Walking with the President

“Dear Mr. President

Come take a walk with me.

Let´s pretend we´re just two people and

You´re no better than me.”

(Pink, “Dear Mr. President”)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2016

What if the unthinkable actually happened?

What if Donald “Duck!” Trump became the President of the United States?

Donald Duck.svg

New York City, New York, USA, 1 April 2017

Yo, Donald! Mr. Prez.

Nicky here.

You know one of the Americans you claim to represent?

Walk with me.

Don, I gotta give you credit where credit´s due.

No one, and I mean no one, just a couple of years ago would have imagined you would pull it off.

But between the choice of two evils – a woman no one trusted and a man no one liked – plus the largest lack of voter turnout in US history, Americans have chosen you to be the 45th President of the United States of America.

(Bernie gave a good fight right down to the wire, but at day´s end he struck Americans as too radical, despite some of his ideas ones America hungered for.)

(The Dems claim they would not have been defeated if you somehow hadn´t cheated, but whomever gets the most votes gets elected.

Isn´t that democracy in a nutshell?)

In your Inaugural Speech back in January, you said you would listen to Americans, that their ideas would help you to make America great again.

So, yo, Mr President, listen up!

In a few succinct words, Donald, you ain´t doin´what needs to be done.

Granted you put on one hell of a show.

Gold leaf in the Oval Office paid out of your own pocket?

Bling, baby, bling!

But as to the rest of it, you got folks mighty worried.

The new bill forcing protestors to obtain written permission from the police before they can protest?

You represent the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

What about freedom of assembly, freedom of expression?

Denied peaceful assembly, peaceful expression, people who you worried about being violent now feel that they´ve no other choice but be violent.

The Great Border Wall between us and the Mexicans?

Bad idea, bro.

No surprise that Mexico won´t pay despite your threats.

And this Wall comes out of American taxpayers´ wallets.

Not to mention the untold millions already being paid to increase the manpower needed to find and deport illegal immigrants already here.

And the media – they really don´t like you much, do they? – showing pictures of INS teams dragging parents away from their children to send them back to their birthplaces is doing nothing to improve your rep.

And the racial profiling that is happening at the borders and airports is not helping your image either.

And exactly what does a believer in Islam actually look like?

Islamic Center in Washington DC

Your daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married, but at first glance does she look Jewish?

For that matter, do Americans look Christian?

As to your dealings with other countries…

On some respects, it seems business as usual – we are still chummy with the Saudis and non-critical of Israel and China regardless of what they do.

As much as you are trying to show a strong image by sending our troops to the Middle East to tackle ISIS head on, I honestly don´t believe we can be very effective without allies to help us.

AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

Russia respects us as long as we live and let live and let them keep doing what they like in their Eurasian playground as long as they let us do as we will in our North and South American playground.

But I don´t think the Germans, French and much of the European Union like America very much, despite your reassurements of providing more troops to the NATO effort.

Hell, even Canada ain´t too wild about us for that matter!

And even though the British PM was glad to meet you, being snubbed by the Queen and denied a visit…

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

That had a nasty sting to both America´s and your pride.

From what I can see here from Queens we don´t seem to have many friends these days.

And having few friends can´t be good for the economy.

And money already is being spent like there is no tomorrow.


More police, more prisons, more militia, require more money.

And where will this money come from, Mr President?

Show me the money, Donald.

Show me the money.

One of my ancestors once wrote that it was better to be feared than loved.

I can´t say that people fear you, but they sure as hell don´t like you very much.

(Though those celebs that said they would move if you got elected –  they never left.)

It´s true that most of us were long ago fed up with the lack of progress that government seems to represent, but you can´t keep using executive power to ramrod every legislation you want passed.

Washington might be corrupt and often ineffectual, but it still represents the will of the American people.

US Capitol west side.JPG

Respect is a two-way street, Mr. President.

Now there are members of your party, Mr President, that suggest that America must effectively crush its opponents so as to earn great respect from everyone else, but if we destroy our reputation, which, to be blunt, is not so great as it is, who will trust us enough to want to do business with us?

And, sure, attacking those who oppose America will solve many problems right now, but what about the problems of the future?

My ancestor would have approved of how you never appear intimidated regardless of the situation, of how you are reluctant to have others make decisions you prefer to do yourself, and of how you make sure that Americans seek you out especially in times of need.

But my ancestor would remind you that the two most essential foundations for any state are sound laws and a strong military.

Laws cannot be passed without Congressional approval unless you plan to use executive power for everything.

America has a strong military but it is increasingly being spread too thin.

Walk with me, Mr. Prez.

Check out all the homeless here on most US cities or visit the poorer states.

Your party keeps telling everyone that our poverty is somehow our fault.

No, Don, it ain´t.

Being poor ain´t a choice or some kind of preferred lifestyle.

Being broke is a circumstance that can only be resolved if people are given opportunities to rise above their present station in their lives.

Poor folks are no different than you, Donald – they want to take pride in the things they do, but they need the opportunity.

But those who can´t afford an education find few opportunities and working two fulltime jobs like many Americans do and still remain in debt is not what one could call an inspirational American dream.

More folks are incarcerated in this country than many other countries combined.

I am no economic expert, but putting a man behind bars costs money.

If a man´s crime is not violent, wouldn´t time best be served and money better spent if that man were fined and made to contribute part of his salary instead?

A working man contributes more to the economy than an incarcerated man.

Never forget, Donald, that you were hired to make American lives better.

Give a man an opportunity to improve his life and the lives of his family and he will make America great again.

You want respect, Mr. President?

Then restore the dignity of your people by giving everyone the same opportunities.

Create jobs with salaries sufficient that people can afford to go shopping for the products our country produces.

Make health care accessible to everyone and not just for the wealthy.

An ill man cannot contribute to the economy.

A man in debt paying for hospital bills well beyond his wages cannot help the economy.

A man in debt is a desperate man and desperation leads to desperate acts.

You want to help this country then get out of your limo and your Trump hotels and walk among us in the style of King Arthur.

As the original peoples say, don´t judge a man until you have walked in his mocassins.

One of the hopeful,

Nick Machiavelli

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 31 May 2016

Wow, what a weird and vivid dream that was.

I really shouldn´t eat pizza before bedtime.







This Gais in Plain Sight

Gais, Appenzellerland, Switzerland, 30 March 2016

Most places have two sides: what is seen in the light of day and what is found in the shadows.

Gais, my last stop in my day´s explorations before heading home, is no exception.

I was compelled to visit this town of 3, 000 persons for a co-worker of mine frequently spoke of his Appenzell Ausserrhoden home here in Swiss exile.

Much to my surprise what would start as a sort of a FBI investigation would evolve into something out of the X Files…

Everyone at work was suspicious…

Our co-worker suddenly calls in sick only a short time before he is to go away on vacation…

In fairness to him, work can be very repetitive, very unrewarding and dissatisfying, but, like columns of a temple, remove one support and the rest of the establishment finds itself in great difficulty.

And as every school child knows, it is easier to play hooky if folks think you´re ill than simply not showing up for work because you simply don´t want to.

We all knew he lived in this town, but would he be spotted walking around town acting and feeling hale and hearty?

The devil in me thought I would investigate…

It had been a full day – working, followed by a walk, followed by riding the rails and exploring a number of Appenzell towns.

I arrived in Gais, not knowing what to expect…

Wappen von Gais

Beside his bride and her family being originally from this region, it is easy to see what else attracted my co-worker to this town.

Gais possesses at least eight guesthouses, a dozen restaurants, two bakeries, a cheese maker, a florist, a sports shop, a souvenir shop, a butcher, a stationery shop, a leather maker, a post office. a playground with petting farm, and a supermarket, as well as churches, playing fields, bus and train connections.

