Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion

If the old Scottish proverb is to be believed, this afternoon World War III was staged in the middle of Basel.

I was making my way along the Rhine, toward the old Mittlerebrücke at the heart of the city, when the wind carried a low, throbbing wail to my ears. Given Basel's recent spate of earthquakes, I initially thought it was an emergency alarm. But when the sound refused to conform to any logical shape or pattern, I realized my mistake. Really, I should have identified it immediately, for once heard, the shrill, insistent whine of the bagpipe is not easily forgotten. I can only plead cognitive dissonance. Who expects to come across a brigade of bagpipers in Switzerland?

I knew at once that there were quite a few of them, since I'd started hearing them well north of the Johanniterbrücke. Still, it was disconcerting to find myself squeezed aside by a phalanx of solemn, kilt-clad men as I attempted to cross into Kleinbasel. There must have been around 100 paraders. Some bore the bagpipes I'd heard from afar. At least four wore tubas draped around their bodies like feather boas. (Feather boas made from coils of shiny brass, that is.) The rest, as far as I can recall, kept their eyes straight ahead and marched with all the pomp and circumstance they could muster.

I must say that they looked quite impressive in their traditional regalia. Even more impressive was the green monster nipping at their heels: the tram, inching along ever so politely despite the driver's probable wish to ram through the crowds. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today a band of rogue expatriate Scotsmen managed to disrupt the clockwork regularity of a Swiss mass transit system.

Too bad I was too distracted to make use of my camera phone. But I have now been stuck in traffic jams caused by sheep, cows, and bagpipers. Hurrah for Europe!



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