On any visit to Switzerland, there must come a moment when you declare yourself wonder struck. My pick for now is the point at which the Bank for International Settlements looms into view, a minute and six seconds after our tram departs from Basel’s main railway station for Baselworld, that Swiss mela of luxury watchmakers and others who’d have your wrist cuffed to a fortune. Or beauty, or truth, or whatever else you see in it.
Ignore the six seconds. I made it up, since terms such as ‘or so’ and ‘lagbhag’ are a no-no around here, but the wonder is genuine. Is it more than mere coincidence that such an uber-snazzy affair–a watch serves no functional purpose anymore–is celebrated right under the acutely hardened nose of that cylindrical tower? Basel, remember, lends its name to the world’s regulatory regime for sensible banking. In finance, the very word spells ‘prudence’. Baselworld, however, is dedicated entirely to extravagance. If anything, it lives up the second part of the name: as a world unto itself.
But then, Basel isn’t known just for that. It’s always been a place where nothing needs add up at first sight. It’s where LSD was first synthesised in a lab by a chemist called Hoffman. Where the math of repeat-event probability was put down on paper by a fellow called Bernoulli. And where a tiny crinkle in time and space was crunched into a theory by a clerk called Einstein. Or wait, was that back at the Swiss patent office in Berne? Either way, no paradox survives Swiss scrutiny for too long, it would seem.
Here as a first-timer at Baselworld 2016, with the Swiss Alps in the distance, the ultimate in man-made beauty feels like a star burst. A minute and four seconds into the razzle dazzle, space-time itself threatens to curl up on me.