Canada Slim and the Harry Potter Fado

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Friday 11 October 2019

As you read what follows….

Download a fado piece.

Portugal’s most famous musical form, fado (Portuguese for “fate“) is urban music, of night and bars, of a yearning that is beautiful and melancholic, accompanied by guitarra and viola.

 

Above: Fado, José Malhoa (1910)

 

To the south, fado is feminine.

But in the north, fado is a man’s music, full of lusty lyrics and soaring vocals, and usually the most memorable fado of all is performed by the least advertised, the most anonymous, performer of all, where one’s identity is overwhelmed by one’s soul.

Fado is to the Portuguese soul as rich, deep and satisfying as a cup of Portuguese coffee or a glass of Porto port.

Fado is played on the radio, on buses, in taxis, cafés and restaurants, on TV and drifting down darkened streets from shadowy clubs.

Fado is fate and how fate has foiled the lover in love and in life.

Fado is the homeland that is missed or the longing for a lover that has left.

To sing fado, the singer must become fadista with an attitude that cries out:

I am a pessimist, a nihilist and everything that fado demands from me is me.”

It is the mourning of a devil cast out of heaven, a broken heart beyond repair, a spirit beyond redemption….

 

 

What the hell was she thinking?

This is a question that American Catholic theologians are asking J.K. Rowling the creator of the Harry Potter franchise….

 

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Above: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC – the largest enclosed church building in the world

 

Religious debates over the Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling are based on claims that the novels contain occult or Satanic subtexts.

 

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A number of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have argued against the series, as have some Shia and Sunni Muslims.

 

Above: The Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia – the Muslim destination of pilgrimage

 

Supporters of the series have said that the magic in Harry Potter bears little resemblance to occultism, being more in the vein of fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White, or to the works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both of whom are known for writing fantasy novels with Christian subtexts.

Far from promoting a particular religion, some argue, the Harry Potter novels go out of their way to avoid discussing religion at all.

 

The Harry Potter logo first used for the American edition of the novel series (and some other editions worldwide), and then the film series.

 

However, the author of the series, J. K. Rowling, describes herself as a practising Christian, and many have noted the Christian references which she includes in the final novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

 

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In the United States, calls for the books to be banned from schools have led to legal challenges often on the grounds that witchcraft is a government-recognised religion and that to allow the books to be held in public schools violates the separation of church and state.

 

Flag of the United States

 

The Orthodox church of Bulgaria and a diocese of the Orthodox Church of Greece have also campaigned against the series, and some Catholic writers and officials have voiced a critical stance.

 

Church of St. George, Istanbul in 2010

Above: Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George, Istanbul (Constantinople)

 

The books have been banned from all schools in the United Arab Emirates.

 

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Above: Flag of the United Arab Emirates

 

Religious responses to Harry Potter have not all been negative.

Rowling notes:

At least as much as they’ve been attacked from a theological point of view the books have been lauded and taken into pulpit, and most interesting and satisfying for me, it’s been by several different faiths.

 

Rowling in April 2010

Above: J.K. Rowling, 2010

 

From The Times, 3 December 2018

The Harry Potter books gave birth to a global franchise, provided steady work to grateful British actors and created millions of new readers, convinced of the magical properties of a good book.

 

A large crowd of fans wait outside of a Borders store in Delaware, waiting for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Above: Crowd outside a bookshop awaiting the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

 

They also created a generation of Americans who are more likely to believe that they are possessed by the Devil, with Catholic priests reporting that they are overwhelmed with requests to perform exorcisms.

 

When I was appointed 13 years ago, I probably received maybe 100 inquiries a year.“, said Vincent Lampert, the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Now I receive about 1,700 inquiries a year.

He thinks the Harry Potter books and films, which spurred a broad interest in magic, are partly to blame.

Magic is the focus on the individual, rather than having to deal with God.“, he said.

It encouraged “the belief that somehow the power is within them.

Even within the world of exorcism, the premise would be that God is not a bystander.

God is the main actor.

Priests who conduct exorcisms say occult practices and symbols can serve as doorways for a demon.

The Harry Potter books “disarmed Americans from thinking that all magic is darkness“, one unnamed exorcist recently told The Atlantic magazine.

 

Above: St. Francis Borgia performing an exorcism, Goya

 

Adam Jortner, a historian of religion in American life at Auburn University, Alabama, said it was not the first time that members of the church had feared the influence of children’s books.

The church had a go at C.S. Lewis for the Narnia books, a powerful allegory of Christianity itself.“, he said.

 

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Jortner agreed that interest in the occult had grown.

Harry Potter is responsible for mainstreaming magic.“, he said.

Exorcism had a clear history within the church and it sought to treat magic with respect.

He added:

The Catholic church has some of the most stringent rules about exorcism in the world.

Most Catholic exorcists are required to go through this long list of things to ensure that it is not a neurological problem.

Father Lampert said that all who sought his help were required to undergo an assessment by a medical professional, which ended most applications….

 

Above: St. Francis exorcising the demons of Arezzo, Giotto

 

When I read an article like this I am shocked to find that this sort of folly is taken seriously.

Putting aside for the moment the question of the existence of God, for which the largest defence is that God’s non-existence cannot be proven, and grasping with the notion that God possesses a team (angels) to battle another team (demons) led by His most bitter opponent (the Devil), then to further suggest that demons possess people….

This pushes rational credibility.

 

 

But then to blame the author of a series of children’s books for the rise in exorcism applications is utter poppycock in my opinion.

 

To play the Catholic advocate for a moment it can certainly be argued that children are gullible, easily influenced and misled.

But it insults the intelligence of our young people to suggest that they cannot discern the difference between a clever storyline and reality.

 

Could they believe in magic?

Sure, for there is much about existence that is difficult to explain.

But it stretches my incredulity that children, those poor deluded Muggles, would assume from a story that they too possess magical powers as the alumni and staff of Hogwarts do.

 

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Above: Model of Hogwarts, Warner Bros. Studio, Leavesden, England

 

Nonetheless, let us humour these men of the cloth for a moment….

Let us imagine (if that is even possible) that Harry Potter leads to the need for exorcism.

Over the years, some religious people, particularly Christians, have decried Rowling’s books for supposedly promoting witchcraft.

 

Rowling identifies as a Christian.

She once said:

I believe in God, not magic.

 

Early on, she felt that if readers knew of her Christian beliefs they would be able to predict plot lines of characters in her books.

In 2007, Rowling said she was the only one in her family who went regularly to church.

She was an adherent of the Church of England.

 

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As a student she became annoyed at the “smugness of religious people” and attended less often.

Later, she started to attend a Church of Scotland congregation at the time she was writing Harry Potter.

Her eldest daughter, Jessica, was baptised there.

 

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Above: Logo of the Church of Scotland

 

In a 2006 interview with Tatler magazine, Rowling noted:

Like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes about if my faith will return.

It’s important to me.”

 

Greene in 1939

Above: Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)

 

She has said that she has struggled with doubt, that she believes in an afterlife and that her faith plays a part in her books.

In a 2012 radio interview, she said that she was a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a province of the Anglican Communion.

 

In 2015, following the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland, Rowling joked that if Ireland legalised same-sex marriage, Dumbledore (Headmaster of Hogwarts) and Gandalf (of the Lord of the Rings series) could get married there.

 

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Above: Flag of the Republic of Ireland

 

The Westboro Baptist Church, in response, stated that if the two got married, they would picket.

Rowling responded:

Alas, the sheer awesomeness of such a union in such a place would blow your tiny bigoted minds out of your thick sloping skulls.

 

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Above: Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas

 

Is Rowling then guilty of intellectual or spiritual manslaughter by unintentionally killing children’s beliefs in God?

Or taking the concept to its ultimate crazy extreme….

Was this death of the divine within our children pre-meditated by Ms. Rowling?

Is she guilty of spiritual murder?

 

To answer this question with any certainty we must ask ourselves how and why did Rowling write the Harry Potter series.

To answer this question, come with me, back in time, both in Rowling’s past and my own….

 

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Joanne Rowling (born 31 July 1965), better known by her pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author, film producer, television producer, screenwriter, and philanthropist.

 

Above: J.K. Rowling, 1999

 

She is best known for writing the Harry Potter fantasy series, which has won multiple awards and sold more than 500 million copies, becoming the best-selling book series in history.

The books are the basis of a popular film series, over which Rowling had overall approval on the scripts and was a producer on the final films.

 

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She also writes crime fiction under the name Robert Galbraith.

 

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Born in Yate, Gloucestershire, Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.

 

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The seven-year period that followed saw the death of her mother, birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband, and relative poverty until the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover.jpg

 

There were six sequels, of which the last, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007.

 

Since then, Rowling has written five books for adult readers: The Casual Vacancy (2012) and—under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith—the crime fiction Cormoran Strike series, which consists of The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), The Silkworm (2014), Career of Evil (2015), and Lethal White (2018).

 

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Rowling has lived a “rags to riches” life in which she progressed from living on benefits to being the world’s first billionaire author.

She lost her billionaire status after giving away much of her earnings to charity but remains one of the wealthiest people in the world.

She is the UK’s best-selling living author, with sales in excess of £238 million.

The 2016 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £600 million, ranking her as the joint 197th richest person in the UK.

Time named her a runner-up for its 2007 Person of the Year, noting the social, moral and political inspiration she has given her fans.

In October 2010, Rowling was named the “Most Influential Woman in Britain” by leading magazine editors.

She has supported multiple charities, including Comic Relief, One Parent Families, and Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain, as well as launching her own charity, Lumos.

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Joanne Rowling was born in Yate, Gloucestershire, the daughter of science technician Anne (née Volant) and Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer Peter James Rowling.

 

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Above: View of Yate, Gloucestershire, England

 

Her parents first met on a train departing from King’s Cross Station bound for Arbroath in 1964.

They married on 14 March 1965.

 

A platform on the London Underground.

 

One of Rowling’s maternal great-grandfathers, Dugald Campbell, was a Scottish man from Lamlash.

 

Her mother’s French paternal grandfather, Louis Volant, was awarded the War Cross for exceptional bravery in defending the village of Courcelles-le-Comte during World War I.

Rowling originally believed Volant had won the Legion of Honour during the war, as she said when she received it herself in 2009.

She later discovered the truth when featured in an episode of the UK genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? in which she found out it was a different Louis Volant who won the Legion of Honour.

When she heard her grandfather’s story of bravery and discovered that the War Cross was for “ordinary” soldiers like her grandfather, who had been a waiter, she stated the War Cross was “better” to her than the Legion of Honour.

 

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Rowling’s sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old.

The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four.

As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories which she frequently read to her sister.

 

Above: Duck pond, Winterbourne, Gloucestershire

 

Aged nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales.

 

Above: Church Cottage, Tutshill, Gloucestershire

 

When she was a young teenager, her great-aunt gave her a copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, Hons and Rebels.

Mitford became Rowling’s heroine and Rowling read all of her books.

 

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Rowling has said that her teenage years were unhappy.

Her home life was complicated by her mother’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and a strained relationship with her father, with whom she is not on speaking terms.

Rowling later said that she based the character of Hermione Granger on herself when she was eleven.

 

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Above: Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, poster for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

 

Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth, owned a turquoise Ford Anglia which she says inspired a flying version that appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

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Like many teenagers, she became interested in rock music, listening to the Clash, the Smiths and Siouxsie Sioux, adopting the look of the latter with back-combed hair and black eyeliner, a look that she would still sport when beginning university.

 

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Above: Siouxsie Sioux, 1980

 

As a child, Rowling attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More.

Her headmaster at St Michael’s, Alfred Dunn, has been suggested as the inspiration for the Harry Potter headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

 

Above: Richard Harris (1930 – 2002) as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

 

She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother worked in the science department.

Steve Eddy, her first secondary school English teacher, remembers her as “not exceptional” but “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English“.

Rowling took A-levels in English, French and German, achieving two As and a B, and was Head Girl.

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Above: Logo of Wyeburn School, Sedbury, Gloucestershire

 

In 1982, Rowling took the entrance exams for Oxford University but was not accepted and earned a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter.

Martin Sorrell, a French professor at Exeter, remembers “a quietly competent student, with a denim jacket and dark hair, who, in academic terms, gave the appearance of doing what was necessary“.

Rowling recalls doing little work, preferring to read Dickens and Tolkien.

After a year of study in Paris, Rowling graduated from Exeter in 1986.

In 1988, Rowling wrote a short essay about her time studying Classics titled “What was the Name of that Nymph Again? or Greek and Roman Studies Recalled“.

It was published by the University of Exeter’s journal Pegasus.

 

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Above: Crest of the University of Exeter

 

After working as a researcher and bilingual secretary in London for Amnesty International, Rowling moved with her then boyfriend to Manchester, where she worked at the Chamber of Commerce.

 

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In 1990, while she was on a four-hour-delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry “came fully formed” into her mind.

When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately.

 

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Above: Clapham Junction Railway Station

 

In December, Rowling’s mother, Anne, died after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Rowling was writing Harry Potter at the time and had never told her mother about it.

Her mother’s death heavily affected Rowling’s writing and she channelled her own feelings of loss by writing about Harry’s own feelings of loss in greater detail in the first book.

 

An advertisement in The Guardian led Rowling to move to Porto, Portugal, to teach English as a foreign language.

JK Rowling moved to Porto in 1991.

 

A panned out image of city buildings.

Above: Porto

 

This was a difficult time in her life, as her mother had recently passed away after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

And to rub salt in the wound, her house in Manchester had been burgled, and everything her mother had left her was stolen.

 

Eager for a change of scenery, she accepted a job teaching English as a second language in Porto at a private language school on Avenida de Fernão de Magalhães called Encounter English.

 

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Rowling spent her evenings teaching English to young teenagers, business people and housewives and spent her days working on the manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

 

The time Rowling spent in Portugal was in many ways a dark and painful period of her life, and one that she rarely talks about.

For this reason, it’s hard to know for sure exactly which elements of the Harry Potter saga were inspired by her experiences in Porto.

Nevertheless, the influence is clearly there.

 

Many people have speculated that Rowling took inspiration from certain Porto landmarks, shops and cafés.

