Canada Slim and the Museum of Many

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 January 2018

It is easy to criticize, easy to destroy and belittle the efforts of others.

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Above: The very critical and much criticized President Donald Trump

 

But sometimes criticism is unavoidable.

 

I have had colleagues at work who have gone both directions when it comes to negativity and praise.

 

One colleague will hide her light under a blanket, not reminding others enough about her significant accomplishments and good work.

She needs to make sure that the people who count – those with whom she works, those who make decisions, those who have influence on her career – are aware of her accomplishments and contributions.

She is amazingly generous about giving others their due when they deserve it, but I feel she neglects to include herself as meriting praise in the team´s success.

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Above: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910 – 1997)

 

Another colleague can sink a ship with her constant barrage of complaints, negativity and whining about what´s wrong with everyone and everything.

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Above: The RMS Titanic leaving Southampton, 10 April 1912

For her, the glass is always half empty.

Upon arrival at the Pearly Gates, she will invariably ask St. Peter:

“Is that it?”

For her, the worst is about to happen.

She can spot the negative and bad in most everyone at a distance of a thousand paces.

She is Vampirella without the sex appeal, draining energy rather than blood.

Vampirella reclining. She has dark black hair, red lips, and is wearing her red sling suit costume and black high heel boots

And there is not a whole hell of a lot a person can do about her.

She is genetically predisposed to her way of thinking, so she is avoided whenever possible.

 

A tourist attraction gets both types of these visitors:

Those inclined to see the best in the place, not realizing that it is their attitude that influences their positive opinion of the place.

And there is the type who will find negative in the place no matter what.

In this blog, which has become over time a series of travelogues and essays, I am trying to find a balance between these two extremes.

I will try not to wax too poetically about a place, unless it truly is a wonder of wonders that one must see before “kicking the bucket”.

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By the same token I am trying consciously not to let the negative experience I might have had, often through no fault of the place´s own, keep me from seeing the positive aspects of the places I have visited.

 

London, England, 25 October 2018

Take my wife.

Please!

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Above: Comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 – 2004)

She is a lovely woman but she has special ways about her that make each travel experience with her an adventure.

Her Swabian soul (think of a German version of a Scot´s stereotypical thriftiness) was working overtime on our week´s sojourn in London.

We only had a week and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to see EVERYTHING.

She bought us London Passes and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to use them efficiently.

The London Pass

As she had less time for sightseeing than I did, because her reason for visiting London was to attend an international doctors symposium, she was stressed, grim and determined for us to be the ultimate tourists.

Running, not walking, between attractions.

Viewing museum exhibits without reading their descriptions, unless the museum particularly interested her.

In marrying her I sowed the winds of change.

And as a result there are many times I am swept away by the whirlwind that is my wife.

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Today we visited the Museum of London akin to the way a tornado visits a town: without lingering long in any location, choosing our own path and method of passing through.

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She Who Must Be Obeyed hated it.

I still reserve judgment.

 

The neighbourhood of the Museum is, at first glance, brutal, concrete, unwelcoming.

The city´s only large residential complex is a maze built upon a bombed borough, a labyrithine dystopia of listless pedestrian paths and anonymous apartments straitjacketed by three 400-foot towers.

Barbican Towers

To appreciate this section of city known as the Barbican, one must ignore first impressions of promethian prison and imagine instead that beyond the boundaries of natural hesitation lies a land of soft sensitivity and cool cultural crossways.

Here is an amazing arts centre set along side an artificial oblong lake within and home to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

guildhall school in text

Here be bars, cafés and restaurants.

The Barbican complex is indistinguishable for most folks from the Barbican Centre, whose seven floors feature a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, a rooftop garden and an art gallery.

The Barbican Centre is home to one of the top venues in London for jazz, classical and world music and, surprisingly, one of the most affordable (by London standards) places in the city for quality theatre and dance.

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As well as being a champion of young and new artists, playwrights, performers and filmmakers, the Barbican Centre is home to the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as one of the largest public libraries in London.

The Barbican Centre has plenty of places to eat and drink.

There are art and design shops and, unexpectedly, a giant conservatory teeming with tropical flora.

 

Here in the Barbican are two of the most neglected spots in London.

 

The church of St. Giles Cripplegate is the Barbican´s solitary prewar building.

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Above: St. Giles-without-Cripplegate Church

A heavily restored early Tudor church, St. Giles is bracketed between a pair of artificial lakes and overlooks an impressive corner bastion of an old Roman fort.

It was here in St. Giles that Oliver Cromwell was married in 1620.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658)

It was here in St. Giles that the poet John Milton was buried in 1674, then unburied in 1793.

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Above: John Milton (1608 – 1674)

His teeth were knocked out as souvenirs and his corpse exhibited to the public until the idea of a putrifying poet no longer appealed.

 

Opposite the former General Post Office, south of the Museum, lies Postman´s Park, one of the most curious and least-visited corners of the city.

Circle of green grass about 10 yards in diameter, with a roughly 3 yard brown central area containing low bushes. Outward-facing park benches are at the circle's rim, and a multistorey brick building with an awning is in the background, across a sidewalk.

Above: Postman´s Park

Here, in 1900, in the churchyard of St. Botolph Aldersgate, the painter and scupltor George Frederick Watts paid for a national memorial to “heroes of everyday life”, a patchwork wall of majolica tiles protected by a canopy and inscribed with the names of common folk who died in the course of some act of uncommon bravery.

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Above: George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904)

It is the classic Victorian morbid sentimental fascination with death.

It is macabre masterpiece literature.

“Drowned in attempting to save his brother after he himself had just been rescued….”

“Saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station, but was himself run over by the train….”

Edgar Allan Poe would have loved and Stephan King would love this place.

Flowerbeds and crowded benches stand in front of a long dark wooden structure. On the wall of the wooden structure, parallel rows of pale tiles are visible.

Above: The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postman´s Park

 

Hidden in the southwestern corner of the Barbican is the Museum of London, whose permanent galleries are meant to be an educational excursion through London´s past from prehistory to present, as seen through archeological artifacts and massive scale models.

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The Museum was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 2 December 1976, as the first new museum building to open in London since the end of the Second World War.

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Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Museum tries to tell the story of London´s development as a city over hundreds of thousands of years: from stone age settlements in the Thames Valley, through the founding of Londinium by the Roman army, to the great world city that London is today.

I use the word “tries” deliberately, because the Museum is a victim of its own success.

It attracted 370,000 visitors in its first six months and has attracted millions since then.

Above: Christopher Le Brun´s Union (Horse with two discs), Museum entry

It has acquired a reputation for excellence as a museum that sees itself as “not simply of or about London, but also for London” and thus seems to encompass a tourist population the size of London that visit it.

The Museum´s mission is to play a part in the lives of all Londoners, to inspire a passion for London, but it is hard to feel passionate about the history of London when half of London congregates within the Museum.

 

The Museum attempts to answer the questions:

How did London come to be such an extraordinary place?

 

(Which begs the unasked question:

What exactly is ordinary and extraordinary?

Can a place be either/both?)

 

Who were the Londoners who lived here in the past?

What does the future hold?

 

The Museum has around one million items in its core collection, plus an additional six million “finds”.

It holds 25,000 items of clothing and fashion, 100,000 paintings, prints and photographs, 17,000 excavated skeletons, 50,000 prehistoric and Roman objects, 50,000 objects from Tudor and Stuart London, 110,000 objects from modern London, 1,800 life stories from individual Londoners, half a million historic documents and a growing collection of items from the yet-unfinished 21st century.

 

Imagine if you will herds of mammoths here where crowds now gather.

Or see if you can a Londinium that boasts a thriving Roman port, a large forum and basilica, public baths, barracks, amphitheatre and temples.

Then imagine a battleground where one civilization replaces another to be itself subseded by yet another: Angles and Saxons, Vikings and Normans, the splendour, hustle and bustle of medieval times with merchants and craftsmen….

Imagine a city that survives the Black Death, Civil War, a Great Fire, the Blitz.

A city where once walked Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare, where a King was publicly executed.

Imagine a city that grows from being the capital of a country to become the centre of an empire.

A busy chaotic place filled with both amusement and hardship, fabulous fortunes and pathetic poverty….

Stroll down the Victorian Walk with the look and feel of London in the year 1900.

The shop fronts, fixtures and fittings are all original.

Peek through the windows of the tobacconist, the barber´s, the chemist´s, the tailor´s, the pawnbroker´s….

See a city that has seen overcrowding and lack of sanitation, failing health and lack of housing.

Where customs changed as technology developed….

Electricity, telephones, motor vehicles and moving pictures that heralded modern times….

 

And what of the future?

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Above: The Shard, London

How can the city reduce its carbon footprint?

Where will the jobs of the future come from?

Should London build higher skyscrapers or deeper Tube lines?

 

The Museum of London could be a great place.

But the Museum suffers from an overabundance of overabundance.

Too many artifacts, too many stories, too many visitors, too much of too much.

The screaming children, the harried parents, a warehouse of the walking weary….

A Museum with a too well-worn welcome mat….

A Museum that one regrets visiting, because one cannot linger undisturbed to absorb all that one sees, because the mass and mob make tranquil contemplation and progressive study of all that can be seen damned difficult and downright discouraging.

And it was this Museum, this overabundance of overabundance, this overwhelming overgrowth, that made me see the Museum as the actual model of what London means to me.

Too much and too many.

I could never live in London, though visiting it from time to time is a pleasant idea.

London is too crowded, too complex and complicated for a wee lad such as I am who came from a wee village and lives in another wee village today.

London is too expensive and expansive.

It is as unnerving as the Museum that exhibits it.

The Museum tries to be everything to everyone but it is everyone that diminished everything the Museum has tried to accomplish.

I don´t belong in London.

Take me home, rural routes, to the place where I do belong.

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / The Museum of London

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Privileged Place

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 January 2018

This morning I feel somewhat like Punxsawtawney Phil, the groundhog of the film Groundhog Day, chattering away furiously, while Bill Murray holds me firmly as he drives a car over a cliff sardonically telling me:

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Don´t drive angry.

Perhaps this might be extended to encompass writing as well.

Don´t write angry.

But recent events in world politics and memories of walking through one of the richest areas in Switzerland are making it difficult to write and keep my composure at the same time.

 

I mean I shouldn´t have been shocked by what Trump said.

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The man will literally say or do anything.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, during the 2006 presidential campaign, carefully reviewed Trump´s race-related history, and found – including the 1,021 pages of legal documents from racial discrimination suits against him – a consistent, 40-year pattern of insults and discrimination.

It seems there is no one to save us from his racism.

But he sunk to a new xenophobic, racist low on 12 January, when on the eve of the 8th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, “President” Trump, in the Oval Office, wondered aloud why America should allow immigration from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.

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Above: Flag of Haiti

Sadly, the “President” is not alone in thinking so poorly about the poor.