Trails weave and intersect the town and a river runs through it.

And the view of Mount Säntis and the surrounding Alps is breathtaking.

Adam Kerr's photo.

It is the end of the line for the train to Altstätten and the halfway mark on the Teufen-Appenzell Line.

Gais has won prizes for the development and preservation of its architectural heritage – the village square which was rebuilt beam for beam after a Great Fire in 1780, the Rococo style 1782 Reformed Church, the former spa hotel Neuer Ochsen of 1796 and the Krone Inn of 1781 are all listed as heritage sites of national significance.

I call my co-worker.

If he is truly ill then he should be at home.

He answers his phone at home, declining a visit from me as the family is just sitting down to supper.

I respect his privacy and turn my powers of deduction upon the town itself.

Whether my co-worker is an actor extraordinaire or not, I felt it gauche to pursue the matter any further, so I searched the Net and delved into books to try and see beyond the obvious.

Here in the shadow of Mount Säntis, what makes Gais tick?

First, much like my co-worker, Appenzellers are a proud, fierce independent bunch, who fought for 28 years for their freedom from the clutches of Empire and Church –  the House of Habsburg and the Prince Abbot of the Abbey of St. Gall.

The very name of Appenzell, in Latin “abbatis cella”, means “cell (estate) of the Abbot”.

By 1360, the farmers of Appenzell were totally aggravated with the Abbot´s bailiffs violating grazing rights and enacting huge sums of money for taxes and tithes.

After joining the Swabian League in 1377, Appenzell refused to give money that the Abbot Kuno von Stoffeln demanded.

In response to the loss of revenue from his estates, Kuno approached the Austrian House of Habsburg for help.

In 1392 Kuno made an agreement with the Habsburgs.

In response, Appenzell entered into an alliance with the City of St. Gallen (often at odds with the Abbey) to protect their rights and freedom.

The spark that lit the powder keg occured when the bailiff of Appenzell demanded that a dead body be dug up because he wanted the man´s clothes.

Throughout the land, Appenzellers attacked the bailiffs and drove them out of the land.

Fearing the Hapsburgs, the League expelled Appenzell and St. Gallen withdrew its support.

Appenzell formed an alliance with the Canton of Schwyz, (the origin of the name “Switzerland”), who had defeated the Austrians in the last century, and made an agreement with the Canton of Glarus, which authorized any of its citizens who wished to support Appenzell to do so.

The battle lines were drawn – the rebel alliance against Empire, League and Abbey.

On 15 May 1403, 580 rebels feinted an attack upon the army of the League at Speicher Pass outside the village of Vögelinsegg.

When the League´s cavalry charged up the hill, they were ambushed by 2,000 Appenzellers and forced to retreat with losses of 600 League horsemen and most of the 5, 000 League infantry men.

The League signed the peace treaty of Arbon shortly thereafter and Appenzell was free, but peace was short-lived…

Impressed with Appenzell´s independence, the City of St. Gallen drew closer to these victorious upstarts and Appenzell gained some of the Abbot´s land in the Rhine river valley and around Lake Constance.

Kuno was displeased…

By 1405 the Abbot had found another ally and was ready to retake his land.

Frederick IV, Duke of Austria, provided the Abbot with two Austrian armies to attack Appenzell.

On 17 June 1405, the main Austrian army marched into Stoss Pass, near Gais, and there met the Appenzell army – 1,200 Empire / Abbey soldiers versus a mere 400 Appenzeller soldiers.

Following a brutal battle, the Austrian army was forced to retreat!

How Appenzell defeated an army three times larger remains a mystery.

There is an unsubstantiated story that the Austrians retreated when they saw a second Appenzeller army, which was actually the women of Appenzell who had come to help their brothers, husbands and sons.

Following the victory at Stoss Pass, Appenzell joined with the City of St. Gallen to form the Alliance over the Sea (the “sea” being the Lake of Constance).

By 1406, the Alliance had taken more than 60 castles and destroyed 30 and even captured the Abbot of St. Gall!

While the Alliance expanded, the Austrians regained their strength.

On 11 September 1406, an Austrian association of nobles formed a knightly order to oppose the rebel Alliance.

The Order of St. George´s Shield besieged the Alliance city of Bregenz in 1407.

On 13 January 1408 Alliance troops marched against the Order and the Empire troops outside the city of Bregenz.

The Alliance attack was a disaster.

Following this defeat Appenzell could not hold the Alliance together.

The City of St. Gallen and the Canton of Schwyz each paid off the Austrians to avoid an attack.

The Alliance was dissolved on 4 April 1408.

As part of the peace treaty that followed, the Abbey gave up its ownership of Appenzell but retained the right to some certain taxes.

In 1411 Appenzell signed a defensive treaty with the Swiss Confederation and refused to pay the taxes they owed the Abbey.

After economic sanctions and papal interdiction failed to produce the missing funds, Friedrich VII of Toggenburg supported by the Order of St. George´s Shield marched into Appenzell.

On 2 December 1428 the armies of the Order encountered and defeated the Appenzell army behind a heavy fortification on a field between Gossau and Herisau.

Following the battle, Appenzell was forced to repay the owed taxes, but was granted freedom from the obligations in the future.

It is not clear why this freedom was granted, but perhaps realizing that Appenzell would risk its own annihilation for its liberty prompted the decision to respect this desire.

In 1513 Appenzell became a full member of the Swiss Confederation.

Mere commoners, simple farming folk, stood up against Empire and Church and won their freedom.

Uncommon commoners, these Appenzellers…

As for the folks of Gais, how common are they?

Well, today, like most of the population of Switzerland, most are well-educated and most work in the service industries, but not all…

If one discounts the 350 foreigners living amongst them, the Municipality has produced its own home-grown oddities…

When one thinks of Swiss farm folk and their banking offspring it is easy to forget and hard to imagine that an artist could rise from out of farm, field and town.

Albert Keller (1844 – 1920) was born in Gais.

He studied in Munich and must be counted among the leading colourists of the modern German school.

After travels in Italy, France, England and the Netherlands and a prolonged stay in Paris, Keller began to develop his own style.

He was awarded gold medals in Munich and Berlin, was made professor and honarary member of the Munich Academy and was decorated in 1898 with the Order of the Bavarian Crown, which conferred upon him the title of nobility and the addition of “von” to his name.

Seeing Albert von Keller´s work one can almost hear the rustling of satin and silk dresses and draperies, for Albert loved to show scenes of society life in a elegant distinct imaginative style.

His works are modern in spirit and vibrantly colourful.

Albert was closely associated with another Albert…

Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (1862 – 1929) was a German psychiatrist and parapsychologist with whom Keller would take part in seances and paranormal experiments…

A far cry from cowbells and bank counters…

But perhaps this is what Gais, what Switzerland, does to the non-conformist, it causes these upstarts to leave the country, to even perhaps leave reality itself.

When I consider the spirit of rebellion that infuses this place…

When I consider how conformity can cause the independent minded to rebel…

Should I be truly surprised when foreign coworkers act independently of the society around them?



Railroads to Anywhere: Urnäsch and Appenzell

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2016

The sun is shining outside my window, birds sing their sweet melodies and I have the morning free to catch up on a long-neglected blog.

There is a smile upon my face as I try to capture in words the sense of a region I often visit, a region which has captivated me with its quiet majesty and hidden histories.

I am certain that long after the world expires that Appenzellerland will be the last to know and that they will keep on being Appenzellers right up until the end of time itself.

Appenzellerland, 30 March 2016

The boy inside the man has decided it is time for a wee adventure, a spontaneous journey, before returning to the isolation of an empty flat.

I left work, grabbed a Post Bus and walked a wee bit from Hundwil to Waldstatt.

The train station whispered promises to me.

Go, go, see places that have only been names on the map.


Take the train.

Buy a ticket to Anywhere you´ve never been before.

Appenzell Railways (Appenzeller Bahnen) (AB) is a Swiss railway company with HQ in Herisau, operating a network of railways in the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI), Appenzell Auserrhoden (AR) and St. Gallen (SG).

The AB is, much like your humble blogger, an odd mix of old and young.

The AB is less a railway than it is the result of merger after merger with small railways: the Rorschach Heiden Mountain Line (RHB), the Appenzeller Railway (AB), the St. Gallen – Gais – Appenzell Railway (SGA), the Rheineck Walzenhausen Mountain Line (RhW), the Trogener Railway (TB) (between St. Gallen and Trogen), the Altstätten Gais Line (AG) (between Gais and Altstätten) and the Säntis Line (between Appenzell and Wasserauen).

It was only in 2006, after mergering between railways begun in 1947, that the AB that exists today came into being, allowing folks to get to know Appenzellerland and its beauty in a comfortable and relaxing way.

From Waldstatt (See my former post Appenzeller Alpacas) I bought a ticket to Urnäsch.

Outside the train windows the rugged peaks of Säntis, Kronberg, Hohe Kasten and Ebenalp stand in sharp contrast to the gently rolling hills below.

The Urnäsch flows beside the tracks, a natural wonder of spirited river and scenic waterfalls.

Urnäsch is a lovely old village with its charming half-timbered square and its Museum of Traditions (Appenzeller Brauchtumsmuseum).


Wappen von Urnäsch

Though its features are offered in German only, the Museum is still an enjoyable interactive experience.

Test your hand at cowbell ringing and Talerschwingen (coin spinning).

Try on some of the eccentric masks of the Kläusen, who parade about the streets to celebrate both New Year´s Days of our modern Common Era calendar and the ancient Julian calendar (1 January and 13 January).

Experience the interior of a reconstructed farmhouse.

Marvel at the artistry and intricacy of costumes and crafts.

Philipp Langenegger was born in 1976 in Urnäsch, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Switzerland.

He is an actor, known for The Fifth Estate (2013), Schlussklappe (2011) and Herr Kurschildgen und das Meer (2008).

Jonas Hiller (born February 12, 1982) is a Swiss professional ice hockey goaltender currently playing for the EHC Biel of the National League A (NLA).

He has also played for the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks, with whom he began his NHL career with in 2007 after going undrafted in any NHL Entry Draft.

Away from ice and snow and indoor TV viewing, early summer sees farmers attired in traditional costumes do their Alpfahrten walking and leading their herds of cows from barns to alpine pastures only to reverse the process from hills to barnyards in September.

Here is the heart of Appenzeller folk music and April´s end find Urnächers celebrating their culture and traditions with their Striechmusiktag.

I linger a while then take a train to Appenzell, the capital of the canton Appenzell Innerrhoden.

Appenzell is an odd place.

It is a politically confusing place for the outsider.

Its police, fire, water and energy are all governments unto themselves.

For most of Switzerland the ballot box is the main method of expressing opinion, but in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, there is a different way – a way that has remained unchanged since the 14th century.

It is the last Sunday in April and the sloping main square is packed.

Early birds have nabbed the front row with the crowd ten deep behind them.

Brave souls perch precariously on bicycle racks or on the edge of stone fountains while the more fortunate sit in comfort at windows overlooking the square.

Shops and restaurants are lost amidst a sea of people for all of Appenzell Innerrhoden has gathered in Appenzell town´s main square – Parliament (the Landsgemeinde).

Appenzell Innerrhoden is one of only two Swiss cantons (the other is Glaurus) where an open air Parliament is still used to decide community affairs, vote on referenda and elect the cantonal government.

Change comes very slowly here.

Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last canton in Switzerland to reluctantly give women the vote in cantonal matters.

In 1991.

And only because the canton was forced to do so by a Federal Supreme Court decision.

Exactly on time, at midday, once the church service is over, drums roll, flags flutter, the brass band plays a tune and the dignitaries proceed from the church down the main street, around the square and on to a stage.

The masses stand around the back and sides of the square, in ranks behind a rope barrier separating them from the inner circle of the electorate.

A wide processional aisle separates the groups and is fiercely guarded by men in smart black uniforms and shiny helmets.

Anyone wanting to cross the aisle has to show his / her voting card in order to duck under the rope and enter the centre corral.

Everyone stands, voters included, and endure the elements.

Council members stand on an elevated dais behind a wooden railing,  solemnly dressed in black or grey robes awaiting the judgement of the people.

Before the debates begin, councillors and voters take the oath, placing their left hands together, one on top of another, raise their right hands above their heads clenching the two smallest fingers to their palms and sticking out the other two with their thumbs, swearing to help each other through thick and thin, in peace and war, forever and ever.

The Parliamentary session has begun.

Any voter can get up and speak on any issue being decided.

No vote is taken until everyone who wants to speak has had their say.

Speeches are heard in silence.

No one heckles.

No one claps.

No one cheers.

No one murmurs or grumbles.

Very civilized but lacking life, any sort of vitality.

Each debate ends in a vote, with hands in the air for yea or nay, and the session crawls slowly onwards.

They say that this is democracy in its purest form as everyone has a chance to be involved and have their say and those elected are forced to answer directly to their voters, but there is such peer pressure to conform that democracy is strangled –  publicly.

Everyone knows exactly what you think and how you vote, knows your views on every issue.

To literally stand up for your beliefs in the face of a huge majority is not for the faint of heart.

But the tradition never dies for what is lost in anonymity is gained in community, a sense of belonging to something greater than your individual self.

I can´t help but wonder when I consider the tradition of the Landsgemeinde, how do the oddballs, the non-conformist, the creative and the artistic cope with living in such a traditionalist setting?

For Appenzell has attracted and nurtured both writers and artists.

Graphic artist and painter Alfred Broger, also known as Chrönis Fred, was born here and here remains.

As do painter Roswitha Doerig, cabaret man and satirist Simon Enzler,  painter Carl Walter Liner, painter Sibylle Neff, painter and filmmaker Roman Signer, as well as writers Sabine Wen-Ching Wang and Dorothee Elmiger, non-conformists who have called Appenzell home.

How have they survived and thrived in this environment?

It is a question for another time.

I first need to see their works to fathom their reasons.

Afternoon is fading and I still wish to see another town before homeward bound: Gais, presently the home to Newcastle ex-pat friend and Starbucks co-worker Bryan “walks like a chicken” Pattison.

Bryan often speaks of Gais when both praising and criticizing Switzerland and his life in exile here, so a train to Gais I must take.

For perhaps in understanding Gais and Bryan´s feelings towards it I too might gain perspective as to why I am here.

All aboard…

(Sources: Wikipedia / Swiss Watching, Diccon Bewes)















Riding the Rails

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 May 2016

The problem with travelling is that you begin to compare things.

For example, the way things are done at home as compared to the way things are done in the other place(s).

Of course, with most of us, home things are considered superior to foreign things as we know and understand, for the most part, things from home more than foreign things.

Take, for example, trains.

With rare exception, every nation on the planet has a railroad, regardless of whether they need them or use them.

Fourteen African countries don´t.

Some nations have many railway companies, depending upon the nation´s size, system of government and wealth.

So you can find nations like Zaire, Ghana and Togo with railroads mostly abandoned because of neglect or war.

Israel has the world´s smallest subway system.

China has the most railroads…

Vatican City, the least.

Now I am no trainspotter nor a Paul Theroux, but I do confess to having a certain feeling of attachment to travelling by train.

