Englisches SeminarIzzi in AltstadtEveryone smokes here. Well not everyone but lots of people you wouldn’t expect. Remember that stale stink from years gone by, well that is pretty common here in lotsĀ of shops, bars and cafes. Yuk. There are many specialist cigar and pipe shops too, it makes me do a double-take. A colleague told me ‘its a Basel-thing’. Apparently many locals complained loudly when a smoking ban came into force so there is a loop-hole for registered ‘clubs’ to allow people to light up. And oh boy they do. I detest smoking for very personal reasons I won’t go into. Suffice to say that the sight of a Rizla packet provokes an abreaction.

Aside from that Basel is breathtakingly beautiful, views of the Rhine, quaint and beautifully preserved 15th Century buildings, chocolate and best of all, art, art, art.

I am very lucky to have been awarded a visiting scholarship at the University of Basel, in the Englisches Seminar. The department houses English linguistics and literature scholars. The setting on Nadelberg in the Altstadt is stunning. My office is in a 17th Century building where I walk up a spiral staircase each morning. I feel inspired. Nietzsche and Jaspers are graduates of the UniBas, as its called round here.

My daughter Izzi, who doesn’t speak German, has started at a Swiss-German speaking school and after only a few days she is singing songs in the local language. She Is very happy. She is impressively fearless, unlike me at her age. Schooling here seems very different to the UK. They all walk, unaccompanied, start at 0800, and have 2 full and 3 half days school per week. Oh and kids have a 2 hour lunch break each day. Nice but not ideal for a mother who works full time and has no family to help out. Swiss parents protested and now some schools offer Tagestrukturen (day structure) which provides lunch and after school care for parents who work full time.

We’ve been having fun too. I bought an annual Museums Pass which allows unrestricted entry to all the galleries and museums in this part of Switzerland and also parts of nearby France and Germany. Im told that Basel has more private art collectors than anywhere else in Europe. On Wednesday we visited Fondation Beyeler, an amazing private collection turned over to the public in a beautiful setting in Riehen. The Ferdinand Hodler retrospective was a study in narcissism, death, and obsession. Perfect fodder for a psychologist! I was fascinated by his personal life. He took a lover called Valentine Gode-Darel who bore his child Paulette when he was aged 61. Valentine was diagnosed with cancer and Hodler documented her dying and death in an extraordinary and moving series of paintings. Hodler’s wife Berthe later adopted little Paulette. How I wished to know more about Berthe and her state of mind.

We found an amazing Latterie in Riehen too ‘the good life’. The gelato was incredible. We sat in the sun and savoured the chocolate and vanilla. Joy.

More on my Art Brut obsession soon, the secret reason for my time in Switzerland…