Great expectations?

Well. in an hour and an half’s time, a mini-adventure begins…

Off to Sardinia with She Who Must Be Obeyed…

What to expect? What to expect?

Mediterranean. Hot hot hot weather.

A Canadian in Sardinia = a penguin in Hell?

A land of sardines?

A land of sardonic laughter?

A land of danger?

In the 1970s kidnapping of foreigners had amounted to a cottage industry, a culture of kidnapping.

Almost anyone with a little money snatched and held in a peasant hut in the mountains by semi-literate demanding impossible millions from desperate families.

Romans couldn’t control the mountain-dwelling Sardinians, called them Barbagians – barbarians.

Italians no better luck.

Stone walls everywhere.

The cackling of an incomprehensible dialect.

The Swiss must love that aspect of Sardinia!

Solid rock, wrinkled stone, tussocky grass, big sky full of smoky clouds.

Tough land for a tough people of iron will.

Italian fashions?

American cultural invasion?

The Church?

Functional dogs only?

A place D.H. Lawrence loved.

(And he knew all about love, did this literary priest of love.)

Eight days…too short a span of time…but we two are prisoners of limited time and limited budget.

A guesthouse, a hotel and a working farm.

Airport to airport, rental car.

Endless monologue expected from She.

Will it be the best of times?

The worst of times?

Hate to fly.

I always recall old sailors’ advice that if the captain of a ship looked like he was fit to be hung as a criminal, then his destiny (and that of his passengers) was not to drown at sea.

Doesn’t reassure me, as pilots all have unjustifiable swagger and unmatchable children’s faces, despite being bus drivers of the air.

Local-type flight…stewardess eye candy or “dear, where did I put my sleeping mask?”

Should I be envied? Pitied?

Let the games begin.

Running against the wind

I know I should be grateful.

Yesterday, my wife Ute organised the purchase of my first laptop and my first tablet.

I now will have the capacity of leaving home and be interconnected with the world even more than I was in the past with my non-apps, not very smart mobile phones.

Then why don`t I feel this is a cause for celebration?

I think it’s because I so often feel like a sort of modern day Rip Van Winkle slowly waking up to a world I scarcely understand, or like Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck “trapped in a world he never made”.

I now face the challenge / nightmare? of trying to understand how to make these furschlugginer techno toys work in a way I feel comfortable.

Right there…that word…comfortable…that is my problem.

I look around me and so many people, even of my own generation, seem strangely comfortable and adept with the latest techno, while I still feel impressed and intimidated by the discovery of fire.

How are they able to feel so at ease, so complacent, with techno that is so complex, so…de-humanizing?

Friends and family laugh at me in puzzled amusement.

You can get access to instant information, they tell me.

You can communicate anywhere anytime to anyone, they assure me.

Readers of these words may seem puzzled.

Look, Bub.

You’re writing a blog, aren’t you?

Therefore, aren’t you then, by extension, techno-savvy?

My PC at home was bought for me by my wife.

I have barely scratched the surface of what the damn thing is capable of and use it primarily to check my email, view train schedules, write this blog and play Civilization 3 (ancient software according to modern gameplayers).

My blog was a surprise 50th birthday gift from a beloved co-worker.

My email accounts were set up for me by my best friend Iain and my wife.

I still feel intimidated by the damn thing everytime something happens on it I don’t understand.

Why does it decide to update itself whether I want it to or not?

Why should I be happy if I receive a lot of hits?

(I tend to avoid violent words like “hits”, “bytes” or “hard drive”.)

Why am I involuntarily bombarded by inedible “Spam”, forced to watch banners fly / pop up, and how does one cope with a computer virus?

Offer it a tissue?

Pour chicken soup into its CPU?

(CPU: sounds like a stink so powerful you can see it…)

I have often commented and openly mocked today’s “Generation Why?” with their heads lowered onto their screens, earphones in or over their ears, oblivious to a world around them, focused on a virtual reality of their own construction.

I love to suddenly stop in front of a younger person walking with their eyes focused on their smart phones just to see if they’ll bump into me.

(Somehow they never do.)

It is a frustrating feeling to be split between the desire never to become one of these techno slaves to the machines yet all the same realizing that my very survival is dependent upon these same damn devil technologies.

I feel I am running against the wind, swimming against the current.

Will someone please help me demystify my fuzzification?

Where’s the furschlugginer “Off” button anyway?

Unloved in Jerusalem

There is a phrase that beguiles me with its unknown source that “a prophet is rarely respected in his own Jerusalem.”

This phrase comes to mind when I consider the Rhine towns of Feuerthalen, across from Schaffhausen, and Rheinau, downriver 181 km / 113 miles if discussing walking distance.

Feuerthalen, population 3,500, is Schaffhausen’s unremarkable cousin across the river in Canton Zürich.

Its only claim to fame is its views of Schaffhausen and its two native born sons, Othmar Ammann (1879 – 1965) and Heinrich Sutermeister (1910 – 1995).

“Who were Othmar and Heinrich?”, you may ask.

They were two Swiss men, native sons of Feuerthalen, who in their own fashion, in very different professions, considered the questions of morality and mortality.

As I cross the Züricherstrasse Bridge from Schaffhausen over to Feuerthalen and see flowers in their curbside boxes dying from the ongoing heatwave, I am reminded of death connected to the name of Othmar Ammann.

