HALLOWED XYST DRUDGE
When I work from home my window on the world overlooks the meadow facing north west in this part of the Leymen agglomeration known as Ehnerfeld. From the gentle swell of the Wolfsloch meadow to the visible top half of an avenue of trees lining the moody Birsig, the undulation leads up to ancient woods past the holy spring of Heiligenbrunn, discovered by an errant Essex lad (who became a saint over a thousand years ago), to the crest of the hill overlooking Hagenthal le Haut to the north and Bettlach to the west. There are several old tracks radiating from there that cross the Sundgau and on throughout the Alsace. It is possible to cycle all day in the direction in which I am looking and never cross a major village or even a busy road. In praise of the local countryside I have decided to follow hallowed country traditions and assume for our house the name of the field in which it is located (before any of my neighbours do) so we no longer live at Number 13 Rue de la Scierie. It is Wolfsloch, at Sagiwag: the lair of the wolf on the way of the saw.
Our daughters continue to surprise and delight us: Jessie now has a choice of jobs at home and abroad after her Masters at Sussex, and will start by working another stint in Bangladesh this fall, and Ella has been awarded an unprecedented first class honours degree in International Relations from Loughborough University. These are magnificent achievements that I find very difficult to describe properly but they make Alli and I feel very proud of them and we know ourselves to be extraordinarily lucky parents.
A day or so after Alli went to Zurich with her friend Dawn and thousands of other ladies to watch Robbie Williams croon in concert, I went with Gwen to to the Caribana Rock Festival in Nyon, beside Lac Leman and close to Geneva. Gwen was particularly interested in her new idol, George Burnett, who started with a small crowd and energetically turned it into a big one within a couple of songs. He talked with Gwen afterwards as if they were old friends (they have been corresponding on Twitter for months). We drove home after deciding to give the Queens of the Stone Age a miss: I awake because driving, Gwen aflutter and then asleep. On a different scale Alli and Gwen went by train to see One Direction perform at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern. I was very glad that I didn’t get the short straw on this one: Alli and Gwen were in a slow-moving queue of hot and flustered teenage girls fainting in their dozens in tropical temperatures for over two hours before getting into the stadium, and a huge thunderstorm with lightning and torrential rain assailed the 30,000 crowd and band in flagrante.
Alli and I joined our friends the Barneses and the Jarvises (with the Spongs for the first evening) in Stresa, on the Lago Maggiore for the Whitsun weekend. I had only previously known Stresa as the picturesque venue of the incompetent international conference organized hurriedly in 1935 after Nazi Germany had declared its intention to re-introduce compulsory conscription, breaking the terms of the Versailles Treaty. The mutually mendacious discussions between Laval, Mussolini and Ramsay MacDonald would have echoed like a badly tuned radio across the improbably beautiful view from the corner window overlooking the lake. We wandered around the small domain in the sunlight, with its baroque gardens, arboretum and xyst, mega-greenhouse, two albino peacocks, and a museum featuring a boat preserved for thousands of years in the primeval mud. We returned to a wine tasting session, shopping and ice creams.
The following day we took a cable car to Mottarone, which had a fine view of the Lago Maggiore, the Lago Orta, other surrounding lakes on all sides and all the way to the Po Valley. The summit was also equipped, rather irrelevantly, with a downhill bob-cart ride on rails. Young and old were ignoring the view and queueing for the costly privilege, and as we watched, an older couple crammed themselves into a single bob-cart and got going. I noticed that the man’s foot was trailing outside the bob, and it became caught between the rail and the metal trestle on the first curve just as it was gaining speed. The man, obviously hurt, shouted repeatedly for help. Jasper, behind him in the queue, was the first to react and, while perched precariously on the side trestle and a deep drop below, succeeded in hauling the cart back so that the man’s leg could be freed. Jasper’s spontaneous and characteristic act of bravery also highlighted the lack of safety on the ride and the providential timing of the incident, which could have become a gruesome tragedy had it occurred just seconds later.
It was a brief but heroic prelude to a four-hour drudge trudge back down to Stresa from the summit (altitude 1491 metres) that Jasper, Andy and I then undertook, inflated with bravado. At times the walk was perilously steep, putting unusual pressure on our knees, thighs and calves. We all felt the strain, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time (originally I had even proposed to ascend), and our achievements grow ever grander over the subsequent weeks. On the last morning I visited the Villa Ducale and was shown personally shown around a large library of Italian classical literature and a small museum based on the life and work of the religious philosopher Antonio Rosmini. We returned laden with Piedmontese goods.
I celebrated Bloomsday on the 16th inst with the English Department of Basel University in the courtyard of its location in the Schoenes Haus, the oldest stone building in Basel. Under the guidance of their energetic professor, the students put on several theatrical scenes from Ulysses, conveying what seemed the authentic feel of just an hour in Dublin in less than two hours and certainly less than the 1000 pages of the book.
With the arrival of summer weather, our swimming pool became a fixture. Jessie came over with eleven of her Ultimate Frisbee friends from Brighton and they profited from the excellent weather by staying outdoors most of the time, sleeping in tents in the garden, and yammering until the early hours. Alli and I also dominated the audience at a dance-out of the Ferrette and Leymen Morris at Mariastein. Jessie, Alli and I took turns at the school’s annual International Fair to run a stall, at which goods made by women from Dhaka, working for the Bangladeshi charity Meider Jonno Asha (Hope for Girls), were on sale. We raised 200 francs for the charity (http://www.mjasha.org.uk/) including some very generous and gracious donations.
I did some camping of my own, cycling with tent, sleeping bag and provisions to a friend’s annual and increasingly popular “Woodstock in the Woods” event in the Refuge Birgmatte in the Bois de Glaserberg near Ligsdorf, staying up at night around a campfire singing English and French popular, rugby, and drinking songs. We also went to a very classy barbecue featuring expertly grilled fish at the Jarvises of Hegenheim one warm evening, and to the Barneses of Biel-Benken a few days later for excellent home-smoked meat and fish and fine wines from Piedmont. Truly we are surrounded by wonderful friends.
Yours from the lair,
Ella and Jessie celebrating in Brighton, July 2014
Alli and Lionel at La Isola Bella, Stresa, June 2014