Canada Slim and the Author’s Apartment 1: Learning

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 13 June 2019

In everyone’s life there are marker moments that separate who you were from who you are, as significant to the individual as BC and AD are to the Western calendar.

I have had my share of such moments in my own life.

Some are as obvious as scar tissue from accidents and operations.

Others are so subtle, so intimate, that they are as soft as a lover’s whisper in the night, and are no less important, nay, sometimes are far more important, than moments that clearly marked and marred you in the eyes of others.

Who we were, who we are and who we will become are often determined by what happens where we happen to be.

 

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Certainly there are those who argue that we make our own destiny, that we create our own karma, but it is usually those who have known little hardship who wax poetically upon how they would have acted differently had they been in situations alien to their experience and understanding.

Their songs of self-praise usually play to the tune of “had I been there I would have….“.

“If I had been living in Germany during the Second World War I would have sheltered Jews.”

“If my country suffered a famine I would not remain.”

“If I lived in North Korea I would rise in revolt against the Kim dynasty.”

 

Flag of North Korea

 

Truth be told, we may have the potential to freely make such brave decisions, but in the harsh chill of grim reality whether we would actually possess the needed courage and have the opportunity to successfully act is highly debatable.

If the consequence of helping others might lead to your death and the death of your loved ones, would you really risk everything to shelter those whom your government deems enemies of the state?

Would you be able to abandon your family to famine to save yourself?

Would you really defy your entire country’s military might to speak truth to power and say that what is being done in the name of nationalism is wrong for the nation?

 

Flag of the United States

 

It is easy to condemn the Germans of the National Socialist nightmare, the starving masses in Africa and India, the North Koreans under the Kims, and suggest that they were weak to allow themselves to be dominated by circumstances.

The self-righteous will argue with such platitudes like “Evil can only triumph when the good stay silent.“, but martyrdom’s recklessness is not easily embraced by everyone.

 

Flag of Germany

 

I was born in an age and have lived in places where I have never personally experienced the ravages of war firsthand.

I have known hunger and thirst but have never been hungry or thirsty to the brink of my own demise.

I have been fortunate to live in places where democracy, though imperfectly applied at times, dominated society rather than being sacrificed for security.

As a Canadian born in the 60s, who has never been in a military conflict, it is not easy for me to fully appreciate the difficulties of others that I myself have never experienced.

 

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

 

I count former refugees among my circle of friends, but I cannot claim to fully comprehend what they have endured or what they continue to quietly endure.

I have known those who chose not to be part of a military machine, despite the accusation of treason and disloyalty to their nation this suggests, because they chose not to act in the name of a nation that does not respect a person’s rights to choose not to kill their fellow human beings.

 

 

I love my homeland of Canada but I have never been called to defend her, have never had to choose between patriotism and humanity.

Canada’s leaders I have known may not have been great statesmen, but neither have they been as reprehensible as the leadership of other nations.

Can it be easy to be a true believer in Turkey under a tyrant like Erdogan?

 

Flag of Turkey

 

Can it be easy to be a patriotic American with an amateur like Trump?

Can it be easy to call yourself a native of a nation whose government does things that disgust the conscience and stain the soil?

 

 

I grew up in Québec as an Anglophone Canadian and fortunately I have never been forced to choose between the province and the nation.

 

Flag of Quebec

 

I now live in a nation that certainly isn’t a paradise for everyone within its boundaries, but its nationalism has not tested my resolve nor has it required the surrender of my conscience.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

Oh, what a lucky man I have been!

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

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I have visited places that have reminded me of my good fortune because of their contrast to that good fortune.

I have seen the ruins of the Berlin Wall and the grim reality of Cyprus’s Green Wall.

 

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I have stood inside an underground tunnel between the two nations of South and North Korea, where two soldiers stand back-to-back 100 meters apart, and though they share the same language and the same culture, they are ordered to kill the other should the other speak.

 

Korea DMZ.svg

 

I have seen cemeteries of fallen soldiers and the ravaged ruins that wars past have left behind.

 

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

 

I have seen the settings of holocaust and have witnessed racism firsthand.

I have heard the condemnation of others for the crime of being different.

 

 

How dare they love who they choose!

How dare they believe differently than we!

How dare they look not as we do!

How dare they exist!

 

Some places are scar marks on the conscience, wounds on the world.

Some places whisper the intimate injury of injustice and barely breathe the breeze of silent bravery against insurmountable obstacles.

I have not lived in a nation torn against itself where bully bastards hide their cruelty behind an ideological -ism that is a thinly disguised mask for their sadism.

 

 

What follows is the tale of one man who did, a man who lived in Belgrade, Serbia’s eternal city, and gave the world an image of the place’s perpetuity, the mirage of immortality….

A man’s whose life has made me consider my own….

 

Above: Belgrade

 

Some folk tales have such universal appeal that we forget when and where we heard or read them, and they live on in our minds as memories of our personal experiences.

Such is, for example, the story of a young man who, wandering the Earth in pursuit of happiness, strayed onto a dangerous road, which led into an unknown direction.

To avoid losing his way, the young man marked the trees along the road with his hatchet, to help him find his way home.

That young man is the personification of general, eternal human destiny on one hand, there is a dangerous and uncertain road, and on the other, a great human need to not lose one’s way, to survive and to leave behind a legacy.

The signs we leave behind us might not avoid the fate of everything that is human: transience and oblivion.

Perhaps they will be passed by completely unnoticed?

Perhaps nobody will understand them?

And yet, they are necessary, just as it is natural and necessary for us humans to convey and reveal our thoughts to one another.

Even if those brief and unclear signs fail to spare us all wandering and temptation, they can alleviate them and, at least, be of help by convincing us that we are not alone in anything we experience, nor are we the first and only ones who have ever been in that position.

(Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside)

 

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Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, 5 April 2018

The weather was worsening but my spirits were high.

I was on a mini-vacation, a separate holiday without my spouse, in a nation completely alien to me.

My good friend Nesha had graciously offered me the use of his apartment while he was away on business in Tara National Park, and so I was at liberty to come and go as I pleased without any obligations to anyone else but myself.

 

Flag of Serbia

Above: Flag of Serbia

 

The day had started well.

I had visited Saint Sava Cathedral, the Nikola Tesla Museum and had serendipitiously stumbled upon a second-hand music store that sold Serbian music that my guidebooks had recommended I discover.

 

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

Above: Saint Sava Cathedral

 

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum

 

(For details of these, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Land of Long Life
  • the Holy Field of Sparrows
  • the Visionary
  • the Current War
  • the Man Who Invented the Future)

 

I was happy and so I would remain in the glorious week I spent in Belgrade and Nis.

I was learning so much!

(I still am.)

This journey I was making reminded me once again of just how ignorant I was (and am) of the world beyond my experience.

 

 

Before I began travelling the existence of life outside my senses remained naught more than rumours.

For example, I remember distinctly reading of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but it was far removed from my life until I moved to Germany and later visited Berlin before I began to understand why this had been a significant event, a big deal.

 

 

I partially blame my ignorance on the circumstances of my life in Canada.

Canadian news dominates Canadian media, which isn’t surprising as we are more interested in that which is closest to our experience.

English-language literature remains more accessible in Anglophone parts of Canada than other languages and so that is mostly what we know.

Too few Canadians speak more than their native tongues of either English or French.

Only 10% of Canadians are truly bilingual and not necessarily in the other official Canadian language.

How sad it is that so many North Americans know so little of the outside world unless there is a military conflict or diplomatic gesture in which they are involved.

Send a Canadian soldier or the Canadian Prime Minister to Serbia then a few Canadians might make a curious effort to find Serbia on a world map.

 

A map of Canada showing its 13 provinces and territories

 

Part of the problem and the reason why world peace and true unity eludes humanity is nationalism.

Why care about those who are not us?

If “us” is defined and limited by our national boundaries then how can we include “them” in our vision of fellow human beings?

Only the truly exceptional of that which is foreign grabs our momentary attention.

How can we understand one another if that which has shaped us is unknown by others and that which has shaped them is alien to us?

 

Flag of the United Nations

 

Can a Serbian truly understand a Canadian without knowing of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky, Robert W. Service and Margaret Atwood, Just for Laughs and Stephan Leacock, the Stanley Cup and the CBC, Sergeant Renfrew and Constable Benton Fraser?

 

Statue of Fox running set on a plinth engraved with "Somewhere the hurting must stop..."

 

Can a Canadian truly understand a Serbian without knowing of Novak Djokovic and Nemanja Vidic, the Turija sausage fest and the Novi Sad Exit, the Drina Regatta and the Nisville Jazz Festival, Emir Kusturica and Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac and Ivo Andric?

 

Frontal view of a bespectacled man

Above: Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975)

 

Possibly not.

 

I often think that it would be a good idea for the young to not only read what is / was written in their own tongue but as well to read Nobel Prize winning books translated from other languages.

It might even be a step towards world unity.

In my school years I was exposed to the writing of Nobel Prize winners Kipling, O’Neill, Buck, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Bellow.

I had to travel to discover other Nobel laureates like Pamuk, Jelinek, Saramango, Neruda, Sartre, Camus, Marquez, Solzhenitsyn, Gidé, Mann and Andric by accident.

How much we miss when we stick to only our own!

How can we possibly have world peace when we are so ignorant of the world’s music, art and literature?

 

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.

 

The street that runs beside Belgrade’s New Palace, now the seat of the President of Serbia, is named Andrićev venac (Andrić’s Crescent) in his honour.

It includes a life-sized statue of the writer.

 

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The flat in which Andrić spent his final years has been turned into a museum.

 

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Several of Serbia’s other major cities, such as Novi Sad and Kragujevac, have streets named after Andrić.

Streets in a number of cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Višegrad, also carry his name.

 

 

Andrić remains the only writer from the former Yugoslavia to have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Given his use of the Ekavian dialect, and the fact that most of his novels and short stories were written in Belgrade, his works have become associated almost exclusively with Serbian literature.

 

(I asked my good friend Nesha whether Serbians can communicate with Bosnians and Croatians in a similar language, whether there was a Slavic tongue that unites the three.

He responded that it is all one Serbo-Croatian language with a difference in dialects that changes from region to region and divided by three different accents: Ekavica, Jekavic and Ijekavica

Even though Slovenians and Macedonians speak a little differently, they all understand and speak a Serbian-type speech.)

 

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The Slavonic studies professor Bojan Aleksov characterizes Andrić as one of Serbian literature’s two central pillars, the other being Njegoš.

The plasticity of his narrative,” Moravcevich writes, “the depth of his psychological insight, and the universality of his symbolism remain unsurpassed in all of Serbian literature.

 

 

Though it has been said that the Serbian novel did not begin with Ivo Andric – (that honour lies with Borisav Stankovic (1867 – 1927) who explored the contradictions of man’s spiritual and sensory life in his 1910 work Bad Blood, the first Serbian novel to receive praise in its foreign translations) – it was Andric who took Serbian literature’s oral traditions and epic poetry and developed and perfected its narrative form.

 

Image result for Borislav Stankovic the tainted blood

 

To this day, Andric remains probably the most famous writer from former Yugoslavia.

And, sadly, I had never heard of him prior to this day.

A visit to the Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric (to give its official title) this day helped correct this imbalance….

 

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By a decision of the Belgrade City Assembly, the property of Ivo Andric was heritage-listed and entrusted to the Belgrade City Museum immediately following Andric’s death on 13 March 1975.

It was an act meant to express the city’s deep respect for Andric as a writer and as a person.

In accordance with the practice common all over the world, Belgrade wished to preserve the original appearance of the writer’s apartment, surrounded by the Belgrade Old and New Courts and Pionirski Park, in its picturesque environment, to honour its famous citizen.

The establishment of this Memorial Museum also throws light on a very remarkable period in history encompassing the two world wars, as well as the post-war years, on which Andric left a strong personal and creative impact.

