Traveling abroad is out for me right now. However – from the point of view of Basel, we say that we go “abroad”, when we go to Zurich. This Sunday, Ursula invites me to come to Zurich and see the cartoons of Zen master Sengai.
Zen master Sengai in the museum Rietberg in Zurich
One of the finest museums of German speaking Switzerland is in Zurich. It is the Rietberg museum, founded in 1952 in an old villa located in a wonderful park and enlarged in 2007 by an underground building. I love to visit their special exhibitions of artworks from Asia or Africa. Right now, their special exhibition is about Sengai from Japan.
Sengai (1750-1837) was a monk and the abbot of a Zen momastery. After having retired, he produced modern looking ink sketchings full of humor and wisdom. One example: A small monk is reading the books, but does not understand what he is reading. Sengai’s comment: “Holiness is without holiness and great wisdom is non-wisdom; he reads the sutras all day and does not understand their meaning.“ Another sketch shows a circle that can be the universe, and Sengai adds this comment: “Eat this and drink a cup of tea” poiniting to the fact that the circle could also be a cake that can be enjoyed with tea. His sketch of a frog is announcing the exhibition – the comment: If by sitting you become Buddha, then the frog would become Buddha as well. Another cartoon I very much liked was the old man pointing his finger to the moon; with a smile he hands over his wisdom to his young pupil.
“Dear moon, how old are you” is Sengai’s comment here. Source: Postcard bought in the Rietberg museum shop (there is a nice collection of post cards and also beautiful books and souvenirs in the shop).
On display there are more cartoons of grim looking teachers who use a whip or a stick to teach wisdom – a method not recommended by Sengai. A film shows the life of the Zen monks that get up at four in the morning to pray, sing and study. After having retired, Sengai taught his wisdom with the twinkling of an eye.
In the adjacent rooms the museum has arranged their treasures from China – bronze and pottery artwork from 3000 years ago – from the Shang and Shou dynasties and porcelain as well as sculptures from the Qin up to the Quing dynasties. I especially liked the the graciously dancing women (sleeves covering their hands) from the Tang period, the Buddhist sculptures from the 6th to the 9th century and the camel led by a Mongolian with his pointed hat.
A hearty welcome at Zurich
In the morning, I took the express train from Basel to Zurich. When arriving in Zurich after one hour, I found the train station packed with people. What attracted them was the underground renovations that had just been completed this weekend to transform the dead end Zurich train station into a through station for the major train and urban connections. The renovation was a great achievement: It had been completed on time and on budget.
While I walk through the town, a cyclist overtakes me and shouts in his broadest Zurich dialect: “Daas glaaub iich joo nüüd, by däre Hiz en Rukchsakch.” Sorry? To whom do you talk? Oh, he talks to me. He cannot believe (iich glaaub daas joo nüüd) that I carry a backbag (Rukchsakch) though it is very hot today. Hm. Yes, he is right I carry a tiny 10kg backbag instead of a handbag. I am tempted to answer, but then I refrain from that, because he would immediately understand that I am from Basel and would make more strange comments, as Basel and Zurich have a peculiar (but not seriously bad) relationship with one another ;-).
Ursula prepares a delicious light lunch with chicken wings, taboulet, and, as a dessert, baked peach slices with ham and rosemary needles. The baked peaches are a delicious surprise. I will remember them.
Yes, I had a hearty welcome in Zurich.
The river Limmat, the lake and the hiking trail
To get to the Rietberg museum, we take the Limmat boat at the railway station. The boat lies flat on the river to fit under the bridges crossing the Limmat. I stop to breathe to make sure we do not touch the bridge while sliding under it. Our boat enters the lake and drops us at Enge. Through the beautiful park we walk up to the Rietberg museum.
Coming back we take the hiking trail along the lake and the Schanzengraben that crosses the botanical garden. We are in the middle of busy Zurich, but completely off the traffic and amidst the Zurcher that enjoy their Sunday.
The best mezze in Switzerland
We complete our day in Le Cedre. This is a Libanese restaurant at Badener Strasse that serves the best mezze in Switzerland – they are as delicious as I remember them from Damaskus and Aleppo in Syria some ten years ago. The mezze are small plates with hummus (chickpea cream), smoked aubergine cream, falaffel, taboulet and secrets wrapped up in pastry. With the mezze we drink a mint tea made from fresh mint leaves. And we top it all with a libanese coffee.
Waaauuuu, this is the roaring sound that we hear while walking to the main railway station. It is shortly before eight on June 15th. Right – the world championship – Switzerland and Ecuador… now we know for sure that Switzerland has won this game. Later I understand, the Swiss team scored the decisive goal in the very last minutes. The game ended 2 – 1.
Back to Basel in the train
There is a joke in Basel: The best place in Zurich is their railway station, because from here you can return to Basel. Well, I like to return home. But – I enjoyed this Sunday in Zurich. And I envy Zurich for the Rietberg museum, the river Limmat, the lake and the hiking trail through the city center.