So there I was, dressed only in swimming trunks and a balloon, floating on my back down the Rhein, the opening bars of Das Rheingold playing around in my head as the late afternoon sun winked from the fast moving current. Wagner’s Ring Cycle begins in the source of the Rhein, where three Rheinmaidens are playing in an innocent state of nature. Enter Alberich the Nibelung (dwarf) from beneath the earth. The story, like the Rhein itself, then undergoes several twists and turns (especially as it passes through Basel), but I am digressing because Gwen and I, as well as Jessie with her friends and our neighbors, took part in Basel’s Rheinschwimmen, a crazy annual tradition in which thousands of Baselers troop down to the Rhein after work on a selected day in August, take off their clothes, stuff them into a watertight bag, pick up a plastic duck and a balloon, then wade into the river and let it bear them gently but firmly for about 2 kilometers through the heart of the city and under the echoing Mittelbrucke, then they all wade out, line up, pick up armfuls of freebies from local companies and carry on going home as before. At the end of it, we all got a medal and a certificate. Alli walked along the bank, pushing my bicycle, festooned with all our socks, shoes, towels, bags and other bits. All right, the Rheinschwimmen is not quite the Ring Cycle, but I have to say that it was a great pleasure (and a long-standing ambition achieved) to be gently but firmly borne along one of the great rivers of the world. Afterwards, we all went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant in town.
Our progress towards buying the house in Leymen, France is tortuous and a few potential problems remain. But we are still on course, so far, for a move across the border in a couple of months, but our fingers remain crossed. One hurdle was overcome when I had a major medical and was told that I was in most respects in good health. Another looms in the shape of the ever-collapsing UK currency.
It’s a pity that the UK never got its promised “barbecue” summer, but we certainly did. Most of the month featured high temperatures, blue skies and bright sunlight. We hosted several barbecues, two of them featuring hordes of teenagers (friends of Jessie in the first instance, of Ella in the second). Another barbecue featured our new neighbors, who hail from Macclesfield, and our friends the Kellys, who hail from Brisbane. Ella’s barbecue was a long delayed birthday party. She and her guests went into town after the dinner then came back en masse at 5am to wake everyone in the house, albeit briefly. That said, Alli and I were impressed with their general demeanor. The youth of today? A lot better than yesterday, we thought. Ella has also previously spent some relaxing time in England with her Nanny and Grandpa and was able to indulge in some British shopping.
Jessie’s last night in Switzerland featured another party to say goodbye to those of her friends still left in Basel. She has been conscious of the significance of her impending departure from Basel, and had been doing a lot of typical Basel activities, such as the Rheinschwimmen and last visits to notable Basel landmark sites, events and restaurants such as the Acqua, the Noohn and the Atlantis roof garden, before she left us at the end of the month. I drove her to the airport at 5.30am for a London flight on the way to San Francisco to see her boyfriend Lawrence and prepare for the start of her gap year. We will next see her at Christmas after she returns from her gap year job in a law office in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Watching her disappear through the gate at Basel airport was a salutary moment. She has passed from one clear stage of her life to another. I too felt that I had entered another age, as Shakespeare described in As you like it. The only question was, which age? The one (the fifth) of the “justice In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d”? Or maybe it’s that of the “lean and slippered pantaloon” (the sixth)? Given that the former is round and the latter lean I think probably the former. School has started for Ella and Gwen and they have new challenges, but neither whining there nor “creeping like snail unwillingly”, in fact quite enthusiastically. Ella is already enjoying the new subject of psychology. For me, going back to work was more like “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.
Gwen, neighbor Puck, Bonnie the dog and I had another long walk by the Wiese river in Basel on a recent Sunday morning. This featured Gwen and Puck wading down the mostly shallow river and getting soaked in the process. Then Bonnie rather comically fell into the rushing current while picking her way across the stepping stones, provoking peals of laughter from the girls. Bonnie, not a keen swimmer, paddled unsuccessfully against the flow to get back to the stepping stone from which she had slipped, but after making no discernible progress had to be rescued by Gwen, paws paddling even as she was lifted out of the water. A day earlier, I had gone with Jessie to a Van Gogh exhibition in Basel, which concentrated on several early paintings from before he went to Paris, and on the paintings in the last phase of his life, when he was in Auvers. At the end of the month we went to the much truncated food fair, the Agrogast in Hagenthal in France. A shadow of its former self, the fair has split into two, with the more successful part (Degustha) moving 50km down the road to Mulhouse. We still managed – obviously – to come back home with some high quality wine, cheese and fish.
Yours from the high table,
Jessie and Lionel in 47 Hohlegasse, 2009