Saturday, 4 September 2010

A few tales from the Rhine Riverbank, Spoiler Alert: No Wagner Yet

Quite a lot of my days have started and continued like a tutorial at Oxford. The summoned by bells bit, woken from tired-limbed sleep by honking great church peels, at seven, half past, eight. I am usually human by eight. But they are loud. Mass Media for The Plague Generation.

Then there's the complex discussion to be had (with myself) about post-reformation politics and public spaces, witchcraft, terrorism and religion in general. There's the bikes everywhere, and now in my new maturity I have grown to love these cyclists, as not one has ever knowingly worn Lycra. This is perhaps an exaggeration.

Rheinfelden fits to Oxford Tutorial Bill, the very early bells get me up and I am not dead, which is possible proof that God was behind the Big Bang after all, despite Hawking. The light on the Rhine is crisp and deep. If I stayed a day I'm sure I would have grown to love the narrow streets and the old buildings. But I want a city. After a quick urban wanderweg I pick up my bags and go down to the river.

After yesterday's Dance of Death, I'm sticking close to the river today. I climb out of town, and turn after a Rhine-side Calendar beer brewery. In the brewery car park I ask a man of some stomach capacity if I am near the footpath. Yes, all the way to Basel. He laughs, the sound playing out a basso-profundo through the double helix of his beer sampling arena

Good, I am walking there I say.

I'm pretty sure he was still laughing when I got to Basel, certainly he was laughing a good long time.

This really is more like it. The path is feet, sometimes inches from the river at water level. It climbs away at times - the private swimming baths, the camp site, the school stuff - but it never detours far. Tales from the Riverbank. There's a real sense of Roman exploration now, there was a pontoon bridge here from Roman times, originally, when Tom came through. I pass an allotment. I ask a woman who is picking Daffodils what's she's doing. For soup, she said, or pies. Boats are moored, fishing points. An unexpected and fantastic Roman ruin, right on the path, inside three restored rooms.

I'm back to that Oxford Tutorial Mode: why don't I know more Latin History? Ok, what did they do? I known that Strasbourg, back in France, and a few days away, was "Argentina" to the Romans, city of money, the place they organised their taxes from.

Sun's out; even the factory towers have a grim beauty. At the appropriate moment in my morning the path widens out into a small sculpture park. It's not Goodwood, but a boy can't have everything.

Behind the park is a temporary marquee, with a cafe inside. Excellent, time for a coffee, etc. In fact it is a Supra-Dupra Business Lunch place, complete with chandeliers and a wine list straight out Somelier Centrale. There is one couple in place; two suits, dull, ties. They sip aperitif, and check out the menu. They discuss starters, in appropriate ways. It is 12.02. I feel certain they sat down at 11.59.45.

I am out of place, bien sur. However my host, Regine, is charm itself. She locates me in a cull de sac in the room that allows me to watch it all without being an eye-sore. The restaurant will close in a couple of weeks, it was a good summer she says. But soon it will be too cold. There's a main restaurant in town, and a sister place in Basel. I tell Regine about my trip.

Will you sail home to Brighton? she says very wistfully. as though once she had been very happy there with a man, perhaps a married man - who can say?

She is Hildy Neef and Jeanne Moreau and she has Moreau's great whiskey voice. If she started singing Lili Marlene I would not be surprised. "You will like Basel," she says. "It is smaller that Zurich, more elegant. Smarter."

I suggest that in my current unwashed state, with the leather jacket wasting away with sweat fatigue I may not play well with "smarter". Oh, but you have, though, a certain style, Regina says. In front of me two new men - suits but no ties, aka Creative - are doing the same mime over the menu, the Rhine Business Lunch Trope. I pay for my espresso and walk on, with my certain style - and deep odour trail. I am looking forward to the art in Basel; I'm also looking forward to the laundry facilities.


Soon there is a major detour inland from the river as Aufhaven, a huge facility for shifting containers and materials shipped up and down the Rhine, looms into view. This reminds me of the There, Not There Romans in Brugg. Because of course the gas, the petrol, the energy, the stuff of modernity that drives those elegant art galleries and temporary business lunch marquees, is usually invisible to us. Only in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gracefully becoming 50 with Portia, have I been aware of the public nature of our power sources - and there because it is coming straight from the volcano, as it were.

So it seems good that the Rhine footpath takes me through this modernist campsite of logos and clean lines and rail tracks and giant containers. It's like walking through a canyon of power. There's even a tiny oasis, a few apple trees, though given what is being pumped out of the towers here, I don't think I'll be trying the Aufhaven Cider anytime soon.

Is it me or do the Swiss do Factories pretty well? Anyway, onwards, a group of young kids with their teachers learning how to cook outdoors. A weir, a lock. Fishermen. The Rhine curves and in the distance the twin spires of Basel's famous cathedral. A bridge. I walk on and turn, Aufhaven is now tucked away, around the last corner. In Basel it is not necessary to think about all those engines of the economy. But I've walked them, and enjoyed it, a kind of Post-Romanticism wanderweg in the non-urban contemporary.

I climb away from the direct riverside and walk along a street with tall houses and river views. A little lite graffiti emerges, but why not? And then it's time to climb more steps and get my first vision of the city of Basel - Basil, to Tom.

The first sight is the Kunstmuseum, not 200 metres away, with a giant poster advertising the current Warhol show.

I think Basel and I are going to get along just fine. If I can wash everything.

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