Back in my homeland of Canada, back in a city I once called home during my college years, is the Quebec Bridge connecting Sainte-Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, across the St. Lawrence River to Levis.

The Bridge is 987 metres / 3,239 feet long and 29 metres / 94 feet wide, comprised of three lanes of roadway, one rail line and a pedestrian walkway.

It is still the longest cantilever bridge in the world.

The project failed…twice, at the cost of 88 lives, and took over 30 years to complete.

By 1904, the Bridge was taking shape.

However, preliminary calculations made early in the planning stages were never properly checked when the design was finalized.

The actual weight of the Bridge was far in excess of its carrying capacity.

The dead load was too heavy.

All went well until the Bridge was nearing completion in the summer of 1907, when the engineering team began noticing distortions of key structural members already in place.

The consulting engineer was informed but he replied that the problems were minor.

The Bridge Company officials claimed that the beams must have already been bent before they were installed.

Near quitting time on the afternoon of 29 August, after four years of construction, the south arm and part of the central section of the Bridge collapsed into the St. Lawrence River in just 15 seconds.

75 were killed and many were injured, making it the world’s worst bridge construction disaster.

Of these 75 victims, 35 were Mohawk steelworkers from the Kahnawake Reserve near Montreal.

They were buried at Kahnawake under crosses made of steel beams.

Othmar emigrated to the US in 1904 after receiving his engineering degree in Zürich.

Ammann wrote two reports about bridge collapses, the collapse of the Quebec Bridge and the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

It was his report about the failure of the Quebec Bridge in 1907 that first earned him recognition in the field of bridge design engineering.

Ammann would go on to design more than half of the eleven bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the US.

His talent and ingenuity helped him create the two longest suspension bridges of his time.

Famous bridges by Ammann include:
– the George Washington Bridge
– the Bayonne Bridge
– the Triborough Bridge
– the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge
– the Walt Whitman Bridge
– the Throgs Neck Bridge
– the Verrazano Narrows Bridge

He also assisted in the design and construction of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel.

But it is his report on the first Quebec Bridge collapse that still affects us today.

His report showed what unquestionable power an engineer could have at the time in a project that was improperly supervised.

Professional engineers in Canada and many other countries now operate under rules and regulations that include that engineers must pass an ethical examination, must be able to show good character through the use of character witnesses and have applicable engineering experience.

In America, a bronze bust of Ammann sits in the lobby of the George Washington Bridge Bus Station, there is a residence hall called Ammann College on the campus of Stony Brook University, and a memorial plaque is near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

In Feuerthalen?

Othmar who?

Heinrich Sutermeister was a Swiss opera composer, who devoted his life to composition.

He wrote for radio, stage and television, bringing not only classic stories like William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to life in music, but as well Swiss folksongs and the great Swiss classic, Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider.

The Black Spider, in particular, shows Heinrich’s intention to speak of death and ethics in music and song.

A village is ruled by a knight who drives the villagers very hard, relentlessly seeking monies from their efforts.

The knight demanded ever more ludicrous tasks, the last of which was the replanting of trees from a distant mountain to form a shaded path on his estate.

He demanded this job be done in such a short period that the peasants could not possibly do it without forgoing their own harvest and going hungry.

At this dire moment, the devil, in the form of a wild hunter, offered to assist them with the replanting.

As payment he wanted an unbaptized child.

I don’t want to spoil your reading of this classic tale, but suffice to say it is a powerful story of people wrestling with problems of doing right versus self-preservation.

Heinrich brought this story alive for those who did not know or had not read Gotthelf’s work.

For his efforts, he remains forgotten by the town that spawned him.

Float downstream to Rheinau.

Rheinau, population 1,400, has no famous native sons (or daughters) but instead is known for its Abbey – a holy place with a cursed history.

The Abbey was founded, then abandoned; reestablished then dissolved; replaced by a hospital and nursing home then replaced by a psychiatric clinic; then it was closed again but now has refound itself as a religious shrine of worship once again.

This temple of God has always seemed unloved in its own parish.

I remember once teaching a class of Business English in Lörrach at the University of Co-operative Education, wherein there was a disruptive Turkish youth in the midst of the students.

He thought he was Allah’s gift to mankind.

His peers did not share this opinion.

I remember one criticism by one young lady who remarked:
“Those who can’t succeed in Turkey come to Germany.”

I wonder if this is true.

Is a prophet always unloved in his own Jerusalem?

Must we leave home to find our own fame and fortune?

Is respect never possible among those who’ve known us in our infancy and immaturity?

Can we never go home again?

The Grand Guestbook

They say we are judged by the company we keep.

Let’s look at some of the people who have kept company with the Rhine Falls:

It never ceases to amaze me how often in history great changes begin with only one individual.

Before 1548, the Rhine Falls were relatively unknown.

There was (and still is) a castle on each shore of the river: one above and beside, Laufen Castle, and one below, Wörth Castle.

The Falls were an annoying detour to get goods from the Lake of Constance to the Atlantic.

The Falls were (and still are) a source of potential power.

As the Falls were too high for fish to swim up, it was once possible to catch salmon of well over 25 kilos.

Then a German came along…

Sebastian Münster (1488 – 1552), was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and a Christian Hebraist scholar.

