Alarming art in Basel

Dave trying out Rodin-inspired man-yoga move.

Growing up in Canada afforded me a culture-enriched education filled with lots of art, music and museums.  So many museums that just typing the word flattens my brain waves, introducing the early stages of what I am sure is a coma.

The problem is that we were not allowed to roam in museums owing to our generations large numbers. We were part of the baby boom, which meant there were a whole lot of us and not many adults, ergo, the adults in our lives, ie. teachers, kept us tightly reined in, especially when on field trips where they feared a few of us might wander away. Thus, we were forced to sit in the bus while they counted us, then stand outside the bus in line while they counted us, following which we would then stand in the museum lobby for as much as 90 minutes for the teachers to count us and then recount when they discovered that Pierre Vaisy was missing, as he often was, then do another count after Pierre was retrieved from the coat room where he had busied himself with inserting chewed gum into the coat pockets of miscellaneous classmates who had called him names. Pierre is not his real name.  It is ToadWart.

Eventually we would be escorted into the first display where we listened to a very old person, someone who was at least 45 years old, drone on about the American bison and why it was not a buffalo, and so on. This was wonderful for those interested in wild bovine creatures, but not so great for those eager to get on to the railroad history section. Sometimes the old person would have us stand near a display that looked very interesting, like the one of Native Americans bearing very cool-looking weapons, but instead the old person would want to talk about a single arrowhead discovered along the banks of the Red River. The arrowhead held our interest for a nano-second, only because we were sure it was an introduction to the battling aboriginals in the next display. Alas, our guide found the arrowhead topic inexhaustible, which meant that he talked until we were tired to death of the thing, and if one of us, perhaps ToadWart, had wrenched the arrowhead from the display to plant it into the carotid artery of the museum guide, not one of us would have stepped forward as a witness to condemn him.

Dave, pretending to paint a Salvador Dali painting.

Which explains why in Basel, an international Swiss city famed for its galleries and museums – numbering at least 30 of note – we only visited one, although to be fair, we did stand outside of a second one and admire its moving-art water display. I simply can’t stand museums, and neither can my husband, which probably explains our very happy marriage where we have spent most of the last 30 years skirting around museums but rarely entering one. When we cannot avoid a museum, we sprint through it. We once went through the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid in less than 20 minutes. If you have seen some of the Goya paintings in the Prado, you will appreciate that 20 minutes is about the right amount of time anyone should linger there.

As appalling as sprinting through a world-class museum may seem, it should be noted that the Prado recently stole our idea and introduced time-based tours for those trying to get out as fast as they can. The tours are one, two and three hours long, which is not quite as efficient as our 20-minute tour, but then these are the Spanish and it is likely that they have inserted a siesta into their tour schedule.

Basel’s Kunstmuseum (literally translated means art museum) is one not to miss. Not because of its exceptional collection of Rodin, Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, Dali, Renoir and van Gogh works, but because all of those are protected with an alarm system so that stepping up too close to a painting (we think four inches is the mark) causes a series of loud beeps to play out over a sound system, attracting brow-furrowed, annoyed art-appreciating Swiss guides and security staff. They invariably raced past us, because we are middle-aged and therefore somewhat beyond reproach, especially in a museum as these are known to be the natural gathering-places of middle-aged art connoisseurs except for the middle-aged who grew up in Canada as part of the baby-boom, but I’ve already mentioned that.

It took us about seven alarm soundings before we realized that we were the source of the noise, leading us to experiment with the alarm system. In addition to warning patrons to keep their distance, it also sounds when a camera flash is fired. Fascinating. How do the Swiss do it?

After an hour of wanderings, we left the building, apprehensive they might seize my camera or make us stand in line to count our heads and make sure no one was missing, but that did not happen.

Two weeks, more or less

Two weeks in Switzerland: Two weeks of discovering new cheese, new chocolates, new shoe stores (and shoe prices!). Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

They have homeless people, but not in near as many numbers as North American cities. As in all things to do with homeless populations, numbers are extremely difficult to count. One 1980 U.N. survey put the number of Swiss homeless at 2,400, but that figure is 30 years old. Switzerland’s overall population in 2009 was  7.7 million: 

Biel homeless man has worn garbage-bag shoes for the past two weeks, even in the blistering heat.

They love Justin Bieber (who, by the way, has a strong Winnipeg connection): 

Justin Bieber images are everywhere, such as on this junior sheet set at a local department store. His visage outnumbers that of Obama, Clinton (either one), Michael Jackson, the Beatles and anyone running in Canadas current federal election.

They are cane-enabled (get it: Cain’n Abel  – sorry, couldn’t stop myself). : 

Elders favour canes over walkers. Even young people sport these arm-brace-style canes, making us wonder if polio races through the Swiss.

They view sidewalks and roadways as near-equals: 

They park, and occasionally drive, on sidewalks.... not as often as the Spanish, but a lot more than North Americans.

They smoke, a lot:

One in four smoke, according to Switzerlands Federal Health Office. In both Canada and the U.S., one in five smoke. Despite the 25 per cent rate given by the Swiss government, the number of smokers looks higher on the street where the Swiss smoke as they walk, juggle babies, lounge in street cafes. Smoke is blowing into our suite as I write this as my Italian neighbour takes to the balcony for her morning fix.

Their public art holds some surprises: 

Despite their reputation for attention to detail, their take on public art would make North American insurers and art/park commission managers gasp. These wrought-iron statues could inflict fatal wounds if someone tripped into one. Note: Dave does not let me twirl anywhere near these.

Just in case you dont quite see it: The arms on this prone statue are about two inches thick and maybe two feet long - would plunge through a chest wall or eye socket quite easily. Eeeew.