Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 December 2017

Soon, thoughts of expatriates will turn to thoughts of home as Christmas draws ever closer.

My American friends will wish to fly back to California and Florida, Boston and Philadelphia.

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My Canadian friend will wish to fly to Nova Scotia to proudly show off her new daughter, while my Indian friend resident in Canada will fly to Delhi to proudly show off his one year old son.

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As for my coworkers, our Ethiopian to Addis Ababa, our Nepalese to Kathmandu, our Turks to Turkey, our Swede to Sweden, and so on, while the Swiss that surround me will probably want to go back to their villages and visit their friends and family for the holidays.

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As for me and mine, we will work over much of the holidays as sick people still need tending and coffee drinkers still need coffee.

While the Mamas and Papas sing in my mind´s jukebox:

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Above: The Mamas and the Papas: Left to right – Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and John Phillips

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church
I´d passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I began to pray.
You know the preacher likes the cold.
He knows I’m gonna stay….

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day.

The desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else, is strong.

To be in some sort of faraway California where we could be safe and warm, instead of wrestling with the constant anxieties our respective jobs contain as we struggle against worsening weather and we hear ad nauseum infinitum of colleagues and companions about to jet off here, there and everywhere while we remain behind to fight the fight absurdium.

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And in the process we forget the joys and benefits of remaining here.

I think about past travels and ask myself:

Does anyone actually learn anything from all the travel we do?

I think back to our own vacations together this past year….our trip to Reichenbach Falls, our summer fortnight in northern Italy, our October week in London, and I ask myself….

Do we travel simply to escape the trivality of our normal lives of quiet desperation?

Is travel only a means to relax or is wanting to walk away from my travels somewhat better than I started putting too much pressure on this period of time?

Of all the books I treasure in the library I have been building for myself over the past two decades, I have come to love the writings of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his best seller The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims´ Progress, which humourously chronicles his excursion through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travellers in 1867.

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As I write this blog and describe the places where I have travelled I hope that Twain´s complaints about others´ travelogues are not applicable to my own writing.

Granted I am not prone to lampooning or often writing in a humourous vein, and I can live with that assessment, but I do sincerely hope that I don´t regale my poor readers in such a way that they find me to be bland, pointless or repetitive.

I admit to a love of history but I hope that my historical anecdotes do not detract from the uniqueness of the present moment´s recollections.

For it is my intention to make a place as understandable as possible in ways that modern travel guides seem to fail, in their focus in helping the foreign traveller find as much as the common comforts he left behind everpresent wherever he travels, and show both the contrasts and comparisons between places….to celebrate the unique while embracing the common humanity.

I have often felt that the biggest problem with our modern world that we are so focused with the moving from place to place that we have forgotten about the significance of what lies between these places.

We have reached a point where only certain locations are designated worthy of being named places and the landscape has become an unimportant generic blur to be tolerated and travelled through as quickly as possible.

We forget that who we are is where we are, wherever we are at a given moment in time.

Wherever we go, there we are.

We have become indifferent and impatient with what lies between our starting-out point and our destination.

The faster we travel, the more we miss.

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We have forgotten how to live in the here and now.

Lago di Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Twain and I share similar observations about Lake Como:

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Above: Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

“I always had an idea that Como was a vast basin of water shut in by great mountains.

Well, the border of huge mountains is here, but the lake itself is not a basin.

It is as crooked as any brook….

There is not a yard of low ground on either side of it – nothing but endless chains of mountains that spring abruptly from the water´s edge, and tower to chains of mountains that spring abruptly from a thousand to two thousand feet.

Their craggy sides are clothed with vegetation and white specks of houses peep out from the luxuriant foliage everywhere.

They are even perched upon jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above your head.

Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats, surrounded by gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes in nooks carved by nature out of the vine-hung precipices, and with no ingress or egress save by boats.

Some have great broad stone staircases leading down to the water, with heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and fancifully adorned with creeping vines and bright coloured flowers – for all the world like a drop curtain in a theatre, and lacking nothing but long-waisted and high-heeled women and plumed gallants in silken tights coming down to go serenading in the splendid gondola in waiting.

A great feature of Como´s attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides.

They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when everything seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como, can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.”

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Lake Como is Paul McCartney´s Mull of Kintyre, Linda Ronstadt´s Blue Bayou, James Hilton´s Shangri-la.

While Twain and his companions voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco from Bellagio, my wife and I drove through wild mountain scenery, passed hamlets and villas, with towering cliffs on our left and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right.

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Flanked by these mountains of scored granite, Como´s eastern fork, the Lago di Lecco, is as austere as a priest and fjord-like as an Norwegian postcard.

This is not the Como of George Clooney but rather the Italy of a Jude the Obscure.

One arrives in Como and Bellagio.

The traveller simply gets to Lecco.

Twenty-seven years prior to Twain, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy) also took a steamer from the promontory of Bellagio.

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Above: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

“We found that the lake soon lost much of its picturesque beauty.

Manzoni and Grossi have both chosen this branch of the lake for the scene of their romances, but it is certainly far, very far, inferior to the branch leading to Como, especially as at the end of the lake you approach the flat lands of Lombardy and the bed of the Adda.

At Lecco, we hired a caleche for Bergamo.”

Lecco is a workday world, a centre of commerce.

Piazza XX Settembre, in the centre of the town, and the San Martino mountain.

And yet some culture managed to escape this ancient town of ironmongers that unceremoniously straddles the River Adda, defenselessly striving to reach the safety of the Lake from the roughness of her passage.

Twain did not try to sing Lecco´s praises and spoke little of it except to say he was there to leave a steamer and board an open barouche with a wild and boisterous driver, hellbent determined to reach Bergamo within two hours so Twain´s party could meet the train.

Lonely Planet doesn´t touch the town with a thesaurus nor does Rick Steeves or any of the other guidebooks designed for the Anglo traveller.

Rough Guide begins its description of Lecco with the words:

“You almost certainly won´t want to stay in Lecco.”

Rough Guide expends itself exhaustively telling the trapped traveller how to exit Lecco posthaste: hop on the bus, Gus; take the train, Jane; there´s the ferry, Mary.

Clearly, there must be 50 ways to leave your Lecco.

Then RG suggests that if you have time to kill you could pop into the Basilica or visit the Villa Manzoni.

If you have time to kill?

Not exactly slaying the reader with seductiveness or enthusiasm.

Even the local Lake Como tourist guidebook, created by folks whose job is to compel the reader to explore the region, uses words like “industrious” and “commercial” to describe Lecco, in a manner similar to describing a blind date as possessing “a great personality” as if her beauty were so minimal as to not warrant description.

Anglo writers fail to generate even the slightest spark of interest in the town and guidebooks written for them reflect this.

Leave it to the underestimated, much-maligned Germans to save the day, for how easily we forget that it was they who invited the romantic novel and seductive poetry that can respectfully rival even Keats and Shakespeare.

These are the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, that most famous of German writers, who while admitting that his people can be detail-obsessed in their “Ordnung ist Alles.” (order is everything) methodology, seeking to grasp the nature of all that he sees in his Italian Journey:

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Above: Goethe in the Roman Campagna, by Johann Tischbein

Trento, Italy, 11 September 1786

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“I console myself with the thought that, in our statistically minded times, all this has probably been printed in books which one can consult if need arise.

At present I am preoccupied with sense impressions to which no book or picture can do justice.

The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life.

How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me?

Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?

How much can I take in at a single glance?

Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced?

This is what I am trying to discover.”

 

Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Eberhard Fohrer – what an uninspiring name – the writer of Michael Müller Verlag´s Comer See Reiseführer, though not so verbose as the reader might hope, still manages to pique interest in this industrious and commercial town with a great personality.

Fohrer speaks of how the town nestles besides the lake with its long promenade of large trees and how pedestrians pleasantly stroll between sidewalk cafés and open air restaurants, shops and boutiques.

Lecco, lying at the southern extremity of the east branch of Lago di Como where the River Adda adds its substance to the lake, seems as disregarded as one´s nether regions or the heel of one´s foot.

Does no one see the imposing outline of Mount Resegone that has protected the town since Roman times?

Can no one sense romantic purpose to the determined currents beneath the Ponte Visconteo as plain plains have wrought lovely lake?

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Does not the Palazzo della Paure (Palace of Fears) still inspire trepidation to the visitor as it did to the citizenry who were compelled to leave their taxes within?

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Can no one sense the quiet majesty of the Basilica with its high neo-Gothic 98-metre bell tower and 14th century Giottesque frescoes and feel the divine protection from the relics of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boatmen?

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Is there no history worth discovering within the Torre Viscontea which once belonged to a mighty castle guarded by long high walls?

