Canada Slim and the Lakeside Pilgrimage

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 April 2018

For quite some time in this, what has become my travel blog, I have written about my adventures and discoveries retracing the paths and the life story of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwengli (between accounts of travels in London, Italy and Serbia).

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

Using Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhuas nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch as a guide to what routes I should follow to retrace Zwengli´s steps, I have, of this date of writing already completed the itinerary they suggest.

I have already written about my walks from Wildhaus (where Zwingli was born) to Strichboden, Arvenbüel, Weesen (where he went to school), Glarus (his first posting as a priest), Einsiedeln (his second post) to Wadenswil on the Lake of Zürich.

(See Canada Slim and…. the Privileged Place, the Monks of the Dark Forest, the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul, the Thundering Hollows, the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I also included descriptions of former visits to Basel and Vienna (where Zwingli did his University studies).

(See Canada Slim and….the Vienna Waltz and the Basel Butterfly Effect of this blog.)

What remains to be told, and I hope you will enjoy the telling of the walks that follow as much as I enjoyed the walks, are the accounts of my walk along the shores of the Zürichsee from Wädenswil to Zürich (where Zwingli did his third and final posting as a priest and church reformer) and from Zürich to Kappel am Albis (where Zwingli was killed in battle).

I will also include, in a future post, a visit to Geneva, home to the International Red Cross Museum and the International Museum of the Reformation, both crucial to an understanding of the life and times of Zwingli and the effects he, and those who followed his example, had on both Switzerland and the world.

To those gentle readers new to my blog seeking to understand both why I did these walks and why I feel it important to write about these walks and the life of Zwingli….

I walk because I believe that walking remains the superior way to discover a place.

I write about where I travel, including not just what is but also what was, to extend (I hope) the horizons of my readers and cause them to appreciate what a rich, diverse and wonderful world we share and the hard lessons learnt and still being learnt that have led and continue to lead us towards a better tomorrow.

Lofty goals for a humble blogger, eh?

 

Wädenswil to Kilchberg, 27 November 2017

The basin in which Lake Zürich is found was formed 12,000 years ago by the Linth glacier.

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(It was a Tuesday.)

The rugged Romans, the adventurous Alemanni and the hearty Hapsburgs all valued this picturesque, fruitful legacy of ice equally and fought to keep the independently minded Swiss from rightfully claiming it as their own.

Today it is one of the world´s most privileged, coveted and envied residential areas.

There is a walking path system that encircles the Lake.

The 124-kilometre Lake Zürich Trail (Zürichsee Rundweg / Swiss Trail 84) is divided into 10 sections, but only on Section 3 (Horgen – Richterswil) does the Trail leave glimpsing the Lake from above and afar and actually skirt the lakeshore itself.

It is certainly possible that Zwingli may have followed the shoreline himself as he made his way from Einsiedeln to Zürich, but there is little to remind the wanderer of the Reformation until the City of Zürich itself.

That being said, there is much of interest to see and do for the informed visitor, for though the Steiners´ 20-kilometre itinerary from Wädenswil to Zürich is not intensely Zwingli/Reformation-connected, the region offers plenty of enjoyment and surprising contrasts.

After three train rides from Landschlacht (via Romanshorn and Zürich), I began to walk from Wädenswil harbour beside the SBB Station heading north to Zürich.

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Wädenswil is the kind of place that doesn´t immediately spring to mind when one thinks “excitement“.

Rather the harbour inspired within the jukebox of my mind the song “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay“.

But a little research picked up some interesting tidbits about the town´s tumultuous past.

 

The new Wädenswil chateau, once the seat of the powerful Wädenswil Council, was razed by the French on 24 March 1804 as part of the Bockenkrieg (Bocken War), a farmer/peasant revolt against the French occupation of the Swiss Confederation (1803 – 1815).

The ruins of the old Wädenswil Castle give scant reminder of the powerful Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem who once resided here.

The house Abendstern (evening star) is the main setting of Der Gehülfe (The Assistant) of Swiss writer Robert Walser.

(For more on Robert Walser, please see Canada Slim and the Last Walk of Robert Walser of this blog.)

(An excellent book though I have yet to find it in a English translation.)

 

Hoffnungsweg 7 (Hope Way) was the birthplace of Swiss poet Karl Stamm (1890 – 1919).

Above:  Karl Stamm (2nd from left), on his right, the future painter Eduard Gubler

The 7th of nine children, Karl lost both his favourite brother and his mother during his childhood.

These deaths marked his psychology and his later creative work.

After attending a teachers´ seminary in Küsnacht, Karl taught primary school in the village of Lipperschwandi (1910 – 1914) and Zürich (1914, 1919).

During the First World War, Karl served on active duty on the Swiss border against possible German or Austrian invasion.

He, like millions worldwide, died of influenza (the Spanish flu), in Zürich in 1919.

(For more on the 1919 influenza pandemic, please see Downtime: Pandemic of my other blog Building Everest.)

The poetry he produced in his short lifetime was powerful and patriotic.

Sadly he is mostly forgotten by the Swiss he so passionately defended in lyrics and is an unknown to the world beyond the Swiss borders he so fervently guarded with his life.

 

I continue to hug the shoreline of Lake Zürich.

It is a very pleasant springlike day as I embrace the beauty of the Lake close and personable.

Being midweek I meet few people along the pathways and the ducks bobbing about seem relaxed and undisturbed by the lone hiker strolling by.

I skirt old factories and new developments that seem relentlessly determined to connect themselves to the urban sprawl that is Zürich, the New York City of Switzerland.

Happily the Zürich building craze has yet to reach the Au Peninsula, five kilometres “up” the Lake from Wädenswil.

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On the west side of the Peninsula is a chateau with a romantic park along the Lake.

Further back there are vineyards, beech woods and a pond of undisturbed reeds.

Au was one of numerous sites of prehistoric pile dwellings found around the Zürichsee.

The half-square kilometre large Peninsula is first mentioned in 1316 and was once owned by the Knights Hospitalier.

It was sold by the Knights in 1550 and was later acquired by the Swiss military officer Hans Rudolf Wertmüller (1614 – 1677) who a century later built the villa-style Au Chateau as a country home.

Above: Hans Rudolf Wertmüller (1614 – 1677)

The German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803) spent eight months in this region in 1750 and would nine years later immortalize Au in his “Ode to the Lake of Zürich“.

Above: Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803)

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898), Swiss poet and historical novelist, would revive the memory of both Au and Wertmüller in his novel Der Schuß von der Kanzel (The Shot from the Pulpit) in 1878.

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Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

(More about Meyer later….)