His work, the Cosmographia from 1544, was the earliest German description of the world.

It had numerous editions in different languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and even Czech.

The Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular works of the 16th century.

It passed through 24 editions in 100 years.

This success was due to the fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel), in addition to including the first to introduce “separate maps for each of the four continents known then–America, Africa, Asia and Europe.”

It was most important in reviving geography in 16th century Europe.

Think of it as the Lonely Planet of the day.

So with a guidebook come the tourists…

Ferdinard I (1503 – 1564), Holy Roman Emperor, with an entourage of 700, visited the Falls.

Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592), French philosopher, author and statesman, in 1578, started suffering from painful kidney stones, a sickness he had inherited from his father’s family.

Throughout this illness, he would have nothing to do with doctors or drugs.

From 1580 to 1581, Montaigne traveled in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, in search of a cure.

He kept a fascinating journal, recording regional differences and customs and a variety of personal episodes, including the dimensions of the stones he succeeded in ejecting from his bladder.

Montaigne visited the Falls with six horsemen and five servants on mules in 1581.

Goethe visited the Falls in 1773, 1777 and 1779.

Joseph II (1741 – 1790), Holy Roman Emperor, was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, and was the brother of Marie Antoinette.

After the death of his father in 1765, he became Emperor and was made co-regent by his mother in the Austrian dominions.

As Emperor, he had no true power, and his mother had resolved that neither her husband nor her son should ever deprive her of sovereign control in her hereditary dominions.

Therefore until the death of his mother in 1780, Joseph was never quite free to follow his own instincts.

During these years, Joseph traveled much.

He visited the Falls in 1776.

Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714 – 1789) was a French painter who visited and painted the Falls in 1778.

Joseph Mallord William (“J. M. W.”)Turner,(1775 – 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. and was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.

Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studying in the Louvre in Paris in the same year.

He visited and painted the Falls in 1806.

David Hess (1770 – 1843) was a Swiss writer, caricaturist, and politician.

He visited the Falls in 1806.

Czar Alexander I of Russia visited the Falls in 1814.

American author James Fenimore Cooper visited the Falls in 1886. (See Wolves in sheep packaging.)

Dr. Jose Rizal, hero of the Philippines, visited the Rhine Falls on 2 June 1887. (See Do we need another hero??)

Franz Joseph I (1830 – 1916) was Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and a visitor to the Falls with his wife Elisabeth (“Sissi”).

Whether Swiss-resident celebrities like Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, Thomas Mann, Tina Turner or Shania Twain have visited the Falls, I don’t know, but I like to think they did.

Today’s visitors are somewhat less regal, less dignified, less patient.

In the past, people would travel to the Falls and remain several days enraptured by their spectacle, in awe of their wonder.

Painters would spend weeks trying to capture their majesty.

Today most visitors make a visit to the Falls as part of a daytrip.

They snap a photo with their digital cameras or smart phones and speed away satisfied that they had “done” the Rhine Falls and checked it off their “to do” list of 100 Places to Visit in Europe Before You Die.

In fairness, I know for most tourists both time and money are factors that are far too often in short supply, but I can’t help wondering that in seeing the world in so fast a fashion have we not lost the point of seeing the world?

Beauty is beauty only when savoured, felt, experienced.

The secret sites above the Falls

The biggest problem with being a tourist in Switzerland is the distinct feeling that the Swiss don’t want you to visit and certainly don’t want you to learn anything about the country.

Switzerland certainly does not go out of its way to market itself aggressively in comparison with countries like the US or France.

The more local the site, the less one is encouraged to visit.

Close examination of the country reveals that almost every town with a population of over 1,000 has a local regional museum, but try visiting that museum and chances are quite strong that the museum is only open one day a month, only in the summer, only as part of a large group, only for a very short period of time or only by special permission.

Yet these small museums often give a real intimate glance into the lives of the Swiss far more than national museums do in the larger cities.

Even in the larger cities, there are tourist attractions that very few people ever visit, because they simply don’t know of their existence.

Often even tourist information centers don’t know as much about the attractions as the casual tourist who stumbled across the information.

Of course, like any animal, I will first go to the tourist information center, but I have found that more often than not the staff is comprised of young people who know very little about their region.

My methodology?

Two tricks:

1.I search online through either Google or Dogpile for the place I plan to visit.

So, for example, if I search for the town of Feuerthal, the search engines direct me to Wikipedia.

Feuerthal is, at first glance, not so inspiring, but its notable residents, Ottmar Ammann (designer of 60% of New York City bridges) and Heinrich Sutermeister (Swiss opera composer who popularized the famous Swiss tale, The Black Spider), on the other hand, warrant a visit to the town after all…

2.I acquire as much literature as I can about an area for my own personal library, especially guidebooks and works by local authors.

So, for example, Schaffhausen can be found in most guidebooks and local author Markus Werner is well worth the effort to read in translation.

Through the methods listed above, I discovered that Neuhausen has two sites not normally found along the well-beaten tourist trail:

-The cotton wool company IVF Hartmann has its own museum, open during company working hours, by appointment. (Admittedly being a new museum, the guide and the exhibits are exclusively in German.)

-Villa Charlottenfels (See Wolves in sheep packaging.), Heinrich Moser’s (1805-1874) castle overlooking the Rhine River and Schaffhausen, is also open by appointment only.

The IVF Museum is, admittedly, difficult to wax poetically upon, though it must be said the guide, a departmental director with over 25 years seniority at IVF, clearly loves his company and is eager to show how IVF is responsible for supplying bandages, casts, feminine hygiene products, baby diapers and incontinence aids to hospitals throughout Switzerland.

Famous names connected with the company, like Joseph Lister (1827–1912 British surgeon and pioneer of antiseptic surgery), and Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895 French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination and for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases, providing direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine), to name just two, give IVF, founded in 1870, respect and credibility.

You might enjoy as I did seeing the masculine travel kit for men suffering from incontinence as well as the emergency first aid kit called Schaffhausen Alarm with bomber planes on the cover. (See Oops! Did we do that?.)

Villa Charlottenfels is far more fascinating a place to visit, and, happily, Mandy, the Villa guide from the former DDR, is eager to practice her English or Russian on you.

See the outer pavilion with its dioramic paintings of Swiss history:
-the Eidgenossen – the great oath that three canton leaders made to set Switzerland free from Austrian rule;

-the victorious battle of Sembach celebrated over the fallen body of heroic Arnold Winkelried;

-the siege of Wengi, where Niklaus of Wengi stands in front of the enemy cannon and says the enemy will have to go through him to attack the town;

-the compromise of Solothurn where Brother Klaus agrees to mediate between opposing Catholic and Protestant factions.

Marvel at the adventures of Heinrich’s son Henri (1844 – 1923), an avid hunter, traveler and writer.

See many animal head trophies as well as exotica collected from Henri’s travels in the bizarre and mysterious worlds of Persia and Russia’s ethnic republics like Kirghistan, Turkestan, Boukhara,Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El and Udmurtia.

See the watch-making workshop of Heinrich and the designs for his dam.

Look through Heinrich’s telescope and see the action on the Rhine River.

Smile at Heinrich’s collection of World’s Fairs memorabilia.

Feel sadness at the tragic tale of Charlotte’s death by coach accident.

Experience the excitement of the tale of Heinrich’s second wife and widow, Fanny, who participated gladly in the October Revolution, happily ending her days as a devout Communist.

See the transformation of a family home into a school that taught young ladies the art of housekeeping and then later a technical and business college for both genders.

And all of these experiences remain protected and secret to outsiders as much as the secrets of a Swiss bank vaulted account.

Dig a little deeper when you travel.

Wealth awaits just under the surface.

Wolves in sheep packaging

“No one could tell me, but I learned something else about Schaffhausen, a tiny curiosity of history.

The town was bombed by American aircraft in 1944.
(See Oops! Did we do that?)

The Americans insisted that it was a mistake – a bombing force had lost its way and, thinking it was still over Germany (which is, after all, only just the other side of the river), had jettisoned their bombs – but the Swiss were convinced, for Schaffhausen was (and still is) a centre of the Swiss arms industry, and Switzerland, at that time, was still constrained to make weapons for the Germans.

(Some time earlier, a British force had bombed Zürich, with no excuses.

Zürich was another armaments town, and there was no pretense that the raid had any other purpose than to cut down Swiss deliveries to Germany.)
Bernard Levin, To the end of the Rhine

Overlooking the Rhine Falls, above in the town of Neuhausen, are two tall buildings with blue neon letters, SIG, (Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft / Societe Industrielle Suisse / Swiss Industry Company), a company that for me is the ideal representative of Swiss history and innovation.

SIG has a long and varied history.

A decisive factor in the decision to base the company in Neuhausen was its location on the Rhine Falls, which the company has used from the very beginning as an important, constantly-renewing source of energy.

1853 saw the founding of the Schweizerische Waggonfabrik (Swiss Wagonworks) as a manufacturer of railway cars.

Heinrich Moser (See Probus Scafusia: Timeless River, Timely Man.) began his castle-like neo-Renaissance villa, Charlottenfels to his own design between 1850 and 1854.

The villa was named in honour of Moser’s first wife, Charlotte Mayu, who, however, died as the result of a horse-drawn coach accident in Baden only after construction started.

Believing rail travel to be far safer and attempting to attract business to the economically depressed Schaffhausen area, Moser with Friedrich Peyer im Hof and Johann Conrad Neher founded SIG on 17 January 1853.

Success came quickly for the new enterprise.

In 1855, the first SIG railway cars received accolades at the World’s Fair in Paris.

Over the next few decades, SIG carried out all stages of carriage construction, from wooden frame types to lightweight, welded, self-supporting steel and aluminium alloy designs.

In the late 1970s, SIG was one of two builders of Toronto’s tram, the CLRV L1.

SIG also manufactured three passenger coaches for the Trans Europ Express train set used by Ontario Northland Railway for their Northlander service.

Another lucrative area of activity were the “spin-offs”.

Even today, it is possible to come across the SIG logo on cable car cabins in Switzerland and many of the private mountain railways in the Alps.

The railway branch of SIG was sold in 1995 to Fiat and in 2000 to Alstom.

Today only components are manufactured in Neuhausen.

From 1860 to 2000, SIG produced firearms and weapons.

I love the official wording of this era:

“This was in part motivated by political events, as Switzerland – surrounded by new, unstable nation states and itself moving towards a more organised federal system – was seeking to strengthen its defensive capabilities.”

Poor babies – just victims of history and politics and surrounded by a hostile world— this is a theme Switzerland plays for world sympathy again and again and again.

Due to Swiss restrictions on the export of military weapons, SIG entered into a relationship with the German company J.P. Sauer und Sohn in order to allow SIG access to the world firearms market.

The first automatic rifle of the world, the Mondragon, was produced here between 1908 and 1910.

The Pistole 49 was developed between 1938 and 1945 and was adopted by the Swiss military in 1949.

This single-action semi-automatic brought SIG much acclaim, due to the precision manufacturing processes employed in its manufacture and its resultant accuracy and reliability.

Pistole 49 was replaced by the Swiss military with SIG’s Pistole 75.

In a 1984 bidding contest to provide more than 300,000 sidearms to the US military, Pistole 75 was narrowly defeated by the Beretta.

SIG also produced and sold battle rifles and machine guns.

In addition to the military and law enforcement sectors, SIG firearms were highly successful in other areas as well.

Following the takeover of the Hämmerli Sportwaffenfabrik (sporting firearms factory) in 1971, the weapons proved their worth as extremely high-tech, precision instruments in numerous World and Olympic Championships.

In the following decades, elite marksmen and markswomen relied on these precision target arms to put them in the top ranks of competitive shooting sports.

With the sale of the arms division in 2000, the weapons manufacturing era of SIG came to an end.

To counter the economic cycles in the railway carriage construction and arms sectors, SIG had entered the market for packaging machinery way back in 1906, focusing on chocolate bars and soup cubes, and later bakery products and butter.

In 1944 the first machines to handle non-food products – washing powders – were developed.

These packing machines were soon in action all over the world.

Over the following decades, further innovations, such as bag forming, filling and sealing machines and vacuum packaging lines for ground coffee consolidated SIG’s reputation.

With the acquisition of PKL Papier und Kunststoffwerke Linnich, SIG entered the packaging sectors for liquid products such as milk, juices, soups and sauces.

In 1993, SIG launched the world’s first recloseable spout, the combiTop.

In 1999, the first single-action flat closure system, combiLift, followed.

In 2000, it is joined by the first screw cap, the combiTwist.

The slender, elegant combiFit carton with its characteristic sloping top in 2001 and the technologically innovative combiSwift screwcap in 2005, make it even easier and more convenient to open and pour drinks and food products.

With the launch of the combiSmart screw cap in 2006, opening and reclosing small carton sizes of under 500 ml is now literally child’s play.

SIG now concentrates only on its cartons business.

From railway cars to guns to cartons, it has been quite the ride.

Smells like team spirit

I know…I know..

Working at a place like Starbucks, it is normal for there to be a lot of personnel change.

People move away for personal reasons.

People get transferred.

People leave for better opportunities elsewhere.

But there is something uniquely special about working in an environment like a restaurant or a cafe as opposed to working at a school or a company.

In a school there generally is an environment of isolation and separation between colleagues.

A teacher stands alone in front of a group, and though some words will be exchanged between teachers in the staff lounge, generally most teachers do their job, go home and view their co-workers more as competition for the same salary rather than other human beings involved in the same struggle.

In a company, duties are separated by both department and location so very little understanding or experience is shared between workers.

So someone in purchasing has very little understanding or compassion for someone down in the loading docks, for example.

But in a place like Starbucks or McDonalds, workers seem more cohesive, more united.

Don’t get me wrong.

Starbucks is not one big mass of people holding hands and marching down the street in unity and harmony.

Like any organisation, politics of personality divides people from one another also at Starbucks.

As well, management will always be viewed differently than the rest of us.

Personally, even I, a person whom one has to actually work very hard to annoy, don’t love everyone equally.

But that said, I still feel that any outsider who would attack the character of any of my co-workers would find a united front against the attacker.

There is something about doing repetitive duties together in a stressful environment that sort of lends itself to a camarderie of experience, almost a “brothers-in-arms” kind of feeling.

At the time of my start at Starbucks, I sadly attended the going-away party of beloved barrista Jeremy, who now lives in Basel.

Since Jeremy, two other Barristas have left SBs at the Bahnhof: one for health reasons, the other to travel the world before returning back to his homeland.

Happily of course, new faces have joined the team since I began way back last November and they are a welcome addition to the team.

This week I am again saddened by barristas leaving the two SBs where I work:

Volkan of the Bahnhof has been transferred to the Arena.

Eva of the Marktplatz is moving to Winterthur.

I suppose I should simply take their leaving in my stride, but it must be said that each individual at SBs brings something special and unique to the group dynamic and though the position can be refilled, their contribution of character leaves a void.

For the record, I shall miss them both.

A lot.

Maybe I am getting soft in my old age…

Problems with Paul

Paul Edward Theroux (born 10 April 1941) is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known works are The Great Railway Bazaar and The Mosquito Coast.

