The fountain of Geneva (3) -- Infinite jest

By Michael Ampersant

John and Alex, the (anti)heroes from Ampersant's Green Eyes, are being told the (antique) back story of the Fountain of Geneva---"the planet's most spectacular ejaculation."  Hadrian, the visiting Roman emperor (117-138 AD), had to help the Swiss locals deal with a ravaging Nordic tribe, the Muttoni. And he did so, apparently. Richard Zugabe, librarian of the city archives of Geneva, explains how (his last sentence was: "Nothing was ever heard of the Muttoni again.")

There is a silence. “Cool,” Alex says. “You are going to elaborate?”
“I will try.”
“They got OD’d on this Megalo-wine,” I say, “they had no tolerance for the stuff.”
“Right, that would be hypothesis number one. It had been my working hypothesis until I discovered yet another document in the archives with an imperial order issued on the fifth of September of the same year, sending a platoon of Army Engineers across the Passo di Monte Moro into the Saas valley.

Saas valley, including Lake Mattmark, seen from the Passo di Monte Moro

“Hadrian had been given a tour of the place, so you can assume that he was shown Lake Mattmark, a pearl of a mountain lake sitting right above the grounds of the Muttoni settlement.”

“Above the grounds? Above?”

“Right. I should take you up there for a tour, it’s a splendid one-day excursion. The valley broadens at the top---creating the reservoir for the lake. If you visit these days, you see an earth wall, a dam effectively holding Lake Mattmark in place. If you read the historic markers up there, they tell you that the earth wall was laid during the 19th century. Before, ice tongues from the glacier held the water back---that was before global warming---but the ice had a habit of succumbing to the water pressure of the lake once in a while. The ice barrier would collapse and the water would gush down the valley and destroy everything in its path. Technically not a tsunami, but you get the idea. So, Hadrian, putting one and one together, might have sent his engineers to weaken the ice dam somehow, perhaps by kindling a forest fire. We don’t know. No records of flooding during the antique period survived.

“And yet, there is another hypothesis, a variant of the first one, my personal favorite, in fact. I call it the Infinite-Jest-Hypothesis. You have five more minutes?”

“Yes,” Alex says.

David Foster-Wallace

“Let me reach back a bit. Soon after assuming the position of librarian at the archive, I got a visit by one of your fellow countrymen, an eccentric young guy, unruly long hair held in place by a bandana, athletic but lopsided body, Nordic features, unshaven, unkempt. He knocks on my door and demands access to the archives. He says he’s the recipient of a Genius Grant and does research for a book. His name is David and something double-barreled. He’s cast against type in a seductive way, but my attempts to test his sexuality end in failure. Anyhow, I give him permission---not for the secret section of the archive, mind you, that section was secured by electronic locks with unbreakable codes. Next day I had to depart for a business trip and when I return the unbreakable codes had been broken.

“Four years later I receive a parcel from America with a book and a dedication, a thick tome of literary fiction, titled Infinite Jest, written by a certain David Foster-Wallace. The title recaps a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but in the novel it refers to an art-house type film, a short film of mysterious erotic content. The book never quite explains. But it explains the consequences of watching the film. Infinite Jest induces such an orgasmic pleasure in its viewers that everybody gets hooked beyond redemption. People who watch it once---only once--are rendered incapable of doing anything else forthwith. Until they run out of bodily fluids. You get it?”

Infinite Jest book cover

“Sure,” says Alex, “but Hadrian and his kids used Megalopeos and survived. They didn’t get hooked beyond redemption.”

“Well, analogies always break down somewhere. Hadrian made sure his people developed a tolerance for the stuff. Or, perhaps, irredeemable dependence wouldn’t kick in unless the sex was so good, so far out that even Hadrian and his folks had never reached the point of no return. Perhaps the party didn’t get really going until they left.” He chuckles. He looks at the fountain.

“That’s it?” Alex asks.
“That’s it.”
“Interesting,” Alex says. “Well, thank you. Wow. Amazing.”
“And the fountain?” I ask.

“Right,” he says. “Well, it’s perhaps a bit anticlimactic. Hadrian returned hand in hand with Lars-Lars to Geneva and ordered his engineers to build the fountain. The construction is surprisingly simple, a pipe, a valve, you just need a lot of pressure. Which you get from the difference in altitude.” He points at the mountains. “You need water, which you get from the glaciers. The Roman aqueduct reaches the Hohberg, the main glacier on the Dom. The water up there is jizzy, having been locked up in the glacier for thousands of years. It matches human semen in color and texture. Some even say in taste.

Lars-Lars as anointed successor of Hadrian

“Hadrian stayed around until the feastful dedication of the fountain. He presided over the ceremony, hand in hand with Lars-Lars, whom he had adopted on the occasion. He renamed him Lucius Aelius Caesar and anointed him as his successor.”

“Lucius Aelius? A Roman emperor?” Alex asks.
“Well, Lucius died prematurely from ‘running out of bodily fluids.’ Read Marguerite Yourcenar, she has the low down on it.”
“Hadrian ruled until 138, you said,” Alex says.
“When he passed away.”
“The cause of his death has been the matter of some dispute. Yourcenar has a whole chapter on it. She lists all the symptoms and compares it to the death of HonorĂ© de Balzac, the French writer.”
“And Balzac?”
“Lack of bodily fluids.”
“Foster-Wallace still alive?”
“No, clinical depression.”

There is something with the fountain. It changes its tone, the jet weakens, sizzles, then collapses.

“Ă€ propos running out of bodily fluids. Care for a drink at my place, perhaps?”
“Sure,” Alex says, “your place, cool.” He get up and touches my wrist: “Come on,” he says, “you like bodily fluids.”

Go here for the previous part of the story, and here for the beginning. Hold on, there's a post script (scroll down:)

POSTSCRIPT: Richard walks us along the shore and then up a hill until we find ourselves in front of a fabulous villa, a large, French-classical structure set in a large English garden with a commanding view of the lake and the Jura mountains beyond it. “That’s the Villa Diodati,” Richard says. He leads us up the path to the house.
“Wow," I say, "your place?”

Villa Diodati, now...

...and then.

“The villa has been split into apartments, I own one of the smaller ones. But before it was split it was for rent. In 1816, Percey Shelly, his wife Mary, and their friend Claire Claremont rented the place. They were soon to be joined by George Gordon Byron, the Lord from the textbooks. 1816 was the Year Without a Summer. The entire season was bitter-cold and rainy, and the poets had to stay inside and keep the fireplaces going. Unbeknownst to them, Volcano Tambora had erupted in far-away Indonesia and polluted the planet’s atmosphere with 160 cubic kilometers of sunlight-resistant dust. Talking about ejaculations. Our literati got terribly bored until Lord Byron proposed a story-writing contest. Each of them was to write a ghost story. Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein here.


Dover, K. (1978). Greek Homosexuality. Harvard University Press.
Foster-Wallace, D. (1996) Infinite Jest. Little, Brown.
Lambert, R. (1984). Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. George Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Sade, D.A.F. Marquis de (1968). Juliette. Grove Press.
Yourcenar, M. (2005). Memoirs of Hadrian. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.