Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday 5 May 2019

Imagine the perfect holiday.

Perhaps it is an active one spent hiking and windsurfing.

Perhaps you are a culture vulture mesmerized by museums and attracted to artefacts of days gone by.

Or perhaps you long for a lengthy siesta where your hardest decision is how much sunscreen to wear today.

 

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The Canary Islands have what you want, however you want it, but being all things to all people means this is a place of contradictions.

 

The Islands lie off the coast of Africa yet they are European.

 

The Canary Islands form a Spanish archipelago and the southernmost autonomous community of Spain located in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Morocco at the closest point.

The Canary Islands, which are also known informally as the Canaries, are among the outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union proper.

It is also one of the eight regions with special consideration of historical nationality recognized as such by the Spanish Government.

The Canary Islands belong to the African Plate, like the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the African mainland.

 

Location of the Canary Islands within Spain

 

The seven main islands are (from largest to smallest in area) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

The archipelago includes much smaller islands and islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.

It also includes a series of adjacent roques (those of Salmor, Fasnia, Bonanza, Garachico and Anaga).

 

In ancient times, the island chain was often referred to as “the Fortunate Isles“.

But delving into Canarian history the casual observer has to ponder the question:

Fortunate for whom?

 

Historically, the Canary Islands have been considered a bridge between four continents: Africa, North America, South America and Europe.

And it has been their strategic location that has been both a blessing and a curse to those who have chosen to make the Islands their home.

 

Flag of Canary Islands

Above: Flag of the Canary Islands

 

The archipelago’s beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (a World Heritage Site) in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

 

 

Imagine living on an island where more people around you are tourists than residents.

 

Tourists are, by their very nature, selfish in that the pleasure principle dominates their every thought.

Most care nothing about those who reside there except in how the locals cater to their needs.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

 

The islands have a subtropical climate, with long hot summers and moderately warm winters.

The precipitation levels and the level of maritime moderation vary depending on location and elevation.

Green areas as well as desert exist on the archipelago.

Rain seems rare and snow something never seen.

 

Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation.

For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.

 

The day sky is cloudless.

The night sky stretches to infinity and beyond.

The horizon beckons with promise.

 

 

So it may be reasonable to assume that piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce.

 

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties.

Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates.

Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

 

 

Due to the strategic situation of this Spanish archipelago as a crossroads of maritime routes and commercial bridge between Europe, Africa and America, this was one of the places on the planet with the greatest pirate presence.

In the Canary Islands, the following stand out:

  • The attacks and continuous looting of Berber, English, French and Dutch corsairs
  • The presence of pirates from this archipelago who made their incursions into the Caribbean.
  • Pirates and corsairs, such as François Le Clerc, Jacques de Sores, Francis Drake, Pieter van der Does, Murat Reis and Horacio Nelson, attacked the islands.
  • Among those born in the archipelago who stands out above all is Amaro Pargo, whom the monarch Felipe V of Spain frequently benefited from his commercial incursions.

 

During the time of the Spanish Empire, the Canaries were the main stopover for Spanish galleons – galleons seeking to be laiden with treasure – on their way to the Americas, which came south to catch the prevailing northeasterly trade winds.

 

 

Sailing off the coast of Africa the closest of the Canaries to be reached is the Island of Lanzerote and thus it became the first Canary Island to be settled.

 

Lanzerote is the northernmost and easternmost of the autonomous Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is located approximately only 125 kilometres (78 miles) off the north coast of Africa and 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) from the Iberian Peninsula.

Covering 845.94 square kilometres (326.62 square miles), Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the islands in the archipelago.

With 149,183 inhabitants, it is the third most populous Canary Island, after Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

Located in the centre-west of the island is Timanfaya National Park, one of its main attractions.

The island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

The island’s capital is Arrecife.

 

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The Phoenicians may have visited or settled there, though no material evidence survives.

The first known record came from Roman author Pliny the Elder in the encyclopaedia Naturalis Historia on an expedition to the Canary Islands.

The names of the islands (then called Insulae Fortunatae or the “Fortunate Isles“) were recorded as Junonia (Fuerteventura), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Ninguaria (Tenerife), Junonia Major (La Palma), Pluvialia (El Hierro), and Capraria (La Gomera).

Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two easternmost Canary Islands, were only mentioned as the archipelago of the “purple islands“.

The Roman poet Lucan and the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy gave their precise locations.

 

 

Several archaeological expeditions have uncovered the prehistoric settlement at the archaeologic site of El Bebedero in the village of Teguise.

In one of those expeditions, by a team from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the University of Zaragoza, yielded about 100 Roman potsherds, nine pieces of metal, and one piece of glass.

The artefacts were found in strata dated between the 1st and 4th centuries.

They show that Romans did trade with the Canarians, though there is no evidence of settlements.

Lanzarote was previously settled by the Majos tribe of the Guanches, though the Romans did not mention them.

 

 

Guanches were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.

In 2017, the first genome-wide data from the Guanches confirmed a North African origin and that they were genetically most similar to modern North African Berber peoples of the nearby North African mainland.

It is believed that they migrated to the archipelago around 1000 BC or perhaps earlier.

The Guanches were the only native people known to have lived in the  region before the arrival of Europeans, as there is no evidence that the other archipelagos (Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira) were inhabited before Europeans arrived.

After the Spanish conquest of the Canaries they were ethnically and culturally absorbed by Spanish settlers, although elements of their culture survive to this day, intermixed within Canarian customs and traditions such as Silbo (the whistled language of La Gomera Island).

 

 

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Canary Islands were ignored until 999, when the Arabs arrived at the island which they dubbed al-Djezir al-Khalida (among other names).

An account of the Guanche population may have been made around AD 1150 by the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in the Nuzhatul Mushtaq, a book he wrote for King Roger II of Sicily, in which al-Idrisi reports a journey in the Atlantic Ocean made by the Mugharrarin (“the adventurers“), a family of Andalusian seafarers from Lisbon.

The only surviving version of this book, kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and first translated by Pierre Amédée Jaubert, reports that, after having reached an area of “sticky and stinking waters“, the Mugharrarin moved back and first reached an uninhabited island (Madeira or Hierro), where they found “a huge quantity of sheep, which its meat was bitter and inedible” and, then, “continued southward” and reached another island where they were soon surrounded by barks and brought to “a village whose inhabitants were often fair haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty“.

Among the villagers, one did speak Arabic and asked them where they came from.

Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.

Apart from the marvelous and fanciful content of this history, this account would suggest that Guanches had sporadic contacts with populations from the mainland.

Al-Idrisi also described the Guanche men as tall and of a reddish-brown complexion.

During the 14th century, the Guanches are presumed to have had other contacts with Balearic seafarers from Spain, suggested by the presence of Balearic artifacts found on several of the Canary Islands.

 

Map of the Balearic Islands

Above: (in red) The Balearic Islands

 

In 1336, a ship arrived from Lisbon under the guidance of Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello, who used the alias “Lanzarote da Framqua“.

A fort was later built in the area of Montaña de Guanapay near today’s Teguise.

 

 

Castilian slaving expeditions in 1385 and 1393 seized hundreds of Guanches and sold them in Spain, initiating the slave trade in the islands.

 

Where there is profit to be found on the open seas there will be those who will seek to claim it.

Slavery and piracy differ only in that the plunder of the former is the lives of human beings.

The violence used by both is indistinguishable from the other.

 

French explorer Jean de Béthencourt arrived in 1402, heading a private expedition under Castilian auspices.

Bethencourt first visited the south of Lanzarote at Playa de Papagayo, and the French overran the island within a matter of months.

 

Above: Jean de Béthencourt (1362 – 1425)

 

The island lacked mountains and gorges to serve as hideouts for the remaining Guanche population and so many Guanches were taken away as slaves.

Only 300 Guanche men were said to have remained.

 

The Castilian conquest of the Canary Islands began in 1402, with the expedition of Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle (1340 – 1415) to the island of Lanzarote.

Gadifer would invade Lanzarote and Fuerteventura with ease since many of the aboriginals, faced with issues of starvation and poor agriculture, would surrender to Spanish rule.

 

 

At the southern end of the Yaiza municipality, the first European settlement in the Canary Islands appeared in 1402 in the area known as El Rubicón, where the conquest of the Archipelago began.

In this place, the Cathedral of Saint Martial of Limoges was built.

The cathedral was destroyed by English pirates in the 16th century.

The diocese was moved in 1483 to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Roman Catholic Diocese of Canarias).

 

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In 1404, the Castilians (with the support of the King of Castile) came and fought the local Guanches who were further decimated.

The islands of Fuerteventura and El Hierro were later similarly conquered.

 

In 1477, a decision by the royal council of Castile confirmed a grant of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, with the smaller islands of Ferro and Gomera to the Castilian nobles Herrera, who held their fief until the end of the 18th century.

In 1585, the Ottoman admiral Murat Reis temporarily seized Lanzarote.

In the 17th century, pirates raided the island and took 1,000 inhabitants into slavery in Cueva de los Verdes.

 

From 1730 to 1736, the island was hit by a series of volcanic eruptions, producing 32 new volcanoes in a stretch of 18 kilometres (11 miles).

The priest of Yaiza, Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, documented the eruption in detail until 1731.

Lava covered a quarter of the island’s surface, including the most fertile soil and 11 villages.

100 smaller volcanoes were located in the area called Montañas del Fuego, the “Mountains of Fire“.

 

 

In 1768, drought affected the deforested island and winter rains did not fall.

Much of the population was forced to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas, including a group which formed a significant addition to the Spanish settlers in Texas at San Antonio de Bexar in 1731.

 

 

Another volcanic eruption occurred within the range of Tiagua in 1824, which was less violent than the major eruption between 1730 and 1736.

Thus the island has become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protected site.

 

According to a report in the Financial Times, this status was endangered by a local corruption scandal.

Since May 2009, police have arrested the former president of Lanzarote, the former mayor of Arrecife and more than 20 politicians and businessmen in connection with illegal building permits along Lanzarote’s coastline.

UNESCO has threatened to revoke Lanzarote’s Biosphere Reserve status, “if the developments are not respecting local needs and are impacting on the environment“.

The President of the Cabildo of Lanzarote denied “any threat to Lanzarote’s UNESCO status“.

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Piracy upon the open sea beside the shores of Lanzarote may be a thing of the past but greed remains eternal.

 

 

Teguise, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Sunday 1 December 2018

As described in a previous post of this blog, my wife and I arrived on the island and drove from the airport near the island capital of Arrecife to the resort town of Costa Teguise where we overnighted for the entirety of our stay on Lanzarote.

(Please see Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.)

 

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Above: Lanzarote Airport

 

Our previous research gleaned that Sunday was market day in Teguise so soon after we checked into our hotel we quickly headed here.

 

Teguise, also known as La Villa de Teguise, is a village in the Municipality of Teguise in the north central part of the Island, 12 km north of Arrecife.

Here North Africa meets Spanish pueblo.

Like no other place on Lanzarote, it has preserved its historic appearance to this day.

It is an intriguing mini-oasis of low buildings set around a central plaza and surrounded by the bare plains of central Lanzarote.

The small old town forms a compact whole that impresses in its uniformity.

The Andalusian style of southern Spain sets the tone.

 

Plaza Mayor

 

The outwardly simple, white houses have high, carved wooden portals and large shutters in front of the windows.

The former capital was built in the 15th century for fear of pirate raids in the middle of the island, right at the foot of the striking Montana de Guanapay.

Built in the Spanish colonial style, it presents a magnificent ensemble of stylish churches and monasteries, harmonious squares, magnificent old houses and quiet streets.

Old town Teguise has been a listed heritage site for over twenty years and is the jewel of Lanzarote.

It is considered one of the best preserved settlement centers of the Canaries.

As of 1 January 2018 the village’s population was 1,776.

 

The town was founded in 1418 and served as the capital of the Kingdom of the Canary Islands from 1425 to 1448 and as capital of Lanzarote until the capital was moved to Arrecife in 1852.

Teguise is said to have been founded by Maciot – the successor of the aforementioned Jean de Béthencourt – who is rumoured to have lived here with Princess Teguise, the daughter of the Guanche King Guadarfia.

 

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Various convents were founded and the town prospered.

But with prosperity came other problems, including pirates who plundered the town several times.

 

Although the strategic location of the city was favorable – protected to the north by the Famara reef, in addition to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara enthroned above the city, a broad overview in all directions, the following centuries were marked by numerous bloody pirate attacks, undoubtedly reactions to the brutal raids of Teguise’s feudal lords, who had previously deported thousands of Berbers to slavery on the African coasts.

Teguise went through hard times and was said to be no more than a miserable village with thatched huts.

 

In 1586, Algerian pirates stormed the city under their infamous leader Morato Arráez and put down everything that stood in their way.

The Callejon de Sangre (Blood Alley) behind the parish church recalls this terrible tragedy.

 

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In 1618, plundering Berber hordes burnt down the city completely, enslaving much of the island’s population.

As a result, Teguise’s historic buildings were increasingly economically unattractive for most of the late 17th and 18th centuries.

 

And this is why, in 1852, the up-and-coming port city of Arrecife was named the new capital of the island, while Teguise evolved into the open-air museum that it still represents today.

 

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Firmly on the tourist trail, there are several shops here selling flowing garments and handmade jewellery, plus restaurants, bars and a handful of monuments testifying to the fact that the town once was the capital.

This is a town of spacious squares and well-kept cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored houses that testify to Teguise’s former glory.

For a stroll, however, you should choose a really sunny day, because Teguise is located in a relatively uncomfortable island corner, namely on a cold and draughty plateau.

During the week, Teguise is a quiet place, ideal for a leisurely stroll through the streets.

 

Sunday is all about the huge folksy market that takes place here every week.

It is a day of flourishing handicrafts in the market with throngs of tourists shopping and gorging themselves into a satiated stupor and locals lounging beneath a gentle breeze and a warm sun.

Throughout the entire old town, stands are close to one other, in between streams of visitors from the whole island crowded here for this one moment in time, the bars and restaurants bursting in an exuberant mood.

A day for dancing, if being leisurely was not so tempting.

 

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What strikes the visitor to Teguise Market the most is the foreign feel of the artists, the arts and crafts, the ecological and esoteric scene.

Various shops around the two central squares offer natural products, jewelery, antiques and so on – certainly not only because Teguise is so “beautiful“, but above all for tangible commercial reasons, because during the big Sunday market, the city is always very well attended.

 

But as well Canarian culture has a focus in Teguise.

Thus, the former capital of the island is considered the place of origin of the timples, the traditional guitar-like string instruments of Canarios, of which an exhibition in the Palacio Spinola proudly praises in the central square of Teguise.

 

 

The timple is a traditional 5-string plucked string instrument of the Canary Islands.

On La Palma Island and in the north of the island of Tenerife, many timple players omit the fifth (D) string, in order to play the timple as a four-string ukulele, though this is considered less traditional by players and advocates of the five-string version.

The players of the four-string style, in return, say that they are simply playing the timple in the old-fashioned way from before the time when a fifth string was introduced in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Timple players (timplistas) of note are Benito Cabrera from Lanzarote, José Antonio Ramos, Totoyo Millares, and Germán López from Gran Canaria, and Pedro Izquierdo from Tenerife.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, at Calle Flores 8, is one of the last to build the famous Canarian guitars.

He also supplies many music groups in other Canary Islands.

Various sizes are produced, from the mini-model to the contratimple.

The Cabildo de Lanzarote, through its Departments of Culture and Industry, has recognized Antonio Lemes Hernández for his involvement of more than half a century in the production of timples.

Lemes, a craftsman from Teguise, has been building timples since he was very small.

He himself recognizes that:

“I have not done anything else, all my life making timples.
I made them out of cardboard as a child.

We brushed them and made them from that material, but of course, I made them and broke them, I did not have a teacher.” 

So he perfected his technique.

And to transform the wood….
I used to make them from polisandro, moral, mahogany, and the lid, which is always made of pine.

The important thing is that it is good wood so that they can tune well.

 

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Sixty years after his first contact with the timple, Antonio’s hands continue to mold, giving life to the sound camel .

To play what is the treasure of Lanzerote music.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, popularly known as Lolo, was born in the stately Villa de Teguise.

As a child he learned the technique of woodworking in the School of Crafts of Teguise, although it was his carpenter companion, Antonio de León Bonilla, who had some knowledge of the timple, who taught him to shape the sound camel.

Little by little, Antonio became fond of this instrument, so today his works are highly valued and requested, some to make sound alone or at parties and others are conservative and wish to possess a timble like a real jewel in private storage.

 

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Antonio Lemes has always been linked to the world of music.

In his youth he was part of the famous orchestra of Teguise known as Lira and Lido and he was also a part of cultural institutions such as Rancho de Pascuas de Teguise.

 

At present, Antonio Lemes enjoys his retirement, although as he can not stand idly by, so every day he goes to his workshop located on Flores Street, where he continues to practice the work that made him fall in love as a child, the construction of the timple.

 

In 2016, the Guagime Folkloric Association of Tahíche showed him public recognition by giving him their highest award, the ‘Silver Insignia‘, for his dedication to the development of the timple.

 

 

The eclectic church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe skulks in the town square.

Constructed in the mid-15th century, it has been rebuilt many times that it feels like the divine is in a perpetual state of confusion

Inside neo-Gothic furnishings surround a statue of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, but it was afternoon when we arrived in Teguise, so we were forced to imagine the scene rather than witness it for ourselves.

 

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On the opposite side of the square stands the Palacio Spinola.

The light of God facing the darkness of man.

 

The Palacio, completed after half a century in 1780, is beautiful with a small patio and a well.

It now doubles as both a museum and the official residence of the Canary Islands government.

It too was closed by the time we decided we wanted to visit it.

 

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This impressive edifice is host to the Casa del Timple – a museum dedicated to the small guitar like instrument which plays a big role in local folklore and tradtional music.

 

The building was renovated during the 1970´s by the ubiquitous César Manrique- and provides the perfect opportunity to step back in time and sample the lifestyle of an affluent nobleman in 18th century Lanzarote, whilst also learning more about the role of the timple in island life.