 

Au would again receive frequent praise from another famous resident, the German social worker/Communist/writer Luise “Mentona” Moser (1874 – 1971).

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Above: Mentona Moser (1874 – 1971)

Mentona was born in Badenwiler to the Baroness Fanny Louise von Sulzer-Wart of Winterthur and Swiss watchmaker/industrialist Heinrich Moser of Schaffhausen.

When Fanny and Heinrich married in 1870, the union created scandal as she was 23 and he was 65, despite both of them being from the upper echelons of society.

Heinrich had five children by his first wife who died 20 years before he married Fanny.

The children of Heinrich´s first wife did not accept Fanny, and when Heinrich died four days after Mentona was born, Fanny was accused of killing him, as his death made her one of the wealthiest women in Europe.

Though two autopsies showed no foul play in Heinrich´s death, suspicion continued.

Fanny had a mental breakdown and was one of the five women included in Sigmund Freud´s Studies on Hysteria, which launched his career.

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Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

In 1887, Fanny bought Au Chateau and entertained lavishly, putting the care of her children in the hands of a nursemaid.

The relationship between Fanny and Mentona was strained as Mentona felt that her mother preferred her older sister also named Fanny.

Mentona lived in an imaginary world in which her father became the object of near hero worship.

As was typical for people in her class, Mentona was taught both English and French by governesses.

During 1888 and 1889, Mentona, with her family, travelled to various spa towns across Europe and wintered on the Adriatic coast, while the Chateau was being renovated and her mother was being treated by Freud.

Mentona found the frivolous lifestyle tedious and became convinced that her mother´s problems were caused by her lack of social service.

She studied zoology in Zürich and Wimbledon.

While in England she was struck by the conditions of the poor of Southwark and became involved with social work.

She spent time in workhouses and later worked in a cottage hospital as a nurse, but found the work overtaxing.

In 1903, Mentona decided to return to Switzerland.

That same year, Mentona´s sister Fanny married Jaroslav Hoppe.

Feeling her presence at Au was barely tolerated, Mentona moved into a student apartment in Zürich and began giving lectures on public welfare.

She began publishing such works as Contributions to the Charity and Social Assistance in their Practical Application.

She founded an association for the blind and the first social welface office to assist patients with tuberculosis.

By 1904, Mentona had moved into an apartment with Dr. Clara Willdenow and her friend Pauline Bindschedler at Kreuzstrasse 44.

Mentona and Clara became lovers.

Mentona submitted plans to the city council for labour settlements in Zürich.

In 1907, she developed plans for a School for Social Work.

She also developed playgrounds, working with Zürich´s construction manager, Dr. Hermann Balsiger.

Mentona joined the Socialist Party and travelled to party meetings in other countries to study worker cooperatives.

At a party meeting in Davos, Mentona began developing a relationship with Hermann, which eventually led to her breakup with Clara.

In January 1909, Mentona and Hermann married and had their first child, a daughter named Amrey, on Christmas Eve that year.

Two years later, she gave birth to their son Edouard.

Though initially enamored of her grandchildren, Mentona´s mother quickly lost interest.

As part of Fanny´s estate was lost in a relationship with a much younger man and convinced she was now a pauper, Fanny cut off all financial support to her daughter.

The austerity of World War I and the need to take Edouard for spinal treatments in various spas began to distance Mentona and Hermann from one another.

Hermann became a judge while Mentona moved farther left towards Communism.

They divorced in 1917.

To earn income, Mentona took a job at Pro Juventute, managing maternal and infant care for the next five years.

In 1921 she co-founded the Communist Party of Switzerland and began speaking and writing about Communist activities.

She became an advocate for women´s suffrage and opened a clinic for contraception in Zürich.

Concerned by increasing conflict with fellow Swiss Communists and her political radicalism putting her Pro Juventute position at risk, Mentona left Zürich for Berlin in 1924.

She is buried in Berlin and is recognized today as one of the founders of social work in Switzerland.

Her homeland and her years in Au were fondly recalled in her autobiography, Ich habe gelebt (I have lived).

 

At the foot of the Peninsula, in a converted barn on the perimeter of a vineyard cultivated by the Zürich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), is the Weinbaumuseum am Zürichsee.

This winemaking museum contains a valuable collection of all the varied items needed for wine production.

A showpiece of the collection is a 13-meter long / 120-year old wine press.

Bildergebnis für weinbaumuseum am zürichsee

I wander about the Peninsula wondering if I will meet Adolf Hitler.

For somewhere on the half-island, German actor Bruno Ganz (b. 1941) has his summer home here (as well as residences in Venice and Berlin).

Bruno, who has acted in both English and German languages, has achieved fame through his roles in Wings of Desire, The Boys from Brazil, Ripley´s Game, Faust, The Reader and Downfall (as the Führer).

Bruno´s Hitlerian rants have swept the Internet as memes.

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Bruno remained invisible and distant to me during my Au visit and I lacked the courage to ask the locals where his retreat could be found.

Besides, the point of a retreat is to be away from others.

I stroll away from Au and later have lunch at the Restaurant Imperial just south of the town of Horgen.

 

Horgen (population: 20,000) is one of the largest towns on the shores of Lake Zürich and is memorable for a number of reasons for both the tourist and the amateur historian.

The Bergbaumuseum (coal mining museum), in the former coal storage depot, informs visitors about the centuries old history of coal mining in Horgen-Käpfnach.

Films, panels and numerous exhibits give the visitor an understanding of the formation and mining of coal.

A ride on the old railway into the depths of the mine is an adventure for adults and children alike.

Following Horgen´s 1000-year jubilee in 1952, great efforts were made to create a town museum.

In 1957 a museum was set up in the Sust (harbour warehouse).

The Wohn- und Porzellanmuseum (home and porcelain museum) has on display more than 120 sculptured statuettes and more than 300 examples of Zürich porcelain from the 18th century.

There are also paintings and miniatures from the 15th to the 19th centuries as well as graphics, drawings and landscapes from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

The remaining rooms in the house display furniture from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

The Protestant Reformed Church, built from 1780 to 1782 by Johann Jakob Haltiner, has an unusual oval nave (main axis) and is the major landmark of the town as the church´s elegant tower is 70.5 meters high and can be seen far and wide.

Horgen has a history of celebrities.

Adele Duttweiler (1892 – 1990), the wife of, the Swiss supermarket chain Migros and the Alliance of Independents (LdU) political party founder, Gottlieb Duttweiler, was born in Horgen.