I have never read his novels as travel writing has always held a greater fascination for me, but I have read and own most that he has written in the travel genre:

The Great Railway Bazaar, an account of his journey by train from London to Japan and back

The Old Patagonian Express, my first exposure to his writing, his travels by train from Boston to Patagonia

The Kingdom by the Sea, walking and train travelling around the United Kingdom

The Happy Isles of Oceania, kayaking in the South Pacific

Riding the Iron Rooster, train travelling in China

Dark Star Safari, by train from Cairo to Cape Twon

The Pillars of Hercules, travels around the Mediterranean

The Last Train to Zona Verde, overland from Cape Town to Angola

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, a sequel to The Great Railway bazaar

…just to name his most famous works.

Generally I enjoy his train travel writing as it captures my imagination and lets me live vicariously through him as he sees faraway places with strange-sounding names through the windows of a train.

Having said this, I find myself constantly wondering where the line between travel as a novel and actual travel experiences is drawn for Mr. Theroux, for his experiences seem planets removed from my own with train travel.

In fairness, Mr. Theroux has travelled further and farther than I ever have, but he rarely seems to have the type of difficulties I encounter when I travel by train in North America, Asia or Europe.

Trains never seem to be late for Paul.

Ticket conductors are friendly and chatty with Paul.

Every passenger on board his trains seems open and forthcoming with Paul.

And somehow travelling across a landscape by high-speed rail makes Paul an instant expert on the places he visits.

He always seems to have just the perfect book with him as a travelling companion at just the perfect place and moment.

Here in Switzerland, my trains are invariably late, despite the false reputation of Swiss trains being so accurately punctual that you could use a stopwatch to observe them.

Here in Switzerland, a friendly chatty ticket conductor is a rare animal indeed, damn nearly extinct as a species as a matter of fact.

Here in Switzerland, as in England, South Korea and in English-speaking Canada, train passengers are not that conversational or open.

As for learning anything from a train window, I rarely see anyone aboard a Swiss train actually looking outside the window as their attention is drawn to some sort of electronic gizmo or on rarer occasion a book.

Now make no mistake.

I actually enjoy his travel writing.

I also feel sorry for him.

So many travel writers for whom solitary travel is a necessity seem to have difficulty in maintaining their marriages as a result of their solo wanderlust.

I remember in my own travels in the US, travelling about by thumb, I had the impulse to visit Spring Hill, Tennessee, where one of my travel writing heroes was said to live.

Peter Jenkins, sponsored by National Geographic, walked across the US from New England to New Orleans, where he met Barbara.

They married and then she walked with him from Louisiana to the West Coast.

They bought themselves a farm in Spring Hill and apparently lived happily ever after.

Not so.

Peter still heard the song of the highway and ended up travelling to China without her.

When I arrived in Spring Hill, I learned that the Jenkins, he and she, were divorced and lived on farm properties next to one another.

The Jenkins’ situation is sadly not unique amongst travel writers.

Paul Theroux divorced Anne in 1993, then married Sheila in 1995.

He still travels solo.

He still writes fulltime, a solitary occupation.

I thought of Paul this morning and his train travels when I remembered the unpleasant events of my own train journey home last night.

I had finished work in St. Gallen and wanted to go home.

The train schedule board announced that all trains to Schaffhausen, the end of the line for my train back home in Landschlacht, from St. Gallen were cancelled.

Apparently there was repair being done on the tunnel connecting St. Fiden with St. Gallen.

Signage indicated that an emergency bus service had been provided from St. Gallen Hauptbahnhof (Grand Central Station) to St. Fiden.

So, in accordance with the normal train schedule, I met the bus going to St. Fiden.

The driver took no notice and gave not a damn about whether the inconvenienced passengers made future connections or not.

The emergency bus simply sat behind the train station for half a hour while the driver chatted lazily with his fellow drivers assembled outside the bus.

The other passengers and I complained bitterly about the unnecessary delay, but the driver argued he was waiting for a fuller bus.

We arrived at St. Fiden where the train to Schaffhausen had already left.

To add insult to injury, ticket inspectors then wanted to charge passengers for travelling after 11 pm, which they wouldn’t have been doing had the bus driver left the station when the normal train would have left.

What passengers remained on the train were either young and drunk revellers, louder than fighting alley cats, or truly ticked off passengers like myself in a state of complete annoyance.

I was not home until after midnight, no thanks to the SBB (Swiss National Rail).

This sort of thing never seems to happen to Paul.

Fight or flight?

I am an individual who loves and cherishes his moments of solitude and isolation where I immerse myself in knowledge gleaned from books and the Internet and where I attempt to reproduce in my own way equally beneficial knowledge for others, yet it is my encounters with others that are the basis of my true education.

Sometimes I learn more in one half-day of work at Starbucks than I might learn in one week at home or on the road.

There is something about the interaction between my co-workers and the clients we encounter that is an endless source of imagination and inspiration for me.

It is these encounters I will miss when the day ever comes to leave SBs behind and it is the reason I remain there for now regardless of other reasons that might compel me to leave.

It was a rare day for me, as I worked at both the SBs at the Marktplatz (See Rooster in the Henhouse.)and at my customary post at the Bahnhof.

It never ceases to amaze me how much conversation can occur in the lull between customers.

Two conversational themes dominated the day of discussions, neither initiated by me but both I found myself deeply engaged in: the questions of marriage and work.

Two separate conversations were about the wisdom of being in a marriage.

In the first discussion, one person was “throwing in the towel” (ending the marriage) because she was tired of the endless fighting in her dealings with her spouse.

The other person in the second discussion held the opposite view, feeling that if a couple had already survived so much together and if a marriage has value it must be fought for.

Now a common theme amongst my co-workers usually revolves around the unpleasantness of working for an (dis)organisation like SBs, the sheer drudgery of repetitive duties, the inevitable politics and complexity that a group of separate individuals bring to any workplace and the annoying tendencies of some ungrateful customers we encounter from time to time.

Normally I hear individual co-workers briefly bellyache in the midst of the hurly burly of the workday about how they hate working at SBs, but rarely are there moments where we gather together and exchange views outside this hectic hullabaloo.

Such dissatisfaction was expressed in conversation yesterday that one might almost suggest to a king in this scenario to “double the guard, because the natives are restless”!

Still despite how divergent a topic work is from marriage, the theme again was one of “Should I stay or should I go now?” – fight or flight.

Is it better to stay in a situation and fight for its improvement?

Or is it better to cut one’s losses and escape to a different environment with its own special demands and challenges?

Should one work on making progress where one is, or is change always better than stagnation?

As I listen to these discussions, I, of course, reflect upon my own life as regarding my work life and married life.

Am I perfectly happy with my work life?

Yes and no.

I am torn between enjoying not working a 40-hour week, whether teaching, Starbucks or writing, but I also feel responsibility to both my marriage as well as to my society to make a more substantial contribution than I currently am.

I love teaching, but my last two years of teaching have not been so pleasant for me, with sheer bad luck of finding employers who cared more about the bottom line of their balance sheets than the welfare of the employees working for them.

As unsuited as I often feel myself to be at SBs I do enjoy the interactions with my co-workers and customers, but I can’t deny that the SB philosophy of producing and selling more product in less time regardless of the emotional cost to the worker (unfortunately a common theme in many a company) at times somewhat difficult to accept.

How often does the average worker feel pressure to produce profits yet how often does he see profits cascade down from higher up?

As for making profit from my writing, I feel that I am not totally incompetent when it comes to putting words to print, but I lack, at present, both savvy and courage to take what is essentially an enjoyable hobby and make it into a real career.

I refuse to give up on this, but I can’t deny feeling somewhat frustrated with myself at the same time.

Am I happy with my married life?

Again, yes and no.

My wife is truly a wonderful woman, and I believe as a husband I ain’t half bad either!

But is a marriage always easy?

Of course not.

Is it worth fighting for?

Sometimes I am absolutely convinced that it is.

Other times I long for a more carefree independent existence, back on the open road despite its insecurities and innate loneliness.

Carl Franz, the author of one of my favourite travel guides, The People’s Guide to Mexico, coined a great little phrase that I think to be appropo in this situation:

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

Whatever problems I have now won’t necessarily dissolve by changing locations, and even if they do dissolve this does not mean that new problems and challenges won’t present themselves in the new environment, because the commonality between here and there will always remain: myself.

If I want a change, I need to start with the man in the mirror, for no matter how I may want others to change, they will only change when and if they so choose.

If I honestly believe that I can make a difference where I am at present, then remaining where I am is best.

If I am simply running against the wind but still getting nowhere, then it is time to go.

I wish I felt as confident as I sound.

The company that couldn’t

Neuhausen am Rheinfall is a municipality in the Canton of Schaffhausen just south of the cantonal capital, Schaffhausen.

It has a population of nearly 11,000 people.

Despite its location beside the Rhine Falls, Neuhausen is primarily an industrial city.

“We came along a filthy street between forges and mills right through to the Falls. What an approach to such a cataract! The small Rhine Falls are almost smothered by the spirit of industry.”
(James Fenimore Cooper) (1841 – 1903)

Neuhausen is home to a number of manufacturing firms.

Some of the best-known are:

– the playing card company of AG Müller, now owned by Belgian company Cartamundi. AGM produces among other things, the Swiss national card game, Jass.
(See The Cards We’re Dealt.)

– the cotton wool factory IVF Hartmann AG

– the packaging company SIG

– the Rio Tinto Alcan Group on the site of the former Alusuisse factory.

Alusuisse was a Swiss industrial group founded as Aluminium Industrie Aktien in 1898 in Zurich, Switzerland.

In 1886 Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult and Charles Martin Hall independently discovered a process for producing metallic aluminium from aluminium ore by electrolysis (Hall–Héroult process).

In 1889 Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult, Gustave Naville, Georg Neher, and Peter Emil Huber established a company Aluminium Industrie Aktien Gesellschaft (AIAG) in Zurich, Switzerland to extract aluminium, creating the first aluminium production plant in Europe.

It established plants in Neuhausen am Rheinfall in 1888, in Rheinfelden, Germany in 1898 and in Lend, Austria in 1899.

They tried convincing the authorities that building an aluminium plant including a turbine house and a dam 230 metres long, thus effectively destroying the Rhine Falls, was a good idea.

Public protest and government intervention prevented the move.

In 1899 the company started to invest in the Valais region of Switzerland, which was rich in hydropower resources.

From the 1900s it became a significant employer in the Valais Canton through its aluminum production activities.

The company built a plant in Chippis (1908) using hydropower from the river Navisence.

The market for their aluminium did not meet expectations and the company began to use some of the electrical production for nitric acid manufacture (Birkeland–Eyde process).

During the Great Depression the company sold electricity from its plants to municipal customers.

A rolling mill was established in Sierre in 1929.

The company became a major employer in the Valais region, employing over 3,000 in 1942, by 1970 approximately 2,000 people were employed by Alusuisse in the Canton.

In the 1950s, the company acquired a concession to 30% of the flow from the dam built at the Lac de Moiry, and constructed a factory at Ernen.

During the 1960s, the company began to license its aluminium production technology.

A factory in Steg was established in 1962.

They helped to establish Koninklijke Hoogovens’ first aluminium smelter in 1967.

In the late 1960s, the company also became involved in another contentious public issue, through its joint venture with Nabalco, which was developing a bauxite deposit in northern Australia on land claimed by the indigenous people of that area, which would lead to the Gove Land Rights Case.

In December 1968, the Yolngu people living in Yirrkala, who were the traditional owners of the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land, obtained writs in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory against the Nabalco Corporation, which had secured a twelve-year bauxite mining lease from the Federal Government.

Their goal was to establish in law their rightful claim to their homelands.

The Yolngu people claimed they enjoyed legal and sovereign rights over their land and sought declarations to occupy the land free from interference pursuant to their native title rights.

The Yolngu people had petitioned the Australian House of Representatives in August 1963 with a bark petition after the government sold part of the Arnhem Land reserve on 13 March of that year to a bauxite mining company.

The government had not consulted the traditional owners at the time.

Yolngu applicants asserted before the Court that since time immemorial, they held a “communal native title” that had not been validly extinguished, or acquired under the Lands Acquisition Act 1955, and should be recognized as an enforceable proprietary right.

The lengthy legal battle culminated in 1971.

Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, (the “Gove land rights case”), was the first litigation on native title in Australia.

The decision of Justice Richard Blackburn ruled against the claimants on a number of issues of law and fact, rejecting the doctrine of aboriginal title recognizing that in the law of the time of British colonisation of Australia there was a distinction between settled colonies, where the land, being “desert and uncultivated”, was claimed by right of occupancy, and conquered or ceded colonies.

The term “desert and uncultivated” included territory in which resided “uncivilized inhabitants in a primitive state of society”.

The decision noted that the Crown had the power to extinguish native title, if it existed.

The issue of terra nullius, later raised in Mabo v Queensland, was not contemplated in this decision.

Although Milirrpum was not appealed beyond the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, it was overruled by the High Court of Australia two decades later in Mabo v Queensland.

Blackburn, in a confidential memorandum to the government and opposition, opined that a system of Aboriginal land rights was “morally right and socially expedient”.

The judgement concludes:

“I cannot help being specially conscious that for the plaintiffs it is a matter in which their personal feelings are involved.”

Milirrpum led to the establishment of the Woodward Royal Commission and the eventual recognition of Aboriginal Land rights in the Northern Territory.

In 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam drew up the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, which was later passed by the conservative Fraser Government on 9 December 1976.

Alusuisse lost millions.

The Gove Land dispute would lead to worldwide attention to the question of native land rights.

A byproduct of the aluminium production process, Fluorine became the subject of a pollution scandal (guerre du fluor) after its public reporting in the 1970s.

The Valais citizens had tolerated Alusuisse for a long time…

The monks of the Benedictine Convent of Gerondes complained bitterly about the constant noise from the nearby plant causing many a night of insomnia.

Teeth and bones of local livestock were becoming increasingly brown and brittle.

Cows were producing less milk.

Thousands of pine trees bore no needles.

Tons of orchards and fields would bear no yield.

Often what did result was scabby, ugly and unpalatable.

Harvests produced 750 tonnes where once 7,000 tonnes was customary.

In 1975, the Valais citizenry had enough and let their discontent show.

Alusuisse responded by saying that only bad weather was responsible.

The resulting “guerre du fluor” / the Fluorine War would result in Alusuisse receiving a lot of negative publicity and paying out millions of francs in damages.

Their troubles would also draw the world’s attention to the problems of aluminium production worldwide.

As well, it would draw attention to the environmental damages of uncontrolled industry.

In 1974, the company took over the Swiss-German company Lonza (founded 1897), which specialised in hydropower, construction, and electrochemical industrial production.

In 1990, the company became Alusuisse-Lonza Holding AG.

In 1999, the chemical production interests were split off to form the chemical company Lonza Group.

The company’s aluminium production reached its maximum in 1980 at over 800,000 tonnes.

During the 1980s, the company restructured, closing outdated plants, and downsized, and modernised its semi-finished aluminium production facilities.

In 1997, the company employed 31,000 of which only 5,800 were Swiss.

The company was renamed Algroup in 1998.

By the end of the twentieth century, the company had become an international firm with interests in aluminium production, packaging, and chemicals (through the firm Lonza acquired 1974, divested 1999) and employed over 30,000 worldwide (1997).

The group was acquired by and merged into Alcan on 18 October 2000.

Being Europe’s first aluminium company, Alusuisse is a source of national Swiss pride, but perhaps its disappearance should not be mourned, for it was a company that couldn’t keep out of hot water, couldn’t keep out of controversy.

I can’t help but wonder how many companies, some the source of great national pride, still continue to destroy the natural environment, still continue to ignore native populations, all in the name of profits.

What don’t we know?