Sunny April has confirmed our suspicions that in Basel winter was not just late. It hardly started. It barely, merely and only half heartedly threatened, then grudgingly provided just a few shiversome days, a few dustings of snow, then it turned its back on us with a careless gesture little more than a flimsy flounce. It done been and gone without so much as a measly morning of frosted glass. We hope that this betokens a major summer of the likes of 2003, when Switzerland was officially the hottest country in Europe (and when, by the way, we went on holiday to Tunisia, where it rained).
We spent our Easter break on the Amalfi Coast and in Naples – two entirely separate experiences within the same week. We stayed in sun-blanched rooms perched on ledges of the Amalfi Coast in Praiana, half way between Amalfi and Positano, and had some unforgettable days in Sorrento, Ravello, Pompei, Positano and Amalfi. We took a boat trip to Capri (where we also circumnavigated the island) and Ischia, which enchanted us by being unspoilt, luxurious, relaxed and unflustered. The contrary of all these adjectives applied to Naples, and after a day walking around in the oldest part of central Naples in the morning and having taken a tourist bus in the afternoon, we were nervous wrecks by the evening. The first evening, as we emerged from Montesanto station into the old centre of Naples, it seemed at first glance as though we were entering the very mouth of hell: a nightmarish teeming yowling honking horror-struck half-lit vision of the abyss – a sudden glimpse of Hieronymous Bosch. Italy in your face. Dante’s Inferno. Then we left the Via Toledo and found quietude just a block away under the cathedral. A major highlight of the holiday was walking around the ruins of Pompei, marvelling at how much the ruins spoke of Roman daily life under the volcano two thousand years ago. The other highlight was the food in general – the luscious fleshy lemons and the delicate artichokes that grew everywhere, the seafood, the fresh fish, the pasta. Our diet was suddenly and gloriously Mediterranean, although by the end of the week I suspected that the girls could probably have murdered a BK Whopper and Fries. Low marks were awarded for the public toilet facilities. Who took all the loo seats in Southern Italy? The general quality of driving and the piles of rubbish in the Naples suburbs were also unimpressive. But we came back relieved and revived and I was pleased to have taken out special insurance for scratches and dents on the hired car.
The frogs have started all over the area to welcome the warm weather. Their rhythmic croaking has been a feature of the Basel spring, and this year of course they are early. The sound is disconcertingly loud and has been known to wake us up in the middle of the night. During our first year here, when we were not used to the deep-throated reverberative mating calls, we thought that they were some sort of rare breed of duck, quacking rudely at us from the neighbour’s pond.
On the academic front the girls continue to do well. Jessie achieved full marks for her geography project, prompting her to consider taking geography as a main subject in her International Baccalaureate diploma course starting this September, and Ella is getting high marks in English and French. Gwen was the “Star of the Week” in her class last week. She and I have been cycling a lot together, going a bit further afield than last year via the generous bicycle paths along the fields south of Oberwil, crossing the border into France at Fluh on one occasion, and on another, cycling over ten kilometres to Ettingen and Aesch. She is a very dependable and steady cyclist, and I am less and less concerned about her riding on roads. In fact I am more worried about myself, to be truthful, and although actual accidents have not occurred recently, I seem to have near misses practically every day. I blame the high seat, a dodgy chain and the shortness of my legs.
I went with Ella and two of her friends to Zurich to see a heavy metal band called Rise Against. Almost everyone there seemed to be dressed in black although apparently these were Emos not Goths. Just to acquaint you with the nature of the event, the backing band went by the name of the Cancer Bats and played thrash for an hour while I sipped cheap beer and Ella and her friends watched from the balcony. They told me that they enjoyed it. I drove back in a trance with too little sleep and my ears singing, but all too aware that I had to get up the next morning very early to go to Portugal. And so it was that after a long following day talking about field trials in a hot office I later found myself in downtown Lisbon sipping red wine and listening to a completely different strain of music, the ineffable fado sung in a proper fado club. I asked my colleague whether all fado songs were sad. He thought for a while and said, No they’re not all sad. Some of them are really sad.
Staying on a musical theme, Gwen featured in an enjoyable “Music Rainbow” concert at school, while the band that features both Jessie and Ella has been improved by the addition of good new players and by a serious commitment to band practice. Now renamed “Behind the Bike Shed”, and looking and sounding like professional musicians, the band came a very creditable second in the “Battle of the Bands” contest at the school, playing covers of songs by the Killers and the Fratellis, among others. I felt very proud to see my daughters up there on stage wowing the small but dedicated teenage crowd, many of whom were wearing special “Behind the Bike Shed” tee shirts that had been especially printed for the occasion. There is now talk of a public gig. What with the video and the tee shirts, the memorabilia will soon become priceless.
Yours from the front row,