Adele Duttweiler in der 'Klubschule' - Strohhaus-Ausstellung 'Park im Grüene' 2015-06-17 17-51-08.JPG

Above: Adele Duttweiler (1892 – 1990)

As was Ernst Sieber (b. 1927), pastor and founder of Sozialwerke Pfauer Sieber, an organization for disadvantaged people to help alleviate the hardships around addiction, disease, violence and homelessness.

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Above: Ernst Sieber

Luigi Taveri (1929 – 2018), three-time Grand Prix motorcycle racing world Champion, was also born in Horgen.

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Above: Luigi Taveri (1929 – 2018)

Steve Lee, lead singer of the Swiss hard rock band Gotthard, was also born here in 1963.

He died in 2010 on Interstate 15 ten miles south of Mesquite, Nevada, when a semi struck a parked motorcycle that slammed into Lee.

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Above: Steve Lee (1963 – 2010)

Swiss by birth in Horgen, the son of Dutch parents and longtime Swedish resident, Hoyte van Hoytema (b. 1971) is famous for directing the films Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk, the James Bond film Spectre and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

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Above: Hoyte van Hoytema (far right)

It surprised me that both the Steiners´ itinerary and the Lake Zürich Trail abandon the shoreline and head upwards towards the hills that range the Sihl River.

But the shoreside walk from Horgen to Zürich quickly proved the wisdom of this breakaway decision, for much of the Lake beyond Horgen is obscured by residential and industrial real estate, and the hiker becomes a pedestrian tramping beside busy streets and racous railways.

Despite the headache-inducing traffic noises and concrete under my feet, I persevere.

I walk through unremarkable Oberrieden….

Above: Oberrieden

And come to the birthplace of a man I am not sure I like:

 

Urs Ernest Schwarzenbach, a UK-based Swiss financier whose estimated net worth at 1.0 million pounds.

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The son of a print shop owner, Urs was born in Thalwil in 1948 and raised in Küsnacht.

Above: Thalwil

Schwarzenbach set up Interexchange, the largest foreign exchange dealership in Switzerland.

Through its success, he has bought:

  • Well over 300 million pounds of property in the UK: Culham Court and Fawley Court near Henley-on-Thames, a 10,000-acre sporting estate in Scotland and the largest country estate on the Isle of Wight
  • 123,000 acres (500 square km) of farmland in New South Wales, Australia
  • Part of the Layadi Palace in Marrakech, Morocco
  • 17 million pounds of assets in the aviation field
  • The five-star Grand Hotel Dolder in Zürich, which cost him CHF 440 million

Above: The Grand Hotel Dolder

 

But can he be trusted?

 

In 2013/14 Schwarzenbach was investigated by the Federal Customs Administration (FCA) for alleged VAT (value-added tax) fraud totalling CHF 10 million and art trafficking.

Under Swiss law, owners of artworks do not have to pay import charges until works of art are formally brought into the country, i.e. they come out of storage and are officially transferred.

On Tuesday 16 April 2013, Schwarzenbach´s Hotel Dolder and nearby Galerie Gmurzynska were raided by Swiss customs officials, on the suspicion that artworks (valuing CHF 75 million) were imported without paying duty.

Zurich

The Swiss authorities seized a large number of documents during their raid.

In October 2016 the Swiss Customs Directorate finalised the case that Schwarzenbach had exported artefacts (value: CHF 130 million) and smuggled them back into Switzerland.

Schwarzenbach eventually admitted the charge but still objects to paying a fine of CHF 4 million.

Urs now lives at Culham Court and sponsored the rowing gallery of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, which is named after him.

His wife, Francesca Schwarzenbach-Mulhall is a former Miss Australia from Sydney.

They have two children and four grandchildren.

Their daughter is married and lives in St. Moritz and London.

 

There is something unsettling about that kind of wealth.

 

Zwingli´s God has been replaced by Money….

 

If Thalwil is the Temple of Money then, up the Lake towards Zürich, Rüschlikon is the Temple of Science.

Above: Rüschlikon

For it is in Rüschlikon that IBM has had its European research laboratory since 1956.

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IBM Research Zürich lab is staffed by a multicultural and interdisciplinary team of a few hundred permanent research staff members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, representing about 45 nationalities.

The Zürich lab is world-renowned for its scientific achievements:

  • Nobel Prizes in Physics (1986, 1987)
  • A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.
  • The invention of the scanning tunneling microscope
  • The discovery of high-temperature superconductivity
  • Trellis Modulation, which revolutionized data transmission over telephone lines
  • Token Ring, a standard for local area networks (LANs)
  • The Secure Electronic Transaction (SET), used for highly secure payments
  • The Java Card Open Platform (JCOP), a smart card operating system
  • SuperMUC, a super computer that is cooled using hot water
  • DOME, a super computer that is developing an IT Roadmap for the Square Kilometer Array

The lab focuses on future chip technologies: nanotechnology, fibre optics,supercomputing, data storage, security and privacy, risk and compliance, business optimization and transformation, server systems…

The lab is involved in many joint projects with universities throughout Europe, in research programs established by the European Union and the Swiss government and in cooperation agreements with research institutes of industrial partners.

Research projects are organized into three scientific and technical departments:

  • Science & Technology
  • Cloud and Computing Infrastructure
  • Cognitive Computing and Industry Solutions

 

The God of Zwingli has been replaced by Science….

 

And what lies onwards up the Lake?

The traveller, ever Zürich-bound, comes across Kilchberg….

(To be continued….)

Sources:  Wikipedia / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege

 

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Canada Slim and the Land of Long Life

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 15 April 2018

So much has gone on and is going on in my life that it is difficult for my writing to keep up the pace.

New events and new ideas crop up before I have completed writing about already started descriptions of older material.

I am much like a man walking down the street with an old girlfriend, finding himself attracted to a new girl that has suddenly crossed their path.

 

Followers of this blog may have noticed two phenomena happening:

First, I have devoted much time to my other blog Building Everest to the neglect of this one since the start of 2018.

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Second, this all-purpose, general-opinion blog has evolved into becoming a travel blog whose themes have followed the sequence of writing about Italy, London and Switzerland.

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Today I add to the sequence, inserted in alphabetical order, Serbia, where I recently spent an interesting week (4 – 9 April 2018) as a guest of my Starbucks co-worker Nesha of Belgrade.

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Six days and five nights isn´t much time to see a city, let alone an entire country.

To further complicate my explorations I was in Serbia during Orthodox Easter Week, meaning that normal visiting days Friday and Sunday found many attractions closed for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Nonetheless I spent four days and three nights in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and two days and one evening in the southen city of Nis in a most delightful and entertaining fashion.