Trains are more comfortable than buses, feel less scarier than airplanes, less stressful and more environmentally friendly than automobiles, tickets are cheaper than horses, less dangerous than bicycles, and faster than walking.

Of course, critics of train travel argue that trains are usually more expensive than buses, slower than airplanes, less flexible than automobiles, less fun than horses or bicycles, and less rewarding visually and emotionally than walking.

For me, a lover of history, trains are fascinating.

The oldest, man-hauled railways date back to the 6th century BC, with Periander, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, credited with its invention.

It was a 6 km / 3.7 mi. wagonway which transported boats across the Corinth isthmus.

Grooves in limestone were its tracks, its wagons were pushed by slaves.

The Diolkos wagonway operated for over 600 years.

The earliest known record of a railway in Europe is a stained glass window in the cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau, circa 1350.

By 1550, narrow gauge railways with wooden rails were commonplace in mines in Europe.

The world´s oldest working railway, built in 1758, is the Middleton Railway in Leeds.

In 1804, using high-pressure steam, Richard Trevithick demonstrated the first locomotive hauled train at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway in northeast England, built in 1825, was the world´s first public steam railway, followed five years later by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first intercity train.

In North America, railroads were built on a far larger scale than those in Europe, in terms of both vast distances to be covered and the weight of the trains themselves and cargo carried.

For Canadians, it is a commonly-held belief that had there been no railroad there would be no Canada in the form that we know today.

Railroads and trains have come a long way since the days of steam, with the advent of electrification, dieselization and containerization, so that they have become essential to the infrastructure of nations, the facilitation of international trade and part of the lifestyle and culture of the planet´s peoples.

It is now possible, should one actually want to, to travel by train at speeds of 574 km/h (357 mph) in France and Japan, or to travel for many days on long-haul journeys such as the Trans-Siberian Express or traverse huge nations like Canada, the US or Australia at one´s leisure.

I have had the distinct privilege of teaching a software engineer executive responsible for the extensive train networks for Switzerland, Austria and Malaysia, which has only fuelled my love and respect for train travel even more.

Though I am no fan of the heavy-handedness of many of the practices I have experienced as a frequent traveller on Swiss National Railways, I still enjoy travelling by train when reaching my destinations quickly is paramount over the experience of a slower journey.

And the train has also woven itself into the fabric of my travel experience…

I have many distinct memories of trains…

America, the 80s and 90s:

I am in my 20s, footloose and fancy free, hitching rides around America and across Canada.

I would hitch my way from Montreal to St. John´s, Newfoundland and back, from Maine to Florida to California to Washington State, from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to Fairbanks, Alaska.

In Connecticut, a driver brings me to New Haven, generously giving me his copy of Paul Theroux´s The Old Patagonian Express and thus seeding within me a love of trains and train travel literature that continues to inspire.

Only twice in my hitching travels would I ride the rails, but not in the conventional way as paying passenger…

In Alabama and Arizona, drivers left me on the side of the road near rail lines.

Both times I spot trains at rest with open boxcars.

I ride the rails, “like a hobo from a broken home”, but unlike tales of the Great Depression, or scenes from the movie Water for Elephants, I rode these boxcars alone.

On the Maine – New Brunswick border heading home.

Night has fallen so I seek shelter.

A long abandoned string of boxcars suggests shelter but they are all sealed.

A vigilant paranoid young man bearing arms and itchy trigger finger threatens to shoot me despite my pleading with him that my only desire is temporary shelter until daybreak.

I cross into Canada despite the late hour and the local police arrange a room at a local inn for the night.

Milano, 1998:

It is a mere 24 hours before my open-jawed one year ticket to/from Paris back to Canada expires, but I am in Milan, broke.

I try to sleep on a bench in the main train station, but sleep does not come.

I have convinced the station police to write me a letter to present to the TGV conductors foregoing a ticket to be paid only upon a return to Canada.

Suddenly I am transported back in time as a steam locomotive and classic railway wagons are met by actors dressed in Victorian age attire.

I am witness to a movie being filmed.

It is a magical last night to end a year abroad.

Malaysia, 2000:

A mini-vacation from working in South Korea has found me flying to Kuala Lumpar, then taking the train to Kluang.

It was, and remains, easy to traverse Malaysia from north to south, from Thailand to Singapore, but travel from the Strait of Malaca coast to the South China Sea coast, west to east, cannot be done by train.

I speak no Malaysian but manage to convince a local to taxi me to Mersing to meet the next morning´s boat to Pulau Tioman (Tioman Island) where I would spend a delightful time swimming and hiking and enjoying an idle idyll far from work and all that I knew.

And though I would mourn the loss of a sweater my girlfriend (later my wife) had given me –  left behind on the train waking to find myself already arrived where I needed to disembark – that train and that curious combination of fear and excitement I felt finding myself suddenly adrift in an unknown place, not knowing how I would leave it…that feeling still lingers in my memory.

Waldstatt, Appenzell, Switzerland, 30 March 2016:

Years have passed and I am older.

Though the years would find me as a paying passenger on trains in various lands, I have traded adventure for security and stability and rarely regret this choice.

But within the wanderlust lingers.

I worked the early shift at Starbucks in St. Gallen and, unwilling to return home to an empty apartment just then, rode a postbus to Hundwil then walked for a while to Waldstatt.

I find myself at the train station and I see a map of the entire Appenzell Railway network.

There are so many places on the map I have yet to discover and night remains distant.

Time to ride the rails again…

Appenzeller Nostalgie-Express





An Aura of Appenzell Alpacas and Aion A

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 May 2016

Perhaps it is fitting to tease people from Appenzell, for it seems that Appenzellerland´s small homely villages are virtually untouched by the 21st century.

The few lost souls who visit this off-the-beaten-track region are charmed by the locals´ devotion to its traditions and the picture-perfect scenery.

The landscape is not as dramatic as that of the Alps to the south.

Here there are no jagged peaks, no deep ravines, but instead one feels as if he has stepped into a landscape painting of a type Van Gogh or his contemporaries would have created.

It is a hiker´s paradise with over 1,200 km of marked footpaths.

As Postbus / SBB train / Appenzell train give easy access to and from St. Gallen, where I work both as Starbucks barista and freelance teacher, I have often been tempted by Appenzell´s charms and filled with a Wanderlust to explore its hidden nooks and crannies…

Gais, Appenzell, Switzerland, 30 March 2016

Every job has its moments of disenchantment and I was feeling somewhat frustrated with work at Starbucks this day.

Like any workplace there is the complexity of dealing with so many different types of people, whether staff or clients, that on occasion tries mens´ souls.

Changing alliances, fluctuating moods, ongoing reoccuring problems that are part-and-parcel of operating any organisation can test even the most saintlike of workers, so after a rather straining shift in the morning/early afternoon, I took a Postbus to Hundwil to do yet another of Herbert Mayr´s recommended walks in his Bodensee Süd hiking guide.

Hundwil (in English, “dog valley”) is a small municipality in the half-canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden (outer Appenzell) of only 900 souls in a few wee farming hamlets, so there ain´t much to do here ´cept farm, play the organ in the local church or hike.

I left the village from the post office and the cemetery.

Signage was sporadic, at best, yet somehow I managed to make it to Auen with its alpacas.

Alpacas are a domesticated type of South American camel and look like small llamas.

Unshorn alpaca grazing.jpg

Like llamas, alpacas are normally found on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile.

Like their llama cousins, a number of alpaca herds on farmyards in various places can be seen in Switzerland and I am always astonished and confused as to why they have been relegated out of South America.

Alpacas are small thus poor beasts of burdens, so they are usually bred for their fiber (hair) to make blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, ponchos, coats and bedding.

Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years so there are no known wild ones.

Though at first glance, they appear cute and cuddly, I suspect raising them can´t be easy…

Alpacas bray loudly, spit and kick, and eat, eat, eat, when they are not fighting or fornicating, similiar to a few college classmates I knew!

From the heights of Auen, I descended to the canyon of the Urnäsch river.

Then steep climbing up to Waldstatt reminded me that I am 51 not 15!

Emma Kunz (1892-1963)

Emma Kunz am Arbeitstisch in Waldstatt (1958)

Meet Emma Kunz (1892 – 1963) who was a wee bit…unusual.

Kunz was a Swiss healer and artist, who published three books and produced many drawings.

The daughter of weavers, she was not a trained artist.

Inspired by spiritual evolution, Kunz used a divining pendulum to create her drawings by radiesthesia.

Radiesthesia, a branch of radionics, could be politely called “pseudoscience” for it contradicts principles of physics and biology.

Radionics practitioners believe that a healthy person has certain energy frequencies moving through their body that define health.

An unhealthy person exhibits other, different energy frequencies that define disorders.

Radiesthesia is the claimed paranormal or parapsychological ability to detect “radiation” within the body.

This radiation is often termed as one´s “aura”.

As auras are said to create patterns, so using lines, geometry and grids, Kunz created drawings / diagrams of her exploration of her complex belief system and restorative practices.

kunz emma

Critics describe radiesthenia as a mixture of the occult and quack science.

Yet, nonetheless, there is the Emma Kunz Centre in the Swiss village of Würenlos near Zürich.

“The Emma Kunz Centre is situated at the source of AION A, in the Roman quarries of Würenlos.

It was founded in 1986 by Anton C. Meier in order to preserve the findings of Emma Kunz, the results of her research and the collection of her works of art for posterity.

A further aim was to extract the healing rock, AION A, which Emma Kunz had discovered and to make it available to mankind.

Thus, her innermost desire was fulfilled that a meeting place should be established at the very source of her power where cultural, intellectual and healing works could be brought together.” (Emma Kunz Zentrum)

There is an Emma Kunz Path that leads the curious from the Waldstatt train station to her home, where she spent her last years, to Bad Säntisblick, a spa from where one can see Emma´s sacred peak.

“In 1941, the founder and current director of the Emma Kunz Centre, Anton C. Meier fell seriously ill with infantile paralysis.

As a result of his illness, Emma Kunz discovered, in the Roman quarry in Würenlos, the healing rock to which she gave the name AION A.

The word “aion” comes from the Greek and means “without limitation”.

With this, Emma Kunz pointed out the universal therapeutic possibilities of her discovery.

She demonstrated the enormously powerful healing capacity for the first time in her treatment of Anton C. Meier.

It derives, according to Emma Kunz, not only from the special mineral composition of AION A, but especially from its accumulated biodynamic energy.

Particular benefit is achieved in the treatment of all types of inflammation processes.

Many doctors, healers and therapists have since then carried out her wish with great success.

AION A has thus become an indispensable assistance for many people in the treatment of, for example, rheumatological problems, in all sports injuries, and damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The Swiss rock powder AION A (approved by Swissmedic, Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products) is available in Switzerland in pharmacies and chemist’s shops.” (Emma Kunz Zentrum)

From 1951 until her death twelve years later, Emma chose to live in Waldstatt to be close to her “holy mountain” Säntis.

Was Emma a quack, a charlatan, a con artiste?

Or was she a visionary worthy of her own museum, walking trail, stamp?

As a Canadian unschooled in the ways of New Age exotica, I shrug my shoulders and travel on.

Waldstatt is a big town of nearly 2,000 residents and connected to the Appenzell train network, so on impulse I decided to ride the rails rather than walking further…

AB Ge 4-4 zwischen Waldstatt und Zürchersmühle.jpg




The Poor Man of Toggenburg

Whitmonday 2016, Landschlacht, Switzerland

Night has fallen and yet so much to write, yet so little time before I must face another work week…

In my last post I wrote of comparing this past weekend´s travels with my wife with solo adventures and discoveries unmentioned between March and May…

Easter Monday 2016, Mogelsberg, Switzerland:

It had been a busy and productive few days…

I had strolled along the Sitter river, seen Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, completed Ben Elton´s thriller Time and Time Again, worked at both Starbucks Arena and Starbucks Bahnhof in St. Gallen, said farewell to beloved co-worker Augustin, and somehow peacefully co-existed with the wife the entire weekend!

As my wife had worked on call all weekend and needed her rest, I went a-walkin´ yet again…

As I begin my account of both my Toggenburg walk and discoveries made, I am reminded of my former post Underdog University wherein I talked about the value of self-education, or independent scholarship:

“I am stuck in business and routine and tedium.

I must live as I can, but I give up only as much as I must.

For the rest, I have lived, and always will live, my life as it can be lived at its best, with art, music, poetry, literature, science, philosophy and thought.

I shall know the keener people of this world, think the keener thoughts and taste the keener pleasures, as long as I can and as much as I can.

That´s the real practical use of self-education and self-culture.

It converts a world for those who can win at its ruthless game into a world good for all of us.

Your education (i.e what you learn, regardless of how you learn) is the only thing that nothing can take from you in this life.

You can lose your money, your wife, your children, your friends, your pride, your honour and your life, but while you live you can´t lose your culture, such as it is.”
(Cornelius Hirschberg)

“Knowledge must sit in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others and not up in the isolated seats of power.

Only if the adventure of knowing and understanding is shared as widely as possible, will our civilisation remain viable.

In the end, it is not an aristocracy of experts, scientific or otherwise, on whom we must depend, but on them and OURSELVES.”

(Jacob Bronowski)

“The potential in you is new in nature, and no one but you can know what you can do, nor will you know until you have tried.”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“Never underestimate the power of one individual to make a difference in the world.”
(Margaret Mead)

Autodidactism, or self-education, is the act of learning about a subject or subjects in which one has had little to no formal education.

Many notable contributions have been made by autodidacts…

Leonardo de Vinci was an autodidact as were James Watt and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Autodidacts have appeared often in history, philosophy, literature and television:

In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, a tribal boy denied formal education goes into the forest and trains himself.

Andalusian philosopher Ibn Tufayl in his novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (or the Self-taught Philosopher) has a feral boy master nature through instruments and reason, discover laws of nature through exploration and experiment and reach enlightenment through meditation and communion with God.

Heather Williams, in her account of African Americans during slavery, the Civil War and the decades before Martin Luther King Jr., tells of individuals teaching themselves because racial discrimination denied them access to formal education.

Jack London´s Martin Eden embarks on a path of self-learning to win a woman´s affections.

Jean Paul Sarte´s Nausea depicts an autodidact.

Jacques Ranciere´s The Ignorant Schoolmaster discovers that he could teach things he didn´t know.

Batman / Bruce Wayne was an autodidact for many aspects of his crimefighting skills and education.

Good Will Hunting follows the story of autodidact Will Hunting, played by Matt Damon.

In the TV series Suits, Mike Ross possesses a highly competent knowledge of the law, despite not having any formal legal education.

Again following Herbert Mayr´s Bodensee Süd walking tour book, I took an early afternoon train to Mogelsberg.

The first glance of Mogelsberg does not inspire.

The station and railroad below the town is, like much of the SBB (Swiss National Railways) of late, under reconstruction.

The railway station felt like an abandoned ghost town depot, yet both its WCs and its waiting rooms were surprisingly open.

After a late lunch of lamb curry, basmati rice, steamed veggies and cold cola at the Gasthaus Rössli, I walked for 5 hours up and down hills, through fields and forests, across and beside the Neckar river and the Ruer stream, from Mogelsberg to Rennen, Aachsäge, Anzenwil, Herrensberg, Dieselbach, Nassen and back to Mogelsberg.

The steep ascent to town shows that the good folks of Mogelsberg are avid fans of Football Club St. Gallen and horseback riding.

Entering town I meet a black and white cat clinging to a sunny log by the side of the road, a log he would abandon when I came close but return to when I retreated.

It would prove to be a theme of the day:

Cats would run from me and dogs would run after me.

Despite this I have to admit that my first visit to Mogelsberg was a positive experience.

Mogelsberg has a kind of a Wild-West-meets-Greenwich-Village-with-Swiss-overtones feeling.

I passed house after house offering all sorts of therapies behind brightly coloured facades and eclectic yards.

A shrub made to look like a ball of twine has a peeping Tom, complete with binoculars, emerging to peep out at passers-by.

The local Volg grocery, with its distinctive blue and yellow flag and Blick newspaper boxes, has a large ceramic Indian elephant guarding its jungle wall mural.

The weather was warm and comfortable and, for the first time in an eternity, I strode about without a sweater.

The trail would lead me out of town, up and down, over and across, another covered bridge over quiet spirited waters.

The Toggenburger land is a region where civilisation is barely felt, for here beavers still give a dam and lynx still hunt where wild mushrooms grow.

Here by the quiet Neckarmühl (Neckar mill) one barely notices the asylum centre for immigrants from farflung corners of the world, for this forested region envelops everything and keeps secrets of life in myriad forms.

And though this region produces its fair share of heroes, culture and industry, Toggenburg casts a spell of benevolent amnesia about itself as a protective blanket so the outside world cannot coldly disturb nor see itself exposed.

Here its highest mountain is Säntis (2, 502 metres high) yet few outside of the Wild Wild East know even this.

Toggenburg created the great Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli who left his village of Wildhaus for the big city of Zürich and brought the Reformation dramatically into Swiss consciousness.

Yet only the devoted remember his Toggenburg origins.

And outside of Zwingli, who knows of Toggenburg´s champions?

This region has had mathematicians, writers, linguists, politicians, musicians and athletes all spring from these tiny Toggenburger villages, but the spell of forgetfullness these forests cast remains.

Only today do I learn of a remarkable man, long since dead, who sprang from the humblest hills of this secret region seeking through sheer determination to understand and learn about the world.

A true autodidact, Ulrich Bräker (1735 – 1798) was a prolific writer and diarist, known for his autobiography (1789), The Poor Man of Toggenburg, which was widely received at the time as the voice of an unspoiled “natural man” of the lower classes.

Bräker had little formal education, starting his working life as a humble herder of goats.

After involuntary military service in the 13th infantry regiment of the Prussian Army was completed, he returned home, married, built a home and traded in cotton.

In 1761 he began writing a diary – a touching human document containing pearls of true pragmatic wisdom, combining an intimate familiarity with the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare with keen observation of nature, from the point of view of a man of the lower classes, which at the time was truly a rare perspective seen.

Despite his best efforts Bräker remained a poor man all his life and was always heavily encumbered by debt.

He hated his wife, though they produced seven children, three died in their youth.

He had only a rudimentary education, but all his life he was an inveterate reader and writer.

In 1776 a friend prompted Bräker to enter an essay competition set by the Moral Society of Lichtensteig, a society of middle class men dedicated to the improvement of their homeland.

Bräker won the competition and was admitted to the Society.

He immediately set himself to read his way through the Society´s entire library and to associate himself with educated men, though in their company he always felt like “the crow who wanted to fly with the ducks”.

Bräker´s diary includes lively accounts of journeys he made in northern Switzerland, for business and pleasure, and he tried to fit in amongst the most distinguished men of German-speaking Switzerland.

His writing shows how the philosophical, moral and scientific ideas of his time filtered down to meet the eager curiosity and thirst for learning of a self-taught scholar.

He lived to see and report on the start of the Swiss Revolution, which resulted from discontent with the new system of government the French revolutionary army enforced on the Swiss Confederation, but by the time it reached Toggenburg, Bräker was seriously ill and in a desperate financial situation.

Bräker´s life story is unusual in that few documents remain from members of the lower classes of his time.

There were, for example, plenty of poetic accounts of herding goats in the forest, but Bräker actually had done so.

He lived the tedious, sordid and dangerous side of a goatherder´s life as well as its poetic delights.

There are many accounts of life in the Prussian army and the Battle of Lobositz, (1 October 1759, near Dresden), but Bräker writes what it was like from the point of view of a homesick, terrified private soldier.

Bräker was often weak, frustrated, inconsistent, anxious or overconfident, but never boring.

Often unsuccessful in business and in relationships, Bräker never stopped doing his best in both, remaining both optimistic and humourous.

Toggenburg, then as now, remains a remote region which does not attract that much attention.

There are still goats in the fields, but now the pastures are shared with butterscotch-coloured cattle and numerous ski resorts.

Much like my wife and I, Toggenburg is beautiful but not spectacular.

It is a land of fields, pastures and forests with few towns, a quiet place in the shadows of more well-known locations, much like Bräker, forgotten for the more famous.

Bräker is a quiet whisper in history compared to his contemporaries like Casanova, Catherine the Great, Edward Gibbon, Goethe or John Paul Jones.

The places and events he witnessed carry little impact when compared to the Great Earthquake of Lisbon, the Seven Years War, Captain Cook´s visit to Australia or the American Revolution, but Bräker´s life reminds us that life continues outside newsworthy events and away from places heavy with dramatis.

Common folk then had little chance of leaving their birthplace and the world that Bräker knew was, and some say still remains, an intensely conservative one.

Toggenburg is not a land envied by its neighbours, for it is seen as a rough uncultivated land, inhabited by rough uncultivated people, but for the sons and daughters of this land Toggenburg is seen quite differently.

“It has mountains of the finest harmony and charming variety.

Winters are long, but that creates health and good harvest.

Nowhere does the sun shine more beautifully from behind the mountains.

Nowhere does the sky look so lovely and blue.

Nowhere does the moon roll more serenely through the silent night.

Nowhere do the stars sparkle more finely.

Nowhere are air and water so refreshing, so healthy and so pure, as here where I dwell.

Nowhere do the blackbird and the lark sing so clearly above hillsides in shadow and in sunlight, interspersed with stands of all kinds of trees.”

(Ulrich Bräker, Gerichtsnacht, 1780, translation by Keith Sayers)

I feel the same way about the lower Laurentians area of Argenteuil County where I grew up in Canada.

I pass a signpost declaring that hither lies the free republic of Herrenberg. a mystery for another day, an undiscovered country yet to be explored.

It was a day of peace, love and happiness.

I gained only knowledge.

I left only footprints.








Following the baby Sitter

Whitmonday 2016, Landschlacht, Switzerland

As I sit at my desk at home and consider how much I haven´t written about from March to May and how much I wish to write about…

As I look out my window at a grey sky, enjoying a day off from work, I truly appreciate that religion allows people holidays from adult lives so dominated by work…

I compare holidays when I have travelled alone and holidays when I have travelled with my significant other…

Good Friday 2016, Bernhardzell, Switzerland

The wife is working today, tomorrow and Easter Sunday.

I must work at Starbucks tomorrow and Easter Sunday, but this day, this day is mine!

I return once again to Herbert Mayr´s Bodensee Sud hiking book and decide to follow the creeping path that follows the Sitter river in the region of Bernhardzell between St. Gallen (where I work) and the Lake of Constance (where I live).

Bernhardzell, part of the municipality of Waldkirch, has a site considered a part of Swiss national heritage: the Catholic parish church of St. John the Baptist.

This wee village of some 800 souls has seen itself as the scene of violent fighting in the Appenzeller Wars when the village was almost burnt out of existence in 1403.

This church inspired two men of God to faithfully serve the Roman Catholic Church in fields a far distance away: Cristian Jakob Krapf (born 12 September 1936 in the village) has been a priest for 52 years in Ilheus, Bahia, Brazil and the Bishop of Jequié, Bahia, Brazil for 37 years as ordained by Pope John Paul II (he is now retired); Bertram Enzler, also a local boy (born 1955), is the Bishop of Santo Domingo de los Colarados in Ecuador.

It is a strange thing how the winds of change blew them so far from their Swiss homes and how the turbulence of time blew me so far from my Canadian home to this wee village…

The river Sitter is, much like your humble blogger, not so much to brag about.

It is a small prealpine river coming from the north side of Alpstein massif (canton Appenzell).

River Sitter | von Markus Moning

A few kilometers west of St. Gallen, there is a famous railway bridge crossing Sittertobel [Sitter canyon] with a height of more than 100 m [300 ft].

The river Sitter joins the river Thur near the medieval town of Bischofszell.

I left late morning from home, stopping off at Starbucks to exchange pleasantries with colleagues and friends, our banter far from intellectual, Bryan and Volkan, whom I call “an American wannabe, sheep-shagging son of a motherless goat” and “a short hairy Turk”.

Clearly, we are brothers in arms!

It was a Good Friday.

Train to Waldkirch, Postbus to Bernhardzell, a leisurely four-hour stroll in the rain.

If appropriately dressed, I love walking in the rain, for then the trails are mostly mine alone.

Birds sing as they shower themselves.

Farm animals shiver quietly and chew their cud, patiently waiting for Mother Nature to dry her tears and beam sunshine back onto soggy ground.

A man dying on a cross thousands of kilometers distant and millennia ago seems unreal in the rainswept fields and mossy forests beside a swollen river.

I was told as a boy how one man, both divine and human, sacrificed Himself to save a world desperately needing redemption.

I am no theologian, no South American bishop, but the concept of water washing away the grime and the grit from one´s person is evident all about me.

Though I am damp from the drizzle and my jeans and boots are splattered with mud, there is a smile upon my face.

This is fly fishing territory, hiking land, that puts me in a meditative state.

This is Switzerland and many a river runs through it, creating valleys where farms are and from whence cities are born, between mountain ranges high and proud.

I recall the 23rd Psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” (King James Bible, Psalm 23: 1-2)

I stumble across yet another covered bridge, the Wannenbrugg, and Simon and Garfunkel sing of a bridge over troubled waters…

Here in the Wild Wild East, the undiscovered by most tourists countryside of Switzerland, this is a region that whispers the past in your ears, whose rhythms flow softly through your consciousness, a steady current taken for granted yet ever certain.

This is a region unheralded by poets, unloved by musicians, unknown to most save the locals who rarely see the everyday splendour all around them.

Green pastures do not excite most folks and neither do forests and rivers, for our ears are blocked by music distracting and our eyes flicker to electronics, for music and computers save us from our thoughts and feelings complex and disturbing.

And for this I am glad, for I don´t wish to convert others to my quiet vales, gentle rivers and silent forests.

I am a grateful audience of one, in a concert hall of birdsong, in a cinema of life itself, my heart humming in harmony to the sure beat of nature.

For though I am yet a creature of my modern age, enjoying like many, the distractions of music and the kaleidoscope of images shown by TV screens, computer consoles large or portable, cinema salles of action frentic, I praise the eccentric quirk within that compels me once more onto meandering path in an unmechanical world.

I have been blessed with friends and family far more knowledgeable in the beliefs of religions, far more certain of realms spiritual than I, but of one thing I remain sure…when I consider the world outside and the majesty of the universe beyond, for my life I am truly grateful.




Life and death through a lense

Zürich, 8 May 2016

“Conflict uproots people and forces them to seek asylum.

Inequality produces injustice.

Humanity´s impact on the environment threatens species (including humanity).

Innovative technological advances disrupt established industries.

In this world…there are so many stories that need to be told…because people deserve to see their world and express themselves freely.

Freedom of information, freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech are more important than ever…

Quality visual journalism is essential for the accurate and independent reporting that makes these freedoms possible.”

(Lars Boering, Managing Director, World Press Photo Foundation)

On Sunday, bearing proudly tickets my wife won online, we visited the World Press Photo Exhibition 2016 in Zürich.

It was inspirational, engaging, educational and supportive.

Smog hangs heavy over Tianjin, a hazard so dangerous that schools stop classes, people are told to stay indoors and restrict vehicle use.

Air pollution accounts for 17% of all deaths in China.

A seven-year-old boy is badly burned when a bomb dropped by a Sudanese government plane lands next to his home.

Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in the war between Dafur rebels and the government of President Omar al-Bashir.

Are cops in America deliberately using racial violence and do black lives matter?

Unarmed civilians stare eyeball to eyeball with officers in riot gear armed to the teeth.

Syrian refugees desperate for peace, hungry for freedom, find little of both.

Babies are thrust through holes in razor wire fences, nights are spent in hiding, days dodging border police,  the desperate are gassed with pepper spray and shot at with water cannons for the “crime” of existing and seeking asylum.

Most are women and children.

But their Middle Eastern origins bring panic to right wingers and fear allows inappropriate leaders to claim power.

Paris and Brussels mourn and show solidarity with the victims of terrorist attacks.

Not since Paris was liberated from the Nazis at the end of World War II have so many rallied together.

A young man lies dead and bloody in a Honduran street.

For the past decade, Honduras has been at the top of the world´s homicide list in mostly gang-related, drug-related violence.

Miners in Burkina Faso search for gold, in pits hacked into the ground, many no wider than a manhole, under backbreaking conditions. regularly exposed to mercury and cyanide.

More than 370,000 Syrian refugees live in camps…

Many more have died trying.

Kurds fight Islamic State, protecting the borders of a country which would prefer if the Kurds died in the process.

People drown or die of hypothermia in unseaworthy craft crossing from Africa to Europe, from Turkey to Lesbos.

Native children play in a river in Brazil.

The Brazilian government plans a hydroelectric plant flooding much of the natives´ land, theirs for centuries while urban lights ignite, native people and culture collapses.

A blind Iranian girl enjoys the warmth of sunlight on her face through a window in the morning and though the concept of colour will never be hers, she still explores the world through touch, sound, smell and taste.

Australia remains the land God gave to Cain with violent storms, hailstones the size of golf balls and heavy rainfall – a climate as volatile and threatening as its politics.

Colima Volcano in Mexico remains active with rock showers, lightning and lava flows.

Skiers stumble and basketball players fly through the air, while Swedes synchronise swim in graceful motions.

Starving children live in overcrowded unsanitary circumstances in Koranic boarding schools in Senegal, forced to acquire religious instruction and learn Arabic.

They are the victims of child trafficking, kept in chains, made to beg on the streets for eight hours a day, with all monies given to their teachers.

A lesbian couple bear babies together united by love and common experience.

Constant shelling and bombardment, people flee, deprived of food, clean water, medicine or safety, families ripped apart, displaced amongst the debris of war.

Smoke billows from torn shells of buildings.

Children die before their parents, the healthy are crippled, while hope dies slowly.

Avalanches and earthquakes hit Nepal, but help is slow in coming for aftershocks continue, the weather worsens and roads may be wiped away.

Those not immediately crushed by nature´s convulsions die slowly and often alone from their injuries.

In Rio, shantytowns are so common that no one reports on them.

In Brazil, 2,000 people are killed every year by police.

The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine on 26 April 1986 released large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Children are born and grow up with radiation poisoning.

30 years later, they remain alive yet forever on the edge of life.

Poachers kill animals for sport and profit and forests disappear.

Orangutans are forced to forest edge driven out by manmade fire.

Russians play hockey while Sengalese wrestle.

Women bravely serve their country only to be sexually assaulted by their male counterparts.

Theirs is a special kind of trauma, which mostly goes unreported.

Few return as carefree as they left.

Some never do.

A couple live out their final year of their 34-year marriage fighting cancer together.

They choose to create new memories in their final moments and live lives full of love and meaning that not even death can erase.

A tyrant rules a far off land, rarely photographed or seen by outsiders, yet even here children play, couples dance, farmers work the land.

Underneath the fear and repression the spark that is human nature still burns.

Such are some of the striking images on display, causing us to laugh, feel deep sadness, rediscover our compassion and learn more about the world.

The stories are compelling.

I have not included these images here for I think they need to be experienced yourself.

For not only is a photograph worth a 1,000 words, it is as well a necessary link to our humanity and the planet we share.

Let us praise the photo journalist.

For without, we are truly blind.

The Silence Between

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 9 May 2016

An email from an old friend, Sumit, asks: “Not writing blogs anymore?…I have not seen any new blogs in the last few weeks.”

A daily journal, bought at a local grocery chain, has a leather cover that intimidates: “You don´t write because you want to say something.  You write because you have something to say.” (Anonymous)

Facebook: Someone posts a photo of a shelf of books.  Upon the book held up to the foreground of the picture, a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

A private student, upon reading my blog for the first time, commented that she thought that she didn´t need to read about places she already knew, but she thought that underneath all the verbiage was a feeling of sadness.

“So, what´s been happening?”, you might be asking.

“Where have you gone?

Why no more blogging?”

Not an easy or a comfortable question to answer…

Perhaps one might consider what silence actually means…

Many years ago, I spent a very little time in Japan, and at first glance it is a country where everything seems to be happening all at once:

People congregating at Akachochin devouring, like greedy beggars at a banquet, skewered chicken yakitori and grilled squid washed down with beer or sake.

Children scared by their parents into cleaning the bath or the Akaname – a human frog with wild hair, an incredibly long tongue and a single clawed toe will enter the dirty bathroom in the dead of night and will lick the children giving them serious sickness.

Baseball – more popular in Japan than football is in England – is not just a sport, it is a way of life so ingrained in the character of the Land of the Rising Sun that, like bowing or breathing, it consumes them with a passion that haunts even their dreams.

Scandal has never been far away from Japanese shores…

Sada Abe (1905 – 1987), a failed geisha and former prostitute turned waitress, had an affair with the owner of the restaurant where she worked.

To prevent him from leaving her, she strangled him to death and hacked off his privates, knowing that if she killed him, no woman would ever touch him again.

On 8 January 1992, US President George Bush at a state dinner given in his honour during a visit to Japan throws up in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister Kichi Miyazawa, creating the word “Bushusuru” (doing a Bush) meaning to vomit without warning.

Morning, 20 March 1995, 7:30 am, five men board trains at various stations along the Tokyo subway system and release the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Twelve people dead, a thousand injured.

Alcoholism is rampant in Japan as is drunk driving.

The attitude?

Dakari nani?

So what?

Over 1,000 earthquakes a year in Japan, though most are minor tremors barely noticed.

But what is minor and really noticed is Kata – the rituals attached to all activities, and what truly separates us Gaijin from being truly Japanese.

Electric talking toilets; enko ballad singing; the remote possibility of death by eating fugu (blowfish); navigating the rubbish as you wind your way up Mount Fuji; the xenophobic attitudes of the Japanese to those who can never be Japanese; gambatte do-or-die bravery of all who will sacrifice all for the challenge of a greater good; the insanity of Japanese TV game shows; the constant, not at all subtle, gawping of young and old at the obvious foreigners amongst them; the burdensome duties of giri (obligation) one has towards others; golf consuming up precious land and precious time in a country lacking both; drunken hordes of businessmen visiting hosutesu (hostess bars); the never-ending repetition of irashaimase (“welcome”) in any place that deals with the public; the unimaginable disgrace of jaywalking done only by ignorant gaijin or by yakuza gangsters; kapuseru hoteru (capsule hotels) though very cheap are too reminiscient of being buried alive in a fully functional coffin; the labyrinth complexity of keigo (honourific language) that detemines how you speak by with whom you must speak; the waving cats (maneki neko) that greet customers through shop and restaurant windows; overcrowded subways of manga-reading businessmen, the kata of one´s meishi (the ritual of giving your business card); pretending to enjoy Noh (Japanese theatre which, much like Japanese literature, seems to be about nothing happening); playing the omikuji to determine your fortune and destiny; pachinko parlors – a sort of Japanese gambling casino in a country where gambling for cash is illegal – where hordes stare at machines bombarding them with loud noise and bright light; pornography where all is suggested yet nothing is seen, including the presence of joy or pleasure; rabu hoteru (love hotels) where the itch can be scratched; the utter delight of ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels); sake – that drink of the gods – where memory and giri can be divinely drenched; those poor bastards sarariman – the common man – the 12-hour day labourers – unloved and unappreciated yet crucial to the entire structure of the Japanese economy…

So much to bewilder the mind and astonish the senses…

A timeless land that is both bounded by tradition and yet a land beyond tomorrow.

Yet, with all the sound and fury that erupts around the visitor, the faces and the attitudes of the Japanese themselves seem to the uninformed gaijin to be that of non-reactive – “nothing to see here”, “nothing is happening”.

Try reading Japanese literature and the Western mind finds itself desperately craving action.

But therein lies the secret of Japan…

5 / 6 of Japan is uninhabitable, 7,000 islands of mostly mountains suitable only for pine trees, incapable of supporting roads, homes or factories.

127 million people live on top of one another on the crammed coasts in unbelievably cramped and crowded conditions, so they must achieve harmony or the resulting anarchy will tear them apart.

Individuality and selfishness are dangerous.

Society can only work if all work together.

The aim is to remain as level, as neutral, as possible, keeping your private concerns and feelings to yourself and present a gregarious surface that gives little away.

Maintain the larger harmony, so that whatever happens, happens within.

The truth lies not in what is expressed, but rather what is unstated.

To really understand requires rigourous attention to the small print of life, what is suggested rather than said, what is under the surface and between the lines.

To inhabit this world is to live in a realm of constant inner explosions, tremors underground but barely felt by others.

Everything happens between the spaces and in the silences.

Nothing is ordinary.

Nothing is without effect.

A cherry blossom petal falls to the ground and the earth trembles.

Change is constant and emotions revolve around change, but expressing these emotions selfishly disturbs the harmony of the group.

The same can be said for relationships, even here in the expressive emotional West.

What a couple don´t say to one another is just as significant as what they do say.

My wife frequently complains that I don´t express myself enough and perhaps she feels that the unexpressed emotion means an absence of emotion, but this is where she is wrong.

For within my mind is a torrent of emotion and the inner conflict and struggle is to comprehend these emotions and somehow discern which should be communicated and how they should be communicated.

For the more that is spoken, the more that can be misunderstood.

So, in my periods of silence, it is not that nothing is happening but rather the reverse – so much is happening I need time and silence to assimilate it all.

And then I am ready to attempt to speak my mind or write something worth reading.

And though like the soto (invisibility) of the falling cherry blossom petal, events and places may seem commonplace and undramatic, the resulting impact upon myself is worth expression, for both the significance of my own unique perspective brings contribution to the world, as well as the similarity of my human reactions to others creates harmony of shared experience.

So, be patient with me, gentle readers, gentle friends and family, for never imagine that I care too little, but rather realise that I care too much that mere words and emotional expression are only the tip of the iceberg.

Much lies under the surface in the silence between.