fashionable. Most of Ecolint's students were the children of wealthy American and British expatriates, third world revolutionaries, political exiles, movie actors, multi-national business executives, UN bureaucrats, artists, writers and shady financiers.

The progeny of William Holden, Gene Kelly, Yul Brynner, Robert Graves, Joseph von Sternberg, Hardy Kruger, Jack Palance, Rita Hayworth and the Aga Khan snuck off to the woods for forbidden smokes with the children of Syrian revolutionaries, Ecuadorean generals, Turkish politicians, and crew-cut, bobby-soxed Americans from Dayton and Palo Alto.

English and French Canadians, Jews, Arabs, Iranians, Armenians, Greeks, and Turks mixed effortlessly, free of the outside world's travails. One day one of school, I met a tall American from Vermont, Walter Niendorff: 40 years later, we remain best friends.

Up the Lake of Geneva lay Ecolint's bitter rival school, snobby Le Rosey, filled with the scions of Europe's royalty, teenage Arab oil sheiks, sultans-in-waiting, and languid Iranian princes. Their fathers had oil wells, palaces and secret Swiss bank accounts. But we had something that seemed infinitely more precious - at the time: girls.

Ecolint was co-ed; Rosey was boys-only. Rosey grads, however, had the last laugh. Today, they own Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Ecolint introduced the world's first student's United Nations. I represented Yemen, blasting away at France for its brutal colonial repression in Algeria. The prickly French were not amused. I received death threats from the shadowy French terror organization, 'La Main Rouge’ (Red Hand), the first, but certainly not the last I was to receive.

I organized street demonstrations in support of Algerian rebels and embattled Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba - in between dating girls, whose chastity was perfectly protected in those ancient days by impregnable latex girdles, and teaching myself how to drive in a sinister, black, model- 1935 Citroen 11 - cheavaux I bought for $600.

We learned about wine, after much trial, and more error. We jitterbugged to Lloyd Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and, of course, Elvis. European crooners, like Pepino di Capri and Adriano Celantano, supplied the slow, bump and grind music for the steamy proms. We fell painfully in love. Somebody named John Kennedy became president of the distant USA.

That's all water under Geneva's majestic Mont Blanc Bridge, on which blue Ecolint flags snapped in the breeze off the mountain-ringed Lake of Geneva. Thirty of us 'anciens' lunched at the old Café de Paris, justly famed for its steak in garlic butter sauce and transcendental, golden 'pommes frites.' 'I'm now a Jewish Palestinian,' joked a dear old Israeli friend to an Arab classmate. A group of Iranians poked fun at their dour regime between bites of steak. Venezuelans muttered unhappily about their new military regime.

We joyously relived the glorious moments of the great Ecolint revolution when we formed a secret junta to overthrow the hated student president, a malevolent, little Iago.

One spring morning at the daily student assembly, I got up, grabbed the microphone from the student president, and announced to the stunned school: 'A committee of senior students is 'temporarily' seizing power for the good of the school. We must end chaos and restore honest government! The old regime is dismissed!'

In the best traditions of Third World military juntas, we promised elections would be held at a later date.' It was a perfectly executed coup d'etat.

Our group of putchists appropriately included the school's student monitors, Ecolint's version of the army; sons of plotters who had overthrown governments in Bolivia, Indonesia, and Turkey and various student notables. To our delight, the target of the coup was so mortified, 38 years later he was still afraid to come to the school reunion.

A number of new international schools have been patterned on Ecolint. None has achieved the character, raffish reputation, or esteem of the original. Our time there was also unique. The post- War II world had just been born: we were its offspring, the first generation to mix together and learn, after four decades of world war, that people are more alike than dissimilar, that nationalism and religious intolerance are the world’s worst evils.

Ecolint's Great 75th reunion was also the last reunion of the century, and of the millenium. For some of our class of ‘6l,' it may have been the last great bash, and final reunion, of the long and wonderful party that began in Geneva forty years ago.

Eric can be reached by e-mail at
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