Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

It is a season of grey days and black, almost eternal, nights.

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

As much as I comprehend why Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving in October rather than November because the growing seasons are shorter up there, I occasionally wonder if the Americans might not be onto something by celebrating life at a time of darkening skies and colder temperatures.

Flag of the United States

Thanksgiving, celebrated every third Thursday of November in the US, is meant to convey thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon self, friends and family through the bountiful harvest received and shown by a fully laden dining room table.

It is a New World celebration meant to commemorate the Pilgrims´ first year in America when they gave thanks to God that through the help of native tribes they learned how to produce food to survive and thrive as a transplanted people.

Above: The First Thanksgiving, 1621, by Jean Farris (1899)

Above the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are many countries who have similar seasonal changes and similar harvest times, and to be fair Americans did not invent the concept of praising divinity for blessings received as this ritual has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia.

As the weather turns colder than even Donald Trump´s soul, I find myself thankful that I am still alive, that I have a roof over my head and regular food in my belly, that I am of (relatively) sound mind and body and that I have people in my life whom I love and by whom I am loved.

I am truly a fortunate man.

That having been said I am not unaware that there are those who don´t feel so fortunate.

I have known people, good people, for whom reality seems to them to be cruel and unkind, for whom life seems to be a never-changing cycle of sadness, of eternally grey days and black ink evil evenings with slim hope for the dawn.

I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for those who feel illness within their minds, who feel an emptiness within their souls.

I cannot but feel sympathy for those who feel death is a release, a relief, from the hell of their perceived existence.

I know just enough, and yet far too little, that changing one´s perspective is not simply emotional determination but could also be both a product of one´s history and chemical make-up.

It is easy to condemn humanity´s monsters, like the recently deceased Charles Manson, for they made life decisions that brought extreme pain and suffering to others.

Manson's

Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

It is impossible and frightening to imagine how on God´s green Earth that the murder and torture of others can be justifiable in the minds of these rare abominations of the mentally unwell.

I say rare abominations, for I believe that the vast majority of those hurting members of the psychologically unhappy are more victims to their condition than they are bent on taking others down with them in their descent into darkness.

We, the seemingly rational and arrogantly confident in our inappropriately felt superiority, blame the illness on the ill victims, not sensing nor caring that they too wish to feel welcome by a humanity that does not understand them and thus struggles, often in vain, to assist them, or, failing that, remove them from the general populace.

I watch in silent frustration when those I love hurt themselves and others as they blindly grope their way through illogical reality simply trying to survive.

Life has somehow injured them and they have selfishly sought solace in safer corners of their minds where no one else can go.

I have seen wonderful, compassionate friends and family victimised by their own private pain and there seems nothing I can do or say to help, because the everpresent fear of swimming into psychologically insecure deep waters instinctively instills a fear that we too might be swept along in and dragged down by the wake of their thrashing.

We judge them by standards we understand, rather than by their standards we can´t understand.

I want to hold each one of them and tell them in a way they might truly believe, that their lives matter, that they are worthy of love and dignity, but sometimes I am scared by my inability to do so.

I want to tell them that though there truly is a vast amount of pain in this vale of tears that we share, there is also the potential for great joy.

Perhaps here is the value of Thanksgiving, of giving thanks to something or someone beyond ourselves, of prayer to whatever or whomever may be either within or from outside ourselves.

In the brutal honesty of a sleepless night, I reject my rational analysis of the folly of believing in a God whose only proof of existence is that His non-existence has yet to be proven and hope beyond reason that God does exist whether or not His existence is a creation or a manifestation of my own making.

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Above: Michelangelo´s The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

And this I think is the value of faith, of religion – finding hope and comfort in that which might exist.

To somehow believe that pain can be endured, that there will be a dawn beyond the darkness, even if it is unclear how this can happen.

Mankind has built mighty edifices in an attempt to enclose the divine and bend it to our will for our benefit….

Sheer folly.

Yet the symbolic gathering together of humanity into congregations, bound by faith and traditions, giving meaning to the passages of life in its forms of birth, maturity, matrimony and death, gives purpose to the construction of shrines of worship.

Though cathedrals and churches, monasteries and mosques, temples and tabernacles, by the very act of enclosure create a division of people between those within and those outside and have caused those within to feel both a superiority and a zeal to extend the choir invisible beyond the ecclesiastical doors with some even willing to break the taboos of religion in the name of religion, nonetheless these places of illogical and irrational faith sustain and console us.

I am reminded this morning of the places of worship I visited while I was in London last month and though the seeds of the religious fell mostly on mentally stubborn and stone hard ground, my visit to these places still left their impression upon me.

A visitor walking around London cannot help but be impressed by the number of churches in this city more renowned for trade and commerce, but, as we know from the remains of the Temple of Mithras at Walbrook discovered in 1954, religious buildings have always been an integral part of the fabric of London.

Some of London´s most breathtaking modern structures are religious buildings dedicated to many faiths, whose communities form a strong part of the social fabric of modern London.

As hard as it is to imagine London without its many churches, it is even harder still to imagine London without its many faiths.

Our discovery of the faithful of London began on our first night in town….

London, England, 23 October 2017

My wife, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, wanted to take pictures of the Thames River before we headed back to our B & B in the Paddington district.

It had already been quite the full day: pre-dawn departure from our beds and dash down the highway to Zürich, the bureaucratic exit from one designated country and the bureaucratic entry into another, the search and finding of our week´s accommodations, the navigating of the nefarious nightmare beneath called the Tube, and a mad race through one of the world´s most famous museums – the Tate Modern.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Above: The Tate Modern, London

But my wife wanted to see more while she could with what remained of her day´s energies.

I had no objections.

We, like many before, crossed the London Millennium Footbridge, or as it is affectionately known by Londoners “the wobbly bridge”, the steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames, linking Bankside on the south bank with the City of London to the north.

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Above: Millennium Bridge, as seen from St. Paul´s Cathedral

The Bridge, 1,066 feet/325 metres long, 13 feet/4 metres wide, officially opened on 1 June 2000 and quickly was closed again shortly thereafter as the 90,000 people crossing it on its opening day felt that the Bridge was wobbling and lurching dangerously.

It reopened in 2002 after engineers refitted 37 energy dissipating dampers to control horizontal movement and 52 inertial dampers to control vertical movement to solve the wobble effect.

You may have seen the Bridge and not realised it….

The Millennium collapsed following an attack by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).

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The Bridge also appeared as part of the climatic battle scene on the planet Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

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And the Bridge was in the video of the Olly Murs song “Heart on my Sleeve”.

To the south the midpoint standing pedestrian on the Bridge sees the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.

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Above: The Globe Theatre, London

To the north the red brick City of London School (actor Daniel Radcliffe / “Harry Potter” ´s old alma mater) can be spotted nestling below the magnificence that is St. Paul´s Cathedral.

How strange and yet familiar St. Paul´s appeared to me in the fast-approaching darkness.

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

The enormous lead-covered dome of St. Paul´s Cathedral has dominated the City skyline for generations and will probably continue to do so for generations to come if Star Trek: Into Darkness is any accurate omen to go by.

The poster shows the USS Enterprise falling toward Earth with smoke coming out of it. The middle of the poster shows the title written in dark gray letters, and the film's credits and the release date are shown at the bottom of the poster.

The Cathedral facade is particularly magnificent, fronted by a wide flight of steps – seen in Mary Poppins (1964) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) – and a two-storey portico and two towers, and is said to be amongst the finest examples of Baroque architecture in London.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in-character. The background is a window display, featuring shelves containing miscellaneous objects relating to the story. The poster reads "Sherlock Holmes" across the top, with the tagline "Holmes for the holiday" centered at the bottom. The poster is predominately turquoise coloured.

The west front of St. Paul´s shows the Saint surrounded by others of his ilk as he is dazzled by the glory of God whilst on the road to Damascus.

In the northeast churchyard, a plaque marks the location of Paul´s Cross, a popular centre of fake and real news and contemporary commentary, where during the Reformation William Tynsdale´s New Testament was burned because it was sinfully an English translation.

While it can´t compete with Westminster Abbey for celebrity corpses, royal remains and awesome atmosphere, St. Paul´s is nevertheless a perfectly calculated architectural space, a burial place for captains rather than kings, artists not poets, and a popular wedding venue and favoured funeral locale for the privileged few.

The current Cathedral is the fifth on this site, including Old St. Paul´s, a huge Gothic cathedral built by the Normans, with a 489 foot spire that once was part of the longest and tallest Christian church in the world.

During the English Civil War and the Republic which followed the execution of King Charles I in 1649, St. Paul´s was allowed to become dilapidated and was used for stabling horses and as a marketplace with a road running through it.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II threw out the traders and began to return the scarred Cathedral to the status it once had, but before work could begin the Great Fire of London intervened.

The blaze started on 2 September 1666 and destroyed 2/3 of the City of London.

It burned for four days and nights, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 parish churches, including Old St. Paul´s.

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

In 1668, Christopher Wren was asked to produce a new Cathedral.

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Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

Wren was not only an architect, he was also an astronomer, scientist and mathematican.

Wren was a founding member in 1660 of the Royal Society, a national academy for science, but he was also a man of profound Christian faith.

He came from a family of clergy who had been loyal to the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was faith which inspired him.

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

As an architect favoured by royalty and state, Wren´s commissions varied widely, including the Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich Hospital, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, as well as some magnificent buildings in Oxford, where he studied and worked as Professor of Astronomy from 1661 to 1673.

St. Paul´s was just one of over 50 church commissions Wren received in the wake of the Great Fire.

Sir Christopher Wren

Said, “I´m going to dine with some men.

If anyone calls,

Say I´m designing St. Paul´s.” (Edmund Clerihew Bentley)

Hassles over his initial plans and wrangles over money plagued the project throughout, but Wren persevered and England´s first Protestant cathedral was completed in 1711 under Queen Anne, whose statue stands below the steps.

Above: Statue of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714), St. Paul´s Cathedral

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

“Without, within, below, above, the eye is filled with unrestrained delight.”

Some hated it.

“There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches.  They were unfamiliar, un-English…”

Until his death, at the age of 91, Wren regularly returned to St. Paul´s to sit under its dome and reflect on this masterpiece of faith and imagination.

For over 300 years this particular reincarnation of St. Paul´s has been a place where both the individual and the nation can express those feelings of joy, gratitude and sorrow that are so central to our lives.

St. Paul´s has borne witness to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805)(buried in the centre of the Cathedral Crypt), the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852)(buried also in the Crypt)(13,000 people filled the Cathedral.), the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria (1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (2012), the bombs of the Blitz (1940), a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), the funerals of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1965) and Margaret Thatcher (2013), and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana (1981).

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Above: Queen Elizabeth II

Services have also been held to mark the valuable contributions made by ordinary women and men involved in armed conflicts in the Falklands, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.

A vast crowd also gathered at St. Paul´s following the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001, as London expressed its solidarity with Americans at a time of great grief.

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon

People of other faiths also have a place in national services at St. Paul´s.

The memorial service for King Hussein of Jordan in 1999 was the first Christian service in St. Paul´s to include a reading from the Qur´an.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

In 2005, at the service of remembrance following the terrorist bombings in London in June of that year, young people representing different faith communities lit candles as a shared sign of hope during turbulent times.

Take a journey through this place mortal designed to evoke the divine.

We took our own calculated journey through St. Paul´s two days later.

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

Begin with the Nave, the font of baptism, marking the beginning of the journey of faith that Christians believe leads from Earth to Heaven.

Here is the final stop, the last resting place, of the Duke of Wellington, best known for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

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Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

Wellington died 37 years later and is buried in the Crypt beneath the Monument.

Nearby in the All Souls´ Chapel is the Kitchener Memorial, dedicated to the servicemen who died in World War I and to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener who died at sea and whose body was never recovered.

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Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

Kitchener is best known for his restructuring of the British Army and for his most effective recruitment campaign reminding Britons that “Your Country Needs You”.

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Quietly light a candle for those you wish to have remembered inside St. Dunstan´s Chapel, a place of prayer and stillness.

The silver pyx that hangs above the altar in this chapel contains the sacrament – the consecrated bread that Christians believe is (or represents) the body of Jesus, shared at services of Holy Communion.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. George honours those who have rendered important service overseas.

It takes only a modicum of observation to see that St. Paul´s is built in the shape of a cross with a large dome crowning the intersection of the cross´s arms.

At 365 feet / 111.3 metres high, the Dome is one of the largest cathedral domes in the world and weighs approximately 65,000 tons.

The area under the Dome is the space where congregations congregate for the Cathedral´s most important rituals of faith – the Liturgy, the worship of God.

The altar is the focus, the place where the Eucharist (mass) is celebrated every day, where people of all ages of many different languages and nationalities, gather to eat bread and drink wine that symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ sacrificed by God the Father to save mankind from itself.

Or so the story goes.

The Dome is actually not one dome but three: the outer dome shell is seen prominently on the London skyline, while the painted dome that the congregated sees from the cathedral floor conceals an inner layer of brick which provides the structure strength and support.

Within the Dome´s construction there are three gallery levels.

The Whispering Gallery runs around the interior of the Dome, 257 steep steps up from ground level.

There is a charming acoustical quirk in the gallery´s construction which makes a whisper spoken against the walls on one side audible on the opposite side.

Two higher galleries encircle the outside of the Dome – the Stone Gallery and the smaller Golden Gallery offering superb views across London….

Or so we were told as they were closed the day of our visit.

Upon our descent from the Whispering Gallery, further exploration of the Cathedral reveals many aspects of what makes St. Paul´s unique unto itself.

To the north of the interior is the Chapel of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, with a statue of Dr. Johnson.

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

Above the altar is William Holman Hunt´s painting The Light of the World, showing Jesus holding a lantern as He knocks at the handleless bramble-strewn door of the human Soul which must be opened from within, above the caption that reads:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.”

Close by the Chapel is Henry Moore´s Mother and Child, a sculpture he made when he was recovering from an illness so it is heavily indolent in religious meaning.

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Above: Mother and Child by Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

By Moore´s Mama Madonna with child are two pairs of wrought-iron gates made by Jean Tijou.

Inside the gates at the top northern part of the architectural cross is the Quire, the first part of the Cathedral to be built.

The organ within, built in 1694 and rebuilt several times, is the third largest in the UK with 7,256 pipes.

The 1694 version of this organ was much loved by the composer George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759).

The organ case and the stalls on both sides of the Quire are decorated with exquisitely delicate carvings by the Anglo-Dutch sculptor Grinling Gibbons, whose work can still be seen in many royal houses and great houses.

One contemporary commentator wrote:

“There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers with the free disorder natural to each species.”

Yet free disorder seems particularly ironic here, as each of the canopied stalls has a designated occupant and definitively determines how the Cathedral is to be governed.

It is within the Quire where choir, clergy and congregation gather to sit for Evensong, the service that draws the day to a close.

As dusk descends, we the people are to be remanded and reminded of the proper calculation of our place in the universe, both manmade and celestial.

Queen Victoria, she of the inaccurately attributed “We are not amused.”, is said to have complained that St. Paul´s was “dull, dingy and undevotional”, so in response William Blake Richmond decorated the ceilings and the walls of the Quire with mosaics depicting the story of Creation and the story of the angel Gabriel´s visitation to the Virgin Mary with the news that she is pregnant with the Son of God.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

Behind the alter stands the Jesus Chapel, commemorating the 28,000 Americans who were killed on their way to, or while stationed in, the UK during the Second World War, their names recorded in a 500-page roll of honour glass enclosure.

“Defending freedom from the fierce assaults of tyranny they shared the honour and the sacrifice. 

Though they died before the drum of victory, their names and deeds will long be remembered wherever free men live.”

So reads the American roll of honour, but as the Canadian descendant of Commonwealth soldiery I cannot help but cynically observe that the Cathedral today is funded by multitudes of tourists, the majority of whom are American.

A cynical attitude that is met with a punch in the arm by my loving spouse whose German ancestors were conscripted soldiers of the aforementioned tyranny.

In the south is the statue of John Donne, which somehow survived the Great Fire of London intact.

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Donne, a former Dean of St. Paul´s, wrote passionate love poems and eloquent odes expressing with eloquence his zeal for God.

He is perhaps best remembered for his meditation on the human condition:

“No man is an island, entire of itself….

 Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Fourteen bells of St. Paul´s toll for thee: Great Tom tolls to mark the death of a sovereign; Great Paul, the largest swinging bell in Europe, strikes the hours; the remaining twelve bells sound the peal.

And here one finds a statue of Nelson, a cloak covering the area where Nelson´s right arm should be – amputated in 1797.

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

Nelson lies buried in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle, atop a black marble sarcophagus.

Would he have thought his memorial truly “humanity after victory“?

Keeping him company across from him in the Crypt, the Iron Duke, Lord Wellington, rests in a casket of Cornish granite.

Wellie would have hated it, for he was said to be a man not prone to bask in his own glories:

“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”

Why do places of worship glorify those who murder in the name of a flag?

Beside the Crypt, close to the foundations of the former church, is the Chapel of St. Faith, created in recognition for the contribution made by women during the First World War.

Surrounding the Chapel are memorials celebrating the remarkable of the arts and sciences: painters Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) and John Guille Millais (1865 – 1931); composer Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) and poet William Blake (1757 – 1827); scientist Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955).

Sir Christopher Wren himself is buried here, his tomb marked by a simple stone which translated from Latin reads:

Bildergebnis für christopher wren s tomb inscription

“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

St. Paul´s has stood here defiantly unscathed amid the carnage of the Blitz and was defended by the St. Paul´s Watch – volunteers who patrolled the Cathedral´s roof every night to combat the incendiary bombs and died carrying out their duties.

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Time and choice did not permit us to see the worship of God at work, or listen to virgin boys attempt in song to reach within us to find something beyond ourselves, or ponder important issues ranging from global economy to climate change by prominent speakers, such as Kofi Annan or Bianca Jagger.

As we leave St. Paul´s, I recall the words of Mary Poppins:

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Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes.
In her own special way to the people she calls:
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
 
Come, feed the little birds.
Show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
The young ones are hungry.
Their nests are so bare.
All it takes is tuppence from you.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds.”, that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.
 
All around the Cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
 
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”

No, we didn´t feed the birds, for security measures no longer permit little old bird women to feed assemblies of pigeons on the steps of St. Paul´s.

Poverty is very offputting for the tourists and, after all, charity begins at home.

The tourist entry fee at the door is 18 pounds per adult.

In October 2011, the anti-capitalism Occupy London encampment was established in front of St. Paul´s, after failing to gain access to the London Stock Exchange on Paternoster Square nearby, costing the Cathedral revenue of 200,000 pounds per day.

The encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012, by court order, without violence, by the City Corporation.

Our visit to St. Paul´s made me ask, as St. Paul´s Cathedral Arts Project and its artistic installations have asked:

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

What does St. Paul´s mean in that contemporary context?

Those questions, much like questions of faith themselves, can only be answered by individuals themselves.

Should one care to ask.

Black and White photograph of the dome of St Paul's, starkly lit, appearing through billowing clouds of smoke

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / St. Paul´s Cathedral / http://www.stpauls.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 November 2017

Where is the line between insanity and sanity?

What does it actually mean to be sane?

Sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies brokenness?

One theory suggests that sanity is tied to how we fit with what is actually going on in the world.

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Psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire socieites “may be lacking in sanity”.

One of the most deceptive features of social life involves consensual validation.

“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings.

Nothing is further from the truth….

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues.

The fact that they share so many errors does not make these errors to be truths.

The fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” (Erich Fromm, The Sane Society)

(This might explain American politics?)

Are the religious insane?

Is it insane to believe in all-powerful invisible forces we can´t see because there are phenomena we can´t explain and because we fear our own mortality?

Is it insane for groups of people to believe in the same divinity yet believe that only their manner of belief or worship is the correct one and are willing to fight to the death to defend it?

Or are our lives empty echo chambers without religion to fill them?

I am neither psychologist nor theologian and my only philosophy is to accept other people´s points of view unless their perspective hurts either themselves or others.

I handle humanity on a case by case basis, situation to situation.

For example, I have a friend who is convinced to his bones that we live on a flat Earth, that the moon landing was staged and that space photographs are faked.

On one level, I admire his tenacity to stick to his beliefs and his insistence that one should question everything.

On the other, I am baffled that he can so easily deny so much that is based on empirical evidence and scientific experimentation over centuries.

I listen to him expound his case and though I can´t agree with him, his beliefs are not sufficient grounds for dissolving our friendship, and as long as he does not insist that I share his beliefs, then we can co-exist without agreement.

Still those who live in greenhouses shouldn´t throw stones, for I am unusual in my own eccentric manner.

I don´t drive, I am not glued to my mobile devices every available moment, I prefer print to electronics, I prefer walking to any other form of transportation no matter the distance or time involved.

I am not fanatical about these preferences.

I don´t drive but I can see the wisdom of knowing how to do so.

I have a mobile phone and see its practicality but I try not to let its use become an addiction.

My wife prefers the compactness of an electronic library, while I prefer the personal connection I feel towards physical books in my hands.

But many Swiss, as well as my German wife, question my sanity when it comes to walking.

Flag of Switzerland

Not because they don´t enjoy hiking, they do.

But here hiking is not usually a solitary sport, but rather it is usually done in groups of people or minimally it´s done as a duo.

They feel that hiking can be dangerous and that there is safety in numbers should one of the group get injured.

Wise, to be sure, but for me the point of hiking is isolation, getting away from humanity and bathing oneself in the delights of nature.

I love my wife and we have hiked together, but she is not a quiet person comfortable with silence, nor does one stroll but rather they march with her.

But she and the Swiss are right….

Hiking can be dangerous, even fatal, and the local papers are quick to trumpet to the reading public the latest fatalities.

I derisively laugh at all of this until I find myself in solitary difficulties on some godforsaken trail of my own choosing….

 

Toggenburg, Switzerland, 18 October 2017

I recently began following a man.

A religious man, willing to die for that which he believed in.

In an attempt to derive some sort of meaning from the hubbub of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I have begun following the life and “footsteps” of the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli, through the use of biographies and a recently purchased book, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

The previous week I walked from Strichboden in the heart of the Toggenburg region to Zwingli´s birthplace in the town of Wildhaus.

Above: Zwingli´s birthplace, Wildhaus

(For an account of this, please read Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg of this blog.)

I accomplished the first walking section of the nine-stage rediscovery of Zwingli´s life by walking from the wilderness to Zwingli´s birth home to get a greater appreciation of arriving in Wildhaus on foot then simply disembarking from a Postbus to walk the intended direction of the Zwingli-Wege book.

Today though I would do things the right way, the intended direction.

To do so meant returning back to Strichboden.

So, once again, train to Neu St. Johann, bus to Starkenbach, a ride up the mountain via the ancient rickety cable car system called the Selunbahn, to arrive back on top of the mountain called Strichboden, this time to walk away from, rather than towards, Wildhaus.

Destination: Weesen, where Zwingli lived and went to school from age 6 to 10.

I began hiking early afternoon, for it is hard to awake early on my days off and it takes over two hours to reach Starkenbach from my home on public transportation.

Now there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you, gentle reader, read these words….

October means the ending of many tourist facilities, diminishing daylight hours, and a reduced tendency for people to go hiking in the wilderness at this time of year.

All of these were factors I had to keep in mind.

Still the weather was warm, almost summerlike, and as the Selunbahn rose through the alpine sky, so did my spirits.

From Alp Vorderselun / Starkenbach, I began strolling towards Amden / Arvenbüel 8.4 km distance, three hours away.

Now 8 kilometres may not seem like much of a distance to walk, but midway in the walk, the trail descends steeply from 1,800 metres to 1,200 metres.

The walk began quite pleasantly.

After only one kilometre, the hiker heading west comes to the Ochsenhütte (the Oxen Huts), a small mountain inn just 100 meters from the trail (still the Toggenburger Höhenweg).

Above: Ochsenhütte, Starkenbach, Toggenburger Höhenweg

Happily, hunger is deliciously abated and after wolfing down lunch, I resume the Höhenweg and gradually ascend the Alps Bleien and Hüeberlis to arrive at the Donnerlöcher (the Thundering Hollows).

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In the totality of the Churfirsten Region there are no streams.

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Rainwater and melting snow simply seep into the ground.

Innumerable hollows and depressions dent the alpine pastures on this Toggenburger side of the Churfirsten range.

When it rains, water rushes through these funnel depressions to form pits deep into the earth.

Along the walls of these funnels limestone is dissolved and sinks into these depressions to form deposits within these hollows.

Over vast amounts of time the increasing weight of the accumulating limestone deepens the hollows as much as 800 metres below the surface.

Depending on the wind conditions the sound that emerges from these hollows is said to be akin to thunder.

Beyond the Donnerlöcher and the summit of Alp Tritt I find myself suddenly on the side of limestone cliffs descending maniacally sharp down towards the pastoral hills of Arvenbüel.

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How easy to make a misstep, how quickly one could get injured, how foolish one feels clinging to a cliff, how insane an activity is this solitary hiking….

The hiker is torn between the reflex of great hesitation and the need to continue onwards to safety.

The feet complain, arms and back comment, the rock is unforgiving and intolerant of careless fools, and one begins to envy the carefree manner by which mountain goats navigate these heights.

This aging man is no young mountain goat gleefully leaping from rock to rock unconcernedly.

Palms sweat, despite firm grip on walking stick and mountain cable.

I recall a similar situation during my walking days in Canada when I spontaneously decided to climb up the side of the Scarborough Bluffs (just outside Toronto) with a discovered tennis ball in one hand!

Above: Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Apparently I was not very wise in the past and clearly I have not gotten much wiser since then.

Still I persevere….too scared to live, too stubborn to die.

Eventually limestone turns to hilly pastureland and pastureland with glimpses of the Walensee (Walen Lake) gives way to flat streets and roads.

Fear is forgotten in a tidal wave of relief when I reach the end bus stop of the Arvenbüel – Ziegelbrücke bus 650 route before sunset.

Bus 650, happily arriving when I do, winds its way down the slopes with stops in the villages of Amden and Weesen.

I resolutely refuse to explore these villages until I return again to walk from Arvenbühl.

Weather and work make the return walk wait for nearly a fortnight….

 

Arvenbüel, Switzerland, 1 November 2017

All Saints´ Day is one of the days of the year that one perceives how divided Switzerland is between Catholics and Protestants.

Central Switzerland, Canton Valais, Canton Ticino, the Jura region, Canton Freiburg/Fribourg, Canton Solothurn, Baselerland, half of Canton Aargau, Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden and Canton St. Gallen remain devoutly Catholic.

Wealthier and more urban Cantons are stubbornly Protestant.

This difference of religious opinion even led to a bloody civil war in Switzerland called the Sonderbundkrieg (the Sonderbund, or Separate Alliance, War) in November 1847.

Take, for example, the half-Cantons of Appenzell: Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR).

(In Switzerland´s Parliament, AI and AR get only an one half cantonal vote, despite being separate individual cantons.)

AI (Cantonal Capital: Appenzell) is predominantly Catholic, so today schools, government offices, banks and shops are closed there.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Innerrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden

AR (Cantonal Capital: Herisau) is predominantly Protestant, so there everything is business as usual today.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Thurgau Canton where I reside is Protestant, while St. Gallen Canton is Catholic, (despite the efforts of St. Gallen reformer Vadian, whose statue is across from the Starbucks where I work when I am not teaching).

Above: Statue of Joachim von Watt, aka Vadian (1484 – 1551)

AI and AR are often confused in my mind so I had cancelled my Herisau lesson for today, forgetting that the company for whom I teach was operational today, and opted to resume my Zwingli walking.

(For more on the wonders of the Appenzell Cantons, please see A to Z: Adam to Zelg, An Aura of Appenzell Alpacas and Aion A, Riding the Rails, Railroads to Anywhere: Urnäsch and Appenzell and This Gais in Plain Sight of this blog.)

Today´s hiking trek began after a train to St. Gallen, another to Herisau and yet another to Ziegelbrücke, then a bus back up to Arvenbüel.

Another pleasant hiking day.

The trail started reassuringly level for 1.5 km from Arvenbüel through Stock and Chapf, offering great views of the Walensee, but then it began a rapid 4 km descent from a height of 1,300 metres to 900 metres through Giregärtli, Fallen and Hofstetten -a quarter of the town of Amden – to arrive at the back of an apartment building where a Turkish family offers communal drinks paid for by voluntary contributions.

What can one say about Amden?

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Well, Amden is one of the largest municipalities in Switzerland at 43 square kilometres, as well as one of the most varied in terms of extremes of elevation from 2,101 metres high down to 421 metres low at Walen Lake.

There are a little more than 1,600 Ammlers, most of them good Catholics, despite Amden having seen Romans, Goths, Franks, Swabian, invading Swiss from other cantons, and the French come tromping through over the millennia.

For Amden is desirable, with scenic and strategic value and fertile land.

But its location is both a blessing and a curse, for not only has it been a much coveted area for many, but nature herself has restlessly fought against Amden with a major rockslide in 1972 that sealed off roads leading to the town, requiring facilities to be flown in and new roads built.

There are ruins of a Roman fortress here, Burg Strahlegg, built in 15 BC by order of Caesar Augustus, and uncovered by soldiers en route to the Battle of Näfels in 1388.

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One Turkish coffee and 200 more meters descended to Faren later, the trail bends back upon itself heading towards another wonder of Switzerland, but not before I see one of the faithful entering the Catholic church of St. Gallus in Amden.

Perhaps it is the rare alpine air here that seems to create talent….

German landscape painter Otto Meyer (1885 – 1933) loved the place so much he renamed himself Otto Meyer-Amden, while a generation later painter Doris Stauffer (1934 – 2017) remained ever devoted to the town.

Above: Amden Landscape (1913), Otto Meyer-Amden

But Amden´s size and dominant Catholicism must not be easy for everyone.

Local popular singer Michael von der Heide´s sexuality remains a topic of much debate, a debate in which he refuses to engage in, saying that he should be judged by his talent and not his sexuality.

Above: Michael von der Heide

And, of course, he is right.

At Faren, the hiker must choose to either walk east towards the Seerenbachfälle or walk west down towards Weesen and the Walensee.

The detour to the Falls is well worth it, for they are not just one set of waterfalls but three, cascading down from a height of 585 metres, making the Seerenbachfälle trio the 3rd highest waterfalls in Switzerland.

Above: The Seerenbach Falls, Amden

The day´s goal and the focus of this walking project was to visit a location where Huldrych Zwingli once lived….

Weesen, where from ages 6 to 10 Zwingli attended the village school and lived with his uncle Bartholew.

According to the Zwingli Zentrum Toggenburg back in Wildhaus, the walk I followed over the course of three days from his birthplace to his primary school residence was also actually taken by Huldrych and his father Ulrich.

It is said that Ulrich frequently followed this path through the Amdener Pass to keep in personal contact with his son, his brother and the commerce of the area.

For commercial profit, Weesen was built at the meeting point where the Linth River flowed into the Walensee and was thus a much travelled route.

Above: Aerial view of Weesen, where Linth Canal meets Walensee

It was in Weesen where Huldrych learned German, reading, writing and arithmetic and where he met Katharina von Zimmern.

Katharina von Zimmern was born in 1478 in the rich southern German noble family of Baron Hans Werner von Zimmern and Countess Margarethe von Oettingen.

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Above: Katharina von Zimmern (1478 – 1547)

Katharina was the fourth girl and had four further brothers and two sisters.

Her father loved hunting, played several musical instruments, and was in the service of the Duke Sigmund of Tyrol.

In 1488 he fell from the favour of Emperor Frederick III, due to intrigues and was forced to flee with his family.

Katharina had an adventurous escape with her mother and some siblings before arriving at Weesen on the Walensee lakeshore.

There in 1490 she met the boy Huldrych, who had been given to his uncle, the parish priest in charge.

Little did the 22-year-old nun imagine then that this boy would one day make her future position of Abbess in Zürich to be the last Abbess of the Fraumunster Abbey.

The aforementioned history of Amden is quite similar to that of Weesen, with two significant differences:

Weesen didn´t suffer a rockslide….it was razed by the victorious Swiss after the Battle of Näfels then rebuilt a few years later.

Weesen has an Abbey.

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Above: Weesen Abbey

The Weesen Abbey, or as it is properly known the Maria Refuge Dominican Order of Nuns Cloister, has existed since 1256, and is known for quite a number of remarkable things:

It is one of the few monasteries that wasn´t looted during the Swiss Reformation as the cloister´s vows of charity meant there was little for anyone to steal, and though it too was a victim of iconoclastic attacks (the destruction of religious symbology) it still was able to repair itself and continue to function right up to today.

The Abbey library contains over 8,400 books, mostly in German on how to be a good nun.

The Abbey accommodates and is served by nine nuns and one laywoman who range from ages 46 to 78.

It offers a temporary guesthouse for women from ages 18 to 40.

The ladies manage their own cloister shop, bakery and atelier which produces candles and icons.

Their bakery is, surprisingly, the most modern wafer-producing factory in Switzerland, manufacturing 30,000 brown and 3,000 white wafers per week, or two million wafers a year.

The wafers are created from a mixture of flour and water without the use of either yeast or baking powder.

The Eucharist wafer, the symbolic body of Christ, is mass produced, though fully automated, in astonishing purity and massive quantities by less than a dozen women who are mostly past their prime of life.

Walk around Weesen a bit, though the tourism infrastructure doesn´t yet appreciate that non-German speakers might visit, and you may find yourself pleasantly charmed by this town.

The Hotel Schwert has been offering food and lodging since 1523, while the Town Hall has been administering since 1388 – despite the Great Fire of 1523 that razed the original building.

...

Follow the flow of the Lauibach, a stream that should never be underestimated, which flooded the streets of Weesen in 2005.

Visit the aforementioned Cloister and be inspired by these ladies of Maria Zuflucht.

See the Schlössli (small chateau) in the town centre where the von Zimmern family once lived after their flight from Austria.

More divinity awaits within the walls of the Holy Cross Church should you desire the trappings of Catholicism or deep within the sanctuary of the Zwingli Reformed Church if plain and simple surroundings are more to your religious inclinations.

Above: Zwingli Church, Weesen

Ponder the Russian Monument beneath the Zwingli Church and recall that the acceptance of war refugees into foreign communities began long before our present Syrian War crisis.

In the First World War and in the years between the global conflicts millions left the ruins of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Second World War saw many thousands of people flee wartorn areas and many afterwards sought to escape the chokehold of Communist dominated lands.

More than 100 Russian refugees called Weesen their new home from 1951 until 1992.

The Monument was unveiled in 2006.

Beneath the ground of Speerplatz the Middle Ages are still being uncovered and rediscovered, while on the walls of the Weesen Museum and Gallery are fine paintings capturing on humble canvases the mighty glory of the Seerenbachfälle and the quiet majesty of the Walensee.

Along the harbour of Weesen the casual stroller learns of how high the floodwaters of the Walensee can be, that Zwingli once lived here and that Franz Liszt visited, while watching as a summer fountain flings water high above the surface of the lake.

Above: High water marker, Weesen Harbour

Enjoy delicious pastries and High Tea, served by lovely ladies in 19th century period dress, inside the warm and inviting Café Liszt and see photos and sheet music by the famous composer peeking at the patrons from the walls and from on top of cleverly arranged furniture pieces.

There is a timelessness to Weesen that soothes the visitor.

This is a place contented with itself, complacent in its attractiveness.

Large enough to handle commerce and accommodate throngs of lake cruise disembarking passengers and summer visitors, small enough to feel cosy and comfortable and intimate with the surroundings and one another.

In Weesen, a young boy would learn the fundamentals of basic education, a young girl would be inspired to take up a life of service to Christ, and a wild Hungarian romantic would feel compelled by his surroundings to linger and create music that would delight crowds and put the name of Weesen into their souls.

Look up into the mountains or across the waters of the Walensee and feel the place work its quiet spell upon you.

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Let your curious feet lead you down to the Linth canals and decide spontaneously which canal you will follow, whether you wish to visit Glaurus or Zürich Cantons today.

The hallows of your heart will thunderously applaud your decision to come here.

Linger awhile.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwengli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis

 

Canada Slim and the Voyageur´s Album

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 November 2017

I have just returned home from the dentist (one more tooth less) and I find that listening to Franz Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsodies seems to keep pace with the throbbing pain experienced inside my mouth, as if each tooth is an ivory piano key pressed upon in tempo with the music being produced by pianist Georges Cziffra.

Flag of Hungary

Above: The flag of Hungary

As if to mock me, the weather outside, though seasonably cold, is astonishingly beautiful and invites exploration, but I am later committed to teaching this afternoon, toothache or sunny day be damned.

Liszt listening has become my latest hobby as I keep stumbling across his name in my travels: he visited Weesen, his daughter Cosima was conceived in Como and later born in Bellagio when he visited the town with his lover and mistress the Comtesse Marie d´Agoult.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

He also spent time in other places I have visited, like Budapest, Paris, Rome, Sopron, Vienna and Zürich.

(More on Weesen later in this blog…)

(Clearly Liszt must make a future contribution to this blog.)

Facebook recently drew my attention to a Swiss Info article of three days ago that says, for the first time, Switzerland has two million foreigners living in its midst, which accounts for nearly 25% of the nation´s 8.3 million population.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

More than 80% of the foreigners living in Switzerland are from European countries, with half of these coming from Italy, Germany, France and Portugal.

(The latter does bring sense to Swiss philosophy teacher-writer Pascal Mercier´s Night Train to Lisbon.)

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Above: Poster from the film adaptation starring Jeremy Irons (2013)

These non-Swiss, of whom I am one, are often the subject of huge political debate especially by the current xenophobic government party, the SVP (the Schweizer Volks Partei or Swiss People´s Party).

The big issue, of course, is:

Will all these pesky foreigners and their foreign ideas change the character of the place?

This effect of an alien group affecting the area they choose to alight upon was much on my mind the day my wife and I visited Bellagio….

 

Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

Women worry too much.

Too many of them are convinced that their men remain with them only because they have been able to maintain the illusion of youth, and that once the spell has been broken by the inevitable passage of time fickle men will trade them in for newer models.

Nevertheless there remains good men, men who fall in love with a woman´s character and inner beauty that no horrid hourglass, no mere mirror could ever alter.

For these men, a woman´s beauty is eternal.

Only women can really judge how many of these men there actually are.

I have tried to be a man worthy of the title.

My wife´s birthday, a deeply guarded secret and not a cause for celebration despite my desires to celebrate her life and its importance to my own, finds us in Bellagio, a northern Italian town famous for both its location and the visitors attracted to it over the centuries.

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Above: Bellagio

Bellagio sits at the peak of the Larian Triangle, the peninsula that divides Lake Como into two arms of an inverted Y, and looks across at the northern trunk of the Lago and behind this the Alps extending from Switzerland.

Bellagio is luxury itself with a myriad of trees, including the laurel tree from which the peninsula gets its name, and flowers favoured by a mild and sweet climate.

The Borgo, the historic centre of Bellagio, lies southwest of the promontory tip between hilltop Villa Serbelloni and Como´s southwest arm.

Beyond the Serbelloni are a park and a marina.

Parallel to the shore are three streets: Mazzini (after Italian author and politician Giuseppe Mazzini), Centrale and Garibaldi (after Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi) in ascending order.

Cutting across them to form a sloped grid are seven medieval stone staircases running uphill.

The Basilica of San Giacomo and the Torre delle Arti Bellagio (the last remnant of medieval defences) sit in a piazza at the top.

Above: The Basilica of San Giacomo

There have been signs of humanity around Bellagio since 30,000 years ago, but only in the 7th to 5th centuries before Christ did there appear a place of worship and exchange upon the promontory.

The first identifiable inhabitants of Bellagio, from 400 BC, were the Insubres, a Celtic tribe.

The Insubres lived free and independently until the arrival of the Gauls, led by Belloveso, around 600 BC, whom they replaced or intermarried.

The Gauls created a garrison at the extreme point of the promontory, Bellagio, after their commander Belloveso.

(Another theory is that Bellagio was originally Bilacus – in Latin, “between the lakes”)

In 225 BC, the territory of the Gauls was occupied by the Romans in their gradual expansion to the north.

The Romans, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, defeated the Gauls in a fierce battle near Camerlata.

Gaulish hopes of independence were raised by an alliance with Hannibal during the Second Punic War, but dashed by defeat in 104 BC and absorbed into a Roman province in 80 BC.

Bellagio became both a Roman garrison and a point of passage and wintering for the Roman armies on the way to the Splügen Pass.

Troops wintered at the foot of the promontory, sheltered from north winds and the Mediterranean climate.

In the early decades of the Roman Empire, two great figures brought fame to the Lake and Bellagio:  Virgil and Pliny the Younger.

Virgil, the Latin poet, visited Bellagio and remembered the lake in his second book of the Georgics.

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Above: Publius Vergilius Maro, aka Virgil (70 – 19 BC)

Pliny the Younger, resident in Como for most of the year, had, among others, a summer villa near the top of the hill of Bellagio, known as “Tragedy”, which he described in a letter the long periods he spent there not only studying and writing but also hunting and fishing.

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Above: Statue of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus aka Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD), Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, Como

In 9 AD, the Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus passed through Bellagio en route to the Splügen Pass then onwards to Germany against Arminius.

They were annihilated in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, near present day Osnabrück, Germany.

At the time of the barbarian invasions, Narses, a general of Justinian, in his long wanderings through Italy waging war, created along Lake Como a fortified line against the Gauls.

Nevertheless, around 568 the Lombards, led by Alboin, poured into the Po Valley and settled in various parts of Lombardy, in the alpine Valleys and along the lakes.

With their arrival in Italy, the Franks of Charlemagne descended on Lombardy through the high Alps and defeated the Lombards in the Battle of Pavia (773).

The suzerainty of the Frankish kings was followed by the rule of the Ottonian dynasty of Germany.

By 1100 Bellagio was already a free commune and the seat of a tribunal.

In 1154, under Frederick Barbarossa, Bellagio was forced to swear loyalty and pay tribute to Como.

Towards the end of the 13th century, Bellagio, which had participated in numerous wars, became the property of the House of Visconti and was integrated into the Duchy of Milan.

With the death of Filippo Maria, the House of Visconti lost power.

For a short time the area was transformed into the Ambrosian Republic (1477 – 1450), until Milan capitulated to Francesco Sforza, who became Duke of Milan and Lombardy.

In 1535, when Francisco II Sforza, the last Duke of Milan, died, then began two centuries of Spanish rule.

Favoured by Bellagio´s ideal position for transport and trade, various small industries flourished, most notably candle making and silk weaving

During the brief Napoleonic period, the port of Bellagio assumed military and strategic importance and Count Francesco Melzi d´Eril established his summer home here.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril, Bellagio

Melzi proceeded to build his magnificent Villa, bringing to the area the flower of the Milanese nobility and the promontory was transformed into a most elegant and refined court.

(For more on the Villa Melzi, please see Canada Slim and the Holiday Chronicles of this blog.)

The fame of the lakeside town became well known outside the borders of the Kingdom of Lombardy – Venetia.

Emperor Francis I of Austria visited in 1816 and again in 1825.

Stendhal first visited Bellagio in 1810:

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Above: Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

“What can one say about ……Lake Como, unless it be that one pities those who are not badly in love with them…..

The sky is pure, the air mild, and one recognises the land beloved of the gods, the happy land that neither barbarous invasions nor civil discords could deprive of its heaven-sent blessings.”

At Bellagio he was the guest of Melzi d´Eril, from whose Villa he wrote:

“I isolate myself in a room on the second floor.  There, I lift my gaze to the most beautiful view in the world, after the Gulf of Naples.”

 

In January 1833, the 21-year-old Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt met Comtesse Marie d´Agoult, a Parisian socialite six years his senior.

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Above: Author Marie d´Agoult (pen name: Daniel Stern)(1805 – 1876)

She had been married since 1827 to Comte Charles d´Agoult and had borne two daughters, but the marriage had become sterile.

Drawn together by their mutual intellectual interests, Marie and Franz embarked on a passionate relationship.

In March 1835 the couple fled Paris for Switzerland.

Ignoring the scandal they left in their wake, they settled in Geneva where, on 18 December 1835, Marie gave birth to a daughter, Blandine-Rachel.

In the following two years Liszt and Marie travelled widely in pursuit of his career as a concert pianist.

Franz and Marie d´Agoult stayed for four months in Bellagio in 1837.

Here, on Christmas Eve 1837, in a lakeside hotel in Bellagio, a second daughter was born, named Francesca Gaetana Cosima.

It is as “Cosima” that the child would become known.

In Bellagio, Franz wrote many of the piano pieces which became Album d´un Voyageur, which later became landscapes seen through the eyes of Byron and Senancour.

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Above: Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)

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Above: Étienne Pivert de Senancour (1770 – 1846)

These works contributed much to the image of Bellagio and Lake Como as a site of romantic feeling.

The Comtesse´s letters show that they were sadly aware of drawing an age of motorised tourism in their train.

Franz and Marie continued to travel in Europe.

Their third child and only son, Daniel, was born on 9 May 1839 in Venice.

That same year, while Franz continued his travels, Marie took the social risk of returning to Paris with Blandine and Cosima.

Marie´s hopes of regaining her social status in Paris were denied when her influential mother, Madame de Flavigny, refused to acknowledge the children.

Marie would be socially shunned while her daughters were clearly in evidence.

Franz´s solution was to remove the girls from Marie and place them with his mother Anna in her Paris home.

By this means, both Marie and Franz could continue their independent lives.

Relations between the couple cooled, and by 1841 they were seeing little of each other.

They were both engaged in their own affairs.

 

In 1838, Bellagio received with all honours the Emperor Ferninand I, the Archduke Rainer and the Minister Metternich, who came from Varenna (on the east shore of Como north of Bellagio) on the Lario, the first steamboat on the Lake, launched in 1826.

Bellagio was much frequented by the nobility and saw the construction of villas and gardens.

Luxury shops opened in the village and tourists crowded onto the lakeshore drive.

Gustav Flaubert visited Bellagio in 1845.

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Above: Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

He told his travel diary:

“One could live and die here.  The outlook seems designed as a balm to the eyes….

The horizon is lined with snow and the foreground alternates between the graceful and the rugged – a truly Shakespearean landscape, all the forces of nature are brought together with an overwhelming sense of vastness.”

In 1859, Bellagio became part of the Kingdom of Italy until 1943 when Germany created the Italian Social Republic under Benito Mussolini.

Bellagio was part of the Italian Social Republic until 1945.

The Futurist writer and poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a Mussolini loyalist who had helped shape Fascist philosophy, met his death from a heart attack in Bellagio in December 1944.

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Above: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876 – 1944)

Since the end of the Second World War, Bellagio has degenerated into a place of mass tourism.

There are at least seven churches in the area where the visitor can recite the Lord´s Prayer, beseeching God that he/she be not lead into temptation.

For beauty can lead to temptation, here in this cradle between cypress-spiked hills, with promenades planted with oleander and limes, fin de siecle hotels painted in pastel shades of butterscotch, peach and cream, steep cobbled streets and secret alleyways.

This village lined with upmarket souvenir shops, piped music and scandalous swimwear worn by carefree sun worshippers enjoying the days of summer in the waters of the Lido.

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This is not a local´s village.

Here one finds money in all of its denominations from old money sitting silently in mute accounts and spent on old patrician houses that line the banks of the promontory, to new money unashamedly exposed and spent carelessly in boutiques and fancy hotels.

This is not a local´s village.

Just behind the hill of the promontory, protected from the winds of change, sits the Villa Serbelloni, which dominates the town´s historic centre.

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Above: Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio

Serbelloni was built in the 15th century in place of an old castle razed in 1375, and has been rebuilt several times.

In 1798 it came into possession of Alessandro Serbelloni (1745 – 1826) who enriched it with precious decorations and works of art of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 1905, the Villa was transformed into a luxury Hotel, which still offers the well-to-do their own private jetty, beach, tennis courts, fitness centre, sauna, poolside restaurant and beauty farm as just some of the luxurious facilities available.

In 1959, it became the property of the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.

Rockefeller Foundation logo

Since then, the Bellagio Center in the Villa has been home to international conferences, held by American scholars, housed in the Villa.

This is not a local´s Villa.

Today the visitor can visit only the gardens, while trails lead to the remains of a 16th century Capuchin monastery.

The gardens of Serbelloni resemble a woodland where paths spacious invite strolls amongst oaks, firs, osmanti, myrtles, junipers and pines which shade confidences and confidently screen against storms.

Outside these gardens of lost Eden, the locals quietly enjoy rowing and football at the Bellagio Sporting Union, eat tóch (polenta  mixed with butter and cheese), share red wine from communal jugs, and enjoy miasca, pan mein, and paradel for dessert.

At least this is what the tourists are taught that the locals do.

No one meets the locals.

Service to the foreigner is, more often than not, provided by other foreigners.

No one comes to Bellagio in search of Italy, but rather in search of a sort of sexual electricity that is produced by foreigners mingling with other foreigners in a Mediterranean Babel and babble of intertwining nationalities and languages.

Some foreigners reside here, retire here and some even respire here, for Bellagio even has a small cemetery for foreigners.

Here lies Nellie, 25, the wife of Arthur Charles Parkinson of London, who died here after only 10 days of marriage on 10 June 1895.

Nearby lies Sidney Brunner, of Nennington, Cheshire, 23, who lost his life saving his older brother from drowning on 8 September 1890.

Why wife and brother were left to rest in peace in an isolated forgotten cemetery in Bellagio rather than back in England, posterity does not record.

 

The wife and I do as the other tourists do: we eat in cafés, we shop in boutiques, we wander the streets, we linger at the Lido.

There is beauty here in Bellagio but it feels purchased, artificial, imported.

A few hours here and we feel no impulse to linger.

We let the rich be rich and the tourist be complacent in his superiority.

There is life beyond Bellagio, richer in quality and more beautiful in substance than this pastel Paradise.

We create and carry with us our own sexual electricity.

We don´t need Bellagio for this.

“Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn´t already have.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / America, In the Country, “Tin Man”

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Wonders on the Wall

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 November 2017

I just had my first viewing of a DVD I had never seen before last evening: The Lady in the Van, starring Dame Maggie Smith as “The Lady in the Van Miss Mary “Margaret ” Theresa Shepherd” and Alex Jennings as “Alan Bennett” upon whose memoirs the story is taken.

The Lady in the Van film poster.jpg

This is a powerful movie with wonderful performances and some quiet thought-provoking moments that cause a person to ponder and think about life, compassion, responsibility and creativity.

Something said in the movie sticks with me this evening as I search for a way to describe a world famous London attraction and my reactions towards it:

Alan, at the end of the film, says the adage that a writer puts himself into his writing isn´t true.

Instead a writer discovers who he is by the act of writing, that the writing brings out himself.

I am more and more discovering this for myself since I started this blog on 18 May 2015.

I also believe that how we approach art and how it affects us also says a lot about who we are.

I am reminded of the extremely irreverant but surprisingly perceptive geniuses that formed the British comedy group Monty Python´s Flying Circus.

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A skit in their first season´s Episode 4 (“Owl-stretching time”) called “Art Gallery”:

(Interior of art gallery.  Two figures enter.  They are both middle-aged working mothers.  Each holds the Hand of an unseen Infant who is beneath the range of the camera.)

Janet (John Cleese):  ´Allo, Marge!

Marge (Graham Chapman): Oh hello, Janet, how are you love, fancy seeing you.

Janet: How´s little Ralph?

Marge: Oh, don´t ask me!  He´s been nothing but trouble all morning.  Stop it Ralph! (she slaps at an unseen infant)  Stop it!

Janet:  Same as my Kevin.

Marge: Really?

Janet: Nothing but trouble …. leave it alone!  He´s just been in the Florentine Room and smeared tomato ketchup all over Raphael´s Baby Jesus. (shouting off sharply)  Put that Baroque masterpiece down!

Marge: Well, we´ve just come from the Courtauld and Ralph smashed every exhibit but one in the Danish Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition.

Janet:  Just like my Kevin.  Show him an exhibition of 18th century Dresden Pottery and he goes berserk.  No, I said no, and I meant no!  (smacks unseen infant again)  This morning we were viewing the early Flemish Masters of the Renaissance and Mannerist Schools, when he gets out his black aerosol and squirts Vermeer´s Lady at a Window!

Marge: Still, it´s not as bad as spitting, is it?

Janet (firmly): No, well Kevin knows (slaps the infant) that if he spits at a painting I´ll never take him to an exhibition again.

Marge:  Ralph used to spit – he could hit a Van Gogh at thirty yards.  But he knows now it´s wrong – don´t you Ralph? (she looks down) Ralph! Stop it! Stop it! Stop chewing that Turner!  You are … (she disappears from shot)  You are a naughty, naughty, vicious little boy. (smack, she comes back into the shot holding a copy of Turner´s Fighting Temeraire in a lovely gilt frame but all tattered) Oh, look at that!  The Fighting Temeraire – ruined!  What shall I do?

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Janet (taking control): Now don´t do a thing with it love, just put it in the bin over there.

Marge: Really?

Janet: Yes take my word for it, Marge.  Kevin´s eaten most of the early 19th century British landscape artists, and I´ve learned not to worry.  As a matter of fact, I feel a bit peckish myself.  (she breaks a bit off the Turner)  Yes…. (Marge also tastes a bit.)

Marge:  I never used to like Turner.

Janet (swallowing):  No… I don´t know much about art, but I know what I like.

London, England, 23 October 2017

All the guidebooks absolutely rave about the place, commanding everyone that the Tate Modern is an absolute must for anyone visiting or living in London.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Designed as the old, oil-fired, Bankside power station by Giles Gilbert Scott, this austere, brick “cathedral of power” was closed down in 1981 and reopened as a modern art gallery in 2000.

The masterful conversion, by the Swiss duo Herzog and de Meuron, still has the feeling of original industry, yet provides wonderfully light and spacious galleries to show off the museum´s impressive collection of international 20th century artists, such as Monet, Duchamp, Hepworth, Matisse, Mondrian, Dali, Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and Warhol.

Most impressive of all is the stupifying vastness of the main Turbine Hall, which rises to a height of 115 feet from below the Thames.

Tate Modern receives more than five million visitors a year, more than double what had been envisaged.

The Tate´s extension, the Switch House, opened last year, is a distorted prism of latticed bricks rising to 215 feet, housing three new floors of gallery space.

The Tate sits above the old power station´s subterranean oil tanks, which have been converted into rough-edged hard spaces for live work, video installations and performance art.

Today´s permanent collection dates back to 1900, but the curators have rejected a chronological approach and have gone instead for hanging works according to themes or individual artists.

The displays are changed frequently.

The visitor must decide for him/her self whether their groupings are the best manner of discovering the art or whether it makes the incomprehensible incoherantly unapproachable.

The best entrance is via the ramp at the West Entrance to the Turbine Hall, where you will find the information desk, the museum cloakroom and the giant bookshop with more than 10,000 titles that claims to be London´s largest art bookshop.

There are free guided tours as well as free admission, except for some temporary exhibitions.

There is a reasonably priced café on Level 1, an espresso bar on Level 3, and a pricey restaurant and bar on Level 7 with a great view over the river.

Of all the creations that mankind has invented I think art museums are the most unnatural.

A person walks into an artificial arena of deep dark suspicion as to what exactly are visitors´ intentions for visiting them.

Are they here to steal the artworks, like Pierce Bronson at the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in the film The Thomas Crown Affair?

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Are they here to vandalise the works in protest or in spite?

I somehow doubt that museum managers or security personnel find the Python “Art Gallery” skit even slightly amusing nor would they understand how identifiable Jack Nicholson´s (as “Jack Napier / the Joker”) visit to the Gotham City Art Museum (in Tim Burton´s film Batman) and his resulting vandalism is to the average man.

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For the urge to do the forbidden lies within all of us.

It would be sinfully delightful to be like the drunken man who walked into the Birmingham City Art Gallery in 1989 and took the Henry Wallis painting The Death of Chatterton off the wall, staggered out carrying the 25,000-pounds worth art piece out into the street and made his escape on a double-decker bus.

We want the tactile experience of feeling the paint strokes of the hanging pictures or caressing the marble contours of some Grecian goddess (or god, depending on which way you swing).

Denied this interactivity, which for the preservation of these masterpieces is sensible, the average visitor, especially with limited time to see absolutely as much as one can while in the Big City, is uninspired to do much more than rush past the painstakingly created masterpieces, retaining little or nothing of the art within their memories.

A museum as immense as the Tate Modern should require a half-day or even a full day to truly immerse the visitor in the awe and inspiration the artists wished to instill within their voyeurs.

How enviable and remarkable are those who have the time and patience to sit for long periods of time in front of just one canvas just to soak into their souls the passion and thought behind each brushstroke and colour choice.

I love watching artists trying to reproduce the wonders on the wall, like Clint Eastwood´s retired thief “Luther Whitney” in front of a canvas in Washington DC´s Corcoran Gallery of Art reproducing the delicate hands of a masterpiece in the film Absolute Power.

A angry man looks to the viewer while the US Secret Service logo and a dead woman is in the bottom with the film's title

Yet I think there is a great deal of irony in artists trying to reproduce modern art, for many 20th century artists tried to reach the parts of our brains that other art doesn´t reach and felt that imitating the art of the past would cripple the ability to produce anything truly new.

Some, like Salvador Dali, were really interested in the world of dreams and the weird and bizarre thoughts that float around the darkest corners of our minds.

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Above: The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali

They wanted to open our subconscious cupboards and make art about the things lurking within.

Modern artists felt themselves to be outsiders who were increasingly dissatisfied with the aims and the methods of the art that pleased the public.

For some, “new” meant recapturing nostaglia for the uniqueness of the “old” as they were unhappy about the general decline in craftsmanship caused by the Industrial Revolution and hated the sight of cheap and tawdry imitations of what once had meaning and nobility.

But the uniqueness of the individual mind reflected on canvas is not some dim carbon copy of what has come before but instead was fresh, novel and thought-provoking even if the public thought the artist insane or the works mystifyingly elusive to grasp.

Perception of art is also as individual as the artist him/her self.

Art means very different things to different people in different times and different places.

There are no wrong reasons for liking (or disliking) a statue or a picture.

People see (or don´t want to see) what they want (or don´t want) to see in reality.

In fact, it is often the expression of reality, conscious or subconscious, which makes us either love or loathe a work of art.

Some people like an expression which they can easily understand and which therefore moves them profoundly.

But herein lies the difficulty for the unartistic in trying to embrace art….

We want to admire an artist´s skill in representing the things we see, but we also want the artwork to generate a feeling from within us.

We don´t just want to see reality reproduced as much as we want to experience the feelings the reproduction is meant to convey.

Don´t just show me a rooster, but rather bring out in the image a sense of its aggressiveness, its cheekiness and its stupidity.

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Above: The Rooster, Pablo Picasso

I think it must be a real challenge for the older generation, as well as for modern art museum managers, to distinguish passing fashions from lasting achievements.

Nor can we predict whether a crazy, middle-aged Dutchman working away in southern France, or a retired gentleman of independent means who refuses to send his art to exhibitions, or a stockbroker who has become a painter late in life and has fled to paint far away in the South Pacific, whether they will later be much-appreciated artists that Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin became.

A painting of a scene at night with 11 swirly stars and a bright yellow crescent moon. In the background there are hills, in the middle ground there is a moonlit town with a church that has an elongated steeple, and in the foreground there is the dark green silhouette of a cypress tree and houses.

Above: Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

Above: Pyramid of Skulls, Paul Cézanne

Above: Ta Matete, Paul Gauguin

Still my wife, (a far more cultural creature than I – the simple country bumpkin she married – poor lamb!) – and I, torn between wishing to linger indefinitely and hearing our mental clocks ticking out the dwindling precious hours remaining in both our vacation time and the museum´s opening hours, probably did not give the Tate Modern the proper full attention and reverance it deserved.

Nor did time permit us to see more than a whirlwind peek of the permanent collections, so sadly we missed the “Red Star Over Russia” exhibition with its rarely seen artworks by Russian and Soviet artists over the five decades from the Revolution of 1905 to the death of Stalin.

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(Anyone in London before 18 February 2018 can still catch it.)

Still, nonetheless, some artworks remain in my mind: Henri Matisse´s The Snail (I tried but my imagination couldn´t discern the snail.), the Guerilla Girls´ US dollar entitled Women in America Earn Only 2/3 of What Men Do, the neon words of Bruce Naumann, the energy and emotional violence of Picasso´s The Three Dancers, Roy Lichtenstein´s Whaam! with the comic book dramatic power of live action, and Constantin Brancusi´s bronze Fish, which is simultaneously both as abstract as a baby´s drawing and as real as the fire extinguisher and the guard in the gallery room.

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Above: The Snail, Henri Matisse

Above: Women in America, The Guerilla Girls

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Above: The Three Dancers, Pablo Picasso

Sadly, for many visitors, including the wife and I, the museum´s structure and clarity is lost in the visitors´ energy and process.

We see, but we don´t observe.

We momentarily reflect, but we don´t remember much or any of what we saw and reflected upon.

The decades a blur and the many hours of love and devotion the artists sacrificed of their lives unappreciated and unacknowledged, such is the result of whirlwind exploration in this age of instant communication and selfish sudden gratification.

We are as children in a playground, lost in the worlds of our own making, using what is seen only as a backdrop to what we want to see.

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Above: Fish, Constantin Brancusi

Still, I will be as a guidebook and recommend the Tate Modern and will caution the visitor to not rush by the landscapes like a high speed train but rather absorb the artwork and let it seep into your soul like a sponge resting on the ocean floor.

Stop and see the artwork.

Stroll past the wonders on the wall like a man without a care in the world rather than like a harried maniac wishing to quickly check off the Tate Modern as just another item seen on some “To Do” list.

I promise you the time spent fishing for enlightenment will generate bounty for both the senses and the emotions.

Allow the art to inspire you.

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Above: Whaam!, Roy Lichtenstein

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / The Complete Monty Python´s Flying Circus: All the Words / E.M. Gombrich, The Story of Art / Michael Cox, The Knowledge: Awful Art / http://www.tate.org.uk

 

Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 November 2017

Last week ago I began to tell a story.

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

A story of how a religion and a continent tore itself apart over questions of how to worship a God who cannot be proven to exist.

Ah, the folly of man!

My quest for one of the two dominant figures of the Swiss Reformation, Huldrych Zwingli (the other being Jean Calvin) began as a daytripper´s excursion rather than yet another “let´s follow someone else´s footsteps” project.

Above: Statue of Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531), Wasserkirche, Zürich

A book I bought last year, Thomas Widmer´s Schweizer Wünder: Ausflüge zu kuriosen und staunenswerten Dingen (Swiss wonders: Excursions to curious and astonishing things) recommended that I ride the Selunbähnli to Strichboden from Starkenbach in Canton St. Gallen.

I had already visited the Swimming Island of Berchet Lake in Canton Thurgau and had been delighted by the experience, so I eagerly set my sights on yet another of Widmer´s suggestions.

In search of hiking maps I visited a local bookshop in St. Gallen, close to the Starbucks where I work, and stumbled across Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis : Ein Wander- und Lesebuch. (Zwingli Ways: On Foot from Wildhaus to Kappel am Albis: A Hiking and Reading Book)

To my delight the Selunbähnli I wished to ride and the starting section of the Zwingli Ways coincided.

Thus my Zwingli Project began.

To be fair, the Steiners do not claim that the paths they recommend were actually walked on by Zwingli himself or even thematically connected to his life.

Rather they show hiking trails of scenic and historical interest near the Swiss sites where Zwingli had been.

So it is known for certain that Zwingli had been in Wildhaus, Wessen, Glaurus, Einsiedeln, Zürich and Kappel am Albis, all locations within eastern and central Switzerland.

Other locations like Basel, Bern, Konstanz and Vienna were also important in Zwingli´s life, but the Steiners did not include these in their book.

(Of these latter aforementioned places, I have visited these before and will include them in future posts.)

Though the Steiners recommended that the hiker begin the Ways from Zwingli´s birthplace and walk from there to Starkenbach, I decided that I wanted to rediscover Wildhaus as a hiker entering the town on foot rather than a traveller simply dropped off in the middle of town.

(I say “rediscover” for I had visited Wildhaus before, but had not as yet seen the Zwingli House…)

Let us begin….

 

Starkenbach, Canton St. Gallen, Switzerland, 10 October 2017

A superbly wonderful day for hiking, perfect summerlike conditions.

The Toggenburg is a region of Switzerland that corresponds to the upper valley of the Thur River and that of its main tributary, the Neckar River.

The valley descends in a northwestern direction from the watershed between the Rhine and the Thur and is encircled on the northeast by the chain of the Säntis (2,504 metres / 8,216 feet) and on the southwest by that of the Churfirsten (2,306 metres/7,566 feet) and of the Speer (1,954 metres/6,411 feet).

This is farming country within this valley that stretches 45 km (28 miles) from the source of the Thur River to Wil on the railway line between St. Gallen and Winterthur.

Wildhaus is the valley´s highest village at 1,107 metres/3,632 feet.

To get to Starkenbach a person without his own mode of transportation must either take a train to Neu St. Johann or Buchs, then ride Bus 790 from Neu St. Johann via Stein or in the opposite direction from Buchs via Grabs, Gams, Wildhaus, Unterwasser and Alt St. Johann.

I travelled from my village of residence to Neu St. Johann (the S8 Train travels from 0500 until midnight between Schaffhausen, Romanshorn, St. Gallen, Wattwil and Neu St. Johann) then Bus 790 from there.

I had previously walked from Wildhaus to Neu St. Johann following the Thur Trail, which takes the hiker eventually to the Thur River´s point of entry into the mighty Rhine River, so I had a passing acquaintance with the region.

The bus stop marked Starkenbach is in front of a guesthouse, so already being lunchtime I fuelled the body with a Chinese dish.

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Yellow diamond signage compells the hiker to go behind the guesthouse, cross a pasture and walk about ten minutes to a house that has instead of a garage a shed with old cablecars ascending from and descending to it.

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This ancient-looking cablecar service, dubbed the Cabriobahn, has been in operation since 1911 and it must be admitted that upon first viewing it a person wonders – and hopes – that the system has been maintained since.

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For, unlike its regional counterparts that are built of ultramodern materials and maintained by smartly dressed personnel in uniforms, the Cabriobahn seems not much more than a wooden box held together by decaying materials – like miracles and spit – and ran by farming folk who begrudingly operate the machinery for those too lazy to walk up the damn mountain.

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It looks like a family-sized wooden coffin, suspended upon creaking cables that lead to isolated Heaven or down to civilised Hell.

It is a family-run affair. so don´t try showing them any of your fancy reduction discount cards accepted by the new-fangled bunch of cablecar operators.

It´s full price for everyone.

Take it or leave it.

I take it, along with a mother, her children and their dog.

I make jokes about bringing a second pair of underpants as I am afraid that the swinging car and the dizzying height might make me soil the ones I have on.

I again marvel that I as a tall man frequently find myself at dangerous heights, yet remain extremely uncomfortable with these heights that I stupidly choose to climb.

But apparently today I am not scheduled for the afterlife and I find myself, after an eternity, once again on solid ground looking down from a height of 1,600 metres upon the mountain Strichboden.

Happily the day´s walk is neither long nor steep and is well-signposted, for this trail is part of the Toggenburger Höhenweg that takes the wanderer a distance of 87 km from Wildhaus to Wil.

Close by the lonely cabin that serves as the mountaintop station for the Cabriobahn, the walker comes to the Wildenmannslisloch (the wild man´s hole), the site of the story of Johannes Seluner (1828 – 1898).

Wildenmannsloch is a limestone cave on the northern slope of the Churfirsten range, two kilometres due north of the peak of Selun, at an elevation of 1,640 metres.

The cave extends for 142 metres.

Sixty metres from the entrance is a chamber.

This great cave is at first very broad and high, so that it could be entered by a horse and wagon.

The cave then becomes narrower, then again wider, and in such alteration continues along various bends for a quarter of an hour before its end is reached.

Toggenburger Sagenweg - Infotafel Wildmannlisloch

On 9 September 1844, atop Selun Alp, a cow herder, Niklaus Baumgartner discovered a half-naked, deaf and mute feral child estimated to be 15 years old.

Police investigation proved futile as no proof of the boy´s identity or origins could be found.

It was unclear how he had survived isolated in the mountains, despite the wild child being studied by doctors and anthropologists.

The press dubbed him “the Puzzle of Selun”, “the Wild Man”, “the Wolf´s Child” and “the Idiot”.

In August 1845, the foundling was given the name “Johannes Seluner” – “Johannes” for the Commune of Alt St. Johann that took responsibility for his care and “Seluner” for the Alp where he was found.

On 20 January 1898, Johannes was baptised in the local Catholic Church and formally registered by the town of Neu St. Johann.

Above: Johannes Seluner

He died, after a short illness, on 20 October of the same year and is buried in the cemetery of Neu St. Johann.

An examination of Wildmannlisloch on 15 July 1906 yielded bones of cave bears.

A more detailed survey, conducted from 1923 to 1928, found a large number of bones, mostly of bears, with a number of stone tools.

The bones were artifically deposited in heaps.

The cave is presumed to have been used, either as a habitation or as a storage site for meat or as a sacrificial site, by prehistoric man about 40,000 years ago.

It has been presumed that Johannes lived in the cave for a number of years.

Photographs and documents of Johannes can be seen at the Toggenburger Museum in Lichtensteig. (Open: April to October, weekends, 1300 – 1700)

Further along the Höhenweg the walker discovers that the Sagenweg (the Saga Trail) joins and crosses the path.

Imagine Grimm´s Fairy Tales, then imagine if this sort of storytelling had instead been done by Swiss people recounting Swiss tales instead.

Now presuming you could read German, each brightly coloured saga sign encourages the thinking hiker to stop, relax, read and then take a tale with you in your mind as you continue to enjoy nature and anticipate the next sign down the trail.

Such is the Saga Trail of Toggenburg.

Having left home rather late and concerned about catching a cable car down from the mountains before the descent of darkness, I end my hiking of the day at the Alpine resort of Sellamatt, having accomplished only a couple of hours of walking and about 10 km distance covered.

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Still I don´t mind.

It is nice to walk without putting too much pressure on oneself.

Wildhaus can wait for me until tomorrow.

I take the cable car down to Alt St. Johann, a village of about 1,500 people.

Alt St. Johann is historically the site of a monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was first mentioned in 1152.

Around 1200, Castle Starkenstein (Starkenstein is German for the French Montfort.) was built by the Counts of Werdenburg-Montfort.

Starkenstein passed into the hands of the Counts of Toggenburg in 1414, and after their lineage was extinct, ownership was in the hands of St. Johann Abbey.

Above: The Catholic church in present day Alt St. Johann

A village named Sant Johann was first mentioned in 1439.

In 1626, St. Johann Abbey was moved, after a series of calamities – the Reformation and a great fire – to what is now Neu St. Johann to contrast with the new site of the monastery.

Bus ride to Buchs, train to St. Gallen, another train back home.

 

Alt St. Johann, Switzerland, 11 October 2017

Earlier start today, repetition of train ride to Neu St. Johann, bus ride back to Alt St. Johann, back up the mountain to Sellamatt via the Sessellift cable car.

The Toggenburger Höhenweg begins to be incorporated with another footpath called the Klangweg, that leads from the foot of the Churfirsten range from Oberdorf to Alp Sellamatt.

Twenty-six “klang installations” encourage passers-by to bang and clang to their heart´s delight on the various metallic structures set up to encourage interactive fun and instruction.

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Opened in 2004, the Klangweg already sees more than 10,000 visitors a year, and on this day I see dozens of school groups joyfully expressing their delight at being permitted and encouraged to make noise.

The Höhenweg continues to descend gradually from over 1,400 metres to 1,339 metres at another Alpine resort Iltios, the end station for the Unterwasser-Iltios Railroad descending to the town of Unterwasser and the cable car system that carries the traveller up to Mount Chäserrugg (at an altitude of 2,262 metrres).

I continued to follow the Höhenweg towards Wildhaus, as I had already been to Unterwasser (as in “below the water”)(with the Thur River waterfalls)(the home of ski jumper and Switzerland´s most decorated Olympian Simon Ammann, fourtime gold medal winner in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games)….. during my walking of the Thur Way and I had no desire to ascend up to Mount Iltios today.

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Above: Simon Ammann

From Iltios I walk on, following the Höhenweg overlooking the Schwendlisee, ever descending to the Oberdorf cable car station and the town of Wildhaus.

Above: Schwendlisee

Wildhaus, population just over 1,200, at an altitude of 1,095 metres, attracts tourists for three main reasons: it is the starting point of both the Thurweg (which follows the Thur River through St. Gallen and Thurgau Cantons) and the Toggenburger Höhenweg (which ends in Wattwil) and holds the birthplace of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli.

Above: Zwingli Haus

Being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Wildhaus also offers the history afficiando the Zwingli Monument as well as the Zwingli Fountain, and until the end of 2017 a special Reformation exhibition.

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Above: The Zwingli Reformation Exhibition, Wildhaus

This house is one of the oldest farmhouses in Switzerland and also served as a schoolhouse before it was purchased by the Evangelical Reform Church and converted into a museum and Zwingli library.

Huldrych Zwingli was born in this house on New Year´s Day 1494, to a family of farmers, the 3rd child of nine.

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His family may have produced oats, rye, cabbage, wheat, carrots, garlic, wild flax, parsnips, turnips, celery, a variety of herbs and garden flowers as well as raising livestock, like cows, pigs and poultry.

They would have probably sold their produce at the regional market in Lichtensteig.

His father, Ulrich, played a leading role in the administration of the community as the chief local magistrate.

The greatest problem for the population was the payment of tithes and taxes.

Prior to Zwingli´s birth, in 1436, following the death of the last Duke of Toggenburg, the representatives of the “right of initiative” of the Regional Assembly of Wattwil won contracts with Canton Glarus and Schwyz.

In addition the Assembly ensured a guarantee of security with the protecting power of Canton Zürich against the demands of the Prince Abbey of St. Gallen.

In 1468, the Abbott of St. Gallen bought the Toggenburg for 14,500 gulden.

In 1475, Huldrych´s grandfather Heini Zwingli led the Toggenburg Delegation which successfully mediated between the Abbott and Glarus.

Huldrych felt the family´s love of the Swiss Confederacy.

Even in his time, Heini Zwingli exported cattle and other specialities from Toggenburg to Milano by the Septimer or Splugen Passes.

On the return journey Heini brought back wine and textiles.

Huldrych`s grandfather and father were repeatedly on business trips and had many personal contacts as far away as Milano.

The family had become internationally active as the combination of alpine farming and transalpine trade brought them better living standards.

Huldrych´s attitude to faith was the consequence of his mother, Margaretha, who kept extensive contact with many religious figures, including the Abbott of Fischingen.

Consequently two of Huldrych´s brothers studied theology and two of his sisters took the veil.

Huldrych would remain in Wildhaus for six years before he was sent away for schooling in Weesen, Bern, Vienna and Basel.

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He would only return for family visits and would later celebrate his first mass as priest on 29 September 1506 before beginning his ten-year service in Glarus.

So what would it have been like to grow up in Wildhaus in the 15th century?

Would the Zwingli family have been aware of the great changes happening in the world beyond the Toggenburg?

Would they have heard about the Treaty of Tordesillas dividing the New World between Portugal and Spain (7 June 1494)?

Did the new highly contagious STD known as “the French pox” reach the Toggenburg?

Had they heard about Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and his voyages to Newfoundland and Labrador? (1497)

Had they learned about American tobacco and Chinese toothpaste?

Did they learn of the Battle of Fornovo between the French and Italians, the latter allied with the Swiss? (6 July 1495)

Were they aware of Girolamo Savonarola, the Black Friar of Firenze and his defiance of the Pope in setting up his own puritanical republic (25 December 1497) or of the Inquisition happening in Spain (1498)?

Difficult to say, but it is possible.

Did Huldrych play with his brothers and sisters around the abandoned Wild Castle, once built (in 1200) and owned by the nobility (the Counts of Sax, the Dukes of Toggenburg, the Lords of Raron) but at this time belonging to the Abbey of St. Gallen?

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Above: Castle Wildenburg, Wildhaus, Canton St. Gallen, Switzerland

History doesn´t say.

I diligently visit the Zwingli Museum and the Zwingli Monument and the Zwingli Fountain and the Evangelical Reform Church, and am pleasantly surprised to discover that there is some literature in English, informing the uninformed about Zwingli´s CV, his background, life and influence, and the Zürich reform done by him.

I leave Wildhaus and the Zwingli Way behind….only eight more walks to accomplish….bus back to Neu St. Johann, Train back home.

I have learned and seen so much beauty and wonder today.

This is truly God´s country.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / Zwingli Geburtshaus, Wildhaus / Zwingli Zentrum Toggenburg, Wildhaus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Bad Boss

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 November 2017

This particular post I write today will be different from others I have written since 2017 began.

I do not wish to recount stories and histories or travelogs.

There will few pictures in this post, because I want the reader to truly focus on what I have to say, rather than be distracted by too many photographs.

And this post is a plea to those who have been given responsibility over others.

Above: Coronation picture of Queen Elizabeth II

Let me first begin by saying:

Bosses, especially those in middle management, you have my sympathy.

I am not blind nor deaf to how difficult your job can be, how much pressure is put on your performance, how hard it can be to find good employees.

Life ain´t easy.

But the line between being viewed by the vast majority of your workers as a good boss and being viewed by your workers as someone who needs to be handled as delicately as walking on eggshells is a line that too many managers cross.

I believe that the first problem that managers often have is learning the difference between strategy and tactics.

The fundamental principles of strategy are the same for all managers, all times and all situations.

Only the tactics change – and tactics are modified to constantly changing situations.

Strategy is doing the right thing.

Tactics is doing things right.

A statue of Sun Tzu

Above: Statue of The Art of War author Sun Tzu, Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, Japan

I believe many managers are confused by this distinction.

So, where does strategy end and tactics begin?

Strategy stops at the headquarters door.

Tactics begin with the customer.

Those in direct contact with the customer need to be motivated and shown how to motivate their customers.

Customers are individual people who, if given the illusion that the salesperson actually gives a damn about them and their lives, will cheerfully pass onto the organisation their hard-earned money.

They will not do this if those that serve them have not been taught that compassion wins more money than the big hard sell.

Richard Branson said it best:

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers.”

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Above: Richard Branson

Those on the front line of consumerism, those with direct contact with the customers, will not be motivated if their needs as individual people are perceived as unimportant as compared with filling the coffers of the higher-ups.

We may be seen by management, especially the higher up the ladder of power one goes, as being nothing more than defenseless kittens.

But abused or embarrassed kittens become enraged tigers and will manifest their discontent either…..

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Aggressively with a “Hell be damned” attitude towards keeping their job, where they tell management that they are mad as a cat thrown into a bathtub and are “not going to take it any more”, or….

Passively plant their feet in quiet stubborn resistance by increased absenteeism or a “I simply don´t give a damn” attitude when the boss is not breathing down their necks.

Which is then perceived by management that the employees have an “attitude problem”, not realising in their complete and total blind ignorance that the problem is not so much with the employees as it is with the manner in which they have been dealt.

Profit is a matter of vital importance to the organisation, a matter of life and death for a company, the road to ruin or survival, therefore management must constantly be aware of five factors:

1.  A Spirit of Mission:

Everyone must believe that their role is important and right, so that the entire team can rally a fighting spirit and generate a firestorm of loyalty and commitment.

Generating profit for the upper echelon with no perception of the individual worker´s importance will not motivate the worker to give his best effort to the job.

2.  Outside Forces:

Everyone should be made aware of where their company is in terms of competiton and should be taught the tangents of the industry which the company is in.

Teach and train your employees not only how to sell a muffin but also what is in the muffin and how the muffin is made.

This product and process knowledge makes the employee more knowledgeable and more of an asset to both the customer and the company.

Teach and train your employees to view their job not only for the workplace that they actually work in, but give them the larger picture and teach them to look at how other companies do things and encourage employee feedback and ideas from their observations.

3.  The marketplace

A manager is, theoretically, chosen for his/her knowledge and experience within the organisation or industry, but in industries with high staff turnover what is often the case is that a manager is simply chosen for the fact they showed up to work over a long period of time, which is similar to the idea of a homeless person sleeping in a tunnel for over a year being promoted to the position of tunnel engineer.

Employees, especially those with management potential, need to be taught how to deal with people (customers or not), how to maximise the potential of their workplace, product knowledge, and the art of promoting the product, and not just the price of the product.

4. Leadership

Employees need to be taught that regardless of their position within the firm that they represent the firm in their actions and thus their intimate knowledge of their firm makes them leaders.

In other words, a McDonald´s counterperson should know more about McDonald´s than the customers.

5. Guiding principles

Employees need to be taught the process of how to do their job, where they fit in the overall process and how they can improve within their job in a motivational manner rather than with only negative criticism.

Throwing a new employee into “the deep end of the pool” and expecting them to suddenly be Olympic caliber swimmers and criticizing them when they fail to meet these expectations is quite simply cruel.

Olympic Rings

So, managers, ask yourselves:

Are you a bad boss?

If your employees can answer “yes” to the following questions, then you Sir, or you Madame, are a bad boss:

–  Is your boss someone who demotivates or demoralises you?

–  Is nothing you do ever good enough?

–  Do you have a boss who yells or throws tantrums when things do go his/her way?

–  Are you working for someone who is moody as if on an emotional rollercoaster – one day he/she is cheery and friendly, the next day he/she is downright mean?

–  Does your boss take credit for your work or play favourites or worry only about his/her own career?

–  Is your manager someone whom you don´t respect?

–  Is your boss a negative role model – an example of someone whom you do NOT want to be like when you manage others?

If your employees are nodding their heads to these questions, then you Sir, you Madame, are a bad boss.

The bottom line, and this is important, is that a bad boss is someone with whom the employees can´t do their best work or someone they dread seeing when they go to work.

Their failure to be good employees is often caused by your inability to motivate them to be good employees.

There are two ways to drive a mule: the carrot and the stick.

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Too often employers believe that the stick should be used more than, or instead of, the carrot.

The opposite is true.

Micromanaging your workers expecting them to be lazy or incompetent is not motivational.

Bullying your employees, especially in public, is not motivational.

If you will not listen to your employees, but only insist they listen to you, then this is not motivational.

Show them what to do, occasionally and quietly assessing their performance. 

Trust that they will do what you expect them to do and make certain that it is clear what it is you expect and then leave them to do their jobs.

Praise them publicly and criticise them privately.

Lead by promises of rewards (and follow through with these promises) rather than by threats of punishment.

The average person works 80% of their adult life, so most employees with any sense of pride in their accomplishments identify with the work they do.

If a person is not enjoying their job, then what is the point of devoting most of our limited lifespan to the job?

There must be more to life than simply paying our bills.

If our jobs do not lend our lives purpose, then what is the purpose of life?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Sherrie Gong Taguchi, The Career Troubleshooter: Tips and Tools for Overcoming the 21 Most Common Challenges to Success / Gerald A. Michaelson, Sun Tzu´s The Art of War for Managers: 50 Strategic Rules

 

Canada Slim and the Holiday Chronicles

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 16 November 2017

I hate November: shorter days (dawn still incomplete after 6 am, dusk already started at 1600), grey clouds ever threatening rain, blocking the sun by day and the stars by night.

November with its month flower, the chrysanthemum, a symbol of adversity, grief and death.

And I miss seeing the Lake under blue skies by day and the stars beyond my grasp overhead above the lamplightless-after-midnight streets that usually makes life for me in Landschlacht worthwhile.

I like slipping outside onto our balcony, sprawl upon a deck chair and gaze out upon a sky full of stars.

(See Thus one journeys to the stars of this blog regarding star spotting in Landschlacht and Zürich.)

I wish it were August again and we were once again exploring Italy….

(For a description of the journey through Switzerland and Italy leading to Como, please see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, …..and the Apostle of Violence, …..and the Road to the Open,……and the Quest for George Clooney, …..and the Injured Queen, …..and the Isle of Silence, …..and the Inappropriate Statues, …..and the Life Electric, …..and the Distant Bench, …..and the Smarter Woman, of this blog.)

 

Lake Como, Italy, 3 August 2017

It was the kind of road my wife both loved and hated: curvy with high vistas of great scenery, but demanding constant alertness for traffic and pedestrians with no more sense than God gave a cantalope.

There are three big lakes in Italy which reach a depth of more than 300 metres and cover an area of hundreds of square kilometres.

The most west is Lago Maggiore, the most east is Lago di Garda, the central one is Lago di Como.

Lago di Como is distinguishable from its charateristic shape of an upside-down “Y”.

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(The Lake of Constance is distinguishable as an eastwardly swimming fish.)

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The triangle formed by the two branches of the Lago is named the Triangolo lariano. (the Larius Triangle)(Larius is the Latin name for the Lago.)

The eastern shore of Lago di Como, stretching from flat marshes in the north to the lake´s right leg, Lago Lecco, overshadowed by the sawlike ridge of Monte Resegone, is often as sunless as November on the southern shore of the Lake of Constance (Bodensee) is.

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This lack of direct sunlight consequently means that the eastern shore is less visited than the western.

There are few places to stay and and these are not easily accessible scattered among and between the quiet villages that line the shore from Como to Bellagio.

The S5340 feels like an old military road, less concerned with tourist infrastructure as it is with the simple linkage of the lakeside communities.

We left Como after a stay of three glorious days and nights, from the Sant´ Agostino quarter, passed the funicular that runs to Brunate, ascending away from the city.

We reached Blevio with its Villa Taglioni, which once belonged to the Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884), the daughter of an Italian choreographer father and a Swedish ballerina mother.

Above: Marie Taglioni

Taglioni was a central figure in the history of European dance and she is credited with being the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe.

Taglioni was married to Comte Auguste Gilbert de Voisins in 1832, but separated in 1836.

She later fell in love with Eugene Desmares, a loyal fan, who had defended her honour in a duel.

He later died in a hunting accident.

When her father Filippo was appointed the ballet master at the court opera in Vienna, there was a decision that Marie would debut her dancing career in the Habsburg capital.

Her father created a rigourous six-month training program where she would hold positions for 100 counts.

Her training was conducted daily and consisted of two hours in the morning with difficult exercises focusing on her legs and two hours in the afternoon focusing on adagio movements that would help her refine poses in ballet.

She focused her energy on her shape and form and less on bravura tricks and pirouettes.

Taglioni would dance in her father´s court opera ballet as well as in Munich and Stuttgart before joining the Paris Opéra, where she would rise to fame.

She would later dance in St. Petersburg, where “the cult of the ballerina” was so strong that a pair of her pointe shoes were sold for 200 rubles, cooked, served with a sauce and eaten by a group of her fans.

She would even perform for Queen Victoria.

Taglioni retired from performing in 1847 after been active since 1824 and began to chereograph and judge other ballet dancers´  performances.

Her only choreographic work was Le Papillon, wherein her student Emma Livry died when her costume was set alight by a gas lamp used for stage lighting.

Taglioni died in Marseille, the day before her 80th birthday.

Her body was moved to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

Above: Montmartre Cemetery with the rue Coulaincourt viaduct passing through it

Local dancers began leaving their worn toe shoes on her grave as a tribute and thanks to the first toe dancer.

In the local Blevio cemetery of the Ferranti chapel lies buried the Italian soprano opera singer Giuditta Pasta (née Negri)(1797 – 1865), the Maria Callas of the 19th century.

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Above: Giuditta Pasta

From 1823 to 1854, Pasta would perform in Milan, Naples, Venice, Paris and London.

Her voice was such that composers, like Stendhal and Bellini, would create roles specifically for her to sing.

Her voice was said to be clear and powerful, encompassing tones that ranged from fine and full-bodied to husky and harsh.

Her voice was said to resonate with a magnetic vibration that exercised an instantaneous and hypnotic effect upon the soul of the spectator, a voice directed towards expressing the most intense passions accompanied by physical movements unknown and unseen before in lyrical theatre.

Her voice is silent now.

There are beautiful Villas near the lakeside square at the boat wharf: Cademartori, Da Riva and Pozzi.

Through the tunnel, the provincial road continues on towards the town of Torno.

Before Torno, there is a cartway branching off to Piazzaga`s famous ancient tombs and Monte Piatto with its Pietra Pendula (pendulum stone) near the small church which honours Mary´s visit to Elisabeth.

Up the mountain above Torno is the church of San Giovanni, characterised by a magnificent Renaissance marble portal and said to preserve a sacred nail from the Cross of Jesus.

Torno – Veduta

Above: The town of Torno, Lombardy, Italy

Near San Giovanni, a path leads to the Villa Pliniana near an awe-inspiring cascade praised by both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as well as Leonardo da Vinci.

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Above: Villa Pliniana

(Please see Canada Slim and the Inappropriate Statues for discussion about the Plinys, uncle and nephew.)

Pliniana rises above the lake, embraced by greenery.

Built in 1500 by Giovanni Anguissola, the Villa Pliniana – named after Pliny the Younger´s whose estate this once was – has hosted writer Ugo Foscolo (1778 – 1827), opera composer Gioschino Rossini (1792 – 1868), poet Giovanni Berchet, writer Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842), the poet Percy Shelley (1792 – 1822), and writer Cristina Belgioioso (1808 – 1871), but the Villa did not welcome us as it remains closed to the hoi polloi such as my wife and I.

Torno is situated in an ideal position above a promontory and stands out as a typical medieval village, which is surprising when one considers the Spanish razed it to the ground in 1522.

Some of the houses are gathered around the church of Santa Tecla and the beautiful little square on the pier by the lake.

Above: The Church of Santa Tecla, Torno, Italy

Remaining suspended high above the shore of the lake, the S5340 passes through the hamlet of Palanza with its, still in working condition, big wooden press from the 1500s.

Heading onwards towards Bellagio, the traveller soon comes to the hamlet of Careno, stone houses clinging to the mountain along steep pathways that can only be accessed on foot.

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Above: Careno

At the top of the town there is the Masera Grotto with a pond and a large hall that displays numerous ammonite fossils.

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Above: The Masera Grotto, Careno, Italy

But it is Nesso that most people want to see, easily the most photographed town on the Lago di Como.

Above: Nesso

Situated at the mouth of the Tuf and Nosse Valleys, streams descend to create a picturesque haven of rocks forming a perfect canyon and cascade of water.

Above: L´Orrido Nesso

Descend the tiny streets and stairways to the lake and stand upon the old bridge that joins the two shores of these streams and view the simple lovely majesty of this cascade.

Above: Nesso

Just beyond the northern entry of the S5340 into Nesso there is a road on the right that climbs above the lake to Vico with its small Romanesque church of Santa Maria filled with precious frescoes, passes through Erno that has been making metal nets for generations, rises to the Colma di Sormano and the space observatory of Brianza, then descends to Valassina and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo where souvenirs of the greatest champions that ever rode a bicycle are preserved on the walls and ceilings.

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But we forego this pleasure and continue upon the cliff clinging road, hellbent to reach Bellagio.

Everything is a blur of trees and cliffs and moments of close calls of we hitting someone/something or the reverse scenario.

Places and placenames are barely registered: Crotto, Pescau, Bagnana, Rozzo, Sossana, Villa and the town of Lezzeno.

Cars have stopped upon the Punta della cappelletta to catch a lovely look upon the lake and Comacina Island.

The road remains panoramic as we see Tremezzina and the Villa Carlotta on the oppposite shore.

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Above: Villa Trotti

And Villas never stop appearing: Villa Trotti, determinedly exotic with neo-Gothic mixed with Moorish design surrounded by Chinese and Japanese plants, the Villa Trivulzio with its grand English garden, and finally the Villa Melzi.

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Above: Villa Trivulzio

Every traveller soon discovers that there are names of famous individuals that are repeatedly stubled upon as they too were travellers.

For us, we constantly seem to run into the ghosts of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and composer Franz Liszt in our travels in Switzerland and Italy.

(For a description of Mary Shelley´s travels, see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, and Canada Slim and the Road into the Open of this blog, as well as Mary Shelley`s Rambles in Germany and Italy.)

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 6 August 1840

“This evening we crossed again to visit…..the opposite bank.

Villa Melzi is a very pleasant country house.

Its marble halls and stuccoed drawing rooms are the picture of Italian comfort – cool, shady and airy. 

The garden has had pains taken with it. 

There are some superb magnolias and other flowering trees, but one longs for English gardening here. 

What would not some friends of mine make of a flower garden in Italy: how it would abound and run over with sweets – no potting and greenhouses to check, no frost to decimate. 

The Italians here know not what flowers and a flower garden are.”

(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

 

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

I am not so certain if Fulco Gallarati Scotti, the present owner of the Villa Melzi d´Eril (to give its full name) would agree or approve of Mary Shelley´s opinion.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril

The Melzi Villa and gardens have belonged to the Scotti family for more than 90 years and I am certain that Fulco is proud that every year tens of thousands of tourists descend upon the d´Eril property.

As early as 1821, Davide Bertolotti (1784 – 1860) in his Viaggio al lago di Como (Journey to Lake Como) praised the sight of the Villa and its wonderful gardens.

In 1831, Cesare Cantu (1804 – 1895) in his Guida al Lago di Como consolidated the Villa´s fame by mentioning how magnificent Melzi was with an annexed “very elegant oratory”, surrounded by “a garden made delightful by its location and its variety of plants and flowers”.

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Above: Cesare Cantu

In 1912, the Villa and the gardens Melzi d´Eril of Bellagio, designed and built between 1808 and 1831, were declared to be an Italian National Monument and thus came to be officially considered as part of the historic and artistic heritage that remains guarded by the State.

The beauty began on a bloody battlefield.

Early 19th century European history is marked by the great Napoleonic campaign between 1796 and 1814, when the Austrians were chased out of northern Italy to be replaced by the French.

Though French occupation was a period less than twenty years long, it was characterised by a rapid succession of military and political events and intense cultural changes, of which Francesco Melzi d´Eril (1753 – 1816) would play a significant role.

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Above: Francesco Melzi d´Eril

Francesco was born in Milan into a family of ancient nobility known since the 14th century.

His father was Count of Magenta; his mother was a Spanish noblewoman.

Francesco completed his education in Milan and also travelled extensively to England, Spain and France widening his cultural experiences.

As a member of Milan´s Consiglio die Sessanta Decuroni, the city´s administrative representatives, Francesco met Napoleon (1769 – 1821) on the battlefield of Lodi in 1796 and presented him with the symbolic keys to the city.

Above: The Battle of Lodi, 10 May 1796

Napoleon appreciated Melzi since this first meeting, considering him a cultivated and balanced man, so he entrusted him with political and diplomatic duties over the newly-created Cisalpina Republic in the turbulent years from 1797 to 1802.

When the first Italian Republic was founded in 1802 with Napoleon as President, Melzi was appointed Vice President, responsible for managing the complex political and administrative organisation of a nation in dire need of reforms in almost all sectors of civil life.

Melzi´s personal dedication was so intense that it took him only three years to successfully create a national army, to balance the books and to reform the educational and judicial systems of the new Italian nation.

Of great relevance was also his contribution to Italian arts and crafts through his support of the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and his commitment to protect and restore the inheritance let behind by the Austrians, including the Royal Palace in Milan and the Royal Villa in Monza.

In spite of his poor health, fatigue for his government duties and his disillusionment caused by Napoleon´s turning to authoritarianism – when Napoleon became self-proclaimed Emperor, he named himself King of Italy in 1805 – Melzi continued to play a role in government though with not as much influence as he had previously.

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: Coronation of Napoleon, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2 December 1804

During the Kingdom of Italy (1805 – 1814), Melzi was appointed Grand Chancellor and Minister of Justice, supporting (and occasionally replacing) Viceroy Eugenio of Beauharnais in governing the royal domains.

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Above: Eugenio de Beauharnais (1781 – 1824)

Though Melzi remained on good and constant terms with Napoleon, Melzi longed for a more intimate and less demanding life.

When Melzi would visit the Villa Loppia of his friend Paolo Taverna, Melzi regarded Bellagio as a place desireable for both physical and spiritual recovery, owing to its peacefulness, climate, landscape beauty, the spontaneity of its people and their unaffected way of life.

Though he was of high aristocratic rank, Melzi was not rich, so it wasn´t until December 1807 that his wish for his own Villa was realised when Napoleon named him the Duke of Lodi and granted him a large annual income as an award for “his accomplishments in the field of public administration” and in memory of their encounter in Lodi ten years before.

The 20 December 1807 decree reads:

“Melzi was the first Italian to bring us on the battlefield of Lodi the keys and the confidence” of the city of Milan.

Work began on the Villa Melzi.

Bellagio has attracted people since ancient times for its location for military and commercial purposes and its attractiveness for leisure.

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Above: Bellagio, Lombardy, Italy

According to tradition, Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD) testified to the region´s attractiveness when he wrote his friend Voconius Romanus in 104 AD, explaining why he was setting his Villa Tragedia here.

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Above: Statue of Pliny the Younger, Santa Maria Maggiore Duomo, Como

Located at the tip of the peninsula that separates the two branches of the Lago di Como, Bellagio enjoys a privilieged fame as compared to the many admirable places elsewhere along the lake, for it possesses a unique multifaceted landscape of everchanging light nuances and a kaleidoscope of perspectives and sights,

Such qualities were written about by Sigismondo Boldoni in his work Larius (1606), when the Spanish dominated Bellagio.

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Above: Sigismondo Boldoni

This trend never reversed.

On the contrary, it increased in the 18th century after the Spanish left Lombardy to be replaced by the Austrians, who would build many residences in Bellagio and wherever they could on the shores of Lago di Como to spend their holidays.

As remarked by Carlo Amoretti in his Viaggio da Milano ai tre laghi Maggiore, di Lugano e di Como (1824), they shaped a delightful surrounding, enjoyed shelter from hot summers to their Villas that were accessible not only by boat but as well by the Valsassina road of ancient Roman origin.

Above: Carlo Amoretti (1741 – 1816)

By the advent of Melzi, Bellagio was the most populated town of the lake, surpassed only by Como and Lecco.

According to the anonymous manuscript Cronachette della villaggiatura (Holiday Chronicles), Melzi considered Bellagio as a “buen retiro”, a place of relaxation, far from political duties, where the mind and body could recover.

Sadly, the Duke of Lodi enjoyed his wonderful retreat for only a short time.

In the last three years of his life, Melzi stayed in his Villa 27 days in 1813, two months in 1814 and another two months in 1815.

Despite these short periods of time, the Villa began to acquire fame as a distinguished house of hospitality.

Among Melzi´s guests were the Viceroy of Italy and his wife Augusta Amalia of Baveria, and the painter Giuseppi Bossi.

Above: Self Portrait, Giuseppe Bossi (1777 – 1815)

The typical day of the Duke began at 9 am when he attended church services officiated by his personal chaplain, followed by breakfast and then work began on his various charitable activities for local people in need.

According to the Holiday Chronicles, Melzi showed great concern both for the single destinies of the individuals he met as well as the general progress of the community.

In spite of his poor health – the Duke suffered from gout – Melzi liked to spend his time walking slowly and meditating in his garden, cheered by the luxuriant vegetation and the magnificent lake landscape that could be admired from his property.

Tiny and slender, Melzi nevertheless inspired respect.

He used to wear simple country clothes but in a refined way: long trousers with a large, well-shaped white hat and a thin cane stick to support him during his walks.

Melzi used to have lunch at 3 pm, eating with other guests in enjoyment of conversation in the absence of servants.

At 10 pm he would retire for the night.

The unknown author of the Holiday Chronicles writes in dismay that Duke Francesco left Bellagio and moved to Milan in October 1815 never to return.

Melzi died on 16 January 1816.

His mortal remains were brought back to the Villa two years after his death to be buried in the Oratory.

The estate has remained in the hands of the Melzi family, though the owner surname would change through the course of time.

The Villa passed on to Francesco´s nephew Giovanni (1788 – 1832).

Stendhal visited Villa Melzi in July 1817, where he enjoyed the gardens and the scenery and gazed upon the bust of Francesco in the oratory, as we can read in Stendhal´s travel journal Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817.

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Above: Stendhal

In 1825, the Villa Melzi received a visit by the Austrian Emperor Francis II.

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Above: Francis II (1768 – 1835)

The third Duke, Ludovico (1820 – 1886) entertained Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife Maria Anna of Savoy in 1838.

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Above: Ferdinand I of Austria (1793 – 1875)

Thanks to the diffusion of travel literature, the Villa came to be popular not only among a narrow circle of the Duke´s friends, but among a larger number of people as a result of the article “Le lac de Come”, published in 1838 in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, wherein we learn that musician Franz Liszt stayed in Bellagio with his lover Marie d´Agoult in the autumn of 1837.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

The lovers used to go “to the gardens of Villa Melzi to relax beneath the plane trees in the hottest hours of the day” to read Dante´s Divina Commedia before the garden Monument dedicated to Dante and his beloved Beatrice, which inspired Franz to write his subsequent famous Dante Sonatas.

head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Above: Dante degli Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

Franz and Marie were not among the guests of the family Melzi, but, like other travellers then and now, they could enjoy the gardens which, even then though private property, were almost always open to visitors.

By 1856, strangers were allowed to visit the Melzi gardens with money collected by the gardener.

Among the guests who visited the Villa before the world was engulfed in the wars of the 20th century were Russian Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna (1847 – 1928), Princess Marie von Radzwill, King Albert of Saxony (1828 – 1902) and his consort Carola of Sweden in May 1885.

We are told of their enthusiastic admiration for the beauty of the place, their pleasant walks among the plane tree path, the wonderful flower arrangements offered by the Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

In October 1890 the Villa received King Umberto I of Italy and his entourage, who, though only staying one day, were said to deeply admire the place and declared it one of the most “beautiful of the Como basin”.

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Above: Umberto I of Italy (1844 – 1902)

By the start of the first decade of the 20th century, access to the gardens by visitors was regulated by entrance tickets.

In 1923, on the death of Duchess Josephine, Villa Melzi passed on to her daughter from a previous marriage, Luisa (1854 – 1937), who had in 1878 married the Prince of Molfetta, Giancarlo Scotti (1854 – 1927).

Their firstborn son, Tommaso (1878 – 1966), an intellectual, writer and Ambassador to Madrid and London, inherited the Villa from his mother.

Anti-Facist from the beginning, Tommaso had to seek refuge in Switzerland in 1943.

Soon after the Scotti family was officially expelled from Italy and their property was requisitioned by the Italian Social Republic, headed by Mussolini, to house the Aviation Ministry and the diplomatic seats of the countries that had acknowledged the new Fascist state.

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Above: Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence for more about Mussolini.)

At the conclusion of the Second World War, Villa Melzi was restored back into the hands of the Scotti family.

Wandering about the gardens of Tommaso´s grandson, we explored the grounds of the Villa Melzi.

Learning of the property´s history I felt like a pauper who had stumbled into a prince´s gardens.

My wife and I, despite my wife´s profession, can, at best, be described as “middle class”.

My own origins are far humbler than my wife´s and can be quite generously described as “lower class” by Canadian standards.

Yet here we were wandering in gardens that had seen writers and musicians, kings and queens, admiring the same types of flora and the same majestic views of the lake that they had enjoyed.

Here there be stone plaques, grotesque masks and mythological statues.

Within these gardens stands an oddity called the Infamous Column, a memorial stone built in 1364 for the sole purpose of disgracing the memory of the Venetian nobleman Bajamonte Tiepolo who had conspired against the Venetian Republic ruled by Doge Pietro Gradenigo.

The Infamous Column originally stood upon the ruins of the Tiepolo house – destroyed by the Gradenigo government – then it was relocated near the Sant´Agostino Church to make it more visible as a warning to the citizens of Venice to remain loyal to their city.

The Column´s epigraph – now eroded owing to the passage of time – accuses Tiepolo of “wicked treason” to the Republic:

“This land belonged to Bajamonte Tiepolo and it is now public as a consequence of his wicked treason and may be shown forever as a warning to everyone.”

The disgracing monument remained in Venice until 1785.

Here in the garden, one sees the small pink and grey granite statue of Rahotep, a high dignitary during the reign of Pharoah Ramses II, as well as a statue of the Egyptian goddess Pakhet with her lion´s head upon a woman´s body.

Overlooking the lake is the Moorish Pavilion with sculptures dedicated to Ferdinand I and his consort Maria Anna and Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

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Outside the Pavilion stands the Monument to Dante and Beatrice, showing Beatrice consoling Dante after it was prophised that he would be exiled but her promising him that there is a superior divine justice that will sustain him.

Bildergebnis für monument to dante and beatrice

Visited by Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, the Monument´s inscription was translated into English and reads:

 

“And the lady who to God was leading me said:

“Change thy thought.

Consider that I am near unto Him who every wrong disburdens.”

Unto the loving accents of my comfort I turned me around.”

Here on the grounds of Villa Melzi,  Apollo looks at the sun while Meleagro kills a wild boar.

Sea monsters rise from the water lily fountain and lion-sphinxes guard the Villa staircase.

Wander through the grotto, stroll by the leisure gondola and beyond the stone bridge jetty and view the bronze bell that hangs by the western wall.

Here there be Japanese cedars casting shade upon a Japanese pond and Canadian giant thuja – wood once used to make totems and canoes.

Here there be imposing Florida bald cypress trees, the thick wood of Japanese camillias and maples, holm oaks and mighty California redwoods, Oriental spruce and gingko maidenhair, dwarf palms and Italian cypress, holly olive and cleyera shrubs, cinnamon camphora and Mexican pine, Mediterranean heath and Montezuma pine, azaleas beneath plane trees, red beech and elm trees, bamboo fodder for pandas and black Chinese conifers, Himalyan and Lebanese cedar, the giant dogwood and the North American cedar, cork oak and crape myrtles, cork oak and fragrant olive, Chilean wine palm and Scots pine, weeping beech and strawberry fields, common box and Austrian pine, southern magnolia and Rhododendron, mimosa and tulip.

No, Mary Shelley, the Italians here do know what flowers and a flower garden are.

Lunch time delayed, the wife realises that the husband needs to be fed before maritial strife emerges.

We cast ourselves out of this Garden of Eden, these gardens of Melzi, simply two more anonymous names in a yet-to-be-written Holiday Chronicles.

We must dance and sing while we can.

Winter is coming….