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Is the neoclassical Teatro della Societa or the rationalist Justice Building on Piazza Garibaldi unworthy of a glance, a photograph, or even a mention?

Is Lecco nothing more than a historical hub, the frontier´s border between beauty and boredom?

Is Lecco simply a place to disembark, to fuel up, to stock up, before dashing down to Bergamo or eagerly anticipating the much-touted delights of Como and the other branches of the lake?

The town contains over 48,000 people.

Are they nothing more than unwilling residents resigned to their fate or do they simply exist to serve those rushing through?

Yet can not poetry, literature, music, adventure and progress not emanate from such a place?

Lecco has produced some citizens that stand out for attention:

  • Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873), poet and novelist, author of the Italian classic The Betrothed
  • Antonio Ghislanzoni (1824 – 1893), journalist, poet and novelist, who wrote many librettos for the great composer Verdi
  • Carlo Mauri (1930 – 1982), a great climber and explorer
  • Antonio Rossi, Olympian kayaker and five-time medal winner

Just to name four that even the foreigner can learn about.

This is not a “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” kind of town.

Of the aforementioned four, the casual visitor quickly deduces that it would take very little convincing for the town to rename itself Manzoniville as his name and image seem to be everywhere.

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Above: The Villa Manzoni, Lecco

There is the Villa Manzoni, the Manzoni Monument, the Piazza Manzoni….

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Above: The Manzoni Monument

Manzoni, Manzoni, Manzoni….

Who knows who this is, outside of those who are Italian or who study things Italian?

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Above: Alessandro Manzoni

Lecco won´t help you in your quest if you don´t read Italian, for the stores don´t seem to stock his classics in translation.

Which is a shame, really, for Manzoni was considered so talented a writer that the Count de Gubernatis remarked that there was “one genius having divined the other” when the great Goethe defended Manzoni against attacks on his first tragedy Il Conte di Carmagnola which in its day violated all classical conventions of how a poet was supposed to be poetic.

The death of Napoleon in 1821 inspired Manzoni´s powerful stanzas Il Cinque maggio (The 5th of May), one of the most popular lyrics in the Italian language.

Gold-framed portrait painting of a gaunt middle-aged man with receding hair and laurel wreath, lying eyes-closed on white pillow with a white blanket covering to his neck and a gold Jesus cross resting on his chest

Above: Napoleon on his Deathbed, by Horace Vernet

The political events of 1821 and the imprisonment of many of his friends, seeking Italian liberation from Austrian suppression, weighed much on Manzoni´s mind, so he sought distraction in historical studies.

These studies suggested his greatest work, I Promessi sposi (The Betrothed).

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The Penguin Guide to European Literature notes that “the book´s real greatness lies in its delineation of character”.

The heroine Lucia, the Capuchin friar Padre Cristoforo, the saintly Cardinal of Milan…

These are what Republicans should model their Christianity upon, instead of the weak perverse President upon whom they serve.

The novel, much like Lecco itself, is rich in pictures of ordinary men and women, filled with irony and disenchantment which always stops short of cynicism.

In 1822, Manzoni published his second tragedy, Adelchi, turning on the overthrow by Charlemagne of the Lombard domination in Italy, with clear allusions to the existing Austrian rule.

Above: Statue of Charlemagne (742 – 814), St. Peter´s Basilica, Vatican City

Manzoni was brought up in several religious institutions and his wife´s conversion to Catholicism led him to become an austere Catholic intensely interested in the subject of human morality.

He tried to lead a life true to his beliefs.

For example, in 1818, when Manzoni had to sell his paternal inheritance as his money had been lost to a dishonest agent, rather than having his heavily indebted peasants compensate him for his losses, Manzoni not only cancelled the record of all sums owed to him, he allowed the peasants to keep for themselves the whole of the coming harvest.

Yet much like Job, Manzoni´s faith would be sorely tested.

His wife died in 1833, preceded and followed by the death of several of his children.

Manzoni married again, but his second wife also died before him, as did seven of his nine children from both marriages.

The death of his eldest son in 1872 hastened Manzoni´s own demise.

He was already a weakened man when on 6 January 1873 while exiting Milan´s San Fedele Church, he fell and hit his head on the steps and died after five months of cerebral meningitis, a complication of the trauma.

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Above: Chiesa San Fedele, Milano

His funeral was given great pomp and ceremony, attended by princes of the realm and great officers of state.

Above: Manzoni´s funeral procession in Milan

Giuseppe Verdi´s (1813 – 1901) Requiem was written to honour Manzoni´s memory.

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Yet outside of Italy, distant from the 19th century, I, like many non-Italians, had to ask:

“Alessandro Manzoni? Who?”

Does our education teach us nothing beyond the national or linguistic love of ourselves?

Have the Bielievers of our society any clue as to who Verdi was or that there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in The Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons?

Do they know or care that there was life and love before Kayne West and that self expression does have and should have its moral limits?

Above: Kanye West taking the microphone from Taylor Swift, MTV Video Music Awards, 13 September 2009

This grumpy old man accompanied by his truly lovely lady strolled through the town which, by the time of our arrival, was slowly ending its business day.

The Villa was closed, the shops shuttered, the streets mostly devoid of pedestrian traffic, yet Lecco still quietly charmed us.

The Cathedral did not need throngs of tourists to reveal its importance, nor did the promenade need scores of visitors to suggest it was a place worth lingering on.

The human spirit, much like the human mind, must sometimes meander about in unfamiliar marketplaces and wander uncharted and unheralded towns.

Let the Rough Guides dissuade their sychophants from visiting.

Let Lonely Planet lead the Australians to another pub and the English to yet another club.

Steeves is blind to Lecco´s hidden charms and Frommer caters to the armchair traveller who will only leave his comfort zone when there is no other choice.

Let´s Go to that budget bistro, the door of which no local´s shadow will cross.

Or instead we can find in a place like Lecco, that industrial, commercial, unloved, unremarkable lady of a town that unwavering strength of character that Manzoni could see and so eloquently showed.

Como has charisma and Belgamo has beauty, but Lecco is…real.

We too had made the error of following the advice of guidebooks and disregarded the possibilities of Lecco beyond a few hours´ visit.

Our prepackaged, preplanned trip, though not at all horrible, did not allow for much spontaneity.

Our night´s accommodation lay outside of Lecco´s limits in better advertised, more recommended, Belgamo.

We did not remain in Lecco, but Lecco remains in us.

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May we have the strength of character to visit her again.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lariologo, Lake Como: Itineraries and Photographs of Lario, Ceresio and Surrounding Valleys / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us about the World / Eberhard Fohrer, Comer See / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey / Alessandro Mansoni, The Betrothed / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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:

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“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.

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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 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?

Burghügel der Wildenburg bei Wildhaus SG

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 Outcast

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 November 2017

Maybe it´s the endless days of grey skies outside or being restless with being confined indoors by illness that has got me feeling morbid of late.

Perhaps my ghastly mood has been affected by the topics I have written about recently: ghosts and corpses on the London Tube (Canada Slim Underground) and the millions dead in the Thirty Years War (Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation), so maybe I need not wonder that I find myself even dreaming about mortality.

My choice of reading material hasn´t helped, what with police constables talking with ghosts (Rivers of London) and a story about how death stalked three brothers (The Tales of Beedle the Bard) or the news…..

I need to think about happier places and more joyful times.

It´s once again time to write about London.

Maybe this will help….

 

London, England, 23 October 2017

Day One of our London week and already we had discovered Paddington Bear and Praed Street and rode the Underground.

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We left the Tube at Piccadilly Circus, one of the great centres of London life and one of the noisiest and busiest traffic intersections we had ever seen, situated at the meeting of five major streets.

I thought of the hustle and bustle of New York City (Piccadilly Circus resembles, in many ways, Times Square in Manhattan.), and the chaos and clutter of Paris or Rome, the madness of Seoul….

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This is THE fashionable place to be, a Circus (from the Latin for “a round open space at a street junction”) named after Piccadilly Hall, belonging to Robert Baker, a tailor famous for selling piccadills (large broad collars of cutwork lace that were fashionable in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by folks like Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I).

Above: Potrait of English nobleman Grey Brydges wearing a piccadil (1615)

The myriad of night spots….this is the West (End) World of entertainment, never resting, constantly abuzz with activity day and night, at once both obviously artificial yet vibrantly real and alive.

This is the heart of Theatreland.

Here is the Criterion Theatre, built in 1873, seating for 588 people, featuring The Comedy about a Bank Robbery since March 2017.

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Over there is the London Pavilion, now a shopping arcade and home to Ripley´s Believe It or Not! Museum dedicated to the weird, the unusual and the unbelievable, once was a theatre, then was transformed into a cinema that once premiered The Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. No and A Hard Day´s Night and once housed Madame Tussaud´s Wax Museum.

Come into the world´s largest branch of Ripley´s.

See a chewing gum sculpture of the Beatles and the Tower Bridge built from 264,345 matchsticks.

Nearly 30 pounds just to get in the door.

Wherever that door might be, for on the day of our arrival Ripley´s permanently closed at the Piccadilly Circus location.

Still not as expensive as the Chinawhite.

Nearby is the famous nightclub for the famous, the Chinawhite, where only members and celebrities enter – Membership costs 700 pounds a year.

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Here Premier League footballers hobnob with Hollywood actors and supermodels.

The Chinawhite has seen the likes of celebrities like Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jude Law, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Prince Harry, Justin Bieber, to name only a few….

Piccadilly Circus is a high profile location, eternally recognisable by its bright billboards that dominate a curve of this traffic circle.

Coca Cola shouts, the public is updated about Tube closures and delays, new products and promotions are ablaze these days in bright LED glory.

And even this symbol of commercialism gone ecstatic is not immune to politics.

In 2002, Yoko One paid 150,000 pounds to display a lyric of her late husband (1940 – 1980) John Lennon´s song Imagine: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” for a number of weeks.

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The lights have been turned off when national figures of great importance have died, like Winston Churchill (1965) and Princess Diana (1997) on the days of their funerals.

All the people seem to congregate at Piccadilly Circus, so much that the phrase “It´s like Piccadilly Circus.” is used in English parliance to say that a place is extremely crowded.

It is said that if a person lingers long enough in Piccadilly Square that they will eventually bump into everyone they know.

Once seen, this can be believed.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired sculptors, painters and musicians.

Bob Marley (1945 – 1981) mentions Piccadilly Circus in his song “Kinky Reggae”, in his album Catch a Fire.

The sleeve art from the 1974 issue of the album

And where everyone is…. makes Piccadilly Circus the site of numerous political demonstrations.

In the centre of the Circus stands the Shaftesbury Memorial, commemorating the philanthropic Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801 – 1885).

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Above: Shaftesbury, National Portrait Gallery, London

Anthony´s early family life was loveless, a circumstance common among the British upper classes, so he grew up without any experience of parental love.

He saw little of his parents and when duty or necessity compelled them to take notice of him they were formal and frightening.

Even as an adult, Anthony disliked his father and was known to refer to his mother as “the Devil”.

This difficult childhood was softened by the affection he received from their housekeeper, Maria Millis, and his sisters.

Ashley was elected to Parliament in 1826 and a year later, he was appointed to the Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics and Lunatic Asylums.

The Committee examined many witnesses concerning the White House, a madhouse in Bethnal Green in London.

Ashley visited the White House on the Committee´s behalf.

The patients were chained up, slept naked on straw, and went to toilet in their beds.

They were left chained from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning when they were cleaned of the accumulated excrement.

They were then washed down in freezing cold water and one towel was shared by 160 people, with no soap.

It was overcrowded and the meat provided was “that nasty thick hard muscle that a dog could not eat”.

The White House had been described as “a mere place for dying” rather than a cure for the insane.

Ashley would be involved in framing and reforming the Lunacy Laws of the land.

After giving his maiden speech, in support of madhouse reform, Ashley wrote in his diary:

“So, by God´s blessing, my first effort has been for the advance of human happiness. 

May I improve hourly! 

Fright almost deprived me of recollection but again, thank Heaven, I did not sit down a presumptuous idiot.”

He had cited the case of a Welsh lunatic girl, Mary Jones, who had for more than a decade been locked in a tiny loft with one boarded-up window with little air and no light.

The room was extremely filthy and filled with an intolerable smell.

She could only squat in a bent position in the room which caused her to become deformed.

Shaftesbury´s work in improving the care of the insane remains one of his most important, though less well-known, of his achievements.

He was better known for his work on child labour and factory reform, mining conditions, the prohibition of boys as chimney sweeps, education reform, the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land and the suppression of the opium trade.

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Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

Forget the Mary Poppins Disney idea of chimney sweeping being a glamourous profession…..

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Many of these climbing boys were illegitimate and had been sold by their parents.

They suffered from scorched and lacerated skin, their eyes and throats filled with soot, in danger of suffocation, in danger of cancer of the scrotum.

This show a cross section of two chimneys with an internal diameter of about twenty eight centimetres in each is a climbing boy of about ten years old. To the left the boy is climbing by bracing his back and knees against the chimney. To the right the boy is 'stuck', his knees are wedged up against his chin, and calfs, thighs and torso block the chimney preventing him from moving up or down.

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

Though not Jewish, Shaftesbury believed that the Jews should have their own Homeland – however others might object – that they were “a country without a nation” in need of “a nation without a country”.

The Shaftesbury Memorial is a bronze fountain topped by a cast aluminium figure of an archer, that everyone calls Eros, but was intended by the artist Sir Alfred Gilbert to identify the angel of charity, Eros´ brother Anteros.

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This is fashionable London, where Eros, the angel of love, is more fashionable than Anteros.

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

In 1750, London was disturbed by two earth tremors severe enough to bring down a pair of old houses and a number of chimneys on 8 February and 8 March.

A former member of the Life Guards, on the evening of 7 April, created mass panic after walking up and down Piccadilly shouting out that the world would end on 8 April.

A huge number of Londoners made plans to escape the City, but Piccadilly  was so choked wth traffic that many got no further than Hyde Park.

Women sat out of doors in their gowns while men played cards, awaiting the apocalypse that never came.

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.

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Above: “Bedlam”, a word meaning “uproar and confusion” and the nickname of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London

During World War II so many prostitutes assembled at Piccadily Circus that the men in uniform who enjoyed their services called them “the Piccadilly Commandoes”.

And the idea of assembling together leads to “Piccadilly Circus” being used as the codeword for the spot where the D-Day (6 June 1944) Invasion fleet would assemble in the English Channel before landing on the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazi hordes.

Above: D-Day assault routes into Nazi-occupied Normandy, France

We would ourselves, the wife and I, assemble with the hundreds that gather at Piccadilly Circus all day and all night.

No apocalypse came, and the prostitutes now frequent another section of London these days.

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

I read about Fore Street, Edmonton Green, North London.

When the pubs empty and the night is late, the girls come out.

This is when the work picks up, when the men get loud and want it….bad.

Between the street lights there are no other women walking the street.

Folks reckon there are at least 7,000 prostitutes in London – 96% of them immigrants.

Above: Prostitution worldwide: legal/regulated (green), legal/unregulated (blue), organised illegal (yellow), illegal (red)

Girls from Europe´s east or the Americas or Asia south….

At least 2,000 of them out every night on the streets.

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

They´ll tell you that there are many more than that.

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

There used to be a lot of women of easy virtue in Soho and in Southwark.

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

The girls now live at the fringes, cast out from city centre.

They don´t do this for pleasure, and sometimes it is they who pay.

The need for men´s money is overshadowed by the danger of men.

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

We are surprised by the Swiss Court with maypole adorned by the coats of arms of Switzerland´s 26 cantons.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

To the left/north, we see a church on Leicester Place, the Notre Dame de France.

The French have been in London for a very long time.

The Huguenots built fortunes in the textile industry, but Notre Dame was not built for the wealthy.

It was founded in 1865 to take care of the lower class French.

Soho was once, not that long ago, a kind of French enclave.

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

At first glance Notre Dame looks unremarkable, although circular churches in Britain are rare.

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

Murals by legendary French filmmaker/artist/designer Jean Cocteau fill one side chapel.

Depicting themes from the Crucifixion and the Assumption of Mary, Cocteau´s work is vigourous, seductive, alive in a manner no Brit could ever imitate.

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

A black hole sun, the feet of Christ, muscular soldiers in tiny skirts toss dice for the Saviour´s robe at the base of the Cross.

Above the altar a tapestry by Robert de Caunac….Mary is the new Eve and a huge statue of the Virgin of Mercy by Georges Saupique watches over all.

Light a candle before plunging into the former fleshpots of Soho and Leicester Square.

Most Londoners avoid Leicester Square unless they´re heading for the cinema.

Leicester Square is famous not only for huge cinemas, but also for the old clockhouse which has been converted into a popular tourist information centre where we picked up our London Passes, granting us free access or reduced rates at many of the attractions London has to offer.

Leicester Square, long famous as a centre of entertainment, is built around a small garden laid out by Albert Grant (1831 – 1899) in 1874.

In the centre of the garden is a statue of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) and at the four corners of the garden are scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726), painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), artist William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) and Scottish surgeon Dr. John Hunter (1728 – 1793), along with a statue of Hollywood actor/director Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977).