What I discovered about Nesha´s amazing homeland has planted within me a desire to return to Serbia and a motivation to share with others the magic I discovered in the hopes that they can share this pleasure with me.

Landschlacht, Switzerland to Belgrade, Serbia, 4 April 2018

Since moving to Landschlacht eight years ago mostly every single solo journey I have taken has started at the Landschlacht Train Station, though “Train Station” might be too generous a description for the single track, small glass shelter, stop-only-on-request, train halt labelled “Landschlacht“.

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Ideally I would have preferred to walk to Serbia, but neither time nor finances permitted such a project.

I also would have preferred taking a train or bus between Switzerland and Serbia.

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But the aforementioned time issue plus the economical advantage of flying on a budget airline as compared to the costs of international train or bus travel found me this day following an itinerary of a train ride to Appenzell Ausserrhoden´s cantonal capital Herisau, riding with Nesha by car through Austria to the Munich West airport of Memmingen (Germany) and flying with Wizz Air (an English-owned, Hungarian registered budget airline) to Belgrade.

The day began as all days on the cusp of a great adventure should begin: with spring sunshine and clear views of the distant Alps.

The Thurbo (the SBB´s Thurgau branch) journey to Herisau was neither pleasant nor unpleasant in its unremarkableness.

Caramel macchiato at the Herisau café Panetarium was quickly consumed as Nesha arrived at the station as punctually as he had promised.

We drove from Herisau to the town of Rheineck where Nesha filled the car with fuel and bought a windshield sticker needed to travel Austrian roads.

Flag of Austria

Above: Flag of Austria

Bought but for some unfathomable reason not affixed to the windshield as it should have been we drove through a tiny section of Austria before following an Autobahn through the Allgäu Region to Memmingen Airport.

 

On the drive to the airport Nesha takes his role as my self-appointed guide to his homeland seriously.

He speaks of the past, desperate to salvage Serbia´s reputation from the bad press the media has given his country since the breakup of former Yugoslavia.

Above: Map of Yugoslavia (1946 – 1990)

Nesha wants me to see his homeland as more than just conflict and turmoil.

He reminds me of world-famous music festivals and top-class athletes, of rich cuisine and unusual landscapes, of friendly people and stunning scenery, of numerous nightclubs and a multitude of monasteries.

Nesha is proud and passionate about his country of ancient sites and architectural riches.

He is as independent as his fellow Serbians, who are proud to have survived and thrived as a landlocked country positioned at the crossroads of central and southeastern Europe, a major link between East and West, between capitalism and communism, between Christianity and Islam.

Flag of Serbia

Above: The flag of Serbia

Serbia has always had to fight for its survival and they have seen the rise and fall of empires around them: Rome, the Ottoman Turks, the Hapsburg Empire, the Third Reich and the Soviets.

Serbia was the dominant power in the former Yugoslavia and under Tito´s rule Yugoslavia steered an independent course, separate from both Western capitalism and Soviet communism.

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Above: Josip Broz Tito (1892 – 1980)

After Tito´s death in 1980 the multinational state disintegrated amid bitter conflict.

The last of these conflicts – the war over the secession of Kosovo – saw Serbia bombed by NATO forces for two and a half months.

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Above: The flag of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

This devastation, combined with international isolation, caused the Serbs to rise up against their leaders in the 5 October 2000 Bulldozer Revolution – a campaign of civil resistance that brought about democratic government in Serbia.

Above: Newspaper headlines of 6 October 2000

 

Nesha is proud of his surname Obrenovic, for his is a heritage of proud royal resistance.

The Obrenovic dynasty (1815 – 1903) ruled over Serbia first as princes and later kings.

They came to power through Milos Obrenovic (1780 – 1860) in the Second Serbian Uprising (1815 – 1817) against the ruling Ottoman Empire.

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Above: Prince Milos Obrenovic (1780 – 1860)

This Uprising would lead to the formation of the Principality of Serbia (1815 – 1882) and later the Kingdom of Serbia (1882 – 1918).

The Obrenovics were traditionally allied with the Austro-Hungarian Empire versus the Russian-supported Karadordevic dynasty (1804 – 1813 / 1842 – 1858 / 1903 – 1945) which would supplant and eliminate them.

The Obrenovic dynasty ended in the May Coup (10 – 11 June 1903) when the military faction known as the Black Hand stormed the Royal Palace and murdered King Alexander I (1876 – 1903) who died without an heir.

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Above: King Alexander I of Serbia (1876 – 1903)

The National Assembly of Serbia chose Petar Karadordevic (1844 – 1921) as Alexander´s successor.

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Above: King Peter I of Serbia (1844 – 1921)

Of the five Obrenovics (four, officially) who ruled Serbia, Nesha most admires Mihailo Obrenovic (1823 – 1868) who is considered to be the most enlightened ruler of modern Serbia (1839 – 1842 / 1860 – 1868) and one of the first advocates of a Balkan federation to combat the Ottoman Empire.

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Above: Prince Mihailo Obrenovic (1823 – 1868)

The ironic coincidence of Mihailo (44) dying on 10 June 1868, Alexander (26) dying on 10 June 1903 and Nesha turning 45 on 10 June 2018 is not lost on my Serbian host.

When speaking about Serbian history and heritage Nesha sighs and tells me that the only permanence Serbia has ever had is beauty.

Above: Tara National Park, western Serbia

His surname and love of country made Nesha the ideal person to lecture me on the history of Serbia throughout the drive to Allgäu Airport and to reassure me on that which worried me about our journey.

 

Listen to me, Adami!

(Adami is his term of affection for me)

Don´t worry so much!

Anything is possible in Serbia!”

 

Memmingen/Allgäu Airport (identified as FMM on my luggage tags) is an international airport outside the village of Memmingerberg near the town of Memmingen in the Swabia region of the German State of Bavaria.

Above: Memmingen/Allgäu Airport

It is the smallest of the three commercial airports in Bavaria and has the highest altitude (633 metres / 2,077 feet) of any commercial airport in Germany.

Allgäu Airport, a former USAF training base, is located 3.8 km / 2.4 miles from the centre of Memmingen and 110 km / 68 miles from the city centre of Munich (München).

(Which begs the question how this airport so distant from Munich is also known as München West.)

It has been in operation for civilian air traffic since 2008.

We travelled to this airport rather than using the international airport in Zürich because it is a hub for low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air.

It mostly features flights to European leisure and metropolitan destinations and handled over one million passengers in 2017.

 

Due to our booking our flights to and from Belgrade at different times Nesha and I don´t fly together and happily my seat over the wing of the planes gives me isolation from dealing with strangers at my elbow.

