Did you bring swimming-trunks?

It had been a while, almost four years, but now so close while briefly in Switzerland that C texted to say: out of the station, across the tramlines, bus number 30 will bring you to us. 

So, early evening, off the train, I joined the stream of workers heading through Basel’s main station.  Seeing C, the old energy flowed!  Now with husband M whom I met for the first time knowing what a wonderful person he must be, I had to accept a night under their roof would be almost painfully short.  Still, here we are, into the guest room and shorts off quick, swimming trunks on and we’re off, back onto the street. 

A few blocks down the road, chatting away, I know we’re headed for a River Rhine swim but not sure quite what to expect.  Soon, right there before us, evening softly sunlit, brimming with youthfulness in momentary carefree fun, the great Rhine carries swimmers effortlessly along at pace.  Yes, that’s right, t-shirts and shoes off, packed into dry bags (known as ‘Wickelfish’), we step down into the water!  Fresh at first, I guess it’s nonetheless close to the 20°C noted (optimistically?) on a sign.  C and M advise leaving the riverbank to avoid obstacles and so we settle for the downstream ride about 20 metres out towards mid-river.

In such a mighty, famous river that recently flooded furiously in monsoonal European Summer rains, I can hardly believe I’m here, with C and M, sharing their evening thrill, along with others carried by the Rhine.  We laugh, we chat, we soak in the pure, beautiful simplicity, swept along clothes in bag and all, revelling, marvelling.  Look away from the near side bank, I hardly know I’m in the current.  It feels so safe, non-threatening, almost normal but utterly extraordinary.  Casting my gaze to the shore, I can tell we’re floating fast downstream at quite a clip.  Afloat, alive, laughing, it’s already been a while but we’re still in the flow.

See, over there, that’s where we’ll come alongside the bank and aim for a ladder.  What if we miss it, too fast in the current?  Go much further, under that bridge, and we’ll float into France!  Easing towards the shore, we pass unsuspicious swans used to local crazies looking up from water level craning up at their necks, hoping there are no young nearby and, in C’s case, chirruping our arrival and intention to pass as we come in peace. 

Got it!  Up the ladder and out, I’m in disbelief at what we’ve just done, flying high with the sheer simple fun of going with the flow.  C and M, I’m with you now, in the intimacy of your Summer evening magic, just here and now, close by your new Basel home as I recall the memory I’ll often relive and already love.

Shoulders dried off, towels spread out on the concrete riverbank, there’s more to come: full apéritif with Rhine-chilled rosé wine, rounded with luck, joy, friendship and happiness.  We talk as light fades, swimming trunks dry as rosé levels fall and, in the Western sky, Rhine gold glows.

Thomas Jelley

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