An America that created a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr remains burdened by bigotry, racism and discrimination by a minority who dominate the majority.

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Above: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

Where is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are and not by how they look or where they come from?

Did the dream die with Dr. King?

Has Trump shown the true colours of too many people who having lived privileged lives have a jaundiced opinion of those who haven´t?

This week, Switzerland will host this colossal jackass at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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For the first time in my life I have considered joining in a protest.

I probably won´t, because Trump´s presence in Davos coincides with my work schedule in St. Gallen, but the temptation nonetheless exists.

Being an event happening in Switzerland I am fairly certain that there will be Swiss people in attendance at this event – other than the ones providing services to the high and mighty – who they themselves are rich and powerful.

And it would not surprise me to find that some of these rich and powerful Swiss attendees come from Schindellegi, Canton Schwyz, which I visited, as part of my Zwingli Project, on 23 November 2017.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

 

Einsiedeln to Richterswil, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The day started as planned: early out the door, train to St. Gallen, another to Ziegelbrücke and a final to Glarus.

On the train to Ziegelbrücke I met Vadym of the Ukraine, a recently acquired friend who I knew as a regular Starbucks St. Gallen customer, on his way to work at his new job in Schindellegi.

Above: Canada Slim and Vadym, Restaurant Adler, Schindellegi

 

He is a pastry chef at the Restaurant Adler in Schindellegi.

We spoke of mutual acquaintances in St. Gallen and Poland, and by the time he left the train at Uznach I had told him of my intentions to follow the suggested walks found in Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch which would find me eventually walking through the town of Schindellegi from the monastery town of Einsiedeln to the Lake of Zürich.

He suggested that whenever I am in Schindellegi that I should visit him at the Adler.

Neither one of us expected me to take up the invitation that same day.

As mentioned in Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest of this blog, the walks suggested from Glarus to Einsiedeln could not be accomplished this day because of both a lack of transportation from Glarus and the valid concern that snowfall might have obscured the intended footpaths through the mountains.

Above: Glarus

So two trains and two hours later after leaving Glarus disappointed, I found myself in Einsiedeln from where – after a quick visit to the Abbey – I began walking in earnest towards the Lake of Zürich.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

The 20 km walk (approximately) suggested by the Steiners has the walker climb 200 metres from the town of Einsiedeln to Katzenstrick Summit, and then, with the exception of a 50-metre ascent from Biberbrugg Station, the trail is one continuous descent towards the Zürichsee.

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Above: Katzenstrick/Chatzenstrick Pass

At almost the halfway point the walker arrives at Biberbrugg, an eternal village whose only claim to fame seems to be that it is a midpoint with a bridge crossing the Biber River.

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In 1877, a train station of the railway line Wädenswil – Einsiedeln was built.

Fourteen years later, the Südostbahn (SOB) established the line St. Gallen – Schwyz and Biberbrugg became a transport hub yet never more than a hamlet.

Today, Biberbrugg is also a point on the famous Voralpen Express between St. Gallen and Luzern and of the motorway between St. Gallen and Schwyz.

The village´s railway station is also a stop of the Zürich S-Bahn on line S13 to Wädenswil and S40 to Rapperswil.

The sole reason to stop in Biberbrugg is to have a meal at the Restaurant Post on the hill above the Station.

Lunch consumed, I walked another three kilometres to Schindellegi, the Mecca of Switzerland´s super rich.

The municipality of Feusisberg, of which Schindellegi is a part of, has a population of nearly 5,300.

Most are well-educated good Roman Catholics who live in Paradise.

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Above: St. Anna Church, Schindellegi

Paradise that is when one speaks of taxes as this municipality has the lowest taxes in the entirety of the nation.

Here the anonymous super rich have addresses in this municipality, including Sergio Marchionne (CEO of Fiat), Jörg Wolle (CEO of DKSH – Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner – deeply rooted in communities all across Asia Pacific – 780 locations in 36 countries), Andreas Rihs (CEO of Sonova, which specializes in hearing care solutions, like hearing aids, ear implants and wireless communication), Boris Collardi (CEO of the Bank Julius Bär – a most private bank) and Katharina Liebherr (co-owner of the Southampton Football Club).

Their wealth has an amazing amount of zeros, which has financed athletes like tennis star Martina Hingis and skijumper Simon Amman.

The ability to live in this municipality and become almost invisible verges on the magical that local magician/illusionist Peter Marvey would appreciate.

Above: Peter Marvey, the Magician without Limits

(Check out his Magic House when you are here.)

But this quiet money was revealed, at least to the rest of Switzerland, when Austrian resident in Schindellegi Hans Thomas Gross, selfmade millionaire and the 276th richest man in the world (estimated value CHF 175,000,000) began dating the “famous for being famous” American celebrity Paris Hilton.

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Above: Hans Thomas Gross

(See Remembering Marilyn / Plastered by Paris of this blog.)

Gross, who made his fortune by marketing a drink distribution system for aircraft, owner/part-owner in the companies HTG Ventures, SkyTender, Preciflex, Tetral and Tetrapak and a 56-metre yacht dubbed Galaxy, dated Paris Hilton for about a year.

(For a discussion of Swiss packaging, please see Wolves in sheep packaging of this blog.)

Paris was said to be a big fan of grocery shopping in the Coop store in nearby Richterswil.

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Paris is, for all the criticism that is hurled at her for being famous despite lacking talent, first and foremost a businesswoman.

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Above: Paris Hilton

So even though she is better known for being a socialite, a TV and media personality, model (Trump Model Management), actress, singer and DJ, this great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, is as clever a businessperson as Hans Gross.

Perhaps cleverer.

Her fragrances have earned $1.5 billion.

There are currently three Paris Hilton apartment complexes and 44 Paris Hilton stores worldwide.

Paris earns over $10 million a year from product sales.

As a celebrity, she is paid about $300,000 for appearances in clubs and events.

(Which makes it hard to picture her buying frozen vegetables at the local grocery store.)

(And it is the former presence of Paris in Schindellegi and the upcoming presence in Davos of her former employer and father of her friend Ivana, Donald Trump, that leads me to consider the lifestyles of the rich and famous.)

Don´t forget that Schindellegi is small and had no one told you that it was a taxation mecca for the super rich, it would be an easy place to ignore, for outside of the Magic House (for large groups only) only the town´s Church of St. Anna is worth a glance.

Schindellegi has the lowest taxes in Switzerland and in Switzerland anonymity is the watchword.

Above: Schindellegi

But a hint that the super rich call Schindellegi home is the Restaurant Adler.

At first glance, the Adler seems no different than any other Swiss restaurant in any other Swiss town, but the attention to detail and the need to have a qualified pastry chef beyond the normal kitchen staff found in a typical gastronomic village establishment suggests that the Adler is no stranger to the wealthy restauranteur.

Vadym (Remember Vadym?) creates such tasty delights that the tongue reminds the body why it is great to be alive.

I surprised Vadym by my visit, but I assured him it was not my intention to disturb him at work for more than a few minutes.

Despite my protestations, he insisted I have a Coke and a piece of his palate-pleasing pastry before proceeding on my path.

The Sri Lankan owner-operator of the Adler could probably have rattled off a list of the Who´s Who that have visited the Restaurant, but I sensed it was best not to linger too long.

Being just past normal lunch hours the staff were eating their own midday meal and I felt that they deserved to eat undisturbed by outside visitors.

My entire stay was probably no more than a half-hour at the most.

Schindellegi midday midweek was quiet.

Few cars on the streets, few pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I followed yellow diamond signposts that lead hikers through streets, fields and forests, valleys and mountains, across Switzerland.

My path from Schindellegi to the Lake of Zürich leads me from the railway to apartment blocks and pastures descending to Richterswil where one of the first tax revolts, one of a series of peasant revolts across Switzerland, occurred.

Richterswiler Weibel Rudolf Goldschmid was executed in Zürich following the failure of the revolt.

During the 1st War of Villmergen (5 January to 7 March 1656) when Protestant Zürich and Bern fought Catholic central Switzerland, Richterswil was invaded by an army from Schwyz.

During the 2nd War of Villmergen (also known as the Toggenburg War or the Swiss Civil War of 1712)(12 April to 11 August 1712) when Catholic cantons (including St. Gallen) fought against Protestant Bern and Zürich and Toggenburg, Richterswil was again invaded by Catholic forces.

But unlike 1656, the newly built fortifications above the town meant the siege of Richterswil was unsuccessful.

Under the French-established Helvetic Republic (1793 – 1803), Richterswil was made part of the district of Horgen and thus had a higher tax rate than surrounding villages, and as part of this higher tax it was forced to house French troops during the War of the Second Coalition (1799).

Following an unsuccessful uprising in 1804´s Bockenkrieg against Zürich, Richterswil was severely punished.

Things have calmed down since then.

Richterswil enjoys its position on the Lake of Zürich and is accessible by the A3 motorway, the Lake Zürich Left Bank railway line, the Zürich S-Bahn Services S2 and S8 and the Wädenswil-Einsiedeln line.

Above: Richterswil

The Zimmerberg busline connects the Zimmerberg Region and parts of the Sihl valley to Richterswil.

American painter John Caspar Wild (1804 – 1846) was born in Richterswil.

Above: Wild´s final resting place, Davenport, Iowa

In this town I see clear traces of someone´s love for Canada: a carved totem pole and maple leaf flags adorn the backyard of a Richterswil household.

I see the Coop store that Paris Hilton shopped at as I make my way to the Station, feet aching but smile upon my face.

I don´t have CHF 175 million in my bank account.

Nor do I have a 56-metre yacht to impress American hotel heiresses.

What I do have are walking boots and a willingness to use them.

What I do have is curiosity and enthusiasm.

As I suspected, Switzerland won´t always have Paris Hilton, but I have had the tiniest glimpse of wealth, have seen the exclusive stores of Dusseldorf, Cortina and St. Moritz, have witnessed gamblers unafraid to risk fortunes on gambling tables in Baden Baden and all I see is a golden shell empty of spirit.

What I don´t have I don´t miss, so I don´t envy those who do have what I don´t.

Over 80% of the superwealthy in the world inherited their fortune, despite claims to the contrary of hard work and sacrifice.

The poor have never lacked motivation, only opportunity.

What Paris never understood, what Donald doesn´t get, is that wealth may make the acquisition of material goods easier but it will never earn the true satisfaction of simply enjoying the world in all its quiet splendour.

Did Hans take Paris hiking?

Did he pick wildflowers for her from the fields outside Schindellegi?

Had a more sophisticated place to shop existed for Paris in Schindellegi or Richterwil, would she have shopped there?

Or did she make secret excursions to Zürich for shopping to maintain her lavish lifestyle?

I don´t hate the rich nor do I love them.

Their arrogance is accidental, their ignorance of lives other than their own is sublime.

I will return to Schindellegi for more of Vadym´s pastry.