I follow a Gothic-clad teenager with luggage labelled “Irina” and sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Weird/Common” from the terminal to the plane.

I am disturbed only once by a lady passenger who, in trying to win a debate with her partner over whether Americans can pronounce her surname correctly, asks me how I would say “Cirovic´“.

(Somehow she fails to see me sporting a bright red Roots sweater with the word “Canada” splashed across my chest in brilliant white lettering.)

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

Apparently Canadians are no different than Americans in this regard.

I failed miserably in echoing the correct Serbian pronunciation.

 

Belgrade´s Nikola Tesla Airport (Aerodom Nikola Tesla) (BEG on my luggage tags) serves over 5 million passengers per year and 36 airlines at two terminals.

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Located near the town of Surcin (15 km / 9 miles from Belgrade city centre), Nicola Tesla is the 5th airport to serve Belgrade since air travel began.

At both Memmingen Allgäu Airport and Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport customs and luggage handling are painless.

With rare exception I find most airports to be unremarkably similar.

An airport is an airport is an airport.

We are happy that departure from one and arrival at the other passed quickly.

 

We are met by Nesha´s mother Jagoda (“strawberry” in Serbian) who is clearly a woman with very set ideas and opinions.

Strawberry BNC.jpg

In discussing where to have lunch (normally at 3 pm in Serbia) my glutenfree diet gets mentioned.

In broken English, Jagoda informs me that all Americans have gluten allergies, including her American son-in-law Mitch.

She drives us to Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) across the Suva River from the Serbian capital.

I am given a tour of Nesha´s childhood home.

 

Listen to me, Adami.

Here is where I slept as a child.

Here are pictures of my family.

This is my sister (She is a lawyer.) and her husband Mitch in San Diego.

Here is where Papa died last year.

God rest his soul.

 

We drink glasses of sljivovica, a rakija plum brandy, and toast one another with Ziveli! (Cheers! / Long life!) and declare life to be dobar dobar (good good).

Nothing of any real importance in Serbia is done without rakija.

Birth is celebrated with rakija.

Without rakija one does not go to war, join the army, enter a church, visit friends or hit the road.

Rakija is the drink of kings and peasants, doctors and policemen, judges and lumberjacks, politicians and priests.

Rakija cures everything.

For example, a sore throat can be cured by putting a cloth soaked in rakija on your neck, and, as always, take a shot, take two, of rajika for good measure and additional insurance.

Death itself is not without rakija.

Leave a bottle of rakija on the grave of the deceased, for even the dead drink.

Sprinkle rakija around during the funeral and the wake, not only for the delight of the dead but for the solace of the living.

 

All foreigners visiting Serbia are obliged to be registered with the police within 24 hours.

This registration is normally done automatically by hotels on checking in, but I am not staying at a hotel in Belgrade but with Nesha in his apartment.

So Jagoda drives us to the nearest police station.

Within an hour of landing in Serbia I already have a police record.

Coat of arms of Serbia

I am taken by Nesha and Mama Strawberry to a restaurant whose name translates as “Our House of Meat“.

There was pljeskavica (meat patties of pork, beef and lamb sprinkled with spices and served with onions), raznjici (shish kebabs of pork and veal), cevapcici (spiced minced meat kebabs), leskovacki cevapcici (kebabs with peppers), mesano meso (mixed grill) and many more selections too numerous to list here.

Pljeskavica (Sarajevo).JPG

Serbs enjoy eating meat in as many ways as there are to cook meat.

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This is not a country for the vegetarian or the health conscious.

Serbian food, while tasty and wholesome, is also heavy and greasy.

 

Listen to me, Adami.

You know that surely this cannot be found elsewhere.

 

Nesha and his mama sincerely believe that there is no place except Serbia that serves such sumptious food.

Thank the gods that you, poor stranger, found Serbia in time and have just barely escaped hunger.

But now you´ll see the originality of Serbian cuisine.

 

So the informed foreigner says nothing, for at first glance it seems there isn´t in fact such a thing as Serbian cuisine.

 

The grill comes from Arab countries.

Cevapcici, the Serbian cylindrical-shaped piece of grilled meat, comes from Turkey via Persia.

Njeguska smoked ham is a close relative of Parma ham, but in Serbia it is never eaten with melons.

Lamb is roasted on a spit, but it might be better in Greece.

Barbecued young pork meat is not a Serbian speciality.

That honour belongs to Spain and Italy.

Beans came to Serbia from Peru.

 

But wait, oh, ye cynic!

 

There is kajmak, an amazing food stuff that I have never tasted anywhere else.

Kaymak in Turkey.jpg

Kajmak, a salty cream cheese, is skimmed from freshly boiled milk and bears absolutely no resemblance to young cheeses, despite its appearance, such as mozzarella or sour cream.

No one knows why Serbs invented it nor why only the Serbs invented it.

It is a secret.

 

According to Belgrade writer Momo Kapor (1937 – 2010), there is an international kajmak smuggling ring conducted by Serbs who risk everything to bring this delicious dairy product to their countrymen around the world.

Momo Kapor wiki.jpg

Above: Momo Kapor (1937 – 2010)

The irresistible longing for kajmak is so intense that friends and relatives are beseeched to bring it to the most distant cities of the world, whether it is to the remote regions of Georgia, the Caucasus, Tibet or New York City.

I cannot in mere words describe the exquisite taste of kajmak except to say that the delightful shock that the tongue experiences when tasting kajmak for the first time has the soul hoping that Heaven has kajmak waiting for it.

Kajmak is as close to mystique and magic as any mere mortal will ever enjoy.

Ask any Serbian.

 

There is an old Serbian legend about how it was customary in medieval times for Serbians to eat with golden forks, while Western nobles of that period ate meat with their bare hands.

Until the 17th century it was deemed a transgression of relgious regulation to pierce meat with a fork.

The papal injunction against the fork was explained by the view that only fingers should be used on God´s creatures, and never forks.

The use of a fork could bring years of punishment in a dungeon or even a horrendous death.

In the 11th century Ostia Cardinal Bishop Peter Damian recited terrifying sermons against the fork in Venice, threatening Hell to those who dared use it.

Peter Damian bust.JPG

Above: Bust of Peter Damian (1007 – 1073)

When a Byzantine princess who had married into the French court was found using her small fork, she was burnt at the stake as a witch.

The Serbs, who were at the time under the political sphere of Byzantium, refused to acknowledge the papal prohibition and very much enjoyed their cutlery.

 

Serbians, if the mighty Momo can be trusted, believe milk is fundamentally incompatible with tea.

