Bridges in Basel

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Where I stayed
Liesbeth's House

Flag of Switzerland  , Basel,
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Breakfast is the apples as promised, the best a most nutritious breakfast meals I could ever recommend. Using the leftover berry/apple/crème mix I make something somewhere between the cookies and brownies, not my favourite but still quite a winner.

I leave soon after Liesbeth, this time walking the river into town. The path takes me most of the way, before I find myself on the same path I took yesterday into the city. The cardboard rolls stare me down from across the street, but I cannot see the point in taking them with me to Basel, so set an alarm to pick them up on the way home. The morning is heating up already as I follow the same roads as yesterday to the station.

The train leaving for Basel is near empty when I board it – the kind of empty that has you worried you're on the wrong train. And I've been there; it was in Dutch and everything. Onboard I do a few more postcards, stopping to watch the snow covered mountains come into view again. Magical.

Arriving in Basel there is a problem I did not foresee. While I know where I want to go thanks to a list of places and addresses, the tourist information centre was where I was hoping to collect a map, and it turns out this is in the city, amongst the buildings with small direction sings that easily disappear. Talk about making sense.

The first park I come across is nice though, setting the tone for the rest of the city. The bums sleep in circle areas that remind me of Malaysia, each with their own stretch of cardboard and little blankets. The seats stack along one curve f the grassed area, the bum part layering up as one piece of metal curves and bends to fill in the gaps for the rest of the bench. Wicked.

I find the tourist shop, hidden from view by another of those crazy fountains by the sculptor Jean Tinguely. On my list is a museum dedicated to the man, it’s gong to be one of his days. The Tourist info is robbed of all paper by Jason Hatcher to further plot spots for today.

At one of the markets Liesbeth cannot get enough of, complete with all manner of wares for sale but still in the process of setting up, I’ve laid out the map and am slowly checking off points I wish to visit when I am tapped on the shoulder. And old lady smiles politely and asks something, repeating in English and offering help. I say thank you I’m fine and ask her the best place to go in the city. She says to look for the magic eye screen by one of the markets, but doesn’t say where exactly it is. Crazy lady.

I force my eyes to stop looking at the price of things as I make my way through the markets now closer to being set up. Watermelon is a lot, I should hold off for a while.

To the water. The river runs through the centre of the city, and towards it I head, coming across the crazy swirly wall mentioned by the lady only minutes ago. She was right and is still mad.

The crystal blue water looks magical from atop the bridge. I don’t cross, but instead head along this side of the water to find the church. The incline on the cobblestones give the impression of some of the buildings leaning out onto the road, much like they do in Amsterdam. The Basel Tor is under construction, much of the front façade covered over with wooden boards and scaffolding to one side. So what else is new? I arrive just before a whole flock of tour group tourists, who talk and point and talk and point at one another before following me in. At first I thought they were speaking with heavy American accents, then I after a bit I’m pretty sure it’s Italian. All that matters is that once again I do not understand.

The organ of silver metal pipes stands proudly at one end, the two pillars of sound hanging like two incisors with the keys between. Along the walls one sees crypts of different ages, under each is buried and old priest. The older and more easily accessible once have not stood the test of time as well as the others. There is a strong contrast between the detail found on the new and well kept, and the crumbling blurry surface of the old. Stone reliefs also adorn the walls surrounding, nativities of fish, crowds and trees.

In the enclosed courtyard beside the church is a wicked plate and sculpture collection. The walls carry old stone crests of groups and families gone by, as well as placards naming this day or place with some meaning. Some are heavily adorned with stone flowers and more, the more modern sort appear to have cleaner lines and simplicity to their shape. On the table to one end are some slightly unnerving sculptures of skulls and food in crates ready for market, the former having a strong similarity to the rabbit skull in Donnie Darko. Man that movie was whack.

I keep moving in the sunshine, amazing to be wearing shorts in Switzerland, known for snow and cold! The art gallery is not farm from here, the water feature giving it away almost immediately when I happen upon it. I was a little lost at the time, but the point is I worked it out. The front courtyard is full of sculpture replicas by the arts – Rodin has a place alongside Henry Moore and others.

The gallery has lots of levels, the lower floors holding the permanent collection the ones above ever changing. The collection is wicked, and slowly but sure you start to realise nearly every gallery has at least one Picasso, one Mondrian, one Liechtenstein, so part of these galleries start to sound the same and the collection begins to have a very European feel about it. Another thing the galleries all have is a very loud alarm system that goes off if you cross the line, and the line is nowhere to be seen. But I cross it, and the security guard hears about it.

The permanent collection also includes a number of sculptures in the courtyard inside, the most notable the neon work of artist Bruce Nauman – his two colour piece which reads The True Artist Helps the World By Revealing Mystic Truths is really as magical as it sounds. The lights don’t even need to be low to fully appreciate it.

Temporary exhibitions include a collection of church sculptures and paintings, the most amazing of which I find to be a collection of six detailing the lessons of the Virgin Mary, and the subtext one can see in the eyes.

Just after this is a collection of works by artist Boyes, the same found in London, Singapore and De Haag – his happenings and flux pieces filling the space rather sparsely. There’s a boy dragged through by her mother, complaining that he doesn’t get it. She says that’s the point.

Following the water I’m sure I’m lost, when around the next gallery I discover the gallery I was looking for. The contemporary artist featured has done everything. Beginning in traditional painting and sculpture he quickly moved to more contemporary mediums – performance art involving him throwing potatoes of various sizes at a gong, writing music to be played by someone who cannot read music, recordings of his own arrangements and more. There is even a book for sale solely dedicated to the written songs, which include performances and documentation of events.

Two doors up from the gallery is the Plug In Centre – a multimedia and digital landscape gallery involving all the latest technologies through art. The theme for the display is AD/HD – drugs and technology, looking at the manipulation of medicine through technology and more.

It’s pretty wicked but the lights have me craving sunshine rather quickly, so I don’t spend too long.

Along the water is beautiful, but it’s about time I crossed the river so am on the look out for a suitable bridge. There are about four in the entire city that actually cross the river. Turning away from the water I follow strips of shops up a small canal, eventually happening upon the old city wall, or what’s left of it at least. Like a shop front façade the brickwork remains, supported on one side by a still existing tower. Beyond the wall tents are being set u for what could be a carnival tomorrow. I’m pretty sure Liesbeth mentioned one on this weekend, but am unsure if it’s Zurich or Basel or Bern. The greenery surrounding leads me back to the small stream, which like all steams flows to the river once again. There is a freeway bridge above us – six lanes of traffic in all their splendor. There is a flight of stairs complete with wicked graffiti that I take to get upstairs, then follow the road across the river and round the counter to the Tinguely Museum – a specific space dedicated to the life and work of Tinguely.

In the upper room two of the artist’s machine works fill half the space, a smaller temporary exhibition taking up the rest of the area. A number of modern of artists following similar lines and responses to technology are combined under an umbrella of the Modern and Organic Technology. The responses are all varied, from a torpedo with a saddle mounted on the back – citing Dr. Strangelove and more, to a replica voice box – complete with a demonstration video where the artist has it saying Mama, Papa, Opa, to video installations involving army actions figures and more. The voice box is mind blowing, and there is also a black and white film by John Bock that I sit through most of as others come and go. Beside the screen are props and costumes used, their bright colours totally lost on the screen. The piece Third Arm by contemporary artist Stellarc is also found amongst the exhibition, the arm itself sits behind glass as a video from three different angles shows the artist performing with his work.

The history of Tinguely’s work – documented through his early works on paper that are transformed into amazing machines of wheels – exist down a small flight of stairs. Seeing the amazing machines come to life with a flick of a big red button mounted on the floor has you questioning how they actually arrived here in the first place. I cannot see any sort of service elevator, and the works head towards the ceiling quite violently. The moving parts involve colour light and sound – lights cast shadows upon the floor and walls as wheels turn and countless objects fly in different directions. One creates a symphony of sorts – hidden organs and cymbals throughout the work are set off at different intervals as wheels pass by. The toys organs provide a strange haunting chorus that carries above the sharp staccato of drums and cymbals, accompanied by the hum of the motors and spinning of the wheels.

Some of the machines take a few turns to run, so the viewers end up forming a small tour group, myself among them, moving from one to the net and gasping and clapping as the pieces begin to come to life.

Upstairs the artist has done the very anti-high art creation of the abstract art machine. From one metallic tendril holds a paintbrush or texta, the other a sheet of paper on a metal clipboard. Inserting a coin sets the wheels in motion – crazy cogs and gears that eventually cause these two extensions to flail in a very random nature. Every so often the paper and texta would make contact with one another. As the wheels speed up this contact becomes more common and slowly the paper is covered. Eventually the wheels spinning slow, and the coin inserter is left with a completely abstract work for their wall. Affordable and original, Tinguely continues the ideals of affordable art that continue to bring down the notions of high art and status symbols.

Leaving the museum it becomes apparent after half an hour in the sun that I have not taken the direction I assumed on the map. A small stroll through the sculpture park had me out at a different exit, and in my need to get moving and going places I carried on regardless, resulting in nearly getting completely lost. At the supermarket I find as a point of reference the lady notices the map in my hand as I purchase a wicked container of tea (similar to that which I saw at the lake with Liesbeth and Angie, but more status worthy). She asks if I like Basel, and luckily I answer yes so far. She smiles and nods; apparently I’m not the first to suggest such an opinion.

The train depot is somewhere to the north of the city, and the north of the map with the following streets disappearing out to the unknown. Somewhere around the Contemporary Art Museum lies hidden amongst it all. With roads under construction the trams that once served the city stop short of helping, replaced by the oddly placed bus that require the helping direction of an un-uniformed official, who actually turns out to be a homeless man asking for change in exchange for his blessed information. No, he does not accept tea.

The Contemporary Art Museum currently hold a collection of the American artist Jean Michelle Basquiat, detailing much of what is already known about his short lived career and life. His works are amazing in their grasp of current events, naivety in style (also labeled an "untamed rawness") and slow growth (a video in one corner shows one underway, complete with minimal electronic music and layer movie stills). Layer upon layer of paint is added, hiding much of what is only just completed and begun again.

The other confronting aspect of Basquiats work is the sheer volume of it, and each canvas’s size. The pieces are often huge, much like the work of friend and partner in crime Andy Warhol, and while this is but small piece of it, in his eight years as an artist he completed over 100 paintings and pieces, before dying of a drug overdoes at age 27.

Hidden throughout the gallery is the work of Felix Gonzales-Torres. Mexican born, the artist’s work redefines the concepts of art and status. Here we find a large collection of lights strung up in a room, piles and piles of paper stacked perfectly square, chains of gold and metal beads curtaining half a room and small puzzle mounted on a wall in a passageway and piles of individually wrapped boiled sweets. Many of these include the notion of taking it with you, the piles of paper are listed as surplus amount, and the viewer is invited to take away a piece of these artworks to keep. This destroys the ideals and status symbols held by art owners, and by taking it with them the work stays in the mind longer, forever reminded. Having passed away in 1996, the pieces are reinstalled by follower and like-minded artist Carol Bove. I fill my pockets with the boiled sweets, watching a child kicks his way through a perfect square of silver wrappers. When he leaves the gallery curator comes in with a broom to re straighten all the lines.

The permanent collection holds a wonderful selection of works from around the globe, and once again I come across the sameness of it all – EVERYONE has a Picasso, EVERYONE has a Mondrian. The one stand out piece is a Monet piece Blue Lilies that I never believed was as big as I found it, stretching across the room before being cut by the gold beaded curtain.

Walking back in the hot hot sunshine the heat finally tells me I’m better off catching public transport. Or so I thought. Because of the trams under construction we’re all staked neatly into a bus heading for the train station. The girl sitting next to me pulls out her wicked gizmo iPhone and I notice a huge crack running right through the middle of it. There’s a band-aid on her thumb. I ask if the two are related, she smiles meekly and says no, but it has happened before. I’m more aware of the existence of the newest mostest modernest phones and toys now. It seems so many people are simply plugged in and playing instead of looking around and talking to one another. In Leeds it was funny to see two talking on mobile phones net to one another. The way their voices were syncing up it almost appeared they were having a conversation with one another, instead of connecting on a natural face to face level. On many of the trains people simple stare ahead, ears full of chosen sounds, not focusing on those around them.

The train ride back is longer than I planned, so by the time I’m passing the photo shop with the free cardboard the goods are safely locked inside for another night. Oh well.

At dinner I attempt a similar mushroom stacking wonderful that Joelle and I did in Sweden, and this with a wicked seasoned steak complemented by a salad with a dressing made from Maple syrup and balsamic is taken outside to enjoy in full view of the church tower. With the setting sun and the bells ringing every fifteen minutes, I pick up a harmony for the ringing to call the farmers home. Liesbeth says here uncle Vincent was intrigued by the bells, and wanted a recording of them to keep. Perhaps he has a whole library of them, choosing to close his eyes and transport himself to any church at anytime he sees fit.

Liesbeth talks at length of language. Because of the amount of English she has begun to use since my arrival she is finding it harder to speak Swiss German, the Dutch word having to skip over the English translation. The words all are there, she is sure if it, it’s just making them all fit together that’s the problem. She tells of her mind like a collection of photographs and images. She needs to see what the word is and how it relates to her to then put the pieces together the make sense. This is often the reason Germans will pause for long periods of time. There not being rude, the simply need to put the pieces together and translate it before they talk. This is very different to the English speaking people who I have met, who while may use the word um and errr t hold up the conversation, they really just want to be understood so make the rock as readable as possible.

Apparently everyone in Switzerland owns a gun, or at least the conservatives do. As part of their service, similar to many European countries, men are required to commit one or two years to the defense force, or perform some sort of community service. Tilli went to the Northern Territory to help out groups there, Alex from Sweden committed to the army for a year, Robert talks of joining the army with a sense of pride. So it was actually a good thing I made no attempts to climb the mountain behind us by crossing through people’s backyards, there is an opportunity to be shot at, especially given my resemblance to a bear or deer.

Going through my collected bits of the day, both Liesbeth and I get more and more excited about art and craft and making and painting and more. Somehow – perhaps with the mention of the technology in the Tingula museum – the art turns to technology and just how fast we are moving and perhaps with less and less control. Later on I look at the collection and realise I perhaps collect paper more than anything else. Opening draws and pulling down books, Liesbeth shows her craft bits she’s made for friends and herself. Amazing paper cuts on the window are but one of a set of many, one for Halloween, others for friends. Bags and paintings and cushion and more. Souvenirs aren’t a waste, but they don’t seem to meet up to the things I write and draw and collect without thinking about too much. There is nothing quite like looking back through a map to find the places you’ve been, accompanied by the leaf litter of stickers, brochures and more. As I sometimes move to fast these help fill out the picture in my mind. I don’t want to forget anything.

Liesbeth so excited with her stories, loves talking and always something amazing to speak of. We share old children’s stories and comic books. These fables soon turn to real life encounters, and I learn of extended family members who avoided the war and lived amongst it. Liesbeth’s grandfather had stories to tell about it, as a painter with a conscience, and she hopes her father kept a record of it all. There is also a tale of love and finding someone again, as her grandparents were not sure they would find eachother again after the battles. But she is proof they did, proof good thangs do happen.

I try to blog late into the night, but find myself reading older entries, tracing a line and counting days until I am home again.
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