Some of these supposed inspiration locations almost certainly did inspire her, while others require a stretch of the imagination.

Rowling may have been subconsciously influenced by them, even if she didn’t recognize it at the time.

She taught English-as-a-foreign language at the Encounter English School at night and began writing in the day while listening to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

 

Above: Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)

 

After 18 months in Porto, she met Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes at a café and found they shared an interest in Jane Austen.

Arantes would later tell London’s Daily Express newspaper the story of his whirlwind romance and doomed marriage to the then-unknown Joanne Rowling.

 

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Above: Jorge Arrantes

 

It was a sexually passionate relationship that ended in violence and bitterness.

She was a 25-year-old teacher, he was a 23-year-old journalism student.

He spotted her drinking with some friends in a café, was drawn to her piercing, aquamarine eyes and tried to pick her up.

Immediately there was a connection between us.“, Arrantes said.

Joanne could not speak any Portuguese, but my English was good.

We both realized we had a great deal in common with our love of books.

I remember her saying she was re-reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which I had also read.

 

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Arrantes said she told him about an affair she had had with another Portuguese man and about a love affair with a man in England.

When the night ended, they exchanged telephone numbers – and a kiss.

 

Two days later, he said, they had their first date – and ended up in bed.

Before we knew what was happening, she was back at my flat and we spent the night together.

There was nothing sordid about it.

We were simply two young, independent people enjoying life.

After that night, Joanne and I saw each other two or three times a week.

It was an intense and passionate relationship.

 

It was also tempestous.

Their frenetic lovemaking was punctuated with furious arguments.

We were always either in Heaven or in Hell.

 

They moved into his mother’s apartment, a shabby two-bedroom flat with a tiny kitchen, on Rua do Duque de Saldanha.

 

Casa onde morou depois de ter casado com Jorge Arantes. Foi lá que Jessica, a filha de ambos, viveu os primeiros meses de vida e foi de lá que Rowling foi expulsa numa madrugada de Novembro de 1993

Above: Entry to Arantes flat, Rua do Duque de Saldanha, Porto

 

Arantes later claimed he had helped her come up with ideas for the Harry Potter novels, though she denies this.

Among the belongings she brought to their home, according to Arantes, was a well-thumbed copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings.

 

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Several months later, Joanne discovered she was pregnant.

It was unplanned and both were afraid of the responsibilities parenthood might bring.

 

According to Arantes, Rowling began writing her first Harry Potter book during this pregnancy.

She kept her writing secret for a time, then showed her work in progress to Arantes.

I am proud to say that I was the first person to read about Harry Potter.

It was obvious to me straight away that this was the work of a genius.

I can still remember telling Joanne:

‘Whoa! I am in love with a great, great writer.’

Even in those days, Joanne had a great talent for structure.

I never doubted it would be a success.

 

Arantes says they discussed the stories, which Rowling found helpful.

We studied each other’s work and made suggestions.

When I told Joanne to change something, she would usually make an alteration.

He claims she had planned the full series of seven books, because  she believed the number 7 has magical associations.

 

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But just as they had begun to look forward to the birth of their child, tragedy struck.

Joanne miscarried.

 

They married on 16 October 1992 and their child, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes (named after Jessica Mitford), was born on 27 July 1993 in Portugal.

 

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Above: Joanne and Jorge Arantes with baby Jessica

 

Two months after Jessica’s birth, Arantes admits, he ordered Joanne out of their apartment.

She refused to go without Jessica and, despite my saying she could come back for her in the morning, there was a violent struggle.

I had to drag her out of the house at 5 in the morning and I admit I slapped her very hard in the street.

 

The couple separated on 17 November 1993.

Biographers have suggested that Rowling suffered domestic abuse during her marriage, although the extent is unknown.

 

In December 1993, Rowling and her then infant daughter moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to be near Rowling’s sister with three chapters of what would become Harry Potter in her suitcase.

Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as a failure.

Her marriage had failed and she was jobless with a dependent child, but she described her failure as liberating and allowing her to focus on writing.

During this period, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide.

Her illness inspired the characters known as Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book.

 

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Rowling signed up for welfare benefits, describing her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.”

 

Rowling was left in despair after her estranged husband arrived in Scotland, seeking both her and her daughter.

She obtained an Order of Restraint and Arantes returned to Portugal, with Rowling filing for divorce in August 1994.

 

She began a teacher training course in August 1995 at the Moray House School of Education, at Edinburgh University, after completing her first novel while living on state benefits.

She wrote in many cafés, especially Nicolson’s Café (owned by her brother-in-law) and the Elephant House, wherever she could get Jessica to fall asleep.

 

 

Meanwhile Arantes’ life was falling apart.

He lost his job as a television journalist and descended into a nightmare of drug addiction.

 

His 70-year-old mother, Marilia Rodrigues, told the London Daily Mail that Arantes stole family heirlooms and jewellery to feed his drug habit.

He still loved her very much and was heartbroken when they parted.“, Rodrigues said.

He still believes they could get together again and he would take her back at the drop of a hat.

He just wants her and his daughter.

 

Arantes says he has recovered from his drug addiction and lives in a small apartment in the Paris suburb of Clichy with his brother Justino, a travel agent.

 

Rowling rarely talks about her first marriage, but once told the Times of London:

I married on 16 October 1992.

I left on 17 November 1993.

So that was the duration of what I considered to be the marriage.

Obviously, you do not leave a marriage after that very short period of time unless there are serious problems.

I’m not the kind of person who bales out without there being serious problems.

My relationship before that lasted seven years.

I’m a long-term girl.

And I had a baby with this man.

But it didn’t work.

And it was clear to me that it was time to go, and so I went.

I never regretted it.

 

In a 2001 BBC interview, Rowling denied the rumour that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat, pointing out that it had heating.

One of the reasons she wrote in cafés was that taking her baby out for a walk was the best way to make her fall asleep.

 

In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which was typed on an old manual typewriter.

Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evens, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agency agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher.

The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript.

A year later she was finally given the green light by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London.

The decision to publish Rowling’s book owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next.

Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books.

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Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated US$15 billion and the last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history.

The series, totalling 4,195 pages, has been translated, in whole or in part, into 65 languages.

The Harry Potter books have also gained recognition for sparking an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for computers and television, although it is reported that despite the huge uptake of the books, adolescent reading has continued to decline.

 

On 26 December 2001, Rowling married Neil Murray (born 1971), a Scottish doctor, in a private ceremony at her home, Killiechassie House in Scotland.

Their son, David Gordon Rowling Murray, was born on 24 March 2003.

 

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Above: Joanne and Neil Murray

 

Shortly after Rowling began writing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she ceased working on the novel to care for David in his early infancy.

Rowling’s youngest child, daughter Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, to whom she dedicated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was born on 23 January 2005.

 

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Regarding Jessica’s career, she can best be described as an Instagram model who posts beautiful photos of herself as well as videos with her family and friends.

Jessica started her Instagram account in 2013 and instantly started sharing photos.

She has now managed to gather almost 7,000 followers.

Apart from that, Jessica owns a clothing line called Jc.closefit.

She also loves travelling and taking photos while on her exotic tours.

 

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Above: Jessica Arantes

 

Rowling’s life in Portugal clearly influenced aspects of the books:

 

Many of Potter’s spells can be easily understood by Portuguese speakers:

  • aguamenti (bring out water)
  • duro (make things hard)
  • protego (protect people)
  • silencio (to silence people)

 

One of Hogwart’s founding professors was Salazar Slytherin.

Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar was Portugal’s notorious dictator for much of the 20th century.

 

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Above: António de Oliveira Salazar (1889 – 1970)

 

There are also many similarities between Porto’s most colourful buildings and elements of Hogwarts, and as my wife (Ute) and I explored the city of Porto, I found myself trying to imagine Joanne Rowling’s life pre-Harry Potter fame and fortune.

I also found myself marvelling at her choice of a dictator’s name for one of the school’s founders.

Was her deciding to take the name of Salazar suggesting that despite his  nature he was partially responsible for making the place possible?

Without a Salazar could it have become what it eventually became?

Rowling’s relationship with Arantes did not end well though their union resulted in Jessica’s birth.

Perhaps Arantes was Rowling’s Salazar?

Perhaps the rumours of domestic violence are true, but perhaps Arantes’s claims of inspiring Rowling’s ideas are also credible.

What would Porto, through a Rowling lens, tell me about writing and inspiration?

What would it tell me about myself?

 

From the top left corner clockwise: Clérigos Church and Tower; Avenida dos Aliados; Casa da Música concert hall; Ribeira district; Avenida da Boavista business hub; Luiz I bridge and Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia

Above: Images of Porto

 

Porto, Portugal, Thursday 26 July 2018

There are a number of sites in Porto frequently mentioned on Potterhead blogs that my mentioning will surprise no one.

The only difference I can offer is my perspective of them.

I shall briefly list them here and then offer my perspective:

  • Livraria Lello
  • Escovaria de Belomonte
  • Universidade do Porto
  • Café Majestic
  • Fonte dos Leones
  • Torre dos Clerigos

 

The Livraria Lello, Porto’s famous galleried Art Nouveau bookshop, with its neo-Gothic exterior and inner staircase just begging for a grand entrance, is a visual delight beyond words.

It was founded by the well-to-do Lello intellectual brothers in 1906 and specialized in limited edition books – many of which are still here.

The brothers now appear as bas-reliefs on the walls, alongside busts of great writers, including Eca de Queiroz and Miguel Cervantes.

The Lellos commissioned an engineer and fellow bibliophile Francisco Xavier Esteves to design the interior, which is simply stunning.

The ground level even has rails set into the floor for transporting book “carriages“.

 

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The impressive double, freestanding staircase (actually made of concrete) lures people upstairs where you can admire the extraordinary plasterwork ceiling, which resembles ornately carved wood.

Columns and a stained glass roof light add to the air of something far grander than a bookshop, the whole design having an almost organic feel, as if the walls and ceiling are the ribs and bones of a living creature.

 

 

The first floor was the traditional meeting point of artists and intellectuals and was frequented by Rowling during her time in Porto in the 1990s.

It is this, and the similiarity of the shop’s decor to some of Hogwarts’ more outlandish design characteristics, that has put the bookshop firmly on the tourist circuit, with up to 4,000 people visiting daily.

There are often queues to get in, but if you come first thing in the morning or in the evening shortly before closing time, you may be able to experience the place more as a bookshop than a tourist site.

 

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Porto’s famous galleried Art Nouveau shop has become a tourist site in its own right, but behind the crowds this still remains one of the city’s best bookshops.

There’s general fiction on the ground floor (including the Harry Potter stories in many languages), much of it in English, with reference and non-fiction (including travel) on the upper floor.

 

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You can also find rare editions of Portuguese books.

 

Look out for the original till, made in 1881, the first in Portugal to issue paper receipts and with prices in reis (the currency before the escudo and the euro).

 

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You get your €5.00 entry fee back on any purchase.

 

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In 1869, the Livraria Internacional de Ernesto Chardron was founded, from a shop on Rua dos Clérigos by the Frenchman Ernesto Chardron.

Following its founder’s death, at the age of 45, the firm was sold to Lugan & Genelioux Sucessores.

Alternately, in 1881, José Lello along with his brother-in-law created the firm David Pereira & Lello.

But, the following year, after the death of David Lourenço Pereira, the establishment began to be operated as José Pinto de Sousa Lello & Irmão, when he partnered with his younger brother (António Lello).

The brothers both became prominent members of Porto’s intellectual bourgeoisie by the turn of the century.

The brothers hired engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves (1864-1944) to construct the new bookstore on Rua das Carmelitas.

In 1906, the Livraria Lello was inaugurated.

By 1919, the bookstore was simply designated as the Lello & Irmão, Lda.

With the 1930 addition of José Pereira da Costa, the bookstore began to be known simply as Livraria Lello.

But, between 1930 and 1940, it once again became designated Lello & Irmão.

Beginning in July 2015, the bookstore began requesting entrance fees for visitors.

On 21 April 2016, an artistic mural was erected to conceal the scaffolding placed on the facade of the building, during its restoration, by graffiti writer Dheo and colleague Pariz One.

 

 

Dheo painted the central area of the mural with a pile of old books, a lit candle and a bottle of Port wine, while the rest was painted by Pariz One with geometric shapes, referring to the stained glass inside the bookstore.

The work took two months to produce.

On 31 July, following the restoration, the main facade of the building was uncovered, showing the laboratory-tested recovered primitive gray.

 

 

There is no denying that the woodwork and the glass art and the red winding staircase do make the Livraria Lello a beautiful place to visit and certainly there is a good case to argue that Hogwarts’ moving staircases and the interior of the Diagon Alley bookstore Flourish and Blogs were inspired by the Livraria.

 

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Above: Hogwarts’ moving staircases

 

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But therein lies the problem.

It attracts too many tourists and it knows it.

 

As a passionate bibliophile I certainly admire the architecture, but for me a bookshop should in some ways resemble a library, a sanctuary of literature, a temple of tomes, rather than a marketplace for mobs.

A person cannot linger in any one spot too long before some impatient patron will jostle and push you about the place.

One could make a grand entrance if the store were a little less crowded, but one loses one’s regal bearing very quickly after enduring long queues to get in, for the indignity of paying an entrance fee just to view the shop, down each and every aisle, up and down the staircase, and at the cash register….

This is not the place for those who dislike crowds in enclosed spaces.

And though the Livraria does offer rare Portuguese books I am not so certain the Lello brothers would have liked the changes that time and fame have wrought, for as wonderful as it is to see people eagerly seeking books to read in this awkward age of automation and animation, a sense of intellectualism no longer pervades this establishment.

The place feels like a souvenir shop at one of Walt Disney’s magic kingdoms of artificiality than it does a sacred reminder of Portugal’s literary past.

 

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Above: Disney World, Orlando, Florida

 

I doubt the American tourists who came to or left the Livraria had any conception of, or compassion for, the existence of a Portuguese literary history.

For the place is populated with Potterheads and nothing else seems to matter.

But suggesting such sacrilege to these Rowling fanatics is akin to being Cervantes’ Don Quixote tilting at thick stone windmills.

 

 

Pointlessly defending an honour long gone.