 

César Manrique

Above: César Manrique (1919 – 1992)

(“For me, Lanzarote was the most beautiful place on Earth, so I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world.“)

(More on this amazing man in a future post….)

 

Today, echoes of the glorious past still resonate through Teguise´s cobbled streets – which are home to some fantastic old buildings and a wealth of colonial architecture that cannot be found anywhere else on Lanzarote.

Making La Villa, as it is known locally, one of the best-preserved historic centers in the whole of the Canary Islands.

Many of these buildings are now private residences and are therefore hidden away from public gaze behind green wooden shutters.

But the house-museum at the Palacio Spinola is open to the public.

 

The Palacio Spinola is located in the heart of Teguise in the Plaza de San Miguel – also known locally as the Plaza de Leones because of the two statues of lions that stand guard opposite the entrance to the Palace.

Construction on the building started in 1730 – the same year that the south of the island was subjected to a six-year volcanic eruption that forged the national park at Timanfaya.

These eruptions obviously disrupted life on Lanzarote and the building of the Palacio took another fifty years to complete.

The Palacio was originally known as the Inquisitors House – as it was once the HQ of the Holy Inquisition.

From the middle of the 18th Century it became home to the Feo Peraza family, the best known of whom was the policitican Jose Feo Armas.

But by 1895 the Palacio had passed into the hands of the wealthy Spinola family.

The impressive frontage of the building with its six huge windows enclosed by intricately carved wooden shutters is a clear indication of the prosperity of the original owners.

 

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You needed serious money to afford this sort of opulence in the early 18th century.

 

Visitors walk through a formal entrance way, tiled with volcanic stone – where a small admission charge of €3 is made (free for children under 12 years) – and they are then free to explore the passageways and patios of the Palacio with the help of a basic printed guide which outlines the function of each room.

Amongst the most fascinating of these are the kitchens, with a chimney arrangement that is open to the elements in order to carry away cooking smoke, a latticed viewing gallery that overlooks the two main salons, or living rooms, a massive dining room with seating for thirty two guests and a small private family chapel, featuring an intricately carved wooden altar.

Throughout the Palacio, modern paintings by local artists, such as Aguilar, are juxtaposed with antique and reproduction furniture.

The exterior of the building is equally impressive, as long passageways lead visitors out into a delightful courtyard area that houses two stately old Canarian palm trees as well as a variety of flowering plants such as hibiscus and strelitza as well as an array of colourful succulents.

Here, visitors can observe the giant wooden door guarding the entranceway – built to a height that would allow both a horse and rider to enter unhindered.

 

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The Palacio Spinola isn’t huge – comprising eleven rooms in total, so it will probably only occupy an hour or so of your time at best, but it is an extremely well preserved example of 18th century architecture.

And who knows – you might even bump into a modern day grandee.

As the Palacio Spinola is also now the official residence of the President of the Canary Islands when he is visiting Lanzarote.

 

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Above: Fernando Clavijo Batlle, current President of the Canary Islands

 

 

Towering over the town is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, built in the early 16th century on top of the 452-metre (1,480 foot) high Guanapay Peak and provides a view almost over the entire island.

Visible from afar, the fortress Santa Bárbara perches on a bare crater ridge above Teguise.

A real mini “knight’s castle” with massive masonry, drawbridge and small round towers awaits the visitor.

Inside, a pirate museum has been housed here for several years.

 

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The Museo de la Pirateria (Pirate Museum) has an exhibition that deals with an almost existential theme for Teguise and is also good for children.

With cartoon figures, picture stories, dioramas, historical signs and museum relics, the city’s hard times come to life again.

Excerpts from pirate films with six galleys from 1586 under Morato Arráez who conquers the castle and leaves Teguise with 200 prisoners, including the wife and daughter of the city commander Marquis Agustin Herrera y Rojas, for which Arráez finally receives 20,000 ducats for their ransom.

 

For me, Teguise, and most especially the Pirate Museum of Castle Bárbara, struck me as incongruous and felt somehow wrong.

 

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Teguise had made a fortune from the slave trade until it was punished by Africans from whose populations these slaves had come.

The mercantile nature of the town, exhibited on a Christian day that is supposed to be free of commerce and labour, though less barbaric than former times, still resonates in the overpriced restaurants with substandard food and at the overvalued merchandise stalls where the buyer need be aware of deals done deceptively.

 

The Pirate Museum bothers me intensely, for it seems inherently callous to make profit from all the pain and violence committed by these bandits of the sea, celebrated and packaged glamourously for children’s consumption.

Pirates have always been and shall always be bloodthirsty bastards unable and unwilling to earn a honest day’s labour for the bread on the table.

How many hardworking families lost all that they had, including their lives, at the gory bloody hands of murderous, torturing and raping pirates?

And yet we have given pirates a mythical mystique of free men thirsting for liberty outside the confines of society.

We have made legends out of murderers, rapists and thievies and have given them colourful sobriquets like Blackbeard and Calico Jack.

 

Above: Pirate Cemetery, Île Sainte Marie, Madagascar

 

Beginning with Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, piracy has become a celebrated cause since 1724.

 

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Since then we have had Long John Silver of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Captain Hook as Peter Pan‘s aristocratic villain of J.M. Barrie’s play, and the sea stories of Rafael Sabatini.

These have led to films like Captain Blood, The Black Swan, and, of course, the immensely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

 

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Somehow we have brainwashed ourselves with glamourous images of men walking the plank, being marooned, buried treasure, wooden legs and black eye patches, Jolly Roger flags and parrots squawking “pieces of eight, pieces of eight“.

Somehow we have come to warmly embrace and bring to life a seagoing world, befuddled twixt fact and fantasy, favouring felons of murderous, greedy, untrustworthy character, addicted to violence, crime committed casually, consciousness lacking conscience.

Somehow we don’t see unarmed fathers and sons viciously attacked, but instead we see elegant choreographed duels and sword fights, and not the bloody encounters where merciless men hack innocents down with axe and cutlass.

Real pirates bore little resemblance to Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp.

 

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Above: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

 

And women aboard ship were rarer than chocolate truffles at a homeless shelter despite what Hollywood would have you believe with their lovely heroines playing a key role in the outcomes of their films.

 

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Pirates are a frequent topic in fiction and, in their Caribbean incarnation, are associated with certain stereotypical manners of speaking and dress, most of them wholly fictional:

Nearly all our notions of their behavior come from the golden age of fictional piracy, which reached its zenith in 1881 with the appearance of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

 

 

Hugely influential in shaping the popular conception of pirates, Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pirates, published in London in 1724, is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age.

The book gives a mythical status to pirates, with naval historian David Cordingly writing:

It has been said, and there seems no reason to question this, that Captain Johnson created the modern conception of pirates.

Such as a person costumed like the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s lead role in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

 

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Some inventions of pirate culture such as “walking the plank“–in which a bound captive is forced to walk off a board extending over the sea–were popularized by J. M. Barrie’s novel, Peter Pan, where the fictional pirate Captain Hook and his crew helped define the fictional pirate archetype.

 

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English actor Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island also helped define the modern rendition of a pirate, including the stereotypical West Country “pirate accent“.

 

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Other influences include Sinbad the Sailor and the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films have helped rekindle modern interest in piracy and have performed well at the box office.

 

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The video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag also revolves around pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy.

 

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The classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Pirates of Penzance focuses on The Pirate King and his hapless band of pirates.

 

 

Many sports teams use “pirate” or a related term such as “raider” or “buccaneer” as their nickname, based on these popular stereotypes of pirates.

 

Such teams include the Pittsburgh Pirates, who acquired their nickname in 1891 after “pirating” a player from another team.

 

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The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both in the National Football League, also use pirate-related nicknames.

 

Oakland Raiders logo

Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo

 

In the early 21st century, seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$16 billion per year in 2004), particularly in the waters between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore.

 

Today, pirates armed with automatic weapons, such as assault rifles, and machine guns, grenades and rocket propelled grenades use small motorboats to attack and board ships, a tactic that takes advantage of the small number of crew members on modern cargo vessels and transport ships.

They also use larger vessels, known as “mother ships“, to supply the smaller motorboats.

 

Above: Somalian pirates

 

The international community is facing many challenges in bringing modern pirates to justice, as these attacks often occur in international waters.

Some nations have used their naval forces to protect private ships from pirate attacks and to pursue pirates, and some private vessels use armed security guards, high-pressure water cannons, or sound cannons to repel boarders, and use radar to avoid potential threats.

 

Piracy in the 21st century has taken place in a number of waters around the world, including the Gulf of Guinea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, and Falcon Lake.

 

Due to the crisis in Venezuela, issues of piracy returned to the Caribbean in the 2010s, with the increase of pirates being compared to piracy off the coast of Somalia due to the similar socioeconomic origins.

In 2016, former fishermen became pirates, appearing in the state of Sucre, with attacks happening almost daily and multiple killings occurring.

By 2018 as Venezuelans became more desperate, fears arose that Venezuelan pirates would spread throughout Caribbean waters.

 

Above: Gasoline smugglers, Limon River, Zulia State, Venezuela

 

Piracy on Falcon Lake involves crime at the border between the United States and Mexico on Falcon Lake.

The lake is a 100-kilometre-long (60 mi) reservoir constructed in 1954 and is a known drug smuggling route.

A turf war between rival drug cartels for control of the lake began in March 2010 and has led to a series of armed robberies and shooting incidents.

All of the attacks were credited to the Los Zetas cartel and occurred primarily on the Mexican side of the reservoir but within sight of the Texas coast.

The so-called pirates operate “fleets” of small boats designed to seize fishermen and smuggle drugs.

While the events have been referred to colloquially as piracy, all the waters of Falcon Lake are considered either US or Mexican territorial waters and therefore are not technically piracy under Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

 

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Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community.

By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern.

Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.

In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year.

 

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved over the first decade of the century.

For some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria.

Over time, pirates became more aggressive and better armed.

 

Above: The Gulf of Guinea

 

As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas.

This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces.

 

Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks.

They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks.

The local pirates’ overall aim is to steal oil cargo.

As such, they do not attach much importance to holding crew members and non-oil cargo and vessels for ransom.

 

Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen.

The increasingly violent methods used by these groups is believed to be part of a conscious “business model” adopted by them, in which violence and intimidation plays a major role.

 

By 2010, 45, and, by 2011, 64 incidents were reported to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (UN – IMO).

 

However, many events go unreported.

 

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Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As an example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70%.

The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about $2 billion.

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013 maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Southeast Asia.

 

Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the civil war in Somalia in the early 21st century.

Since 2005, many international organizations have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.

Piracy impeded the delivery of shipments and increased shipping expenses, costing an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).

 

 

According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a veritable industry of profiteers also arose around the piracy.

Insurance companies significantly increased their profits from the pirate attacks as insurance companies hiked rate premiums in response.

 

Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting the piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden and Guardafui Channel.

By September 2012, the heyday of piracy in the Indian Ocean was reportedly over.

 

 

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks had by October 2012 dropped to a six-year low, with only one ship attacked in the third quarter compared to thirty-six during the same period in 2011

 

By December 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence reported that only 9 vessels had been attacked during the year by the pirates, with zero successful hijackings.

 

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Control Risks attributed this 90% decline in pirate activity from the corresponding period in 2012 to the adoption of best management practices by vessel owners and crews, armed private security onboard ships, a significant naval presence and the development of onshore security forces.

 

Pirates in the Strait of Malacca near Indonesia are normally armed with guns, knives, or machetes.

Many reports on attacks could have gone unreported because the companies are scared of the pirates attacking them more often because the company told the authorities.

The pirates in this area also attack ships during the night.

If vessels sound an alarm, the pirates usually leave without confronting the crew.

Pirates in the Singapore Straits attack at night, while ships are underway or anchored.

 

 

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca had by mid-November 2013 reached a world high, surpassing those in the Gulf of Guinea.

 

 

I am all for generating income to feed a family and I realize that Teguise is highly dependent on tourism to feed theirs.

But a community that claims to be Christian should not be making a market day out of a day of rest and religious reflection.

 

I am all for having a museum that portrays reality historically accurate, but I find it objectionable to package criminal barbarity as a fun day out with the kids.

Piracy in all of its horror is not something that should be forgotten, but neither should it be glamorized nor sanitizied as entertainment for children.

 

Perhaps being a tourist is all about ignoring the realities of life, escaping from life.

But nothing is learned from life or travel if all we choose to see is only pleasureable.

 

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Teguise is a beautiful town worth visiting but it has forgotten what value truly is.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of faith.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of truth.

 

When houses of worship are ignored on a day of faith to increase a merchant’s profits….

When violent crime is packaged to sell tickets to children….

Then a community has sold its soul for filthy lucre.

 

I liked the streets of the town and the warm sunshine after the cold and damp of Switzerland, but I longed for real people uninterested in garnering money or attention from visitors.

Real folks content with living life on their own terms rather than that dictated by others.

 

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The aforementioned timple maker Antonio Lemes Hernandez is one.

Don Pillimpo is another.

 

On the access road from Mozaga, diagonally across from the petrol station, there is a house with a garden full of original sculptures, everyday and art objects, children’s toys, teddy bears and dolls.

 

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Pillimpo, who is actually known as José Garcia Martin, is constantly expanding and changing his unusual collection, the children of Teguise bring him their discarded toys, new color paintings enliven the large sculptures, unusual compositions call out for the viewer to notice.

 

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This strange collection of statues frequently stops passers by in their tracks.

Cars pause in the road whilst their passengers stare.

Pedestrians stop to browse the chaotic display of figurines.

The colour of the statues change frequently, shades of grey, green and pale pink.

 

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The house is referred to as the Casa Museo Mara Mao after the statue holding this name up.

The front door is generally open, although it is said the artist is shy about being photographed and doesn’t like people entering his garden.

Rogue dolls’ heads daubed with paint and teddy bears chained to the tree  have been embraced into this artist’s eclectic display.

In his 60’s Don Pillimpo is free to use his quirky imagination for everyone to wonder at.

Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, pass the Pillimpo figurine park every year, but few people know the name of this artist.

 

Speechlessness, astonishment, amusement and helplessness is felt by those who pass by Pillimpos’s garden, as well as rejection, a sad shaking of the head, indifference, even fear.

But if you ask someone about these characters, who makes them, if they have any meaning, why Pillimpo dresses them in new colors over and over again, you only hear shrugs.

Maybe because it is not easy to approach the creator of this chaotic world?

 

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Because the God of this Garden, of these saint sculptures, dolls, teddy bears, plush moose, Santa Clauses and action toy monsters with names like “Cloverfield” or “Zombie Spawn” does not show his world to the audience?

Pillimpo does not want to explain his world.

This world is dominated by larger than life figures of sand and cement, and the iconography reminds all those who grew up in the Christian context of saints that in the midst of society children have become disposable victims.

 

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I never saw a greater balance between order and chaos, kitsch and authenticity.“, wrote a Spanish admirer of Pillimpos art on his blog.

Horrible.  I do not like it.  It’s just too heavy for me.“, an island-renowned German artist described his feelings about Pillimpo’s work.

Another artist looks at Pillimpos’s work from his own perspective of usual order and harmony:

So if my garden should look like this then you can instruct me!

 

So, is this art?

 

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Art is a human cultural product, the result of a creative process.

The artwork is usually at the end of this process, but can also be the process itself.

Admiration, as such, is essential to art, but this does not have to be immediate in time and can only be the result of gaining knowledge.” is one definition of art according to Wikipedia.

 

Perception, imagination and intuition are some of the requirements for the artistic process.

Pillimpo’s creativity and imagination are innate to him, he says.

A gift from God that he believes in, for which he is grateful.

He emphasizes this again and again.

He knows his art is not universally loved.

In their opinion, I disturb the cityscape.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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But they can not easily get rid of the man.

Thank God.

 

The land is his property.

The house in which he lives, and which is also inhabited by his creatures inside him, belongs to him.

He built it with his own hands.

No problem for the skilled bricklayer, who was born over half a century ago in his grandfather’s house near Teguise.

 

A hard time was the time of his youth, he recalls, and speaks of his mother, who gave birth to five more children, three girls and two boys.

Even as a young boy, Pillimpo had a thriving imagination.

Every morning, as he gazed at the sunbeams that filtered through the holes and cracks in the meagerly plastered walls, he was fascinated by the play of light and shadow and the forms his imagination accepted.

Too high reaching dreams for a boy from poverty, on Lanzarote, where at times, water was valuable, food scarce and schooling almost impossible.

Although little José could go to school, it was not fun for him.

When you come into the world, God has already given you all the skills you should have.

He gave me imagination.

 

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Pillimpo leaves the subject quickly behind, almost as fast as the questions – about the meaning of his characters, whether he gives them names, why he always wraps them in new colors and how often he does that, where do the toys come from and why does his art matter – come flying at him.

It’s as if he does not hear these questions right.

He mentions that he gets the toys from local children.

He is happy when they look into his garden as they hold their parents’ hands and proudly point to their old teddy bear.

A special meaning?

Do his characters have names?

Names?  What names ?  No, they have no names.

As for the colours, I change, because I just enjoy it.

I love colors and I love all these things.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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And, with that, the explanation is done for him.

Pillimpo goes into the house.

When he comes back, he has a magazine in his hand.

He leafs a bit until he finds what he’s looking for and then proudly shows an article about himself with many photos of his sculpture park and a poem.

He reads it aloud.

The interviewers are silent.

They go home but their thoughts remain in this other world for a long time.

In Pillimpos’s world.

 

In Pillimpos’s world, toys cast out of children’s rooms find a new home, new appreciation and attention.

A new place where they are admired or pitied.

Here, childlike feelings return to the adult.

No viewer can escape the power of this mixture of chaos and order, kitsch and originality.

 

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Who is this man and why does he do what he does?

It is futile to ask others.

Nobody really knows anything about him.

There are only stories, rumours, now and then a grin.

 

Pillimpo began to scrape drawings in the sand with a stick and form figures out of loam, sand and water.

He often sits for hours, giving free rein to his imagination.

 

Not everyone likes that, but his mother had understood.

She had protected him, even defended his “quirks” from others, and did not laugh when he started to make music and dreamed of becoming an actor.

 

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Pillimpo speaks of his dreams only to those able to exchange views with a true philosopher.

I would like to speak with a great thinker, so maybe I can know if I’m right in my views or if I’m a bit of a fool.“, he says seriously.

 

I cannot help but compare and contrast the Pirate Museum with the garden of Don Pillimpo.

 

The former forms the fantastic from facts best forgotten in the frentic thirst for profits.

The latter at no cost leaves a legacy of nostalgia for the children we once were.

 

The Museum claims to be history but it is not.

The garden makes no claims about being art but it is.

 

Teguise, for me, will never be about El Mercadillo (the name of this Sunday market) or the Castillo Santa Bárbara, despite how both dominate the attention.

Teguise is instead quiet humble pride whispered from a timple workshop and an eclectic sculpture garden.

 

And this is something no pirate could ever take from me.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Canary Islands / DK Eyewitness Canary Islands / Eberhard Fohrer, Lanzarote / http://www.lanzarote37.net / https://lanzaroteinfomration.co.uk

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Canada Slim and the Legacy of Left Boy

Landschlacht, Switzerland (Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera)

Thursday 24 April 2019

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She is susceptible.
He is impossible.
They have their cross to share.
Three of a perfect pair.
He has his contradicting views.
She has her cyclothymic moods.
They make a study in despair.
Three of a perfect pair.

One, one too many
Schizophrenic tendencies
Keeps it complicated
Keeps it aggravated
And full of this hopelessness.
What a perfect mess.

 

It has been said that there are two true tests of a relationship:

  • Assembling IKEA furniture together
  • Travelling together

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Though we are not much good at the former, we are not too bad at the latter.

 

I have previously written about our visit to Gardone Riviera by the Lago di Garda in northern Italy.

 

Panorama of Gardone Riviera

 

I described with much detail the life of Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio and the Il Vittoriale degli Italiani where he spent his last days in this town.

 

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Above: Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863 – 1938)

 

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Above: Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera

 

(Please see Canada Slim and the Shrine of Italian Victories of this blog.)

 

We discovered that there is more in this town of 3,000 than just a Fascist rabblerouser’s monument to ego.

 

Gardone Riviera, Italy, Sunday 6 August 2018

In the sweltering summer heat we discover that the town has two other claims to fame….

 

On 21 June 2000, the English band King Crimson recorded in its auditorium the songs “Three of a Perfect Pair” and “Blastic Rhino” for the album Heavy ConstruKction.

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Above: L’Ampiteatro, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera

 

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King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968.

They have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists.

The band has undergone numerous formations throughout its history, in the course of which 22 musicians have been members.

Since October 2017 it has consisted of Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey and Bill Rieflin.

Fripp is the only consistent member of the group and is considered the band’s leader and driving force.

The band has earned a large cult following.

They were ranked No. 87 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.

Although considered to be a seminal progressive rock band (a genre characterised by extended instrumental sections and complex song structures), they have often distanced themselves from the genre.

As well as influencing several generations of progressive and psychedelic rock bands, they have also been an influence on subsequent alternative metal, hardcore and experimental/noise musicians.

 

Heavy ConstruKction is a live album (3-CD set), incorporating video footage, by the band King Crimson, released by Discipline Global Mobile records in 2000.

The album features recordings from King Crimson’s European tour of May to July 2000, taken from DAT recordings of the front-of-house mixing desk.

King Crimson’s 2000 European tour was conducted to promote the Studio album The Construkction of Light.

 

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The band members at the time of the tour were Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto.

Bill Bruford had previously left the group, and Tony Levin was not included in this particular King Crimson project due to prior commitments.

The third disc features band improvisations from different shows, which are often spliced together in the same track.

The liner notes describe the disc as “a cohesive presentation out of a series of incoherent events“.

Which also accurates describes the band itself.

 

We’re so different from each other that one night someone in the band will play something that the rest of us have never heard before and you just have to listen for a second.
Then you react to his statement, usually in a different way than they would expect.
It’s the improvisation that makes the group amazing for me.
You know, taking chances.
There is no format really in which we fall into.
We discover things while improvising and if they’re really basically good ideas we try and work them in as new numbers, all the while keeping the improvisation thing alive and continually expanding.

(King Crimson violinist David Cross on the band’s approach to improvisation)

 

Above: David Cross

 

Gardone Riviera’s second claim to fame….

 

The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller (2 acres), also known as the Giardino Botanico Arturo Hruska, is a botanical garden located on the grounds of the André Heller Foundation above Lake Garda, in via Roma, Gardone Riviera.

It is open daily in the warmer months.

 

 

The Garden was established c. 1901 by Arturo Hruska (1889 – 1971), who, from 1910-1971, collected many species on the grounds of his villa, organized as a dense forest of bamboo, Japanese ponds, streams, and waterfalls, as well as alpine plants in ravines.

 

 

The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller is a few minutes below the Vittoriale.

Gardone’s heyday was due in part to its mild climate, something which benefits the exotic blooms that fill the Austrian artist’s sculpture garden.

Designed by the Austrian dentist and botanist Arturo Hruska at the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of tropical, subtropical and alpine plants grow here, between streams and wild limestone, is where one meets orchids and a whole bamboo forest.

 

 

Laid out in 1912, the Garden is divided into pocket-sized climate zones, with tiny paths winding from central American plains to African savannah, via swathes of tulips and bamboo.

There are more than 500 species, including cactus, edelweiss, ferns including Osmunda regalis, magnolias, orchids, water lilies and trees.

Within 10,000 square metres there are botanical species from all over the world, from the Alps to the Himalayas, from Mato Grosso to New Zealand, from Japan to Australia, from Canada to Africa.

 

 

Around 1901, Arturo Hruska, originally from Czechoslovakia, graduated in Monaco, dentist to the Czar, the Italian Royal Family, Popes Pius XII and Johannes XXIII, and King Albert of Belgium, naturalist and botanist, moved from Austria to Gardone Riviera.

The moment the beauty and the light of the Lake struck the dentist he was spurred to acquire land on the slopes of Mount Lavino.

Lake Garda with its typical Mediterranean greenery, the brilliant and magnificent peacock-blue of its waters, is numbered along with the most beautiful landscapes of Central Europe.

 

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The garden town of Gardone Riviera extends from the foothills of the Alps down to the Po Valley.

Gardone Riviera is made of two parts: the group of houses by the water and the other located on the slope by the church.

The locals call them Gardone Sopra (Upper Gardone) and Gardone Sotto (Lower Gardone).

Gardone Sotto is the elegant part:

  • The Grand Hotel, immortalized in the literary novel “Untergang eines Herzens“(Beware of Pity) by Stefan Zweig
  • the cocktail bar where Winston Churchill rested after painting

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Above: Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942)

 

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Above: Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

 

  • the park of the Savoy Hotel, that in the early 1900s would offer every night a great ball with an orchestra to the noble guests from Russia, Sweden and other cold lands.

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Gardone Sopra is more rustic, scents of olives and dry grappa, and occasionally, within the tortuous alleys, pious women still carry the Virgin Mary in procession.

 

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Probably their grandfathers worked as errand boys for the devious Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose luxurious residence, extending for nine hectares and located next to Gardone, is a token of magnificent outlandishness, celebrating war victims and cruel sacrifices that were so important for Mussolini but are repugnant to me.

 

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Above: Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

 

Gardone Sotto and Gardone Sopra combine to create a place of magic and sensuality.

 

The Botanical Garden, a collection of Continental stature, where Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia are interwoven.

Edelweiss among orchid meadows, meter tall ferns next to splendid pomegranates.

Creeks and falls, ponds with koi carps, trouts and reflections of flying dragonflies, stone hills next to cacti and ivy towers.

Indian and Moroccan sculptures in harmony with art works from Roy Lichtenstein, Susanne Schmoegner and Keith Haring.

 

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I am among this paradise, that never stops amazing me and filling me with joy, since 1988.

The dentist to the last Tsar, Dr. Arturo Hruska, funded this fortune, which also hosts a Venetian villa, that is now my beautiful home.

When I watch from one of the balconies the majesty of Lake Garda or one of my bamboo woods, it is always difficult for me to believe that this park wanted me as its custodian and ally, and I thank it, as much as I can, with love.

André Heller

 

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With a panoramic view over the Gulf of Salò and the wide, soft hilly landscape of the southern shores of Lago Garda, Gardone Sotto and Gardone Sopra reconcile between themselves a highland landscape covered in woods and dominated by cypresses, palms and evergreen magnolias.

 

The owner of this Garden of Eden since 1988 has been the Viennese artist André Heller.

The playful touches Heller has hidden among the greenery include 30 pieces of contemporary sculpture.

Look out for the jagged red figure by Keith Haring near the entrance, Rudolf Hirt’s Gandi-esque Ioanes, God of Water and Roy Lichtenstein’s polka-dot take on the Pyramids.

 

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The botanical garden acquired by André Heller, to be transformed into a centre for environmental awareness, hosts several works of art either donated or commissioned by the Austrian artist.

From the enigmatic snakes and symbols of day and night welcoming us at the entry gate, the whole environment indicates that this is not a common botanical garden.

The ticket office is decorated by Susanne Smoegner, displaying colours and shapes that connect adult world with memories of childhood, like Ferdinand’s House built and decorated by Edgar Tezak, water plays and distant sounds.

 

Giardini Heller. Heller Garden. Heller Garten. Un paradiso nel paradiso. A paradise in paradise. #hellergarden #giardiniheller #hellergarten #paradise #arte #art #artecontemporanea #contemporaryart #contemporary #garden #gardens #brescia #lombardia #lombardy #italy #Italia #italya

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Several elements connect with multiple traditions and spiritualties: Buddhist and Tibetan symbols, Hindu statues such as the Great Ganesh by Rudolph Hirt, elephant-god of luck and wisdom, protector of education, coexist with symbols of metropolitan culture and modernity.

 

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Monstrous elements recur by the Bridge of Monsters, where the intolerance of contemporary man transfigures into two monstrous heads on pikes that spit at each other.

 

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Then through a Chinese red door, Torii, you reach a purifying and cathartic path, which includes the water play Shishi-Odoshi: a sort of water clock that marks the fleeting time.

 

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Beside a walkway several large bamboo canes invite you to tickle them: striking one against the other they play like a xylophone. 

 

The link with this modern and cosmopolitan humanity is underlined by the works of Keith Haring, metropolitan artist, friend of Heller, founder of the Pop Shop.

His characters walk, hug, dance, like the Red Man next to the tree/umbrella.

Another important work by Haring is the Stele which recalls a cross, but the characters moving on it carry sexual references.

 

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Haring gifted us with his peculiar and precious interpretation of the garden with a drawing that is represented on the tickets.

 

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Other artists employed the tools that Nature and the Garden offer:

Novak built boardwalks, walls and pavements, with the 28 different species of bamboo present in the garden that provide colors and effect that no other material can grant and used a large stone suspended by rope to deviate the water flow.

 

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These interventions blend harmoniously in the surrounding environment like the great wooden Praying Mantis that crops up between tufts of grass: so well hidden that is almost unseen:

Of all arts, seeing is the hardest to learn“.

 

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The union of Art and Nature is fully celebrated within the great figure of the Genius Loci, created by André Heller.

The great anthropomorphic bust with open arms, emerges from the grass and erects himself as protector and spirit guide. 

The structure completely covered by ivy encloses the constant change of nature,

Every day leaves grow and are blown by the wind, but the great blue eyes, the nose and mouth are human interventions, added value that comes from the artist.

 

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Arturo Hruska was a student of his father Josef and was already engaged in his youth with dental alloys and metal prostheses.

He completed his training in Belgium, Ireland, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and the USA.

He received his doctorate in 1906 in Munich and completed his studies in 1913 in Padua.

He was a surgeon and traumatologist, as well as a biologist, anthropologist and essayist.

 

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Hruska dealt with the aetiology and therapy of periodontal disease.

He described it as “a disease that leads to tissue and enzyme changes through environmental influences and mutations” describing it as a characteristic disease of the civilized and consumerist world.

He was also the first to describe the therapy.

 

 

In 1901 he was called to the court in Petersburg.

The Czar allowed him to practice his profession throughout Russia.

 

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Above: Czar Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1918)

 

Hruska, however, preferred to return to Italy.

In 1903 he bought some property in Gardone Riviera and started to transform the abandoned vineyard into a garden with streams, ponds and paths.

Hruska built various small lakes with water from the nearby springs which he created as naturally as possible.

The water kept the Garden damp and cool while the trees protected it from wind and cold.

 

 

On 30 September 1903, Hruska married Dutchwoman Cornelia (Corry) Anna Lelsz (1874 – 1917).

They had four children.

Like all Austrians, the Hruska family suddenly had to leave Italy during the First World War.

They hid their valuables in the caves and under the waterfall in the garden and fled with a boat.

They later settled in Bressanone (Brixen).

The Hruska family received Italian citizenship.

 

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Arthur Hruska continued his medical work in plastic surgery and operated on maxillofacial injuries.

After the end of the First World War, the house and garden in Gardone Riviera were restored.

 

 

Hruska traveled the world, including the Pyrenees, Himalayas, Tenerife and China.

He studied mountain formations, collected plants and crossed Lapland on foot.

He then built an alpinum, a rock massif, to allow the plants to thrive in their natural environment.

His children called the Garden “Elephant Cemetery“.

The Garden is lush and green, shaded by tall exotic trees: conifers, palm trees, camphor trees, banana trees, bamboo grass, ferns, agaves, lilies and shrubs in the landscaped jungle, water plants blooming along the streams and around the ponds.

 

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Franz André Heller is an Austrian artist, author, poet, singer, songwriter and actor.

 

 

Heller was born in Vienna into a wealthy Jewish family of sweets manufacturers, Gustav & Wilhelm Heller.

He visited Café Hawelka almost daily.

It was in this coffeehouse that he met many men of letters including Friedrich Torberg, H. C. Artmann, and occasionally Elias Canetti, as well as Hans Weigel, and Helmut Qualtinger, with whom he later on collaborated and performed.

 

 

Heller took acting classes from Hans Weigel and his cohabitee Elfriede Ott.

Heller has been writing prose, poetry and songs since 1964.

He left school shortly before obtaining the Matura.

He went to a Jesuit boarding school.

From 1965 to 1967, he was a moderately successful actor at various Viennese avant-garde theatres.

In 1967, Heller co-founded Hitradio Ö3, the ORF’s then progressive pop music station, where he was one of the hosts of the daily Musicbox programme.

 

Ö3 logo

 

That same year, he recorded his first LP record with the title Nr1 that was released in 1970.

His second LP Platte was released in 1971, and, subsequently, his first play premiered entitled, King-Kong-King-Mayer-Mayer-Ling at the Vienna Festival in 1972.

As a poet-songwriter, his work spans across a period of more than 15 years selecting diverse topics and writing for a German-speaking audience.

He has worked with not only international names, such as Ástor Piazzolla, Dino Saluzzi and Freddie Hubbard, but also with Austrian artists, such as Toni Stricker, Wolfgang Ambros and Helmut Qualtinger.

Heller’s own poetry has been set to music.

He has also sung texts by other authors.

For instance, “Catherine“, from 1970, was set to one of the first hits of Heller.

The text came from the then still largely unknown Reinhard Mey, and the music from the Austro-Canadian Jack Grunsky.

With Werner Schneyder, he created Viennese German songs that are translated from Jacques Brel, such as “Franz” (after the Brel title “Jef“).

Using intimate memories of traumatic childhood experiences, and insights into his life, as well as his Catholic-Jewish origin, he created songs with the title “Angstlied” (Verwunschen, 1980).

Titles like “Miruna, die Riesin von Göteborg” (Verwunschen, 1980) are, in turn, influenced by the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.

Das Lied vom idealen Park” (Narrenlieder 1985), or, as a duet with Wolfgang Ambros, he also introduced the Bob Dylan cover, “Für immer jung” (Stimmenhören, 1983) are now titles that are part of the Austro-pop cannon.

In 1983, he appeared on Stimmenhören with the song “Erhebet euch Geliebte“, a song at the time of the peace movement in the early 1980s.

Since the early 1980s, he turned increasingly to large public productions, installations and performances, until 1982, where his concert career came to a close.

In 1985, the album, Narrenlieder, was released.

Between 1967 and 1985, he published a total of fourteen LPs, twelve of those were gold records, and earned him seven times platinum.

In 1991, he wrote, looking back on this period:

I started in 1967, to put my poems together using my voice on record and in recitals before millions of people.

This was following the example of Bob Dylan’s first meaningful and self-published poetry.

1982 was certainly the zenith of that career, where I had to stop my concerts. I realized at this point, it was spoiled for me, because at 8pm, I had to act gifted in front of a few thousand listeners, just because they had paid for admission.

(Heller in the liner notes of Kritische Gesamtausgabe, published in 1991)

However, on his 60th birthday, Heller gave a concert in April 2007 at the Viennese Radiokulturhaus, after twenty-five years of absence from the stage in a recital entitled, Konzert für mich (Concert for me).

Between 1968 and 1983, Heller recorded 15 albums as a singer of his own texts, and in part of his own compositions.

He was on the road with 9 international concert tours and was the host and entertainer in 12 evening TV shows.

In 2006, thanks to the initiative of Chris Gelbmann, he released his last album called, Ruf und Echo.

The 3-CD compendium is the first release in the past 20 years, containing new songs, and interpretations of old hits by artists like Brian Eno, Xavier Naidoo, Thomas D, and The Walkabouts.

 

 

Heller was appointed as an Artistic Director of the Artistic and Cultural Programme that ran parallel to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

His company, Artevent, was also responsible for the presentation of the Germany bid for the 2006 FIFA World Cup project.

He designed the final presentation in 2000 for the successful German application, and, in 2003, designed a “Fußball-Globus“, an architectural project consisting of a huge lit-up football globe that toured through Germany standing in public places such as Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Heller invented the motto for the football World Cup, Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden (A time to make friends).

For the World Cup, Heller planned an opening gala in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel would be involved.

On 13 January 2006, it was cancelled by FIFA.

The reason cited was that the turf, which would have been re-installed after the end of the gala, would not be in perfect condition for the first game there.

 

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Since 2003, Robert Hofferer is his manager and leads the firm Artevent, with headquarters in Vienna.

From 1976 until 1981, Heller played major roles in various international movies.

In the late 1960s, Heller joined as a financier in the film, Moos auf den Steinen (Moss on the Stones), with Erika Pluhar in one of the main roles, for which he claims to have used up his inheritance.

It was not long before he was in front the camera as an actor:

Heller played the leading roles in Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film from Germany, in Fürchte dich nicht, Jakob! by Radu Gabrea, in Doktor Faustus by Franz Seitz, and in Peter Schamoni’s Frühlingssinfonie (Spring Symphony), a supporting role in Maximilian Schell’s 1979 film, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Woods), which is based on Ödön von Horváth’s play.

In 1969, Heller participated in a televised version of Arthur Schnitzler’s tragicomedy, Das weite Land (The Wide Land), directed by Peter Beauvais.

 

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In 1989, he also worked as a stamp artist.

On behalf of the United Nations Postal Administration, he designed a stamp to commemorate UN Vienna’s tenth anniversary.

 

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Heller has received numerous international awards.

He has to date written 14 printed publications, among them are collections of stories Die Ernte der Schlaflosigkeit in Wien, Auf und Davon, Schlamassel, and Als ich ein Hund war, the novel Schattentaucher, and the collection of poems Sitzt ana und glaubt, er is zwa(with Helmut Qualtinger), as well as two picture books Jagmandir – Traum und Wirklichkeit, and Die Zaubergärten des André Heller.

 

21 TV documentaries have been produced about Heller’s projects, productions, and plans.

These were done by the likes of Werner Herzog, H. J. Syberberg, and Elsa Klensch, among others.

Heller was married from 1970 to 1984 to the actress, singer, and author Erika Pluhar.

 

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Above: Erika Pluhar, 2018

 

For some years, he lived in the 1970s with the actress Gertraud Jesserer, and much later, with the actress Andrea Eckert.

 

Above: Andrea Eckert, 2016

 

Heller was romantically involved for short periods in the mid-1980s with Anke Kesselaar, Rudi Carrell′s former wife.

 

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The artist lives in an apartment in the Palais Windisch-Graetz in Vienna’s Innere Stadt quarter that is owned by the Augustinian monastery of Klosterneuburg.

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In 2000, Heller received there German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

 

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Above: Gerhard Schröder, German Chancellor (1988 – 2005)

 

Among Heller’s works is “Blind Spot – Hitler’s Secretary” (2001): a documentary interview presented at the 52nd Berlin Film Show.

 

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Heller also became a famous visionary artist, displaying fantastic ideas, artistic creations, multimedia shows and later realized several shows with active participation from the public, managing to create a world in opposition to the daily rational one based on technology.

In 1987 he opened the avant-garde fun fair “Luna Luna” in Hamburg – a travelling territory of modern art – in 1992 the monumental sculpture “Bambus Man” in Hong Kong.

 

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Heller’s works include art for gardens, Wunderkammern, parades, millions of LPs sold as a singer-songwriter, concerts and conferences across Europe, Asia and North America, large flying and floating sculptures, movies, fireworks and labyrinths, renewal of circuses and variety shows, as well as theatrical plays and shows for the public from Broadway to the Burgtheatre in Vienna, in India and in China, in South America and in Africa, designer of museums among which the Swarovski Crystal World, Meteorit, the art direction of the Germany World Cup in 2006, and the fantastic AFRIKA-AFRIKA circus. 

 

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Heller lives part-time in the Giardino Botanico Hruska in Gardone Riviera.

He currently lives with the former model Albina Schmid in Vienna and travels the world.

 

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Heller has one son, Ferdinand, who goes under the stage name “Left Boy” for his music.

 

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Ferdinand Sarnitz, known by his stage name Left Boy, is an Austrian DJ, singer and producer from Vienna.

Sarnitz was born in Vienna in 1988 to Austrian musician André Heller and Sabina Sarnitz.

He attended the American International School of Vienna and graduated in 2007.

In his free time at school Sarnitz spent most of his time rapping.

At the age of 18, Sarnitz went to New York City to study audio engineering at the Institute of Audio Research for a year.

After living in his hometown Vienna for a short while, he decided to move to Brooklyn to live in a shared apartment with two directors, a producer and a photographer.

In December 2010, Sarnitz released his first mixtape The Second Coming for free download.

In mid-2011, he started making music videos for all of the songs.

Sarnitz often uses samples for his English songs, which haven’t been released for usability, which is why an official sound carrier couldn’t be released.

Even though he hadn’t been signed to a record label, he was able to perform at festivals in 2012, including “Sea of Love” and “HipHop Open“.

Live, he is accompanied by the dance group “Urban Movement“.

Ruan Roets is a big fan, describing the Left Boy sound as “poes goed“.

Sarnitz has a son, Yves-Louis.

He cites Wu-Tang Clan, Oxmo Puccino, De La Soul, Atmosphere, Ugly Duckling, Daft Punk, Édith Piaf, Nina Simone, Oumou Sangaré and Gipsy Kings as his inspirations.

In 2015, he rapped in the official theme tune “Building Bridges” for the Eurovision Song Contest.

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I wonder if Left Boy truly appreciates his father’s garden.

I wonder if anyone truly appreciates what came before to make what is possible today.

 

I think of Austria – Italy relations.

 

Map indicating locations of Austria and Italy

 

Austria (Österreich) has an embassy in Roma (Rome / Rom), a general consulate in Milano (Milan / Mailand) and 10 honorary consulates in Bari, Bologna, Firenze (Florence / Florenz), Genoa, Napoli (Naples), Palermo, Trieste, Torino (Turin), Venezia (Venice / Venedig) and Verona.

 

Above: Austrian Consulate, Milan

 

Italy (Italia) has an embassy in Wien (Vienna), a consulate in Innsbruck (Isprucco) and four honorary consulates in Graz, Klagenfurt (Clanforte), Linz and Salzburg (Salisburgo).

 

Above: Italian Embassy, Vienna

 

Since the Middle Ages, Austria has had a great influence over the Italian states, especially in the north of the country, but as well Italy has also influenced Austrian culture, architecture and cuisine.

 

Above: Antonio Salieri (1750 – 1825), Italian composer who worked mainly in Austria

 

Above: Nicolò Pacassi (1716 – 1790), Austrian architect of Italian descent

 

Many Italian artists and architects, like Santino Solari, Martino Altomonte, Giovanni Zucalli, Vincenzo Scamozzi, worked and contributed to the Baroque in Austria, most notably in Salzburg.

 

After the Congress of Vienna, Austrian control of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, with its key cities of Venice and Milan, created the conditions in which Italian nationalism and Austrian interests clashed in the three Wars of Italian Independence between 1848 and 1866 ultimately leading to Italian victory.

Tensions remained throughout the 1870s as continued Austrian rule over Italian inhabited lands such as in Trentino and Istria, inflamed Italian nationalism which in turn threatened Austrian integrity.

As a result the Austrians built further fortifications along the Italian border.

 

In 1876, the Austrian Archduke Albrecht advocated a preventive war against Italy.

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Above: Archduke Albrecht (1817 – 1895)

 

Despite entering into the Triple Alliance of 1882 (along with Germany), areas of clashing interest remained.

Italy’s improving relations with France, Italian interests in the Balkans, and continuing nationalism amongst Italians within Austria-Hungary concerned leaders in Vienna.

Italy’s adherence to the Triple Alliance in the event of war was doubted and from 1903 plans for a possible war against Rome were again maintained by the Austrian general staff.

Mutual suspicions led to reinforcement of the frontier and speculation in the press about a war between the two countries in the first decade of the 20th century.

 

As late as 1911 Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austrian general staff, was advocating a military strike against Austria’s supposed Italian allies.

 

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Above: Conrad von Hötzendorf (1852 – 1925)

 

During World War I, Italy fought against Austria–Hungary despite their defensive alliance signed some decades earlier.

By World War I’s end, Italy emerged victorious and gained new territories from Austria and border agreements were secured.

 

Today both countries are full members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and of the European Union.

The countries share 430 km of common borders.

 

 

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said on 5 June 2018 that Italy is a strong ally of Austria.

 

And here’s the point….

 

Old enemies can lay down their swords and beat them into ploughshares.

And the result, such as a botanical garden and sculpture park, can be remarkably beautiful.

 

 

This is the legacy bequeathed to Left Boy, bequeathed to those of us who reside in Europe.

 

Certainly individuals and nations have their unique talents and opportunities, but when we sacrifice unity in pursuit of selfish gain that beauty, so difficultly obtained, so delicately fragile, can be lost.

We live in an age where popularism and nationalism has nations in nervous anxiety and dangerous xenophobic paranoia with all those who are different than we are.

 

But Italian baroque in Vienna and Austrian artistry by the shores of Lago di Garda show that, rather than divide nations, differences can enhance them.

 

A world-renowned dentist, a multi-media multi-talented superstar, and a rising musical phenomenon, Hruska, Heller and Left Boy have shown Austrians that one can find purpose outside Austria and have shown Italians that the acceptance within Italy of strangers whose ancestors had once been mortal enemies can make Italy flourish.

Father Heller and son Left Boy have travelled and will continue to travel the world, but they were never kicked out of their Garden of Eden that their fortunes nestled and nurtured in Gardone Riviera.

 

Their Garden is waiting for them, and us, to return to.

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / King Crimson, "Three of a Pair" /Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller, www.hellergarden.com

Canada Slim and the Museum of Innocence

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 August 2018

It has been ages since I have written about Turkey, but those who know me are aware that there are both many things I adore about this bridge between Asia and Europe and many things I abhor.

Flag of Turkey

Of the little exploration I have done in this great republic (the Turquoise Coast with Alanya and Antalya, Kas and Kale, Egirdir and Pamukkale, and the great city of Istanbul)….

I fell immediately and forever in love with Istanbul.

I spent only three days there.

I would have loved to have spent three decades there.

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I have written a wee bit about this amazing and ancient metropolis.

(See: Canada Slip and the Lamp Ladies, The sorrow of Batman, The fashionable dead, Take Me Back to Constantinople, Fireworks in the Fog, and Silence and Gold, of this blog.)

 

Of the little I know and understand about Turkey I find myself more and more disliking the present leader of Turkey and former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Erdogan, and so I have written a wee bit about him as well.

(See:  Bullets and Ballots and The rise of Recep of this blog.)

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Above: His Excellency President Recep Erdogan

 

There is so much to see and do in Istanbul that it is difficult to know what to recommend.

Does one go to the district of Sultanahmet and visit Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern?

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Does one look for souvenirs in the historic Arasta Bazaar?

Does one watch whirling dervishes whirl or wind down at a nargile café?

Is life a bazaar and should one explore the labyrinthine lanes and hidden caravanserais of the world-famous Grand Bazaar, or is it better to follow the steady stream of local shoppers making their way to the Spice Bazaar?

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Can a person remain the same after visiting that most magnificent of all Ottoman mosques, the Süleymaniye or after watching the sunset as one walks across the Galata Bridge?

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Is it wrong to envy the lifestyles of sultans at Topkapi Palace or to indulge sultan-like in the steamy luxury of a hamam (Turkish bath)?

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Can one forget the Bosphorus or be unimpressed by the Istanbul Modern Museum?

 

How did one live before Istanbul?

How can one live afterwards?

 

How does one discover Istanbul through literature?

It depends on what kind of Istanbul you seek.

 

Rose Macauley’s The Towers of Trebizond is a largely auotbiographical novel that focuses on a group of lively and eccentric travellers on the way from Istanbul to Trebizond (Trabzon on the Black Sea coast of northeast Turkey).

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Read this and you will soon find yourself on a boat between these cities.

 

Then there is The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer:

Most tourists come and visit the historical sights of Istanbul, but we have very modern parts and life is completely different there….

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The reader is transplanted into a subculture of the city, the transvestite club scene.

 

As Venice has Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti and Edinburgh has Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, Istanbul has Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen crime series.

The first of the series, Belshazzar’s Daughter, finds the Ikmen examining the torture and murder of an elderly Jewish man, a crime that sends shock waves through Istanbul.

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Elia Shafak’s highly acclaimed The Flea Palace focuses on the residents of the Bonbon Palace, a once Grand residency built by a Russian émigré at the end of the Tsarist period, but now a sadly rundown block of flats.

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Think A Thousand and One Nights in modern Istanbul.

 

Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most celebrated authors and much of what he has written is essentially a love letter to his city of Istanbul.

Orhan Pamuk in 2009

Above: Orhan Pamuk

Pamuk shows through both his Istanbul: Memories and the City and his novels  – (at least those I have found and read) –  The Red-Haired Woman, A Strangeness in My Mind, The White Castle and The Museum of Innocence  – sides to Istanbul that most tourists never see nor will ever see.

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To savour Istanbul’s backstreets, to appreciate the vines and trees that endow its ruins with accidental grace, you must, first and foremost, be a stranger to them.

 

From Lonely Planet’s Istanbul:

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“His status as a Nobel laureate deserves respect, but we feel obliged to say that we think Orhan Pamuk is a bit cheeky to charge a whopping 25 liras for entrance to his Museum of Innocence.

That said, this long-anticipated piece of conceptual art is worth a visit, particularly if you have read and admired the novel it celebrates.

The Museum is set in a 19th-century house and seeks to re-create and evoke aspects of Pamuk’s 1988 novel The Museum of Innocence by displaying found objects in traditional museum-style glass cases.

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The Museum also includes strangely beautiful installations, such as a wall displaying the 4,213 cigarette butts supposedly smoked by the narrator’s lover Füsun.

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The exhibits seek to evoke what Pamuk as described as “the melancholy of the period” in which he grew up and in which the novel is set.”

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The narrative and the Museum offer a glimpse into upper-class Istanbul life from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

The novel details the story of Kemal, a wealthy Istanbulite who falls in love with his poorer cousin, and the Museum displays the artefacts of their love story.

Kemal, of the wealthy Nisantasi family, is due to marry Sibel, a girl from his own social class, when he falls in love with his distant relative Füsun, who works as a sales assistant in a shop.

Kemal and Füsun begin to meet in dusty rooms filled with old furniture and memories.

After Füsun marries someone else, Kemal spends eight years visiting her.

After every visit, he takes away with him an object that reminds him of her.

These objects form the collection of the Museum of Innocence.

According to the Museum website, the collection, which includes more than a thousand objects, presents what the novel’s characters “used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets.

The Museum of Innocence is based on the assumption that objects used for different purposes and evocative of the most disparate memories can, when placed side by side, bring forth unprecedented thoughts and emotions.

 

On the floor at the entrance of the Museum, the Spiral of Time can be seen from every floor.

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If Aristotle thought of time as a line joining moments worth remembering, Pamuk sees time as a line joining objects.

 

“The idea for my museum came to me when I met His Imperial Highness Prince Ali Vâsib for the first time in 1982 at a family reunion in Istanbul….

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Above: Ali Vâsib (1903 – 1983)

My curiosity at the family table prompted the elderly Prince to share some stories.

Among them was King Farouk’s kleptomania.

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Above: King Farouk I of Egypt (1920 – 1965)

During a visit to the Antoniadis Palace and Museum, Farouk had, unbeknowst to anyone, opened a cabinet and taken away an antique plate he had set his sights on for his own palace in Cairo.

Above: Antoniadis Palace, Alexandria, Egypt

Prince Ali was looking for a job that would provide him with an income and enable him to settle down in Turkey permanently after 50 years in exile.

During his exile (1924 – 1982), the Prince, for many years, made a living by working as a ticket taker and then as director of Antoniadis Palace and Museum in Alexandria, Egypt.

Someone at Pamuk’s table suggested that the Prince might find employment as a museum guide at Ihlamur Palace, where he had spent so much time as a child.

Above: Ihlamur Palace, Istanbul

Upon this suggestion, the Prince and all those at the table began to imagine, in complete seriousness and without a trace of irony, how Ali might show visitors around the rooms where he had rested and studied as a child.

I remember that I later built on these imaginings with the zeal of a young novelist looking for new perspectives:

And here, sirs, is where I sat 70 years ago studying mathematics with my aide-de-camp.

He would walk away from the ticket-toting crowd, step over the line that visitors are not allowed to cross – marked by those old-style velvet cords that hangs between brass stands – and sit once again at the desk he used in his youth….

I imagined the joy of being a guide to a museum and one of the museum’s artifacts at the same time, and the thrill of explaining to visitors a life, with all its paraphenalia, many years after it was lived.”

(Orhan Pamuk, The Innocence of Objects: The Museum of Innocence, Istanbul)

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“I had not said:

This trip to Paris is not on business, Mother.

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For if she had asked my reason, I could not have offered her a proper answer, having concealed the purpose even from myself….

I felt such consolation, the same deep understanding, as I wandered idly around museums.

I do not mean the Louvre or the Beaubourg or the other crowded, ostentatious ones of that ilk.

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Above: The Louvre, Paris

I am speaking now of the many empty museums I found in Paris, the collections that no one ever visits.

There was the Musée Édith Piaf, founded by a great admirer, where by appointment I viewed hairbrushes, combs and teddy bears….

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Above: French singer Édith Piaf (1915 – 1963)

 

And the Musée de la Préfecture de Police, where I spent an entire day….

And the Musée Jacquemart-André, where other objects were arranged alongside paintings in a most original way.

 

I saw empty chairs, chandeliers and haunting unfurnished spaces there.

Whenever wandering alone through museums like this, I felt myself uplifted….

I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life, where I could tell my story through the things left behind, as lesson to us all.

 

On visiting the Musée Nissim de Camondo,  I was emboldened to believe that the Keskins’ set of plates, forks, knives, and my seven-year collection of salt shakers, I too could have something worthy of proud display.

Above: Béatrice (sister) and Nissim de Cumondo (1892 – 1917)

 

The notion set me free.

 

The Musée de la Poste made me realize I could display letters….

And the Micromusée du Service des Objets Trouvés legitimated the inclusion of a wide range of things, as long as they reminded me….

 

It took me an hour in a taxi to reach the Musée Maurice Ravel, formerly the famous composer’s house, and when I saw his toothbrush, coffee cups, china figurines, various dolls, toys and an iron cage….

slender, middle-aged man, clean-shaven with full head of hair, seen in profile

Above: French composer Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)

 

I very nearly wept.

 

To stroll through these Paris museums was to be released from the shame of my collection….

No longer an oddball embarrassed by the things he had hoarded, I was gradually awakening to the pride of a collector.

 

One evening while drinking alone in the bar of the Hôtel du Nord, gazing at the strangers around me, I caught myself asking the questions that occur to every Turk who goes abroad (if he has some education and a bit of money):

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What did these Europeans think about me?

What did they think about us all?

 

Eventually I thought about how I might describe what Füsun meant to me to someone who knew nothing about Istanbul….

 

I was coming to see myself as someone who had travelled to distant countries and remained there for many years:

Say, an anthropologist who had fallen in love with an native girl while living among the indigenous folk of New Zealand, to study and catalog their habits and rituals, how they worked and relaxed, and had fun….

My observations and the love I had lived had become intertwined.

Now the only way I could ever hope tp make sense of those years was to display all that I had gathered together – the pots and pans, the trinkets, the clothes and the paintings – just as an anthropologist might have done.

 

During my last days in Paris, with….a bit of time to kill, I went to the Musée Gustave Moreau, because Proust had held this painter in such high esteem.

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Above: French painter Gustave Moreau (1826 – 1898)

I couldn’t bring myself to like Moreau’s classical, mannered historical paintings, but I liked the Museum.

In his final years, the painter Moreau had set about changing the family house where he had spent most of his life into a place where his thousands of paintings might be displayed after his death.

This house in due course became a museum….

Once converted, the house became a house of memories, a “sentimental museum“, in which every object shimmered with meaning.

As I walked through empty rooms, across creaking parquet floors and past dozing guards, I was seized by a passion that I might almost call religious….

 

My visit to Paris served as the model for my subsequent travels.

 

On arriving in a new city I would move into the old but comfortable and centrally located hotel that I had booked from Istanbul, and armed with the knowledge acquired from the books and guides read in advance, I would begin my rounds of the city’s most noteworthy museums, never rushing, never skipping a single one, like a student meticulously completing an assignment.

And then I would scan the flea markets, the shops selling trinkets and knickknacks, a few antique dealers.

If I happened on a salt shaker, an ashtray or a bottle opener identical to one I had seen in the Keskin household, or if anything else struck my fancy, I would buy it.

No matter where I was – Rio de Janeiro, Hamburg, Baku, Kyoto or Lisbon.

At suppertime I would take a long walk through the back streets and far-flung neighbourhoods.

Peering through the windows, I would search out rooms with families eating in front of the television, mothers cooking in kitchens that also served as dining rooms, children and fathers, young women with their disappointing husbands, and even the rich distant relations secretly in love with the girl in the house.

In the morning, after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, I would kill time on the avenues and in the cafés until the little museums had opened.

I would write postcards to my mother and aunt, peruse the local papers, trying to figure out what had happened in Istanbul and the world, and at 11 o’clock I would pick up my notebook and set out hopefully on the day’s program.”

(Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence)

 

Pamuk goes on to relate his experiences in other museums around the world:

  • Helsinki City Museum
  • Museum of Cazelles, France
  • State Museum of Württemberg in Stuttgart
  • Musée International de la Parfumerie, Grasse
  • Alte Pinakothek, Munich
  • Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris
  • Historiska Museum, Göteborg, Sweden
  • Brevik Town Museum, Norway
  • Civico Museo del Mare, Trieste, Italy
  • Museum of Insects and Butterflies, La Ceiba, Honduras
  • Museum of Chinese Medicine, Hangzhou
  • Musée du Tabac, Paris
  • Musée de l’Atelier de Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence
  • Rockox House, Antwerp, Belgium
  • Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna
  • Museum of London
  • Florence Nightingale Museum, London
  • Musée de Temps, Besancon, France
  • Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands
  • Fort St. George Museum, Madras, India
  • Castelvecchio Museum, Verona
  • Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things), Berlin
  • Uffizi Museum, Florence
  • Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
  • Museu Frederic Marès, Barcelona
  • Glove Museum, New York City
  • Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City, California
  • Ava Gardner Museum, Smithfield, North Carolina
  • Museum of Beverage Containers and Advertising, Nashville
  • Tragedy in US History Museum, Saint Augustine, Florida
  • Stalin Museum, Gori, Georgia, Russia
  • Museum of the Romantic Era, Porto, Portugal

(In darker font are the places your humble blogger has also visited….)

 

So many museums, so many places, so many memories….

 

But for Kemal Bey each museum was appreciated (or not) more for its connection to Füsan and emotions evoked, rather than for the virtues of the museum itself.

Helsinki had familiar medicine bottles, Cazelles – hats his parents wore, Stuttgart convinced him that possessions deserved display in splendour, Grasse had him trying to remember Füsan’s scent, Munich’s Pinakothek’s stairs would serve as a model for the Museum of Innocence while Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Sacrifice of Abraham reminded him of having told Füsan this story and of the moral of giving up the thing most precious to us and expecting nothing in return.

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And so on.

 

And what does Pamuk / Kemal want from the Museum?

 

“Do you know who it was that taught me the central place of pride in a museum?….

The museum guards, of course.

No matter where I went in the world, the guards would answer my every question with passion and pride….

If someone asks a question at our Museum, the guards must describe the history of the collection, the love I feel for Füsan, and the meanings invested in her possessions, with the same dignified air….

The guards’ job is not, as is commonly thought, to hush noisy visitors, protect the objects on display (though of course everything connected to Füsan must be preserved for eternity!) and issue warnings to kissing couples and people chewing gum.

Their job is to make visitors feel that they are in a place of worship that, like a mosque, should awaken in them feelings of humility, respect and reverence.

The guards at the Museum of Innocence are to wear velvet business suits the colour of dark wood – this being in keeping with the collection’s ambience and also Füsan’s spirit – with light pink shirts and special Museum ties embroidered with images of Füsan’s earrings.

They should leave gum chewers and kissing couples to their own devices.

The Museum of Innocence will be forever open to lovers who can’t find other place to kiss in Istanbul….

Never forget that the logic of my museum must be that wherever one stands in it, it should be possible to see the entire collection, all the display cases and everything else.

Because all the objects in my museum – and with them, my entire story – can be seen at the same time from any perspective, visitors will lose all sense of time.

This is the greatest consolation in life.

In poetically well-built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing all sense of time….

And let those who have read the book enjoy free admission to the Museum when they visit for the first time.

This is best accomplished by placing a ticket in every copy.

The Museum of Innocence will have a special stamp and when visitors present their copy of the book, the guard at the door will stamp this ticket before ushering them in.”

(Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence)

 

And, sure enough, at the bottom of page 713 (invalid if torn from the book), the reader finds a free ticket for a single admission to the Museum.

The butterfly stamp is reminiscient of the Museum’s Spiral of Time.

 

The Museum of Innocence, both the novel and the building, offers a glimpse into upper class Istanbul life from the 1970s to the early years of the Second Millennium.

The collection includes more than a thousand objects and presents what the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and cabinets.

 

In the Museum’s catalogue, The Innocence of Objects, Pamuk lays out a manifesto for museums.

Pamuk calls for exchanging large national museums, such as the Louvre and the Hermitage, for smaller, more individualistic and cheaper museums, that tell stories in the place of histories.

“A museum should work in its capacity to reveal the humanity of individuals.”

 

To get to the Museum took some effort on my part as a first-time solo visitor.

My Istanbul accommodation was in the southeast district of Cagaloglu on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait.

The Museum is also on the European side but required crossing the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge, which demanded either half the afternoon to walk that distance or at least an hour using public transport.

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It was warm, at least by this Canadian’s standards, so I opted for public transport – tram and bus.

 

And as Pamuk writes in Istanbul: Memories and the City, “there was more to my world than I could see“.

 

I had, before Istanbul, many books I wished to read and Pamuk’s books remain on my list after Istanbul, but reading his works and visiting his museum I began to understand why his writing has sold over 13 million books in 63 languages making him Turkey’s best selling author.

 

Pamuk has tried to highlight issues relating to freedom of speech at a time when his President is trying to destroy it.

He is among a group of authors tried for writing essays that criticized (and rightly so) Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In 2005, after Pamuk made a statement regarding the Armenian Genocide and mass killings of Kurds, a criminal case was opened against the author based on a complaint filed by ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz.

The criminal charges against Pamuk resulted from remarks he made during an interview in February 2005 with the Swiss publication Das Magazin, a weekly supplement to a number of Swiss newspapers: the Tages-Anzeiger, the Basler Zeitung and the Solothuner Tagblatt, to name but a few.

Flag of Switzerland

In this interview, Pamuk stated:

Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here and a million Armenians. 

And nobody dares to mention that. 

So I do.

He was consequently subjected to a hate campaign that forced him to flee the country.

(I am uncertain whether he lives in Istanbul again or not.)

In an 2005 interview with BBC News, Pamuk said that he wanted to defend freedom of speech, which was Turkey’s only hope for coming to terms with its history:

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What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation.

It was a taboo.

But we have to be able to talk about the past.

In Bilecik, Pamuk’s books were burnt in a nationalist rally.

Bilecik city center

Above: Bilecik, Turkey

Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code states:

A person who publicly insults the Republic or the Turkish Grand Assembly, shall be punishable by imprisonment of six months to three years.

The charges against Pamuk caused an international outcry and led to questions about Turkey’s then-desired entry into the European Union.

Amnesty International released a statement calling for Article 301 to be repealed and for Pamuk and six other people awaiting trial under the Article be set free.

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Above: Logo for Amnesty International

PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists and all other writers) also denounced the charges against Pamuk:

PEN finds it extraordinary that a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, should have a Penal Code that includes a clause that is so clearly contrary to these very same principles.

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Eight world-renowned authors (José Saramango, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Günter Grass, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, John Updike and Mario Vargas Llosa) issued a joint statement supporting Pamuk and decrying the charges against him as a violation of human rights.

On 27 March 2011, Pamuk was found guilty and was ordered to pay 6,000 liras in total compensation to five people for having insulted their honour.

 

I strongly feel that the art of the novel is based on the human capacity, though it is a limited capacity, to be able to identify with ‘the other’.

Only human beings can do this.

It requires imagination, a sort of morality, a self-imposed goal of understanding this person who is different from us, which is a rarity.

(Orhan Pamuk, Carol Becker interview, The Brooklyn Rail, February 2008)

 

What literature needs most to tell and investigate are humanity’s basic fears: the fears of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears, the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kin.

Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments and by the irrational overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me.

We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world – and I can identify with them easily – succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities.

I also know that in the West – a world which I can identify with the same ease – nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid.”

(Orhan Pamuk, Nobel lecture, 7 December 2006)

 

The Museum of Innocence is five levels of emotional complexity, much like Pamuk’s writing.

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On the ground floor is where the visitor can buy tickets (if his novel isn’t available), pick up an audio guide, read the acknowledgements wall, watch a movie and videos and see Box #68 with the aforementioned 4,213 cigarette stubs (more than the Musée du Tabac).

 

On the first floor, we witness Kemal’s happiest moment of his life, the Sanzelize Boutique, photographs of distant relations, love at the office, matchbooks from fuaye restaurants, Füsun’s tears collected in a yellow jug, the Merhamet Apartments, Turkey’s first fruit soda (Meltem), the F box, city lights and happiness, the feast of the sacrifice, photos to be kissed on the lips, and how love, courage and modernity are represented by the night, the stars and other people’s lives.

The eyes through photographs wander down Istanbul’s streets, across bridges, over hills and into squares.

I discover a few unpalatable anthropological truths about Turkish culture:

  • If a man tried to wriggle out of marrying the girl he slept with and the girl in Question was under the age of 18, an angry father might take the philanderer to court to force him to marry.
  • These cases attracted press attention, so it was customary for newspapers to run photographs of the “violated” girls (not the “violating” men) with black bands over the ladies’ eyes to spare their being identified in this shameful situation. (No names were published, but it does seem odd that photos needed to be printed at all if the avoidance of shame truly was the goal.)
  • The press used the same black eyeband in photographs of adultresses (“…and here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson“), rape victims and prostitutes (“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.“) so often that reading a Turkish newspaper was like wandering through a masquerade ball.
  • Turkish newspapers ran very few photographs of Turkish women without black bands unless they were singers, actresses or Beauty contestants.
  • These were presumed to be of easy virtue anyway.Image result for museum of innocence istanbul photos

I witness Ahmet Isikci’s enigmatic art, how one’s whole life depends on the taxis of Istanbul.

I learn the story of Belki, the sorrow of funerals, a father’s gift of earrings to his mistress, the hand of Rahmi Efendi that almost pats the dog (“Take this longing from my tongue and all the guilty things these hands have done.“), the spell that (“the sound of“) silence casts, and an engagement party at the Istanbul Hilton.

Oh, the agony of waiting can be relieved if you carefully study an anatomical chart of love pains!

And, remember, don’t lean back that way or you might fall.

Pamuk wants his visitor to take consolation in objects and how they can remind a person of those they love.

By now there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t thinking about her.

I would awake to the same pain, as if a black lamp were burning eternally inside me, radiating darkness.

Sadly, Füsun doesn’t live here anymore, though there are streets that remind me of her and shadows and ghosts I mistake for her, life has left me with nothing but vulgar distractions.

I am an unnamed dog sent into outer space.

A dog which dares not entertain even a small hope that might allay his heartache.

Life is an empty house, an end-of-summer party without guests.

I make my confession to the Bosphorous and seek consolation in a yali.

Soon I am swimming on my back between Istanbul’s ships.

The melancholy of autumn leads to cold and lonely November days spent wandering the neighbourhood between the Fatih Hotel and the Golden Horn.

Maybe I need a holiday on Uludag.

I wonder:

Is it normal to leave your fiancée in the lurch?

I mourn my father’s death, realizing that the most important thing in life is to be happy.

I was going to ask her to marry me, because happiness means being close to the one you love, that’s all.

 

On the second floor, I learn that a film about life and agony should be sincere and that an indignant and broken heart is of no use to anyone.

I contemplate the spiral of time and I ask that you come again tomorrow and we can sit together again.

These are lemon films I watch but I am unable to stand up and leave.

A game of tombula should get past the censors as we share evenings on the Bosphorus at the Huzur Restaurant.

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We make the gossip column.

We are our own fire on the Bosphorus.

Dogs are everywhere and the air reeks of cologne.

 

So climb up to the top floor to Kemal’s room.

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Then down to the basement for a complimentary Turkish coffee.

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Such is the Museum of Innocence.

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Istanbul / Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence / Orhan Pamuk, The Innocence of Objects / Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City

 

 

Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. 

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

(The Beautiful South, “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)”, Blue is the Colour)

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There are a couple of songs that I enjoy listening to from this group:

“Don´t Marry Her” – purely for its shock value.

“Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” – for the feelings its lyrics inevitably generate within me.

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Above: Rotterdam

My wife recently bought me a new computer whose kinks and quirks I have yet to comprehend and overcome.

But these First World problems could have happened to anyone anywhere in the First World.

The sadness and annoyance at yet another piece of technology in my possession suddenly becoming obsolete, the frustration of having to master yet another new machine, I believe, are common emotions of someone of my generation trying to cope with the tools of a more modern time that make us sometimes feel obsolete as well.

During a break between completed errands in town and waiting for a train to take me to my only teaching job (at present) I spontaneously decided to visit the public library across the square from the Bahnhof (Train Station) St. Gallen.

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

To the library´s credit they do possess more English language books than I do in my own personal library (though my wife doesn´t believe this to be true).

Spontaneously I grab the works of three authors whose writing I have hesitated to read for various irrational reasons: Jonathan Ames (because he has struck me as being elitist), Maya Angelou (too urban with themes common to the USA but almost unrecognizable to white Canadians) and Margaret Atwood (out of pure and simple jealousy for her success rather than any logical premise at all).

I need to grow beyond myself and try to read authors for the value and power of their words rather than reject them without reading their works because of stupid preconceptions.

I begin with Ames´  Wake Up, Sir! for the simplest reason of all: his name takes precedence alphabetically.

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My attempts to dispel my prejudices about Ames do not begin well….

In Chapter One, the damned hero of the book has a valet!

But I must admit that the opening situation of the book is one with which I can relate to….

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the novel, is awoken by his valet and informed that – Horror of Horrors! – his uncle is already up and about.

“It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness.

He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.”

I love my wife, but, like Blair´s uncle, she does not see how important solitude is to producing literature (or in my case, semblances of literature).

Like Uncle Irwin, my wife (being the well-organized German woman she is) has schedules that she adheres to, with a discipline well-trained soldiers would appreciate.

So, when she alters her schedule, I find myself suddenly in a funk and am uncertain as to how to recapture my muse with the alarming alteration of her presence demanding attention to herself rather than any attempts of creation I might be fostering.

Art is more akin to spontaneous ejaculations of expression and emotion, but even I realize that some amount of order and self-control are required to produce something worthy to be published.

Much like Uncle Irwin, my wife views sitting down and producing words on a computer (dead laptop or recently acquired mystery machine notwithstanding) akin to a kind of laziness.

For surely there are better things I could be doing with my time, such as household duties (husbands are, after all, unpaid valets), finding more employment as a teacher or requesting more hours at my “temporary” job as a barista.

She feels, and rightly so, that the inequality of our incomes puts an unjust burden upon her, but, in my defence, I argue that her education should leave her with a larger income than me and that money, as pleasant as it can be, is not the only criteria when it comes to devoting 80% of our lives to a job.

When work presents itself I do not shirk my responsibilities, but by the same token I do not want my life to be nothing more than living to pay bills.

I have more leisure time than she does as a doctor, but I would be lying if I said that I am not glad that I do.

I like having mornings to myself when I can write, or evenings when she has gone to bed exhausted and I am writing my electronic journal.

I like working weekends when the Café closes earlier than weekdays, leaving me free during the week – when I am not teaching – to go hiking or travelling while average people are chained to their workplaces.

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It is a fine thing to go hiking on a Sunday, but nature is truly a wonderland on a Wednesday when most everyone is working leaving the wilderness to myself alone.

That having been said, my ability to travel would not be possible (at least in the same manner I have grown accustomed to since we got married) were it not for her superior income.

And, understandably, she wants to have leisure time to travel as well, though her desire for solitude is rarer for her than mine is.

So, except for conferences, when she travels I usually accompany her.

And, it must be said, as too swift as our travelling together can be, travelling alone can, on occasion, make a place feel like Rotterdam or anywhere.

I can appreciate a sunset alone, but sharing that same sunset does lend the dying day a certain poignancy that solitude does not.

There is an Island that we both visited this past summer that listening to “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” always brings to mind, for had I not been with her not only might I not have seen the Island, I might not have appreciated it without her by my side.

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

Traffic-free Monte Isola, Italy´s largest lake island, at over 3 km long and 600 metres / 1,969 feet high, at the south of the Lago d´Iseo, is defined by Italian legislation as an “area of particular importance from the natural and environmental point of view”.

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

Accessible by hourly ferries from the lakeside ports of Iseo and Sulzano, Monte Isola is a magnet for daytrippers in summers and at weekends, so the Island then is unlikely to provide much solitude.

Still, mid-season or out of season, the Island is well worth a visit, to walk or cycle around the edge of the Island and for great views of the lake.

The population of the Island (1,800 inhabitants) is spread over 11 villages and hamlets.

There are several churches built between the 15th and the 17th centuries with frescoes, statues and altars in vernacular art.

With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres / 4.9 square miles, Monte Isola ranks as the largest lake island not only in Italy, but also in Central and South Europe.

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

(The world´s largest lake island is Canadian: Manitoulin Island.)

The Island is served and reached by two main ports: Carzano to the north and Peschera Maraglio to the south.

There are indications of a Roman settlement, but the Island is first mentioned in a written document in 905 when it was listed among the properties of the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia.

The family Oldofredi, rulers of Iseo, built two strongholds on the Island in the 11th to the 19th centuries.

One of these, on the lower promontory of the Island, covered by olive tree and wine cultivation, is the Rocca Oldofredi-Martinego, built in the 14th century as a strategic and defense point and then turned into a residence by the Martinegos during the Italian Renaissance.

Members of the powerful Visconti family came to the Island to hunt in 1400.

In 1497 Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, gave the islanders some fishing rights and reduced their taxes.

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

In the same year, Caterina Cornaro, Queen and last monarch of Cyprus, resided a while on the Island.

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

During the 19th century the main industry on the Island was the construction of boats and the manufacturing of fishing nets.

In 2016, Monte Isola was the site of the Floating Piers by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Above: The Floating Piers

In Peschiera Maraglio is the single-nave Church of San Michele Arcangelo.

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Consecrated in 1648, this baroque church is notable for the many frescoes on the walls and ceiling and for its wooden carvings.

Climb the mountain from the small village of Cure in the middle of the Island.

The peak offers the most panoramic site of the Lago and from here it is possible to admire all the villages of both lakeshores, the natural reserve of Torbiere del Sebino and a large part of the mainland.

At the top, amongst walnut woods and ancient dolomite rocks stands the Shrine of the Madonna della Ceriola.

Bildergebnis für santuario della ceriola

This 13th century church was the first parish church on the Island and the Madonna, the protectress not only of the inhabitants of Monte Isola but the entirety of Lago Iseo, is represented by a 12th century seated wooded sculpture carved from the trunk of a turkey oak.

Wander the Island and feel soothed by the barely tamed bushy copse woods containing oak, bay, hornbeam, ash and fruit chestnut trees.

Brown kites fly above, while wild ducks and great crested grebes swim below.

Agriculture, once an island mainstay, is nowadays practised more as a hobby, yet, nonetheless, it is the maintenance of this ancient art that still plays a crucial role in the preservation of the landscape heritage, preventing the Island being overdeveloped as a Tourist resort similar to other major northern Italian lakes such as Garda and Como.

The 1,800 inhabitants of this lake oasis move about by motorcycle or mini-buses which connect all hamlets and the two main ports.

All connections to and from the mainland run between Peschiera Maraglio and mainland Sulzano (the route we took) or between Carzano and mainland Sale Marasino.

This ferry service, operated by Navigazione Lago d´Iseo, runs every 15 to 20 minutes from 0500 to midnight and every 40 minutes between midnight and 5 a.m.

On Monte Isola cars are banned and the only cars allowed are the ones used for community services (ambulance, doctor, police, priest and taxi).

Motorcycles are for the exclusive use of permanent Monte Isola residents.

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the Island by bike.

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

And the paths leading from the Lago to the top of the Island and to the Shrine.

This is an extremely interesting site, both from a natural and an artistic point of view.

The island´s littlest church contains contemplative quiet beauty and is both the oldest and the highest point on Monte Isola.

The rest of the Island itself is worth a look and a linger.

Artistic churches surrounded by tiny squares and large pale stone houses, sunny arcades, companionable courtyards, lovely landscapes, a rough and simple people  –  some still using ancient wooden farm tools – set in a solid and certain architecture and proud heritage.

Siviano, the most populated hamlet, is the central core of the community.

Above: Siviano

Here, here, is the town hall, the Kindergarten, the Primary School and the Secondary School, the post office, the bank, the two supermarkets.

Peschiera Maraglio, the main harbour of Monte Isola, has a tourist office, another bank, a chemist´s, another Kindergarten, many restaurants, hotels and shops.

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

Carzano was also a fishermen´s village, also all about the fish and fish preservation.

Here, every five years, the fishing folk decorate all the streets of the village with handmade paper flowers to celebrate the religious feast of the Holy Cross, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to watch the spectacle.

Here on Monte Isola it is possible to sleep in small silent hotels and to savour the endless ways to eat a fish.

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

The lake sardines are salted, dried and bottled in oil….

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

The wife and I strolled from Peschiera´s docks, occasionally popping into shops and then settled ourselves down by the shore to watch children splash joyfully in the water.

Ute swam for hours while I read some forgettable tome important only at that and for that moment.

Day Five of our vacation and this day we had driven (or to be precise she drove us) from Bregamo to Sulzano, via Crespi d´Adda and Clusone.

We parked the car near the ferry port in Sulzano and waited for the boat to arrive.

A man in an ambulance gurney is taken off the boat, an ambulance waiting to take him to an emergency room in some nearby town with a hospital.

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

Neither our Italian nor our courage was up to the task of enquiring as to the patient´s identity or circumstances.

On the Island while my wife waded amongst the crowd of mer-children the chilly recollection of the gurney man remained with me but not in a sad or morbid way.

I love my wife, but I won´t deny that my brain wanders off and wonders what it would be like to go somewhere, anywhere, and retreat to an “isolated” spot and devote myself solely to my writing.

(Of course, this is with the assumption that I have the financial means to do this, which, sadly, I do not.)

I fantasize about finding some remote village like Ezra Pound´s Rapallo, or some tranquil wilderness vista like Henry David Thoreau´s Walden Pond, or some artistic alcove like Ernest Hemingway´s in Paris, and devote myself purely to doing nothing but creation.

In my mind´s eye I see myself typing some novel or a magazine article in the early hours before dawn, strolling through the just-waking village to watch the sunrise and smell the baker´s first bread and rolls being prepared for sale, more writing in my small den until lunchtime, lounging in some intimate café soaking the afternoon sun into my bones like some self-indulgent cat, strolling to the harbour to see what cast of characters the lake has spawned this day, more writing just before sunset, down to the beach to watch the sun dissolve into dream tides of amnesiac waters, then walk with purpose and anticipation to my favourite restaurant and slowly sip glass after glass of some local wine until fatigue quietly whispers to me to return back to my bed.

I am not quite certain exactly where my writer´s retreat would be or whether it even could be.

My mind has had this writer´s retreat in Paris, in Ticino and Graubünden, in Lisbon, in Istanbul, and now on Monte Isola.

It wouldn´t have to be in Monte Isola or Istanbul, Lisbon or Paris, or in some remote hamlet in southern Switzerland or northern Italy.

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

I think about the story of Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510), the last Queen of Cyprus (1474 – 1510), how she came to be a temporary resident here on Monte Isola after her husband died and Venice claimed control over Cyprus.

What must it have been like to be an exiled and deposed queen and living in isolation in an old fortress on an Island which has always been barely recognized by anyone?

Did she see her future as nothing more than a destiny of disillusioned despair and diminishment?

Does one need to be defeated, disillusioned and diminished before escaping to a retreat?

(Similar to Colin Firth´s character Jamie, in the film Love…Actually, retreating to a French cottage after he discovers his girlfriend having an affair with his brother.)

Love Actually movie.jpg

I hope not.

Though my time on Monte Isola was short, decidedly too short –  time (and my wife) waits for no one and we had booked accommodation down the road some distance in Sirmione by Lago di Garda – I am still left with the desire to return some day to Monte Isola.

As good a place as anywhere.

Bildergebnis

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy / http://www.comune.monteisola.it

 

 

Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

Flag of the United States

Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles (1964 US release).jpg

Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

Flag of Italy

Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

Lombardy in Italy.svg

Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

Lega Nord Salvini.png

Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.

Intimefairuse.jpg

A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.

SNice.svg

Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 December 2017

This week I returned back to work after being absent at home for the past two weeks.

File:Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

It was a warm welcome with hugs and expressions of delight.

So much so that one witnessing customer commented:

“I want to work here!” 

Back home after work:

First World problems.

Ah, the problem of having too many choices!

I don´t own (and happily don´t owe) much in this world.

What I possess is an (over)abundance of books and DVDs for a man of my modest income.

If I had to estimate I would say that I probably have at least 1,000 or more DVDs.

Of these I would safely say that there are only about a dozen films that I find myself watching again and again.

For example, I recently watched for the nth time the 1974 Billy Wilder film The Front Page starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau.

Front page movie poster.jpg

Director Wilder, a newspaperman in his younger days recalled:

“A reporter was a glamourous fellow in those days, the way he wore a hat and a raincoat and a swagger, and had a camaderie with fellow reporters and with local police, always hot on the trail of tips from them and from the fringes of the underworld.”

Wilder set the movie in 1929, because the daily newspaper was no longer the dominant news medium in 1974.

(Even less so in 2017….)

The movie has reminded me of the old idea that there are basically only two types of people: those who make the News and those who follow the News.

Those who are remembered by history are those who have made history, who have made the News.

And if there is one place where a person´s legacy seems to matter is within the confines of a famous cathedral.

The decision to create a mausoleum or memorial for a person is determined by what the person accomplished in their life.

Especially for the Christian West it seems the bigger the mausoleum, the grander the grave, the more remarkable the memorial, the more attention and recognition is paid (or should be paid) to the legacy a person left behind.

The downside of this thinking is the presumption that those without a mausoleum, those lacking a memorial, those without a grave, must then be undeserving of respect, unworthy of memory, unloved and forgettable.

First World thinking and materialist obsessiveness carry on even beyond one´s life and onwards in the legacy of those who no longer live.

This kind of thinking was quite evident in our visit to London in October….

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

The Houses of Parliament overshadow a much older neighbour, Westminster Abbey.

Westminster-Abbey.JPG

Westminster Abbey has stood in London longer than any other building and embodies much of the history of England.

It was so named to differentiate it from the “east minster“, St. Paul´s Cathedral.

It is the finest Gothic building in London, the most important religious building in England, with the highest nave of any English church.

Over the centuries Westminster Abbey has meant many things to many people.

The Abbey has been the venue for every Coronation since the time of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087)

It has been the site of every royal burial for some 500 years between the reigns of Henry III (1207 – 1272) and George II (1683 – 1760).

Scores of the nation´s most famous citizens are honoured here and the interior of the Abbey is cluttered with hundreds of monuments, reliefs and statues.

With over 3,300 people buried beneath the Abbey´s flagstones and countless others commemorated here, Westminster is, in essence, a massive mausoleum, more tourist attraction than house of God.

Would a modern day Jesus´ visit to this temple result in His repeating:

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Washington version, by El Greco

Above: Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (El Greco)

“Make not My Father´s house a house of merchandise.” ?

Would the Black Adder of the first BBC series wherein his father makes him the Archbishop of Canterbury (Episode 3)(transplanted to today) gleefully rub his hands together at all the modern wealth to be generated by the faithful and the curious?

"Prince Edmund, Baldrick and Lord Percy in purplse clerical cassocks"

Above: Tony Robinson / Baldrick (left), Tim McInnery / Lord Percy Percy (middle), and Rowan Atkinson / The Black Adder / Prince Edmund / The Archbishop of Canterbury

“Holy Moses! Take a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer.”

(Amanda McKittrick Ros, “Visiting Westminster Abbey”)

No one knows exactly when the first church was built on this site, but it was well over a thousand years ago.

At its genesis, this area was a swampy and inhospitable place on the outskirts of London.

The church stood on an island called Thorney Island, surrounded by tributaries of the River Thames.

In 960, Dunstan, the Bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.

Saint Dunstan.jpg

Above: Dunstan (909 – 988)

One hundred years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site.

Edward the Confessor.jpg

Above: Edward the Confessor of England (1003 – 1066), King (1042 – 1066)

Edward was driven from England by the Danes.

During his exile in Normandy, Edward vowed that if his kingdom was restored to him, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome.

When Edward did eventually reclaim his throne in 1042, there was so much unrest in the kingdom that he was advised not to make the perilous journey in case a coup occurred while he was away.

The Pope absolved Edward of his vow on condition that he raise or restore a church in honour of St. Peter.

Edward´s Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, but the King was too ill to attend.

He died a few days later and was buried before the high altar.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Edward´s body being carried into the Abbey for burial.

After Edward´s death his reputation as a holy man grew.

Miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb.

In 1161, Edward was made a saint.

King Henry III held the Confessor in such reverance that he resolved to build a new shrine for Edward in a yet more glorious church.

Manuscript picture of Henry III's coronation

Above: Henry III of England (1207 – 1272), King (1216 – 1272)

The new church was consecrated on 13 October 1269.

In 1539, England´s monastries faced a crisis.

Henry VIII had fallen out with the Pope because the Pope refused to annul the King´s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Henry VIII of England (1491 – 1547), King (1509 – 1547)

Henry declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.

In 1540, Henry dissolved the monasteries and seized their assets.

Westminster Abbey fared better than most religious houses, because of its royal connections, so instead of being stripped and aband0ned it was refounded as a cathedral, with a Bishop and a Dean.

In 1553 Queen Mary succeeded Henry´s son, Edward VI, and Roman Catholicism became once more the approved religion.

Maria Tudor1.jpg

Above: Mary I of England (1516 – 1558), Queen (1553 – 1558)

Mary made the Abbey a monastery again and the monks returned.

Her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne just five years later, in 1558, reversed Mary´s changes and refounded the Abbey yet again, this time with a Dean and a Chapter.

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Above: Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603), Queen (1553 – 1603)

The Dean was answerable to no one but herself as sovereign, and it is in this form, not subject to the jurisdiction of a Bishop, as are most churches, but as a special church under the Queen – an institution known as a Royal Peculiar.

During the English Civil War, which culminated in the execution of Charles I and the establishment in 1649 of Oliver Cromwell´s Commonwealth, the Abbey was damaged when Puritans smashed altars, destroyed religious images and the organ, and seized the crown jewels.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg

Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), Lord Protector (1553 – 1558)

The Puritans were keen to rid the Abbey of all symbols of religious “superstition”.

Although the Abbey escaped wanton destruction better than many churches, it still bears the scars to this day.

The Abbey faced new peril during the Second World War.

Westminster miraculously survived, although bombs destroyed parts of it.

Walk with me through the Abbey.

Edward the Confessor´s church was the first in England to be built in the form of a cross, with the North and South Transepts forming its arms.

Most visitors, as did my wife and I, enter the Abbey via the North Transept.

The first impression one gets is of the soaring height of the vaulting.

At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.

The rose window above the entrance dates from 1722 and depicts the Apostles, excluding Judas Iscariot.

The rose window in the opposite transept depicts a variety of religious and other figures.

The North Transept is also known as the Statesmen´s Aisle, because it is littered with overblown monuments to long-forgotten empire builders and 19th century politicians, including Prime Ministers Viscount Palmerston (1784 – 1865), Robert Peel (1788 – 1850), Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) and William Gladstone (1809 – 1898) who are buried nearby.

Portrait of William Gladstone.jpg

Above: William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), UK Prime Minister (1868 – 1874 / 1880 – 1885 / 1886 / 1892 – 1894

Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder (1708 – 1778) is featured in a 30-foot memorial, buried alongside his son Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), who became Prime Minister at the age of  just 24 and whose monument is over the Abbey´s west door.

OlderPittThe Younger.jpg

Above: William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), Prime Minister (1783 – 1806)

The North Transept leads down to the crossing – the centre of the church.

To the west is the Quire – an intimate space forming essentially a church within a church.

This was where the monks worshipped and this is where the Choir sits for the eight regular Choral Services (Matins, Holy Communion (4x), Eucharist, Evensong and Evening Service) each week.

The Choir consists of 12 men, known as Lay Vicars, and 24 boys, who come from the Abbey´s own choir School, now the only school in England exclusively for the education of choristers.

In the Middle Ages the Quire was the scene of a horrible murder.

In those days criminals could seek sanctuary in the Abbey.

Once they were within the walls, the law could not reach them.

But in 1378 fifty of the King´s men, ignoring the right of sanctuary, chased a prisoner into the Quire.

One of the soldiers “clove his head to the very brains” and also killed a monk who tried to rescue the poor man.

From the Statesmen´s Aisle, go straight to the central Sanctuary, site of the royal coronations.

Look down at the floor.

This precious work of art is the 13th century (1268) Italian floor mosaic known as the Cosmati Pavement, which consists of about 80,000 pieces of red and green porphyry, glass and onyx set into marble.

Bildergebnis für cosmati pavement

The swirling patterns of the universe were designed to encourage the monks in their contemplation.

Look for the inscription in brass letters, which foretells when the universe will end – 19,683 years after the Creation.

On the north side of the Sanctuary is an important group of medieval tombs.

Nearest the steps is the tomb of Countess Aveline of Lancaster.

In 1269, aged just 12, she was married to Edmund Crouchback, the youngest son of Henry III, in the Abbey´s first royal wedding.

Above: Royal seal of Edmund Crouchback (1245 – 1296)

Aveline lived only five more years and died in 1274.

Nearest the altar screen is the tomb of her husband, who outlived his child bride by 22 years, dying in 1296.

Between husband and wife is the tomb of Edmund´s cousin Earl Aymer de Valence of Pembroke, who died in 1324.

These three tombs were originally beautifully coloured and decorated, so that in the candlelight they shimmered with an extraordinary luminescence now lost in time.

The elaborate gilded screen behind the High Altar once protected Henry III´s original altarpiece (“retable”), dating from 1270, the oldest oil painting in Britain and now on display in the Abbey Museum.

The Feeding of the 5000 is an exceptionally important work, and though the centuries have not treated it kindly, what remains gives a tantalising insight into what it must once have been like.

Behind the Altar is St. Edward the Confessor´s Chapel, the spiritual heart of the Abbey.

It was here in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI, making the first ever visit of a Pope to the Abbey, prayed alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Above: Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013)

Around the shrine in the centre, which contains Edward´s body, lie five kings and four queens.

Here is the double tomb of King Richard II (1367 – 1399) and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia (1366 – 1394).

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Above: Richard II of England (1367 – 1399), King (1377 – 1399)

They were married in the Abbey in 1382.

Richard´s body was not allowed to rest in peace.

In the 18th century someone drilled a hole on the side of his tomb through which visitors could put their hand.

A number of bones went missing, including Richard´s jawbone which was only restored to the corpse in 1906.

Here are also buried King Edward III (1312 – 1377) and his wife Philippa (1310 – 1369).

Above: Effigy of Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), King (1327 – 1377)

The Confessor´s devotee King Henry III has his tomb here as well – beautifully decorated, cast in bronze and gilt.

Photograph of Henry's tomb

Here lie the remains of Queen Eleanor of Castille (1241 – 1290), first wife of Edward I.

Above: Statue of Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290), Queen (1272 – 1290)

And here lies Edward I (1239 – 1307), at 6 feet 2 inches, very tall for those days, hence his nickname Edward Longshanks.

A man in half figure with short, curly hair and a hint of beard is facing left. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture.

Above: Edward I of England (1239 – 1307), King (1272 – 1307)

And seek here the tomb of Henry V (1387 – 1422) beside that of his wife Catherine de Valois (1401 – 1437).

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Above: Wedding of Henry V and Catherine de Valois

Her coffin and corpse were in full public view for centuries.

Henry V was considered one of England´s greatest monarchs, a fine military commander and an outstanding statesman.

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Above: Henry V of England (1386 – 1422), King (1413 – 1422)

(His archers beat the French at Agincourt.)

The English were devastated when he died suddenly in 1422, aged only 35.

He was buried in the Abbey on 7 November, “with such solemn ceremony, such mourning of Lords, such prayer of priests, such lamentation of the common people as never was before that day seen in the realm of England.”

The diarist Samuel Pepys, on a visit to the Abbey in 1669, kissed Catherine´s leathery lips, wrote:

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Above: Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

“This was my birthday, 36 years old and I did first kiss a queen.”

Henry and Catherine are now protected by an iron grille.

The chairs and footstools in front were given in 1949 by the people of Canada for royal use.

To the south of the Altar are the medieval seats (“sedilia”) for the priests.

Above their heads are the paintings of Henry III and Edward I.

To the west of the sedilia is the flat-topped tomb of Anne of Cleves, the 4th wife of Henry VIII.

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Above: Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Queen (1540)

There are more than 600 tombs and monuments in the Abbey, some of them quite massive.

Many people commemorated here are remembered because of their distinguished careers, but quite a few owe their presence in the Abbey more to their wealth or social status.

Today distinguished figures are still commemorated in the Abbey, but our tributes today are rather muted compared with the flamboyance of previous centuries.

The huge monument in the North Ambulatory to General James Wolfe (1727 – 1759) reflects the 18th and 19th centuries´ glorification of military figures, especially when they have died at the moment of victory.

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Above: James Wolfe (1727 – 1759)

Wolfe was killed, aged 32, while fighting on the Plains of Abraham, Québec City, in order to capture Canada from the French.

His opponent, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, being French who also died on the Plains, is given no mention.

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Above: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712 – 1759)

Some of the best funereal art is tucked away in St. Michael´s Chapel, east of the Statesmen´s Aisle.

Admire the remarkable monument to Francis Vere (1560 – 1609), one of the greatest soldiers of the Elizabethan period, made out of two slabs of black marble, between which lies Sir Francis.

On the upper slab, supported by four knights, Francis´ armor is laid out, to show that he died away from the field of battle.

Near this a most striking grave, in which Elizabeth Nightingale, who died from a miscarriage, collapses in her husband Joseph´s arms while he tries to fight off the spear aimed at her by the skeletal figure of Death, who is climbing out of the tomb.

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Above: Tomb of Joseph (1695 – 1752) and Elizabeth Nightingale (1704 – 1731)

In the North Ambulatory, two more chapels contain ostentatious Tudor and Stuart tombs.

One of the most extravagant tombs is that of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, which not only dominates the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, it is, at 36 feet in height, the tallest tombs in the entire Abbey.

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Above: Henry Carey, Lord Dunsdon (1526 – 1596)

From the second chapel, the Chapel of St. Paul, climb the stairs and enter the Lady Chapel (or Henry VII´s Chapel), the most dazzling part of the Abbey.

Begun by Henry VII in 1503 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Lady Chapel is beautiful, light, intricately carved vaulting, fan.shaped gilded Pendants and the statues of nearly one hundred Saints, high above the choir stalls decorated with banners and emblems.

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Above: Henry VII of England (1457 – 1509), King (1485 – 1509)

George II, the last King to be buried in the Abbey, lies under your feet, along with his Queen Caroline – their coffins fitted with removable sides so that their remains can mingle.

George sitting on a throne

Above: George II of England (1683 – 1760), King (1727 – 1760)

(Certainly a different idea of necrophilia…)

Beneath the altar is the grave of Edward IV, the single sickly son of Henry VIII.

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Above: Edward IV of England (1442 – 1483), King (1461 – 1470 / 1471 – 1483)

Behind the Chapel´s centrepiece, the black marble sacrophagus of Henry VII and his spouse – their lifelike gilded effigies are perfectly obscured an ornate grille, designed by an artist more famous for fleeing Italy after breaking Michelangelo´s nose than for his own art: Pietro Torrigiano.

Above: Bust of Henry VII by Pietro Torrignano (1472 – 1528)

His funeral on 11 May 1509 was lavish:

“All the heralds cast their coats of armor off and hung them upon the rails of the hearse, crying lamentably in French – ´Le noble roi Henri le septieme est mort.´ – and as soon as they had done so, every herald put on his armor again and cried with a loud voice – ´Vive le roi Henri le huiteme.´”

Here one finds James I as well as James´ lover Duke George Villiers of Buckingham, the first non-royal to be buried in the Abbey.

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Above: George Villiers (1592 – 1628)

Villiers was killed by one of his own disgruntled soldiers.

To the east the Royal Air Force Chapel: stained glass with airmen and angels in the Battle of Britain.

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In the floor, a plaque marks the spot where Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell rested….

Briefly.

Until the Restoration, whereupon his mummified body was unearthed, dragged through the streets, hanged and beheaded.

To the north four maidens hold up a vast bronze canopy and weep for another of James I´s “favourites”, Ludovic Stuart.

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Above: Ludovic Stuart (1574 – 1624)

Before descending the steps back into the Ambulatory, pop into the Chapel´s north aisle.

Here siblings and hated rivals in life now lie side by side reconciled in death, Elizabeth I and her Catholic half-sister “Bloody” Mary.

“All those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience´s sake.”

At the far end is Innocents´ Corner.

Here James I´s infant daughters lie: Princess Sophia who died aged 3 days (1607) and Princess Mary who died the same year aged 2 (1605 – 1607)

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Set in the wall between the sisters is the urn containing the bones of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and his younger brother Richard.

Above: Richard (1473 – 1483) and Edward V of England (1470 – 1483)

As you leave the Lady Chapel, look for the Coronation Chair, a decrepit oak graffiti-covered throne which has been used in every coronation since 1308.

It was custom-built to incorporate the Stone of Scone (the Stone of Destiny), a great slab of redstone which acted as the Scottish coronation stone for centuries before Edward I stole it in 1296.

A replica of the Stone of Scone

William the Conqueror was crowned here on 25 December 1066.

Above: Coin of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087), King (1066 – 1087)

It did not go well.

“When Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutences asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their King, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice, if not in one language, that they would.

The armed guard (William´s Norman troops), hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot and foolishly set fire to some of the buildings.

The fire spread rapidly from house to house.

The crowd that had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in haste.

Only the Bishops and a few clergy and Monks remained, terrified, in the Sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the King, who was trembling from head to foot.”

On 25 February 1308 Edward II´s ceremony was dominated by his boyfriend Piers Gaveston (1284 – 1312).

Above: Edward II and Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872)

“Seeking his own glory rather than the King´s”, Gaveston wore an outfit of royal purple, trimmed with pearls.

Nor should he have walked in front of the King in the procession, nor carried Edward´s crown.

The barons were so annoyed at Galveston´s presumption that there was talk of killing him on the spot.

Both Edward and Piers would be assassinated later.

Henry VIII was only 17 at his coronation on 24 June 1509.

He walked to the Abbey from Westminster Palace along a carpet of royal blue.

The crowd was so enthusiastic that they fell on the carpet and cut it up for souvenirs.

Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII´s six wives, was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533.

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Above: Anne Boleyn (1501 – 1536)

The ceremony lasted 8 hours and at one point Archbishop Cranmer required Anne to lie on her face in front of the altar – not easy, when she was six months pregnant.

William III´s coronation in 1689 was spoiled by having his money pickpocketed.

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Above: William III of England (1650 – 1702), King (1689 – 1702)

To the south is the Abbey´s most popular spot: The Poets´ Corner.

Above: Poets´ Corner with Shakespeare Memorial in the centre

The first occupant, Geoffrey Chaucer, was buried here in 1400.

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Above: Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400)

When Edmund Spenser chose to be buried close to Chaucer in 1599, his fellow poets – Shakespeare among them – threw their own works and quills into the grave.

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Above: Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599)

More than 100 poets, dramatists and prose writers are buried or commemorated here, as well as the composer George Frederick Handel.

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Above: George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759)

(Handel´s funeral on 20 April 1759 was supposed to be private.

3,000 people turned up.)

“Upon the Poets´ Corner in Westminster Abbey

Hail, sacred relics of the tuneful train!

Here ever honoured, ever loved remain.

No other dust of the once great or wise,

As each beneath the hallowed pavement lies,

To this old dome a juster reverence brings….”

Who decides who is to be immortalized in Poets´ Corner?

The Dean of Westminster consults his colleagues in the Chapter and in the literary world, before reaching a decision which, by law, is his alone to make.

It is rare for a recently deceased poet to be memorialized.

The longest period between a poet´s death and memorialization is 1,3oo years: Caedmon (657 – 680), regarded as the first English language poet.

Above: Caedmon Memorial, St. Mary´s Churchyard, Whitby

The Corner has become a Valhalla for poets and a place of pilgrimage for lovers of literature.

The Poets´ Corner´s most famous memorial is that to William Shakespeare, erected 124 years after his death.

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Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

His body remains in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, with the inscription:

“Good friend, for Jesus´ sake, forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here!

Blest be the man that spares these stones

And curst be he that moves my bones.”

Why tempt fate?

The Abbey recalls actors: David Garrick, Henry Irving, William Walton, Laurence Olivier, William Walton and Peggy Ashcroft.

Here one finds a controversy:

Ben Jonson was an arrogant man who did not suffer fools and frequently quarrelled with his fellow dramatists.

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Above: Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)

He lived apart from his wife, whom he described as “a shrew, yet honest.”

One of his plays caused grave offence by its lewdness and he was imprisoned.

He later killed a man in a duel and narrowly escaped the gallows.

As Jonson grew older he became fat and alcoholic.

He was too poor for a proper grave and said that a two-foot square would be enough for him.

And that´s what he got, as he was buried standing up.

His bones and coffin have been exposed three times since his burial.

His skull is missing.

Christopher Marlowe was memorialized 409 years after his death because it was felt the Poets´ Corner was already overcrowded.

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Above: Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

Tennyson called Marlowe the morning star which heralded Shakespeare´s dazzling sun.

Another description called him “intemperate and of a cruel heart.”

In 1593, at a Deptford tavern in South London, aged 29, Marlowe was fatally stabbed above his right eye, over a bill for supper.

John Milton had to wait more than 60 years before being memorialized.

Above: Bust of John Milton (1608 – 1674), Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

Milton, famous for his Paradise Lost, could have used the title for his autobiography.

In 1642 he married.

She left him after a few weeks.

In 1648 he began to go blind.

By 1652 he had lost his sight completely, as well as his wife and his only son.

In 1656 Milton married again but she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter.

He was passionate about what he hated.

Anti-Catholic, he called for bishops to be executed and prophesied that they would spend eternity in hell.

Milton attacked the greed of the clergy, rallied against censorship and wrote passionately against the monarchy.

On the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton went into hiding, his arrest was ordered and his books burned.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was later pardoned and released.

Charles II greatly admired Samuel Butler.

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Above: Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680)

The King enjoyed Butler´s Hudibras so much that he never ate, drank, slept or went to church without having Hudibras beside him.

Despite the King´s adoration, Butler died penniless.

“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive

No generous patron would a dinner give!

See him, when starved to death and turned to dust

Presented with a monumental bust!

The poet´s fate is here in emblem shown

He asked for bread and he received a stone!”

Here one finds an impressive memorial to Matthew Prior, famous for sayings like:

Above: Matthew Prior (1664 – 1721)

“It takes two to quarrel, but only one to end it.”

“The ends must justify the means.”

“They never taste who always drink.

They always talk who never think.”

John Gay was said to be….

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Above: John Gay (1685 – 1732)

“In wit, a man; simplicity, a child.”

On Gay´s monument, Alexander Pope wrote a long epitaph, but Gay had the last laugh for two lines are Gay´s not Pope´s:

“Life is a jest, and all things show it.

I thought so once, and now I know it.”

Poets´ Corner is a Who´s Who of the English dead: Longfellow, Wilde, T.S. Elliot, Lewis Carroll, Trollope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Austen, Keats, Shelley, Burns, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Gray, Goldsmith, Blake, Scott, Dickens, Lear, Browning, Brooke, Dylan Thomas, Auden….

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

(Charles Dickens was buried secretly on 14 June 1870 to avoid crowds, but so many wanted to pay their respects that the grave had to be left open for a time so the public could see him.)

Just to name a few….

Before you enter the Cloisters, check out the South Choir Aisle.

See the tomb of Thomas Thynne that shows how three thugs did him in.

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Above: Tomb of Thomas Thynne (1610 – 1669)

Or consider the ironic fate of Admiral Shovell, who survived a shipwreck, was washed up alive on a beach in the Scilly Isles, only to be killed by a fisherwoman who wanted his emerald ring.

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Above: Cloudesley Shovell (1650 – 1707)

Or that of the court portrait painter Godfrey Kneller who declared:

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Above: Geofrey Kneller (1646 – 1723)

By God, I will not be buried in Westminster – they do bury fools here.”

Kneller is the only artist to be commemorated in the Abbey.

Enter the Cloisters where Parliament once met, beneath the southern wall where the Whore of Babylon rides the scarlet seven-headed beast from the Book of Revelations.

See the Pyx Chamber which acted like a medieval high security safety deposit box.

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Robbers broke in on 24 April 1303 and stole jewels and riches.

Some of them were hanged the following March.

The ringleader of the Pyx robbery was whipped and nailed to the door of the Pyx Chamber as a warning to others.

500 years later pieces of human skin could still be found in the door hinges.

Before you leave the Cloisters enter the Nave itself.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior with his garland of red poppies recalls the million British soldiers who died in World War One, with an equivalent number of women dying unmarried because there were no husbands for them.

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A tablet in the floor near the Tomb marks the spot where George Peabody, the 19th century philantropist whose housing estates in London still provide homes for those in need, was buried for a month before being exhumed and removed to Massachusetts.

Above: George Peabody (1795 – 1869)

Peabody remains the only American to have been buried in Westminster.

Above the Nave´s west door, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at just 25 teaches Anarchy while History takes notes.

With all I have described it certainly is no wonder why Westminster Abbey is so popular with tourists.

So much to see, so much to learn and yet Westminster left me with a sense of disappointment.

Not so much with the Abbey itself as much as what the Abbey represents.

Death has become a spectacle and a source of profit.

Does a life have no value if it is not commemorated grandly after death?

Does this mean that the Hindus value life less by burning the bodies of their dead?

And what of the poor who lie in anonymous mass graves unmarked and forgotten?

What of the millions who have died in war or in prison or by dread disease?

Did all these lives have no value because there are no markers to show where their bones are piled?

Does a life have no value if it is not historically significant?

Did all these lives lose their value once their bodies turned to ashes and dust?

I believe that the value of life is in the living, in the apppreciation of the moment, in the appreciation of the Now.

I believe that as long as my life is without extreme pain – physical or psychological – and I am not causing pain to others, then my life has value, at least to myself and hopefully beyond myself.

I don´t require assurance that my remains be assigned some grand memorial in some magnificent cathedral.

I don´t require a cemetery plot or even a funeral.

(Though a drinking party where folks dance with joy celebrating that they continue to live on without me would please me greatly.)

I don´t require a dim unprovable hope that some form of existence awaits me after death.

Am I suggesting that the visitor avoid Westminster Abbey?

No.

It is truly a magnificent structure and is peculiar in its own ways.

But I would be more satisfied with plaques that spoke to me of who a deceased person was, both as a person and someone who accomplished great things.

Epitaphs sound grandiose when read aloud but they speak little about what a person was like when they were alive.

Byron´s monument:  “But there is that within me whuch shall tire torture and time and breathe when I expire.”

But who was Byron?

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Above: Lord George Byron (1788 – 1824)

T. S. Eliot: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”

Fine words, but what of the poet who wrote them?

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Trollope: “Now I stretch out my hand and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words I have written.”

Wouldn´t it be more respectful to read the actual words Trollope wrote then to just simply view his gravesite?

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Above: Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1965)

D. H. Lawrence is labelled as “Home sum! The adventurer…” and G. M. Hopkins as “priest and poet, immortal diamond”.

But these words say nothing of who these genetlemen were.

The honour is in appreciating them for what they wrote and the life captured within their words.

Otherwise despite the fine artistry of the graves of Westminster, without an appreciation of who the dead were, what lies beneath slabs of stone is nothing but dust and ashes and the merest whisper of existence.

It would be better to show those that we love that they are loved, rather than mourn their passage which our dead cannot appreciate.

Westminster shows me that death is the great equalizer of us all, no matter how one wishes to decorate the tombs of kings and queens or poets and generals.

If while I live, others are happy that I do so….

“Wouldn´t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

And they´re always glad you came.

You want to go where you know troubles are all the same.

You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

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With a place like this, where everybody knows my name while I am still alive, I don´t need to be buried in some great cathedral.

A great grave doesn´t make a life great.

Great love does.                                                 

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape / http://www.westminster-abbey.org

Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 December 2017

I want to run away.

As work increases and pressure mounts to accomplish as much as possible in this last month of the calendar year….

I want to run away.

And though employers try to distract us through Christmas parties from the pressure they themselves create, I find myself nostalgic, almost homesick, for Christmas markets I have previously known and loved during the years I lived in Freiburg im Breisgau and Lörrach in Baden-Württemburg in southwestern Germany.

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I want to run back.

For this area – where a trio of national borders meet and are divided by the mighty Rhine River, (that begins to trickle from the distant Swiss Alps and flows mightily into the Atlantic at the Hook of Holland) – is home to some of the best Christmas markets I have ever experienced.

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Of all the markets, and there are many, that the Christmas season inspires in northern Switzerland, southwestern Germany and eastern France, the best, in my opinion, are those to be found in the French province of Alsace, especially in places like Colmar, Kaysersberg and Strasbourg.

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Above: Flag of Alsace

But once Christmas has passed, Alsace, though still beautiful and still worthy of tourism, seems to lose its charisma somewhat.

The little Venice, Colmar

Above: Little Venice, Colmar

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Above: Kaysersberg

Colmar´s canals are still charming, Strasbourg´s cathedral remains impressive and Kaysersberg maintains its quaintness, but only Freiburg and Basel continue to consistently inspire tourists all year long.

(For more about Freiburg im Breisgau, see Where I Am of this blog.)

There is much I have yet to write about Freiburg, (and I will), for it remains the European city closest to my heart, but I want to share within this blogpost the wonders and fascination of the Swiss city of Basel.

I am inspired to write about Basel at the moment, for in my ongoing Zwingli Project that retraces the life and “footsteps” of one of Switzerland´s most famous religious reformers, I have learned that Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531) after having completed his primary schooling in Weesen, then spent three years (1494 – 1497) in Basel to obtain his secondary schooling.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and…. the Road to Reformation, …the Wild Child of Toggenburg, ….the Thundering Hollows of this blog for more about the Zwingli Project.)

Then, after time spent in Bern and Vienna, Zwingli returned to Basel to complete his Master of Arts degree at the University of Basel. (1502 – 1506)

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But, for reasons I have yet to understand, there is little ado made about Zwingli´s years in Basel and Basel does not seem overly motivated to promote its past connections with the reformer.

It is as if Zwingli´s time in Basel is as insignificant as the record of a butterfly´s flight through a field.

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This intrigues me, for Basel, which thinks of itself as the hub of the universe, is quick to remind visitors of its role in world history.

Basel loves to tell the visitors all about events, discoveries and ideas, which may have seemed small and insignificant at the time later changed the world:

  • The measurements of Gustav von Bunge (1844 – 1920) which laid the foundations for vitamin research and would draw attention to the dangers of sugar, alcohol and nicotine.
  • The discovery of LSD (“This is such stuff as dreams are made of.”) by the chemist Albert Hoffmann (1906 – 2008)

(I like what Hoffmann wrote about his observation of a butterfly while on LSD:

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Above: Albert Hoffmann

“When looking at such jewels of nature, thoughts can unfold concerning the whole of creation and our human existence within it.”

Is this what the mathematician, meteorologist and co-inventor of chaos theory Edward Lorenz had in mind, when he asked:

“Is it possible for the flap of a butterfly´s wing in Brazil to set off a tornado in Texas?”)

  • Architect Hannes Meyer (1889 – 1954) and Bauhaus architecture
  • Ice skaters Werner Groebli (1915 – 2008) (“Frick” from a small village near Basel) and Hans Ruedi Mauch (1919 – 1979) (“Frack”, Swiss German for a frock coat) whose skating colloboration was so seamless and so popular that their stages names crept into American English slang (“Frick and Frack”: a close partnership)
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536) who published the world´s first book of idioms (Adagiorum chiliades, adagia selecta)(“The Ten Thousand Proverbs”) during his time in Basel (1514)
  • The art of art dealing created by Art Basel (1968)
  • Clara Zeltin´s 1912 “Bells of Basel” speech, proclaiming that the modern woman´s voice is mankind´s only real possibility for world peace would lead the call for women´s equality
  • The Bank for International Settlements founded in Basel (1929)
  • The Island of the Dead (1880), a painting by Arnold Böcklin (1827 – 1901), so popular that there are versions of it in major museums in Basel, Berlin, Dresden and New York….

Above: The Island of the Dead (Basel Version)

(In the 1930s Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov remarked that almost every house in Berlin had a print of Die Toteninsel.

As did Sigmund Freud, Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Sergei Rachmaninov, Heinrich Mann, August Strindberg, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Gerhard Meier.)

  • Intramedullary nails (“bone screws”) developed because a Basel woman´s dog broke its leg in 1943
  • Vitamin C and cortosone synthesized by 1950 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine winner Tadeus Reichstein (1897 – 1996), Professor at the University of Basel
  • Tetteh Quarshie, a freed slave bought by the Basel Mission in West Africa in 1867 would go on to introduce cocoa production to Ghana
  • The first edition of the sociology scientific classic best-seller The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias first published in Basel (1939)
  • Theophastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541), would begin the reform of modern medicine during his time in Basel (1527)
  • The invention of “psychohistory” or “scientific prediction” by Basel scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen (1818 – 1887), which would inspire and challenge such great diverse intellectuals such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Carl Jung, etc.
  • The creation of the natural conservation group that would eventually be named the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) (1870);
  • The bittersweet development of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) poison (1939)
  • Basel town clerk Peter Och´s song of peace would lead to the Basel Peace of 1795 ending a bloody conflict between France and Prussia, giving Basel the name “the world´s rock of peace”
  • The Council of Basel (1431 – 1449), the 7th and longest Council in church history
  • Friedrich Nietzche´s first book of philosophy, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, published in Basel (1872)
  • The discovery of cellulose nitrate (“guncotton”) by Basel University Professor Christian Schönbein in 1846, would form the basis of other developments such as celluloid and chardonnet silk, the world´s first synthetic fabric
  • The first printed edition of the Qu´ran in a European language, the first translation from Arabic into Latin, in 1542 by a Basel Publisher, who would then later that same year would publish De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, which would not only set standards in the history of medicine but as well in the history of printed media for being one of the most beautifully printed books of that century
  • “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.” – Theodor Herzl would hold the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, which would one day lead to the creation of the modern nation of Israel.
  • The creation of the Helvetica font (1956)
  • The Bernoulli Crater on Earth´s moon is named after the Basel family of mathematicians (1687 – 1790)

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So, in this cavalcade of Basel accomplishment, why isn´t the name of Switzerland´s famous religious reformer more celebrated in the city where Zwingli spent seven years?

Perhaps it is because it was not until Zwingli began his ministry in Glarus in 1506 that he began to develop his ideas about the necessity of change within the Christian Church.

Basel did not inspire Zwingli to desire church reform, for he was focused on learning how to function within the church.

Yet I am surprised that neither Basel tourism nor the authors of recent books on Zwingli during this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, speak much about his time there.

Thus the Zwingli scholar or amateur historian is not driven to visit Basel in search of Zwinglian links.

And this is a shame, for there is much about Basel worth exploring and experiencing whether one is a history buff or not.

If there is one region of Switzerland that is pro-European, it is Basel, situated on the Rhine River exactly where Switzerland, Germany and France meet.

And this touching of national noses has inspired the success of Basel-Mulhouse – Freiburg´s EuroAirport and has led to the development of high speed rail links to Strasbourg, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.

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Basel is a proud city, frustrated that Zürich and Geneva garner the world´s attention, for Basel is a city of historic excellence in the fields of banking and pharmaceuticals.

Basel is a major port in Switzerland as the Rhine is the nation´s only outlet to an ocean.

It is one of Switzerland´s wealthiest cities and business is booming.

Every March, Baselworld is the most prestigious event in watchmaking and jewellery.

Eingang zur Baselworld (2005)

Every June, the art fair Art Basel is one of contemporary art´s highest profile gatherings with world famous artists and dealers packing the city with glitzy shows and events.

Every visit I have made to Basel, normally accompanied by my wife, shows me more new restaurants that have sprung up with fresh ideas.

The first rate museums and galleries never fail to delight.

Basel is both a mix of yesterday and tomorrow.

Explore the shopping streets between Barfüsserplatz and Marktplatz.

Climb the steep lanes leading from these squares to find leafy courtyards surrounded by 16th century town houses, medieval churches and the majestic, magnificent Münster dominating the skyline from its Rhineside terrace.

Above: Basel Cathedral

Ride a tram, cross the Rhine a number of times by ferry, linger at a terrace café, grab a bite at a fast food joint and party hearty in one of the many racuous pubs.

Architects will joy-gasm upon seeing the Yellow House, while children of all ages will dance with excitement in the Doll´s House Museum with a forest of teddy bears.

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Above: Roger Diener´s Yellow House, Basel

The elegant white church overlooking Barfüssplatz, the Barfüsserkirche, built by and named after the barefooted Franciscans, is home to the Basel Historical Museum, with its monumental choir stall and sumptuous tapestries.

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Here one can both laugh at life and dread death.

Here is the original 1640 Lällekeenig (Tongue King) which once adorned the gate (demolished in 1839) of the Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge)(for centuries the only bridge over the Rhine between the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and the North Sea).

Above: The Tongue King

The Tongue King would greet arrivals with rolling eyes and stuck-out tongue controlled by a clockwork motor.

Here in the Garden of Love two lovers play cards inside a summer pavilion.

The man slaps down a card with the words:

“That last play of yours was a good one!”

The woman nods in triumph:

“And it´s won me the game!”

The Battle of the Sexes is eternal.

Man will never win, but, oh!, what a sweet surrender!

The Dance of Death, originally part of a 60-metre long mural that once covered the cemetery wall of Basel´s Dominican convent (demolished in 1805) graphically depicts, in a macabre reminder of human mortality, people of all different ages and professions on a morbid march leading to the cemetery´s charnel house.

In the market square lined by shops, reached by descending down the dense network of narrow, sloping medieval alleys, such as Tailor Street (Scneidergasse), Saddle Street (Sattelgasse) and Ginger Alley (Imbergässlein), crowds gather at a myriad of fruit and vegetable stalls, beneath the shadows of the elegant scarlet Rathaus (City Hall).

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Above: Rathaus, Basel

Climb steep quiet old lanes towards the former city walls to the Gothic Peterskirche with its secret frescoes.

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Above: Peterskirche, Basel

Follow narrow Spalentorstadt to the Spalentor, the most elaborate of the surviving city gates, with massive wooden doors and a huge portcullis.

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Above: Spalentor, Basel

The small Swiss Jewish Museum has many interesting items on the history of the Jews in Basel.

As you wander through the old residential quarter make your way to the St. Leonardskirche, with porthole windows and a cat´s cradle vaulted ceiling.

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Above: St. Leonhardskirche, Basel

Curse yourself and your unfit condition as you climb the tightest, narrowest spiral staircase in Christendom to reach the church´s gallery.

At the Münster, Basel´s cathedral, see St. George slay a Dragon, while a foolish virgin is led astray by a scheming Satanic seducer.

Within the Münster is the tomb of the Renaissance humanist Erasmus.

Near Erasmus´ final resting place, St. Vincent is shown speaking for his bishop, flogged for doing so, tortured and led to a furnace.

Angels carry his soul to heaven while ravens protect his body before it is dumped at sea, retrieved and buried in a proper tomb.

Off alleyways leading from the Münster the wanderer finds the Cultural Museum and Natural History Museum.

The narrow lane of Rheinsprung leads to the St. Martinskirche beside the curiously named Alley of the 11,000 Virgins (Elftausendjungfern Gasse), commemorating the martydom in Cologne (Köln) of St. Ursula and her legendary company of female supporters.

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Above: St. Martinskirche, Basel

Visit the Kunsthalle with big white rooms staging a continual flow of cutting edge contemporary art shows.

Above: Kunsthalle, Basel

See the Architecture Museum (joy-gasm!) showcasing the work of Swiss and international contemporary architects, then compare new with old at the Antiquity Museum featuring treasures of ancient Egypt and the Middle East.

Basel´s world famous Kunstmuseum, a stern and forbidding building with marble floors, high ceilings and grand staircases offers Dali´s nightmares, Impressionists artists that impress, Giacometti´s cat that lingers in the mind long after it is seen, and wood that flows from the imaginations of Kirchener and Scherer.

And Basel loves Picasso.

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Above: Picasso´s Arlequin assis

Dostoyevsky became obsessed with Hans Holbein the Younger´s (1497 – 1543) Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521) when he visited the Kunstmuseum in 1867.

He climbed on a chair to get a better view of it and then started to yell:

“Holbein was a great painter and a poet!”

His embarrassed wife, who thought he was about to have a fit, hurriedly rushed him from the room.

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Above: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881)

Holbein´s work subsequently popped up in Doestoevsky´s novel The Idiot, when a character´s recollections of the painting cause him to question the existence of God.

Down to the river to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, free with admission to the Kunstmuseum, then be surprisingly captivated by the nearby wonderful Swiss Museum of Paper, Writing and Printing within the Basel Paper Mill.

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Above: Basel Paper Mill

The water wheel keeps on rolling and amongst the exhibits of paper and typography, the Museum stages demonstrations of typecasting, typesetting, bookbinding and papermaking, where you can physically follow and imitate the complete process from wood pulp to final printed product.

A must see on any wanderer´s itinerary is the Museum Tinguely, on the north bank of the Rhine, in Solitude Park under the Schwarzwaldbrücke (Black Forest Bridge).

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Jean Tinguely (1925 – 1991) is perhaps Switzerland´s best-loved artist, who combined static sculpture with mechnical motion using scrap metal, plastic and everyday junk to create maverick post-modern Monty Pythonesque machines that joyfully shudder, squeak, clank, bang and scrape in an entertaining-for-all-ages parody of our modern performance-driven and speed-obsessed world.

With bonging bells and crashing cymbals, with smoke and smell and fireworks, this is art at its most inspirational and imaginative and interactive best.

Hop on a tram to Riehen, the city´s most northern limits and on the border with Germany, and visit a museum that commands respect throughout the art world, the Fondation Beyeler.

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Above: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel

Beyeler has created a masterfully exquisite building, housing exceptionally high-quality art collections of works of some of the 20th century´s greatest artists – Rothko and Rodin, Klee and Kandinsky, Matisse and Mondrian, Miró and more.

Then reminscient of Monet, the visitor can contemplate the waterlilies in the watery gardens outside the floor-to-ceiling windows.

But life is not all museums and monuments, for Basel knows how to celebrate life with its ancient masked carnival, Fasnacht, a time of blazing bonfires and lantern processions, streets filled by celebrants dancing in papier mâché heads atop jester costumes, cakes of icing sugar and caraway seed pretzels, and music, music, music.

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Basel´s Fasnacht is a festival of fools, a topsy-turvy unforgettable feast of joy and excitement.

Somehow no one thinks of the Zwinglihaus, Basel´s Reformed Church, during Fasnacht.

Perhaps this is why Zwingli goes unheralded in Basel, for religious reformers are rarely known for their party personas, and God and business are an uneasy mix in this city of the wealthy and prosperous.

For a tourist, Basel is a city of the beautiful butterfly not the endlessly engaged bee.

Basel´s butterfly effects of open-mindedness, a work ethic happily balanced with an appreciation of the need to find pleasureable respite from profit-earning, resonate with the visitor and are felt upon the visitor´s return home.

The flutter of butterfly wings will be felt far beyond the banks of the Rhine where three countries congregate.

Let Zürich claim Zwingli.

Basel is doing just fine without him.

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Sources: Facebook / Google / Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Switzerland / The Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Matthias Buschle and Daniel Hagmann, How Basel Changed the World / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis