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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 5, 2008

Basel, March 22:

FOR THE FIRST TIME in my long life, I was arrested, handcuffed, and thrown into a jail cell today — all for trying to cover some dumb gathering called the World Psychedelic Forum. Seems that because I hadn’t registered in advance (not having known about it in advance), and the Germanic temperament being what it is, I was denied admission.Having invested $70 in a rail trip from Zurich, I was reluctant to leave until somebody explained what the forum was all about, but the snotty, blonde anorexic in charge of media (whose name tag seemingly identified her appropriately as Ms. Ratt) called the police to take me away.

Before long a Laurel & Hardy-ish pair of bullying clowns arrived, carted me outside and manacled my hands behind my back to the delight of excited observers watching from the forum’s upper windows.

On arrival, I had requested to see the organizer, Dieter Hagenbach, a former literary agent who turned out to be a smugly, self-important little twerp with a grey pony tail, and wearing a baggy oatmeal-colored suit. He was unsympathetic to my proposal and brusquely ordered my removal. Shades of Scientology—yet another closed cult that resorts to armed force to evade examination.

From my brief stay inside the hall, all the time guarded by Ms. Ratt and her posse (see Wait a Minute, April 2 at this website), I’d judge the psychedelic adherents to be of that familiarly pretentious type who feel they have found nirvana courtesy of the Prophet Dieter.

My counter-cultural friends in Zurich had raved about a similar gathering, a couple of years ago, which celebrated LSD inventor Albert Hofman’s 100th birthday. But one can only assume that in the interim the group has been captivated by an upper middle-class elite who now thinks they’re the hippest of the hip — although most of them would have been regarded as irredeemably commonplace by Leary, and those of us who spent time with him 40 years ago.

As I sat on a sofa to rest and survey the bourgeoisie, Ms Rat’s posse felt obliged to surround this dangerous reporter as the media maven reiterated her plan to call the police. I sighed. “Go ahead,” I said, “but this matter could be solved so simply. It’s true I didn’t register in advance. But just let it go. Register me now, and allow me to cover your forum.” Ms Rat ignored my plea.

THE HANDCUFFS BIT painfully into my wrists but the ride to the stationhouse was brief. There I was hustled into an office where the bigger of the brain-dead goons fumbled with the handcuffs, pretending to his diminutive partner that he couldn’t open them. Stan Laurel ignored him in favor of entering details in the computer. Hardy gave an extra twist of the cuffs as though it was part of the script.

The whole scenario, in fact, seemed like it had been practiced. These were not storm troopers, just semi-literate bozos playing procedure-perfect roles while clearly enjoying their ability to inflict (reasonable) pain. The cuffs did not draw blood.

Next, a sojourn in a bare cell while Laurel and Hardy combed through my belongings. Imagine the sweaty smiles that must have wreathed a pair of bovine faces when they came across the single joint that I always carry as insurance (truly medical marihuana) against the arthritis pain that Motrin and Celebrex sometimes fail to alleviate. How pleased they must have been, these bumbling paragons of law and order, that they were then able to confiscate my money ($170), because foreigners (as I was later told) have no legal rights in Basel. Surely, the fuzz smoked the joint.

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Thus, on your next visit to Switzerland (which you probably can’t afford) you might want to give Basel a miss, in favor of Zurich — the country’s financial and cultural capital — with its ubiquitous sidewalk cafes and water so clear in its lake and river that a score of places offer bathing in summer (at night the venues transform into bars and cafes).

But although one might admire the Swiss, despite their starchy efficiency, one does not easily come to love them. Based on the admittedly tiny sample I have met or observed in the German speaking region, many seem too tightly wound, unwilling or unable to deviate from mandated patterns such as crossing an empty street against the lights despite no traffic in sight. Rules, rules, rules — isn’t that a German trait, just as the Russians love dictators and Americans are overly self-indulgent?

Unfair perhaps to generalize, especially as my own friends in Zurich are longtime fight-the-system types, veterans of a literary and cultural underground that earlier included Erasmus, Hans Holbein, and Paracelcus. Doubtless there are hundreds if not thousands of others like them.

Switzerland is a beautiful country and in most ways a very benign one. You’d think that with five languages to contend with that cohesion might be elusive, but not at all. The Swiss pride themselves on their uniquely successful multi-culturism. Freedom of speech and expression is cherished, reinforced by a vast number of daily papers (four free ones in Zurich alone) in every European language (plus the incomparable Herald Tribune and at every newsstand.

Money, however, is at the heart of the Swiss psyche and a superior standard of living is bound to deter less well-heeled visitors. Fancy paying almost $12 for a MacDonald’s cheeseburger or four bucks for a two-stop tram ride? It’s not in everybody’s budget.