 

The Livrario made me think of St. Gallen’s Stiftbibliothek (Abbey Library) with its hefty admission fee and cramped interior when crowds congregate.

It is my hope that Rowling (or those of her ilk) never visit the Abbey Library and over-popularize the place with their writing, for the Library at least still maintains an aura of the sacred which the Livrario has long ago lost.

 

Above: The Abbey Library of St. Gallen

 

I was seeking a Porto version of Paris’ Shakespeare & Co., but got instead an amusement park souvenir shop.

 

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It was worth a visit for the heart but at a cost to the mind and soul.

 

The Escovaria de Belomonte (Brushes of Belomonte), founded by Antonio da Silva on 29 January 1927, is not, at present, part of guidebook description, but it is most definitively part of Potter lore and appears on every blog where Rowling and Porto are mentioned in the same breath.

Though the Escovaria de Belomonte has only existed for 82 years, they excel in the manufacture and restoration of industrial brushes.

Why buy new brushes when you can have your old ones renewed?

The Escovaria de Belomonte replenishes and renews any type of brush.

They create brushes for every kind of customized applications for all types of industries, including industrial factories, textile production, footwear producers, jewelry stores, cast moulding manufacturers, grinding establishments, water treatment plants, car washes, typographical firms, gastronomy, and the list goes on….

They make any and every kind of brush and broom.

Whatever your needs, Escovaria de Belomonte will help you find a solution.

 

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The handsome Belomonte brooms with their rustic luxurious look, many of them hanging from the store ceiling, handmade with high-quality wood and natural fibres, bear a striking resemblance to Harry Potter’s flying broom, the Nimbus 2000.

 

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It has also been suggested that the name of Harry Potter that graces the front cover of every Potter novel bears a striking resemblance to the lettering and design of Escovaria de Belomonte‘s street sign.

Visually it is a great store to visit, but I wonder whether Potterheads actually make a purchase here.

There is no entrance fee and I am certain the place is much photographed by Potterheads, but whether the Escovaria is pleased with being a tourist attraction more than a serious business establishment is debatable.

 

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It has been suggested by Potterhead blogs that the outfit worn by Universidade do Porto (University of Porto) students was the inspiration for the outfits that Hogwarts students were required to wear during academic hours.

The wife and I were not able to fit in a visit to the University, saw no one on the streets dressed in such attire and found very few photos of students dressed in this manner.

 

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What can be said about the University:

  • Founded on 22 March 1911, it is the 2nd largest Portuguese university by enrolled students (after the University of Lisbon) and has one of the most noted research outputs in Portugal.
  • It is ranked among the best Portuguese universities, is among the 100 universities in Europe and ranked 328th of the best 400 universities in the world.
  • Today, about 28,000 students (11,000 postgraduates) attend the programmes and courses provided by the University of Porto’s 15 schools (13 faculties, a biomedical sciences institute and a business school) each with a considerable degree of autonomy.
  • It offers 63 graduate degree courses, over 160 master courses and several doctoral degree courses and other specialization courses, supported by 2,300 lecturers and a technical and administrative staff of over 1,600 people.
  • Of those who can call themselves alumni or staff of the University are:
    • Richard Zimler (journalist / writer / professor)
    • Julio Dinis (1839 – 1871)(writer)
    • Jorge de Sena (1919 – 1978)(doctor / writer)
    • José Neves (billionaire businessman / founder of Farfetch)
    • Marisa Ferreira (artist)
    • Camilo Castelo Bianco (1825 – 1890)(writer)
    • Agostinho da Silva (1906 – 1994)(writer)

(This last mentioned I find inspirational:

What you need, above all, is to not remember what I said. 

Never think for me. 

Think always for yourself. 

Be sure that all your mistakes that you commit are, according to your own thinking and deciding, all more valuable than all your correct actions made according to my thinking, not yours.

If the Creator wanted to put us together we perhaps couldn’t have two different bodies and two different heads.

My counselling should serve you to confront it.

It is possible that, after this confrontation, you come to think like me, but, at this time, your thought is yours.

My disciples, if I have any, are the ones who oppose me, because in their deep soul they guard what truly animates and what I most want to transmit to them.

The wish is to not conform.“)

 

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Above: Agostinho da Silva

 

It is more likely that Rowling was inspired not by the University of Porto, but rather by the University of Coimbra – 1.5 hours south of Porto – whose students do indeed wear academic robes similiar to those of Hogwarts students.

We did not get to Coimbra.

We did not need to.

 

Above: University of Coimbra students in ceremonial robes

 

There are hundreds of places to eat and drink in Porto, from old town tascas and Art Nouveau cafés to riverfront designer restaurants.

Of these, the one place that attracts the Potterhead is the Café Majestic.

In 1916, Rua de Santa Catarina 12 was built on a paved shopping street.

Opened in 1921, the Café Elite was designed in Art Nouveau style.

The then Bohemian quarter of the city did not think the name “Elite” was appropriate as it was not part of the Zeitgeist that was the post-1910 revolutionary Portuguese Republic.

The coffee house was subsequently given the name it is still known by.

The Majestic became over time a place frequented by intellectuals and literary legends, including Gago Coutinho, Beatriz Costa, Júlio Resende, José Régio and Teixeira de Pascoaes.

 

 

(Carlos Viegas Gago Coutinho, generally known simply as Gago Coutinho (1869 – 1959) was a Portuguese geographer, cartographer, naval officer, historian and aviator.

An aviation pioneer, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral were the first to cross the South Atlantic Ocean by air, from March to June 1922, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.)

 

Above: Coutinho (right) and Cabral (left) on the Lusitánia

 

(Beatriz Costa (born Beatriz da Conceição; 1907 – 1996) was a Portuguese actress, the best-known actress of the golden age of Portuguese cinema.)

 

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Above: Beatriz Costa

 

(Júlio Resende is a Portuguese pianist and composer.

He is active as a jazz musician (both as a bandleader and as a sideman for other artists) and is also involved in the Fado scene, having recorded a solo piano tribute to Amália Rodrigues and collaborating with singers like António Zambujo, Ana Moura and Aldina Duarte.

He is also the leader of Alexander Search, a rock band fronted by Eurovision Song Contest 2017 winner Salvador Sobral and inspired by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.)

 

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(José Maria dos Reis Pereira, better known by the pen name José Régio (1901 – 1969), was a Portuguese writer.

José Régio was the author of novels, plays, poetry and essays.

His works are strongly focused on the theme of conflict between man and God and between the individual and society, a critical analysis of solitude and human relations.)

 

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Above: José Régio

 

(Joaquim Pereira Teixeira de Vasconcelos (1877 – 1952), better known by his pen name Teixeira de Pascoaes, was a Portuguese poet.

He was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.)

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Above: Painting of Teixeira de Pascoaes

 

In the 1960s, the Café experienced a decline, parallel to the increasingly repressive social situation of Portugal under the authoritarian regime of António de Oliveria Salazar’s Estado Novo (“New State“).

In 1992 the Barrias family decided to extensively restore the Majestic.

Using old photographs as their guide, the restoration was completed, a new floor laid and the Café reopened in 1994.

In the year prior to the commencement of the Majestic’s renovations, Rowling often visited the Café, writing her thoughts for her first Harry Potter novel on Majestic napkins.

The Majestic today is the best known of Porto’s belle époque cafés, with a perfectly preserved decor of celestial cherubs, bevelled mirrors, carved chairs and wood panelling.

 

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Waiters float to the strains of The Blue Danube.

Come for coffee or afternoon tea as we did.

 

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The Fountain of the Lions (Portuguese: Fonte dos Leões), is a 19th-century fountain built by French company Compagnie Générale des Eaux pour l’Etranger.

 

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Cast by the Val d’Osne foundry in France, it is a copy, in most part, of the fountain in the Town Hall Square of Leicester, England.

The fountain is located in an urban, isolated location, within the gardened Praça de Gomes Teixeira.

The central fountain has a cruciform layout with a group of sculptures at the base supported by four seated lions on the extremes.

Between each lion, the axis of the source has a column with base, shaft and capital.

To top, two central, circular cups superimposed and staggered, with a pine cone surmounting all.

The octagonal shaped granite tank has rounded edges.

The outer profile of the tank walls is corrugated.

The edge of the lower plane bowl is outlined in relief by a frieze with plant elements interrupted only by four cornets from which water flows.

 

 

It is thought by Potterheads that this fountain inspired Rowling’s choice of logo for the House of Gryffindor at Hogwarts.

 

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The Clérigos Church (Portuguese: Igreja dos Clérigos,”Church of the Clergymen“) is a Baroque church with its tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos, seen from various points of the city and is one of Porto’s most characteristic symbols.

 

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The main façade of the church is heavily decorated with baroque motifs (such as garlands and shells) and an indented broken pediment.

This was based on an early 17th-century Roman scheme.

The central frieze above the windows present symbols of worship and an incense boat.

The lateral façades reveal the almost elliptic floorplan of the church nave.

The Clérigos Church was one of the first baroque churches in Portugal to adopt a typical baroque elliptic floor plan.

 

 

The monumental tower of the church, located at the back of the building, was only built between 1754 and 1763.

The baroque decoration here also shows influence from the Roman Baroque, while the whole design was inspired by Tuscan campaniles.

The tower is 75.6 metres high, dominating the city.

There are 240 steps to be climbed to reach the top of its six floors.

This great structure has become the symbol of the city.

 

 

Did the Torre dos Clerigos inspire Hogwarts’ Astronomy Tower?

Potterheads like to think so.

 

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At all of these sites, especially atop the Torre dos Clerigos, the visitor, headphones on, fado playing, can ponder how fado, Arantes, Rowling and yours truly all interconnect.

We have learned that Arantes probably abused Rowling as possibly did her father.

Fans who re-read Harry Potter as adults quickly realize that the behaviour of the Dursleys reads like child abuse: starvation, forced labour and confinement.

 

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Starvation has been a stranger to me, but forced labour and confinement I did know.

 

In the Harry Potter series, more explicit abuse is described when Harry learns through a Pensieve memory that Severus Snape’s father beat his son and wife.

Porto is a Pensieve for me….

 

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And then there is Rowling’s post-Potter writing….

 

In her novel The Casual Vacancy, Andrew is a restless teen who lives with his abusive, degrading father.

Rowling once told The New Yorker that Andrew represented her mindset as a teen, and although Andrew was not exactly based on her father, she said:

I did not have an easy relationship with my father.

 

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Above: Andrew Price, The Casual Vacancy

 

Abuse also finds its way into Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Credence has an adopted mother who hits him with a belt.

That resentment from his mother’s frequent beatings turns him into an Obscurial, a repressed being that the evil Gellert Grindelwald wants to use for dark magic.

 

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Often, but certainly not always, children who were abused by their parents often abuse their children when they become parents.

Perhaps this was the case in the behaviour of Arantes.

 

And, lest we forget, why Rowling chose António de Oliveira Salazar as the inspiration for the repressive Hogwarts co-founder Salazar Slitherin….

One overriding criticism of Salazar’s regime is that stability was bought and maintained at the expense of suppression of human rights and liberties.

Abuse on a national level.

Under Salazar’s authoritarian rule, he brought stability and prosperity to Portugal, but at enormous cost: censorship, imprisonment and torture.

 

Above: Salazar, 1939

 

Arantes was born in 1967.

Salazar’s Estado Nova lasted from 1932 to 1974.

Arantes’ father knew abuse and repression and so would Arantes.

 

It is hard to sympathize with those that abuse unless we realize that they were probably a product of abuse themselves.

Arantes lost the mother of his child and his daughter as well.

In the quiet of night as Arantes lies in his solitary bed in his brother’s Clichy apartment fado music plays inside his head.

Arantes is a pessimist, a nihilist, alone, and forever known for his greatest failure:

Losing the world’s most famous novelist as his lover and the child they made together.

 

We quietly walk through the wonders of Porto.

Fado fills the streets.

Sadness of memory fills my soul.

And sits upon my shoulders like an invisibility cloak.

 

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Above: Porto, night

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Pocket Rough Guide Porto / Lonely Planet Portugal / Rough Guide Portugal / Matthew Hancock, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese / A.H. de Oliveira Marques, A Very Short History of Portugal

 

A poster depicting a young boy with glasses, an old man with glasses, a young girl holding books, a redheaded boy, and a large bearded man in front of a castle, with an owl flying. The left poster also features an adult man, an old woman, and a train, with the titles being "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Land of Confusion

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 April 2018

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

The ability to keep on keeping on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Some places seem to sell themselves.

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

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

And rightly so.

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

 

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

 

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

Two things (I hope).

 

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

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

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

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Second, I want you to see what I see.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come with us now to Sirmione….

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Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

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

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

Garda enjoys mild winters and breezy summers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, why linger?

Instead….

 

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

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

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

There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow,

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

Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago,

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

Gazing at the Lydian laughter of the Garda lake below

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

(Alfred Tennyson)

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Above: Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

 

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

Above: Bust of Catullus, Piazza Carducci, Sirmione

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

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

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

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

Escape, flee the throngs.

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

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

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

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

It wasn´t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

62 BC, Rome

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

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

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

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

Catullus had tired of the old forms of Latin literature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lover´s frenzy raged within him….

“Sparrow, delight of my beloved.

Who plays with you and holds you to her breast?

Who offers her forefinger to your seeking

And tempts your sharp bite?

I know not what dear jest it pleases my shining one

To make of my desire!”

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

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

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

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

“A woman´s words to hungry lover said

Should be upon the flowing winds inscribed,

Upon swift streams engraved.”

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

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

But Quintus was capable of more nobler feelings.

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

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

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

“Dear brother, through many states and seas

Have I come to this sorrowful sacrifice,

Bringing you the last gift for the dead.

Accept these offerings wet with fraternal tears,

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.”

His time in Turkey changed and softened Catullus.

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

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

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

 

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

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Other English speakers did.

 

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

Above: Maria Callas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Above: Charles Schulz (1922 – 2000)

 

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

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

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

photograph of Ezra H. Pound

Above: Ezra Pound

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

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

Their lines are salted with dirt to give literature taste.

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

 

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

Above: William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

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

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

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

Portrait of James Joyce

Above: James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

One of them had stuck in Yeats´ mind.

