Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Old Things II

While helping a friend clear out his cellar (as mentioned in a previous post) we also came across this:

It's a Swiss army issued rifle of (I'm guessing) WWII or immediate post-war vintage. Military service was compulsory for all able-bodied Swiss males who were then required to keep their weapons at home in the event of an emergency mobilisation (I'm not sure if the laws have changed with respect to taking home armaments!). The bayonet was in a leather scabbard which I unsheathed, then fixed to the muzzle.

Impressively, the bayonet was sharp and glistening even after at least 40 years in the cellar (the former tenant passed away in his 90s, I'm assuming the gun was his and that he wouldn't have had to report his weapon or maintain it after the end of his service days in his 40s). Military steel, there's nothing else quite like it!

Monday, 25 June 2012

In Passing III

Went out for a walk a couple of days ago with J. and spotted this in the undergrowth. It was exactly the right size and I had to run my fingers through the "eye-socket" just to be sure it wasn't what it seemed to be. Pity, would've been exciting. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Under the Bridge

I had lunch downtown today. Wanting to escape the heat, I headed down to the river and found a cool spot under the span of the Mittlere Brücke, the oldest bridge in Basel to span the Rhine. I was on the north bank facing the Old City (Altstadt), and took a few snaps.

Mittlere Brücke, Basel
I was sitting on the narrow footpath running under the span
View upstream of Basel Cathedral, medieval houses and imposing municipal buildings (converted into museums). The Rhine is a working river and is navigable all the way from Rotterdam, past Basel up until the Rheinfalls just downstream of Lake Constance, and its not an uncommon sight to see heavily laden barges struggling against the current.

You can just make out the rear end of a river barge headed upriver
The view downstream is less distinguished.

There's a chimneystack that's just about visible and is a reminder that Basel is home to giant chemical and pharmaceutical concerns like Roche, Clariant, Syngenta and Novartis (a fusion of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz). The tan building on the left is the Three Kings Hotel, the swankiest hotel in Basel whose former guests include Napoleon, Dickens, Wagner... ad nauseam. The hotel is also historically important as the site where Theodor Herzl proclaimed the aim of establishing a Jewish homeland at the 1st Zionist Congress in 1897.

The arch behind the jetty (with a group of day-trippers waiting to embark the pleasure cruiser) is the mouth of the Birsig river as it debouches into the Rhine. The Birsig flows under downtown Basel and has been progressively covered over from medieval times onward, beginning from its mouth until its entire passage through the metropolitan area was fully covered in the 1950s.

The purpose was to improve connection between the quarters of the city, to reclaim new land area (the wide market square and thoroughfares connecting it are all possible thanks to it), and for hygienic reasons. The open river flowing outside the windows of houses stacked higgledy-piggledy up against the river was too tempting an option for DIY sanitation and the river, dubbed the cloaca of the city, was a perennial source of cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Interesting to know that the Swiss weren't always über-hygienic!

Taken in the early 1900s
The entrance to the Birsig "tunnel," which is what it is today, is gated for obvious reasons.

I went on a special guided tour last year. Unfortunately the camera on the iPhone is pretty crap in low-light so all my pics turned out blurry. I grabbed this picture off the net and it basically looks like this throughout its course.

It was pretty interesting to walk beneath thousands of people, trams and buildings before emerging into bright sunshine at the Rhine. The tunnel itself was almost spotless with barely any graffiti and absolutely no litter, condoms or used needles. Only in Switzerland!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Old things

I was helping a friend clear out his cellar in advance of some necessary renovations. He'd bought a house lock, stock and barrel from the heirs of the previous owner (who had expired in the master bedroom. I didn't ask how long before he was discovered). The cellar was chock full of junk overlaid with decades of dust and cobwebs but we cleared it eventually. Not my idea of an ideal Saturday afternoon, but the weather was foul and I was rewarded for my pains. One of the items he was about to discard turned out to be an antique cheese cutting board. I asked if he was sure about this, I mean like, really sure? and when he answered in the affirmative I didn't need any prodding to take it off his hands. After all one doesn't come across 180 year old culinary equipment every day.

Hallmark of Basel Canton (it split into Basel-City and Basel-Land the following year, 1833,  which gives this some historical significance)
I celebrated the find with a vintage of a different sort.

Friday, 8 June 2012


I chanced on this pic on a random trawl through the net (can't remember the site) and it really caught my eye.

The kids are holding a Goliath frog, which places it most probably in Cameroon, and something about the stiff pose and serious mien of the middle child made this picture stand out of the thousands of images I was scrolling through. All the kids are really cute though. They don't seem very well off, to put it mildly, but then that’s Africa for you. I feel sorry for them to be growing up in countries with appalling Human Development Indices, high AIDS risk, terrible health care infrastructure, food insecurity, the list goes on.

However, in the case of food insecurity, if a way could be found to commercially breed Goliath frogs this could be a valuable source of protein.

Its awful how sub-Saharan Africa remains a perennial basket case because of endemic corruption, and how a huge portion of any aid or development funding gets diverted into lining the pockets of the latest jumped-up tribal Big Man who won the most recent dubious election (or ate his predecessor). Poor, poor kids, one can't help feeling somehow protective towards them, the future is shaping up to look a lot worse everywhere and I doubt the problems plaguing Africa are going to be solved anytime soon. In general, I feel this way towards all children (even my own son), that the world is going to the dogs and I have a sickening feeling that things are going to come to a crunch in their lifetime (sorry J.). Although I guess those lucky enough to be born into prosperous countries/families will be all right though.

There is a certain feeling that this picture evokes in me though, and it perhaps explains why I was so taken by it. It's the feeling one gets seeing children in poor neighbourhoods, lounging listlessly in dingy doorways or running about without a care and something moves inside as you know that their childhood ends quickly and abruptly and that the vast majority will be never, ever rise above their station. And one wishes for a world where there is a benign Father in the sky who takes care of the small and lowly.

Anyway I'd better stop with all this empathizing before I start menstruating (as my wife always says, whenever I start acting vaguely human I spoil it all by saying something crass).