I might walk into Richterwil´s Coop and wonder what Paris might have bought.

I will, on occasion, buy a lottery ticket in the hopes that a win might ease our financial insecurities.

How Hans made his fortune may have been legit….

Paris may actually work to maintain hers….

I wish them well.

Our worlds will never meet.

I am OK with that.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / http://www.swissinfo.com

 

 

Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. 

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

(The Beautiful South, “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)”, Blue is the Colour)

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There are a couple of songs that I enjoy listening to from this group:

“Don´t Marry Her” – purely for its shock value.

“Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” – for the feelings its lyrics inevitably generate within me.

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Above: Rotterdam

My wife recently bought me a new computer whose kinks and quirks I have yet to comprehend and overcome.

But these First World problems could have happened to anyone anywhere in the First World.

The sadness and annoyance at yet another piece of technology in my possession suddenly becoming obsolete, the frustration of having to master yet another new machine, I believe, are common emotions of someone of my generation trying to cope with the tools of a more modern time that make us sometimes feel obsolete as well.

During a break between completed errands in town and waiting for a train to take me to my only teaching job (at present) I spontaneously decided to visit the public library across the square from the Bahnhof (Train Station) St. Gallen.

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

To the library´s credit they do possess more English language books than I do in my own personal library (though my wife doesn´t believe this to be true).

Spontaneously I grab the works of three authors whose writing I have hesitated to read for various irrational reasons: Jonathan Ames (because he has struck me as being elitist), Maya Angelou (too urban with themes common to the USA but almost unrecognizable to white Canadians) and Margaret Atwood (out of pure and simple jealousy for her success rather than any logical premise at all).

I need to grow beyond myself and try to read authors for the value and power of their words rather than reject them without reading their works because of stupid preconceptions.

I begin with Ames´  Wake Up, Sir! for the simplest reason of all: his name takes precedence alphabetically.

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My attempts to dispel my prejudices about Ames do not begin well….

In Chapter One, the damned hero of the book has a valet!

But I must admit that the opening situation of the book is one with which I can relate to….

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the novel, is awoken by his valet and informed that – Horror of Horrors! – his uncle is already up and about.

“It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness.

He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.”

I love my wife, but, like Blair´s uncle, she does not see how important solitude is to producing literature (or in my case, semblances of literature).

Like Uncle Irwin, my wife (being the well-organized German woman she is) has schedules that she adheres to, with a discipline well-trained soldiers would appreciate.

So, when she alters her schedule, I find myself suddenly in a funk and am uncertain as to how to recapture my muse with the alarming alteration of her presence demanding attention to herself rather than any attempts of creation I might be fostering.

Art is more akin to spontaneous ejaculations of expression and emotion, but even I realize that some amount of order and self-control are required to produce something worthy to be published.

Much like Uncle Irwin, my wife views sitting down and producing words on a computer (dead laptop or recently acquired mystery machine notwithstanding) akin to a kind of laziness.

For surely there are better things I could be doing with my time, such as household duties (husbands are, after all, unpaid valets), finding more employment as a teacher or requesting more hours at my “temporary” job as a barista.

She feels, and rightly so, that the inequality of our incomes puts an unjust burden upon her, but, in my defence, I argue that her education should leave her with a larger income than me and that money, as pleasant as it can be, is not the only criteria when it comes to devoting 80% of our lives to a job.

When work presents itself I do not shirk my responsibilities, but by the same token I do not want my life to be nothing more than living to pay bills.

I have more leisure time than she does as a doctor, but I would be lying if I said that I am not glad that I do.

I like having mornings to myself when I can write, or evenings when she has gone to bed exhausted and I am writing my electronic journal.

I like working weekends when the Café closes earlier than weekdays, leaving me free during the week – when I am not teaching – to go hiking or travelling while average people are chained to their workplaces.

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It is a fine thing to go hiking on a Sunday, but nature is truly a wonderland on a Wednesday when most everyone is working leaving the wilderness to myself alone.

That having been said, my ability to travel would not be possible (at least in the same manner I have grown accustomed to since we got married) were it not for her superior income.

And, understandably, she wants to have leisure time to travel as well, though her desire for solitude is rarer for her than mine is.

So, except for conferences, when she travels I usually accompany her.

And, it must be said, as too swift as our travelling together can be, travelling alone can, on occasion, make a place feel like Rotterdam or anywhere.

I can appreciate a sunset alone, but sharing that same sunset does lend the dying day a certain poignancy that solitude does not.

There is an Island that we both visited this past summer that listening to “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” always brings to mind, for had I not been with her not only might I not have seen the Island, I might not have appreciated it without her by my side.

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

Traffic-free Monte Isola, Italy´s largest lake island, at over 3 km long and 600 metres / 1,969 feet high, at the south of the Lago d´Iseo, is defined by Italian legislation as an “area of particular importance from the natural and environmental point of view”.

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Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

Accessible by hourly ferries from the lakeside ports of Iseo and Sulzano, Monte Isola is a magnet for daytrippers in summers and at weekends, so the Island then is unlikely to provide much solitude.

Still, mid-season or out of season, the Island is well worth a visit, to walk or cycle around the edge of the Island and for great views of the lake.

The population of the Island (1,800 inhabitants) is spread over 11 villages and hamlets.

There are several churches built between the 15th and the 17th centuries with frescoes, statues and altars in vernacular art.

With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres / 4.9 square miles, Monte Isola ranks as the largest lake island not only in Italy, but also in Central and South Europe.

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

(The world´s largest lake island is Canadian: Manitoulin Island.)

The Island is served and reached by two main ports: Carzano to the north and Peschera Maraglio to the south.

There are indications of a Roman settlement, but the Island is first mentioned in a written document in 905 when it was listed among the properties of the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia.

The family Oldofredi, rulers of Iseo, built two strongholds on the Island in the 11th to the 19th centuries.

One of these, on the lower promontory of the Island, covered by olive tree and wine cultivation, is the Rocca Oldofredi-Martinego, built in the 14th century as a strategic and defense point and then turned into a residence by the Martinegos during the Italian Renaissance.

Members of the powerful Visconti family came to the Island to hunt in 1400.

In 1497 Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, gave the islanders some fishing rights and reduced their taxes.

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

In the same year, Caterina Cornaro, Queen and last monarch of Cyprus, resided a while on the Island.

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

During the 19th century the main industry on the Island was the construction of boats and the manufacturing of fishing nets.

In 2016, Monte Isola was the site of the Floating Piers by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Above: The Floating Piers

In Peschiera Maraglio is the single-nave Church of San Michele Arcangelo.

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Consecrated in 1648, this baroque church is notable for the many frescoes on the walls and ceiling and for its wooden carvings.

Climb the mountain from the small village of Cure in the middle of the Island.

The peak offers the most panoramic site of the Lago and from here it is possible to admire all the villages of both lakeshores, the natural reserve of Torbiere del Sebino and a large part of the mainland.

At the top, amongst walnut woods and ancient dolomite rocks stands the Shrine of the Madonna della Ceriola.

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This 13th century church was the first parish church on the Island and the Madonna, the protectress not only of the inhabitants of Monte Isola but the entirety of Lago Iseo, is represented by a 12th century seated wooded sculpture carved from the trunk of a turkey oak.

Wander the Island and feel soothed by the barely tamed bushy copse woods containing oak, bay, hornbeam, ash and fruit chestnut trees.

Brown kites fly above, while wild ducks and great crested grebes swim below.

Agriculture, once an island mainstay, is nowadays practised more as a hobby, yet, nonetheless, it is the maintenance of this ancient art that still plays a crucial role in the preservation of the landscape heritage, preventing the Island being overdeveloped as a Tourist resort similar to other major northern Italian lakes such as Garda and Como.

The 1,800 inhabitants of this lake oasis move about by motorcycle or mini-buses which connect all hamlets and the two main ports.

All connections to and from the mainland run between Peschiera Maraglio and mainland Sulzano (the route we took) or between Carzano and mainland Sale Marasino.

This ferry service, operated by Navigazione Lago d´Iseo, runs every 15 to 20 minutes from 0500 to midnight and every 40 minutes between midnight and 5 a.m.

On Monte Isola cars are banned and the only cars allowed are the ones used for community services (ambulance, doctor, police, priest and taxi).

Motorcycles are for the exclusive use of permanent Monte Isola residents.

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the Island by bike.

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

And the paths leading from the Lago to the top of the Island and to the Shrine.

This is an extremely interesting site, both from a natural and an artistic point of view.

The island´s littlest church contains contemplative quiet beauty and is both the oldest and the highest point on Monte Isola.

The rest of the Island itself is worth a look and a linger.

Artistic churches surrounded by tiny squares and large pale stone houses, sunny arcades, companionable courtyards, lovely landscapes, a rough and simple people  –  some still using ancient wooden farm tools – set in a solid and certain architecture and proud heritage.

Siviano, the most populated hamlet, is the central core of the community.

Above: Siviano

Here, here, is the town hall, the Kindergarten, the Primary School and the Secondary School, the post office, the bank, the two supermarkets.

Peschiera Maraglio, the main harbour of Monte Isola, has a tourist office, another bank, a chemist´s, another Kindergarten, many restaurants, hotels and shops.

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

Carzano was also a fishermen´s village, also all about the fish and fish preservation.

Here, every five years, the fishing folk decorate all the streets of the village with handmade paper flowers to celebrate the religious feast of the Holy Cross, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to watch the spectacle.

Here on Monte Isola it is possible to sleep in small silent hotels and to savour the endless ways to eat a fish.

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

The lake sardines are salted, dried and bottled in oil….

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

The wife and I strolled from Peschiera´s docks, occasionally popping into shops and then settled ourselves down by the shore to watch children splash joyfully in the water.

Ute swam for hours while I read some forgettable tome important only at that and for that moment.

Day Five of our vacation and this day we had driven (or to be precise she drove us) from Bregamo to Sulzano, via Crespi d´Adda and Clusone.

We parked the car near the ferry port in Sulzano and waited for the boat to arrive.

A man in an ambulance gurney is taken off the boat, an ambulance waiting to take him to an emergency room in some nearby town with a hospital.

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

Neither our Italian nor our courage was up to the task of enquiring as to the patient´s identity or circumstances.

On the Island while my wife waded amongst the crowd of mer-children the chilly recollection of the gurney man remained with me but not in a sad or morbid way.

I love my wife, but I won´t deny that my brain wanders off and wonders what it would be like to go somewhere, anywhere, and retreat to an “isolated” spot and devote myself solely to my writing.

(Of course, this is with the assumption that I have the financial means to do this, which, sadly, I do not.)

I fantasize about finding some remote village like Ezra Pound´s Rapallo, or some tranquil wilderness vista like Henry David Thoreau´s Walden Pond, or some artistic alcove like Ernest Hemingway´s in Paris, and devote myself purely to doing nothing but creation.

