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Basel Engraved

Fatima Rodrigo

I arrived in Basel at the beginning of October 2022 with a broken heart. It had been a though year: many changes, personal battles, and a grief that felt insurmountable at the time. With the idea of starting anew (I was actually running away), I applied for a residency program in Dreispitz. My studio was located inside a very modern cement building. As soon as I set foot inside that imposing structure, I felt the full weight of my loneliness. No one else seemed to inhabit that place. From my studio, I could see the courtyard of a university. I spent my afternoons by the window watching the students, feeling a great sense of nostalgia for my youth. I secretly wished to become one of them: to dress in black, look effortlessly cool, smoke roll-up cigarettes, and drink coffee. Life felt so loght for those future artists and so heavy for this "mid-career" one. As days passed and while making many efforts to adapt to my new context, it was time to face the Swiss garbage disposal system. An intern at the residency, a tall and nearly perfect girl, sweetly explained how to separate the garbage: "you can't through anything that has been previously cooked to the compost." "If you want to throw away non-recyclable garbage, you have to buy a special bag." I remember bursting into laughter, and she looked puzzled. "I'm Peruvian" I said. "In my country, there are no recycling policies, the sea is full of plastic, and the garbage is burned in the city’s periphery. It's horrible, I know, but I don't live in a rich country." She continued to look at me with disarray, but now in her gaze I could recognize that small amount of European guilt. I spent the following weeks trying to figure it out: I refused to buy the special bags (they were too expensive to me) and tried to recycle absolutely everything. It was a practice, I must confess, that was new to me. I ate every last grain of rice I cooked, and one time, I ate that hard part of the cheese that you don't know if it's cheese, wax or plastic, because I had no idea where to throw it. Sometimes, I divided the non-recyclable garbage into small bags and at night, I cautiously threw them into the university’s paper bins, as if I were committing a felony (Actually I think it is a felony in Switzerland). I struggled to fit into that “perfect” universe. I stole from the supermarket more than once, entered the tram without paying (very scared), listened to Bad Bunny's album "Un Verano Sin Ti" on loop while clumsily navigating the city. I think in some way I needed to cling to my Latin American identity. In my desperate attempt to make new friends, I went to these lunches organized by the residency program every Friday, but everyone spoke Swiss German and knew each other. I gave up when one time the lunch was a "vegan hot dog" which consisted of a roasted carrot inside a hot dog bun.

Little by little, I stopped struggling and without realizing it, I began to adapt. I had never lived in a place so close to such beautiful landscapes. I discovered that Basel has a thriving art scene, people of different ages constantly doing new things, and a strong community of Latin American artists with whom I shared survival tips regarding garbage. Suddenly I had friends. I went to a Latin party in Zurich and returned home the next day... then I felt like I regained some of that youth that I thought I had lost forever. I met people who felt very close during that small portion of my life. I lost touch with some of them, but that doesn’t make them less important. I felt profound joy while working in the university's amazing ceramic workshop. I went to the Alps, I don't know how much I enjoyed it. I don't have a good relationship with snow, but I felt proud of doing it. Finally, I reconciled with the city that initially felt like an enemy, but I think I actually reconciled with myself and my contradictions. That's why Basel will always have a special place in my heart. One of my most cherished belongings is currently a Swiss knife with my name engraved on it.