Last visit - ever?

This week I went to the tiny village of Elsau near Winterthur for my last coaching visit. The lesson started at 07:20 am and so I had to leave my home at 5:30 to catch a train, and then another, and then a bus. But it was such a wonderful dewy spring morning that it was well worth the yawns and sighs. The lesson ran well, the kids were surprisingly concentrated. They were working with Voices, the course book I'd helped to develop. And in fact they were dealing with a listening piece that I had written when I'd been in Brisbane, 10 years ago, on the basis of an interview with an Indian girl who had immigrated to Australia with her parents. I wonder what has become of Vipasha since. 

In any case, several worlds were intertwined in my mind on that sunny morning - and I had even time to go for a walk up to the rim of the woods and the cemetery before I had to catch the bus back. 

The picture below was taken in another classroom this week, showing that pupils do all sorts of interesting stuff with 'my' books as they take possession of them.

Current local politics

The last few weeks were all but dominated by the elections in Eglisau for the various councils and committees. I ran for re-election as a member of the school board. The local progressive party, Fokus Eglisau, kindly supported my candidature although I'm not a member per se. 
For the post-election party at the venerable Weiherbachhaus, I paddled my folding canoe up the river. The jokes were programmed as I joined the group of candidates and supporters with my life vest and paddle. It turned out to be a long wait, probably because the good people at the election office counted and re-counted the slips a number of times. For good reasons: some eight years ago, the president of the town council had won by just one vote. Now the same incumbent lost the election by 18 votes and dropped out of the council. This would surely not have happened if she had filled her office with sensible and effective projects instead of often vapid talk and toasts at not-so-glamourous events. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.
Personally, I'm very grateful to the 1000 plus citizens of Eglisau who gave me their vote, expressing a great deal of trust that I would continue to care for the well-being of the local school, the children and youngsters as well as the teachers. Thank you!
I paddled down the few hundred meters to the Stampfi neighborhood carried by a decent current. I wouldn't have needed the life vest.

Swan song upon crossing the Rhine

Today, I did one of my last school visits, observing an English lesson taught by a student of mine. The school is in Marthalen, about 20 km from my own neck of the woods, and hard to reach by public transport.
So I decided to journey there on my bike. Yes, the one I'd used to cycle from Scotland to Turkey and from Norway to Romania. It's still running strong while me, myself and I: less so, on this first outing this spring. I had calculated a good hour, but it took me a bit longer because (hark, hark, an excuse is coming up) I often had to stop and marvel at the wondrous spring morning and its sights and sounds.
I crossed the Rhine on the one-lane bridge between Rüdlingen and Flaach, and the River Thur shortly afterwards. Marthalen is the most picturesque village of the area, but the remarkable thing was the spotless behaviour of the pupils in this large secondary school class, quite a contrast from their peers in the city of two days ago. If anything, they were a bit too cowed for my taste.
On my way back I took the shortcut through Germany, via the tiny hamlet of Nack. To reach it, I had to take a ferry. It was one of those contraptions hanging on to a rope across the river and using only the current and a rudder. I guess it's the physics of friction.
In Ellikon, at the ferry head, I observed too swans in a synchronized mating dance. Elegant though it looked, I was a little shocked when the male grasped his partner around the neck with his beak and submerged her for quite a few seconds. It didn't look like consensual sex, and the fleeting question ran through my head if swans could also twitter #metoo. 

The back country of the river

Here's another take from a less august corner of the (modern) town: The fancy contraption stands in front of a hairdresser's. The wind must have ruffled it, and one of the letters got blown away. So what was once "Verwandle dich!" (loosely translated: get a make-over!) now says something about a whale. This is perhaps interpretable as "change into a whale", or "awhale yourself of a new hairstyle".

The whole of the Basel suburb of Augst could in fact benefit from a makeover. As soon as you wander away from the river, you'll find yourself in the midst of 60's blocks of flats, used-car dealers and abandoned playgrounds. I was wondering if I should have a second go at my walk on the southern bank, or take the canoe again.

A tentative start to my Rhine tour

On a dreary Good Friday afternoon, I visited the remains of what was once the splendid Roman town of Augusta Raurica. I was accompanied by my old friend Roberto, with whom I had studied Latin and Ancient Greek more than 40 years ago. I felt somewhat guilty for having drawn him out of his warm Basel flat in this weather, and on such a sad holy day. And yes, the museum was closed. 

The ruins didn't instill the exact same awe and inspiration as the temple at Vassae, in Greece, where I dimly remember us embracing the columns in the moonlight. Oh, yes, antiquity loses some of its attraction if you yourself feel a bit like an antique.

The site is close enough to the Rhine to count as one of the monuments that shaped the history of this river. However, we managed to miss the Roman baths, where, according to the tourist brochure "people not only bathed but also discussed the latest news, played games, applied ointments and had massages".

The two of us did much of the discussing later on the day (not the latest news, but life, its perils and passions), and some of the massaging (well, imbibing plenty of wine amounts to a massage of the soul). We gave up our promenade along the murky river soon after the power station as gusts of wind threatened to lift our umbrellas up, up and away. 

The bar of the Hotel Euler, with its Armenian-Kasakh-Russian lady pianist, proved to be a soothing resting place. Resting, did you say? I was reminded of the day, 30 January 1934, when one of the protagonists of my novel "Das Heft in die Hand", Prof. Fritz Haber, died in a room in this very hotel.

Despite the aborted walk, it was a good Friday, this 30 March 2018, but a sombre note permeated the hours.