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

I think of William Hogarth´s most famous pictorial series, A Harlot´s Progress, paintings show the story of a young country woman, M. (Moll or Mary) Hackabout, and her search for work as a seamstress in London and how she eventually ends up as first as a mistress to become a common prostitute who gets imprisoned and then dies from syphilis at the age of 23.

Above: Plate 1, A Harlot´s Progress, brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham (on the right) procures a young woman newly arrived in London

It is suggested that Hogarth either meant for M. to be named after the heroine of Moll Flanders or ironically named after the Virgin Mary.

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Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

(Daniel Defoe´s novel Moll Flanders tells the story of “the fortunes and misfortunes of a woman who was Born in Newgate Prison, was 12 times a whore, 5 times a wife, 12 years a thief, 8 years a criminal in Virginia, who had last grew rich, lived honestly and died a penitent”.)

(Daniel Defoe´s most famous novel Robinson Crusoe is second only to the Bible in its number of translations.)

In the 18th century, this once pleasant leafy square was home to the fashionable “Leicester House set”, headed by successive Hanoverian Princes of Wales who did not get along with their fathers.

In the mid-19th century, Leicester Square boasted Turkish baths and music halls.

Today M & M´s World has taken the sheen off the traditional shine.

Bildergebnis für m & m london

We debate how and when we will use our London Passes.

We opt to visit an attraction that doesn´t require admission, that can allow us to delay until the next day using our London Passes.

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

South, the Tube propels us under the Thames River, with stops at Charing Cross, Embankment, Waterloo, Elephant and Castle.

(Charing Cross is named after the Queen Eleanor (of Castile)(1241 – 1290)(reigned 1272 – 1290) Memorial Cross in what was once the hamlet of Charing.

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

Embankment is the name of a Thames River pier, the main western departure point of the river boat service, the MBNA Thames Clippers.

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Waterloo Road, Bridge, Train Station and Tube Station are all named to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, Belgium (18 June 1815).

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler

The Elephant and Castle was once the name of a local inn.)

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Another tube line northeast to Borough tube station.

In the time of Stuart and Tudor kings and queens, the main reason for crossing the Thames to Southwark, was to visit the disresputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, people come to visit the mighty Tate Modern Museum, the remarkably reconstructed Shakespeare´s Globe Theatre and the Shard with its sublime view which on a clear day stretches on forever.

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Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

We poke our heads up from the Underground, to a junction where the three streets of Marshalsea Road, Long Road and Great Dover Street meet and greet Borough High Street.

Where the High meets the Long, we see the Church of St. George the Martyr, separated from the tiny lane of Tabard Street by the last remaining wall of the infamous Marshalsea Prison.

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Southwark was home to many famous literary figures, including Geoffrey Chauncer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

Charles immortalised The Borough area in his novel Little Dorritt, whose fictional father, like Charles Dickens´ own father, was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison for failing to pay his debts.

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Dorritt gets married at St. George and inside the church is a stained glass memorial showing Dorritt kneeling in prayer.

Little Dorrit in stained glass in one of the church windows.

St. George´s steeple has four clocks, but one of them, facing Bermondsey to the east, is black and is not illuminated at night, allegedly because the parishioners of Bermondsey refused to pay their share for the church.

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

Go through Little Dorritt Park to Redcross Way, turn right and cross over Union Street, and on your left you will see a wasteland.

This piece of wasteland, owned by Transport for London (TfL), contains the bodies of over 15,000 people, over half of them children.

There is no evidence of their passing, for this was unhallowed ground, for prostitutes and paupers.

Crossbones Graveyard, in medieval times, was an unconsecrated graveyard for the prostitutes, the “single women”/”trulls”/”buttered buns”/”squirrels”/”punchable nuns”, known as “Winchester Geese” as this Liberty of the Clink area of Southwark was administered by the Bishop of Winchester who had the power to licence prostitutes and brothels (“stews”).

The Liberty was a free zone outside the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of London, near the prison called the Clink.

The brothels in the Liberty persisted for 500 years until Oliver Cromwell closed down the entire area.

The Winchester Geese were refused burial in the graveyard of St. Saviour´s parish, even though they owed their jobs to the church.

After the closure of the Liberty, Crossbones Graveyard served as a burial place for the poor.

It was closed in 1853 as it was “completely overcharged with the dead”.

The round brown memorial sign on the gates, where the local people have created a shrine, reads “The Outcast Dead R.I.P”.

The gates are covered with ribbons of sympathy, there are vigils for the Outcast on the 23rd of each month at 7 pm and the perfectly formed Crossbones Garden of Remembrance is open weekday afternoons from noon to 3 pm.

But we are hours too soon for the vigil and are too late to enter the Garden.

Our goal is to whirlwind view the Tate Modern within the space of 90 minutes before it closes at 5 pm then stroll beside and across the Thames before returning to our hotel.

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

The dead of Crossbones remain outcast, the women who shared their bodies forgotten, the destitute have no value.

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

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Above: The Shard, London

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Baedeker´s- AA London / DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 London 2017 Lonely Planet London Condensed / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Michael Bond, Paddington´s Guide to London: A Bear´s Eye View / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Ben Judah, This Is London: Life and Death in the World City / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City / Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison, Literary London

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot

Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 11 November 2017

I have a man cold.

I should have been at work yesterday, but, oh!, the agony, the suffering!

My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?

But with voice muted and a head full of unmentionables one shouldn´t mention, I find myself running between toilet and kitchen, bedroom and study, torn between the discomfort of body and the restlessness of mind.

When one is ill and alone, thoughts drift to ideas of mortality.

No, a man cold won´t kill me, but life is not enjoyed in the living through it.

I am not dying, but my imagination imagines it so.

When one is ill and alone, one begins to question one´s beliefs about religion, Karma, God, that sort of thing.

I have written about this idea of religion before….

(See Buddha by the Mosel, No Jains in Switzerland, Them and Us: Points of View, The glory departed, Tough to be the Chosen, The desire for an Amish paradise, The Little Shop of Ethics, How to convert this barbarian, Giving thanks, Saints and Monsters, The Jihad of Canada Slim, Snowflakes from Nazareth, Unwanted Christmas presenceReformation by the River and the Railroad Tracks, Flames and broken promises, Burkinis on the beach, the trilogies Moving heaven and earth and Adam in the Abbey, Behind the veil: Islam (ophobia) for dummies of this blog.)

….but as the year draws to a close  –  as Christmas decorations already present in November remind us  –  I realise that 2017 marks an important religious event.

Less than a fortnight ago the Christian world, i.e. the non-Catholic Christian world, celebrated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

It is said that on the night of 31 October 1517, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) nailed his protest, his Ninety-Five Theses, against the Catholic Church´s practices on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Painting of Martin Luther in monk's garb preaching and gesturing while a boy nails the Ninety-Five Theses to the door before a crowd

His cause would be adopted and adapted by other religious reformers in other nations.

Among these other reformers would be the famous Swiss reformers John Calvin (1509 – 1564) and Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli (1484 – 1531).

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Above: John Calvin

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

I have spoken of Zwingli before in Reformation by the River and the Railroad Tracks and of the early reformer Jan Hus and the Council of Constance in Flames and broken promises.

Above, I used the words Christ was said to have used when he was hanging on the cross.

I used these words in jest to mock how exaggerated a man can make a man cold sound.

Without the Reformation….

I would have been guilty of sacrilege, possibly punishable by death.

I knew of these words independently through my own reading from my own Bible.

Without the Reformation…..

I could not have discovered them without my having been educated by the Church, from the only Bible my particular church happened to have.

I knew these words in English.

Without the Reformation…..

I would only have known them through a priest who would have spoken these words in Latin.

So before the sun sets on 2017 I want to speak once again in detail of Zwingli – local to the part of Switzerland I live in – and of why his actions were not only a Reformation of the Church in Switzerland but also shaped the political destiny of the country as well, as one of the men and women, one could say, built Switzerland.

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Similar to the approach I took earlier with the story of Lenin in Switzerland….

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead, CS and the Zimmerwald Movement, CS and the Forces of Darkness, CS and the Dawn of a Revolution, CS and the Bloodstained Ground, CS and the High Road to Anarchy, CS and the Birth of a Nation, CS and the Coming of the Fall, CS and the Undiscovered Country, and, finally, CS and the Sealed Train of this blog.)

….I shall take you, gentle reader, to the places where Zwingli actually walked and will retrace his steps half a millennium later within Switzerland.

I have already walked three separate days “in his steps” from Wildhaus, in the Toggenburg region where he was born, to Weesen, by the Walensee, where he attended school.

(For more on the Toggenburg region, please see The Poor Man of Toggenburg of this blog.)

In the future – health, weather and time permitting – I intend to walk, a six-day walk, from Weesen to Kappel am Albis, where Zwingli died, via Glarus, Einsiedeln and Zürich, places quite important in his biography.

Similar to Lenin, there are things about Zwingli I have not liked to learn, but like Lenin, Zwingli had an impact on the world that cannot be lightly dismissed nor should be forgotten.

As I interspersed tales of Lenin within tales of northern Italy/southern Switzerland and London, so I shall alternate between Zwingli, London and northern Italy/southern Switzerland (and perhaps other tales), so hopefully that neither I as writer nor you as reader become bored.

The story of Zwingli will not be short in the telling, but I will try not to make the story feel long.

To speak of Zwingli, one needs to first understand what led to the world in which Zwingli came to be.

(For Switzerland´s early history as a Confederation, please see The underestimated 1: The bold and the reckless of this blog.)

 

The history of Christianity was not an easy one.

Principal symbol of Christianity

Founded by Jews who truly believed that the man Jesus Christ was truly the divine son of God, the saviour of mankind,  Christianity grew from being a scattering of Christian communities in Anatolia (“the seven churches in Asia”, according to Revelations), to being persecuted by the Roman Empire, to being adopted by Rome, with religious headquarters established in Rome and Christianity´s leader the Pope.

Much debate and division occurred through the centuries over theological truths, sometimes resolved through ecclesiastical meetings called Councils, sometimes through bloodshed and sometimes through parting of the ways between disagreeing factions.

The Great Schism of 1054 saw the Christian Church split in two, to form the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Western Schism saw the Catholic Church (1378 – 1417) split in which by the end of 1413 three men simultaneously claimed to be the true Pope.

This Schism was ended when the Council of Constance (Konstanz)(1414 – 1418) dismissed the three contenders and elected a fourth agreeable to everyone.

Above: Council Hall, Konstanz

Unrest due to this Great Schism of Western Christianity excited wars between princes, uprisings among the peasants and widespread concern over corruption in the Church.

New perspectives on Christianity and how it should be practiced came from John Wycliffe at Oxford University and from Jan Hus at Charles University in Prague.

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Above: John Wycliffe (1320 – 1384)

Hus (1369 – 1415), influenced by Wycliffe´s ideas, objected to some of the practices of the Church and wanted to return the Church in Bohemia and Moravia to early Christian practices of liturgy (how mass is presented) in the language of the people – for Hus´ people, Czech – (The Church universally spoke only Latin wherever it was.), the non-ecclesiastical or lay population receiving communion (the ceremony where bread and wine are consumed to represent the body and spirit of Christ) just as religious leaders did, married priests (The Church required its leaders to be chaste and celebate, so as to avoid sex and pleasure distracting from the worship of God.), and the elimination of indulgences (a payment to the Church to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins – acts of bad behaviour) and the concept of purgatory (an intermediate state of being or place in which those who wish to go to heaven must first undergo purification to achieve the necessary holiness to enter this eternal place of joy).

Hus rejected indulgences and adopted a justification by grace through faith alone or sola fide – the idea that faith alone, not anything a person might do in good works, saves souls from eternal damnation.

The Catholic Church officially concluded this debate at the Council of Constance by condemning Hus, who was executed by burning despite a promise of safe conduct.

Above: Jan Hus (centre) at the Council of Constance

The Church maintained its position that it was and should be the West´s foremost temporal (earthly/political) and divine power.

The Council did not address the national tensions nor the theological questions stirred up by the past century, which would immediately result in the Hussite Wars and later to the Reformation.

The Hussite Wars (1419 – 1434), also called the Bohemian Wars, were fought between the protesting followers of Jan Hus and various European monarchs loyal to the Catholic Church, as well among various factions of the Hussites themselves.

Above: The burning of Jan Hus by the Council of Constance, 6 July 1415

The Hussite community of believers included most of the Czech population of the Kingdom of Bohemia and formed a major spontaneous military power.

They defeated five crusades proclaimed against them by the Pope and intervened in the wars of neighbouring countries.

The fighting ended when the moderate faction of the Hussites defeated the radical faction.

They agreed to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church and the King of Bohemia in exchange for being allowed to practice their variant form of Catholicism of universal communion, that whomsoever did wrong was no longer protected by divine immunity, that the Church would own no worldly wealth save that which was needed to function.

Prior to Pope Sixtus IV (1471 – 1484), indulgences were sold only for the benefit of the living.

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Above: Francesco della Rovere, aka Sixtus IV, Pope (1471 – 1484)

Sixtus established the practice of selling indulgences for the dead to be released from purgatory, thus establishing a new lucrative stream of revenue for the Church with agents scattered across Europe to collect this.

Pope Alexander VI (1492 – 1503), one of the most controversial Popes who fathered seven children by mistresses and was suspected of gaining the papal throne through bribery and increased family finances by selling off Church positions of power.

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Above: Rodrigo de Borja, aka Alexander VI, Pope (1492 – 1503)

It would be this papal corruption, particularly the sale of indulgences, that would inspire Luther to write his 95 Theses and nail them to the Wittenberg church door.

A single page printing of the Ninety-Five Theses in two columns

Martin Luther was born to Hans and Margarethe Luther in Eisleben, Saxony, on 10 November 1483.

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Above: Martin Luther

His family moved to Mansfeld in 1484, where his father was a leaseholder of copper mines and smelter and served as one of four citizen representatives on the local town council.

Hans became a town councillor in 1492.

Martin had several brothers and sisters.

Hans was ambitious for himself and his family and was determined that Martin, his eldest son, would become a lawyer.

In accordance to his father´s wishes, Martin enrolled in law school at the University of Erfurt in 1505.

On 2 July 1505, Martin was returning to university on horseback after a trip home.

During a thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck near him.

Terrified of death and divine judgment, Martin cried out:

“Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!”

He left law school, sold his books and entered St. Augustine´s Monastery in Erfurt on 17 July 1505.

On 3 April 1507, the Bishop of Brandenburg ordained Luther in Erfurt Cathedral.

In 1508, von Staupitz, the first dean of the newly founded University of Wittenberg, sent for Luther to teach theology.

On 19 October 1512, Luther was awarded his doctorate in theology and succeeded Staupitz as the chair of the theology faculty.

Luther was made provincial vicar of Saxony and Thuringia in 1515 and was required to visit and oversee each of the eleven monasteries in his province.

In 1516, Johann Tetzel (1465 – 1519), a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church´s Pope Leo X (1513 – 1521) to sell indulgences to raise money in order to rebuild St. Peter´s Basilica in Rome (which had begun in 1506).

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Above: Johann Tetzel

Tetzel´s experiences as a preacher of indulgences led to his appointment by Albrecht von Brandenburg (1490 – 1545), the Archbishop of Mainz, who, deeply in debt, had to contribute a considerable sum toward the rebuilding of St, Peter´s.

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Above: Albrecht von Brandenburg

Archbishop Albrecht obtained permission from Pope Leo to conduct the sale of a special indulgence that wouldn´t just reduce time in purgatory but would eliminate it completely, in return for half the sale proceeds going to Rome and the other half to pay the Archbishop´s debts.

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Above: Giovanni di Lorenzo de´ Medici, aka Leo X, Pope (1513 – 1521)

On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his Archbishop, Albrecht von Brandenburg, protesting the sale of indulgences, enclosing with his letter a copy of his Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, which came to be known as the 95 Theses.

In Theses 86, Luther asked:

“Why does the Pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”

(Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC) was a Roman general and politician who played a key role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire, who amassed an enormous fortune during his life and who was considered to be one of the wealthiest men in Roman history.)

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Above: Bust of Crassus, Louvre Museum, Paris

Luther strongly objected to a saying attributed to Tetzel:

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Luther insisted that, since forgiveness is God´s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error.

Within two weeks, copies of the 95 Theses had spread throughout Germany.

Within two months, they had spread throughout Europe.

This spread was a result of Gutenberg´s printing press (invented in 1439) which allowed the dissemination of information in the language of the people possible and swift.

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Above: Johannes Gutenberg (1400 – 1468)

Thus the Reformation was born, which would give rise to Protestant movements across Europe and into America and would lead to extreme bloodshed especially in central Europe.

The Reformation and the resulting warfare and bloodshed would last until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, leaving behind a West that would forever be transformed for both better and worse.

Reformation would take two forms: Magisterial (with the support of political authorities) and Radical (without political authority support).

Luther´s initial movement (Lutheranism) within Germany diversifed and other reform impulses arose independently of Luther.

The Reformation would occur, either simultaneously or subsequently, in the Baltics, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Hungary, France, the Netherlands, Scotland and England.

The end result would be that northern Europe would come under the influence of Protestantism, southern Europe remained Catholic, while central Europe was the site of fierce bloody conflict, culminating in the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), which left it devastated.

The Thirty Years War was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history, the deadliest European religious war in history, a war that resulted in eight million fatalities.

 

Meanwhile in Switzerland….

Above: Map of Switzerland, 1530

The Swiss Confederation in Huldrych Zwingli´s time consisted of 13 Cantons.

Unlike today´s Switzerland, which operates under a federal government, each of the thirteen cantons was nearly independent, conducting its own domestic and foreign affairs.

Each canton formed its own alliances within and without the Confederation.

This relative independence served as the basis for conflict.

Military ambitions gained additional impetus with the competition to acquire new territory and resources.

Toggenburg, the region of Huldrych´s birth and early childhood, had seen warfare in his father´s time.

The Old Zürich War (1440 – 1446) had seen Canton Zürich, allied with the Hapsburgs of Austria and the Kingdom of France, fight the Swiss Confederacy – Bern, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Glarus, Zug and Appenzell – over the succession of the Count of Toggenburg.

The end result was inconclusive with both sides exhausted.

Zürich was readmitted into the Confederation when it dissolved its alliances with Austria and France.

The war showed that the Confederation had grown into a political alliance so close that it no longer tolerated separatist tendencies of a single member.

Shortly before Huldrych´s birth, the Confederation was engaged in the Burgundian Wars (1474 – 1477) allied with the Duchy of Lorraine against the Duchies of Burgundy and Savoy, which gave the Swiss Confederation the reputation of being one of the most powerful military forces in Europe of near invincibility and the rise of the practice of engaging the services of Swiss mercenaries on the battlefields of Europe.

By the time Huldrych reached his 16th year, the Swiss Confederation, victorious in its last conflict against the Habsburgs, the Swabian War of 1499, the Swiss Confederation was de facto independent.

This sense of pride in Swiss military prowess gave rise to a Swiss national consciousness and patriotism.

At the same time, Renaissance humanism, with its universal values and emphasis on scholarship had taken root in the Confederation.

 

The Renaissance (1345 – 1492) was a time in Western history that would see new developments in educational reforms, diplomacy and inductive reasoning.

Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374), aka Petrarch, rediscovered the letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) to his best friend Titus Pomponicus Atticus (110 – 32 BC).

Above: Bust of Cicero

Cicero, a Roman politician and lawyer, is considered to be one of Rome´s greatest orators and prose stylists.

His influence on the Latin language was so immense that the subsequent history of prose, not only in Latin but in European languages up to the 19th century, was said to be either a reaction against or a return to his style.

Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary (words such as evidence, humanity, Quality, quantity, essence).

Petrarch´s rediscovery of his letters is often credited for initiating the Renaissance in public affairs, humanism and classical Roman culture.

Cicero would be rediscovered again during the Enlightenment (1715 – 1789) and would have an important impact on leading 18th century thinkers like John Locke (1632 – 1704), David Hume (1711 – 1776), Charles de Montesquieu (1689 – 1755) and Edmund Burke (1730 – 1797).

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (35 – 100 AD), aka Quintilian, a Roman rhetorician from Hispania (modern Spain), declared that Cicero was “not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself.”

Cicero is credited with transforming Latin from a modest utilitarian language into a versatile literary medium capable of expressing abstract and complicated thoughts with clarity.

Petrarch´s rediscovery of Cicero´s letters in 1345 provided the impetus for searches for ancient Greek and Latin writings scattered across Europe.

Disdaining what he believed to be the ignorance of the centuries between the fall of the Roman Empire and the era in which Petrarch lived, he is credited with the coining the phrase “the Dark Ages”.

Cicero´s letters to Atticus contained such a wealth of detail concerning the inclinations of leading men, the faults of the generals and the revolutions in the government that the reader has little need for a history of that period.

Following the invention of Johannes Gutenberg´s printing press, Cicero´s On Obligations (his ideas on the best way for a person to live, behave and observe moral obligations) was the second book printed in Europe after the Gutenberg Bible.

Cicero´s writing inspired the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution and the revolutionaries of the French Revolution.

Petrarch himself would become a Cicero of his age, noted for his epic poetry and extensive correspondence, his travels as ambassador and for pleasure (Petrarch has been called the first tourist.), and his volumimous library of ancient manuscripts.

Above: Francesco Petrarca, aka Petrarch

Another admirer of Cicero´s would be Martin Luther´s and Huldrych Zwingli´s contemporary, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536), aka Erasmus of Rotterdam, who though critical of the abuses he saw within the Catholic Church and called for reform, he kept his distance from Luther and continued to recognise the authority of the Pope, emphasizing a middle way with a deep respect for tradition, piety and grace, rejecting Luther´s emphasis on faith alone.

Holbein-erasmus.jpg

Above: Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, aka Erasmus

When Erasmus hesistated to support him, Luther became angered that Erasmus was avoiding the responsibility of reform due either to cowardice or a lack of purpose.

But any hesitancy on Erasmus´ part stemmed, not from lack of courage, but rather from a concern over mounting disorder and violence of the reform movement.

When writing to one of the leaders of Lutheranism, Erasmus wrote:

“I know nothing of your church. 

At the very least it contains people who will, I fear, overturn the whole system and drive the princes into using force to restrain good and bad alike. 

The gospel, the word of God, faith, Christ and the Holy Spirit – these words are always on their lips. 

Look at their lives and they speak quite another language.”

Later Erasmus would complain of the doctrines and morals of the Reformers:

“You declaim bitterly against the luxury of priests, the ambition of bishops, the tyranny of the Roman pontiff and the babbling of the sophists (teachers of philosophy), against our prayers, fasts and masses.

You are not content to retrench the abuses that may be in these things, but must needs abolish them entirely.

Look around on this “evangelical” generation, and observe whether amongst them less indulgence is given to luxury, lust or avarice, than amongst those whom you so detest.

Show me any one person who by that Gospel has been reclaimed from drunkenness to sobriety, from fury and passion to meekness, from reviling to well-speaking, from wantonness to modesty.

I will show you a great many who have become worse through following it.

The solemn prayers of the Church are abolished, but now there are very many who never pray at all….

I have never entered their conventicles,(churches) but I have sometimes seen them returning from their sermons, the countenances of all of them displaying rage, and wonderful ferocity, as though they were animated by the evil spirit….

Who ever beheld in their meetings any one of them shedding tears, smiting his breast, or grieving for his sins?

Confession to the priest is abolished, but very few now confess to God.

They have fled from Judaism that they may become Epicureans (those who do not believe in superstitution or divine intervention).”

“Would a stable mind depart from the opinion handed down by so many men famous for holiness and miracles, depart from the decisions of the Church, and commit our souls to the faith of someone like you who has sprung up just now with a few followers? 

The leading men of your flock do not agree with you or among themselves – indeed you don´t even agree with yourself, since in this same assertion you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before.”

“You (Luther) stipulate that we should not ask for or accept anything but Holy Scripture, but you do it in such a way as to require that we permit you to be its sole interpreter, renouncing all others.”

“I detest dissension because it goes against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. 

I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

Zwingli would meet with Erasmus when the Dutchman was in Basel between August 1514 and May 1516, having studied the older man´s writings during Zwingli´s years in Glarus and Einsiedeln.

Erasmus would have a great influence on Zwingli´s relative pacifism and his subsequent focus on preaching when he began his work in Zürich, but as sympathetic as Zwingli was to Erasmus´ approach to reform via independent scholarship and seeking to change the Catholic Church from within, Zwingli did not see the danger that Erasmus saw this division in the Church would mean.

And this would cost Zwingli his life and the lives of millions of others.

A childhood begun in the shadow of war would lead to a life that would be ended by war.

I would begin my exploration of Huldrych Zwingli in the place of his birth…..

(To be continued)

Wegweisung

Sources: Wikipedia / Google

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Borders

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 11 November 2017

As one travels around the world a person discovers that there are arbitrary lines drawn across landscapes and charts and maps that define what is Here and what is to be considered There, and there are arbitrary lines drawn between classes and positions in our everyday societies.

Mankind has done this lineal division with matters large and small for millennia, whether it has been defining the limits of a landowner´s property demarcated by some creek or stone fence to the determination of a border being a river or a mountain range or some parallel of latitude or longitude that is only visible on a political map or geographer´s globe.

Mankind has even extended such boundaries upon the oceans beyond our shorelines and in the skies above our heads.

And soldiers and civilians have died to defend these lines in the sand.