Serbs drink milk only when they are being breast-fed and tea only when they are ill.

Such perverts the English are!

 

Regarding the chicken, there are only two circumstances when it is to be eaten: either when the chicken is sick or when you are.

Female pair.jpg

 

In Belgrade one can find almost anything you would find in Barcelona, Beijing or Boston.

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Above: Aerial view of Belgrade

One may find all kinds of coffeehouses, cafés and restaurants in Belgrade that serve whisky, vodka, tequila and cognac.

In contrast to the Islamic world, Serbian religion allows husbands to drink as much as they wish.

Sadly their wives won´t allow for such foolishness, so perhaps Serbian husbands might as well be Muslim.

 

And no meal is complete without the cancerous contribution of a cigarette, for here not only do most Serbians smoke but smoking signs here actively encourage and proudly proclaim “Smoke here, please.”

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Serbia is the #1 country in the world for per capita cigarette consumption.

My friend Nesha has been smoking since he was a teenager and many of his friends do.

Perhaps Jagoda is now convinced that as all Americans have gluten allergies so are all Canadians non-smokers.

 

I can´t help wonder what kind of a toll this combination of rich, greasy cuisine and continuous cigarette consumption must have on the Serbian health system or on Serbian longevity.

As Serbians celebrate life with libations of liquor, cartons of cigarettes and feasts of meat, while kissing one another (as well as every icon that can be found in every religious establishment) reminders of death can be seen everywhere.

Walk down any street and read the obituaries, for notices of death, certificates of demise, are posted around every town.

Paper proofs of death (umrlica) are posted on walls, doors, poles and trees.

Image result for umrlica photos

The wise Serbian knows that it is not the fat nor the grease nor cigarettes that kill.

There are three things that guarantee death in Serbia:

  • Wet hair, even minor dampness, is life-threatening, if you foolishly set foot outside.
  • Draft (promaja) from cracked doors and windows – beware!
  • No socks – don´t even think about it!

 

Perhaps it is no wonder that Serbians say Ziveli! so often.

With war visiting Serbia, or so it seems, once in every generation….

With feasts of fat and gobs of grease eaten from mountains of meat….

With cancer consumed more copiously than oxygen….

With the helplessly hopeless walking the streets with wet hair….

With demented foreigners leaving drafty windows open everywhere….

With barefoot barbarians bounding across Belgrade….

The formality of wishing one another long life is not only polite.

It is necessary.

Sources: The Brandt Guide to Serbia / Emma Fick, Snippets of Serbia / Culture Smart Serbia / Momo Kapor, A Guide to the Serbian Mentality

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Land of Confusion

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 April 2018

Of the problems that plague me, one of the biggest is persistence:

The ability to keep on keeping on.

I have to constantly remind and encourage myself that “a professional writer is simply an amateur who didn´t quit”. (Richard Bachman)

With my two blogs – this one and Building Everest – I have to remind myself that I cannot get people interested in what I have to say if I myself am uninterested in what I am saying.

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In Building Everest I force myself each day to examine that day and ask myself what was interesting and unique about that day.

With this blog, which has (mostly) evolved into a travel blog in the two years since I´ve started it, I ask myself what was interesting about the places I visited and then I search for the words that will (hopefully) make you interested in (one day) visiting those places I´ve described.

As an English teacher I constantly remind my students that in all communication we must keep in mind one question: WIIFM.

What´s in it for me (the reader or recipient of this communication)?

 

Some places seem to sell themselves.

Seine and Eiffel Tower from Tour Saint Jacques 2013-08.JPG

How many millions of words have been devoted to places like Paris or Venice?

A collage of Venice: at the top left is the Piazza San Marco, followed by a view of the city, then the Grand Canal, and (smaller) the interior of La Fenice and, finally, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

And rightly so.

Others, especially the less known or least promoted places, need more time and imagination not only to convince you of their merits, gentle reader, but as well to convince me that writing about them is worthy of my time and effort.

 

Both blogs are practice, a honing process, the necessary training ground for developing the skills to becoming a paid published writer.

 

But what´s in it for you, gentle reader?

Two things (I hope).

 

First, I want you to see that you and I are similar in our shared humanity and desire to understand.

In a travel article, one does not burden the reader with prologues such as this one, but immediately hooks the reader into involving him/herself in the middle of the promoted place.

I include these Landschlacht prologues to show the process by which I write this blog and thus hopefully encourage you to share your world and experiences, for I don´t wish to write alone but rather as a voice in a united chorus.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Second, I want you to see what I see.

I not only want you to travel with me on my travels and share my experiences but I want to encourage you to travel and share your experiences and realize that travelling is not only a search to make the exotic seem familiar but as well it is the realization that the everyday familarity that surrounds us where we are is to someone else exotic.

 

I want to take you now, gentle reader, on a journey both in space and time.

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I want you to come with me to a place that has drawn others to it for centuries, a place not so famous in international circles but beloved at least by her countrymen.

And as we travel I want to introduce you to a travel companion on this particular journey, a man confused about who he was and what he wanted – a man much like myself (and perhaps like you yourself) – who possessed a bravery – as uncharacteristic today as it was in his day – to openly express his feelings in a manner so candid that it still continues to shock the reader centuries later.

I want you to imagine him not as buried bones and forgotten words inside dusty tomes but as a living, breathing man walking beside us.

For his thoughts and feelings of yesterday are thoughts and feelings still thought and felt today.

Though time and progress have changed the place he once knew, there is much that remains that he could still relate to.

And much about the place and the man I hope that you can relate to.

Come with us now to Sirmione….

Sirmione old town entrance.jpg

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lago di Garda is the largest, cleanest, least scenic, most overdeveloped and most popular of the Italian lakes.

Lying between the Alps and the Po Valley, this 370 square kilometre pool of murky water is firmly on many tour operator schedules.

Garda enjoys mild winters and breezy summers.

The northern sover wind blows down the Lago from midnight through morning.

The southern ova wind breezes up the Lago in the afternoon and evening.

This temperate climate is, these Riviera Bresciana resorts are, invaded by large mobs of package holiday clients and locust-like throngs of Austrians, Germans, Italians and Swiss.

To the north, the Lago is hemmed in by mountain crags and resembles a fjord.

On the most sheltered stretch of the Lago´s western shore lush groves of olives, vines and citrus trees grow, resulting in olive oil, citrus syrups and Bardolino, Soave and Valpolicella wines.

As the Lago broadens towards the south, it takes on the appearance of an inland sea backed by a gentle plain.

The restless winds here have created one of Europe´s best windsurfing sites around Torbole and Malcesine on the eastern shore.