In my mind´s eye I see myself typing some novel or a magazine article in the early hours before dawn, strolling through the just-waking village to watch the sunrise and smell the baker´s first bread and rolls being prepared for sale, more writing in my small den until lunchtime, lounging in some intimate café soaking the afternoon sun into my bones like some self-indulgent cat, strolling to the harbour to see what cast of characters the lake has spawned this day, more writing just before sunset, down to the beach to watch the sun dissolve into dream tides of amnesiac waters, then walk with purpose and anticipation to my favourite restaurant and slowly sip glass after glass of some local wine until fatigue quietly whispers to me to return back to my bed.

I am not quite certain exactly where my writer´s retreat would be or whether it even could be.

My mind has had this writer´s retreat in Paris, in Ticino and Graubünden, in Lisbon, in Istanbul, and now on Monte Isola.

It wouldn´t have to be in Monte Isola or Istanbul, Lisbon or Paris, or in some remote hamlet in southern Switzerland or northern Italy.

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

I think about the story of Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510), the last Queen of Cyprus (1474 – 1510), how she came to be a temporary resident here on Monte Isola after her husband died and Venice claimed control over Cyprus.

What must it have been like to be an exiled and deposed queen and living in isolation in an old fortress on an Island which has always been barely recognized by anyone?

Did she see her future as nothing more than a destiny of disillusioned despair and diminishment?

Does one need to be defeated, disillusioned and diminished before escaping to a retreat?

(Similar to Colin Firth´s character Jamie, in the film Love…Actually, retreating to a French cottage after he discovers his girlfriend having an affair with his brother.)

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I hope not.

Though my time on Monte Isola was short, decidedly too short –  time (and my wife) waits for no one and we had booked accommodation down the road some distance in Sirmione by Lago di Garda – I am still left with the desire to return some day to Monte Isola.

As good a place as anywhere.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy / http://www.comune.monteisola.it

 

 

Canada Slim and the Uncertainty Principle

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 January 2018

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I am reminded of this more and more these days as I watch events unfold again and again around the globe that suggest the politicization of society remains an ongoing clear and present danger.

Politicization is, at least to my way of thinking, a process where tradition and excellence are replaced by ideology and illusion.

Take, for example, two stories from the 8 January edition of the New York Times:

Windsor, England

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Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their wedding date last month, the council leader who oversees one of the richest boroughs in Britain has been on a campaign to deal with the homeless people who “sleep rough” near the wedding venue, Windsor Castle – all eight of them, according to official statistics.

An aerial photograph of a castle, with three walled areas clearly visible, stretching left to right. Straight roads stretch away in the bottom right of the photograph, and a built-up urban area can be seen outside the castle on the left. In the upper right a grey river can just be seen.

Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Thames Valley Police last week, demanding that they use their legal powers to tackle the issue of “aggressive begging and intimidation” before the royal wedding on 19 May.

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Last month, while on ski vacation in Wyoming, Dudley tweeted  – (Why do we give tweets so much damn influence anyway?) – about an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor”, which he says paints the historical market town in an “unfavourable light”.

His description of “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets  – (Sounds like my apartment!) – and “people marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” suggested that homeless people had somewhat taken over the quaint streets of Windsor.

But while Britain has a big homelessness issue, with 1 in every 200 people in England currently without a home, there are just 8 homeless people in all of Windsor and Maidenhead, the government says.

Local charities say the official figures may not fully capture the extent of the problem, because a number of people, known as the “hidden homeless”, beg on the streets by day and spend their nights in temporary accommodations for extended periods.

The Thames Valley Police say they deal with occasional reports of begging in the area but have not had any reports of anyone being marched to cash points to take out money.

(I will say that I have seen beggars begging near cash points but the only thing compelling me to assist them was my own conscience and not any overt intimidation from them.)

To quote some of the people interviewed by Ceylan Yeginsu:

“I think that (Dudley´s) comments are rude and heartless. 

If they are going to move us, it should be into a permanent home, not out of sight for a day just so that rich people can throw a party.”

“They are making us out to be criminals, a public safety hazard. 

What´s all that about?

We don´t bother anybody. 

We don´t go up on anyone. 

We just take whatever we are given.”

“The unpleasant sight is not what is shameful here. 

It´s the fact that we are not providing these poor people with warm homes in the middle of winter.”

“People sleeping on the street don´t do so through choice. 

They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs, and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and violence.”

To the mind of Dudley what matters most is not the tradition and excellence of character showing compassion and charity to those in genuine need and distress but rather it is the illusion of pretending that there is no homelessness issue in Windsor.

Haworth, England

Above: Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth

Should a 30-year-old supermodel help lead a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth (30 July 1818) of Emily Bronte?

Above: (from left to right) Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte

That question is at the crux of a row that broke out after the Bronte Society in Britain, one of the world´s oldest literary societies, anointed Lily Cole a “creative partner” for the upcoming festival celebrating Emily´s life.

Cole outside wearing a strapless purple dress with her hair up in a large bun, surrounded by photographers

Above: Lily Cole

The colloboration, announced last week, spurred a Bronte biographer and Society member to write a scathing blog post denouncing it as a “rank farce”.

“What would Emily Bronte think if she found that the role of chief “artist” and organizer in her celebratory year was a supermodel?”,  the biographer Nick Holland asked.

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Above: Nick Holland

Holland said Cole´s appointment smacked of a desire to be “trendy”.

Based on what I have read about Lily Cole, though she may be compassionate and intelligent in her own way, whether she is sufficiently qualified and knowledgeable enough to properly respect the literary tradition of this great writer remains doubtful to me.

It seems that the Society is more interested in attracting people to the celebration through the use of Cole´s beauty and celebrity than they are in demonstrating the excellence and tradition of Bronte´s writing.

And whether simply being beautiful qualifies a person as being sufficiently competent is a prickly issue.

For it begs the question:

Can a woman be both beautiful and competent, rather than being exclusively one or the other?

I believe that a woman can be both, but I don´t think a woman should necessarily be considered competent or incompetent because she is beautiful or not.

Cole should be judged on her knowledge of Bronte´s writing and her academic record in literature, neither of which seems to dominate her resumé.

It seems that tradition and excellence is being superseded by the illusion that all a woman needs are looks to be successful, rather than intelligence, experience or merit.

And I still remain skeptical of the value that a model serves society when basically her primary role is to walk up and down a catwalk like a living clothes hanger showing clothing that she had no hand in creating to a small minority of people who can afford the clothing being demonstrated.

In a world crying for equal respect to be paid to women, can we not find a woman who is more than a pretty face and praise her for her intelligence and insight instead of her ability to artistically apply make-up to anorexic cheekbones?

Isn´t that the point of celebrating Emily Bronte, in that we are praising her for the merits of her literature rather than for the accident of her gender?

(For more on the Bronte sisters, please see That Which Survives of this blog.)

 

The United States

Let´s look at science and truth and the disdain with which the present Administration has for these concepts.

If the facts do not support the present political agenda then they are dismissed as fake.

The illusion that the government is infallible is preferred over the tradition of hard work and the excellence of research.

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An entire community of scientists can scream until they are blue in the face that global warming is real and a danger to the continued existence of this planet and that they have the facts and research to prove it, but this is considered nonsense and invalid with a simple 5 am barely literate tweet by the President.

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Above: Donald Trump, the Twit of Twitter

 

Nazi Germany, 1935 – 1939

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On 1 April 1935 Arnold Sommerfeld achieved emeritus status at the University of Münich.

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Above: Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951)

However, Sommerfeld stayed on as his own temporary replacement during the selection process for his successor, which took until 1 December 1939.

The process was lengthy due to academic and political differences between the Munich faculty’s selection and that of both the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM, Reich Education Ministry) and the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

In 1935, the Munich faculty drew up a candidate list to replace Sommerfeld as ordinarius professor of theoretical physics and head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich.

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Above: Seal of the University of Munich

There were three names on the list: Werner Heisenberg, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932,  Peter Debye, who would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936, and Richard Becker — all former students of Sommerfeld.

The Munich faculty was firmly behind these candidates, with Heisenberg as their first choice.

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Above: Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

However, supporters of Deutsche Physik and elements in the REM had their own list of candidates and the battle commenced, dragging on for over four years.

During this time, Heisenberg came under vicious attack by the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

One such attack was published in Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler.

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Above: Heinrich Himmler (1900 – 1945)

Heisenberg had been lecturing to his students about the theory of relativity, proposed by the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein.

In the editorial, Himmler called Heisenberg a “White Jew” who should be made to “disappear.”

These verbal attacks were taken seriously, as Jews were subject to physical violence and incarceration at the time.

Heisenberg fought back with an editorial and a letter to Himmler, in an attempt to get a resolution to this matter and regain his honour.

At one point, Heisenberg’s mother visited Himmler’s mother to help bring a resolution to the affair.

The two women knew each other as a result of Heisenberg’s maternal grandfather and Himmler’s father being rectors and members of a Bavarian hiking club.

Eventually, Himmler settled the Heisenberg affair by sending two letters, one to SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and one to Heisenberg, both on 21 July 1938.

In the letter to Heydrich, Himmler said Germany could not afford to lose or silence Heisenberg as he would be useful for teaching a generation of scientists.

To Heisenberg, Himmler said the letter came on recommendation of his family and he cautioned Heisenberg to make a distinction between professional physics research results and the personal and political attitudes of the involved scientists.

The letter to Heisenberg was signed under the closing “Mit freundlichem Gruss und, Heil Hitler!(“With friendly greetings and, Hail Hitler!”)

Overall, the settlement of the Heisenberg affair was a victory for academic standards and professionalism.

However, the replacement of Sommerfeld by Wilhelm Müller on 1 December 1939 was a victory of politics over academic standards.

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Above: Wilhelm Müller (?) (1880 – 1968)

Müller was not a theoretical physicist, had not published in a physics journal, and was not a member of the Deutsches Physikales Gesellschaft(DPG, German Physics Society).

His appointment as a replacement for Sommerfeld was considered a travesty and detrimental to educating a new generation of theoretical physicists.

The Nazis preferred the illusion – the ideology that scientific knowledge could only be disseminated by those of “pure Aryan blood” and “proper thinking” – over academic excellence achieved through merit.

Werner Heisenberg, known as the father of quantum physics, won his Nobel Prize for postulating his now-famous uncertainty principle which, in the simplest terms that I understand, says that the more precisely position of some particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum of the particle can be known, or vice versa, the more precisely the momentum of a particle is known, the less precisely the position can be determined.

I am no physicist and I will be damned thrice if I could properly explain the principle in any significant way, but in my own personal psychology I find the more settled a person is, the less precise his progress will be, and vice versa, the more progressive a person is, the less precise the position he holds.

If one does not travel physically or intellectually beyond one´s comfort zone, the less certain it is that the person can evolve beyond their stage of stagnation.

The more one travels physically or intellectually, the less certain he/she will be about maintaining an inflexible position on any given topic, for the exposure to new ideas offers the mind the suggestion of infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.

Travellers can nonetheless be fooled by illusion overwhelming our common sense.

Three incidents come to mind in my own personal travels.

 

Niagara Falls, New York, 1990

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

I couldn´t resist..

I had visited the Canadian Niagara Falls so I was understandingly curious to compare how the American Niagara Falls looked.

Misty spray, mighty roar, majestic scale, marvelous spectacle, I was one of millions of people who have invaded the Niagara River area that splits the land into two separate nations.

Long before tourists came, Seneca natives populated the area.

In 1678 they led the French priest Louis Hennepin (1626 – 1704) to the Falls.

His description was widely read in Europe:

“The universe does not afford its parallel.”

The Falls have attracted daredevils, including the Great Farini, who used barrels and tightropes and various contraptions in attempts to go over the Falls.

(For a description of the Great Farini, please see Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies of this blog.)

Only some survived.

Honeymooners arrive (starting with Napoleon III) in the thousands, despite jokes that the Falls will be the first (or second) disappointment of married life.

To keep tourists and their dollars for longer than it takes to view the Falls, the American side has parks and attractions like its Canadian counterpart does, but – national pride aside – I believe the Canadians have done it better.

I tried visiting the New York side of the River by crossing on foot the Rainbow Bridge that spans the expanse between the nations.

I was refused.

So I opted for the Greyhound bus entry, then played the tourist.

I viewed the American Falls, took the Prospect Point Observation Tower elevator, crossed a bridge to Goat Island to view Terrapin Point and the Three Sisters Islands in the upper rapids, and descended to the Cave of the Winds where walkways go within 25 feet of the cataracts.

The town itself with over 60,000 people struck me as a grimier and grittier place as compared to the Ontario town of 75,000 people and a visit to nearby Buffalo made me think of the Gotham City as presented by Tim Burton´s Batman movie.

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As historic as Buffalo´s Erie Canal and railroads may be, as fine as some of Buffalo´s buildings and parks are, the city felt like one huge Crime Alley, the downtown isolated and almost deserted.

Buffalo was in the 1990s a working class town known by me for only two things: the Buffalo Bills (who never seem able to win a Super Bowl) and the Anchor Bar´s Buffalo wings (deep-fried chicken wings covered in a spicy Sauce and served with blue cheese dressing and celery).

I ate the wings and boarded a bus back to Niagara Falls, New York and then waited in the bus terminal for a bus back over the border.

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I was approached by a stranger.

I never understood racism or racial profiling, for I can never forget the family vacation I took a decade previously when we were on a freeway outside of Chicago and an ebony family in a long station wagon passed alongside us.

My foster mom shrieked and insisted we bolt our doors and windows.

The family, except for the darker hue of their skin, were no more dangerous than a Norman Rockwell painting, and we were travelling together at a speed of 60 miles per hour on a crowded highway.

It was illogical, irrational and emotional.

I had seen few black people before visiting the States and those I had met were quite decent and civil individuals, so I couldn´t understand why the extreme fear demonstrated by my foster parent.

Maybe Canadians are exposed to too much American TV?

When I was approached by a black man about my age (I was in my 20s then.) I felt neither fear nor suspicion.

He gave me a song and dance about how he needed to get back home to Los Angeles but couldn´t afford the bus fare.

He gave me a LA business card of what he said was his current employer.

His manner seemed sincere, but as a last measure of caution I bought his ticket ensuring that it was non-refundable and could only be redeemed as a bus ticket.

Time passed.

I contacted his LA employer who informed me that the young man had indeed worked for them but had quit their employ before he asked me for bus fare.

To my own surprise I was neither angry nor disappointed.

I might have been scammed but I proved to myself that I could be a generous person.

Maybe my action resulted in his returning to LA or perhaps he managed to convince another hapless traveller to buy his ticket, still he must have needed the money or he wouldn´t have done the scam.

I wish him well, though I doubt he would remember me.

 

Barcelona, Spain, 25 May 2007

On vacation with my wife, a week in this self-confident and progressive capital of Catalunya, Barcelona was and ever shall remain a city vibrating with life and excitement.

It is a thriving port and a prosperous commercial city that one could easily spend one´s entire life in and yet barely scratch its surface.

Superb museums, Gothic and modernista architecture, world famous ramblas, beautiful beaches, beckoning promenade, every day felt like a fiesta.

We soaked in Picasso, Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí.

We strolled, we browsed, we listened to buskers and watched street Performers.

The energy of Barcelona was and still remains boundless.

We sunbathed, we swam, we ate, we drank as if there would be no tomorrow.

We wandered the streets of Barcelona day and night unafraid, lost in a kaleidoscope of colours and a garden of smells, lost in a warren of broad boulevards and ancient and narrow streets, lost in our own private flight of fancy, seeing only joy and elegance all around us.

We did not see the dirt and neglect that is also Barcelona´s seedier side.

We did not see poverty, for we chose to be blind to it.

We did not see drug use, for we were high already on the wine of each other´s company and the intoxicating nature of our vacation playground.

Was there danger lurking the flanks of the ramblas?

Should we have locked our passports, tickets and wallets inside the safe of our hotel room?

Should we have kept our backpacks beneath our feet as we poured endless sangrias down our gullets?

Were there pickpockets and bag snatchers hungry for the wealth we had and they did not?

Perhaps.

Yet fear is forgotten, for hidden down alleys little changed for centuries are tapas bars, in gentrified old town quarters are designer boutiques, in workers´ taverns bargain lunches.

Gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin de siècle cafés, restored palaces, neighbourhood markets and specialist galleries, and that wonder of wonders, that miracle of miracles, Gaudí´s labour of love the Sagrada Familia.

Where is the fear?

Where is the danger?

We climbed a hillside, after midnight, intimately intoxicated.

Two men approach us, claiming to be plain clothes policemen.

My wife is German, so her instinct is to be lawabiding and obedient to figures of authority.

I am Canadian with a healthy trust in law and order common to a country where – unlike our neighbours to the south where settlement arose then the law followed,  we sent the law out first then settlers followed – it is assumed that those who regulate our lives do it in our best interests rather than their own.

(Naive, perhaps, but preferable to paranoia.)

Perhaps it was Niagara Falls that remained with me, but there was something about the set-up, the whole approach, that smelled bad, felt wrong.

They demanded to see our passports.

I categorically refused.

My wife was concerned, ready to be compliant.

But I was unwilling to budge.

Their badges were too quickly opened and closed to be read distinctly in the midnight lamplight.

I felt a bravado that only alcohol can provide.

I was prepared to defend my fayre maiden even had they been armed to the teeth.

I was curiously unafraid and completely certain of my stance.

I told them I thought they weren´t policemen and I brushed them aside as I dragged my wife down the street with me.

They did not follow.

Whether they were cops or crooks, they were too amateur to want to tackle a man twice their height who refused to be intimidated.

I should have been scared.

I still don´t understand why I wasn´t.

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

Soho

The Soho district has a historic reputation for tolerance.

No matter how dour daily life may be or how depressingly dull politics may become, Soho is a refuge from the rigours of reality.

Here the artistic assemble and the groups gather.

Here the media IS the message, the film is the fantasy, the advertised the attraction.

Life in high profile, in coats of many colours.

There is nowhere else in London where diversity in infinite forms congregates and clashes: businessmen boast, drunks drop, theatre goers critique, fashion leaps and falls, markets never seem to close, pimps, prostitutes and police patrol.

This is the best of times.

This is the worst of times.

A place where the song “There´s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” seems fitting.

We are drawn to the lights and sounds like moths to flames, for we are tourists.

We wonder if one can be sober and a teenager at the same time here.

And is everyone getting married tomorrow?

Here a stag party, here a hen party, here a drunk, there a drunk, everyone´s a drunk, drunk.

Ol´ Macdonald went to Soho, e-i-e-i-ohhh!

Sadly the wedding invitations will be as lacklustre as the imagination that went into the wandering about the streets from pub to pub the night before.

Are you not entertained?

It felt like a full day: the Churchill War Rooms (Would the man who would fight on the beaches and in the streets have defended Soho?), the Household Cavalry Rooms, Westminster Cathedral, the Florence Nightingale Museum….

Enough of the mighty and the martyrs, the pomp and pomposity, we wanted to pump passion into our veins and colour into our consciousness.

We find ourselves on Charing Cross Road, T.S. Eliot territory, where the American Eliot spent much of his time retreating from his English wife Vivienne.

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Their marriage was markedly miserable, in part because of Viv´s health.

In a letter to their mutual friend Ezra Pound, Vivi complained of having a high temperature, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and colitis simultaneously.

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Above: Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot (1888 – 1947)

Eliot retreated so often from his wife that Viv would eventually resort to marching up and down Charing Cross Road wearing a sandwich board bearing the slogan:

“I am the wife that T.S. Eliot abandoned.”

She was later diagnosed with mental instability and spent her remaining years in an asylum.

Is that what it means for a European to be married to a North American?

My poor wife.

We find ourselves wandering aimlessly trying to locate a restaurant listed in her Müller guide to London when in front of Wyndhams Theatre two young ladies in their 20s approached us.

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Would we like two free tickets to see the show about to begin?

Cautiously, we accept.

One of the ladies, her name written in ink on our tickets, Miranda Banfield had received four free tickets through her workplace and two of the ladies cancelled at last moment.

The show was Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, our seats next to theirs.

To relieve their anxiety I opted to keep Ute between myself and them.

We were plesantly distracted and immensely grateful for the generosity.

Heisenberg is the story of Georgie Burns (Anne-Marie Duff), a 42-year-old American and Alex Priest (Kenneth Cranham), a 75-year-old English butcher, who meet in a London railway station.

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They begin a romantic relationship and eventually travel to New Jersey to search for Georgie´s missing son.

Had we been sceptical of Miranda´s unexpected kindness we might have missed out on a magical moment of theatre.

Miranda and her companion did not expect or ask for further contact or remuneration and we parted ways pleasantly after the show.

We had progressed over the years and were less certain about categorizing people into distinct categories of good and bad.

Stranded strangers could be legitimate or could be liars.

Men on midnight streets could be cops or conmen.

Generosity could be genuine and gratefully accepted.

Life is uncertain.

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Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet USA / The Rough Guide to London / The Rough Guide to Spain

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 January 2018

The Common Era year 2017 ended a week ago, which means the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation also ended.

1 January 2018 was the 534th anniversary of the birth of Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss German-speaking Reformer, whose life I have been retracing on foot through the advice of Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch since 10 October 2018.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

(Please see Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows, Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect, Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz, and Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul of this blog for an account of the life of Zwingli in Wildhaus, Weesen, Basel, Vienna and Glarus and an account of my own experiences with these places.)

So, by all accounts, you, gentle Reader, should now be spared any more mention of Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland, but both Zwingli´s life and my adventures following his life did not end in Glarus.

The abovementioned book of the Steiners divides the on foot exploration of Zwingli´s life into nine stages, four of which I have walked and written about.

What follows in today´s blog is a description of my attempts to follow Zwingli from Glarus to Zürich.

There will still remain the final stage of both the book and Zwingli´s life to be followed from Zürich to his final destination of Kappel am Albis, which will be written about in a future blogpost.

I ask for the reader´s patience in retracing Zwingli´s and my footsteps, for what it is discovered en route should make for interesting reading.

(I hope.)

 

Glarus, Switzerland, 23 November 2017 (American Thanksgiving)

A man must accept his limitations or those limitations placed upon him.

Flag of Switzerland

My limitations are time (I live and work in Switzerland and obligations of my domestic life and my professional life as barista and teacher must be taken into account.), money (As much as my wife is supportive of my little pet projects she doesn´t like to see money spent too “frivolously” on overnight accommodation if a return home the same day of a hike can be arranged.) and season (Much of Switzerland´s infrastructure closed down once winter has begun and a decrease of daylight were factors that had to be considered.).

As previously mentioned in former blogposts, the Steiners don´t claim that the walking routes they recommend were actually walked by Zwingli himself, just that they lead to places where he once resided.

The Steiners recommended, in a two-stage, two-day walk, that the historic walker could walk from Glarus to Einsiedeln via the Klontalersee and the Saaspass.

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Above: Klon Valley Lake, Canton Glarus

I was keen to do so, but uncertainty as to whether these routes would be passable and visible or if they were blocked by snow, and the inability to return from the Klon Valley Lake by bus back to Glarus before darkness set in, made me reconsider the wisdom of walking to Einsiedeln in winter without the proper gear.

Arriving in Glarus and learning that buses between the Lake and Glarus were not running until April, I returned to the train station and instead decided to make the journey by train.

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Above: Glarus Railway Station

Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The small village of Einsiedeln in the hills of northern Schwyz Canton has been Switzerland´s most important site of pilgrimage for a thousand years and still draws a quarter of a million devout believers every year.

The village itself is unremarkable, but the mighty Benedictine monastery which dominates it is exceptional, and worth a detour whether you are drawn by faith or curiosity.

Einsiedeln means hermitage and is named for St. Meinrad the Hermit, a monk from the monastery of Reichenau, who withdrew to what was then wilderness known as the Dark Forest in 828 AD.

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Meinrad was born circa 800, somewhere between the German towns of Tübingen and Rottenburg.

His parents sent him to the world-famous monastic school at Reichenau, where he later entered the monastery.

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Above: Reichenau Coat of Arms

However, his true vocation was for the life of a hermit.

He withdrew into the solitude of the Dark Forest.

The spot where the Lady Chapel stands today is where Meinrad built his hermit´s cell and oratory in 835.

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He built a small chapel and living quarters and remained there 26 years until the day of his death.

And it was where he was murdered by two thieves on 21 January 861 after a life of self-denial and prayer.

They found nothing of value, because he had taken a vow of poverty and had always given away everything he received.

Two ravens that lived with Meinrad pursued the murderers and brought their crime to light.

The murderers were arrested and burnt at the stake for their crime

In commemoration of this the Abbey of Einsiedeln has since the 13th century borne two ravens on its coat of arms.

Meinrad´s body was retrieved by the monks from Reichenau and returned to their monastery, where he was reverently laid to rest.

(His body was sometime later returned to Einsiedeln where it is considered the Abbey´s most precious relic.

Meinrad´s head reposes in a silver case in the high altar of the Church.

Meinrad´s skull has got a fissure from the blow of a club.)

Following Meinrad´s death, his hermitage remained deserted for more than 40 years.

Eventually Benno, a priest from Strasbourg, settled there with a number of followers, cleared the forest and rebuilt the chapel.

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Benno and his followers built cells in the neighbourhood, living as hermits in an informal brotherly union.

In September 934, a relation of Benno named Eberhard of Nellenburg came to the Meinradzelle with a larger following and considerable financial resources and founded a Benedictine community, becoming the monastery´s first abbott.

Emperor Otto I (912 – 973) was in the process of building up a powerful empire like his great predecessor Charlemagne.

To do this he needed the support of the Church against the over-mighty princes and nobles of his realm.

Otto made bishops and abbots into worldly leaders and conferred upon them far-reaching powers and extensive landholdings.

The young monastery “in the depths of the forest” was no exception.

In the year 934 Otto signed the Document for Immediacy, making the monastery directly answerable to himself.

Abbott Eberhard invited the Bishop of Konstanz to perform the consecration of a new church on the site on 14 September 948.

The Bishop was about to do so, when a voice was heard ringing through the church, insisting three times over that God Himself had already consecrated the church.

“Desist.

God Himself has consecrated this building.”

(This Miraculous Consecration was a real time saver)

The Pope declared this to be a miracle and issued a papal bull blessing the pilgrimage to Einsiedeln.

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Above: John XI, Pope (931 – 935)

From then on, the monastery enjoyed special privilege, with large royal grants and positions of honour for the abbots.

Duchess Regenlind of Swabia and the Ottonian emperors provided the monastery with generous endowments, as the young religious community typified the monastic ideal.

This is attested by the works produced in the Abbey´s scriptorium.

This secular protection became a permanent bone of contention.

When the arch enemies of the Swiss, the Habsburgs took over the protectorship of the monastery in 1283, the conflict came to a head.

On the night of Epiphany 1314, the Swiss attacked the monastery, plundered it and held the monks captive for weeks.

The Habsburgs now had an excuse for the punitive expedition they had long planned against the Swiss.

However, this ended in a defeat for the Habsburgs at Morgarten, and after the Battle of Sempach, the Swiss forced the Habsburgs to return the protectorship of the monastery to them.

In the 13th century admission to the novitiate in Einsiedeln became restricted to the nobility, so by the late Middle Ages the Abbey´s membership had fallen sharply.

By 1286 the Chapel of Our Lady, built over the remains of Meinrad´s cell, was already a focal point.

It was adorned after a destructive fire in 1468 with a statuette of Mary with the infant Christ, carved in wood some time before 1440.

It is this figure which became the focus of pilgrimage as the Black Madonna.

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Monza, Italy, 8 – 13 September 1515

Zwingli had marched as armed chaplain for the Glarner battalion six days from the Septimer Pass to Milan and Monza.

On Saturday 8 September, Zwingli preached a sermon from the Loggia of the Palazzo del Arengario to the assembled representatives of the fighting strength, Swiss Confederation troops and additional fighting partners.

In his sermon Zwingli warned them of defeat against the French due to disagreement within the Confederation.

Above: Basilica di San Giovanni, Melegnano (formerly Marignano)

On Sunday the Pope and the leaders of the Holy League held a Council of War here.

The attack on Marignano took place on the following Thursday 13 September due to pressure from Cardinal Schiner resulting in disastrous defeat.

Above: Battle of Marignano, 13 – 14 September 1515

Zwingli experienced, at close range, the power and political decisions of the Pope´s regency and the fatal dependence of the Confederation on mercenary warfare.

He became increasingly more doubtful of the mercenary situation.

The decisive defeat of the Swiss in the Battle of Marignano caused a shift in mood at Glarus in favour of the French rather than the Pope.

Zwingli, the papal partisan, found himself in rather a difficult position and decided to retreat to Einsiedeln.

By this time, Zwingli had become convinced that mercenary service was immoral and that Swiss unity was indispensable for any future achievements.

Some of his earliest writing, such as The Ox (1510) and The Labyrinth (1516) attacked the mercenary system using allegory and satire.

His countrymen were presented as virtuous people caught within a French, imperial and papal triangle.

Zwingli stayed in Einsiedeln for two years during which he withdrew completely from politics in favour of ecclesiastical activities and personal studies and contemplation.

Later Zwingli would write:

“I started to preach the Christian Gospel in 1516.”

His Bible studies and practical experience during his decade in Glarus were decisive contributing factors.

On the eve of the Reformation, there were only two monks left in the monastery, one who occupied the office of abbott and the other of administrator.

All pastoral duties were carried out by chaplains, amongst them Huldrych Zwingli.

As people´s priest in Einsiedeln, Zwingli took the time to consider the whole.

His humanistic competence, contacts and studies for a reliable Interpretation of the Bible absorbed him.

He came to the conclusion in Einsiedeln that essential revision was necessary within the Church and the Confederation.

The guiding principle and compass for that revision had to be the message exclusively from the Bible.

“You are God´s tools.

He requires your service, not your inactivity.”

His time in Glarus and Einsiedeln was characterised by inner growth and development.

Zwingli perfected his Greek and took up the study of Hebrew.

His personal library contained over three hundred volumes from which he was able to draw upon classical and scholastic works.

He exchanged correspondence with a circle of Swiss humanists and began to study the works of Erasmus.

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Above: Desiderus Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536)

Zwingli took the opportunity to meet Erasmus when the Dutchman was in Basel between August 1514 and May 1516.

Zwingli´s turn to relative pacifism and his focus on preaching can be traced to the influence of Erasmus.

 

Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

At the beginning of the 16th century the monastery was headed towards total disintegration.

The Schwyzians, the patrons of the monastery, stepped in and turned to St. Gallen for a new abbott.

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Above: Coat of Arms of Canton Schwyz

He saved the monastery by opening up the novitiate to commoners.

The monastery complex was rebuilt from 1704 to 1726 in the most lavish of late-Baroque styles, the handiwork of monk Kaspar Moosbrugger.

The baroque Abbey was still new when the French occupied Switzerland after the Revolution.

On 3 May 1798, 6000 soldiers under General Schauenburg invaded the area, confiscated the Abbey and expelled the Abbot and monks.

On their flight to St. Gerold in Austria, they were able to take only their most valuable possessions.

Above: Benedictine monastery, Sankt Gerold, Austria

Schauenburg allowed his soldiers to plunder the Abbey and in the two weeks that followed they removed everything they could carry away.

The officers made one another presents to the magnificent horses from the Abbey stables, the library was completely sacked and the Church desecrated.

The miraculous statue of the Black Madonna was dispatched to Paris where it proved to be an imitation.

The monks had replaced the original before the arrival of the French and smuggled it to Austria.

To put a stop to pilgrimages for all time, the French then destroyed the Lady Chapel.

Three years later, after Napoleon had seized power in France, the Abbott and monks were able to return  – to a picture of devastation.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the monastery´s sphere of activities entered a period of marked growth.

In 1854 it founded the Archabbey of St. Meinrad in Indiana, and in 1925 worked to establish an agricultural school in Pfäffikon on the Lake of Zürich.

Above: St. Meinrad Archabbey Church, Indiana

In 1948 the Abbey founded the Priory of Los Toldos in Argentina.

Above: Monasterio Benedictino Santa Maria, Los Toldos, Argentina

The former small abbey school was expanded into a grammar/high school which is frequented by 300 boys and girls.

In 2008 the convent numbered 80 monks.

Einsiedeln´s train station and post office are in the town centre opposite Dorfplatz.

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Above: Einsiedeln Train Station

I headed through this square and turned left onto Hauptstrasse, following other obvious tourists flowing towards this edifice at the end of the street overlooking Klosterplatz – a ten-minute walk.

As you emerge from the cluster of the village centre, the vast Klosterplatz opens out in front.

The rather plain sandstone front of the Church, with its twin towers rising from an immense 140 metre long facade, is framed by unusual semicircular sunken arcades.

The ornate Well of Our Lady in the square taps the waters of Meginrat´s spring – pilgrims traditionally drink from each of the fourteen spouts in turn on their approach to the Church.

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The interior is breathtaking.

The nave is decorated with detailed frescoes by Cosmas Damian Asam.

Every part of the lofty white interior is detailed in lavish gold.

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An intricate wrought-iron choir screen gives into the stunning pink Rococo choir with a ceiling bedecked with animated sculptures of angels.

However the focus of all the pilgrims´ attention is the black marble Chapel of Our Lady, positioned in a huge octagonal bay just inside the main portal.

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The Black Madonna, a little over one metre tall and usually dressed in a jewelled and tasselled golden dress donated by Canton Uri in 1734, stands illuminated within.

Every day, the monks of Einsiedeln sing the anthem “Salve Regina” (“Hail to thee, oh Queen, Mother of Mercy”) in the chapel of the Black Madonna.

The Salve has been sung since 1547.

In his book Poetry and Truth, Goethe described the Chapel:

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“The little chapel in the church, the hermit´s cell inhabited by the saint, is encrusted with marble and as far as possible transformed into a decent chapel.

It was something new to me, something I had never seen before, this tiny compartment, surrounded and enclosed by pillars and domes.

It led me to think that a single spark of piety and morality had ignited an eternally burning flame to which crowds of pilgrims were to undertake their arduous journey in order to light their own candles at the holy flame.

Be that as it may, it indicates a deep longing on the part of humanity for the same light, the same warmth, such as the first hermit Meinrad drew from his deepest inner conviction.”

Pilgrims often ask:

“Why is the Madonna black?”

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There is one obvious explanation: the soot from candles, incense and oil lamps has darkened the original colour gradually through the ages.

The flight from the French did the Madonna no good either, and she suffered greatly from damp weather.

Before the Madonna returned from Austria, an artist restored the statue returning the face and hands of the Virgin and the skin of the Christ Child the colour of flesh.

Then the monks in exile set the image up for a few days for public viewing in front of the church in Bludenz.

Above: The Priory of St. Peter, Bludenz, Austria

The appearance of a black Madonna had become so popular and the disappointment so great that the artist repainted the skin black.

It would never change.

Einsiedeln remains a fully functioning monastic community of 80 priests and 20 brothers.

Mass is celebrated several times a day.

Of the many annual pilgrimage festivals, the most colourful is the Feast of the Miraculous Consecration on 14 September, which culminates in a candlelit procession around the square.

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Let me blunt.

My first gut reaction to Einsiedeln was, and mostly remains, here is yet another big fancy church.

I remember walking Jakobsweg (St. James Way) from Rapperswil to Einsiedeln.

(“Europe was created on St. James Way.”, Goethe once wrote.

He was not wrong, for the history of the St. James Way is deeply connected with the history of Europe and was therefore deemed a part of the world´s cultural heritage in 1987.

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St. James Way consists of a wide net of routes which spread across Europe like many loose threads that intertwine as they head toward Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the supposed remains of St. James were found by a hermit in a neighbouring field.)

I remember visiting Einsiedeln with my wife in the first summer we lived in Switzerland (2010) and feeling overwhelmed by the thousands of tourists that seemed to be visiting the Abbey that same day.

But I know that Einsiedeln Abbey and the town itself deserved a second look.

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Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 4 January 2018

(For more on this day, please see …and the ravens cried “Nevermore” of my other blog Building Everest.)

To the non-follower of Catholicism, the cult of Marianism (the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being divine because God decided to choose her to bear His Son, thus making her the instrument through which we can get intercession from God) seems quite strange and somewhat smacking of idolatry.

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Yet this veneration of Mary encompasses prayer, acts of piety, visual arts, poetry and music.

Popes encourage it, but are always cautioning Catholics not to confuse respect for her duty with any actual divinity said duty may have given her.

Let there be no doubt.

Einsiedeln Abbey is most definitely a Marian pilgrimage site.

In 1996, the working group Shrines of Europe was founded with the purpose of uniting Europe´s principal Marian pilgrimage sites, which now are listed as Fatima, Portugal; Altötting, Germany; Loreto, Italy; Czestochowa, Poland; Lourdes, France; Einsiedeln, Switzerland; and Mariazell, Austria.

Shrines of Europe

“At all these holy places, pilgrims hope to gain a new sense of the message given to them by their belief.

The strain and occurences which they experience on their way there give them more insight.

Their experiences at the holy place itself provide many people with new strength and energy – for the story they hear of the shrine, the rituals which are held, and the praying people all create an atmosphere in which the soul can open and find peace.”

A wet and stormy day finds me back in Einsiedeln on this my first day off after two days working.

I revisit the Abbey Church and remain impressed by the frescoes and stucco works and the gorgeous Baroque architecture.

I wonder at the devotion of the half-dozen worshippers praying by the Lady Chapel´s Black Madonna.

I will miss hearing the Gregorian Vesper at 1630 and the Salve Regina singing that will follow, but console myself with the thought of buying an audiovisual record of them in the Cloister Shop.

I view the Great Hall, the audience chamber of the monastery and can well imagine a concert filling the place with magnificent music.

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I long to visit the Abbey Library with rare manuscripts and books Dating back to the foundation of the monastery in the 10th century, but am told that the Library can only be visited as part of a large guided German-language tour.

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I risk life and limb walking treacherous ice to visit the stables behind the monastery to find lady grooms unwelcoming and horses indifferent.

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The monastery´s stables are considered to be the oldest stud farm in Europe still in operation.

The baroque stables were built between 1764 and 1767.

Einsiedeln Abbey horses were highly admired all over Europe.

In Italy they were known as the Cavalli della Madonna (the Madonna´s cavalry).

Yet there is more to Einsiedeln than just the Abbey, for it is a place not only of pilgrimage but as well culture.

See the Jerusalem Panorama that shows the Crucifixion from Good Friday until All Saints´ Day.

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See the Bethlehem Diorama illustrating the Christmas story complete with announcement-receiving shepherds, the Nativity Scene (minus a little drummer boy), the arrival of the Three Kings (no, not George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, but instead Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) and the Holy Family´s escape to Egypt, from All Saints´ Day to Epiphany.

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Cross the Devil´s Bridge, a stone bridge covered by a wooden roof on St. James Way, constructed in 1699 to transport the stones needed to construct the monastery from the quarry on the Etzel River to Einsiedeln.

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In the middle of the bridge is a statue of St. John of Nepomuk.

The famous physician Paracelsus was born close to the bridge in 1493.

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Above: Theophrastus von Hohenheim aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)

I will never again make a gingerbread latté without thinking of the Goldapfel Gingerbread Bakery Museum with its old baking utensils and wooden forms, and the sale of Schaffböcke, or pilgrim biscuits, made from flour, water, honey and spices or the brown and white filled Kräpfli or speciality gingerbread.

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In the cellar of the Bethlehem Diorama is the Museum of Minerals, a collection of over 1,000 minerals from all over the world – from Alpine quartz to colourful crystals from China and South America.

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A special feature is the flourescent cabin where inconspicuous stones reveal an unexpected blaze of colours under ultaviolet light.

The Fram Museum is an historical museum about Einsiedeln, dedicated to the most important events during the town´s long history, including the Benzinger Publishing Company and the famous physician/alchemist Paracelsus.

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And there are activities to enjoy besides museums and buildings of holy intent:

You can swim off Roblosen Beach on Lake Sihl, or in the Hallenbad indoor swimming pool or at the Alpamare water park.

Cruising on Switzerland´s largest reservoir, Lake Sihl, is an unforgettable natural experience.

Catch a movie in the cinema, play minigolf, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, enjoy a ride aboard the Blatten Garden steam train, take a tandem hang glide, indulge yourself with a luxury tour on an original Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, visit the largest and newest indoor beach volleyball complex in Switzerland or play on one of three outdoor volleyball courts.

There are bike paths and hiking trails, rope parks and rope slides, an 18-hole golf course and windsurfing on the lake.

There is a cable car, Europe´s longest hanging footbridge, a summer toboggan run, a bouncy castle and playgrounds for the kids in nearby Sattel.

Not far away in Gossau, you can visit the Landscape and Animal Park – 34 hectares that is home to more than 100 different native and European species living in almost wild conditions.

Feed the deer, see the bears, howl with the wolves.

The military buff amongst the group will be delighted to find that the Canton of Schwyz has the Reduit Defence Line, a series of more than 400 interconnected fortifications, restored and refurbished with original Equipment including Fort Grynau, antitank defences, artillery casemates, a control centre and a fire control post.

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Between Einsiedeln and the Lake of Zürich in Schindellegi, you can experience the most modern ski jumps in Switzerland and the training ground of four-time Olympic gold medal winner Simon Ammann up close and personal.

A resurrected Meinrad the Hermit probably would no longer recognize what Einsiedeln has become, but I have the distinct impression he might not be displeased at what he would see.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Monika Hanna, Der Schweizer Jakobsweg: Vom Bodensee zum Vierwaldstättersee / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Einsiedeln Tourismus / Kloster Einsiedeln

 

Canada Slim and the Lady of Lovere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 January 2018

As another New Year begins the question turns to New Year´s resolutions, to make them or avoid them, and if made what those resolutions should be.

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Above: New Year´s Eve, Sydney, Australia

For example, some of us resolve to become fitter in the following twelve months, but those that know us know better than us that the sacrifice of time, effort and money required to do so isn´t truly who we are or really want to be.

Sometimes a person can be too close to a situation to properly see it for what it is.

Two women in my life recently caused themselves and others great friction, because they never accepted that their behaviour is harmful and refused to change their behaviour, despite being warned of consequences.

In fairness to them, it is often difficult to see beyond our own perspectives, regardless of what is said to us or what happens around us.

For example, I never truly appreciated how much I am liked by some of my regular customers when two evenings ago one of them spontaneously entered the Café and gave me a hug wishing me “Happy Holidays”.

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It wasn´t until I have reflected upon this several hours later that I realised that my response might not have been as warm and welcoming to him as it should have been.

Visiting him at his place of business bearing gifts of apology and remorse for my unintended coldheartedness is the first of my New Year´s resolutions.

For every person there are also situations that trigger a kind of blindness that makes it difficult to see anything besides the emotions the situations generate.

For example, nothing makes me see red more than bullies.

So, as a result, I have the most difficult time seeing American, Turkish or Filipino politics open-mindedly, for Trump, Erdogan and Duterte strike me as being the epitome of bullies in their behaviour.

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Above: Donald Trump, 45th US President since 20 January 2017

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Above: Recep Erdogan, 12th President of Turkey since 2014, 25th Prime Minister of Turkey (2003 – 2014)

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Above: Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines since 2016

These leaders and their followers can´t see, won´t see, what they are doing is wrong and truly believe that they are doing what is best and can´t comprehend, won´t comprehend, why others don´t see things as they do.

I was reminded of this last summer when we visited Lovere…..

Lovere, Italy, 4 August 2017

The Rough Guide to Italy doesn´t love Lovere very much.

“Lago d´Iseo raises your expectations:

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Descending from Clusone, the road passes through steep gorges, thick forests and stark angular mountains, at the foot of which lies the Lake.

(For a description of Clusone, please see Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre of this blog.)

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As Iseo is the 5th largest of the northern lakes and the least known outside Italy, you would imagine it to be more undiscovered than the others but the apartment blocks, harbourside boutiques, ice cream parlours and heavy industry of Lovere put paid to any notions that Lago Iseo might have escaped either tourist exploitation or industrialization.”

Lonely Planet Italy isn´t complimentary either.

“Lago d´Iseo is the least known and least attractive of the lakes.

Shut in by mountains, Iseo is scarred by industry and a string of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere, although driving through the blasted rock face at the water´s edge can be enjoyable.” 

And herein lies the problem.

Because so many English-speaking readers trust and faithfully follow the advice given by these two popular travel guides, they fail to discover that there might be more to Heaven and Earth than is expounded by these two guidebooks´ philosophies.

Automobiles are quick, efficient and quite liberating from the quirks of predetermined routes and set schedules, but much is missed if the destination is deemed superior to the possible discoveries that can be made if one stops and explores along the journey.

My wife and I, like many other automobile travellers, were restricted by time and money to how often we could leisurely stop and explore.

And that is a shame.

For had we taken the train from Bergamo to the harbour town of Iseo then a ferry from there to Lovere, we might have discovered a town far more deserving of compliments than the aforementioned guidebooks give it credit.

Lovere is much like Lecco in that it is considered far more unremarkable than it truly is.

(For Lecco, see Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town of this blog.)

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At first glance of Lovere a person might be forgiven for thinking that somehow the road had led the traveller somehow back to Switzerland, for the houses in this town (of 5,000 residents) have overhanging wooden roofs, typical of Switzerland, yet united with the heavy stone arcades of Italy.

Lovere faces the Lago Iseo and is held in the warm embrace of a semi-circle of mountains behind.

The Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani includes Lovere as one of the I Borghi piu belli d´Italia, one of the small Italian towns of artistic and historical interest and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

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Being part of the crossroads of culture and conflict that this region has been for centuries, Lovere has seen different peoples struggle to possess it: the Celts, Romans, Lombards, Franks, the monks of the Marmoutier Abbey (Tours, France), the Bishops of Bergamo, the Republic of Venice, the Napoleonic French, the Austrians and finally Italians.

There are a few sights in town worthy of a look and a linger of a few hours: the Church of Santa Maria in Valvendra with works by Cavagna, Carpinoni and Marone; the Palazzo Tadini which is both historic palace and art gallery, with many beautiful paintings and magnificent marble sculptures, along with terracotta, porcelain, antique armaments, furniture and zoological collections; the Church of San Giorgio with Cavagana´s Last Supper and Palma the Younger´s Trinity with the Virgin; the Clarissan monastery of Santa Chiara; the frescoes of the Oratorio San Martino; the ancient fortifications of Il Castelliere Gallico.

Above: Basilica Santa Maria in Valvendia, Lovere

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Above: Palazzo Tadini, Lovere

Above: Church of San Giorgio, Lovere

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Above: Convent of Santa Chiara, Lovere

Above: Church of San Martino, Lovere

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Above: Fortifications of Castelliere Gallico, Lovere

This town is truly deserving of mention and preservation.

Yes, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, there is industry here in Lovere, for the town possesses a metallurgic plant, Lucchini, which employs about 1,300 people and specializes in the manufacture of railroad wheels and axles.

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But this town is more than industry and churches and it has produced or adopted a few folks worthy of mention:

The English aristocrat, letter writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) resided in Lovere for ten years.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu (1689 – 1762)

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient Camillo Golgi studied in Lovere´s Liceo Classico.

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Above: Camillo Golgi (1843 – 1926)

(Golgi was known for his work on the central nervous system and his discovery of a staining technique called black reaction or Golgi´s method, used to visualize nerve tissue under light microscopes.)

The all-time leader in victories in motorcycle Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini was born in Lovere in 1942.

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Above: Giacomo Agostini

Leading cinema critic and author Enrico Ghezzi was born in Lovere in 1952.

Above: Enrico Ghezzi

And while these abovementioned four have world recognition (at least in their day), Italians and the locals of Lovere also won´t forget that the town has also produced Santa Vincenza Gerosa, Santa Bartolomea Capitanio, acrobatic pilot Mario Stoppani, as well as Italian liberators, athletes and politicians.

Of the more famous four the person that captures my imagination the most is the Lady Montagu.

The Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) is today chiefly remembered for her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire as wife to the British Ambassador, which have been described as “the very fine example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is known for introducing and advocating for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey.

Her writings address and challenge the hindering contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.

Mary began her education in her father´s home and to supplement the instruction of a despised governess, Mary used the library in Thoresbury Hall to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin, a language reserved for men at the time.

By 1705, at the age of 14, Mary had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents), and a romance modelled after Aphra Behn´s Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684).

By 1710, Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu (1678 – 1761) and Clotworthy Skeffington.

May corresponded with Edward, but Mary´s father rejected Edward as a prospect pressuring her to marry Skeffington.

In order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712.

The early years of Mary´s married life were spent in the countryside.

She had a son, Edward Jr., on 16 May 1713.

On 1 July 1713, Mary´s brother died of smallpox, leaving behind two small children for Mary and Edward Sr. to raise.

On 13 October 1714, Edward Sr. accepted the post of Junior Commissioner of the Treasury.

When Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court.

Her famous beauty was marred by a bout with smallpox in 1715.

In 1716, Edward Sr. was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul, where they remained until 1718.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Montagus set sail for England via the Mediterranean, finally reaching London on 2 October 1718.

The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in her Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions.

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Above: Flag of Turkey

Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travellers/writers.

During her visit Mary was sincerely charmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Ottoman women she encountered and she recorded her experiences in a Turkish bath.

She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women at a bath in Sofia, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for they tied up their wives in little boxes, for the shape of their bodies”.

Mary wrote about misconceptions previous travellers, specifically male travellers, had recorded about the religion, traditions and the treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire.

Mary´s gender and class status provided her with access to female spaces that were closed off to males.

Her personal interactions wth Ottoman women enabled her to provide, in her view, a more accurate account of Turkish women, their dress, habits, traditions, limitations and liberties, at times irrefutably more a critique of the West than a praise of the East.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu in Turkish dress

Mary returned to the West with knowledge of the Ottoman practice of inoculation against smallpox.

In the Ottoman Empire, Mary visited the women in their segregated zenanas, making friends and learning about Turkish customs.

There she witnessed the practice of inoculation and eager to spare her children, she had Edward Jr. vaccinated.

On her return to London, Mary enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because vaccination was an Eastern custom.

In April 1721, when a smallpox epidemic struck England, Mary had her daughter inoculated and published the event.

She persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment.

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Above: Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737), Queen of England (1727 – 1737)

In August 1721, seven prisoners at Newgate Prison awaiting execution were offered the chance to undergo vaccination instead of execution.

All seven survived and were released.

After returning to England, Mary took less interest in court compared to her earlier days.

Instead she was more focused on the upbringing of her children, reading, writing and editing her travel letters – which she then chose not to publish.

In 1736, Mary met and fell in love with Count Francesco Algarotti.

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Above: Francesco Algarotti (1712 – 1764)

She wrote many letters to Algarotti in English and French after his departure in September 1736.

In July 1739, Mary departed England “for health reasons” declaring her intentions to winter in the south of France.

In reality, Mary left to visit and live with Algarotti in Venice.

Their relationship ended in 1741, but Mary stayed abroad and travelled extensively.

She would finally settle in Avignon and then later Lovere.

After August 1756, she resided in Venice and resumed her relationship with Algarotti.

Mary received news of her husband Edward´s death in 1761 and left Venice for England.

En route to London, she handed her Letters from Turkey to Benjamin Sowden of Rotterdam, for safekeeping “to be disposed of as he thinks proper”.

Mary´s Letters from Turkey was only one set of memoirs written by Europeans who had been to the Ottoman Empire:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 – 1592) was a diplomat in the Holy Roman Empire sent to the Ottoman Empire to discuss the disputed territory of Transylvania.

Above: Ogier de Busbecq

Upon returning to his country Busbecq published the letters he had written to his colleague Nicholas Michault under the title Turkish Epistles.

Busbecq is also known for his introduction of the tulip from Turkey to Europe.

Above: Tulip cultivation, Netherlands

Kelemen Mikes (1690 – 1761) was a Hungarian essayist, noted for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg Monarchy.

Above: Kelemen Mikes

Although backed by the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian rebels were defeated and Mikes had to choose a life in exile.

After 1715, Mikes spent the rest of his life in Tekirdag (near Istanbul).

His work is known as Letters from Turkey.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 – 1891) was an officer in the Prussian army.

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Above: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

He spent four years in the Ottoman Empire as a military advisor between 1835 and 1839.

Upon returning to Germany, Moltke published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey (1835 – 1839).

As I ponder my visit to Lovere and think of how necessary and important the Lady Montagu observations about Turkey were, I am left with two distinct impressions:

First, Lady Mary saw what others did not see.

She viewed Turkey through her own perspective, inspiring generations of writers and travellers to express themselves in their own unique fashion.

Second, Lady Mary saw something about Lovere, a town possibly as ignored in her day as it is ignored in these modern times, that inspired her to remain until the siren call of love compelled her return to Venice and an old flame.

All of which reminds me that I, in my own humble way, have my own unique perspective on places that guidebooks ignore and that people might be inspired to visit.

And, as well, perhaps my observations about places and politics that are often misunderstood or ignored might encourage others to advocate positive changes to both our perspectives on these places and a rallying call to empathise with people rather than judging them for the inadequate governments that suppress them.

So, if I have any New Year´s resolutions, it would be to continue reading, travelling and writing about places both near and far.

Who knows what ripples my wee pebbles can cause?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

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I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.

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And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

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On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.

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It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

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Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

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Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

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Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.

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Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.

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Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.

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Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

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Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

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Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

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Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

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She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

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The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

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Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum / http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk