The Backyard Tourist

“A desk is no place to think on a large scale”.

(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

“An absolute new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.

Two or three hours´walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.

A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.

There is, in fact, a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles´radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life.

It will never become quite familiar to you.”

(Henry David Thoreau, Walking)

Benjamin D. Maxham - Henry David Thoreau - Restored.jpg

I like walking because it is then when I begin to think.

I re-learn, yet again, how to relax and no matter where my feet end up I usually find meaning in the experience.

When I let go of the haste of modern life, I learn truths about myself and the world I had no idea that I had yearned to know.

When I meander out into the world at the whim of my own curiosity…

(sometimes sparked by someone´s else writing, sometimes not)

…I find meaning, and, as I follow my feet, I discover, yet again, a sense of adventure along the way and in my existence.

“Give me the clear blue sky above my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me and a three hours´march to dinner – and then to thinking!

It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths.

I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy!”

(William Hazlitt, “On Going A Journey”- Dan Kiernan, The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel)

William Hazlitt self-portrait (1802).jpg

I remember recently sharing on Facebook something that made me smile:

“Me: I really want to travel.

Bank account: Oh, really? Where? Your backyard?”

And this got me thinking.

“Yes, that´s it, exactly!”

Before I met my wife, many of my travels had been very much a hand-to-mouth existence.

I may not always have seen all the “must-see” tourist attractions, but it was the strangeness of new places and the discoveries on my travels that more than made up for not hobnobbing with other tourists.

Now, I live a different life, and though money is not quite the problem it once was, the sacrifice of time required to earn this money means I am not so free to wander the world as I once did.

And it is typical between the genders, my wife and I have different ideas of what travel should mean, and for marital bliss I go along with her ideas of travelling.

We will either travel great distances, see all that can be seen at breakneck speed, then return home exhausted – needing a vacation from the vacation.

Or we sit on a beach and watch the waves roll in, seeking little that is new except a retreat from work.

As much as I love my wife, these are not my ideas of travelling.

I want to discover the world at the speed of a toddler, curious about all that is around me, doing as I will, because impulse drives me rather than a guidebook´s list demanding that I pay attention to its recommendations.

I may let a guidebook spark the ideas, but I enjoy getting lost and being surprised by what I encounter.

“And, oh, the places you´ll see!” (Dr. Seuss)

Above: My favourite postcard on the bedroom wall

“Moving on foot seems to make it easier to move in time.

The mind wanders from plans to recollections to observations.

The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking.

The passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts.”

(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

Fürstenland Romantic Pond Chain Path, Switzerland:

27 January 2016:

As I wander through the Thurgau woods, I am struck by the thoughtfulness that goes into something as simple as a path down a hill…

and the small details on a cobblestone path leading into a town giving the place just that little bit extra significance:

Adam Kerr's photo. Hauptwil, Switzerland

As a foreign resident of Switzerland, I am relieved not to be native-born everytime I see a town´s bulletin board conscripting all able-bodied Swiss males, ages 16 to 50 (though both these age limits are exceptional, the average conscription markers are 19 to 34), for mandatory military service.

For though Switzerland has been officially neutral since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the country is armed to the teeth and everready to combat any country foolish enough to attack it.

And the magic and the marvel of walking paths is that they often lead you back into civilisation in unexpected ways:

Adam Kerr's photo.

And say what you will about the beauty of art hanging in a museum, even a small pond whispers volumes more glory than any artificial masterpiece.

I am moved by the simplicity of a wooden dock stretching out into a pond:

Adam Kerr's photo.

and deeply moved by the silent mystery of who or what Alex was, with a pondside gravestone simply inscribed: “Alex – 1982-2011”.

Was this Alex male or female – a person or a pet – did he/she drown in the pond or expire by its shores?

The snow and the ice and the marker say nothing.

In Hauptwill-Gottshaus, a young girl is ready to skate:

And by the old mill stream the Tobelmüli (Tobel mill), the site of a former restaurant, resourcefully ignores the modern age of refridgeration.

Wine and soft drink chill on the windowsill in the cold winter wind.

I am tempted to follow the example of the three convicts, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnel (Tim Blake Nelson) who escape from a chain gang and steal from a windowsill to sustain themselves in:

O brother where art thou ver1.jpg

She sees me take a photograph of her window and needs to talk to someone, to anyone.

Her husband, the owner-operator of the restaurant, has recently died.

She is alone, tending to her paralysed stepfather 90 years young.

She cries and I know my mere words cannot help.

Eleanor Rigby comes to mind unbidden.

Statue of Eleanor Rigby in Stanley Street, Liverpool.

A plaque to the right describes it as:

“Dedicated to All the Lonely People

“Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?”

(The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby”)

The path has become the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

And though “my shadow is the only one that walks beside me”…

(Green Day, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”)

…still I do not feel lonesome, for life in all its splendour, its joys and sorrows, is met at every bend and turn.

This is my education.

Walking is the theatre of the senses, the cinema of the imagination, the song of the soul, the beat of the heart.

“It´s the unpredictable incidents between official events that add up to a life, the incalculable that gives it value.”

(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

Map of Robert Louis Stevenson´s walking route, taken from Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), a pioneering classic of outdoor literature






A scent of Indian pine

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 30 January 2016

As I age I am beginning to notice my mind functioning increasingly odd.

I can be at home or work and be walking from one room to another and forget why I made that decision to change rooms.

Doors Choice Means Doorway Alternative And Decide Stock Image

Yet I can be doing a normal, average activity and something or someone will suddenly trigger an old memory that I recall with astonishing clarity.

Lachute, Quebec, Canada: 14 May 1977

As stated in a previous blog…

(See Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim of this blog.)

I was not raised by my biological folks, but rather by a succession of foster parents until I was 10 – when the last set kept me until I was 18.

I cannot, for certain, describe how foster children are today supervised and monitored by the state, but in the province of Quebec in the 70s and 80s, each child was assigned his or her own case worker.

My case worker was an unusual man.

Seymour Haider is a name one would expect to assign to someone of Germanic origins, yet Mr. Haider, despite his name, was as far away from Teutonic roots as one could possibly imagine.

He was born and raised in India and had immigrated to Canada sometime before he was assigned my case.

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the center of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

It was part of Seymour´s job description to transport, to the nearest major hospital for regular health examination, the children he was responsible for.

So every year, usually around my birthday, Seymour would show up at Bleak House, my Charles Dickens-inspired nickname for the grey stucco home where we lived…

Just outside the hamlet of St. Philippe d’Argenteuil (de la Paroisse de St. Jerusalem)

Chatham Twp QC.JPG

(Today simply called Chatham and mispronounced by Francophones as “shatt-tam”),

…to bring my foster mother and me to the hospital in distant St. Jerome, the city where Seymour both lived and worked.

The actual medical examinations were not particularly memorable, for the doctor (every visit a different one) would look into all my nooks and crannies, question us about my dietary habits and then send us back on our merry way.

What stands out in my memory though about these journeys from St. Philippe to St. Jerome was the car rides themselves.

My foster mother preferred to sit in the back of Seymour´s long car, while I would sit up front with Seymour, my legs dangling over the seat.

As he drove he would chat with me, while I simply, shyly, nodded my head to whatever he would say.

There was, and I hope there still is, a forest by the side of the highway outside of the town of Lachute that Seymour always commented about and it was these comments that have inspired within me the wanderlust that still haunts my soul to this very day.

The forest loomed tall and dark with pines nude of lower branches yet with splendid full tops.

Seymour told me of his home in the Himalayas where he grew up playing in the coniferous pine, cedar, silver fur and spruce forest.

Himalayan subtropical pine forestsI wish I had had the maturity and the foresight to have recorded his conversations in the car, but what I do recall is that he spoke with such love, such longing, for his homeland, for his pines so high, so dark, that there remains within a burning desire to find those forests in India.

Time passes.

We lose track of people as we age, as we move on, but new people, new places, new experiences arrive instead.

I have, since those St. Jerome car trips, done some exploring of my homeland and the world on my own.

I have, since Seymour, met other Indians as well.

I briefly shared a flat with an Indian family, the Savarimuthus, in Kingston.

I have a good friend, Sumit, from the tropical state of Orissa, who now resides in Toronto with his wife and baby boy.

What always strikes me about conversations with Sumit and other Indians I have known is how they constantly curse and lament the problems that continue to plague the Subcontinent yet the love they still feel and exhibit, expressively, fervently, towards India never fails to impress me.

Now maybe the India of Seymour´s day may not be the India of today.

I also know that India is no Paradise on Earth.

Deforestation continues to be a problem.

There is, even today, inadequate access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation.

There remains significant levels of air pollution around the nation, especially in the major cities.

Almost everywhere in India plastic bags and bottles clog drains, litter city streets and stunt the growth of plants in sanctuaries and parks.

The list of endangered species of animals, both in India and abroad, continues to grow.

I know that India is crowded, noisy, corrupt, dangerous, chaotic, and yet…

I need to see India, just once, before I die.

I want to stand inside a Himalayan forest and venerate the trees.

I want to be bombarded by the cacophony of sound and the kaleidoscope of colour.

I want to get lost amongst the myriad of languages and religions that is India.

But for now I must console myself to my life as it is, here in Switzerland…

Bischopszell, Switzerland: 28 January 2016

It is not my first visit to Bischopszell.


I had been here when I had followed the Thur River from the base of Säntis Mountain all the way to where it meets the mighty Rhine.

The Thur´s oldest bridge stretches between its shores just below Bischopszell.

The weather has been unseasonably mild for January so I decide to go a-walkin´.

A train ride from Landschlacht to St. Gallen and another from there to Bischopszell pass quickly.

Bischopszell, as the name suggests, was a former bishop´s residence, but today I am uninterested in historic buildings and tales of days gone by.

I long for open fields and sheltering forests, the peace and tranquillity of the trail, to walk free on a day when others have to work.

I leave Bischopszell behind and begin to walk.

Bogen Tower, part of the Bischopszell city walls

The first site I meet, just past the Bischopszell Stadt railway station, does not inspire.

Here is the “Hipp’sche Wendescheibe”, the first electrical train signal in Switzerland (1862), used until 1975, was invented and built by Matthaeus Hipp (1813 – 1893), the “Swiss Edison”:

Matthäus Hipp

I pass a small cheese shop and follow the familiar yellow diamond trail signs:

Adam Kerr's photo.

Up, up, I climb to see a sleepy Buddha on a mailbox:

Adam Kerr's photo.

Up, up, onto hills and into forests and atop Bischofsberg (Bishop´s Mountain).

Adam Kerr's photo.

I smell the scent of pine here in the Thurgau forest and suddenly I am back in Seymour´s car again, dreaming of India.


The future: Older dog, newer tricks

Winterthur, Switzerland: 26 January 2016

Wirbeltiere aus aller Welt

Generally speaking I am not a fan of natural museums, for they often seem to me to be: well, unnatural.

“On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail, you’ll be sure to see
All Mother Nature’s favourite pets, all sitting rigidly.
They’re never hungry any more, their last meal left them stuffed.
Don’t worry, they won’t walk away if you try and pet their fluff.

And the dog goes…(silence)
And the cow goes…(silence)
And the bear goes…(silence)
And the pig goes…(silence)
And the crow goes caw! I guess it was alive.
You can see all this
On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail.

Arrogant Worms, “Mounted Animal Nature Trail”

Completely Canadian Compilation

To be fair, I will visit them along with whatever museums happen to be around a new place, but, more often than not, I find myself leaving depressed and disappointed rather than glad I stopped by.

I have visited natural museums in Ottawa, Freiburg im Briesgau, Zürich, Winterthur, etc., hoping against hope that these monoliths to nature will captivate me more than they do.

And there are brief moments when they do.

Ottawa impresses with the sheer size and age of its buildings.


Freiburg celebrates spring every year with live baby chicks and bunnies for the child in all of us to feel delight in.

The Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich has an impressive corner 3D mural inside its halls.

Adam Kerr's photo.


Adam Kerr's photo.

The rats are as big as bears…

Adam Kerr's photo.

You can almost feel the motion of the sea as you travel the oceans in search of natural wonders.

And in a quiet and powerful way one is reminded of two powerful ideas:

  1. In comparison to the actual age of the planet, man´s presence is barely registerable.
  2. And this too shall pass.  Who knows what/who will replace man in the millennia to come?

What would some future archaeologist make of our civilisation?

“I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
You can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.”

Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

In my typical fashion of overthinking, the fossilised Coca Cola bottle got me pondering…

How will I be remembered when I´m gone?

“I look around me,
But all I seem to see,
Is people going nowhere,
Expecting sympathy

It’s like we’re going through the motions,
Of a scripted destiny
Tell me where’s our inspiration,
If life won´t wait,
I guess it’s up to me.

Procrastination, running circles in my head
While you sit there contemplating,
You wound up left for dead (left for dead)
Life is what happens, while you’re busy making your excuses
Another day, another casualty
And that won’t happen to me.

Because every wasted day becomes a wasted chance
You’re gonna wake up feeling sorry,
Because life won’t wait,
I guess it’s up to you.

We’ll leave the past in the past,
Gonna find the future
If misery loves company well,
So long, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.

Simple Plan, “When I´m Gone”

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 29 January 2016

As the first month of this New Year draws to a close, I consider my own legacy.

Last year I wrote of some plans and ideas I had for this blog:

To those brave souls who have faithfully followed this blog since its genesis on 18 May 2015, and have loyally read all posts that came before, you will have noticed that I have tended to write in three directions:

– Opinion about world events and current affairs
– History (why things are and how they got that way)
– Personal thoughts about events and encounters in my daily life

For the Chronicles of Canada Slim, I will continue to do so, hoping that former readers as well as new followers will get the same pleasure and thoughtfulness in reading them as I put into writing them.

Look for my newest blogs soon:

The Forest of Shadows: “Sometimes evil doesn’t die” (My novel released in serial form)(Feedback and criticism most welcome)

The Anglo Guide to Switzerland: “Life, work and play in the Land of the Edelweiss” (Complimentary, not competitive with others’ existing blogs)

Making It Work: “English for Employment” (mit deutsch Wortschatz)(Perhaps later “avec vocabulaire francais”)”

(See Old Dog, New Tricks of this blog.)

What has happened since?

Well, as my wife would often complain…

I lack discipline and focus, but, hey, a man can begin to change, eh?

I have decided that the Anglo Guide and Making It Work are not really what motivates me, so I have, for now, abandoned these ideas, or at least these ideas will become a part of the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

As for the Forest of Shadows

Thanks to the wonderful couple, Natalie and Ricardo Utsumi who set up this blog for me, I now have a second blog, a blog I want to regularly contribute to as much as I have to this one.

Building Everest: The Writing of Canada Slim will be restricted to novels and short stories, including The Forest of Shadows, I am writing and one day hope to see published.

Check out, starting tomorrow!

In the sheer grand scale of the future unwritten and the universe to come, my words will probably be forgotten.

But one can dream, eh?

Timely sensations of sex in the city

Winterthur, Switzerland: 26 January 2016

View of the old town

I have very little experience of Winterthur as a tourist as I work as a teacher here twice a week.

Ute, my wife, is constantly complaining that I need to get out more and acquire some culture in my life.

And whenever she is at home I allow her to drag me to the occasional museum or concert, theatre play or restaurant.

Letting her do so is not only good for the relationship but she hopes that exposure to a little culture might have a civilising effect on the Canadian barbarian she married.

It´s nice that she remains hopeful!

I have spoken of Winterthur before in this blog…

(See Life Among the Winti of this blog.)

But I have not done much exploring of this city, the 6th biggest in Switzerland, before.

With the exception of a job interview in St. Gallen this morning, my day was free today, so why not see a few of the museums in Winterthur that I had proudly boasted about?

Winterthur´s most popular attraction is the Oskar Reinhart Collection in two locations: Römerholz (Roman Wood) and Stadtgarten (City Garden).

Museum Römerholz.jpg

Oskar Reinhart Collection, Römerholz, Winterthur

Oskar Reinhart Collection, Stadtgarten, Winterthur

This large art gallery was the life´s work of local industrialist Oskar Reinhart, who channeled a large proportion of his vast wealth into acquiring fine works of art.

Oskar Reinhart

“Oskar Reinhart (1885–1965), born into an old family of Winterthur merchants, was one of the most important art collectors and patrons in Switzerland.

His mother, Lilly Reinhart-Volkart (1855–1916), was heir to his grandfather’s company – Volkart Brothers, which was founded in 1851.

His father Theodor Reinhart (1849–1919) expanded the company and successfully pioneered trade between India and continental Europe.

As early as 1907, when still a trainee in his parents’ company, Oskar Reinhart began to collect old master and modern prints.

He did not, however, acquire the bulk of his art collection until after his father’s death.

Until 1924, Oskar Reinhart remained an active – and until 1939 a silent – partner of the Volkart trading company.

Thus, he devoted himself entirely to expanding his art collection.

In addition, he served in various public bodies such as the Gottfried Keller Foundation…”

(See Down the Rhine, Up the Glatt: the Poet´s Path of this blog.)

“While his brother George (1877–1955) and Werner (1884-1951) controlled the company until 1952.

In 1924, Oskar Reinhart purchased a mansion at Am Römerholz, which he converted into his private residence and which he furnished with exquisite works of art.

In 1936, Reinhart helped the Munich-based art dealer Fritz Nathan to immigrate into Switzerland.

In 1941, he also attempted – together with Fritz Nathan and Walter Feilchenfeldt – to enable Max Liebermann’s widow to emigrate to Switzerland.

Furthermore he was mindful not to purchase any artwork from dubious sources during the Third Reich.

He did, however, under the impression of the events of time, create the Oskar Reinhart Foundation on 10 October 1940 and donated his works by German, Austrian and Swiss artists from the 18th to early 20th century to this foundation.

Due to the War, the old school building adjacent to the Stadtgarten that had been remodelled as a museum for the foundation was not opened until 1951.

Reinhart left the collection of paintings and drawings by German, Dutch, English, Italian, Spanish and French Old Masters as well as Impressionists that he had kept in his private house Römerholz to the Swiss Government, while his print collection was given to the Oskar Reinhart Foundation.

The Oskar Reinhart Museum houses around 500 paintings and sculptures from the end of the 18th to the mid-20th century from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as around 7,000 prints and drawings from the 15th to 20th century.

In terms of German art from the 19th century, the Museum is the worldwide leading institution outside of Germany regarding its wealth and quality.

The criteria that Julius Meier-Graefe, Hugo von Tschudi and Alfred Lichtwark had set in 1906 at the Centennial Exhibition of German Art in Berlin were decisive for the Collection as Swiss and Austrian artists were also represented in this exhibition.

This event was significant, because it triggered a revaluation of German paintings:

Everything academic and historically emotive was excluded.

Instead, the exhibition simply featured romantic poetry in image form, living naturalism in realism and the picturesque.

At the same time, artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Georg Friedrich Kersting and Carl Blechen were rescued from oblivion thanks to this exhibition, whilst the exhibition represented the transnational significance of Hans von Marées, Wilhelm Leibl and Hans Thoma for the first time ever.

Oskar Reinhart saw the legendary Centennial Exhibition and integrated more than twenty works that were exhibited there into his Collection throughout the course of his life.

This included renowned paintings by Arnold Böcklin, Wilhelm Leibl and Anselm Feuerbach.”

(Sammelung Oskar Reinhart)

This is all well and good to know…

But even though it is a Tuesday, the admissions line to see the Museum at Stadtgarten stretches down the broad staircase, along the street and around the corner.

I count, conservatively, at least 300 visitors waiting to get in, with waiting time at least an hour.

Though it is not quite as long as the lines at the Louvre in Paris, I have little patience for standing for a long time in a long line to visit an overly crowded museum.

Instead I head to the nearby Gewerbemuseum.

The Gewerbemuseum (in English: trade museum) has little to do with industry and more to do with pop culture – the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of Western culture today.

Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of our society.

The most common pop culture categories are: entertainment (movies, music, TV), sports, news (people/places in the news), politics, fashion/clothes, technology, and slang.

It could be viewed as trivial, superficial, consumerist, sensationalist and corrupt or simply good for a laugh.

Three highlights of the Museum today:

  • “Nirvana: Strange forms of pleasure” exhibition
  • the Kellenberger Clock and Watch Collection
  • the Materials Archive

I begin with the clock collection.

“Konrad Kellenberger (1907-1976) was born in Wienacht, Canton Appenzell.

After his training as a metal worker, he was employed as a lab technician at the Winterthur branch of Zürich´s University of Applied Sciences.

Already at 18 years old, Kellenberger began to collect clocks and watches, acquiring a great deal of knowledge in this field.

As a self-taught horologist he restored much of his budding collection himself.”


Kellenberger was a true independent scholar.

(See Underdog University of this blog.)

His collection has attracted visitors from all over the world.

It is a fascinating journey through time.

(See On Time of this blog.)

Upstairs, NIRVANA is remarkable by its contrast.

“The desire for sensual pleasure and seduction is constantly inspiring new fantasies and pleasure can still be experienced through all the senses, even in the digital age.

Mustafa Sabbagh, 'Just in Black', 2014 (1)

The NIRVANA exhibition uses over 200 objects and installations to explore the influence of the erotic on design, fashion and contemporary art, showing how the form, materials and levels of meaning of erotic and fetishistic worlds can be interpreted anew.


Artists and designers from all over the world make use of secret hints, playful allusions and humorous references to ‘the best thing in the world’ in order to present the sensual universe in a fresh way.


Superior workmanship and quality materials, such as leather, glass, velvet and precious metals, which we associate with luxury goods and traditional craftsmanship, feature strongly.

The exhibition is at once a plea for a creative, fantasy-rich approach to the erotic and a tribute to the seductive force of form and material.”


Carrie Bradshaw would wax poetic over the high heels selection.

SATC Title.jpg

To my innocent country boy´s eyes I am in a fetish museum.

Clearly, Toto, I am no longer in Canada.

Fifty Shades of Gray is vanilla in Nirvana´s many flavours, and I am discovering there are many tastes I have yet to experience.

I flee upstairs to the Materials Archive, hoping to calm my racing pulse and disoriented emotions.

I find answers to questions I did not know I was asking:

“Which fragrance makes leather seductive?

What does silk, latex or rubber smell like?

How does amber and musk preserve the scent of a human being?” (Gewerbemuseum)

Above: Gabrielle Anwar/Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman 

“The scent of materials is a series of odoriferous and listening stations focusing on the olfactory peculiarities of sensual materials.

Wilhelm - Der Duft der Materialien

You can sniff wax and resins, explore the attraction of scents such as iris, sandalwood or spruce, sample an aphrodisiac or discover the difference between the smell of a two hundred franc note and a cookbook.”


Learn what the nose knows.

My mind is dazed, my senses overwhelmed, my imagination aflame.

What remained of my innocence is lost.

I have reached Nirvana.


Viennese, Down Under

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

There is an 11-hour time zone difference between Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, and Canberra, the capital of Australia.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

So while I was discovering the secrets of this land of the Walser in southern Liechtenstein, Australians were already starting up their barbies for cut lunch and snag while drinking stubbies of beer to commemorate the national celebration of Australia Day.

So it is rather fitting that I discover an Australian connection to a former resident of this Liechtenstein municipality.

Cheviot Beach.png

Cheviot Beach, a beach near Point Nepean in the state of Victoria, Australia.

It was named after the SS Cheviot, an English coal and passenger steamer, which broke up and sank nearby with the loss of 35 lives on 20 October 1887.


On clear days the lookout at the top of Cheviot Hill offers the full panorama of Port Phillip Bay.

The 2.7 kilometre gap between Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale is an awesome sight.

The Rip, as it is known, is one of the most perilous passages to a harbour in the world.

Half the entrance is unnavigable due to underwater reefs and when the tide rises in Bass Strait it cannot cope with the volume of water surging forward.

When the flood tide is rushing into the heads, the sea level in the Strait is more than a metre higher than in the Bay and vice versa when the tide is going out.

Cheviot Bay is well suited to snorkeling.

Its cliffs have receded over thousands of years, leaving a shelf of limestone rock where the Cheviot came to grief.

If you were allowed on Cheviot Beach, you could wade out to a point where the water suddenly becomes very deep.

Looking down, you can tell it by the churning waves.

The public has been locked out of Point Nepean since the quarantine station was established there in 1852.

Access became even more restricted when a series of defence fortifications were built there in the 1880s, then expanded and upgraded for the First and Second World Wars.

It is still not possible for the general public to go down to Cheviot Beach, even though Point Nepean became a national park in 1988.

Access is difficult as the lower part of the only path has collapsed.

In addition the seas are considered too dangerous.

The only way to see the beach is to do the Cheviot Hill Discovery Walk, one of four self-guided walks at Point Nepean.

The path is sealed but is steep in places with a few steps near the top.

It passes through tough tea-tree scrub punctuated with signs warning walkers to stay on the track and not to climb the gun emplacement structures dating from World War II.

This area was used for target practice for many years and still contains unexploded shells.

Interpretation boards along the way explain the vegetation and the Aboriginal and military history associated with the peninsula.

After about 20 minutes, the path emerges from the scrub to a clearing on the top of Cheviot Hill.

Directly below, at the bottom of a sheer cliff, is the long golden stretch of sand and the pounding waves of the beach.


“Australia is a difficult country to keep track of.

On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight from London reading a history of Australian politics in the 20th century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt was strolling along the beach, plunged into the surf and vanished.

No trace of the poor man was ever seen again.

This seemed doubly astonishing to me – first that Australia could just lose a Prime Minister and second that news of this had never reached me.”

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

To be fair to Bill, Australia is not unique for having people go amiss.

The list of famous people whose whereabouts remain a mystery is a distinguished one.

Among the many who have vanished without a trace are: the rebel slave Spartacus, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s son Caesarion, Roman Emperor Valens, Owain Glyndwr (last Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales), Giovanni Caboto (in English, John Cabot, the Italian discoverer of Canada), the Roanoke colonists of Virginia, John Franklin´s expedition looking for the Northwest Passage, Solomon Northup (US author of Twelve Years a Slave), Joshua Slocum (first man to sail alone around the world), Ambrose Bierce (US author of The Devil´s Dictionary), Roald Amundsen (first man to reach the South Pole), Amelia Earhart (first woman to try a circumnavigational flight around the world), Glenn Miller (popular US jazz musician and bandleader), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (French author of The Little Prince), D.B. Cooper (US bank robber), Jimmy Hoffa (US trade union leader)…

And these are just some famous folks.

Of course, still fresh and unforgotten, we all still recall the disappearance on 8 March 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with 227 passengers and 12 crew who still remain unaccounted for.

“It was at Cheviot Beach that Harold Holt went for the Swim That Needs No Towel.

On the day Prime Minister Harold Holt waded into the surf, the weather was windy but fine.


Above: Harold Edward Holt, 5 August 1908 – 17 December 1967, 17th Prime Minister of Australia

Things were not going very well for him as Prime Minister – his skills lay more in kissing babies and making the ladies tingle (he was evidently a bit of a hottie) than in running affairs of state – and we may safely assume that he was glad to be out of Canberra for the long Christmas break.

Holt and his wife, Zara, built a beach house at Portsea in 1957.

For Holt, swimming and snorkelling were a wonderful antidote to the pressures of high office.

Holt came to Cheviot Beach because he had a weekend home at nearby Portsea and the army let him stroll on its grounds for the sake of his privacy.”

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

Holt had taken up snorkelling in 1954 and loved it.

“As soon as I put my head under water, I was hooked,” he said.”


So there were no lifeguards, no members of the public or even security guards in attendance when, on 17 December 1967, Holt went for a breezy stroll with some friends among the rocks and pounding waves just below.

Also on the beach was Holt’s lover of the time, Marjorie Gillespie.

Although the sea was lively and the tide dangerously high…

Although Holt had almost drowned there six months earlier while snorkelling with some chums…

Holt decided to go for a swim.

Before anyone could react Holt had whipped off his shirt and plunged into the surf.

He swam straight out from the Beach a couple of hundred feet and almost instantly vanished, without fuss or commotion or even a languorous wave.

Fearing the worst, his friends raised the alert.

Within a short time, the beach and the water off shore were being searched by a large contingent of police, Royal Australian Navy divers, Royal Australian Air Force helicopters, Army personnel from nearby Point Nepean and local volunteers.

This quickly escalated into one of the largest search operations in Australian history, but no trace of Holt could be found.

Enter Hans Hass.

Hans Hass.jpg

Hans Hass (23 January 1919 – 16 June 2013) was an Austrian biologist and diving pioneer.

Born in Vienna, Hass was known for being the first scientist to popularise coral reefs, stingrays and sharks.

He pioneered the making of documentaries filmed underwater.

He led the development of the aqualung and a type of re-breather.

He was known, too, for his energon theory (the idea that the behaviours of all life-forms — human, nonhuman animal and plant — have common origins) and his commitment to protecting the environment.

Hass was a remarkable person.

Hass developed the first robot cameras, the first underwater colour photographs and film, the process of research diving, patented radio signal fishing, an underwater watch, swim fins, underwater habitation, a submersible, as well as a decompression computer.

Hass produced four movies, 70 TV films, 105 commercial films and more than 25 books.

He received medals and honours galore, including an Oscar for his extraordinary underwater photography in the movie Xarifa Expedition (1959).

A cone snail, found in the Philippines, was named after him (Protoconus hanshassi) (2012).

Hass acknowledged a rivalry with the better-known French scientist Jacques Cousteau.

According to the New York Times obituary, Hass told historian Tim Ecott that:

“For Cousteau there exists only Cousteau.

He never acknowledged others or corrected the impression that he wasn’t the first in diving or underwater photography.”

Hass lived in Triesenberg from 1960 to 2006, which is a rather odd choice of living location for a man in love with the sea.

Following the disappearance of the Australian Prime Minister, Hass explored the area where Holt had disappeared.

In an interview with Harry Martin for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s current affairs programme A.M., Hass said that having observed the underwater conditions of the area with its sharp and jagged rocks he was convinced that Holt had been trapped in the structure of one of these rocks and his body considerably torn by the nature of the forces of the sea and the sharp rocks.

“I got chatting with the park ranger:

“The thing you´ve got to remember is that the only thing unusual about the Harold Holt drowning was that he was Prime Minister when it happened.

If it hadn´t been for that the whole thing would have been completely forgotten.

Mind you, it´s pretty well forgotten anyway…

Most people barely remember it.

A lot of people under 30 have never even heard of it…

They built a memorial to him in Melbourne.

Know what it was?

A municipal swimming pool.””

Melbourne’s Harold Holt Swim Centre

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

Holt was 59 years old and had been Prime Minister for not quite two years.

A memorial to Holt has been attached to the limestone reef beneath the waters of Cheviot Bay, not far from the remains of the ship he loved to explore.

The last 48 years have seen a succession of conspiracy theories unveiled to explain Holt´s disappearance.

  • He was abducted and taken on board a Chinese submarine.
  • Holt was a spy who defected to the Chinese, swimming out to the submarine that took him away.
  • The CIA bumped Holt off for planning to withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam.
  • Holt swam out to meet a speedboat, which promptly took him to Europe to be with a French lover.
  • Shark attack
  • He was abducted by aliens / mermaids / the KGB.
  • He was lured away to join the circus.

(Adam Ward, Everything You Didn´t Need to Know About Australia)

Hass left Triesenberg and moved back to Vienna, where he died on 16 June 2013.

Maybe Hass´ international exposure and his visit to Australia might be the reason why Vienna souvenir shops sell postcards and T-shirts with the words:

No Kangaroos in Austria T-Shirt













Utopia unrealised

You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions.
I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

(John Lennon, “Imagine”)

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

Today in my explorations of Liechtenstein´s land of the Walser, I came across the history of a dreamer.

Jakob Vetsch (1879 – 1942), also known as Mundus, (in English, “the world”), lived in Triesenberg from 1927 to 1934.

Born in Nesslau, (the eastern end of the railway line that begins in Schaffhausen and runs through my village of Landschlacht), Jakob spent his childhood in Wald, Appenzell, where his father taught and his mother died during labour.

Jakob attended Gymnasium (high school) in Trogen and in St. Gallen.

Against the wishes of Jakob´s father for Jakob to become a teacher in his footsteps,  Jakob fled for a time to Paris, returning back to Zürich in 1900.

Jakob studied German, English and Philiosophy at the University of Zürich.

He taught German in London from 1902 to 1903.

Jakob, interested in oral histories since his childhood, returned to Zürich where he began to work on publications dealing with the Swiss dialect and recorded on phonograph various oral histories he came across.

In 1910, Jakob began his second post-secondary degree in Zürich, in Jurisprudence and Macroeconomics.

He was appointed Secretary of the Board of a Zürich brewery in 1916, but after World War I he found himself in great financial debt.

Happily two years later Jakob married Marguerite Hübscher, millionairess daughter of the brewery´s majority stockholder.

Jakob was not to know happiness for very long as both his wife and their infant daughter both became ill and died.

In 1922, Jakob began a new career as novelist.

He, like many others of the first half of the 20th century, began to dream of Utopia. (Wikipedia)

“The relationship between place and well-being seems to be hard-wired into the human brain.

Making a better life for oneself suggests going to a better place.

It comes as no surprise that creating a new kind of place is central to the efforts of those who want to flee industrial civilisation and fashion a perfect society.

Once associated with hippie communes, this Utopian impulse has spread and diversified.

Today there is a huge variety of intentional communities.

The desire to escape urban life and build Utopia is not new.

There is always a new generation packing its bags and heading into the forest.”

(Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map)

The word Utopia was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book, meaning no place.

Hans Holbein, the Younger - Sir Thomas More - Google Art Project.jpg

It was meant to describe an island society possessing near-perfect desireable qualities but in contrast with real places, frustratingly full of different histories, ideas and people.

The very idea of Utopia implies that Utopia could never exist.

Yet the intention to start such places is commonplace.

Many ordinary towns and suburbs began life as ideal communities.

What holds Utopia in people´s minds is not just a vision of a perfect place, but rather the experience of living in a bad one.

Plato, in his Republic, described the first Utopian proposal.


Society is divided into four groups: gold, silver, bronze and iron.

The gold are trained 50 years to become philosopher-kings.

The wisdom of these rulers eliminates poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources.

The Republic has few laws, no lawyers, and rarely sends its citizens to war, instead relying on mercenaries. (Wikipedia)

In Thomas More´s Utopia, there is no private property and no locks on any of the doors.

Isola di Utopia Moro.jpg

Agriculture is the most important job on the island.

Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men.

Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metal smithing and masonry.

There is deliberate simplicity about these trades.

All people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel.

All able-bodied citizens must work.

Unemployment is eradicated and the length of the working day can be minimised:

People only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer).

More allows scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn.

All other citizens are however encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.

Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and every household has two slaves.

The slaves are either from other countries or are  Utopian criminals.

These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold.

The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it.

It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view.

The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other.

Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour.

Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Utopia is a welfare state with free hospitals.

Euthanasia is permissible by the state.

Priests are allowed to marry, divorce is permitted, premarital sex is punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery is punished by enslavement.

Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn.

Although all are fed the same, the old and the administrators are given the best of the food.

Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport.

Anyone found without a passport is, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery.

In addition, there are no lawyers so the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave any doubt of what is right and wrong.

Privacy is not regarded as freedom in Utopia.

Taverns, alehouses and places for private gatherings are non-existent for all men must remain in full view, thus obliging good behaviour. (Wikipedia)

Jakob Vetsch, in his book Die Sonnenstadt (in English, City of the Sun), envisioned for 2100 a splendid Utopia, with administration and business run by the community, a land with no religion and no government, no capitalism and no colonialism.

His Sonnenstadt was a place of sexual equality between the genders, where children would choose which parent´s surname to adopt as their own, where money was eliminated, where people worked only 25 hours a week but sex before marriage was forbidden.

The world of literature and his contemporaries in Switzerland did not welcome Jakob´s contributions.

His open market economy had already been suggested by Silvio Gesells and his novel´s imagery previously created by persons like Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner.

Vetsch´s Utopia was considered typical of the day and even the book´s title was thought to a plagiary of Tommaso Campanella´s 1602 Utopian classic, La Citta del Sole.

The resulting rejection and the high costs of trying to publish his novel took a heavy toll upon Jakob.

When his in-laws tried to have Jakob committed to an insane asylum in 1927, Jakob fled to Liechtenstein, first living in Vaduz and then in Triesenberg where he began studying the Walser dialect.

Jakob returned to Switzerland in 1934 and entered politics in Oberägeri, Zug Canton, working his way up the political ladder until he became the president of the municipality in 1942.

But, true to form, fortune turned against Jakob, and he died from acute gangrene in his 9th month in office. (Wikipedia)

When I consider the life and vision of Jakob Vetsch, I am struck by a thought:

Is there really such a thing as a new idea under Heaven?

Should we condemn a person for presenting an old idea?

Is it so wrong, so insane, to want to build a better life, a better world?

Or should these ideas be hidden away in some far distant Alpine retreat, like Triesenberg, until the world is ready for them?

The mountains do not answer.


Last of the Knights Templar

Adam Kerr's photo.

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

My private student in Winterthur had cancelled his lesson for today, leaving me only my regular lunch-time Cambridge BEC Vantage group in Vaduz.

With the wife away in Zürich, with time on my hands and little desire to waste the clear skies and temperate weather, I decide to explore more of this Principality of Liechtenstein, of which I know only its capital.

I am a humble rider amongst other humble riders on a metal steed, a Liechtensteiner bus.

“Attractions around the Principality are low-key, and aside from the mountain resort of Malbun, almost entirely untouristed.

South of Vaduz is the Liechtensteiner Oberland, with workaday Triesen, overshadowed by pretty Triesenberg, perched on a sunny hillside high above the Rhine and best known as the adopted home of a community of Walser people.

Many of the houses are old wooden chalets built in the Walser style.

Adam Kerr's photo.

The modern, well-presented Walsermuseum documents the community´s history and culture.”

(The Rough Guide to Switzerland)

Bus 21 whisks me away and up to Triesenberg.

In the Walser Museum, I am told that to be in Triesenberg is to be amongst a community of knights.

To be a knight in the Middle Ages, a man needed to possess the following virtues:

* Mercy
* Humility
* Honor
* Sacrifice
* Fear of God
* Faithfulness
* Courage
* Utmost graciousness and courtesy to ladies

A mid 13th century knight armed with virtues and facing the vices in mortal combat.

The parts of his armour are identified with Christian virtues, thus correlating essential military equipment with the religious values of chivalry:

The helmet is hope of future bliss, the shield is faith, the armour is charity, the lance is perseverance, the sword is the word of God, the banner is desire for heaven, the horse is good will, the saddle is the Christian religion, the saddlecloth is humility, the reins are discretion, the spurs are discipline, the stirrups are good works, and the horse’s four hooves are delight, consent, good work, and exercise.

The ideal knight was gentle, kind, patient, and tender with the poor, with those less fortunate than himself, and with the elderly, women, and children.

He learned to be civil, refined, genteel, and temperate.

He could be counted on to deal justly and fairly with everyone-the people of his Kingdom as well as his fellow knights.

King David I of Scotland knighting a squire

A knight was usually selfless and put the safety of others ahead of his own.

He was usually physically strong and hardy.

A great deal of self control went into being a knight.

Do the Walser have these qualities?

The first important distinction we need to make here is between real knights and the knight as a literary figure.

The literary and cultural traditions of chivalry and chivalric romance created a behavioral ideal for knights which was quite different from the more pragmatic requirements of possessing wealth and the ability to maintain local order and kill people on command.

Seal of Templars.jpg

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar, the Order of Solomon’s Temple or simply as Templars, were among the most wealthy and powerful of the Western Christian military orders and were prominent actors in Christian finance.

The organisation existed for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages.

Officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a favoured charity throughout Christendom and grew rapidly in membership and power.

Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.

Templar Cross

Non-combatant members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating financial techniques that were an early form of banking, and building fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.

Above: The first headquarters of the Knights Templar, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Crusaders called it the Temple of Solomon and from this location derived their name of “Templar”.

The Templars’ existence was tied closely to the Crusades.

When the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded.

Rumours about the Templars’ secret initiation ceremony created distrust.

King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order, took advantage of the situation.

In 1307, many of the Order’s members in France were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and then burned at the stake.

Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312.

The abrupt disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the “Templar” name alive into the modern day.

The Walser are the speakers of the Walser German dialects, a variety of High Alemannic.

They inhabit the Alps of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, as well as on the fringes of Italy and Austria.

The Walser people are named after the Wallis (Valais), the uppermost Rhone valley, where they settled from roughly the 10th century in the late phase of the migration of the Alamanni, crossing from the Bernese Oberland.

Because of linguistic differences among the Walser dialects, it is supposed that there were two independent immigration routes.

From the upper Wallis, they began to spread south, west and east between the 12th and 13th centuries, in the Walser migrations (Walserwanderungen).

The causes of these further population movements, the last wave of settlement in the higher valley of the Alps, are not entirely clear.

Walser legend asserts that the migration and their subsequent granting of “free man” status was expressly because of their association with Templar resettlement.

The Alps provided an ideal and easily defended refuge, a place already settled by other Templars in a town named after Jerusalem: Sion, Switzerland, the capital of Valais, the namesake region of the Walser.

In Liechtenstein, there is one Walser community: Triesenberg, including Saminatal and Malbun.

Triesenberg is a municipality in Liechtenstein with a population of 2,564.

Its area of 30 square kilometers makes it the largest municipality in Liechtenstein.

The center of the municipality rests at an elevation of 884 – 1,000 metres.

The village is noted for its distinct dialect, dating from the influence of Walser migrants in the Middle Ages, who arrived in the region early in the 14th century.

This dialect is actively promoted by the Municipality.

The existence of this dialect is one evidence of remarkable linguistic diversity within the small Principality, as it is spoken alongside the Standard German and Alemannic dialect common to this country.

Adam Kerr's photo.

Just in case you missed noticing that people round you talk differently – the Walser dialect dictionary – Triesenberg, Liechtenstein

Adam Kerr's photo.

Above: part of the permanent exhibition of the wood figures of Rudolf Schädler, Liechtensteiner composer, woodcarver and hotelier (1903 – 1990) (The Roots backpack and winter clothing is mine.)

Adam Kerr's photo.

Above: depiction of the legend where the devil is forced to carry the church bell on his back

(See Along the Fable Trail of this blog.)

This is the place where modern knights meet modern art and olden customs.

Originally called the Heimatmuseum, the Walser Museum was created in 1961 by the parish priest of Triesenberg, Engelbert Bucher.

Since 1980 the museum has been located in the centre of the village, next to the Hotel Kulm.
Its exhibits tell the history of Triesenberg and the local church and showcase many of the customs and traditions so central to the Walser population’s way of life.
The Walser Museum in Triesenberg

A multimedia show lasting around 25 minutes gives an insight into how the village has changed over the centuries.

In the basement visitors will find a permanent exhibition of wood sculptures by local artist Rudolf Schädler.

As well as the main building itself, the Walser Museum includes a 400-year-old traditional Walser house to the south of the cemetery, where visitors can find out about how the local population lived in the 19th century.

Walsermuseum Triesenberg

Hop back on Bus 21 and go to the end of the road.

1,600-metre-high resort Malbun feels like the edge of the Earth.

Above: the village of Malbun

It feels remote, even though in high season Malbun is mobbed.

It is a perfect place to unwind.

Above: the Chapel of Peace in Malbun, built to praise God for sparing Liechtenstein from the effects of the Second World War

Malbun is the only resort for skiing in Liechtenstein, a tiny exclusive ski resort, frequented by members of the Liechtenstein and British royal families.

Liechtenstein is the only country located entirely within the Alps, with most of its territory occupied by mountains.

With a total of 11 Olympic medals (all in Alpine skiing), Liechtenstein has won more Olympic medals per capita (population: 36,000) than any other nation, and it is the only country to have won medals in Winter games, but never Summer.

Bildergebnis für malbun winter

In summer Malbun is an excellent location for hiking and it has served as a high elevation stage of the Tour de Suisse annual cycling race in 2004, 2007 and 2011.

Today is an odd time to be travelling as a tourist in Liechtenstein.

Christmas and New Year´s have passed.

Fasnacht (Carnival) hasn´t started yet.

The streets are mostly deserted and the men in the local sports shop, which doubles as the village´s souvenir shop, are happy to talk to anyone besides themselves.

Some talk about the upcoming local elections.

I admire their election posters.

The ice rink restaurant is quiet and there are few customers.

It is a Monday so there are few skiers on the slopes.

As I drink my coffee and wait for the next bus back to Vaduz, I wonder if the short waitress or the obese manager have the blood of knights flowing through their veins.

It is a place of peace and sanctuary here.

As a place to escape to, the Municipality of Triesenberg is perfect for any knight, king, prince or teacher.

Regardless of what age he came from.





Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?

In the two years just passed and in the two years that follow, multitudes of people around the globe commemorate the events of World War 1 (1914 – 1918) that involved 70 million soldiers – 9 million of them killed in action, 7 million civilian casualities, and a conflict that lasted 4 years, 3 months and 2 weeks. (Wikipedia)


Konstanz, a mere 15 kms from where I live in Landschlacht, is exceptional.

Konstanz (in English: Constance / in Latin: Constantia), where the Rhine River once again finds its shape as it flows out of the Lake of Constance (in German: Bodensee), hasn´t forgotten the Great War either.

Periodically, the museums of Konstanz have exhibitions focusing on the effects that this global conflict had upon this region.

But Konstanz has its civic planners fixated on more distant past events: the Council of Konstanz (1414 – 1418).

Above: the Council Building, Konstanz, Germany

In 1414, the political and religious situation in Europe was a mess.

The world now had three Popes: Gregory XXII in Rome, Benedict XIII in Avignon and John XXIII in Florence.

It was getting increasingly more difficult to unite behind a Church that was itself split asunder, so critics of ecclesiastic and papal authority were arising.

The Church had offered a cohesiveness of thought and a structure of power that replaced the unity lost when the Roman Empire had fallen.

So the mandate of the Church was clear: reestablish the authority of the Church.

To do so meant ending the division caused by having rival Popes and decisively end any vocal opposition and questioning of the Church´s fallibility.

Above: Bishops debating with the Pope at the Council of Constance

They would succeed in their goals, though not in a fashion that would endure.

The rival Popes were eliminated and a fourth Pope, Martin V, was elected who was deemed acceptable by all.

Czech priest and Church reformer Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic and executed by the Council.

Painting of Jan Hus at the Council of Constance by Vaclav Brozik

It attempted to mediate in politics to prevent a reoccurance of the violent and bloody Polish-Lithuanian Teutonic War that was threatening to explode again over border disputes.

At the entrance of the harbour of Konstanz is a concrete statue, standing 9 metres high, weighing 18 tonnes and revolving on a pedestal that rotates on its axis once every four minutes.

It was created by Peter Lenk, known for the controversial sexual content of his public art.

The Imperia was put up in 1993, clandestinely at night.

Before that, there was a lot of controversy about the sculpture in the Town Council, a lot of criticism about the satiric way the Pope and the King were depicted.

The adminstration of the Bishop of Freiburg stated that the sculpture was “without taste and could disturb the religious peace”.

There were reports in the national media about this local controversy.

The harbour area is owned by the Deutsche Bundesbahn (German National Railways).

The company welcomed the Imperia.

The Imperia shows a woman holding two men on her hands.

The two men represent Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund.

Martin V was elected Pope during the Council while Sigismund was the King who called the Council together.

Both are naked except for the crown and papal tiara that they wear as symbols of their power.

Imperia has curves and is not modest about revealing them.

The statue refers to a short story by Honoré Balzac, “La Belle Imperia”.


Above: Honoré Balzac

The story is a harsh satire of the Catholic clergy’s morals, where Imperia seduces cardinals and princes at the Council of Constance and has power over them all.

“The highest and the bravest courted her, one of her movements could cost a life, and even paragons of virtue did everything she wanted.”

Today Imperia is the most photographed attraction in the city.

(A detail from the sculpture, a nude figure of Pope Martin V, was displayed in the Konstanz train station in 2010, but was removed after complaints from the Catholic church and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politicians.)

(The historical Imperia Cognati – also called Imperia La Divina, Queen of the Courtesans – who served as the source material of Balzac’s story, was a well-educated Italian courtesan, (medieval prostitute, escort or call girl), who died in 1512, nearly 100 years after the Council and never visited Konstanz.)

There is not only a connection to literature in the sculpture, but to history as well.

During the medieval Church Council in Konstanz, many prostitutes were in town.

The attitude of medieval society towards prostitutes is characteristically a dichotomy.

On the one hand, these wenches/whores/pretty women were seamlessly integrated into city life.

It was not uncommon for them to be sent to greet important visitors.

At the Council of Konstanz, there were 1,500 prostitutes in the city of 8,000 inhabitants, but the Council itself attracted many visitors.

(Ulrich Büttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance)

Now having a 9-metre statue of a prostitute in your harbour does something to a town.

As part of the 600-year commemoration of the Council of Konstanz, 2016 has been declared as the Year of Imperia, and the arthouse cinema Scala currently and proudly presents Horizontal: the Prostitution Film Festival.

Ten films are shown in all their glory and sordidness, all focused on sex workers and the psychology that motivates them to do what they do.

Germany presents Sex Worker, The Girl Rosemarie and Ladies´ Room.

Switzerland offers Dreamland.

France proudly shows Young and Beautiful and The House of Sin.

There is Sweden´s Lilja 4ever, Morocco´s Much Loved, Spain´s Princesas, and finally Britain´s Irina Palm.

These movies are nothing new for German speakers, for who here has not heard of the Wandering Harlot? (in German: Die Wanderhure)


The Whore is a 2010 German television film, adapted from Iny Lorentz´s novel.

The film is set in Konstanz during the Council.

The name of Marie Schäter brings instant recall to today´s generation of German film afficiandos.

The film was also made into a TV series.

One must remember that the mentality behind all these films, including those with Fraulein Schäter, are those created by 20th/21st century people.

Clichés are constantly confirmed and checked off a sort of Hollywood cliché list.

The men are instinct-driven idiots, the women their typical victims.

Now there is no doubt that the medieval world was male-dominated, but women were by no means without rights and simply fair game that could be raped anytime with impunity.

Rapes were harshly punished.

Excepting rapes by the nobility, punishments for rapists were draconian.

Blinding, castration and execution were common, even when prostitutes were raped.

Prostitutes, when registered and working for a civic brothel, were protected.

During the Council, in the spring of 1415, a pimp was sentenced to death and drowned in Lake Constance.

He had forced a 12-year-old girl, a “still foolish child without breasts” into prostitution.

The criminal offered a male client this girl to perform all desired sexual actions.

The girl suffered such agonies that the Town Clerk, who made written notes of the incident, was unable to record the details.

(Ulrich Büttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance)

Prostitution occurs in a variety of forms.

Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution.

In escort prostitution, the act may take place at the client’s residence or hotel room (referred to as an outcall) or at the escort’s residence or a hotel room rented for the occasion by the escort (in-call).

Above: “tart cards” in a British phone box advertising the services of call girls

Another form is street prostitution.

Sex tourism is travel for sexual intercourse with prostitutes or to engage in other sexual activity.

Virtual sex – sexual acts conveyed by messages rather than physically – is also the subject of commercial transactions.

Commercial phone sex services have been available for decades.

The advent of the Internet has made other forms of virtual sex available for money, including computer-mediated cybersex, in which sexual services are provided in text form by way of chatrooms or instant messaging or audiovisually through a webcam.

Although the majority of prostitutes are female with male clients, there are also gay male prostitutes, lesbian prostitutes and heterosexual male prostitutes.

There are about 42 million prostitutes in the world, living all over the world.

In the US and Australia, it has been reported that at least 15% of all males have used the services of a prostitute at least once in their lives.

Prostitution is frequently viewed as a form of violence against women and children, as well as their exploitation, as shown by its intimate connection with human trafficking. (Wikipedia)

This film festival asks the question:

What drives a person to prostitution?

Above: The statue to honor the sex workers of the world, installed March 2007 in Amsterdam’s Oudekerksplein, in front of the Oude Kerk, in the red-light district De Wallen, Belle‘s inscription says: “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

Above: Prostitution Information Centre, Amsterdam

A difficulty facing migrant prostitutes in many developed countries is the illegal residence status of some of these women.

They face potential deportation, and so do not have recourse to the law or to legal employment.

Sometimes a person is driven to prostitution by a need for basic necessities such as food or shelter.

This type of prostitution is common among the homeless and in refugee camps.

Drugs and prostitution have often been documented to have a direct correlation. (Wikipedia)

I have already considered the issue of prostitution in this blog…

(See The Dark Side of the Red Light of this blog.)

…and I still feel unresolved about it.

I cannot pretend to understand either the person driven to become a prostitute or the person compelled to visit one.

But I think I may be safe in surmising that no one dreams of becoming a real prostitute.

(Fantasy is perhaps a different thing.)

I wonder:

What dreams did these sex workers once have?








Where I am

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

Gary Portnoy, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” (the theme from TV sitcom “Cheers”)

Cheers intro logo.jpg

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany –

31 December 2015 to 2 January 2016:

I have mentioned this place before.

(See Victims of the Machine, Sign of the times, Borderline Obsessive, Saints and monsters, Dark discussions, Allegiance to the Queen, Jason: a phenomenon, Distant friends, Unforgettable of this blog.)

“I often felt as if I were travelling from nowhere to nowhere.

Moving through landscapes that once meant something, perhaps an awful lot,  these have been reduced to spaces of transit.

Everything is temporary.

Everyone is just passing through.

This gave me a sense of unease and a hunger for places that matter.

Over the past 100 years or so and across the world, we have become much better at destroying places than building them.

Aristotle thought place should “take precedence of all other things” because place gives order to the world.

In a hyper-mobile world, a love of place can easily be cast as passé, even reactionary.

When human fulfillment is measured out in air miles, communities increasingly find their common ground in cyberspace rather than terra firma.

Wanting to think about place can seem a little perverse.

Yet placelessness is neither intellectually nor emotionally satisfying.

Place is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human.

We are a place-making and place-loving species.

Place connects us together as a species and bonds us to the rest of nature.

When describing the village of Ishmael´s native ally and friend Queequeg in Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote:

“It is not down in any map.  True places never are.”

In a fully discovered world, exploration doesn´t stop.

It just has to be reinvented.”

(Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map)

Freiburg im Breisgau is my soulmate of cities, a city of flair, of cobblestone and half-timber, of stone and wine and forest, of friends closer to me than family.

It is a place where the welcomes are friendly and boredom is banished beyond its borders.

Above: Martin´s Gate (Martinstor)

It is here where I leave all my cares behind and enjoy the quiet buzz and tasty temptations of a life well-experienced.

It is simultaneously a post-modern university masterpiece and historic old town brimming with Old World charm and sophistication.

Above: one of the many buildings of the Albert Ludwigs University, where my wife studied to be a doctor

Above: the Town Hall where I got married

Quaint little gullies, the Bächle, line its tangle of narrow lanes as I stagger through town after cups overflowing with wine and stomach delighted by excellent cuisine.

Wander the streets with me and listen to the gurgling Bächle, this network of miniature streams once used to water livestock and extinguish fires.

“On the long walks through the traffic-free city centre one crosses a channel carelessly.

Suddenly a little boat made out of paper is floating by.

Children are playing in the water in the middle of the business center of a city.

Fresh water from the Black Forest is briskly flowing next to the streets, taking with it the dust and cleaning the air.

At least this is the argument when people from the north complain about the absurd and dangerous mantraps.

Of course one wants to respond with something that gives an illusion of practical use.

But I think, the Bächle are less for cleanliness than for the soul.”

(Ruth Merten, Wenn Freiburgs Blüten blüh’n)

They were never intended to be used for sewage, and even in the Middle Ages such use could lead to harsh penalties.

On the hottest of days dip your feet within its waters and seek welcome relief.

I experienced its legendary powers, for, as lore dictates, those that stumble into the Bächle will marry a Freiburger(in).

During his visit to Germany in September 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said:

Benedykt XVI (2010-10-17) 4.jpg

“I´m delighted to be here in Freiburg – illuminated and warmed by the sun.”

Above: the Münster (cathedral): a building of great dimensions matching the giant ambitions of its city, funded by the boots of cobblers and the pretzels of bakers, where a poor man´s Bible can be read in the glow of stained glass windows beneath huge arches supporting blood red sandstone – a house of God, devoted to Maria, rising 116 metres, reaching for the heavens, motivated by mysticism and a labour of love – a cathedral that took 400 years to build and is ever and forever being renovated.

It stands at the centre of the old city in Freiburg´s largest square, where a farmers´ market is held every day except Sundays.

Lazing fat at the foot of the Black Forest´s wooded slopes and vineyards, Freiburg is a sunny, cheerful kaleidoscope of gabled town houses, alleys of dark adventure and stimulating cafés.

Forget Manhattan, for it is here where the party is.

It is a city blessed.

With over 2,000 hours of annual sunshine and an atmosphere rare with clouds of white blossom, it takes a truly cold winter´s day to drive folks away from the canalside beer gardens.

Augustinerplatz is one of the central squares in the old city.

Formerly the location of an Augustinian monastery, that became the Augustiner Museum in 1921, it is now a popular social space for Freiburg’s younger residents.

It has a number of restaurants and bars, including the local brewery ‘Feierling’, which has a Biergarten.

On warm summer nights, hundreds of students gather here.

Here in Freiburg, evidence that this has been a tourist hub for centuries:

Above: Hotel Bären, the oldest hotel in Germany – the foundations of the hotel predate the founding of the town of Freiburg by the dukes of the House of Zähringen in 1120.

It was here that my wife was studying when we first met two decades ago.

(See How SHE came to be of this blog.)

It was here where we first shared an apartment, where I first lived and worked in Germany.

For a time, in my limited circle of academia, I was known as the hardest working teacher in Freiburg, working an insane schedule of 60 teaching hours per week, not including travel time, corrections and preparation.

We would, after some time, move down to the Swiss border to Lörrach, then up to Osnabrück in northern Germany near the Dutch border, and finally settle in Landschlacht on the Swiss side of the Lake of Constance near the German city of Konstanz.

With the exception of a small percentage of my worldly possessions still stored in my cousin´s closet in Canada, most of what I call my own is now with me here in this wee hamlet by the lake.

All, save two things.

My heart is back in Canada, for it was, and shall remain, my homeland.

My soul remains in Freiburg.

It is in Freiburg, where many of my closest of friends still remain, where this Canadian began to cherish what it means to be European, where I began to experience a life vibrant full of love and passion, so that forever this city in my memory lingers.

It is here I rediscover who I am, where I can simply be myself once again.

It is a city where I simply am me.

I make it a point to visit this city in the sun at least two or three times a year.

Since we moved away from Freiburg, it is still a rare New Year´s Eve that doesn´t see Ute and I, yet again, climb Castle Hill (Schlossberg) to, once more, see fireworks above the city.

So stroll with me, gentle reader, down the corridors of nostalgia and fond remembrance whenever Freiburg is mentioned.

May you too find a place that captivates you with its magic and vitality.

Once you find it, you may find yourself one day leaving it behind.

But, rest assured, you will take it with you when you go.


Sick daze

Landschlacht, 22 January 2016

Being married to a German doctor has its advantages and its disadvantages.

Because Europeans and their higher educational standards are very demanding and extensive, one can visit a physician in Germany and Switzerland in complete confidence that they probably know what they are talking about should you ever have occasion to need one of them.

The downside of this attitude is that those of a Germanic persuasion tend to have two characteristics one must always bear in mind:

In their hopeless quest to control the very Fates themselves, they will be quite explicit in their instructions and will lecture you into submission about the wisdom of doing so.

When one is “under the weather”, it is easier to capitulate than waste energy in a debate they will not let you win.

And German-speakers, knowing that this quest to control destiny is ultimately doomed, will forecast and convince themselves and others that whatever a situation is – it can´t possibly end well.

Trying reading German philosophy, history or even their literature for children and try to walk away feeling light-hearted – it can´t be done.

So when your humble blogger comes down with an ailment, however minor, my wife the doctor will roll up her sleeves and predict that my life has henceforth started in its inevitable decline and that only the strictest regime of medicine and rest will possibly give me a smidgin of a chance at survival.

I have known my wife for two decades and in this time I cannot recall a singular instance when I have ever won an argument.

Don´t get me wrong.

I still am foolish enough to fight, for like her I am equally stubborn and equally determined to presevere.

But after a Saturday shift at Marktplatz St. Gallen Starbucks, coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose caused my boss to send me home early and to cancel my Sunday shift at the St. Gallen Bahnhof Starbucks…

After an ill-fated attempt to conquer the teaching world two days later caused me to drag my frozen suffering shell of a man to Vaduz, Winterthur and Konstanz, leaving me wondering at my own sanity…

I finally capitulated, yet again, to the wisdom of my wife.

I stayed at home.

I stayed in bed.

But as I coughed and sneezed and sniffed and stuffed my body full with an apothecary´s supply of drugs, my mind remained active.

Translation: being sick at home is boring.

Staying in bed is uninspiring and unimaginative.

Now staying at home alone is not so bad.

Though talking on the phone was not recommended as my voice was somewhat diminished, lying on the couch watching old reruns of Cheers consoled me somewhat.

Having been raised by a Catholic foster father and a Protestant foster mother, having married a good German Catholic, this heathen blogger is torn between Catholic guilt and the Protestant work ethic.

Shouldn´t I be using this “leisure time” more productively?

I consider the daily routines of how great minds made time, found inspiration and got novels written, masterpieces painted and symphonies composed.

From 1908 until his death in 1922, Marcel Proust devoted the whole of his life to the writing of his monumental novel of time and memory, Remembrance of Things Past, seven volumes, 1.5 million words.

Marcel Proust 1900-2.jpg

He withdrew from society and spent most of his time in the cork-lined bedroom of his Paris apartment, sleeping during the day, working at night.

He worked exclusively in bed, lying with his body almost completely horizontal and his head propped up by two pillows.

His only working light was a weak, green-shaded bedside lamp.

Truman Capote (1924-1984) told the Paris Review in 1957:

Truman Capote by Jack Mitchell.jpg

“I am a completely horizontal author.

I can´t think unless I am lying down.”

Even his typing was done in bed, with the typewriter balanced on his knees.

Literary legend has it that Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day´s work.

Roger Fry - Edith Sitwell.jpg

This foretaste of the grave was supposed to inspire her macabre fiction and poetry.

She liked to write in bed, beginning at 0530, and stayed there all morning and through the afternoon.

I curse my unambitious soul at times like this.

Outside more snow has fallen on the fields and streets of this wee hamlet of Landschlacht.

It is easy to remain indoors, hibernating in my self-imposed exile here in my comfortable cave.

I recall another scene, another bedroom, another view, another time, the story of a man half my age.

Rome, 2006

It is an exquisite piazza and we are tourists.

The famous Scalinata di Spagna, the Spanish Steps, has been a magnet for foreigners since the 18th century.

We were no less immune from its charms.

The Spanish Steps, seen from Piazza di Spagna. In foreground, the Fontana della Barcaccia

So many Grand Tourists have descended on this neighbourhood that it has come to be known as the ghetto de l’inglesi, the English ghetto.

Built in 1725 with French money, but designed by a Spainard and named after the Spanish embassy nearby, the elegant steps were built to connect the piazza with the eminent folk who lived above it.

At the foot of the Steps is the Barcaccia, the old tub fountain, made of marble, with continuous tumbling water enough to threaten a sinking boat.

The melodramatic Romantics were drawn to Italy, where little good befell them.

John Keats (1795 – 1821) came to Rome in 1820, desperately hoping that the Italian climate would improve his failing health and cure him of tuberculosis.

John Keats by William Hilton.jpg

Keats and his friend Joseph Severn lodged on the second floor of the building on the right of the Spanish Steps.

This floor is now preserved as a memorial museum.

It was our honour and privilege to visit.

Keats’ family and friends hoped he would make a complete recovery, but he was increasingly convinced that his death was imminent and that he would never again see his friends, write his poetry and see his beloved Fanny Brawne again.

The piazza then was as it is today, a busy bustle of noise with the sound of traffic on the cobblestones and the striking of church bells punctuating the days.

Like other visitors before and amongst us, we visited shops and stalls round about the square.

Today people still hang about the staircase nonchalantly yet desperately eager to be noticed.

By late January and early February, Keats’ condition left him confined to his bed, totally weak, terrible night sweats, uncontrolled teeth chattering, hacking cough with thick expectoration, phlegm boiling and tearing his chest.

He suffered from violent mood swings.

At times, his mind was playful, cheerful and elastic.

Other times, Keats would sink into depression or display a malicious temper.

The hope of death seemed his only comfort.

At night, staring at the floral pattern on his bedroon ceiling, Keats felt the flowers growing over him.

Keats could see and hear the Barcaccia from his bedroom.

Its constant presence in his final days and nights would inspire Keats in the choice of words for his gravestone.

“This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / Young English Poet / Who / on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821″

Certainly I do not pretend to compare myself to Keats nor a mere cold to tuberculosis, but when I consider what this man accomplished in his short life span I am humbled.

Keats remains one of the most beloved of all English poets.

His poems and letters endure as the most popular and most analysed in English literature.

Keats was convinced that he had made no mark in his lifetime.

Aware that he was dying, he wrote to Fanny Brawne in February 1820:

“I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d. ”

Landschlacht, 22 January 2016

As I leave Landschlacht and the comfort of my apartment, to once again reinsert myself back into the world, I think of what I have done with the half-century that has been my blessing.

I think of what I haven´t done with these past 50 years.

This will not stand.

The ease with which disease can strike a person only serves to remind me that the gift of Life is precious and must not be squandered.

I care not whether I am remembered, but I do not want it said that I wasted the few precious hours of my existence.

Capote, Keats, Proust and Sitwell teach me that it is not whether an appropriate time  or place is found that matters.

It is not the success of what is written that matters as much.

It is the adventure of expression that defines a life.

I sit myself down at my computer and I begin to write.

(Sources: Mason Currey, Daily Rituals; Lonely Planet Rome; Nigel á Brassard, Keats in Rome; Wikipedia)