Within easy striking distance of the Milano-Venezia autostrada as well as rail and bus Connections from the main Lombardy towns, the southern shore of Lago di Gardo is particularly well-touristed.

Desenzano del Garda, the Lago´s largest town, is a major rail junction where buses connect with trains and several ferries ply their trade up to the northwest tip of the Lago and the town of Riva del Garda stopping off at other resorts on the way.

Desenzano doesn´t detain the visitor for long, though the lakefront is lined with bars and restaurants, though the castle has spectacular views and the Roman villa  preserves some fine mosaics, the busy road running alongside and the constant traffic on the Lago is an everlasting siren call to leave that few can resist.

So, why linger?

Instead….

 

“Row us out from Desenzano, to your Sirmione, row!

So they rowed and there we landed – O pretty Sirmio!

There to me through all the groves of olive in the summer glow,

There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow,

Came that “hail and farewell” of the Poet´s hopeless woe,

Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago,

“Brother, hail and farewell” – as we wandered to and fro

Gazing at the Lydian laughter of the Garda lake below

Sweet Catullus´s all-but-island, olive silvery Sirmio!”

(Alfred Tennyson)

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson by George Frederic Watts.jpg

Above: Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

 

The Roman poet Catullus (87 – 54 BC) celebrated Sirmione, this narrow peninsula jutting out from the southern shore of Lago di Garda, as “the jewel of all islands”, thus his name is constantly invoked in connection with the place.

Above: Bust of Catullus, Piazza Carducci, Sirmione

Starting from the 1st century BC, Sirmione became a favourite resort for rich families coming from Verona, then the main Roman city in northeastern Italy.

Catullus praised the beauties of Sirmione and spoke of a villa he had in the area.

Sirmione remains a popular spot in a beautiful setting suffocated by luxury hotels, souvenir stands and tourists.

Go beyond the town battlements, away from the Rocca Scaliagara, that fairytale turreted fortress.

Escape, flee the throngs.

Walk out beyond the town to the peninsula´s triangular hilly head and lie in the shade of cypress and olive groves.

Linger not long, but pass San Pietro, for church frescoes won´t free you from the folks that follow you in search of food, alcohol, cool water and warm rocks.

Boldly march, tracing the path that runs along the edges of the Peninsula.

Ignore the warning signs of slippery rocks and tumbling landslides and continue up to the gate leading to the Grotte di Catullo, where the locals brag was Catullus´ villa.

It wasn´t.

What this was, what this is,  is the semblance of a Roman spa, white ruins where Romans came to take the waters from the hot sulphur spring that lies 300 metres under the Lago.

The scattered ruins, ageless and beautiful, bake quietly in the sun amongst ancient olive trees.

Fragments of frescoes and superb views of the Lago await the valiant wanderer.

We know from historical records that Catullus did retire to Sirmione, coming all the way from the Black Sea by boat, hauling it overland (!) when necessary so he could sail upon Lago Garda.

But what of the man Catullus and why do the folks of Sirmione insist he not be forgotten, even if his actual villa´s location remains uncertain?

For he was one of the Roman Republic´s greatest poets rivalling his contemporaries Lucretius and Cicero in the creation of a golden age of Latin literature.

 

62 BC, Rome

Quintus Valerius Catullus (22) had come to Rome from Verona, where his father was of sufficient financial and social standing to be frequent host to Julius Caesar himself.

Quintus himself owned villas near Tibur and on Lake Garda and had an elegant house in Roma.

Catullus speaks of these properties as choked with mortgages and repeatedly pleads his poverty, but the picture preserved of him by posterity through his poetry is that of a polished man of the world who did not bother to earn a living but enjoyed himself as a bon vivant among the wild set of the capital.

Despite his father´s friendship with Caesar, or because of this, Catullus – a familiar amongst Rome´s keenest wits and cleverest orators and politicians – opposed Caesar with every epigram at his disposal, unaware that his literary revolt reflected the revolutionary times in which he lived.

Catullus had tired of the old forms of Latin literature.

He wanted to sing the sentiments of his youth in new and imaginative ways.

Catullus was resentful of old morals perpetually preached by exhausted elders.

He announced the sanctity of instinct, the innocence of desire and the grandeur of dissipation.

He found life, love and literature revolved around every woman, married or not, who inspired him with comfortably casual love.

Catullus cultivated his friendship with the liveliest woman in his privileged circle, Clodia, whom he named Lesbia in memory of the Greek poetess Sappho of Lesbos whose works he translated, imitated and loved.

Above: Catullus at Lesbia´s, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Quintus was fascinated by Clodia the moment she “set her shining foot on the well-worn threshold”.

She was his “lustrous goddess of the delicate step”.

Her walk, like her voice, was sufficient seduction for any man.

Clodia accepted Quintus graciously as one of her admirers and the enraptured poet, unable to match otherwise the gifts of his rivals, laid at her feet the most beautiful lyrics ever produced in Latin.

A lover´s frenzy raged within him….

“Sparrow, delight of my beloved.

Who plays with you and holds you to her breast?

Who offers her forefinger to your seeking

And tempts your sharp bite?

I know not what dear jest it pleases my shining one

To make of my desire!”

Quintus was consumed with happiness, paid attendance upon her daily, read his poems to her, forgot everything but his infatuation….

History does not record how long this ecstasy lasted, but she who had betrayed her husband for Quintus found it a relief to betray him for another.

Quintus madly envisioned her “embracing at once 300 adulterers.”

In the very heat of his love he came to hate her and rejected her protestations of fidelity:

“A woman´s words to hungry lover said

Should be upon the flowing winds inscribed,

Upon swift streams engraved.”

When sharp doubt became dull certainty his passion turned to bitterness and coarse revenge.

He accused her of yielding to tavern habitués, denounced her new lovers with obscene abandon and meditated suicide, poetically.

But Quintus was capable of more nobler feelings.

He addressed to his friend Manlius a touching wedding song, envying him the wholesome companionship of marriage, the security and stability of a home and the happy tribulations of parentage.

Quintus travelled to Bithyia (Black Sea coastal Turkey) to find the grave of a brother.

Over it he performed reverently the ancestral burial rites and soon afterward he composed tender lines….

“Dear brother, through many states and seas

Have I come to this sorrowful sacrifice,

Bringing you the last gift for the dead.

Accept these offerings wet with fraternal tears,

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.”

His time in Turkey changed and softened Catullus.

The skeptic who had written of death as “the sleep of an eternal night” was moved by the old religions and ceremonies of the East.