This definition of what is ours versus what is not ours determines where we live, where we work, where we fish and hunt, and where we sail and fly.

And those with power determine the location of those without it, and they determine the extent of what territory they shall possess and dominate.

Those that call themselves our governments consider the land upon which we reside theirs to do with as they see fit, taking it from us if they so desire.

Taxes are considered rent for the privilege of being allowed to live upon the territory.

And what the government giveth, it can surely taketh away.

All that a person possesses can be taken away if justification warrants it, regardless of the justification´s validity.

In turn, we expect our governments to provide for our needs or at least enable us to have the illusion of taking care of our own needs.

We as humans think of ourselves as superior to the animal kingdom, yet what we mark as our territories is differently assessed by the instincts of the beasts and birds.

A bird does not care if a wall divides one human settlement from another.

It simply flies where it will.

A bear does not care if it was you who planted cabbages in a piece of ground claiming the cabbage patch as your own, for when it is hungry it sees no boundaries between your piece of civilization and the wild.

Polar Bear - Alaska (cropped).jpg

So we will kill those who take without asking, be they beast or fellow human beings.

Those with power will, if they can, take what they will, regardless of your needs or wishes in the matter.

This may cause some to defend what they regard as theirs and who believe that they and they alone have the right to this.

Such is how war began and, though modern times may be couched in different mannerisms of speech and behaviour, this is how wars begin and continue.

Where a country draws the line between what belongs to it and what belongs to others has been the source of much of what defines its history and its heritage.

The lines we define, define us.

The separation, for example, of Canada from the United States makes the almost insignificant Detroit River that separates Windsor, Ontario, Canada, from Detroit, Michigan, USA, a river of great importance that not only defines territory, but, in the minds of both Americans and Canadians, this wee stream also separates American culture from Canadian culture.

Do the trout that navigate the polluted waters know or care at what point in the river mankind has decided what is American and what is Canadian?

This definition of what is each country´s territory versus what is not, has created odd borders that make little sense but for various reasons continue in the fashion that they do, resulting in strange segregated territories such as enclaves and exclaves, no man´s land and disputed territories.

Ordinary places become extraordinary in No Man´s Land.

Such in-between places remind us how dependent we are on borders: that somehow our sense of order and certainty would be lost without them.

I don´t have an easy relationship with borders, geographical or psychological.

I have been searched, prodded, poked, delayed, detained, denied, again and again and again, for having the temerity, the colossal nerve, to cross a few feet, mere metres of land.

I have been devalued, disrespected and discredited when I have suggested that the freedom of self expression must not be limited to whatever limits others have determined it must be.

What right do I have to determine what my place in society is?

Who the hell do I think I am?

Borders are bureaucratic faultlines, imperious and unwelcoming.

Their existence is a hostile act of exclusion.

Borders are far more than lines of exclusion – their profusion reflects the varied nature of people´s political and cultural choices.

By the restriction of free movement, by the refusal of self expression, we are denied a world of choices and possibilities.

Borders often make no sense, except to the ones that have defined the borders.

An enclave is a territory, or a part of a territory, that is entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state.

Territorial waters have the same sovereign attributes as land, and enclaves may therefore exist within territorial waters.

File:Flag of the Vatican City.svg

Above: Flag of the Vatican City

So, for example, Vatican City and San Marino could be considered enclaves.

Flag of San Marino

Above: The flag of San Marino

An exclave is a portion of a state or territory geographically separated from the main part by surrounding alien territory (of one or more states).

So, for example, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, just off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland, are an exclave.

Location of Saint Pierre and Miquelon

For simplicity´s sake, an enclave is closer to its national territory than an exclave is.

Geographically speaking, there are 22 bits of Belgium scattered in odd profusion within the Netherlands and eight bits of the Netherlands scattered within Belgium.

These hodge-podge areas are called Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog.

Travel to Asia.

Along the India-Bangladesh frontier there are over 200 enclaves of either Bangladeshi territory surrounded by India or Indian territory surrounded by Bangladesh.

The Hindi name for these enclaves is chitmahals (paper palaces).

To further make a silly situation an act of pure folly, Upan Chowki Bhaini, at 53 square metres one of the smallest enclaves in the world, is an enclave inside another enclave, what geographers call a counter-enclave.

Above: The India – Bangladesh border. Indian territory is pink, Bangladeshi territory is blue.

Switzerland and its neighbours are also not immune from such complexity.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

I just need to follow the Rhine River from my home in Landschlacht towards the town of Schaffhausen to find the closest enclave, Büsingen am Hochrhein, a German town completely surrounded by Switzerland.

Location of Büsingen in detail.svg

Or I can travel south into Canton Ticino and find myself in the town of Campione d´Italia, Italian territory surrounded by Switzerland.

(I have visited both.)

To add further confusion, as an example, the Canadian Embassy in Bern is not on Swiss territory but is Canadian.

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

US military bases are American territory regardless of where they happen to be, so to visit the United States Naval Base in Guantanomo, Cuba, I would need permission from the US not Cuba even though it is located there.

Seal of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.svg

Embassies, consulates and military bases are considered extraterritorial property of the countries that maintain them.

This can also be extended to memorials, such as the Vimy Memorial in France is Canadian territory, the land underneath the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Runnymede, England, is American territory, or the Suvorov Memorial near Göschenen, Switzerland isn´t Swiss but Russian.

Bildergebnis für suvorov monument switzerland

Where the borders of a territory should be has been a subject of controversy and conflict for millennia.

Historically speaking, our trip to Como, Italy, this past summer could have been a trip to Como, Switzerland….

 

Como, Italy, 2 August 2017

In 2010, a motion in Switzerland´s Parliament by members of the nationalist Swiss People´s Party (SVP) requested the admission of adjacent territories to the Swiss Confederation: the German state of Baden-Württemberg (Population: 10 Million); the Austrian state of Vorarlberg (Population: 360,000); the Italian provinces of Bolzano, Como, Varese and Aosta (Population: 500,000; 580,000; 860,000; 125,000) and the French departments of Savoie, Haut Savoie, Ain, Jura and Alsace (Population: 405,000, 705,000; 405,000; 570,000; 250,000).

Bildergebnis für proposal for a greater switzerland by the swiss people’s party

The motion proposed to offer these territories the “Swiss model of sovereignty” as an alternative to a “creeping accession” of Switzerland to the “centralist” European Union.

Now, at first glance this proposal might appear ridiculous, but we need to consider a number of things before we outrightly dismiss this notion.

There are a number of territories within the European Union member states who wish to leave the EU in view of the ongoing European debt crisis.

Switzerland, with some exceptions, has generally formed its federation through alliance with neighbouring cantons who broke away from countries that had formerly dominated them, voted to join the Confederation and through agreements between the Confederation and the dominant nations, these territories became Swiss.

When Ticino chose to become part of the Swiss Confederation in 1798, the people of Campione d´Italia chose to remain part of the Italian province of Lombardy.

Map of Switzerland, location of Ticino highlighted

Above: Ticino (multicoloured), in Switzerland

In 1848, during the wars of Italian reunification, Campione petitioned Switzerland for annexation, but this was rejected due to the Swiss desire to maintain neutrality (a stance the Swiss have maintained since 1815).

Campione has remained Italian territory ever since.

In 1918 after the First World War, a referendum was held in Büsingen in which 96% of voters chose to become part of Switzerland.

However it never happened as Switzerland could not offer anything suitable that Germany desired.

Büsingen remains German.

File:Flag of Germany.svg

Above: The flag of Germany

In a 1919 referendum, 81% of the people of Vorarlberg voted to join Switzerland, but the effort failed because of the ambivalent position of the Swiss government and the opposition of the Allied powers.

In 1967, the German enclave of Verenahof, consisting of just three houses and fewer than a dozen people became part of Switzerland (Canton Schaffhausen) in exchange for an equal amount of Swiss territory ceded over to Germany.

Above: Today, Verenahof is nothing more than a street name.

A poll by ORF Radio in 2008 reported that half the population of Vorarlberg would be in favour of joining Switzerland.

ORF logo.svg

The 2010 Greater Switzerland Motion was widely seen as anti-EU rheotric rather than a serious proposal.

In a following statement, the Swiss Federal Council (the executive heads of government and state in Switzerland) recommended the motion´s rejection, describing the motion as a “provocation”.

The Council argued that adoption of this motion would be considered an unfriendly act by the countries surrounding Switzerland, and that it would also be at odds with international law, which in the government´s view did not provide for a right to secession except in exceptional circumstances.

(This latter argument is the crux of the problem between Spain and Catalonia at present.)

Senyera

Above: The flag of Catalonia

(See Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation of this blog for discussion of the Catalonian desire for independence from Spain.)

Understandably, the topic attracted the attention of the European media.

The media went on to report a high level of apparent popular support for joining Switzerland in the proposed territories.

In Como, an online poll in June 2010 by the La Provincia di Como newspapers found 74% of the 2,500 respondents in favour of accession to Switzerland, which the local regionalist party Lega Lombarda has long been advocating.

Another online poll by the south German Südkurier newspaper found that almost 70% of respondents replied “Yes, the Swiss are closer to us in outlook.” to a question whether the state of Baden-Württemberg should join Switzerland.

The Südkurier noted that seldom had a topic generated so much activity by its readership.

The Lombard eco-nationalist party Domá Nunch proposed an integration between Switzerland and the Italian-border area of Insubria (the former Duchy of Milano) in order to join into a new confederation.

In Sardinia, the Associazione Sardegna Canton Maritimo was formed in April 2014 with the aim of advocating Sardinia´s secession from Italy and becoming a maritime canton of Switzerland.

Die Welt in June 2014, based on an OECD study, published an article arguing that southern Germany is more similar to Switzerland than to northern or eastern Germany.

(My wife would agree with this assessment.

We have lived in both southern and northern Germany before relocating to the Swiss Canton of Thurgau.

Map of Switzerland, location of Thurgau highlighted

Above: Thurgau (multicoloured) in Switzerland

As a Canadian I did not feel the differences as keenly as she, a south German, did.

She feels more at home in Canton Thurgau in northern Switzerland than she did when we lived in the state of Niedersachsen in northern Germany)

In the wake of the Die Welt article, there were once again reports of high levels of support for accession to Switzerland in southern Germany.

Schwäbische Zeitung reported that 86% of respondents in an online survey expressed approval for accession.

Also in 2014, there were reports of a movement in Südtirol / Trentino-Alto Adige proposing annexation by Switzerland.

The 6th Global Forum Südtirol, held that year in Bolzen / Bolzano, was dedicated to the question.

As alien residents of Switzerland travelling in Italy, seeking to discover what makes Italy Italia, we are feeling rather conflicted, for we have directly experienced both the advantages and disadvantages of living in the Swiss Confederation.

To be fair to those in favour of accession into Switzerland, I understand the attractiveness of the idea, for Switzerland is unique in that its Cantons enjoy a large amount of autonomy as individual parts of an allied federation than do German states or Italian provinces do as part of their federal systems.

Otherwise Switzerland would not have remained a united confederation considering how it is comprised of Swiss German speakers, French speakers, Italian speakers and Rumansch speakers.

Though the languages of Switzerland are not quite as equally respected or universally spoken as they should be, still one retains the feeling that one can speak French and still be Swiss or speak Italian and still be Swiss, despite Swiss German dominating the nation.

So Ticino is Swiss though the Ticinese speak Italian.

Romandie, the French name for the French-speaking Cantons of Switzerland (Suisse), is Swiss though they speak French.

(For a discussion of the languages of Switzerland, please see Sympathy for the dialect of this blog.)

Perhaps the Province of Como might be better off joining the Swiss Confederation than remaining in the Italian Republic, but I have to ask….

It is clear there are certainly gains to this proposal, but what would be lost?

Do the residents of Büsingen, surrounded by Switzerland, feel German?

Do the residents of Campione, surrounded by Switzerland, feel Italian?

Can a person feel a nationality?

I grew up as an Anglophone Canadian in Francophone Québec.

File:Flag of Quebec.svg

Above: The flag of Québec

Should my allegiance be for the province that raised me or for the country where English is geographically dominant?

By moving to Switzerland, have I become less Canadian?

Would Como be less Italian if it joined Switzerland?

The attraction for us as Swiss residents in visiting Como is that it isn´t Switzerland.

In Switzerland we live by Swiss expectations.

We travel outside Switzerland because we need places that allow our thoughts and feelings to roam unimpeded by Swiss expectations.

We don´t live in Italy, so, as long as we don´t violate Italian laws, we are free to express ourselves as individually as we wish, for we know we aren´t Italian nor necessarily wish to be Italian.

File:Flag of Italy.svg

Above: The flag of Italy

Which poses other questions….

Does living in Switzerland make me Swiss?

Does not living in Canada make me less Canadian?

Or is Switzerland too set in its ways to acknowledge those not born in Switzerland as being Swiss?

Am I too set in my ways to be anything else but Canadian in spite of where I may live?

There is an illusionary idea that life outside our borders must be different because it is outside our borders, thus we create for ourselves the desire for a world that is not totally known or understood, that has the capacity to surprise us, disregarding a common humanity that shouldn´t require borders to organise itself.

My fear is that if a place like Como sweeps away its Italian past than the world may be deprived of what makes Como Italian.

Above: The lakefront of Como

Or is identity determined more by regional culture as opposed to federal territory?

Would the Comaschi become less Comaschi if Como left Italy?

Are nations only bordered divisions?

Are they linguistic collectives?

Or are they something more?

Would life be better for Como if it joined Switzerland?

Imagine how different history might have been had Como already been part of Switzerland.

We wandered the streets of Como thinking how Italian everything was.

But is Como Italian or something unique of itself?

Is New York City American?

Clockwise, from top: Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, the Unisphere in Queens, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center, Central Park, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Statue of Liberty

Is London English?

London montage. Clicking on an image in the picture causes the browser to load the appropriate article.

Is Landschlacht Swiss?

We wandered, much walking in very hot and humid conditions, to the Educational Silk Museum of Como, which manages to simultaneously be exhaustive and incomprehensible.

The Museum is “dedicated to the production of silk….the one industry that has held the centre of this historic city in a productive embrace since the 1800s”.

The visitor sees all stages of silk production: silkworm rearing, reeling (the unwinding of silk coccoons into threads), silk throwing (the twisting of the silk to make it more amenable to design), weaving (the design pattern), measurement and testing, dyeing (colour application to the design), printing and finishing.

Those of a technical bent might enjoy the various mechanisms on display, as might those deeply into the mechanics of fashion production, but the Museum lacks a universal appeal.

It took us an hour of hard walking to reach the Museum.

We were finished our tour of the Museum in 15 minutes.

It remains, despite its best efforts, a local industrial Museum.

The Museum is too focused on what makes it Comaschi rather than what is universally appealing to everyone.

We are told that the mulberry tree – the silkworm diet – can be found widespread among the foothills of the Alps.

Above: Mulberry Tree, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

We are informed that after diseases devastated Italian silkworm breeding in the 1800s silkworm eggs were needed to be imported once again from Asian countries (Japan, in particular), and carefully selected to guarantee resistance to disease.

Above: Silkworm egg, Micrographica, 1665

We are reassured that silkworm production is now quite scientific and that today´s producing countries (China, India, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam) are able to rear silkworms all year round.

But what is lacking is an explanation of what makes Como silk production unique and an exploration of the fascinating history of silk production.

As long ago as Roman times the West has coveted silk from the East.

For centuries, the first great trade route, from out of the heart of China into the mountains of central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey to the shores of the Mediterranean, has brought silk from the Orient to Europe.

The Great Silk Road, stretching over 7,000 miles, requiring many months of hard travelling, crossing many borders, has always been a journey of great adventure, filled with drama and spectacle, whether it has been accomplished by bus or donkey cart, train or plane, jeep or camel.

The visitor, if afforded glimpses of what makes silk production so universal, could then be led to the understanding of what makes silk production so special an endeavour.

The Museum could stand as a testament to the glory of Como silk production if it were made clearer as to what makes Como silk production so unique besides just having been done in Como.

The Museum could be a perfect testimony of the wisdom of the adage “Think globally. Act locally.”, if it somehow would show both the diversity of silk production origins along with the uniqueness of producing it in Como.

The Museum could transcend borders while highlighting what makes Como special.

It does not.

Instead the visitor is left with a collection of machinery to decipher and extract, with difficulty, some sort of personal meaning.

Perhaps this is what I am feeling when I consider Como.

I don´t want Como to become just one part of a collection of Cantons.

Neither do I want its uniqueness to go unappreciated by the rest of Italy.

But rather I think that the Italian government needs to remind its varied regions of how appreciated their regional differences are while reminding those regions that Italy would not be truly a united Italy without this variety.

(This failure to do just what I have described is the seed of further conflict that will arise between Spain and its reluctant province of Catalonia.)

Borders divide people, but wisely used, borders could also tie places and people together in a common humanity.

I like dreaming.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places, and What They Tell Us about the World / Museo didattico della Seta, Guide to the Educational Silk Museum of Como / Colin Thubron, Shadow of the Silk Road

(For another perspective on borders, please see Borderline Obsessive of this blog.)