Joyce was living in Trieste.

Why not write to him?

Pound wrote Joyce at once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2 June 1920, Sirmione

“In vainest of exasperation

Mr. P passed his vacation.

The cause of his visit

To the Eyetaliann cities

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

 

“A bard once in landlocked Sirmione

Lived in peace, eating locusts and honey

Till a son of a bitch

Left him dry on the beach

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

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

The lengths that love drives a man….

 

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

Perhaps marriage is a lot like Sirmione.

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

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

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Lady of Lovere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 January 2018

As another New Year begins the question turns to New Year´s resolutions, to make them or avoid them, and if made what those resolutions should be.

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Above: New Year´s Eve, Sydney, Australia

For example, some of us resolve to become fitter in the following twelve months, but those that know us know better than us that the sacrifice of time, effort and money required to do so isn´t truly who we are or really want to be.

Sometimes a person can be too close to a situation to properly see it for what it is.

Two women in my life recently caused themselves and others great friction, because they never accepted that their behaviour is harmful and refused to change their behaviour, despite being warned of consequences.

In fairness to them, it is often difficult to see beyond our own perspectives, regardless of what is said to us or what happens around us.

For example, I never truly appreciated how much I am liked by some of my regular customers when two evenings ago one of them spontaneously entered the Café and gave me a hug wishing me “Happy Holidays”.

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It wasn´t until I have reflected upon this several hours later that I realised that my response might not have been as warm and welcoming to him as it should have been.

Visiting him at his place of business bearing gifts of apology and remorse for my unintended coldheartedness is the first of my New Year´s resolutions.

For every person there are also situations that trigger a kind of blindness that makes it difficult to see anything besides the emotions the situations generate.

For example, nothing makes me see red more than bullies.

So, as a result, I have the most difficult time seeing American, Turkish or Filipino politics open-mindedly, for Trump, Erdogan and Duterte strike me as being the epitome of bullies in their behaviour.

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Above: Donald Trump, 45th US President since 20 January 2017

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Above: Recep Erdogan, 12th President of Turkey since 2014, 25th Prime Minister of Turkey (2003 – 2014)

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Above: Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines since 2016

These leaders and their followers can´t see, won´t see, what they are doing is wrong and truly believe that they are doing what is best and can´t comprehend, won´t comprehend, why others don´t see things as they do.

I was reminded of this last summer when we visited Lovere…..

Lovere, Italy, 4 August 2017

The Rough Guide to Italy doesn´t love Lovere very much.

“Lago d´Iseo raises your expectations:

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Descending from Clusone, the road passes through steep gorges, thick forests and stark angular mountains, at the foot of which lies the Lake.

(For a description of Clusone, please see Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre of this blog.)

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As Iseo is the 5th largest of the northern lakes and the least known outside Italy, you would imagine it to be more undiscovered than the others but the apartment blocks, harbourside boutiques, ice cream parlours and heavy industry of Lovere put paid to any notions that Lago Iseo might have escaped either tourist exploitation or industrialization.”

Lonely Planet Italy isn´t complimentary either.

“Lago d´Iseo is the least known and least attractive of the lakes.

Shut in by mountains, Iseo is scarred by industry and a string of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere, although driving through the blasted rock face at the water´s edge can be enjoyable.” 

And herein lies the problem.

Because so many English-speaking readers trust and faithfully follow the advice given by these two popular travel guides, they fail to discover that there might be more to Heaven and Earth than is expounded by these two guidebooks´ philosophies.

Automobiles are quick, efficient and quite liberating from the quirks of predetermined routes and set schedules, but much is missed if the destination is deemed superior to the possible discoveries that can be made if one stops and explores along the journey.

My wife and I, like many other automobile travellers, were restricted by time and money to how often we could leisurely stop and explore.

And that is a shame.

For had we taken the train from Bergamo to the harbour town of Iseo then a ferry from there to Lovere, we might have discovered a town far more deserving of compliments than the aforementioned guidebooks give it credit.

Lovere is much like Lecco in that it is considered far more unremarkable than it truly is.

(For Lecco, see Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town of this blog.)

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At first glance of Lovere a person might be forgiven for thinking that somehow the road had led the traveller somehow back to Switzerland, for the houses in this town (of 5,000 residents) have overhanging wooden roofs, typical of Switzerland, yet united with the heavy stone arcades of Italy.

Lovere faces the Lago Iseo and is held in the warm embrace of a semi-circle of mountains behind.

The Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani includes Lovere as one of the I Borghi piu belli d´Italia, one of the small Italian towns of artistic and historical interest and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

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Being part of the crossroads of culture and conflict that this region has been for centuries, Lovere has seen different peoples struggle to possess it: the Celts, Romans, Lombards, Franks, the monks of the Marmoutier Abbey (Tours, France), the Bishops of Bergamo, the Republic of Venice, the Napoleonic French, the Austrians and finally Italians.

There are a few sights in town worthy of a look and a linger of a few hours: the Church of Santa Maria in Valvendra with works by Cavagna, Carpinoni and Marone; the Palazzo Tadini which is both historic palace and art gallery, with many beautiful paintings and magnificent marble sculptures, along with terracotta, porcelain, antique armaments, furniture and zoological collections; the Church of San Giorgio with Cavagana´s Last Supper and Palma the Younger´s Trinity with the Virgin; the Clarissan monastery of Santa Chiara; the frescoes of the Oratorio San Martino; the ancient fortifications of Il Castelliere Gallico.

Above: Basilica Santa Maria in Valvendia, Lovere

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Above: Palazzo Tadini, Lovere

Above: Church of San Giorgio, Lovere

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Above: Convent of Santa Chiara, Lovere

Above: Church of San Martino, Lovere

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Above: Fortifications of Castelliere Gallico, Lovere

This town is truly deserving of mention and preservation.

Yes, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, there is industry here in Lovere, for the town possesses a metallurgic plant, Lucchini, which employs about 1,300 people and specializes in the manufacture of railroad wheels and axles.

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But this town is more than industry and churches and it has produced or adopted a few folks worthy of mention:

The English aristocrat, letter writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) resided in Lovere for ten years.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu (1689 – 1762)

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient Camillo Golgi studied in Lovere´s Liceo Classico.

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Above: Camillo Golgi (1843 – 1926)

(Golgi was known for his work on the central nervous system and his discovery of a staining technique called black reaction or Golgi´s method, used to visualize nerve tissue under light microscopes.)

The all-time leader in victories in motorcycle Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini was born in Lovere in 1942.

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Above: Giacomo Agostini

Leading cinema critic and author Enrico Ghezzi was born in Lovere in 1952.

Above: Enrico Ghezzi

And while these abovementioned four have world recognition (at least in their day), Italians and the locals of Lovere also won´t forget that the town has also produced Santa Vincenza Gerosa, Santa Bartolomea Capitanio, acrobatic pilot Mario Stoppani, as well as Italian liberators, athletes and politicians.

Of the more famous four the person that captures my imagination the most is the Lady Montagu.

The Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) is today chiefly remembered for her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire as wife to the British Ambassador, which have been described as “the very fine example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is known for introducing and advocating for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey.

Her writings address and challenge the hindering contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.

Mary began her education in her father´s home and to supplement the instruction of a despised governess, Mary used the library in Thoresbury Hall to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin, a language reserved for men at the time.

By 1705, at the age of 14, Mary had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents), and a romance modelled after Aphra Behn´s Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684).

By 1710, Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu (1678 – 1761) and Clotworthy Skeffington.

May corresponded with Edward, but Mary´s father rejected Edward as a prospect pressuring her to marry Skeffington.

In order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712.

The early years of Mary´s married life were spent in the countryside.

She had a son, Edward Jr., on 16 May 1713.

On 1 July 1713, Mary´s brother died of smallpox, leaving behind two small children for Mary and Edward Sr. to raise.

On 13 October 1714, Edward Sr. accepted the post of Junior Commissioner of the Treasury.

When Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court.

Her famous beauty was marred by a bout with smallpox in 1715.

In 1716, Edward Sr. was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul, where they remained until 1718.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Montagus set sail for England via the Mediterranean, finally reaching London on 2 October 1718.

The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in her Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions.

Flag of Turkey

Above: Flag of Turkey

Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travellers/writers.

During her visit Mary was sincerely charmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Ottoman women she encountered and she recorded her experiences in a Turkish bath.

She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women at a bath in Sofia, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for they tied up their wives in little boxes, for the shape of their bodies”.

Mary wrote about misconceptions previous travellers, specifically male travellers, had recorded about the religion, traditions and the treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire.

Mary´s gender and class status provided her with access to female spaces that were closed off to males.

Her personal interactions wth Ottoman women enabled her to provide, in her view, a more accurate account of Turkish women, their dress, habits, traditions, limitations and liberties, at times irrefutably more a critique of the West than a praise of the East.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu in Turkish dress

Mary returned to the West with knowledge of the Ottoman practice of inoculation against smallpox.

In the Ottoman Empire, Mary visited the women in their segregated zenanas, making friends and learning about Turkish customs.

There she witnessed the practice of inoculation and eager to spare her children, she had Edward Jr. vaccinated.

On her return to London, Mary enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because vaccination was an Eastern custom.

In April 1721, when a smallpox epidemic struck England, Mary had her daughter inoculated and published the event.

She persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment.

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Above: Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737), Queen of England (1727 – 1737)

In August 1721, seven prisoners at Newgate Prison awaiting execution were offered the chance to undergo vaccination instead of execution.

All seven survived and were released.

After returning to England, Mary took less interest in court compared to her earlier days.

Instead she was more focused on the upbringing of her children, reading, writing and editing her travel letters – which she then chose not to publish.

In 1736, Mary met and fell in love with Count Francesco Algarotti.

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Above: Francesco Algarotti (1712 – 1764)

She wrote many letters to Algarotti in English and French after his departure in September 1736.

In July 1739, Mary departed England “for health reasons” declaring her intentions to winter in the south of France.

In reality, Mary left to visit and live with Algarotti in Venice.

Their relationship ended in 1741, but Mary stayed abroad and travelled extensively.

She would finally settle in Avignon and then later Lovere.

After August 1756, she resided in Venice and resumed her relationship with Algarotti.

Mary received news of her husband Edward´s death in 1761 and left Venice for England.

En route to London, she handed her Letters from Turkey to Benjamin Sowden of Rotterdam, for safekeeping “to be disposed of as he thinks proper”.

Mary´s Letters from Turkey was only one set of memoirs written by Europeans who had been to the Ottoman Empire:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 – 1592) was a diplomat in the Holy Roman Empire sent to the Ottoman Empire to discuss the disputed territory of Transylvania.

Above: Ogier de Busbecq

Upon returning to his country Busbecq published the letters he had written to his colleague Nicholas Michault under the title Turkish Epistles.

Busbecq is also known for his introduction of the tulip from Turkey to Europe.

Above: Tulip cultivation, Netherlands

Kelemen Mikes (1690 – 1761) was a Hungarian essayist, noted for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg Monarchy.

Above: Kelemen Mikes

Although backed by the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian rebels were defeated and Mikes had to choose a life in exile.

After 1715, Mikes spent the rest of his life in Tekirdag (near Istanbul).

His work is known as Letters from Turkey.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 – 1891) was an officer in the Prussian army.

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Above: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

He spent four years in the Ottoman Empire as a military advisor between 1835 and 1839.

Upon returning to Germany, Moltke published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey (1835 – 1839).

As I ponder my visit to Lovere and think of how necessary and important the Lady Montagu observations about Turkey were, I am left with two distinct impressions:

First, Lady Mary saw what others did not see.

She viewed Turkey through her own perspective, inspiring generations of writers and travellers to express themselves in their own unique fashion.

Second, Lady Mary saw something about Lovere, a town possibly as ignored in her day as it is ignored in these modern times, that inspired her to remain until the siren call of love compelled her return to Venice and an old flame.

All of which reminds me that I, in my own humble way, have my own unique perspective on places that guidebooks ignore and that people might be inspired to visit.

And, as well, perhaps my observations about places and politics that are often misunderstood or ignored might encourage others to advocate positive changes to both our perspectives on these places and a rallying call to empathise with people rather than judging them for the inadequate governments that suppress them.

So, if I have any New Year´s resolutions, it would be to continue reading, travelling and writing about places both near and far.

Who knows what ripples my wee pebbles can cause?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Injured Queen

Cernabbio, Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We disembarked from the lake steamer, the wife and I on vacation, eager to visit the Villa d´Este and Villa Erba.

The day would make me consider the role of women in the world and especially the role of my wife in my own.

The Villa d´Este, originally called the Villa del Garovo, is a Renaissance residence in Cernabbio on the shores of Lago di Como, which began as a convent and now functions as a luxury hotel.

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Gerardo Landriani, Bishop of Como (1437 – 1445), founded a nunnery here at the mouth of the Garrovo torrent in 1442.

Learning this, I asked myself:

What would inspire a woman to become “a bride of Christ”, chaste for the rest of her days?

There does exist people who are simply non-sexual and may not feel the urges average folks do.

Their biggest problem is not lack of stimulation as much as the non-acceptance by others for their inclination, for it remains a universal that those who are not understood are often rejected.

And a true belief in a divine power beyond ourselves coupled with a warm welcome into an institution that insists that there should be no distraction away from worshiping the divine may have lead women who have willingly chosen to be nuns – historically not all women have had the choice – feeling content with their cloistered existence.

A century later Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio demolished the convent and commissioned Pellegrino Tibaldi to design a residence for the Cardinal´s own use.

Above: Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio (1527 – 1607)

The Villa del Garovo, together with its luxuriant gardens, was constructed during the years 1565 to 1570 and during the Cardinal´s lifetime it became a resort for politicians, intellectuals and ecclesiastics.

I asked myself:

Why would a man desire a garden beyond the practicality of a fruit orchid or a vegetable garden?

Beyond the interest in botany or medicine that may pique some men´s curiosity, every man whose wife has dragged him into a greenhouse or a florist´s shop or a botanical garden seems damnably discomfited and visibly bored.

Many men see colours, but most don´t make fine distinctions in subtlety of shade.

We see flora but know few names for individual flowers and even less about the odd symbolism humanity attaches to these flowers.

Many men see beauty, but more as an abstract concept, and with the notable exception of the insecure teenage years, don´t see beauty as so applicable to men ourselves as much as it is to women.

And though many men will buy flowers for their ladies, usually as compensation for deeds done wrong in the past or insurance against deeds that will be done wrong in the future, the thinkers amongst my gender reflect how odd a custom it is to cut down flowers, toss them in a vase of water and then slowly watch them die – a rather cruel way to appreciate beauty.

I wonder if the collection of flowers and the observation of their slow demise could be extended into a metaphor about the fairer sex.

Girls are raised to be aware of beauty, often inspired to reflect that beauty, and some even equate their sense of self-worth based on the degree to which they are found beautiful by others, feeling their value diminishes as their beauty fades with the passage of time.

What a strange and terrible idea.

On Gallio´s death the Villa passed to his family who, over the years, allowed it to sink into a state of decay and disrepair.

From 1749 to 1769 Garovo was a Jesuit centre for spiritual exercises, after which it was acquired first by Count Mario Odescalchi and then in 1778 by Count Marliani.

In 1784, Garovo passed to the Milanese Calderari family who undertook a major restoration project and created a new park all´Italiana with an impressive nymphaeum and a temple displaying a 17th-century statue of Hercules hurling Lichas into the sea.

Terrible symbolism of might making right, very macho.

After the death of Marquis Calderari, his wife, Vittoria “la Pelusina” Peluso, a former ballerina at La Scala, married a Napoleonic general, Count Domenico Pino and a mock fortress was erected in the park in his honour.

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Above: Portrait of Count Domenico Pico (1760 – 1826)

A ballerina marrying a general – seems like an odd pairing….

Almost as odd as a teaching barista being married to a doctor….

In 1815 Garovo became the residence of Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of future King George IV.

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Above: Caroline of Brunswick (1768 – 1821)

“Its garden seems almost suspended in the air and forms a scene of complete enchantment.”, she wrote in her diary.

Life ain´t easy, and for women life has challenges unique to her gender that men may try to share but most will never fully understand.

Life ain´t easy for women and historically it rarely has been.

Take my wife.

Please!

There are times she would thank you if you did!

For living with me cannot be easy.

In our apartment lives a grumpy old man and a lovely younger lady.

I do not appreciate orderliness as much as I should, I dance like an elephant stranded on an ice rink and I still cling to remnants of boyhood like a love of games and superheroes.

Like an old lion in winter, I exert myself when I must, growl when disturbed and roar when provoked.

I have the fashion sense of a train wreck, my study reflects photos of a just-bombed Dresden, and my remarks are often as not as loving and poetic as they could be.

And beauty never was my trademark and more so as I age disgracefully.

My balding pate can be seen from space and what hair determinedly remains is as white as alpine snow.

My belly could be used as a baby´s trampoline and my bones complain.

What a fine mess my darling has been harnessed with!

And as much as a burden that my wife´s personal life is, she struggles mightily to get the respect that is accorded her male colleagues.

The adage that women must work twice as hard to get half as much respect is sadly a truism still prevalent in our society.

And this truism has always existed, regardless of a woman´s status in society.

Take the case of Caroline.

Caroline was born a princess of Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) in Germany.

She was brought up in a difficult family situation.

Her mother resented her father´s open adultery and Caroline often tired of being a “shuttlecock” between her parents.

Whenever Caroline was civil to one of them, she was scolded by the other.

She was educated by governesses, but the only subject in which she was given a high education was music.

By age 16, she was an attractive girl with curly, fair hair, whom French politician Honoré Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau described as “most amiable, lively, playful, witty and handsome”.

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Above: Honoré Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (1749 – 1791)

Caroline was brought up with an extreme degree of seclusion from contact with the opposite sex even for her time.

She was constantly supervised, restricted to her room when the family was entertaining guests and ordered to keep away from the windows.

She was normally refused permission to attend balls and court functions, and when allowed, she was forbidden to dance.

Though Caroline was not allowed to socialise with men, she was allowed to ride.

During her rides, she visited the cottages of the peasantry.

Her English mother Augusta, the sister of the British King George III, desired a match between one of her children and a member of her English family.

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Above: Princess Augusta of Great Britain (1737 – 1813)

From the age of 14, Caroline received a number of proposals for marriage  – the Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse-Dartmouth, Duke Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the second son of the Margrave of Baden – were all suggested, but none of these developed.

Caroline´s father Charles forbade her to marry a man she had fallen in love with because of his low status.

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Above: Charles William Ferdinand, Prince of Braunschweig (1735-1806)

The identity of this man is not clear, but a handsome Irish officer who lived in Braunschweig is suspected.

There was also a rumour – rumours were the bane of Caroline´s entire existence – that Caroline had given birth at the age of 15.

There is no confirmation of this rumour – nor the rumours that would follow her later in life – but it was a widely circulated rumour and referred to as a reason why she married at an older age than was customary, despite being regarded as good-looking and having received so many proposals.

In 1794, Caroline and the Prince of Wales were engaged.

They had never met, but George agreed to marry her because he was heavily in debt.

If he contracted a marriage with an eligible princess, Parliament would increase his allowance.

Caroline seemed eminently suitable: she was a Protestant of royal birth and the marriage would ally Braunschweig and Britain.

Although Braunschweig was only a tiny country, Britain was at war with revolutionary France and so was eager to obtain allies on the European continent.

On 20 November 1794, Lord Malmesbury arrived at Braunschweig to escort Caroline to her new life in Britain.

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Above: James Harris, Lord Malmesbury (1746 – 1820)

In his diary, Malmesbury recorded his reservations about Caroline´s suitability as a bride for the Prince….

She lacked judgement, decorum and tact.

She spoke her mind too readily, acted indiscreetly and often neglected to wash or change her dirty clothes!

She had “some natural but no acquired morality, and no strong innate notions of its value and necessity”.

However Malmesbury was impressed by her bravery….

On the journey to England, the party heard cannon fire, as they were not far from the French front.

While Caroline´s mother, who was accompanying them to the coast as chaperone, was concerned for their safety, Caroline was unfazed.

On meeting his future wife for the first time, George called for alcohol.

He was very disappointed in her.

So was she in him.

She told Malmesbury:

“The Prince is very fat and he´s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.”

Above: George IV (1762-1830), King of Great Britain (1820-1830)

At dinner that evening, the Prince was appalled by Caroline´s rough nature and her jibes at the expense of dinner guest Lady Jersey.

Above: Frances Villiers, Lady Jersey (1753 – 1821)

Caroline was upset and disappointed by George´s obvious preference for Lady Jersey over her.

Caroline and George were married on 8 April 1795 at the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace in London.

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Above: St. James Palace, London

At the ceremony, George was drunk.

He regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic and he told Malmesbury that he suspected that she was not a virgin when they married.

He himself was not.

He himself was already secretly married to Maria Fitzherbert, but as his marriage violated the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, their marriage was not legally valid.

Above: Maria Fitzherbert (1756 – 1837)

In a letter to a friend, the Prince claimed that the couple only had coitus three times: twice on their wedding night and the third the night after.

He wrote:

“It required no small effort to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person.”

Caroline claimed that George was so drunk that “he passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate (of the fireplace), where he fell, and where I left him.”

Nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte, George´s only legitimate child, on 7 January 1796.

Above: Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796 – 1817), as a child

Three days after Charlotte´s birth, George made out a new will, leaving all his property to “Maria Fitzherbert, my wife”, while to Caroline he left….

One shilling.

Gossip about Caroline and George´s troubled marriage was already circulating.

The newspapers claimed that Lady Jersey, Caroline´s Lady of the Bedchamber, opened, read and distributed the contents of Caroline´s private letters.

Caroline despised Lady Jersey and could not visit or travel anywhere without George´s permission.

The press crucified George for his extravagance and luxury at a time of war and portrayed Caroline as a wronged wife.

Caroline was cheered in public and gained plaudits for her “winning familiarity” and easy, open nature.

(Doesn´t Caroline remind you of the late Princess Diana Spencer?)

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Above: Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997)

George was dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity, and felt trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman he loathed.

He wanted a separation.

In August 1797, Caroline moved out to a private residence.

No longer constrained by her husband, or, according to rumour, by her marital vows, Caroline entertained whomever she pleased.

Charlotte was placed in the care of a governess and Caroline visited her often.

In 1802, Caroline adopted a three-month-old boy, William Austin, and took him into her home, Montagu House, in Blackheath.

Above: Montagu House

By 1805, Caroline had fallen out with her closest neighbours, Lady and Sir John Douglas, who claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene and harassing letters and accused Caroline of infidelity and alleged that William was Caroline´s illegitimate son.

In 1806, a secret commission was set up, known as the “Delicate Investigation” to examine Lady Douglas´ claims.

The commissioners (the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Home Secretary) decided that there was “no foundation” for the allegations.

Despite being a supposedly secret investigation, it proved impossible to prevent gossip from spreading, and news of the investigation leaked to the press.

Caroline´s conduct with her gentlemen friends was considered improper, but there was no direct proof that she had been guilty of anything more than flirtation.

Later that year, Caroline learned that Braunschweig had been overrun by the French and her father was killed in the battle of Jena-Auerstadt.

Her mother and brother Frederick fled to England.

With much of Europe controlled by the French, Caroline could not leave Britain as much as she wanted so desperately to do.

During the Delicate Investigation, Caroline was not permitted to see Charlotte.

Afterwards her visits were restricted to once a week and only in the presence of Caroline´s mother.

By the end of 1811, King George III was declared permanently insane and the Prince of Wales was appointed as Regent.

Monochrome profile of elderly George with a long white beard

Above: George III, in later life (1738 – 1820), King of Britain (1760 -1801)

The Prince restricted Caroline´s access to her daughter further, and Caroline became more socially isolated as members of high society chose to patronise George´s extravagant parties rather than hers.

Needing a powerful ally to help her oppose George´s increasing ability to prevent her from seeing her daughter, with the help of Henry Brougham, an ambitious Whig political reformer, they began a propaganda campaign against George.

Charlotte favoured her mother´s point of view, as did most of the public.

Author Jane Austen wrote of Caroline:

Watercolour-and-pencil portrait of Jane Austen

Above: Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

“Poor woman!

I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband.”

In 1814, after Napoleon´s defeat, nobility from throughout Europe attended celebrations in London.

Caroline was excluded.

George´s relationship with his daughter was deteriorating as Charlotte sought greater freedom from her father´s restrictions.

On 12 July, George informed Charlotte that she would be confined to Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor, that her trusted household would be replaced and that she could have no visitors except his mother, Queen Charlotte, once a week.

 

Above: Cranbourne Lodge

Horrified, Charlotte ran away to her mother.

After an anxious night, Charlotte was eventually persuaded to return to her father, since legally Charlotte was in her father´s care and there was a danger of public disorder against George, which might prejudice Charlotte´s position if she continued to disobey him.

Caroline, desperately unhappy with her situation and treatment in Britain, negotiated a deal, agreeing to leave the country in exchange for an annual allowance.

After a two-week visit to Braunschweig, Caroline headed for Italy through Switzerland.

Along the way, she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as her most trusted servant and friend.

In 1815, Caroline bought the Villa, even though her finances were stretched.

Caroline gave it the name Nuova Villa d´Este and the park landscaped in the English style.

Meanwhile Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Above: Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold

From early 1816, Caroline, accompanied by Pergami, went on a cruise around the Mediterranean.

By this time, gossip about Caroline was everywhere.

Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers.

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Above: English poet Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)

Baron Friedrich Ompteda, a Hannoverian spy, bribed one of Caroline´s servants for proof of adultery.

None was found.

In 1817 as her debts were growing, she sold the Villa d´Este and moved to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro.

In November 1817, Charlotte died after giving birth to her only child, a stillborn son.

The loss of her daughter meant Caroline lost any chance of regaining her position in England.

George was determined to press ahead with a divorce and set up a commission to gather evidence of Caroline´s adultery.

As the commission was assembling more and more evidence, Caroline was worried.

She informed that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money.

However, at this time in England, divorce by mutual consent was illegal.

It was possible to divorce if one of the partners admitted or was found guilty of adultery.

Caroline said it was impossible for her to admit that.

On 29 January 1820 King George III died.

Caroline´s husband became King, and, at least in name, Caroline was Queen of the United Kingdom.

Instead of being treated like a Queen, Caroline found her estranged husband´s accession made her position worse.

The King demanded that his Ministers get rid of her, but they would not agree to a divorce because they feared the effect of a public trial.

The government was weak and unpopular, a trial detailing juicy details of both Caroline´s and George´s separate love lives was certain to destabilise the government further.

Rather than run the risk, the government entered into negotiations with Caroline, offering her an increased annual allowance if she stayed abroad.

She rejected the offer and embarked for England.

When she arrived on 5 June, riots broke out in support of her.

Caroline had become a figurehead for the growing radical movement that demanded political Reform and opposed the unpopular King.

Nevertheless, the King still adamantly desired a divorce.

On 15 June, the guards in the King´s Mews mutinied.

The mutiny was contained, but the government was fearful of further unrest.

In July, the government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill of 1820, to strip Caroline of the title of Queen and dissolve her marriage.

The government claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with Pergami.

Various “witnesses” were called during the reading of the Bill, which was effectively a public trial of the Queen.

The trial caused a sensation.

Above: The Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820

Caroline joked that she had indeed committed adultery once – with the husband of Maria Fitzherbert, the King.

Even during the trial, the Queen remained immensely popular, with over 800 petitions and nearly a million signatures favouring her cause.

As a figurehead of the opposition movement demanding reform, many revolutionary pronouncements were made in Caroline´s name.

At the end of the Trial, the government again extended the offer of an increased allowance, this time without preconditions, and Caroline accepted.

Soon after her husband´s coronation, from which she was barred, Caroline fell ill.

Above: The Coronation of George IV, 19 July 1821

She died on 7 August 1821, at the age of 53.

She is buried in her native Braunschweig in a tomb bearing the inscription:

“Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England.”

Even today, nearly two centuries later, the double standard of men acceptably being promiscous while women remain condemned for the same remains.

The Villa was briefly owned by the Tsarina Maria Feodorowna, mother of the last Tsar of Russia Nicholas II, but was never visited by her and remained abandoned.