In a small yacht bought at Amastria (Amasra), Quintus sailed through the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Adriatic, up the Po Valley to Lago Garda and his villa at Sirmio (Sirmione).

“Oh, what happier way is there to escape the cares of the world than to return to our own homes and altars and rest on our own beloved bed?”

 

Men begin by seeking happiness and are content at last with peace.

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

Our bed and breakfast accommodation, adequate though not overly attractive – (much as women describe me these days!) – lay three kilometres from the centre of Sirmione.

As the B & B was destined to be beyond bus line access and my wife determined to save costs by our not employing taxis our three-day/two-night sojourn in Sirmione meant one hour´s walk between the B & B and the city centre.

We who had been driving everywhere that past week found ourselves wearily trudging back and forth alongside busy boulevards lined much like North American City access ways with anonymous forgettable shopping malls and restaurants forever ignored by the Michelin Guide.

Concrete under our feet, the lakeshore invisible and unattainable, carbon monoxide replacing sea breeze and breath.

Still we made the best of the Sirmione experience that we could.

We ate expansively, drank copiously, swam gloriously in the Lago and in the pools of the Terme di Sirmione spa and bathed ourselves in the warm Italian sun on unforgiving rocks.

Image result for terme di sirmione

We walked about Roman ruins searching for an ever-elusive emotional link with the ancient past.

 

One should not go to Sirmione in search of happiness but one can find contentment here.

Other English speakers did.

 

The Greek American soprano Maria Callas (1923 – 1977) had, like Catullus centuries before, a villa here.

Above: Maria Callas

The English writer Naomi “Micky” Jacob (1884 – 1964) moved to Sirmione because the weather was kinder to her tuberculosis-stricken lungs.

She was well-known in the town and her home was known as Casa Micky.

Micky wrote more than 40 novels and nearly a dozen autobiographies.

Her novels, best described as romantic fiction, tackled the problems of prejudice against Jews, domestic violence and the political consequences of pogroms in the 19th century.

Although not well-known nowadays, in her day Micky was a well-loved and much respected figure.

She, like Catullus´ poetic inspiration Sapphos, had intimate relationships with other women that were an open secret but never publicly disclosed during her lifetime.

She never gave up her home in Sirmione and died there in 1964.

 

Charles Schulz, the American creator of the famous Peanuts cartoons, on his way to Venice with his family lingered in Sirmione for a week in the 1950s.

He left against his heart describing Sirmione as “extraordinary”.

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Above: Charles Schulz (1922 – 2000)

 

The Pace (pah-chay) Hotel in Sirmione occupies a building with a particularly significant history – the union of an old hotel (Hotel Eden) and the Santa Coruna religious institute for children with heart problems or for persons suffering from nervous complaints.

Image result for pace hotel sirmione lake garda photos

At a time when medicine wasn´t particularly evolved, the Lago di Garda was believed to infuse tranquillity and aid convalescence and healing.

Of the many visitors the Pace has hosted, including the aforementioned Charles Schulz, Catullus probably would have most connected with the American poet Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972).

photograph of Ezra H. Pound

Above: Ezra Pound

Like Pound, Catullus loved and hated in equal measures of extreme intensity, was capable of generous feeling, was unpleasantly self-centred, deliberately obscene and merciless to his enemies.

Both men danced poetically between love and lust, kisses and kaka, a mix of primitive coarseness with civilized refinement.

Their lines are salted with dirt to give literature taste.

Time magazine in 1933 described Pound as “a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children”.

 

During the winter of 1913 Ezra Pound was in Sussex (England) with William Butler Yeats, acting as the elder poet´s secretary.

Above: William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Temporarily free of the rush of London, each was assessing the other´s work and laying out new directions.

When Pound had almost completed an anthology of new poets, he asked Yeats if there was anyone he had forgotten to include.

Yeats recalled a young Irish writer named James Joyce who had written some polished lyric poems.

Portrait of James Joyce

Above: James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

One of them had stuck in Yeats´ mind.

Joyce was living in Trieste.

Why not write to him?

Pound wrote Joyce at once.

He explained his literary connections and offered help in getting Joyce published.

A few days later Yeats found Joyce´s “I Hear an Army Charging upon the Land” and Pound wrote again to ask Joyce if he could use the poem in his anthology.

Joyce, who had been on the Continent for nearly ten years, cut off from his nation and his language and so far all but unpublished, was surprised and encouraged.

He gave Pound permission to use the poem and a few days later sent a typescript of his book of short stories Dubliners and a chapter of a new novel called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, along with news that he would soon have a play ready.

A prolonged correspondence began, which grew into a long-standing friendship.

Because of World War I, the two innovators of modern fiction and poetry would not meet until June 1920, when Pound persuaded Joyce to come to Sirmione.

If seen through Pound´s eyes, one wonders if the men were satisfied with the results of their meeting….

 

2 June 1920, Sirmione

“In vainest of exasperation

Mr. P passed his vacation.

The cause of his visit

To the Eyetaliann cities

Was blocked, by a wreck, at the station.”

 

“A bard once in landlocked Sirmione

Lived in peace, eating locusts and honey

Till a son of a bitch

Left him dry on the beach

Without clothes, boots, time, quiet or money.”

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

I think much about Pound and Catullus during our long walks to and fro between B & B and town.

I think about how both men resolved in their lifetimes to know more about poetry than any man living.

I think about how both men were really at heart very boyish fellows and incurable provincials, both driven by a thirst for romance and colour, who stumbled magnificently in their individual follies at great cost to themselves.

 

I think about how Clodia, Catullus´ lover, epitomizes today´s modern woman in her determination to lead her own life as she chose, free to love and be loved by whomsoever she desired, a woman who lived and loved with irresistable grace and whose greatest sin was not adultery or lechery as it was her underestimation of the effects that lovers wronged could enact upon her.

 

A woman´s body and soul are hers to decide how they are to be shared.

It is the dimmest of hopes that a mere man is worthy of being her sole obsession throughout her lifetime.

 

I think of how the love of a woman (19) caused Ezra Pound (58) to walk from Verona to the town of Gais, Switzerland, a distance of over 450 miles.

He was so dirty and tired when he arrived that his girlfriend Mary almost failed to recognize him.

The lengths that love drives a man….

 

I think of the lengths my own personal Lesbia has driven me over the past two decades, including the three-kilometre concrete trudge twice a day.

Perhaps marriage is a lot like Sirmione.

One might not always be made happy here, but one is usually contented.

Sources: Wikipedia / Will Durant, Caesar and Christ / Reay Tannahill, Sex in History / The Pace Hotel, Sirmione / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy