A few hours spent earlier this week walking aimlessly around Basel, in northern Switzerland, during a beautiful sunny spring afternoon, generated the following random thoughts:
1. Basel is a lot more multi-cultural than I had imagined, even given the fact it sits in the junction between three countries. Aside from the obvious German and French, I heard Italian, Turkish, Russian, English, Greek and a few other languages I could not name.
2. Why can't any city, or even a small town, or you know what, the tiniest village in Israel, be half as clean as Basel is?
3. How pleasant is the sight of mothers and their children riding together on a bicycle to/from school, weaving their way patiently through traffic composed of cars and trams, and yet not for a moment looking worried that someone will cut them rudely off the road.
4. The cherry trees blossom also in Basel, not only in Tokyo. And these are real cherry trees, with real fruit, unlike the Japanese "fake" sakura.
5. For an airport carrying the dual name Basel-Mulhouse (after the Swiss and French cities it serves), Euro Airport is astonishingly small.
6. A kosher restaurant outside Israel can serve good food, in a quiet and clean environment and for a reasonable price. Sounds impossibly crazy? Try the Topas restaurant at the Jewish Community Centre on Leimenstrasse 24 in Basel.
7. Finally, the Israeli angle. The Three Kings Hotel is closed for restoration, so to try and recreate what Herzl felt like when he was contemplating the establishment of a Jewish state, I had to make my way to the promenade underneath the hotel.
The Balcony: then and now.
I put my elbows on the stone wall, leaned forward, looked thoughtfully at the other bank and tried to concentrate hard, to capture that unique "Zionist moment". Conclusion: I have no clue what made Theodor yearn for the dusty landscape of Palestine while watching the beautiful Rhine river flowing vigorously a few feet below. He must have been smoking something. Or perhaps I should have waited longer, enough time to grow a beard.