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Above: Tsarina Maria Feodorowna (Dagmar of Denmark)(1847 – 1928)

It was converted into a deluxe hotel for the nobility and the high bourgeoisie in 1873, and kept the name Villa d´Este to take advantage of the apparent link with the more famous Villa d´Este in Tivoli, near Roma.

Visiting the garden in 1903 for Century Magazine, Edith Wharton found Este to be “the only old garden on Como which keeps more than a fragment of its original architecture”.

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Above: US Pulitzer Prize writer Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937)

A gala dinner held at the Villa d´Este on 15 September 1948 was the scene for the celebrated murder of the wealthy silk manufacturer Carlo Sachi, shot dead by his lover Countess Pia Bellentani with her husband´s automatic pistol.

8 pistola bellentani

She spent the rest of her days committed to an insane asylum.

Today, with room rates averaging €1,000 / $1,122 a night and executive suites averaging €3,500 / $3,926 per night, the Villa is a luxury hotel for wealthy people and a high level congress centre.

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In 2008, Travel and Leisure magazine listed the Villa as the 15th best hotel in Europe and the 69th best hotel in the world.

In 2009, Forbes reckoned that the Villa was the best hotel in the world.

Every April, the hotel hosts the Concorso d´Eleganza Villa d´Este for vintage and concept cars.

Every September, it has hosted since 1975 the annual Ambrosetti Forum, an international workshop attended by prominent figures from the fields of politics, finance and business.

The European House Ambrosetti

The Ambrosetti Forum is organised by The European House – Ambrosetti, a consulting firm, and brings together heads of state, ministers, Nobel laureates and businessmen to discuss current challenges to the world´s economies and societies.

It presents forecasts of the economic and geo-political outlooks for the world, Europe and Italy and analyses the main scientific and technological developments and their impacts on the future of business and society.

Forum participants are privately invited and the event takes place behind closed doors.

Yet media coverage of the event is very relevant, given the presence of over 400 Italian and international journalists.

In addition, BBC World, CNBC, CNN, Financial Times and RAI produce talk shows and in-depth live interviews with the speakers of the Forum for broadcast around the globe.

The Villa Erba is a 19th century villa, built by the founder of the first Italian pharmaceutical company, Luigi Erba, to show off his wealth, and now used as an exposition and congress centre.

Villa Erba, Cernobbio - Concorso eleganza Villa d'Este.jpg

In 2004, Erba served as a filming location for the movie Ocean´s Twelve.

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(See Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney of this blog.)

In 2005, American singer Gwen Stefani shot the music video for her single, Cool, on the Villa´s grounds.

A blond woman is looking back over her right shoulder. She is wearing a dark blue blouse and red lipstick, and she is in a room. Above her image are two stripes. The upper is blue and the words "Stereo" and "Fidelity" are written in light yellow, and between them there is a long red arrow (←→). The second strip is yellow; on it the words "Gwen Stefani · Cool" are written in navy blue capital letters.

Later that same year, a concert of Anastacia´s Live at Last tour was hosted in the Villa´s park.

Above: Anastacia Lynn Newkirk in 2005

So many women with such a large influence on the world all passing through Cernobbia directly or indirectly: nuns, a ballerina, a queen, a tsarina, a countess/murderess, movie stars, singers, a doctor/my wife….

All have made a difference – the last abovementioned a difference in my life.

Men often have a way of disappointing the women in their lives: kings rejecting queens, manufacturers driving countess to insanity, teaching baristas driving doctors to distraction….

My wife will be disappointed that I have mentioned her yet again in my blog.

And she hates when I have called her “She Who Must Be Obeyed” on Facebook or in this blog, but if she could only realise that by “obeyed” I mean “honoured and respected” because I realise that like many women she probably married beneath her, that she might be happier with someone more appropriate and that, despite our differences, she is a far far better life partner than I deserve.

She is my injured queen, for whom I am forever grateful and to whom I wish nothing but happiness.

 

Canada Slim and the Evil Road

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

I am determined to not write myself into too predictable a rut.

There have been a number of themes running through the posts of this blog since I started it back on 18 May 2015.

I have written of many things: my travels in Switzerland and abroad, topics currently relevant at the time of writing, and occasional glimpses into the comedy that is everyday life.

I have started themes that have yet to be completed, like the Brontes and Brussels, my own solo travels prior to this blog, the crucial importance of Turkish politics and history, and, of course, the current political malaise that is the US Trump Administration.

After a long break from blog writing over the summer I have found two themes that interest me greatly: travelling in Italy, and the Russian Revolution and how it was shaped from Switzerland.

To keep both the reader´s attention and my creative juices flowing I have decided to alternate between these themes.

This is not to say that current events are not worthy of my attention….

They have it.

The monsoons in Bangladesh, the destructiveness of hurricanes in America, the reversal of DACA resulting in over 800,000 people forced to leave their homes in America and return to birthplaces they have never really known, the tragedy of Standing Rock and international indigenous peoples, the ongoing farce that is Brexit, the abyss of race relations in the US, world poverty, immigration and refugees, the relevance of the media in modern times, terrorism….

The list and the complexity of world events seems endless and daunting for a simple blogger such as myself to tackle.

But be patient, gentle readers, over time I shall try to weave these events and more into the ongoing saga that is the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

At present, I want to talk about a place that at first glance seems easy to ignore.

The Splügen Pass (Italian: Passo dello Spluga) is a 2,115-metre high mountain pass which marks the boundary between the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps, respectively dividing the Western Alps from the Eastern.

Splügenpass.jpg

The pass road connects the Swiss Hinterrhein valley and the hamlet of Splügen in Graubünden Canton with the Valle Spluga and the town of Chiavenna in the Italian province of Sondrio, the road continuing on to Lago Como.

The Pass is the water divide between the drainage basins of the Rhine, which flows into the North Sea, and the Po, which flows into the Adriatic.

On the Italian side of the Pass is the small three-street village of Montespluga, which is cut off from both Italy and Switzerland during the winter.

Above: Montespluga in summer

So the best time of year to travel this quiet pass is June to October.

The Pass was already in use in the Roman era.

The route follows historic mule trails and was recorded in the Roman Empire´s list of arterial roads as it followed an almost dead-straight link between southern Germany and Lombardy.

Path and road construction, transport services and trading traffic, spiritual exchange and creative artistic power have influenced the landscape and settlements as well as improving living standards and broadening horizons for local farmers.

The name Splügen/Spluga is possibly derived from the Latin specula (lookout).

From 1818 to 1823 the modern road was built at the request of Austrian authorities then ruling the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in the south.

In 1840, English author Mary Shelley (best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein) travelled through the Pass on the way to Lake Como with her son Percy Florence.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

This was not her first trip to Italy and one might wonder why she would return to a country that had seen her suffer great sorrow.

The threat of debtor´s prison, combined with their ill health and fears of losing custody of their two children, her husband Percy Bysshe and Mary left England for Italy in 1818.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

They had no intention of returning to England.

The Shelleys then embarked on a roving existence, never settling in any one place for long.

They devoted their time to writing, reading, learning, sightseeing and socialising.

Their Italian adventure was blighted by the deaths of both their children:  Clara, in September 1818 in Venice; and William, in June 1819 in Rome.

These losses left Mary in a deep depression that isolated her from her husband.

For a time, Mary found comfort only in her writing.

The birth of her son Percy Florence, on 12 November 1819, lifted her spirits, though she nursed the memory of her lost children till the end of her life.

On 8 July 1822, her husband and Edward Williams set out on a return sailing journey from Livorno to Lerici with their 18-year-old boatsman Charles Vivian.

They never reached their destination.

Ten days after the storm that arose after they sailed from Livorno, their three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici.

Mary eventually returned to England to raise her son.

In 1840, mother Mary (age 43) and son Percy (21), along with three of his friends, travelled together on the Continent.

This journey and a subsequent journey together in 1842 would result in the travel narrative Rambles in Germany and Italy.

Map showing routes of Shelley's European trips. 1840 trip begins in Brighton, proceeds to Dover, crosses the Channel to Calais, proceeds south to Paris, east Metz, north to Coblenz, east to Frankfurt, south to Freiburg, south to Milan, west to Lyons, and north to Paris and Calais. 1842–43 trip begins in Southampton, proceeds to London, crosses the Channel to Antwerp, proceeds southeast to Frankfurt, northeast to Berlin, south to Prague, Salzburg, Padua, Rome, and Naples.

Although her husband and her two children had died there, Italy had become for Mary “a country which memory painted as Paradise”.

From their home in north London, they travelled to Paris and Metz.

From Metz, they went down the Moselle by boat to Koblenz and then up the Rhine to Mainz, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Baden Baden.

Feeling ill, Mary rested at a spa in Baden Baden.

Above: Baden-Baden

She had wracking pains in her head and convulsive shudders, symptoms of the meningioma that would eventually kill her.

(Meningioma is a tumor that attacks the brain and spinal cord.)

This forced stop dismayed Percy and his friends as it provided no entertainment for them, but because none of them spoke any German they were forced to remain together.

The group eventually travelled on to Freiburg im Breisgau, Schaffhausen, Zürich to arrive at the Splügen Pass.

She describes the Pass in her travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published in 1844:

Chiavenna, Italy, Monday 13 July 1840

“At five in the morning we were in the yard of the diligence (stagecoach) office (at Chur).

We were in high spirits – for that night we should sleep in Italy.

The diligence was a very comfortable one.

There were few other passengers and those were of a respectable class.

We still continued along the valley of the Rhine, and at length entered the pass of the Via Mala (the evil road), where we alighted to walk.

Via Mala.jpg

It is here that the giant wall of the Alps shuts out the Swiss from Italy.

Before the Alp itself (the Splügen) is reached, another huge mountain rises to divide the countries.

A few years ago, there was no path except across this mountain, which being very exposed , and difficult even to danger, the Splügen was only traversed by shepherds and travellers of the country on mules or on foot.

But now, a new and most marvellous road has been constructed.

The mountain in question is, to the extent of several miles, cleft from the summit to the base, and a sheer precipice of 4,000 feet rises on either side.

The Rhine, swift and strong, but in width a span, flows in the narrow depth below.

The road has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries.

It passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm.

The precipices, indeed, approach so near, in parts, that a fallen tree could not reach the river below, but lay wedged in midway.

It may be imagined how singular and sublime this pass is, in its naked simplicity.

After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame.

It is giddy work to look down over the parapet that protects the road, and mark the arrowy rushing of the imprisoned river.

Midway in the pass, the precipices approach so near that you might fancy a strong man could leap across.

This was the region visited by storm, flood and desolation in 1834.

The Rhine had risen several hundred feet, and, aided by torrents from the mountains, had torn up the road, swept away a bridge, and laid waste the whole region.

An English traveller, a Mr. Hayward, then on his road to Chiavenna, relates that he traversed the chasm on a rotten uneven plank, and found but a few inches remaining of the road overhanging the river.

It was an awful invasion of one element on another.

The whole road to Chiavenna was broken up, and the face of the mountain so changed that, when reconstructed, the direction of the route was in many places entirely altered.

The region of these changes was pointed out to us, but no discernible traces remained of where the road had been.

All here was devastation – the giant ruins of a primaeval world; and the puny remnants of Man´s handiwork were utterly obiliterated.

Puny, however, as our operations are, when Nature decrees by one effort that they should cease to exist, while She reposes they may be regarded proudly and commodiously traversed by the antlike insects that make it their path.

We dined at the village of Splügen.

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Above: Splügen in summer

It was cold and we had a fire.

Here we dropped all our fellow travellers – some were going over the San Bernandino – and proceeded very comfortably alone.

It was a dreary-looking mountain that we had to cross, by zigzags, at first long, and diminishing as we ascended.

The day, too, was drear, and we were immersed in a snowstorm towards the summit.

Naked and sublime the mountain stretched out around, and dim mists, chilling blasts and driving snow added to its grandeur.

We reached the dogana (Italian customs) at the top and here our things were examined.

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature

Above: Spluga Pass, present day

The customs house officer was very civil – complained of his station, where it always rained – at that moment it was raining – and, having caused the lids of one or two trunks to be lifted, they were closed again and the ceremony was over.

More time, however, was consumed in signing passports and papers.

We then set off downhill, swiftly and merrily, with two horses – the leaders being unharnessed and trotting down gravely after us, without anyone to lead or drive them.

All Italian travellers know what it is, after toiling up the bleak, bare, northern, Swiss side of an Alp, to descend into ever vernal Italy.

The rhododendron, in thick bushes, in full bloom, first adorned the mountain sides, then pine forests, then chestnut groves.

Alpenroos.jpg

The mountain was cleft into woody ravines.

The waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody.

Flowery and green, and clothed in radiance and gifted with plenty, Italy opened upon us.

Thus – and be not shocked by the illustration, for it is all God´s creation – after dreary old age and the sickening pass of death, does the saint open his eyes on Paradise.” (Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

After Chiavenna, Mary and her travelling companions would spend two months at Lake Como and then go on to Milan.

In Milan, the young men left Mary to go back to their studies in England, while Mary slwoly made her way back home via Geneva and Paris.

Upon her return, she became depressed.

“In Italy I might live as once I lived: hoping, loving, aspiring, enjoying.

I am placid now and the days go by….and darkness creeps over my intellect.”

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

In 1843 the road was further expanded with a 312-metre/1,024-foot long avalanche gallery designed by Swiss engineer Richard La Nicca which today is out of use but largely preserved.

Above: Richard La Nicca (1794 – 1883)

Plans to build a railroad line across Splügen Pass were abandoned in favour of the Gotthard Railway opened in 1882.

The author Sir Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle as well as his beloved creation Sherlock Holmes, a creation that Doyle himself was not particularly fond of, are inextricably linked to Switzerland.

Arthur Conany Doyle by Walter Benington, 1914.png

Above: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, M.D. (1859 – 1930)

Doyle, who spent most of his childhood and youth in boarding schools, spent some time at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria.

On his journey back home to Edinburgh in 1876, Doyle had his first contact with Switzerland.

Many years later, 34-year-old Dr. Doyle came to Switzerland in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

Doyle was a sporty doctor.

He had seen skiing in Norway and imported one of the first pair of Norwegian skis to Davos.

Along with the Branger brothers, Doyle scaled the saddle of the Jacobshorn in the Albula range, now served by cable car and renowned for snowboarding.

They then tackled the 2,253-metre pass between Davos and Arosa, rising at 4 am, heading to Frauenkirch, crossing the Maienfelder Furka Pass and sliding down to Arosa.

Since 2008 this area has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, traversed by the Rhaetian Railway and by “lads leaping about on planks tied to their feet”. (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain)

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season”. (Conan Doyle, “An Alpine Pass on Ski”, The Strand, August 1894)

Time has proved him right.

Doyle would then travel on to Maloja and Caux with his wife.

On 6 November 1895, the Doyles left Caux for Italy.

Did he enter Italy through the Splügen Pass?

I have no information so far about his exact route.

After a few days in Rome, the family left Brindisi by ship to Egypt, where they would spend the winter in Cairo.

It remains a question of debate whether Doyle ever came back to Switzerland after his journey to Egypt and his subsequent return to his home in England.

Besides skiing, Doyle left his mark on Switzerland by setting the Holmes Story “The Final Problem” at Reichenbach Falls.

(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem of this blog.)

Splügen Pass is mentioned in Doyle`s “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, a Holmes story published in 1924.

“Both Holmes and I (Dr. Watson, the narrator) had a weakness for the Turkish bath….

On the upper floor of the Northumberland Avenue establishment, there is an isolated corner where two couches lie side by side, and it was on these that we lay upon 3 September 1902, the day when the narrative begins.

I had asked him whether anything was stirring, and for answer he had shot his long, thin, nervous arm out of the sheets which enveloped him and had drawn an envelope from the inside pocket of the coat which hung beside him….

…This is what I read:

“Sir James Damery presents his compliments to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and will call upon him at 4:30 tomorrow….”

Sir James comes to see Holmes and Watson about his illustrious client´s problem.

(The client´s identity is never revealed to the reader, although Watson finds out at the end of the story, it is heavily implied to be King Edward VII.)

Edward VII in coronation robes.jpg

Above: Edward VII, King of Great Britain (1901 – 1910), (1841 – 1910)

General de Merville`s young daughter Violet has fallen in love with the roguish and sadistic Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner….

Damery: “…for we are dealing on this occasion, Mr. Holmes, with a man to whom violence is familiar and who will, literally, stick at nothing.”

I should say that there is no more dangerous man in Europe.”

Holmes: “….May I ask his name?”

Damery: “Have you ever heard of Baron Gruner?”

Holmes: “You mean the Austrian murderer?”

Damery: “There is no getting past you, Mr. Holmes! Wonderful! So you have already sized him up as a murderer?”

Holmes: “It is my business to follow the details of Continental crime.  Who could possibly have read what happened at Prague and have any doubts as to the man´s guilt?  It was a purely technical legal point and the suspicious death of a witness that saved him!  I am as sure that he killed his wife when the so-called “accident” happened in the Splügen Pass as if I had seen him do it….”

The Granada TV series (1984 – 1994), with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, is faithful to the original story as penned by Doyle, though it takes some artistic licence regarding the Bruner wife murder.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.jpg

“The Illustrious Client” shows the fallen Baroness, to whom Gruner rushes to her side, accusing him with her dying breath of pushing her off the mountainside.

The viewer sees the scene is witnessed by a young boy, whom we are told by Holmes in his interview with Sir James that he suspected that Gruner had seduced his mother to poison the shepherd boy.

In “The View from Olympus”, the 18th episode of the 3rd season of the US modernised adaptation Elementary, with Holmes as a recovering drug addict who aids the New York City police accompanied by a female Dr. Joan Watson, Holmes mentions a previous case about a man who killed his wife on the Splügen Pass and tried to make her murder look like an accident.

Elementary intertitle.png

In this blog`s Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys, I wrote of how my wife (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) and I travelled from our home by the Lake of Constance in Landschlacht to Chur.

“We leave the Autobahn and enter a wild land – a land of deep, narrow valleys, ancient forests, mountain torrents and villages that have seen little excitement or change since Roman times.

Past Rhäzüns and its isolated chapel of Sogn Gieri/St. George to the town of Thusis loomed over by threatening mountains and mysterious forests, the road, the Evil Road / Via Mala plunges into a narrow ravine, with sheer rock walls rising over 500 metres from the bed of the foaming Hinterrhein River.”

Above: The Chapel of Sogn Gieri, Rhäzüns

Via Mala, that ancient and notorious section of an abomination of a path along the Hinterrhein River between Zillis and Thusis in Graubünden Canton….

Via Mala, that narrow gorge that blocks the approach to two mountain sorties that defiantly declares that the traveller shall not pass….

Via Mala, so beautifully maleviolent and enchanting that the German director Werner Herzog filmed his 1976 psychological drama Heart of Glass there….

Heart of Glass DVD.jpg

(Heart of Glass is the story of an 18th-century Bavarian town with a glassblowing factory that produces a brilliant red ruby glass.

When the master glass blower dies, the secret to producing the ruby glass is lost.

The local Baron and factory owner is obsessed with the ruby glass and believes it to have magical properties.

With the loss of the secret, he soon descends into madness along with the rest of the townspeople.

The main character is Hias, a seer from the hills, who predicts the destruction of the factory in a fire.

During shooting, almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis.

Every actor in every scene was hypnotized, with the exception of the character Hias and the professional glassblowers who appear in the film.

The hypnotized actors give very strange performances, which Herzog intended to suggest the trance-like state of the townspeople in the story.

Herzog provided the actors with most of their dialogue, memorised during hypnosis.

However, many of the hypnotised actors’ gestures and movements occurred spontaneously during filming.)

As I look into the gorge of the Via Mala, my heart grips tightly in fear….

As we navigate the climbing hairpin curves leading to the Paradise of Italy, my heart grips tightly in fear….

For my wife is driving.

She is mostly a fine driver but give her a challenging, cliff-hanging, narrow road and suddenly she becomes a Grand Prix Formula race car driver, a Maria Andretti or a Michaela Schumacher.

Of all the duties that are split between man and spouse, my wife has assumed the role of driver.

This has never bothered me, for I had never the urge to learn to drive and as a result I believe I am a great passenger.

Perhaps because ignorance is bliss, she could drive down a one-way pedestrian street knocking over a half dozen old ladies in the process and I would not react because I foolishly assume she knows what she is doing.

Now I have read statistics that say when partners are in a car together, the man is four times likely more to drive.

And perhaps I should feel more emasculated when she is driving, but she loves to drive and I make an excellent navigator (despite what the wife says).

But cliff hanging races and breakneck curves make me reassess my masculinity and I once again, especially on this trip, wonder if I will somehow survive my marriage (unlike Baron Gruner`s wife) or make it through the Evil Road of the shadow of Death to Italian Paradise (like Mary Shelley).

Sharing a car ride with my wife is a lot like being an unwilling participant in a hostage situation – you don´t know what´s going to happen and you hope you will survive the experience.

I am reminded once again of Canadian comedian Lorne Elliott´s comments on driving through the mountains:

Bildergebnis

“Not only can you fall down these mountain things, these mountain things can fall down on you!”

The climb up to Splügen reminds me of the lacing of a corset thrusting the hills into prominence.

Corsets?

How fear emasculates!

After 20 years together there are very few off-putting things we don´t know about one another, but I have learned, the hard way, that a little paranoia is a good thing in marriage.

Normally she does not want to kill her husband….

But my wife is driving.

I am not certain whether we will arrive in an Italy that resembles Paradise or in a Paradise that resembles Italy.

I will keep you posted….

Sources: Wikipedia / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes / Nicole Glücklich (Editor), The Adventures of Two British Gentlemen in Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes / Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

 

 

Dreams of dragonflies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Good Friday 2017

Perhaps a sacrifice is necessary for good to be achieved.

Over 2,000 years ago, it is said that the crucifixion of one man led to the salvation of all mankind.

File:Marco palmezzano, crocifissione degli Uffizi.jpg

Perhaps this is so.

Clearly this man of God had to give up much to achieve a greater good.

And perhaps the same can be said for writing and getting that writing published.

Sometimes one needs to sacrifice energy and effort, comfort and leisure, pride and fear, to achieve something worthwhile for others to read.

It has been said that there are usually reasons for success, but often only excuses for failure.

I offer neither for the time elapsed since my last entry, except to say that I want to try a couple of new approaches in my writing contributions.

I still feel that I need to occasionally express my thoughts about world events for it has often been said that evil triumphs when good men say nothing.

There remains much that is interesting to discuss in this regard and worthy of discussion and thought.

But it would be remiss of me to suggest that I am any wiser than those who represent us in these matters.

It is not that my opinion in these matters doesn’t matter – it does – but rather I have more authority and accuracy if I also write about what is most familiar to me.

So, this blog, the Chronicles of Canada Slim, will also begin to incorporate travel writing.

While my much-neglected blog Building Everest will serve double duty as a platform to write fictional stories, as well as the creation of a textbook I feel has been lacking in the teaching of Technical English.

File:Everest Peace Project - Everest summit.jpg

(Look for fiction prefaced with the words, The Forest of Shadows, and technical stories under the title Tech Talk in the Building Everest blog.)

While I wait – impatiently – for my local bookseller to receive a copy of The Writer`s Market, I now spend my freetime exploring the local area where I live and reading about how to write.

Lengwil, Switzerland, Monday 10 April 2017

Up at 0500 in my Landschlacht apartment, left at 0700, 0714 train to Kreuzlingen, followed by 0729 train to Lengwil.

Why visit Lengwil?

Certainly the guidebooks give it no mention.

Those not from Thurgau Canton have no clue where in Switzerland it is located – south of Kreuzlingen-Konstanz on the rail route towards Weinfelden – and little reason to visit, for Lengwil hasn’t a lot to attract the visitor.

Datei:Lengwil Bahnhof und Tanklager.jpg

No museums, no breathtaking wonders or great historical moments to draw outsiders to this community…

(Though the view of the Lake of Constance from the Lengwil station is pretty terrific…)

There are two restaurants –  the Sonne and the Sternen (the sun and the stars), both in half-timbered structures – one grocery store (the Dorfladen)(village shop) and one bank (Raiffeisen) with an ATM banking machine.

Restaurtant Sonne, Lengwil

Restaurant Sternen, Lengwil

Above: Restaurant Sonne (top picture) and Restaurant Sternen (bottom picture)

But the Gemeinde Lengwil (town hall) offers no brochures for the tourist, for clearly it doesn’t expect any.

For the working man or for the shopper, Lengwil has little to offer them as well, save for Fehr Elektrotechnik and Polymechanik Art Design: Splendid Tools.

But, unless you are into the sort of products and services these small firms offer, they are hardly sufficient to attract your attention.

So, what caught my attention about Lengwil?

Dragonflies.

Let me explain.

I have always been a bibliophile – a lover of books.

File:Book Collage.png

And one of the reasons for this great love has been how good books nurture within a reader a relationship with the writer,  by the extent and ability the writer possessed in communicating his message and by the reader’s ability to identify and assimilate what the writer has written.

A good book, a great book, embraces life and teaches the reader how to live, through the lessons the writer has sought to impart through his own life experience, whether the book is fiction or fact.

File:Urval av de bocker som har vunnit Nordiska radets litteraturpris under de 50 ar som priset funnits (2).jpg

A great book is unforgettable, much like a great love, you find that you cannot forget it, you cannot stop thinking about it and your reaction to it.

A great book changes you, lifts you, fills your mind and increases your understanding.

And though there are countless millions of books that exist and continue to be published, there are very few that reward the reader for the effort of reading them.

A good book teaches the reader about the world and about ourselves, about the great endearing truths of life.

File:Urval av de bocker som har vunnit Nordiska radets litteraturpris under de 50 ar som priset funnits (3).jpg

Obviously not many books can do this for any of us, perhaps of the millions that exist, perhaps a number considerably less than a hundred.

And human beings differ in many ways other than in the power of their minds.

They have different tastes.

Different things appeal more to one person than another.

But I believe that each person should seek out the few books that give value to their lives, the books that teach us the most, the books that you want to return to over and over again, the books that help you grow.

In a way, a person’s path to intellectual enlightenment can be compared to a person’s path to spiritual enlightment.

Attainment of both is a personal discovery and an adventure that only the traveller, the explorer, can make within themselves.

My own personal path is unique to myself, but despite this the lessons of life discovered upon the journey are lessons that bind me to the rest of humanity.

Everyone has his own method of discovery of the world.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

And it might be argued that I have lived my life and have done these explorations of the world physical and intellectual in a scatterfire random way.

But this is me and what works for me.

When I explore the world physically I like to be as basic as I possibly can.

Depending on limits of time and money, I like to travel and absorb the surroundings as slowly as possible and let my emotions and thoughts guide my discoveries.

Walking and thinking at my own pace

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In the realm of the mind, I like to explore the physical region I find myself in through the literature the region has produced and, on occasion, through serendipitious discoveries made in bookshops and libraries.

File:Shakespeare and Company store in Paris.jpg

Take, as an example, the land of China.

File:Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg

I have never been there, so before I would physically travel there I will have already mentally begun the journey by reading not only travel guides that suggest what to see and do once I am there but as well I would seek out literature from this place, to try and understand what it means to be human in such a place.

Perhaps I would read Han Dong’s Banished! or J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun or Gao Xingjain’s Soul Mountain or any number of books recommended to me through my guidebooks or through books like Ann Morgan’s Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer or Luisa Moncada and Scala Quinn’s Reading on Location: Great Books set in Top Travel Destinations.

But my intellectual and emotional discovery of China would not be complete until I was physically there, interacting with the people I meet there and with the literature I stumble across while I am there.

I am Canadian and I have tried (and continue to try despite the distance and expense) to read and discover the works of my fellow Canadians, in an attempt to understand what it means to be Canadian.

File:Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg

I have been a resident of Switzerland for the past seven years (since 1 April 2010 to be precise), in the Canton of Thurgau, in the wee hamlet of Landschlacht, by the Lake of Constance.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

I speak and read German at a relatively low level but nonetheless while I reside in the German-speaking part of Switzerland I continue to try and converse and read in German as often as possible, for language is the means by which people express themselves.

It is not an easy task for me, for it is much easier to fall back on old habits of reading and speaking in my native English.

Reading in German is especially daunting and time-consuming and much time is spent with a German-English dictionary by my side as I slowly wade through the text I have decided to sacrifice my time and energy towards its understanding.

A book to which I have devoted time and energy to, in an attempt to understand what it means to live in Canton Thurgau has been Albert Debrunner’s Literaturführer Thurgau.

Datei:Wappen Thurgau matt.svg

Above: The coat of arms of Thurgau Canton, Switzerland

Debrunner’s approach is quite similar to that used by Oxford University’s Illustrated Literary Guides, in that Debrunner takes the reader to the places where writers have lived and worked in Thurgau and encourages a discovery of these places through the works of the writers who found their inspirations there.

Thus I found myself in Lengwil and the discovery of dragonflies…

Landschlacht, Easter Monday 17 April 2017

It is too early for dragonflies, for dragonflies are a summer insect, and there is little about today’s weather that suggests summer, for this Easter Monday is cloudy and cold with the threat of rain.

But when I recall last week’s visit to Lengwil, I have come to the realization that it is never too late for dragonflies…

Lengwil, 10 April 2017

The English translation of the German word “Libelle” is Odonata, an order of carnivorous insects made up of dragonflies and damselflies.

File:Tau emerald Dec10.jpg

How to tell the difference?

Well, damselflies wear dresses and are in constant need of rescuing…

File:Common blue damselfly02.jpg

No.

Dragonflies are generally larger and perch with their wings held out to the sides.

They are strong fliers with fairly robust bodies and dragonfly eyes occupy much of their heads, touching each other across their faces.

Damselflies have slender bodies and hold their wings over their bodies while at rest.

They are more fragile than dragonflies, appear rather weak when they fly and there is a gap between their eyes.

Odonates are aquatic – they need water to survive, so that is why it is, at first, somewhat confusing that the most interesting dragonflies of Thurgau Canton are found not by the Lake of Constance, but instead inland.

To discover the Dragonflies / Libelle, after disembarking at the Lengwil station, one must first walk towards the town centre and then turn right onto Sternengarten (garden of stars) Street until one finds himself at Number Six, in front of an unremarkable single family house where a nice aging couple live.

Image may contain: tree, house, plant, sky, grass, car, outdoor and nature

The doorbell that rings inside the house reveals the pair of dragonflies which have gathered here.

Their wingbeat is the rustle of thick bundles of paper, and they whiz from idea to idea, from concept to concept, from manuscript to manuscript and rest in between times upon completed tomes of excellent quality before swarming out into the great wide world.

Readers, at least German-language readers, treasure the books from this publishing house of dragonflies, the Libelle Verlag, where even the readers with the least imagination can appreciate what has been bred here.

Ueber uns / about

Above: Logo of Libelle Verlag

Like their namesakes, these dragonflies of Lengwil cannot be pinned down to one location, for they have two addresses: one in Lengwil and one in Konstanz.

Now the zoologically educated will boringly point out that dragonflies zigzag in their flight, so why shouldn’t this pair of dragonflies only remain in Baden or in Thurgau?

So what are these dragonflies?

German or Swiss?

(An incredibly important distinction for both Germans and Swiss who dislike being confused while being identified as either one.)

Papa Dragonfly, Ekkehard Faude, is a Konstanzer, while Mama Dragonfly, Elisabeth Tschiener, is from Steckborn on the Swiss side.

They hatched their cocoon of dragonflies, Libelle Verlag, in the Konstanz neighbourhood of Litzelstetten in 1979, but the Swiss are drawn back to their homeland like bees to flowers, so since 1991 Libelle Verlag has lived and thrived in Lengwil splendidly.

Datei:Konstanz Hafeneinfahrt.jpg

Above: Konstanz harbour with the statue of Imperia

Lengwilers are proud to have these dragonflies here as long as they wish to reside there, despite their cocoon making a significant mark on the publishing world.

But Ekkehard and Elisabeth don’t care if Libelle Publishing remains described as a small or even the smallest publisher, because they don’t want to compromise quality in the name of mass production.

And this pair of dragonflies, much like the Odonates themselves with their variations of size in the variations scattered across the globe, know that size is a relative concept.

The Libelle Verlag’s most famous book in their selection is Yasmina Reza’s Kunst (Art), a slender volume that weighs less than a bar of chocolate.

Yasmina Reza, Kunst

By comparison, Manfred Bosch’s remarkable work, Boheme am Bodensee (Bohemia on the Lake of Constance), which should be in every small library, is a rich and heavy tome.

Manfred Bosch, Boheme am Bodensee

A speciality of this publishing house are the books of Fritz Mühlenweg (1898 – 1961), with its remarkable scenes of Mongolia captured beautifully in photo and prose.

Fritz Muehlenweg, Mongolische Heimlichkeiten

No other publishing house can claim to have horizons that stretch to central Asia.

Fritz Muehlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

While Libelle’s crime novels of Ulrich Ritzel clearly are their most well-known publications amongst adults, children enjoy Fritz Mühlenweg’s wonderful book Nuni, as well as other bestsellers such as Hans Brügelmann’s Kinder auf dem Weg zur Schrift (Children on the way to writing).

 Fritz Muehlenweg, Nuni

 

 

 

Ernst Peter Fischer’s books open cosmic dimensions, while for those for whom Fischer is too expansive, Arno Borst’s Ritte über den Bodensee (Rides over the Lake of Constance) is highly recommended.

Arno Borst, Ritte über den Bodensee

 

 

 

In short, Libelle makes books for everyone without sacrificing quality to do so.

File:Quintus Horatius Flaccus.jpg

“Habent sua fata libelli”, the Roman poet Horace (65 – 8 BC) once wrote (Roughly translated from the Latin, ours is the fate of dragonflies.) and such is the destiny of Libelle Verlag, for though it has, like other publishing houses, gone through its share of both setbacks and successes, that its welfare rests solely upon the shoulders of Ekkehard and Elisabeth make this business endeavour quite vulnerable and strong simultaneously.

Libelle Verlag is over 30 years old and considering that it is owned and operated solely by this couple suggests that they have achieved their dreams enormously.

Though Debrunner’s Literaturführer Thurgau led me to their door, I did not disturb the couple in their private residence, for I had no appointment and had not prepared myself for any sort of an interview with them.

But reading Debrunner´s commentary on the dragonflies of Lengwil and seeing their home from the outside and later finding some of their published works in the public library of St. Gallen has inspired me.

What the dragonflies of Lengwil tell me is simple…

Follow your dreams and trust your instincts by being the best you can be.

The dragonflies of Lengwil measure their success not by comparison with others but by their ability to produce what they want to produce.

And though there will be setbacks, there will always be successes, if I remain true to myself and what I want.

Lengwil is an unremarkable village, but even the unremarkable can produce quality.

Never underestimate the “unremarkable”.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading / Albert M. Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau / Luisa Moncada and Scala Quin, Reading on Location: Great Books Set in Top Travel Destinations / Ann Morgan, Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer / http://www.libelle.ch

 

 

 

A Revolution of One: Under the Covers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 March 2017

You say you want a revolution, but you are not really sure where to start.

There are just so many things wrong with this world that demand change.

In this series A Revolution of One, I have written about the importance of passion and the value of keeping a journal to discover what potential lies within you.

(See: A Revolution of One: The Power of Passion and A Revolution of One: Seize the Day of this blog.)

So imagine you are now at the point where you have discovered some of the things that interest you.

What`s next?

You now need to do reconnaissance and discover what knowledge is out there.

Most of my opinions on bookshops (and libraries) were formed by Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld1.jpg

In case you’ve forgotten or never knew, Donald Henry Rumsfeld was the US Secretary of Defense in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush….

Ford, arms folded, in front of a United States flag and the Presidential seal.

Above: Gerald Ford (1913 – 2006), 38th President of the United States (1974 – 1977)

George-W-Bush.jpeg

Above: George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (2001 – 2009)

It is his opinion on the necessity of bookshops (and libraries) that truly binds us together.”

(Mark Forsyth, The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Want)

The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted

There are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns.

That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns.

There are things we do not know we don’t know.” (Donald Rumsfeld)

“For some reason that I shall never understand, there are those who find these lines perplexing.

They ridicule it.

The Plain English Campaign even awarded Rumsfeld their Foot in Mouth Award of 2003 for a ‘baffling comment by a public figure’.

But there’s nothing baffling in it really.

I know that Paris is the capital of France, but more importantly I know that I know Paris is the capital of France.

Tour Eiffel Wikimedia Commons (cropped).jpg

Flag of France

Above: The Eiffel Tower, Paris / Flag of France

I know that I don’t know the capital of Azerbaijan, although I am sure they have one.

Three equally sized horizontal bands of blue, red, and green, with a white crescent and an eight-pointed star centered in the red band

Above: The flag of Azerbaijan

(It’s the sort of thing I really ought to check up on.)

But I do not know….

Well, here it gets complicated….

You do not know that you do not know the capital of Erewhon, because you had no idea that there was a country called Erewhon, and therefore you had no idea there was a gap in your knowledge.

Erewhon Cover.jpg

Above: First edition (1872) of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (or Over the Range)

You did not know that you did not know.

The same thing applies to books.

I know that I have read Great Expectations: it is a known known.

Greatexpectations vol1.jpg

Above: Title page of 1st edition (1861) of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations

I know that I haven’t read War and Peace: it is a known unknown to me…

Tolstoy - War and Peace - first edition, 1869.jpg

Above: Title page, 6th edition 1909, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in original Russian

(…and, barring a long prison sentence, is likely to remain so.)

But there are books I have never heard of.

And because I have never heard of them, I have no idea that I haven’t read them….

There are, as previously mentioned, three kinds of books: the ones you’ve read, the ones you know you haven’t read and the ones you didn’t know existed.

The books you’ve read, you don’t need to buy.

Presumably you bought (or borrowed) a copy before reading.

The famous books you haven’t read are easily obtainable on the Internet.

You type in War and Peace and all sorts of booktraders mention that they have it available for X amount of dollars/pounds/franks/etc and that a nice young man will bring it to your door by teatime.

I believe that here I ought to bemoan the modern age and go on and on about how human contact is lost and we are all going to Hell in a handbasket, but I just can’t.

The Internet is much too convenient….

…The Internet is a splendid invention and it won’t go away.

If you know you want something, the Internet can get it for you.

My point…is that it is not enough to get what you already know you wanted.

The best things are the things you never knew you wanted until you got them.

The Internet takes your desires and spits them back at you, consummated.

You search, you put in the words you know, the things that were already on your mind, and it gives you back a book or a picture or a Wikipedia article.

But that is all.

The unknown unknown must be found otherwise….

….Computers are machines.

The Internet is a huge army of machines.

Machines do not allow in the element of chance.

They do exactly what you tell them to do.

So the Internet means that, though you will get what you already knew you wanted, you will never get anything more.”

(Mark Forsyth, The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Want)

"Shakespeare and Company" store, Paris, 2004

Above: Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris

“We have all browsed – in a bookstore or library or through someone else’s bookshelves.

Above: The Bookworm (1850), Carl Spitzweg

I am going to suggest an enhanced style of browsing that you can use as a way of finding new subjects of interest.”

(If you are already interested in a subject, you may want to skip the rest of this blogpost and visit the Internet.)

Even the most advanced scholars often find that wandering through the stacks of a library (or a bookshop), dipping into a book here and there as the spirit moves them, offers a serendipitious intellectual stimulation that is unavailable any other way.

By making the process of browsing more self-conscious, you can conduct your own informal reconnaissance of the terrain of learning.

All you have to do is follow three rules:

  1.  Pick the best places.
  2.  Keep moving.
  3. Keep a list.

By picking the best places, I simply mean the best library or bookstore or collection of other resources that you can find for your purposes.

Follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice:

F Scott Fitzgerald 1921.jpg

Above: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)

‘Don’t marry for money – go where money is, then marry for love.’

Go where the richest resources are, then you can let serendipity take its course.

In a less rich environment, the items that might best turn you on might simply not be there.

What is the best place for you?

It is the best-stocked one within convenient range.

Many cities now have specialised bookstores, study centres and activists organisations or other agencies in numerous fields, one of which may be the right place for you once you have identified a broad field that you might get deeply interested in.

Once you are in the right place, keep moving and keep a list.

You are brainstorming, not postholding.

You want to get a comprehensive glimpse and taste of a wide range of works.

And you want to keep a log of your discoveries along the way, with notes in case you want to retrace your steps and delve more deeply.

You are compiling your ‘little black book’ of intellectual attractions – books, ideas, authors, points of views, realms of fact and imagination with which you want to make a date sometime, get to know better and, perhaps, come to fall in love with.

Major intellectual journeys (and social change) often begin with browsing.

As part of your browsing, you may want to take a fresh look at some of the important realms of learning, but from your own point of view.

The exhilirating prospect here is to ‘come to ourselves’ intellectually.

After years, sometimes decades, of learning for someone or something else we are now invited to begin using our minds for ourselves.

We are freed from being told what, why and how to learn.

We discover at once the first lesson of freedom in any realm:

Freedom is far more demanding than taking orders, but also far more rewarding.

Forget about which subjects you have already been told are important or prestigious.

Just let each one roll around in your head for a while to see whether it commands your interest.

Do not worry about how formidable each one sounds.

No one is a complete master of any of these realms.

Each category could fill years of study.

The point is to realise the wealth from which you can choose and to start modestly to sample one subject or another that especially appeals to you.

(Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook)

What makes an advocate for change organize that change?

Curiosity.

He/She is driven by a compulsive curiosity that knows no limits.

Life is a search for a pattern, for a meaning to the life around him/her and its relationship to his/her own life.

The search never ends.

There are no answers, only further questions.

The organizer/the advocate for change is a carrier of the contagion of curiosity.

It is in the question “Why?” that change can begin.

It is the questioning of the status quo, the delving into the “Why?” of accepted ways and values that the seeds of reformation and revolution begin to sprout.

Change begins with an individual.

Be the change you desire.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.