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E-Mailing Through Europe >> Basel, Switzerland 2001

In Search of.... Klee

Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2001 11:58:55 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p
Subject: Basel, sweet Basel

Basel is a charming city, like Grenoble. No bugs, so Basel gets the first place, like Lance Armstrong did in the Tour de France today.

I began in the morning with a croissant and very strong cafe at about 8 am, ST (swiss time, and let me tell you, with all the watches here, i'd never be late.)

I walked from the hotel and proceeded to get lost. But it was the good kind of lost, as Basel is a manageable city, and you can always head toward the Rhine. If that fails, they have an excellent trolley system as well.

The Rhine plays an interesting part in the history of Basel. In 1230 AD, the first bridge was built across the river. It was the only bridge, in fact, until 1392, when another bridge was built, along with a chapel on the first bridge. This chapel served many useful purposes besides reaching out to the Lord. According to the local guidebook I bought for 5.90 Swiss franc, "child murderesses, adultresses and procuresses were bound hand and foot, attached to an inflated pig's bladder and then thrown into the river." Right from the chapel! Farther downstream, fisherman pulled the female malefactor out of the water. If she was still alive, it was commanded to be god's will and she was set free.

No mention of what they did with the pig's blatter, however.

And the tradition continues today, it seems. As I walked by the river, big party boats were cruising up it, while small people were floating down it. Some had little inflatable things (they were orange, so I don't think they were pigs bladders) and some were body surfing. But there they were, floating down the river at about 10 miles per hour. It's weird, and of course I wonder who gets them out, and if they are allowed to go free when they get out.

Besides a big river and trolleys, there are over 30 museums here. In addition to the Offentliche Kuntsmuseum, which houses Paul Klee's work and other great artists, I explored the guide to see what else sounded interesting. Among them are--and I'm not making this up (followed by descriptions from the guidebook):

Puppenhaus museum ("The largest of it's kind in europe!" "Includes the Humpty Duptstein Cirkus")

Anatomikal Museum ("Original specimens of preseved human organs!")

Salteun Museum ("Everything having to do with the precious commodity of salt: history, technology, science, geology, chemistry, literature and religion. Originally presented! The visitor can perform simple experiements, by appointment")

And, last, but not least:

The Antikenmuseum. I chose not to even bother with that one, as I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have let me in.

So, I went to the National Gallery of Basel, and it dissapointed. Most of the Klee works were on loan, but the collection of masters they had, from Rodin to Picasso to Dali to Monet, were second rate.

I did however, pick up a Klee calendar for 2002. This of course violates my grandmother Ethel's rule of buying calendars. For over 80 years, she has waited until February to buy her calendars at half price. [Sometimes even better than half price, like when she bought two for 40% off each; a savings of 80%!]

So I quickly left that museum, and wandered over to the Basler Papiermuhle. It was one of the coolest museums I've ever been to. It was an old paper mill that burned down in the 1970s and then was restored by a private foundation. They replicated the medieval building itself, and made it a working musuem using the tools from the 16th century. They make paper by hand, and set type and bind books the old fashioned way, with tools from that era. It's all powered by a giant mill wheel from a fast-moving tributary of the Rhine.

I even got to make paper, along with about 10 other children! Their parents looked at me funny, but they were all speaking German, so who cares? It was really cool. This huge machine with huge timbers called a Hollander thumps rags into paper fibers. "BOOM! BOOM! BOOM" went the machine. In German it's "BOOMENFLAUSEN! BOOMENFLAUSEN! BOOMENFLAUSEN!") The entire museum shook 3 times every 5 seconds as the huge timbers crashed into the big square tub.

The resulting milky paste was then moved to another tub where I and the other kids dipped a screen into the water and let the fibers stay on top while the water drained. We then lay the wet paper between two felt pieces, put them through a few different presses, and PRESTO! I had a piece of paper, complete with the watermark. I went back for seconds, and had to elbow some 7-year old kids out of the way.

The second floor had typesetting and I bought metal letters with my and eva's initials, plus some wax. So if I ever send a real letter instead of an email, I can seal it shut with my own wax seal, like the kings of yore.

The third floor had the machines they use to create the letters for the presses. I learned all about why leading is called leading (hint: the spaces between the letters are made of lead), and all sorts of other fascinating things about why Adobe charges so much for fonts. One word: flonging.

That's it for now, as I've already gone on too long in my enthusiasm for making paper. I'll let each of you touch my paper when I get back, as long as you are wearing gloves. Especially Uncle Robert.

Tomorrow I go to... I really don't know. I'm going to show up at the train station, and begin making my way towards Paris, which is where Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France today.



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