The holdings of Ivo Andric’s legacy chiefly consist of items found and inventoried at his apartment after his death – the underlying idea being to reflect the spirit and atmosphere of privacy and nobility surrounding him.

Andric’s personal library contains 3,373 items, along with archival materials, manuscripts, works of fine and applied arts, diplomas and decorations, 1,070 personal belongings and 803 photographs.

The apartment covers an area of 144 square metres (somewhat larger than my own apartment) and is divided into three units:

  • the authentic interior, encompassing an entrance hall, a drawing room and Andric’s study
  • the exhibition rooms, created by the adaptation of two bedrooms
  • the curators’ and guides offices and the museum storerooms, occupying the former kitchen, the maid’s room, the bathroom and the lobby

It is both an unusual and a subtle combination of ambiguously private and unabasedly public, presenting an overview of Andric’s private life while depicting his vivid diplomatic, national, cultural and educational activities.

Ivo Andric was an unusual man who lived in unusual times, a life captured by a small apartment museum that like Andric himself is deceptively normal in appearance….

 

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The original appearance and the function of the entrance hall have been preserved to a great extent.

The showcase with publications and souvenirs of the Belgrade City Museum is the only sign indicating that a visitor, though in residential premises, is actually in a Museum.

Already at the entrance to the Museum, an open bookshelf populated with thick volumes of Serbo-Croatian and foreign language dictionaries and encyclopedias and literary works in French, German and English, symbolizes Andric’s communication with European and world literature, history and philosophy as well as his own creative endeavours.

This is where the story of the writer begins to unfold….

 

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Ivan Andrić was born in the village of Dolac, near Travnik, on 10 October 1892, while his mother, Katarina (née Pejić), was in the town visiting relatives.

 

Above: The house in which Andric was born, now a museum

 

(Travnik has a strong culture, mostly dating back to its time as the center of local government in the Ottoman Empire.

Travnik has a popular old town district however, which dates back to the period of Bosnian independence during the first half of the 15th century.

Numerous mosques and churches exist in the region, as do tombs of important historical figures and excellent examples of Ottoman architecture.

The city museum, built in 1950, is one of the more impressive cultural institutions in the region.

Travnik became famous by important persons who were born or lived in the city.

The most important of which are Ivo Andrić, Miroslav Ćiro Blažević (football coach of the Croatian national team, won third place 1998 in France), Josip Pejaković (actor), Seid Memić (pop singer) and Davor Džalto (artist and art historian, the youngest PhD in Germany and in the South-East European region).

 

Skyline of Travnik

Above: Images of Travnik

 

One of the main works of Ivo Andrić is the Bosnian Chronicle, depicting life in Travnik during the Napoleonic Wars and written during World War II.

In this work Travnik and its people – with their variety of ethnic and religious communities – are described with a mixture of affection and exasperation.

 

Ivo Andriac, Ivo Andric - Bosnian Chronicle

 

The Bosnian Tornjak, one of Bosnia’s two major dog breeds and national symbol, originated in the area, found around Mount Vlašić.)

 

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Andrić’s parents were both Catholic Croats.

He was his parents’ only child.

(I too was raised as an only child.)

 

His father, Antun, was a struggling silversmith who resorted to working as a school janitor in Sarajevo, where he lived with his wife and infant son.

(The Museum disagrees with Wikipedia, describing Antun as a court attendant.)

 

At the age of 32, Antun died of tuberculosis, like most of his siblings.

Andrić was only two years old at the time.

(My mother died, of cancer, when I was three.)

 

Widowed and penniless, Andrić’s mother took him to Višegrad and placed him in the care of her sister-in-law Ana and brother-in-law Ivan Matković, a police officer at the border military police station.

The couple were financially stable but childless, so they agreed to look after the infant and brought him up as their own in their house on the bank of the Drina River.

Meanwhile, Andrić’s mother returned to Sarajevo seeking employment.

Andrić was raised in a country that had changed little since the Ottoman period despite being mandated to Austria-Hungary at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Eastern and Western culture intermingled in Bosnia to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the Balkan peninsula.

Having lived there from an early age, Andrić came to cherish Višegrad, calling it “my real home“.

Though it was a small provincial town (or kasaba), Višegrad proved to be an enduring source of inspiration.

It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional town, the predominant groups being Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

 

Višegrad

Above: Images of Visegrad

 

(Like Andric, I was born elsewhere than the place I think of as home, though to Andric’s credit he lovingly wrote about his birthplace in The Travnik Chronicle.

I could imagine writing about St. Philippe, my childhood hometown, but I feel no intimate connection to St. Eustache, my birthplace, whatsoever, despite the latter having a larger claim to fame than the “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” village of my youth.)

 

Above: St. Eustache City Hall

 

(My imagination plays with the notion of St. Philippe as “St. Jerusalem” and St. Eustache described during the Rebellion of 1837.)

 

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Above: The Battle of St. Eustache, 14 December 1837

 

From an early age, Andrić closely observed the customs of the local people.

These customs, and the particularities of life in eastern Bosnia, would later be detailed in his works.

Andrić made his first friends in Višegrad, playing with them along the Drina River and the town’s famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge.

 

Visegrad bridge by Klackalica.jpg

 

(The area was part of the medieval Serbian state of the Nemanjić dynasty.

It was part of the Grand Principality of Serbia under Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96).

In the Middle Ages, Dobrun was a place within the border area with Bosnia, on the road towards Višegrad.

After the death of Emperor Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55), the region came under the rule of magnate Vojislav Vojinović, and then his nephew, župan (count) Nikola Altomanović.

The Dobrun Monastery was founded by župan Pribil and his family, some time before the 1370s.

 

Above: Dobrun Monastery

 

The area then came under the rule of the Kingdom of Bosnia, part of the estate of the Pavlović noble family.

The settlement of Višegrad is mentioned in 1407, but is starting to be more often mentioned after 1427.

In the period of 1433–37, a relatively short period, caravans crossed the settlement many times.

Many people from Višegrad worked for the Republic of Ragusa.

Srebrenica and Višegrad and its surroundings were again in Serbian hands in 1448 after Despot Đurađ Branković defeated Bosnian forces.

 

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Above: Durad Brankovic (1377 – 1456)

 

According to Turkish sources, in 1454, Višegrad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire led by Osman Pasha.

It remained under the Ottoman rule until the Berlin Congress (1878), when Austria-Hungary took control of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge was built by the Ottoman architect and engineer Mimar Sinan for Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.

Construction of the bridge took place between 1571 and 1577.

It still stands, and it is now a tourist attraction, after being inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

 

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

The Bosnian Eastern Railway from Sarajevo to Uvac and Vardište was built through Višegrad during the Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Construction of the line started in 1903.

It was completed in 1906, using the 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in) track gauge.

With the cost of 75 million gold crowns, which approximately translates to 450 thousand gold crowns per kilometer, it was one of the most expensive railways in the world built by that time.

This part of the line was eventually extended to Belgrade in 1928.

Višegrad is today part of the narrow-gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight.

 

The area was a site of Partisan–German battles during World War II.

Višegrad is one of several towns along the River Drina in close proximity to the Serbian border.

The town was strategically important during the Bosnian War conflict.

A nearby hydroelectric dam provided electricity and also controlled the level of the River Drina, preventing flooding downstream areas.

The town is situated on the main road connecting Belgrade and Užice in Serbia with Goražde and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a vital link for the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) with the Uzamnica camp as well as other strategic locations implicated in the conflict.

 

 

On 6 April 1992, JNA artillery bombarded the town, in particular Bosniak-inhabited neighbourhoods and nearby villages.

Murat Šabanović and a group of Bosniak men took several local Serbs hostage and seized control of the hydroelectric dam, threatening to blow it up.

Water was released from the dam causing flooding to some houses and streets.

Eventually on 12 April, JNA commandos seized the dam.

 

Бањска стена - Тешке боје.jpg

 

The next day the JNA’s Užice Corps took control of Višegrad, positioning tanks and heavy artillery around the town.

The population that had fled the town during the crisis returned and the climate in the town remained relatively calm and stable during the later part of April and the first two weeks of May.

On 19 May 1992 the Užice Corps officially withdrew from the town and local Serb leaders established control over Višegrad and all municipal government offices.

 

Soon after, local Serbs, police and paramilitaries began one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the conflict.

There was widespread looting and destruction of houses, and terrorizing of Bosniak civilians, with instances of rape, with a large number of Bosniaks killed in the town, with many bodies were dumped in the River Drina.

Men were detained at the barracks at Uzamnica, the Vilina Vlas Hotel and other sites in the area.

Vilina Vlas also served as a “brothel“, in which Bosniak women and girls (some not yet 14 years old), were brought to by police officers and paramilitary members (White Eagles and Arkan’s Tigers).

 

Visegradska banja vilina vlas by Klackalica.jpg

Above: Vilina Vlas Hotel today

 

Bosniaks detained at Uzamnica were subjected to inhumane conditions, including regular beatings, torture and strenuous forced labour.

Both of the town’s mosques were razed.

According to victims’ reports some 3,000 Bosniaks were murdered in Višegrad and its surroundings, including some 600 women and 119 children.

According to the Research and Documentation Center, at least 1,661 Bosniaks were killed/missing in Višegrad.

 

With the Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, the latter which Višegrad became part of.

 

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Above: Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Before the war, 63% of the town residents were Bosniak.

In 2009, only a handful of survivors had returned to what is now a predominantly Serb town.

On 5 August 2001, survivors of the massacre returned to Višegrad for the burial of 180 bodies exhumed from mass graves.

The exhumation lasted for two years and the bodies were found in 19 different mass graves.

The charges of mass rape were unapproved as the prosecutors failed to request them in time.

Cousins Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić were convicted on 20 July 2009, to life in prison and 30 years, respectively, for a 1992 killing spree of Muslims.

 

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Above: Milan Lukic

 

The Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge was popularized by Andric in his novel The Bridge on the Drina.

A tourist site called Andricgrad (Andric Town) dedicated to Andric, is located near the Bridge.

Construction of Andrićgrad, also known as Kamengrad (Каменград, “Stonetown“) started on 28 June 2011, and was officially opened on 28 June 2014, on Vidovdan.)

 

Above: Main Street, Andricgrad

 

Throughout his life Andric was tied to Visegrad by pleasant reminiscences and bright memories of childhood.

 

The Bridge on the Drina.jpg

Above: First edition of The Bridge on the Drina (Serbian)

 

At the age of ten, he received a three-year scholarship from a Croat cultural group called Napredak (Progress) to study in Sarajevo.

In the autumn of 1902, he was registered at the Great Sarajevo Gymnasium (Serbo-Croatian: Velika Sarajevska gimnazija), the oldest secondary school in Bosnia.

While in Sarajevo, Andrić lived with his mother, who worked in a rug factory as a weaver.

 

 

(Today Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 275,524 in its administrative limits.

The Sarajevo metropolitan area,  is home to 555,210 inhabitants.

Nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of the Balkans.

Sarajevo is the political, financial, social and cultural center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a prominent center of culture in the Balkans, with its region-wide influence in entertainment, media, fashion, and the arts.

Due to its long and rich history of religious and cultural diversity, Sarajevo is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europeor “Jerusalem of the Balkans“.

It is one of only a few major European cities which have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood.

A regional center in education, the city is home to the Balkans first institution of tertiary education in the form of an Islamic polytechnic called the Saraybosna Osmanlı Medrese, today part of the University of Sarajevo.

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century.

Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history.

In 1885, Sarajevo was the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time electric tram network running through the city, following San Francisco….)

 

 

At the time, the city was overflowing with civil servants from all parts of Austria-Hungary, and thus many languages could be heard in its restaurants, cafés and on its streets.

Culturally, the city boasted a strong Germanic element, and the curriculum in educational institutions was designed to reflect this.

From a total of 83 teachers that worked at Andrić’s school over a twenty-year period, only three were natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The teaching program,” biographer Celia Hawkesworth notes, “was devoted to producing dedicated supporters of the Habsburg Monarchy.”

Andrić disapproved.

All that came at secondary school and university,” he wrote, “was rough, crude, automatic, without concern, faith, humanity, warmth or love.

 

Andrić experienced difficulty in his studies, finding mathematics particularly challenging, and had to repeat the sixth grade.

For a time, he lost his scholarship due to poor grades.

Hawkesworth attributes Andrić’s initial lack of academic success at least partly to his alienation from most of his teachers.

Nonetheless, he excelled in languages, particularly Latin, Greek and German.

Although he initially showed substantial interest in natural sciences, he later began focusing on literature, likely under the influence of his two Croat instructors, writer and politician Đuro Šurmin and poet Tugomir Alaupović.

Of all his teachers in Sarajevo, Andrić liked Alaupović best and the two became lifelong friends.

 

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Above: Tugomir Alaupovic (1870 – 1958)

 

Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer.

He began writing in secondary school, but received little encouragement from his mother.

He recalled that when he showed her one of his first works, she replied:

“Did you write this? What did you do that for?”

Andrić published his first poem “U sumrak” (At dusk)  in 1911 in a journal called Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy), which promoted Serbo-Croat unity.

At the time, he was still a secondary school student.

His poems, essays, reviews, and translations appeared in journals such as Vihor (Whirlwind), Savremenik (The Contemporary), Hrvatski pokret (The Croatian Movement), and Književne novine (Literary News).

One of Andrić’s favorite literary forms was lyrical reflective prose, and many of his essays and shorter pieces are prose poems.

The historian Wayne S. Vucinich describes Andrić’s poetry from this period as “subjective and mostly melancholic“.

Andrić’s translations of August Strindberg’s novel Black Flag, Walt Whitman, and a number of Slovene authors also appeared around this time.

 

August Strindberg

Above: Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)

 

In 1908, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the chagrin of South Slav nationalists like Andrić.

In late 1911, Andrić was elected the first president of the Serbo-Croat Progressive Movement (Serbo-Croatian: Srpsko-Hrvatska Napredna Organizacija; SHNO), a Sarajevo-based secret society that promoted unity and friendship between Serb and Croat youth and opposed the Austro-Hungarian occupation.

Its members were vehemently criticized by both Serb and Croat nationalists, who dismissed them as “traitors to their nations“.

Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians.

On 28 February 1912, he spoke before a crowd of 100 student protesters at Sarajevo’s railway station, urging them to continue their demonstrations.

The Austro-Hungarian police later began harassing and prosecuting SHNO members.

Ten were expelled from their schools or penalized in some other way, though Andrić himself escaped punishment.

Andrić also joined the South Slav student movement known as Young Bosnia, becoming one of its most prominent members.

 

 

In 1912, Andrić registered at the University of Zagreb, having received a scholarship from an educational foundation in Sarajevo.

He enrolled in the department of mathematics and natural sciences because these were the only fields for which scholarships were offered, but was able to take some courses in Croatian literature.

 

University of Zagreb logo.svg

 

(Today Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia.

It is located in the northwest of the country, along the Sava River, at the southern slopes of Mount Medvednica.

 

 

The climate of Zagreb is classified as an oceanic climate, but with significant continental influences and very closely bordering on a humid Continental climate as well as a humid subtropical climate.

Zagreb has four separate seasons.

Summers are warm, at the end of May the temperatures start rising and it is often pleasant with occasional thunderstorms.

Heatwaves can occur but are short-lived.

Temperatures rise above 30 °C (86 °F) on an average 14.6 days each summer.

Rainfall is abundant in the summertime and it continues to be in autumn as well.

Zagreb is Europe’s 9th wettest capital, behind Luxembourg and ahead of Brussels, Belgium.

Autumn in its early stages is mild with an increase of rainy days and precipitation as well as a steady temperature fall towards its end.

Morning fog is common from mid-October to January with northern city districts at the foothills of the Medvednica mountain as well as those along the Sava river being more prone to all-day fog accumulation.

Winters are cold with a precipitation decrease pattern.

Even though there is no discernible dry season, February is the driest month with 39 mm of precipitation.

On average there are 29 days with snowfall with first snow falling in early November.

Springs are generally mild and pleasant with frequent weather changes and are windier than other seasons.

Sometimes cold spells can occur, mostly in its early stages.

The average daily mean temperature in the winter is around 1 °C (34 °F) (from December to February) and the average temperature in the summer is 22.0 °C (71.6 °F).

 

 

Zagreb is a city with a rich history dating from the Roman times to the present day.

The oldest settlement located in the vicinity of the city was the Roman Andautonia, in today’s Ščitarjevo.

The name “Zagreb” is recorded in 1134, in reference to the foundation of the settlement at Kaptol in 1094.

Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851 Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today.

 

 

Zagreb still occasionally experiences earthquakes, due to the proximity of Žumberak-Medvednica fault zone.

It’s classified as an area of high seismic activity.

The area around Medvednica was the epicentre of the 1880 Zagreb earthquake (magnitude 6.3), and the area is known for occasional landslide threatening houses in the area.

The proximity of strong seismic sources presents a real danger of strong earthquakes.

Croatian Chief of Office of Emergency Management Pavle Kalinić stated Zagreb experiences around 400 earthquakes a year, most of them being imperceptible.

However, in case of a strong earthquake, it’s expected that 3,000 people would die and up to 15,000 would be wounded.

 

Zagreb Cathedral interior 1880.jpg

Above: Damage done to Zagreb Cathedral, 9 November 1880

 

The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891.

The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterised by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities.

This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas.

An electric power plant was built in 1907.

 

Since 1 January 1877, the Grič cannon is fired daily from the Lotrščak Tower on Grič to mark midday.

 

 

The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable expansion of Zagreb.

Before World War I, the city expanded and neighbourhoods like Stara Peščenica in the east and Črnomerec in the west were created.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie its leading economic position in Croatia.

Zagreb is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries.

Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the centre of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia.

It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting and entertainment events.

Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

 

 

Zagreb is an important tourist centre, not only in terms of passengers travelling from the rest of Europe to the Adriatic Sea, but also as a travel destination itself.

It attracts close to a million visitors annually, mainly from Austria, Germany and Italy, and in recent years many tourists from the Far East (South Korea, Japan, China and India).

It has become an important tourist destination, not only in Croatia, but considering the whole region of southeastern Europe.

There are many interesting sights and happenings for tourists to attend in Zagreb, for example, the two statues of Saint George, one at the Republic of Croatia Square, the other at Kamenita vrata, where the image of Virgin Mary is said to be only thing that hasn’t burned in the 17th-century fire.

Also, there is an art installation starting in Bogovićeva street, called Nine Views.

Most people don’t know what the statue “Prizemljeno Sunce” (The Grounded Sun) is for, and just scrawl graffiti or signatures on it, but it’s actually the Sun scaled down, with many planets situated all over Zagreb in scale with the Sun.

There are also many festivals and events throughout the year, making Zagreb a year-round tourist destination.

The historical part of the city to the north of Ban Jelačić Square is composed of the Gornji Grad and Kaptol, a medieval urban complex of churches, palaces, museums, galleries and government buildings that are popular with tourists on sightseeing tours.

The historic district can be reached on foot, starting from Jelačić Square, the centre of Zagreb, or by a funicular on nearby Tomićeva Street.

Each Saturday, (April – September), on St. Mark’s Square in the Upper town, tourists can meet members of the Order of The Silver Dragon (Red Srebrnog Zmaja), who reenact famous historical conflicts between Gradec and Kaptol.

It’s a great opportunity for all visitors to take photographs of authentic and fully functional historical replicas of medieval armour.

 

 

Numerous shops, boutiques, store houses and shopping centres offer a variety of quality clothing.

There are about fourteen big shopping centres in Zagreb.

Zagreb’s offerings include crystal, china and ceramics, wicker or straw baskets, and top-quality Croatian wines and gastronomic products.

Notable Zagreb souvenirs are the tie or cravat, an accessory named after Croats who wore characteristic scarves around their necks in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and the ball-point pen, a tool developed from the inventions by Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, an inventor and a citizen of Zagreb.

Many Zagreb restaurants offer various specialties of national and international cuisine.

Domestic products which deserve to be tasted include turkey, duck or goose with mlinci (a kind of pasta), štrukli (cottage cheese strudel), sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese with cream), kremšnite (custard slices in flaky pastry) and orehnjača (traditional walnut roll). )

 

 

Andrić was well received by South Slav nationalists in Zagreb and regularly participated in on-campus demonstrations.

This led to his being reprimanded by the university.

In 1913, after completing two semesters in Zagreb, Andrić transferred to the University of Vienna, where he resumed his studies.

 

Uni-Vienna-seal.png

 

(Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria.

Vienna is Austria’s principal city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic and political centre.

It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants.

Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin.

Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC.

The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

These regions work together in a European Centrope border region.

Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants.

In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

The city’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.

The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstraße lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life.

In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities.

Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne.

In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot.

For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

Monocle’s 2015 “Quality of Life Survey” ranked Vienna second on a list of the top 25 cities in the world “to make a base within.”

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013.

The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets.

Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions.

It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.)

 

From top, left to right: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna City Hall, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, and Austrian Parliament Building

Above: Images of Vienna (Wien)

 

While in Vienna, Andric joined South Slav students in promoting the cause of Yugoslav unity and worked closely with two Yugoslav student societies, the Serbian cultural society Zora (Dawn) and the Croatian student club Zvonimir, which shared his views on “integral Yugoslavism” (the eventual assimilation of all South Slav cultures into one).

Andric became acquainted with Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either / Or, which would have a lasting influence on him.

 

A head-and-shoulders portrait sketch of a young man in his twenties that emphasizes his face, full hair, open and forward-looking eyes and a hint of a smile. He wears a formal necktie and lapel.

Above: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

 

Despite finding like-minded students in Vienna, the city’s climate took a toll on Andrić’s health.

He contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill, then asked to leave Vienna on medical grounds and continue his studies elsewhere, though Hawkesworth believes he may actually have been taking part in a protest of South Slav students that were boycotting German-speaking universities and transferring to Slavic ones.

 

For a time, Andrić had considered transferring to a school in Russia but ultimately decided to complete his fourth semester at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

 

POL Jagiellonian University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Jagiellonian University

 

(Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.

Situated on the Vistula River, the city dates back to the 7th century.

Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life.

Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city.

It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading centre of Central Europe in 965.

With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre.

The city has a population of about 770,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.

 

 

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government.

The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.

 

Krakow Ghetto Gate 73170.jpg

 

In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

 

John Paul II on 12 August 1993 in Denver, Colorado

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Kraków’s Historic Centre.

Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of high sufficiency by GaWC.

Its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula, the St. Mary’s Basilica, Saints Peter and Paul Church and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny.

Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.

In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.

In 2013 Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.)

 

 

Throughout his life Andric would feel that he owed much to the Polish excursion.

Andric met and mingled with painters Jovan Bijelic, Roman Petrovic and Peter Tijesic.

He transferred in early 1914 and continued to publish translations, poems and reviews.

Six poems written by Andric were included in the anthology Hrvatska Mlada Linka (Young Christian Lyricists).

In the words of literary critics:

As unhappy as any artist.  Ambitious.  Sensitive.  Briefly speaking, he has a future.

 

Flag of Poland

Above: Flag of Poland

 

(This perspective has always made me wonder….

Must a man suffer before he can call himself an artist?)

 

A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is wearing a winter hat, his ear is bandaged and he has no beard.

 

Certainly, Andric lost his father and was separated from his mother in his childhood and the domination of his homeland by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire clearly bothered him, nonetheless Andric had had the distinct privilege of living and studying in four of the most beautiful and cultural cities that Eastern Europe offers.

Certainly, Andric would be plagued with ill health often during the course of his lifetime, but it would not be until the outbreak of war in 1914 that his, and Europe’s, suffering would truly begin….

(To be continued….)

Image result for ivo andric museum belgrade images

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Eastern Europe / Belgrade City Museum, Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric Guide / Komshe Travel Guides, Serbia in Your Hands / Top Travel Guides, Belgrade / Bradt Guides, Serbia / Aleksandar Diklic, Belgrade: The Eternal City / Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina / Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside

Canada Slim and the Queen´s Horsemen

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 December 2017

There are moments in life – and isn´t travel truly a microcosm of life? – when a person realizes that his internal indecisiveness on certain issues will always remain.

“Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself. 

I am large. 

I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”, Leaves of Grass

A black-on-white engraving of Whitman standing with his arm at his side

Above: Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

I find myself particularly contradictory when I visit places that remain ruled as monarchies, duchies or principalities.

Do people actually need a monarchy?

To maintain the life and lifestyle of someone such as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and the British Commonwealth is horrendously expensive.

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpg

Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (born 1926, reigning since 1952)

For example, a seven-day visit to Canada by Her Majesty will cost both British and Canadian taxpayers undisclosed millions of British pounds and Canadian dollars to ensure that Her Person is protected, that strict protocols are followed and that She will appear regal and majestic wherever She goes.

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

To the average Joe like me, all that is seen seems to be naught but pomp and ceremony, and if hard pressed to define exactly what it is a monarch, especially one in a constitutional democracy, actually does with his/her working day I would be at a loss to explain it.

As Head of State, we are told that Her Majesty is meant to be the last bastion of sober second thought before a bill can be approved as law.

As Head of State, the Queen´s very presence commands reverance and respect as it is presumed that She has spent Her entire life preparing Herself for Her role, while Prime Ministers generally only learn how to do their jobs once they have acquired them.

As an English Canadian I have often defended the Queen as a sign of tradition, if for no other reason than to annoy French Canadians who lean more towards France´s republican system of government simply because they are French.

Flag of Quebec

I dare say that Her Majesty may brave a cold Ottawa winter´s day, but She would be most foolish to attempt a warm summer´s night in Chicoutimi, Québec!

If the mosquitoes didn´t get Her, the mobs of disgruntled Francophones would!

In my lifetime, Her Majesty has visited Canada at least ten times.

Since 2000, members of the Royal Family other than Her Majesty have visited Canada at least 50 times.

Somehow I never seem to get an invitation to these events.

And the only correspondence I might expect from the House of Windsor might be a card of congratulations for reaching my 100th birthday if I am resident in a Commonwealth country at the time.

Member states of the Commonwealth

Above: Member states of the British Commonwealth (green)

My wife, my own personal Queen, She Who Must Be Obeyed, remains extremely unsupportive as to my chances.

I have resigned myself to never meeting Her Majesty for I lack, and – short of events I cannot foresee – will continue to lack, both fame and power meriting time with Her Majesty.

I am a commoner.

My eating habits find wild animals gathering to watch the spectacle.

My clothing choices would hurt the eyes of the blind.

My education enables me to tie my shoes without consulting a manual.

My salary and bank account are envied only by the homeless.

My voice would stop traffic and I have a face perfect for radio.

Still I am sure that the invitations simply got lost in the mail.

Yet there´s a part of me that would be absolutely thrilled if I ever did have a chance to spend time with royalty, for though I know rationally that their consumption of Ricola cough drops would cause them to fart as they cause me to do, and that they are mortals such as I am, they exist in a stratosphere far elevated and far removed from my own.

Sometimes I think that Americans are so obsessed with their movie and music stars to the degree that they are, because in their heart of hearts there remains a regret that the Revolution cost them the right to have regents.

Flag of the United States

Say what you will about this collection of interbreeding overprivileged misfits, the Royal Family captures our hearts and imagination simply because they are the Royal Family.

Yet the socialist within, the wee anarchist beneath, wonders how truly deserving they are of such attention and admiration.

This conflict, this whirling dervish of devilish contradiction, was quite strong during our London visit….

London, England, 24 October 2017

To visit London is to be bombarded and blitzed by reminders royal.

From the National Portrait Gallery – a sort of two dimensional, high browed Madame Tussaud´s – with propaganda pictures of kings and Queens since Tudor and Stuart times, to the parade of palaces that seem to be found everywhere one goes, London is a royal place.

London NPG.JPG

Palaces, though I will visit them out of obligation to seeing them where I happen to be, generally leave me cold, for I simply cannot imagine living in such decadent luxury while there exists so many others less fortunate.

I did not visit Buckingham Palace.

Above: Buckingham Palace

I did not join the throngs of tourists watching one of the two Changing of the Guard ceremonies outside this Palace.

To be fair, I had seen the Changing of the Guard both in Quebec City´s Citadel and on Ottawa´s Parliament Hill, so I honestly don´t expect there to be any significant differences between these and London´s.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centennial Flame / Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Avoiding things royal in London actually takes a concerted effort.

We started the day with good intentions.

We began our tourist day, after breakfast at our Paddington B & B and the Tube to Charing Cross, by walking from Trafalgar Square to St. James´s Park and the Churchill War Rooms (which I highly recommend).

(For more on the Churchill War Rooms, please see Canada Slim and the Right Man of this blog.)

Trafalgar Square is London´s finest architectural set piece and one of the easiest parts of London to reach most of London´s major sights within a half-mile of each other.

Trafalgar Square, London 2 - Jun 2009.jpg

Above: Trafalgar Square

So, yes, this is a well-trodden tourist centre.

As one of the few large public squares in London, Trafalgar Square has not only been a tourist attraction but as well it has often been the focus for political demonstrations for over a century and a half.

The Square has seen Bloody Sunday (13 November 1887) when hundreds of demonstrators were injured, and three killed, by police.

It has seen anti-apartheid demonstrations and Poll Tax riots, but on this day the only mob is that of tourists seeking to see Nelson´s Column, which commemorates the one-armed, one-eyed Admiral who defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 but paid for it with his life.

Joseph Mallord William Turner 027.jpg

Above: Battle of Trafalgar

Even though his sandstone statue atop the Column is three times lifesize, it appears miniscule when compared to the massive height (151 feet) of the Column itself.

Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London.JPG

Above: Nelson´s Column, Trafalgar Square

Above: Nelson´s statue atop his Column

Everyone knows the four bronze lions that guard the base of Nelson´s Column, but few people realise that the lions appeared 25 years after the Column was built.

The Column itself was completed in 1843 and William Railton´s design included four lions to set it off, but a lack of funds and arguments over the choice of sculptor delayed the project.

The Board of Works in charge of the whole monument finally chose Sir Edwin Landseer – a controversial choice.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.jpg

Above: Sir Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873)

Even though Landseer was Queen Victoria´s favourite painter with an unrivalled reputation for painting animals, he had never sculpted anything.

The project was further delayed by Landseer´s health problems so that four years after accepting the commission he was still drafting sketches.

He asked to be supplied with copies of casts of a real lion made by the Art Academy in Turin.

He spent hours studying lions in the London Zoo.

Finally he asked the Zoo for a dead lion as a studio model, but had to wait two years for one to die.

Unfortunately the lion started to rot before Landseer could finish the work, so he had to improvise, using a domestic cat as a model for the paws and a dog for the tongue.

These hybrid lions were finally installed in 1868.

On the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is Britain´s smallest police station, unseen by the hordes of tourists posing before Nelson´s Column, a one-man sentry box fashioned from a hollowed-out granite lamp post.

Bildergebnis für trafalgar square police station

The secret police box was installed by Scotland Yard in 1926 so that the cops could keep an eye on the demonstrators and agitators who routinely gathered in the Square.

With narrow slits for windows and claustrophobic proportions, this human CCTV camera was equipped with a telephone with a direct line to Canon Row Police Station in case things got out of hand.

Originally installed in 1826, the ornamental light on the top would flash whenever the police officer trapped inside picked up the telephone, alerting his fellow officers in the vicinity to come to his rescue.

Today, the lookout post is used to store street cleaning equipment.

The only clue that links this post to the police is a faded list of bylaws hanging outside.

For the record, offences in Trafalgar Square included feeding the birds, camping, parking a caravan, public speaking, playing music, washing or drying clothes, exercising, bathing, boating or canoeing in the fountains, flying a kite or using any foot-propelled device – unless you have written permission from the Mayor.

(The devil in me would love that challenge!)

(As previously mentioned Trafalgar Square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar when 33 English ships defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet of 41 ships.)

We followed The Mall – London´s nearest equivalent to a Parisian boulevard – through the Admirality Arch….

(The Admirality Arch, once the official residence of the First Sea Lord overseeing all maritime operations, then an extension building of the Cabinet Office (2000 – 2002), and finally Prime Minister Tony Blair´s Strategy Unit (2002 – 2010), is now a property of real estate developer Rafael Serrano who is presently converting the building into a luxury Hotel slated to open in 2020.

Arco del Almirantazgo, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 186.JPG

The Arch has often been used for ceremonial affairs such as royal weddings and coronations, state funerals and Olympic Games processions.)

….to the Victoria Memorial – King Edward VII´s 2,300 ton marble tribute to his Mama, at 25 metres/82 feet the tallest monument to a monarch in England….

Victoria Memorial, The Mall, London.jpg

Above: The Victoria Memorial, London

…..to St. James´s Park.

The 23 hectare / 57 acre St. James´s Park is the oldest of London´s parks, having been puchased by Henry VIII in 1532, and drained and turned into a deer park by James I in 1603.

Above: St. James´ Park Lake, looking toward Buckingham Palace

It was redesigned and opened to the public by Charles II, who used to stroll through the grounds with his mistresses and courtiers, feed the ducks and even take a dip in the canal.

By the 18th century, when some 6,500 people had access to night keys for the gates, the Park had become a byword for robbery and prostitution.

Diarist James Boswell was among those who went there specifically to be solicited “by several ladies of the town”.

James Boswell of Auchinleck.jpg

Above: James Boswell (1740 – 1795)

From the diary of James Boswell:

25 March 1763: 

As I was coming home this night, I felt carnal inclinations raging through my Frame.  I determined to gratify them.  I went to St. James´s Park and like a brute I picked up a whore.  For the first time did I engage in Amour which I found but a dull satisfaction.  She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young Shropshire girl, very good-looking.

The Park was a busy place in the 18th century.

Travelling condom salesmen did a roaring trade.

The condoms were made of animal gut, intended to protect men from venereal disease rather than to prevent pregnancy.

Giacomo Casanova frequented the Park in the same year as Boswell.

Casanova ritratto.jpg

Above: Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798)

Casanova went to the Park “to watch the great beauties parading”, but was disconcerted to see People defecating in the bushes instead.

Today the banks of the tree-lined lake are a favourite picnic spot for the civil servants of Whitehall and an inner-city reserve for wildfowl, which flock to West Island and Duck Island.

St James's Park Lake – East from the Blue Bridge - 2012-10-06.jpg

James I´s two crocodiles left no descendants, but the pelicans (which have resided here since a pair was presented to Charles II by the Russian ambassador in 1664) can still be seen at the eastern end of the lake.

Here there are exotic ducks of every variation imaginable.

Just in time for the twelve days of Christmas (26 December – 6 January), the visitor can find many more than two calling birds, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming, but, alas, no turtledoves, no pear trees for partridges, and no French hens, as far as fowl and feathered life goes in the Park.

The Canadian in me was thrilled to see Canada geese in the Park.

Surprisingly some writers have seen fit to use the Park as the setting for battles:

In Charlie Higson´s post apocalptic young adult horror novel The Enemy, two groups of children battle for control of the Park after a worldwide sickness has infected adults and turned them into zombies.

Theenemy.jpg

In Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett´s Good Omens, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crawley frequent the Park and feed the ducks.

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Our walk led us to the abovementioned Churchill War Rooms, but after leaving this excellent Museum we quickly became disoriented – fresh air smells funny! – and somehow found ourselves at the Household Cavalry Museum.

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Above: The Household Cavalry Regiment building

Thus my internal conflict regarding the Monarchy began….

During the day two mounted sentries and two horseless colleagues are posted at the Horse Guards Building.

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The sentries are part of the Queen´s Life Guard, provided by the Household Cavalry Regiments, who are more than just the Changing the Guard´s ceremonies (for 350 years) but are actual fighting soldiers who have served and fought for England since the Restoration (1660), in the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) , the Glorious Revolution (1688), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years War (the world´s first global conflict)(1756-1763), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882), the Second Boer War (1899-1902), both world wars (1914-1918/1939-1945), the Falklands War (1982), the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), the Gulf War (1990-1991), the 2003 invasion of Iraq and various operations in Afghanistan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

The years after the English Civil War (1642-1651) saw King Charles I (1600-1649, King: 1625-1649) executed….

(The black dot over the number 2 on the Building´s clock face denotes the hour at which he was executed in 1649.)

….and Oliver Cromwell replace him as Lord Protector of a republican Commonwealth (1653-1659).

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Lord Protector: 1653-1658)

Upon Cromwell´s death, his Commonwealth failed and in 1660, King Charles II returned to England in triumph.

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Above: Charles II (1630-1685), King: 1660- 1685

Just before his Restoration, the King created a mounted bodyguard which would expand and incorporate other regiments to form what we recognise today as the Household Cavalry Guards.

Back in Charles II´s day, the King insisted that he be regularly accompanied by one of the Guards wherever he went.

While Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II remains as the Household Cavalry´s Colonel-in-Chief, I am not privy to whom guards Her security these days.

Back of the Horse Guards Building, which remains a military headquarters commanding army units in London, is the Household Cavalry Museum.

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Here you can try a trooper´s elaborate uniform, complete a horse quiz and learn about the regiments´ history.

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See swords and walking sticks, playing cards, paintings and uniforms, skulls and prosthetic legs, cuirasses and chocolate boxes, trophies and medals, trumpets and drums.

Learn of men of legendary status:

Colonel John Manners, the Marquess of Granby: He carried passionately about the welfare of his soldiers and was compulsively generous.  In 1760, in the Battle of Warburg, he led 8,000 men to victory over a French army three times larger.  His headress lost in the Battle, he saluted his commander bare headed, highly unusual at the time.  The Household Cavalry have the unique privilege in the British Army of saluting without headdress.

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Above: John Manners (1721 – 1770)

Colonel John Shaw: At over 6 feet, 3 inches / 1.9 metres and weighing 95 kg / 210 lbs, he earned money as a prizefighter.  At the Battle of Waterloo, he smashed at the enemy´s faces using the hilt of his sword as English swords were shorter than the French´s.  Then he killed more of the enemy before his sword broke and valiantly fought on with only his helmet as a weapon until he fell in battle.  His skull is on display at the Museum.

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

Colonel Fred Burnaby: An enormous and very strong man, he once carried two ponies down the stairs of the officers´ mess in Windsor, a pony under each arm.  He travelled to Khiva, deep in the Tsar´s troubled Asian territories, because the Russians had forbidden foreigners from going there. The book he wrote became a best seller.  He campaigned in Bulgaria, joined a revolt in Spain, crossed the English Channel by balloon, and was both a journalist and politician. Lionised by his soldiers, he was not meant to have been in the Sudan when he was killed at Abu Klea in January 1885.  He met his end in a manner in which he would have approved, facing overwhelming odds in hand to hand fighting.

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Above: Fred Burnaby (1842 – 1885)

Colonel David Smiley: He was parachuted behind enemy lines many times in eastern Europe and Asia.  It is suggested that both Ian Fleming´s James Bond and John le Carré´s George Smiley were modelled after the Colonel.

Colonel David Smiley has died aged 92

Above: David Smiley (centre)(1917 – 2009)

These stories are just a sampling of the courage, professionalism and distinction shown by soldiers in all military services in all nations, but of course this Museum focuses on the men (and women?) of the Household Cavalry.

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Above: Logo of the Household Cavalry Regiment

With the stables immediately adjacent, it´s a sweet-smelling place(!) and you can see these beasts of burden in their stalls through a glass screen.

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The horses are big: a minimum height of 5 feet, 4 inches / 1.65 metres high at the shoulder.

Bought as four or five year olds, most of them are black.

Only the trumpeters ride white steeds.

From arrival to taking part in ceremonial occasions, the training of a horse takes six months.

The horses are exercised each morning, compete in annual competitions and are given holidays (“sent out to grass”) twice a year.

Horses generally retire at around 18, though some serve into their 20s.

As fascinating as the history of the Cavalry is and as much as a spectacle of colour and pagentry that the Changing the Guard ceremony is, I could not stop thinking about the endless amount of money and effort that goes into maintaining the mounted tradition: 280 horses, an army of riding instructors, farriers (horseshoe blacksmiths), vets, saddlers, tailors, musicians (kettle drummers and trumpeters) and cavalry men.

I thought of the many countless hours of preparation that are needed for a Parade: the polishing of breastplates, helmets and swords; the scrubbing and whitening of buckskins, gauntlets, belts and slings; the cleaning and polishing of jackboots; the grooming of the horses; the polishing of saddles; then inspection of the troop with obsessive-compulsive attention to detail adhering to the highest possible standards of perfection.

The combined weight of the horse´s equipment and the mounted rider´s gear is 62 lbs / 28 kg, an unforgiving and punishing practice for both man and beast.

It makes me question the sanity of a man who chooses to join the Household Cavalry.

How cruel it is to have the sentry boxmen remain motionless and emotionless for an hour at a time!

Where is the logic, the sanity, the humanity in this activity?

All in the name of honour and tradition or simply base entertainment for tourists?

It makes me question the assumption of privilege and pomp of individuals whose only claim to honour and respect was the accident of being born into the right family.

How deserving is a person of a palace or crown, of the sacrifice of young persons´ lives and vitality to ensure that the royal is treated better than a commoner?

Are the lives of the common people improved by the gleam of metal spokes on royal carriages, the sheen of horse flesh, the precision of military movement and spectacle?

As much of a show that the mounted ceremonies offer the throngs of tourists, is it worth all the work and expense that these ceremonies cost?

I do understand and sympathise with the need for military forces.

I do understand the need to protect both heads of government and heads of state.

But I must admit I remain dissatisfied at the alarming discrepancy the royal lifestyle has when compared to the average commoner.

I can appreciate that royals are trained to serve, but excess displays of wealth and privilege make it seem that the world exists to serve them instead.

I can accept that there will always be people better than me, but by the same token there are some things I am better at than others.

I can learn from others and others can learn from me.

I can appreciate that the recognition of quality and talent should exist, but I rally against the idea that these fortunate few are thus somehow superior to everyone else, that we are somehow less worthy of our existence than they are of theirs.

As a Canadian I can appreciate when talented Canadians are recognised for their contributions to society, but singers, for example, insult their public admirers when they have ostentatious homes and weddings or act as if the laws and mores of society somehow do not apply to them, as in the case of Celine Dion or Justin Bieber.

I respect Her Majesty Elizabeth II and her wisdom in her role as the world´s longest serving monarch, but the price tag is too damn high.

I felt nothing but sadness for the sacrifice of the Household Cavalry – a sacrifice unceasing since 1660 and one ongoing unceasingly.

The horses are beautiful, the soldiers proud, the gestures meaningless.

I guess tourists shouldn´t think too much.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / http://www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

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

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

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

Flag of the United States

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

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

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

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

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

I am truly a fortunate man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheer folly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, England, 23 October 2017

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

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

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

Above: The Tate Modern, London

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

I had no objections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Globe Theatre, London

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

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

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

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

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Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

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

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

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

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

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

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

Sir Christopher Wren

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

If anyone calls,

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

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

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

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

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

Some hated it.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Queen Elizabeth II

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

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

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

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

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

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

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

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

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

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

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

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

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Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

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

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

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Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so the story goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

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

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One contemporary commentator wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

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

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

Should one care to ask.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 October 2017

I was 24 and living in Ottawa, Canada, in 1989, when I read the news about the fall of the Berlin Wall that had separated West Germany from East Germany for a generation.

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Above: Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada

I would see remnants of this wall in subsequent visits to Berlin with my wife and my cousin in 2007 and 2008.

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In 1999, I visited the De-militarised Zone (the DMZ) that still separates North Korea from South Korea.

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In 2000, I saw the Green Line that separates North Cyprus from Cyprus.

I am a little over a half century old and in the past 50 or so years I have witnessed the independence of 18 African nations, 10 Caribbean nations, 14 Middle East or Asian nations, 11 European nations and 11 South Pacific nations.

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I have watched dictatorships change into democracies and I have sadly seen some democracies devolve into dictatorships.

So I guess it feels quite normal to watch with growing fascination the growing movements of the Kurdish people of Turkey, Iran and Iraq and the Catalonian people of Spain.

As a man who has seen his fair share of historical events, though like most men of my socio-economic class living in the West mostly indirectly, I find it compelling to watch how nations develop from ideas to actual sovereign states.

And having grown up as an Anglophone in Francophone Québec, a province that has itself toyed with the idea of independence from Canada, I can´t say that I am unemotional in regards to this topic of sovereign states and what it is exactly that constitutes a nation.

Flag of Quebec

I have always felt that it is more to the advantage of both Canada and Québec to remain together, as Canada, for all its faults has acknowledged that Québec is a distinct society whose language and culture must be respected within the framework that is Canada.

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

Québec, both economically and culturally, would be weakened should it attempt total self-reliance surrounded as they are by an Anglo North America, especially when considering the economic and military clout of the United States.

In regards to the desire of the Kurdish people to determine their own destiny, I cannot deny that I am partially sympathetic to their cause, for as reprehensible as the violence that has been used by some Kurdish factions has been (and it has been reprehensible indeed), the determination by the dominant powers that rule them to eliminate their culture and deny them their language and, in some dark chapters of the past, attempt their extermination, leaves me hopeful that through wiser leadership and true diplomacy the Kurds may one day create their free Kurdistan.

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Above: One of the symbols used to represent Kurdish nationalism

(See The Sick Man of Europe 1: The Sons of Karbala and The Sick Man of Europe 2: The Sorrow of Batman of this blog for greater explanation and background of the Kurdish situation.)

But in regards to Catalonian independence I am on more insecure footing…

The Principality of Catalonia was a territory of the Crown of Aragon at the time of the Union of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in the late 15th century, which led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain.

Above: L´Estelada Brava, the pro-independence flag of Catalonia

Initially, Catalonia kept their own fueros (laws and customs) and political institutions.

Catalans revolted against the Spanish monarchy in the Reaper´s War of 1640 – 1652, which ended in Catalan defeat.

The end of the War of Spanish Succession was followed by the loss of the fueros and the imposition of the Nueva Planta decrees which centralised Spanish rule.

The beginnings of separatism in Catalonia can be traced back to the mid-19th century.

The Renaixenca (cultural renaissance), which aimed at the revival of the Catalan language and traditions, led to the development of Catalan nationalism and a desire for independence.

Between the 1850s and the 1910s, some individuals, organisations and political parties started demanding full independence of Catalonia from Spain.

The first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was Estat Catala, founded in 1922 by Colonel Francesc Macia.

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Above: Francesc Macía (1859 – 1933), 122nd President of Catalonia

Estat Catala went into exile in France during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923 – 1930).

Following the overthrow of Rivera, Estat Catala joined the Parti Republica Catala and the political group L´Opinió to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, with Macia as its first leader.

Macia proclaimed a Catalan Republic in 1931, but after negotiations with the provisional government he was obliged to settle for autonomy, which lasted until the Spanish Civil War.

Following Franco´s death in 1975, Spain moved to restore democracy.

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Above: The flag of Spain

A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation”, but acknowledged “the right to autonomy of the nationalities and  regions which form it”.

Independence parties objected to the constitution on the basis that it was incompatible with Catalan self-determination and formed the Comité Catala Contra la Constitució Espanyola to oppose it.

The constitution was nevertheless approved both in Spain and in Catalonia.

In 1981, a manifesto issued by intellectuals in Catalonia claiming discrimination against the Castilian language drew a response in the form of a published letter, Crida a la Solidarität en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalones, which called for a mass meeting at the University of Barcelona, out of which a popular movement arose.

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Beginning as a cultural organisation, the Crida soon began to demand independence.

In 1982, at a time of political uncertainty in Spain, the Ley Orgánica de Armonización del Proceso Autonómico was introduced in the Spanish parliament, supposedly to “harmonise” the autonomy process, but in reality to curb the powers of Catalonia and the Basque region of northwest Spain and southwest France.

There was a surge of popular support against LOAPA.

During the 1980s, the Crida was involved in nonviolent direct action, among other things campaigning for labelling in Catalan only and targeting big companies.

Following elections in 2003, the Spanish government produced a draft for a new Statute of Autonomy.

The Spanish parliament made changes to the Statute, by removing clauses on finance and language and the article stating that Catalonia was a nation.

The Partido Popular, which had opposed the Statute in the Spanish parliament, challenged its constitutionality in the Spanish High Court of Justice.

The case lasted four years.

In 2014 the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional.

In 2015 the Catalan parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process.

In response Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said the state might “use any available judicial and political mechanism contained in the constitution and in the laws to defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain.”, hinting that he would not stop at military intervention.

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Above: Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain since 2011

In 2016, Carles Puigdemont, on taking the oath of office of President of Catalonia, omitted the oath of loyalty to the King and the Spanish constitution, the first Catalan President to do so.

Carles Puigdemont Casamajó

Above: Carles Puigdemont i Casamojó, President of Catalonia since 2016

In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the Spanish parliament that a binding referendum on Catalan Independence would be held in 2017.

The question on 1 October 2017 was:

“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

The Spanish government said that the referendum could not take place because it was illegal.

The Spanish government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine voters up to €300,000, shut down websites and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store.

Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations, but parents scheduled events at schools (where polling places are located) over the weekend and vowed to keep them open during the vote.

Some election organisers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials, while demonstrations by local institutions and street protests grew larger.

The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout.

The Yes side won, with over 2 million people / 91% voting for independence.

The government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region.

The Catalan parliament passed a law declaring it would only follow Catalan law.

The Spanish constitutional court moved quickly to prevent a declaration of independence.

On 3 October 2017 Carles Puigdemont said that his government intends to act on the result of the referendum “at the end of this week or the beginning of next” and declare independence from Spain.

Puigdemont went before the Catalan Parliament to address them on Monday 9 October 2017, pending agreement of other political parties.

On 4 October 2017, Mireia Boya, a lawmaker of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), announced that a declaration of independence would likely come after the parliamentary session on 9 October.

Felipe VI, the King of Spain, called the Catalan referendum “illegal” and appealed to the union of Spain and called the situation in Catalonia “extremely serious.”

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Above: Felipe de Borbón, aka Felipe VI, King of Spain since 2014

According to Swiss national radio, the Foreign Ministry of Switzerland has offered to mediate between the two sides in the crisis.

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So, here are the questions that remain….

Could Catalonia survive without Spain?

Map of Catalonia in Spain

Above: Map of Spain, with Catalonia in red

What damage would the loss of Catalonia do to Spain?

Will a declaration of independence, which seems likely, lead to bloodshed?

It can be argued that a justifiable reason for a region to declare itself independent of a dominant government over it, is if the dominant force threatens the region´s domestic affairs in regards to how it determines its identity through race, religion, language or cultural traditions, and especially if the region´s economic or humanitarian needs are not being met.

I have insufficient information to decide whether or not the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan language, culture or traditions.

I do believe that Catalonia is strong economically as it stands now, but whether it is in Catalonia´s best interests economically to break free of Spanish rule…..

I am not so certain.

The irony of a people wishing to be free of a monarchy (although Spain is a constitutional monarchy much like Canada) on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and on the 150th anniversary of Canada´s own sovereignity as a confederation, is not lost on me.

 

Petrograd, (present day St. Petersburg) Russia, Monday, 27 February 1917

(Please read Canada Slim and….the Bloodthristy Redhead, the Zimmerwald Movement, the Forces of Darkness, the Dawn of a Revolution, the Bloodstained Ground, and the High Road to Anarchy of this blog for the background to the events below….)

With so much rampant anarchy unleashed on the streets of Petrograd, Duma (Russia´s parliament) President Mikhail Rodzinko and the other Duma members were at a loss as to how to deal with events that had taken them totally by surprise.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzinko (1859 – 1924)

With Russia plunged into political uncertainty, the Duma at the Tauride Palace was a magnet for Petrograders all day.

Above: The Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg

By 1300 hours a crowd of thousands massing around the doors to the Duma was thick with “green uniformed and green capped students, many waving red flags and red bunting and listening to revolutionary speeches”, all anxious to offer their support to the formation of a new government and seeking instructions on what they should do.

What once was a graceful Palladian building of white colonnades, grand reception rooms and columned galleries, the Tauride Palace was now a rackety military camp of political hustling, where urgent meetings were held to establish a provisional government to take charge of the extremely volatile situation.

The Palace was full of troops.

“Everybody seemed to be hungry.

Bread, dried herrings and tea were being endlessly handed around.”

The mental confusion within the Palace was more bewildering than the Revolution outside.

The Palace seethed with tension and excitement, as regiment after regiment arrived and was “drawn up in ranks, four deep, down the length of Catherine Hall” (the main lobby and promenade of the Duma) to swear its allegiance to the new government.

Rodzianko addressed each of them in turn, urging them to “remain a disciplined force”, to stay faithful to their officers and return quietly to barracks and be ready when called.

 

1430 hours

In the semicircular main hall an enormous, mixed assembly of moderate and liberal members of the Duma met to organise themselves, under Rodzianko´s leadership, in the hopes that a reformed, constitutional government could yet be salvaged from the wreckage.

A twelve-man Provisional Executive Committee was eventually elected that evening to take control.

One of its first acts was to order the arrest of the members of the Council of Ministers – the Upper House of the Duma, the Tsar´s men – who met at Mariinsky Palace.

Above: The Mariinsky Palace

Some had already tendered their resignations, including Prime Minister Nikolay Golitsyn.

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Above: Nikolai Golitsyn (1850 – 1925), 8th Prime Minister of Russia (1917)

Others had gone into hiding, and revolutionary patrols were now searching for them.

Even as the Duma members were establishing their own committee, elsewhere in Tauride Palace, a large group of soldiers and workers intent on nothing else than the declaration of a socialist republic and Russia´s withdrawl from the War (WW1) were meeting with the moderate Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries, with the objective of electing their own Petrograd Soviet of Workers´ and Soldiers´ Deputies.

Their most immediate call was an appeal to citizens to help feed the hungry soldiers who had taken their side, until their supplies could be properly organised.

Petrograders responded quickly, welcoming men into their homes to warm themselves and be fed.

Restaurants offered free meals.

Old men were seen in the street “with large boxes of cigarettes, which they handed out to the soldiers.”

 

2100 hours

An unknown American encountered a very well dressed intelligent man, running breathlessly up Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, “stopping a few moments every block to tell the great news….

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Above: Present day Kamennoostrovky Prospekt, St. Petersburg

“The Duma had formed a temporary government.”

It was astonishing, colossal, not to be grasped at once or even half understood.

 

Tuesday 28 February 1917

Midnight

A “tremendous mass of people in the square surrounding a truck packed with soldiers from which a Second Lieutenant was telling the crowd the news:

“Now it´s all right.

There´ll be a new government.

Do you understand?

A new government, and there´ll be bread for everybody.”

“I don´t think any man´s mind that night, except the very leaders in the Duma, could stretch fast enough and far enough to do more than struggle with the realisation of the simplest and most elementary fact of the Revolution – with the plain fact that there actually was a Revolution.”

“On the whole, it may be truthfully said that, so far as Petrograd was concerned, by Tuesday evening the Revolution was over.”

 

0200 hours

The train carrying the Tsar back to Tsarskoe Selo left Mogilev, its windows darkened, its passengers asleep.

On the train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Russia no longer had a government, and over the next crucial 27 hours or more, for all practical purposes, be without an emperor.

Nevertheless, when Nicholas reached Tsarskoe Selo the next morning he expected that General Nikolai Ivanov and his 6,000 front line troops were in place to crush the rebellion.

He could sleep easily.

His train was on schedule.

In consequence, with no government and a nomadic Tsar lost in a train, power in Petrograd passed to the Revolution, with the Tauride Palace home of a Duma that was no more.

The tsarist government was finished.

The Arsenal – the last rallying point of the old regime – had finally surrendered by 1600 hours when the rebels threatened to turn the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress onto it.

The whole of the army in Petrograd had now thrown in its lot with the revolutionaries.

The Tauride Palace now housed a noisy mass of workers, soldiers and students, joined together in a Soviet.

The few hundred respectable deputies who backed the Duma Committee now jostled for places in rooms and hallways packed with excited street orators, mutineers and strike leaders.

It was chaos and would remain so for days to come.

Grave anxiety remained as to the future, with the struggle between the new Soviet and the Executive Committee of the Duma intensifying.

It was already abundantly clear that any power-sharing between the Duma and the Soviet would be extremely fraught.

In the midst of all this chaos, the young man beginning to stand out as the dominant figure was Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Duma Committee but also vice-chairman of the Soviet.

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Above: Alexander Kerensky (1881 – 1970)

Bestriding both camps, Kerensky´s power was enormous.

The Committee had the better claim to government, but the members knew that in this Revolution they could only lead where Kerensky was willing to follow.

For the members of the Soviet, the Executive Committee represented the enemy: the old order of capitalists, the bourgeoise and the aristocracy.

At the same time, the Soviet had the sense to know that they were in no position to form a “people´s government” as their authority did not extend beyond the capital.

They had few if any among them the experience to act as Ministers.

There had to be a deal.

For the Duma men that meant securing the Tsar´s abdication while preserving the monarchy itself.

Nicholas would be replaced by his lawful successor, his son Alexis, with Nicholas´ younger brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich as regent.

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Above: Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878 – 1918)

Michael was a war hero, a cavalry commander holding Russia´s two highest battlefield awards, and he was known to be sympathetic to constitutional monarchy on the British lines.

The army held him in high regard and he would also be a popular choice in the Duma where he was widely trusted and respected.

But Nicholas had first to be compelled to give up the throne.

Trundling across Russia in his train, Nicholas had, as yet, no idea what would be demanded of him.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 October 2017

When I view recent events regarding the Kurds and the Catalonians, I realise that here too, a century after the Russian Revolution…..

There has to be a deal.

But much like Nicholas on the train….

I have, as yet, no idea what will be demanded.

Above: Gathering in Zarautz, Basque Country, in support of Catalonian independence

Sources: Wikipedia / Steve Bloomfield (editor), How to Make a Nation / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the High Road to Anarchy

Landschalacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017

Six nights ago the world was shocked and saddened when a lone gunman in a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Resort and Casino on Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, shot into a crowd of more than 20,000 people, killing 60 and injuring hundreds.

The world has learned that the suspect, Stephen Paddock, was armed with at least 23 firearms, including long distance rifles used by the American military for the last half-century.

What we know – and I don´t want to give this monster more attention than he deserves – about Paddock was that he was a professional gambler, a real estate investor, a pilot and plane owner, a former employee of Lockheed Martin (a military contractor), a retired accountant and twice divorced.

Invading his home, police have discovered Paddock had a cache of over 63 weapons.

In plain and simple language, a civilian was armed with military grade firearms.

Those bearing arms in the US armed forces are analysed and supervised.

Civilian gun-owners in the US….

Not so much.

Thus there is a real danger that civilians will – unsupervised – acquire a stockpile of weaponry and that the unbalanced among them will use them.

And as events in Vegas and many other locations prior to Sunday night´s massacre have proven….

It is almost impossible to determine what will trigger these civilians to become unbalanced and unleash the unthinkable upon the unknowing.

Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually.

Flag of the United States

In an average year in America there are over 10,000 homicides, 20,000 suicides and 500 accidental deaths caused by civilian-owned firearms.

Over 1.5 million people in the US have been killed using firearms since 1968, equivalent to the population of a large American city.

Globally, it is estimated that there are over 875 million small arms in the hands of civilians, law enforcement agencies and armed forces.

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Of these, 75% are held by civilians.

US civilians account for over 270 million of this total.

The United States and Yemen are distinct from many other countries in that they consider civilian gun ownership as a right.

In most countries, civilian firearm ownership is considered a privilege because the legislation governing possession of firearms is more restrictive.

Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Eritrea, Somalia, the Solomon Islands and Taiwan prohibit civilian ownership of firearms in almost all instances.

In America it has been shown that the states with the strictest gun laws have lower homicide and suicide rates than those with the least restrictive gun laws.

States without universal background checks or waiting period laws have steeper homicide and suicide rates than do states with these laws.

But, of course, for every study proving that gun control does work, somehow studies emerge that gun control doesn´t work.

And the mindset in America is so pro-gun ownership that an American philosophy Professor Michael Huemer argues that gun control is morally wrong, because individuals have a right to own a gun for self defence and recreation!

In my homeland of Canada, rifles and shotguns are relatively easy to obtain, while handguns and semi-automatic weapons are not.

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So, though our gun laws may not have significantly reduced gun violence or firearm suicide rates, the ability and the frequency to murder masses of people at one time is significantly lower than our counterparts south of the border.

Gun control laws enacted in Australia, following mass shootings, have shown a dramatic decline in overall firearm-related deaths, especially suicides.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Gun control laws passed in Austria, Brazil, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa and Colombia have all shown a resulting reduction in homicide and suicide rates.

The effectiveness and safety of guns used for personal defence is usually the argument given by gun ownership advocates.

Yet it seems in the US, out of 1,000 criminal incidents, guns are used for self defence in less than 1% of the time.

In most cases, the potential victim never fired a shot.

What is certain is that the likelihood that a death will result is significantly increased when either the victim or the attacker has a firearm.

Every year in America there are over 19,000 firearm-related suicides.

It has been shown that individuals living in a home where firearms are present are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not own firearms, because firearms are the most lethal method of suicide.

Every year on average there are over 10,000 firearm-related homicides in America, 75% of them using handguns.

The US has one of the highest incidence rates of homicides committed with a firearm in the world.

Of the victims of gun homicide in America, 55% of them are African Americans.

Of the white homicide victims, 84% are killed by white offenders.

Of the black homicide victims, 93% are killed by black offenders.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and over 30,000 deaths due to firearms in the US, while, by comparison there were only 50 deaths due to firearms in the UK.

(A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot dead in a public place.)

The rate of deadly mass shootings in the US keeps increasing every year.

Sadly, unbalanced individuals can become infected by the attention given other disturbed people who have become mass killers, resulting in more mass killing.

More people are typically killed with guns in the US in a day (on average, 85) than are killed in the UK in a year.

In the US, areas with higher levels of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun assault and gun robbery.

At least 11 assassination attempts with firearms have been made on US Presidents: four were successful (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy).

Above: The assassination of President William McKinley, 1901

And throughout history, gun violence has played a major role in civil disorder.

But, let me be fair….

Most gun owners are not criminals and purchase guns to prevent violence, rather than for recreational use.

Debate over gun control remains a heated and controversial issue in America.

Firearms regulations are sets of laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification and use of firearms by civilians.

Much, albeit necessary, focus has been on the possession, modification and use of firearms.

Personally, I think there needs to be more focus and more restrictions on the manufacture, sale and transfer of firearms as well.

The fewer guns produced, the fewer guns can be purchased, legally or illegally.

If manufacturers are restricted to selling arms only to the military and the law enforcement community and private selling of arms to the public are reduced while the private purchase of arms is made prohibitively expensive throughout heavy taxation, then might the production and availability of new armament to the general public be reduced.

As for existing guns, limit ownership to one weapon, buy back or seize (should the gun owner refuse to sell) the remaining weapons and destroy them.

My argument is if the purpose of purchasing a firearm is recreation or self-protection, only one firearm is necessary.

If the purpose of owning a firearm is recreation or self-protection, then, like Canada, let that ownership be restricted to rifles and shotguns, banning the future purchase of handguns and semi-automatics.

As for the illegal purchase and sale of firearms, let the penalties be so harsh as to actively discourage the practice.

Those who read these words may accuse me of being a “gun grabber”.

They are right.

With great power comes great responsibilty.

Owning a gun is a great power – the power to end another person´s life.

Quite frankly, there are far too many civilians who don´t act responsibly, and though there are indeed many who do, it only takes a few to cause carnage as was witnessed on Sunday night in Paradise, Nevada.

And….

Enough with “thoughts and prayers”.

Offering condolences after a public tragedy, manmade or natural, is a poor substitute for preventing or preparing for these tragedies.

There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

Can that faith save him?

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them:

“Go in peace, be warmed and filled.”,

….without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2: 14 – 16, The Holy Bible)

(Donald Trump, regarding Puerto Rico, take note.)

As well, we need to learn from history that shows just how irresponsible civilians can be once they get their hands on a firearm.

 

Petrograd (today´s St. Petersburg), Russia, Monday 27 February 1917

Events took a decisive turn in the early hours of the day, when the army, as many had predicted, began mutinying.

At 3 am, following the previous day´s example of the Pavlovsky rebels, the soldiers of the Volynsky Regiment´s barracks near the junction of the Moika River and the Ekaterininsky Canal, some of whom had been ordered to fire on the crowds on Sunday, decided to mutiny.

When the soldiers lined up for duty, some of them turned on their commanding officer and shot him dead.

They were unable, however, to persuade the rest of the Regiment to join them, so they headed off to incite other regiments, picking up a rabble of civilian supporters along the way.

They gathered at the Liteiny Bridge and headed to the depot battalion of the Preobrazhensky and Lithuanian Regiments as well as the 6th Engineer Battalion.

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Above: Liteiny Bridge, today

Most of them soon joined the Volynsky rebels – with the Engineer Battalion even bringing their marching band – and, by the end of the day, would kill the commanders of a battalion of the Preobrazhensky and a battalion of the Volynsky as well as numerous other officers.

In those first few hours most of the rebellious soldiers were disorientated and numbed by the spontaneous decision they had made.

They had no sense of where to go or what to do, other than get other regiments to join them.

Such was the euphoria among the rebellious troops that many simply walked around shouting, cheering and arguing amongst themselves “like schoolboys broken out of school”.

Leadership of this motley mob of soldiers and civilians devolved into acts of sudden bravado or rabble-rousing on street corners, but they quickly realised that they needed to arm themselves.

It was a huge shock to Meriel Buchanan, daughter of the British Ambassador, arriving back in Petrograd at 8 o´clock that morning from a visit with friends in the country, to find there were no trams or carriages to transport her and her luggage back to the Embassy.

She was forcibly struck by how Petrograd had changed in her absence:

“In the bleak, gray light of the early morning the town looked inexpressibly desolate and deserted, the bare, ugly street leading up from the station, with the dirty white stucco houses on either side, seemed, after the snow-white peace of the country, somehow the very acme of dreariness.”

At 10 am, with Meriel Buchanan shut up and forbidden to leave the Embassy, the rebel group descended on the Old Arsenal at the top of the Liteiny, which housed both the Artillery Department and a small arms factory.

Above: Liteiny Prospekt, today

In a mad frenzy, they smashed in the Arsenal´s ground floor door and windows and looted rifles, revolvers, swords, daggers, ammunition and machine guns.

Around 11 am, they turned their attention to the hated symbols of tsarism – the nearby District Court and the Palace of Justice, together with an adjoining remand prison.

The prison was burst open, the inmates set free and handed weapons, and the prison set on fire.

The District Court was torched, thus destroying all the criminal records of all the freed convicts as well as valuable historical archives dating back to the reign of Catherine the Great (1762 – 1796).

American photographer Donald Thompson watched the violence on the Liteiny when suddenly he himself was arrested and hauled off to the police station.

He showed the police his American press pass, but he was locked in a suffocating small cell with 20 other people.

The mob broke into the police station, smashed the lock to his cell and suddenly people threw their arms around him and kissed him, telling him he was free.

In the front office, as Thompson made his way out, he “found a sight beyond description”: “women were down on their knees hacking the bodies of the police to pieces”.

He saw one woman “trying to tear somebody´s face off with her bare fingers”.

The Liteiny quarter was now a scene of “indescribable confusion”, ablaze from the fires at the District Court and the Palace of Justice, the air thick with the crackle of random shooting. (French diplomat Louis de Robien)

An abandoned, overturned tram was being used as a platform from which a succession of speakers attempted to harangue the mob, but “it was impossible to make heads or tails of the disorderly ebb and flow of all these panic-stricken people running in every direction.” (Louis de Robien)

When a group of still-loyal Senonovsky Regiment soldiers arrived, there was a pitched battle between them and a company of Volynsky mutineers – watched by groups of civilians huddled into side passages and doorways, many of them women and children tempted out by “the spirit of curiosity”, and who took enormous risks, “walking out calmly under a lively fire to drag back the wounded”. (Louis de Robien)

The wounded were carried off as fast as they fell, leaving behind “long trails of fresh blood” in the snow. (US Special Attaché James Houghteling)

In between bouts of fighting, civilians scuttled back and forth across the Liteiny, intent on carrying on shopping as normal, even lining up outisde the bakeries and dispersing only when they heard machine gunfire.

To many of the bewildered civilian population, the events swirling around them were unreal, “as though they were watching some melodrama in one of the cinemas.” (James Houghteling)

Such was the abandon with which weapons looted from army barracks, the arsenal, prisons and police stations were handed out to everyone.

Crowds of civilians, workers and soldiers were soon parading round gleefully, brandishing their weapons and firing them off at random.

“Here….a hooligan with an officer´s sword fastened over his overcoat, a rifle in one hand and revolver in the other.

There….a small boy with a large butcher´s knife on his shoulder.

Close by, a workman….holding an officer´s sword with one hand and a tramline cleaner in the other.

A student with two rifles and a belt of machine gun bullets around his waist was walking beside another with a bayonet tied to the end of a stick.

A drunken soldier had only the barrel of a rifle remaining, the stock having been broken off in forcing an entry into some shop.” (British engineer James Jones)

There was no safe haven for any officers seen walking the streets that day who did not immediately surrender their weapons when challenged.

By midday the rabble of weapon-toting civilians in and around the Liteiny had been joined by 25,000 soldiers from the Volynsky, Preobrazhensky, Litovsky, Keksgolmsky and Sapper Regiments.

The dense crowd jammed the street for a quarter of a mile, “carried on by its own faith in itself”. (Arno Dosch-Fleurot, New York World)

Everywhere, amidst the mighty roar of revolutionary excitement, the singing and cheering and shouting, the fighting colour of scarlet was in evidence – in crude revolutionary banners, in rosettes and armbands and in red ribbons tied to the barrels of rifles.

Throughout that terrifying day in Petrograd many observers became alarmed by the anarchy and violence of the mob.

This was no benign revolution, but rather “like watching some savage beast that had broken out of its cage”. (US entrepreneur Negley Farson)

Hardened criminals, bestialised by brutal prison conditions, yet released by the mob from prisons across Petrograd, proceeded to incite the crowds to violence, arson and mass looting.

It was dangerous for any foreign national to venture into the streets without wearing some token of sympathy with the Revolution – a red ribbon or an armband of some kind.

“It was a very easy time in which to be killed.” (Isaac Marcosson, Everybody´s Magazine)

Foreigners were constantly being stopped and challenged on the streets for being policemen or spies.

Some were killed if they could not produce proof of identity quickly enough.

That day “anybody could have a gun for the asking”. (James Jones)

With so many untrained and inexperienced people now in possession of them and not “having a care as to which way the gun was pointing when they tried it out for the first time“, indiscriminate firing led to many innocent bystanders being killed and wounded. (James Stinton Jones)

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All day long, people – mixed casualities of soldiers and civilians – flocked into hospitals from the streets, trying to escape the shooting.

A long overdue day of reckoning had arrived, as popular hatred was visited, with a savage vengeance, on the police.

During this February Revolution of 1917, there were far too many incidental acts of murder of policemen for any reliable record ever to have been taken of the numbers killed.

Nobody was immune to the experience of such savagery.

By late evening 66,700 men of the Imperial Army in Petrograd had mutinied.

Revolutionaries were now in charge of the whole city, except the Winter Palace, the Admirality and the General Staff – still guarded by loyal troops, as were the telephone exchange and the telegraph office.

Above: The Winter Palace, today

The whole day had been “a Revolution carried on by chance – no Organisation, no particular leader, just a city full of hungry people who had stood enough and were ready to die if necessary before they would put up with any more tsarism”. (US aviator Bert Hall)

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Above: The storming of the Bastille Prison, Paris, 14 July 1789

These events bring to mind the French Revolution of 1789 and Charles Dickens´ A Tale of Two Cities.

“Petrograd was flaring like the set piece of a colossal firework display.” (Canadian William J. Gibson)

“The prisons were opened, the workmen were armed, the soldiers were without officers, a Soviet (worker´s council) was being set up in opposition to the Temporary Committee (formed by the Duma´s moderate and liberal members) chosen from the elected representatives of the people.”

Petrograd “was already on the high road to anarchy”.

(UK Military Attaché Major-General Alfred Knox)

Above: A scene of anarchy, Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648)

As I have previously written, revolution or civil war is highly unlikely in America as there is great lack of cohesion amongst its citizens.

But should American citizens ever get it into their heads to revolt, their 270 million guns could create one hell of a state of anarchy and destruction.

I hope that day never comes, but a failure to address the problem of an overproliferation of guns is perhaps tempting fate one time too many.

Is it only a century that separates Paradise from Petrograd?

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Above: Edvard Munch´s The Scream

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917

 

Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 September 2017

Celebrities ARE different.

They get more public attention and media exposure than we do.

They usually have far more wealth than we do.

Some achieve celebrity status through their successful careers in sports or entertainment or politics.

Some become famous due to media attention on their lifestyle, wealth or controversial actions, or for their connection to another famous person.

And rewarding mere mortals godlike celebrity status is not a new thing.

Athletes in ancient Greece were welcomed home as heroes, had songs and poems written in their honour, and received free food and gifts from those seeking celebrity endorement.

Ancient Rome also glorified actors and gladiators.

Some have had to die to achieve fame.

In the early 12th century, Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170) became famous following his murder.

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He was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church as a martyr and images of him and scenes from his life became widespread in just a few years.

And in a pattern often repeated throughout history, what started out as an explosion of popularity, or mania, turned into longlasting fame.

In the case of Becket, pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral where he was murdered became instantly fashionable and the fascination with his life and death has inspired many plays and films.

The cult of personality (particularly in the West) can be traced back to the Romantics in the 18th century, whose livelihood as artists and poets depended on the currency of their reputation.

(Which makes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe´s (1749 – 1832) escape from his fame (somewhat) in Germany to make his Italian Journey (1786 – 1788) even more remarkable.)

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Above: Goethe in the Roman countryside

The establishment of cultural hotspots became an important factor in the process of generating fame.

Newspapers started gossip columns and certain clubs and events became places to be seen in order to receive publicity.

With the global spread of the movie industry in the 20th century, we now have the familar concept of the instantly recognizable faces of its superstars.

Yet, celebrity status wasn´t always tied to film actors, when cinema was starting out as a medium.

“In the first decade of the 20th century, American film companies withheld the names of film performers, despite requests from audiences, fearing that public recognition would drive performers to demand higher salaries.”

(Paul McDonald, The Star System: Hollywood´s Production of Popular Identities)

Public fascination went well beyond the on-screen exploits of movie stars and their private lives became headline news.

Television and popular music brought new forms of celebrity, such as the rock star and the pop group, as shown by Elvis Presley or the Beatles.

A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

Above: The Beatles (clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison)

John Lennon´s (1940 – 1980) highly controversial 1966 quote:

“We´re more popular than Jesus now.”

….which he later insisted was not a boast, and that he was not in any way comparing himself with Christ, gives an insight into both the adulation and notoriety fame can bring.

Unlike movies, television created celebrities who were not primarily actors, like presenters, talk show hosts and news readers.

Still only a few of these have broken through to a wide stardom.

The book publishing industry began to persuade major celebrities to put their names on autobiographies (many ghost written) and other titles to create a genre called celebrity publishing.

Cultures and regions with significant populations have their own independent celebrity systems, with their own distinct hierarchies.

Outside of Switzerland, who knows DJ Bobo?

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Above: D J Bobo

Outside of German-speaking parts of Europe, who knows Michelle Hunziger?

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Above: Swiss-born TV hostess/actress/model/singer Michelle Hunziger

Outside of Quebec, who remembers Mitsou?

Above: Canadian actress/singer Mitsou Gélinas

Regions within a country, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic or religious) can also have their own celebrity systems.

Regional radio personalities, newcasters, politicians or community leaders may be local or regional celebrities, much like my foster cousin Steve, a local athlete, is instantly recognisible within the confines of Argenteuil County in Quebec, Canada, but mostly unknown beyond there.

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Above: Canadian athlete Steve O`Brien

In politics, certain politicians are recognisable to many people, usually Presidents or Prime Ministers.

Yet only the heads of state who play a major role in international politics have a good chance of recognisability beyond their country´s borders.

Do you know who the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is and would you recognise him/her on the street?

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Above: Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 2013

But, because so much media attention is brought to bear on the US President, Donald Trump has become, unfortunately, world famous.

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In contrast, some people are more famous under their official titles rather than their actual names, such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama.

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Above: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis

Do you know the Pope´s birth certificate name? The Dalai Lama´s?

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Above: Lhamo Thondup aka the 14th Dalai Lama

Some politicians remain famous even decades or centuries after they were in power, because of the historical deeds associated with their names and kept in memory in history classes, like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, etc.

Scandal can also make people famous, regardless of how accomplished they were in their chosen professions.

Who can tell me what were the legislative accomplishments of Anthony Wiener or can you only recall his exposing himself and sexting?

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Above: Anthony David Weiner, US Congressman (1999 – 2011)

Some things are associated with fame, like appearing on the cover of Time, being spoofed by Mad, having a wax statue in Madame Tussauds or receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Some people are well known even to folks unfamilar with the area in which the celebrity excelled.

I never followed boxing, but I know the names Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson.

Even those who aren´t interested in art, recognise Pablo Picasso.

The unscientific know Albert Einstein.

Even criminals become famous if their crimes are sensational enough.

Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty.

Some celebrities are hated for being celebrated, and due to their high visibility the successes and shortcomings of even their private lives are made very public.

Celebrities are also portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, as possessing skills and abilities beyond average people, beyond us mere mortals.

Even those celebrities with limited education or experience are viewed as experts on complicated issues and some have been very vocal with their political views regardless of their understanding of these views.

And sometimes it is a person´s celebrity status that can bring an issue´s importance into the spotlight with the public and the media.

It is believed that because very few people can become celebrities, this must mean that those that do must be superior to those who, for many reasons, cannot become famous.

It is a fallacy, but a manic belief nonetheless.

 

Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We had booked three nights at the Convento San Antonio Bed & Breakfast, and I was determined that Ute (my wife) would not drive our car except between accommodation stops.

We had driven a lot the previous day and it had been a frustrating and hot drive along the western shore of Lago di Como to arrive in the city of Como.

(See Canada Slim and the Evil Road, Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence, and Canada Slim and the Road to the Open of this blog for details of that first day.)

So I hoped that Ute (and I, of course) could relax and enjoy our vacation if we were not bound to our Peugeot throughout the trip.

Of all the lakes that Italy possesses, it is the forked Lago di Como that comes most heavily praised.

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Marie Henri Beyle first set foot on the shores of Lago di Como (also known as Lago Lario) as a 17-year-old conscript under Napoleon.

Years later, as Stendhal, he wrote in La Chartreuse de Parme that the blue-green waters of the Lake and the grandeur of the Alps made it the most beautiful place in the world.

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

The hordes of Italian and foreign tourists who have flocked here ever since suggest that Stendhal was onto something.

Wordsworth thought it “a treasure which the Earth keeps to itself.”

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Above: English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Today, despite the influx of tourists, the Lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation and zigzagging across the water on a steamer still seems ridiculously romantic.

And Como, come summertime, is packed out with British and German tourists.

Now I understand how Italians can be both puzzled and delighted by us, the foreign visitors, the peaceful invaders.

There are over 20 million of us every year and we still keep coming.

Nothing stops us.

Nothing frightens us.

We are a flood that never dries up.

We come from all over.

We are well-fed, self-satisfied and well-behaved.

We follow urges we cannot explain.

Italy once experienced first hand never loses its charms.

We are never satiated by the sights, climate, food, music and life.

The cities of Italy are emptied of Italians, save those who cater to we dusty and perspiring tourists.

Rough Guide Italy does not sing Como´s praises, describing it as “a rather dispiriting place to arrive, with little of the picture-postcard prettiness you would expect from a lakeside town.

As the nearest resort to Milano and a popular stopoff on the main road into Switzerland, Como is both heavily touristed and fairly industrialised.”

Lonely Planet Italy describes Como:

“Elegant Como, 50 km north of Milano, is the main access town to the Lake and sits at the base of the 146 sq km body of water.

Como has relatively few attractions in its own right, although the lakeside location is stunning, its narrow pedestrian lanes are a pleasure to explore and there are numerous bars and cafés where you can relax with a cold drink on a balmy day.”

Ferries operated by Como-based company Navigazione Lago di Como crisscross the Lake year-round.

We buy a map “The Villas Seen from the Lake”, so from the boat we will able to identify the many villas and interesting places that one can see from the Lake, from Como to Bellagio on the east bank and from Como to Griante on the west.

The rows of villas seem endless.

So many Villas!

Villa Carminati Scacchi, Villa Saporiti (“the Rotunda” and Napoleon´s residence during his stay in Como in 1797)….

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), 2 December 1804

Villa Gallia, Villa Parravicini Thaon de Revel, Villa Pisa Colli Canepa, Villa Geno (a former hospital and convent of the Humiliati Friars), Villa Volonté….

Villa Olma (host to kings and queens and emperors and Garibaldi who unified Italy. Here Garibaldi fell in love with Josephine, a daughter of the owner of the Villa. Their marriage lasted…30 minutes!)….

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

Villa Mirabella, Villa Pisani Dossi (built by the Italian writer Carlo Dossi, including the famous “porch of friends” with columns engraved with the names of important artists close to Dossi)….

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Above: Carlo Dossi (1849 – 1910)

Villa Troubetzkoy (“the Swiss Chalet” built by Russian Prince Alexander Troubetzkoy and used after he had been sentenced to six years of hard labour in Siberia for an attempt on the Tsar´s life), Villa Sforni, Villa Dozzio, Villa Cademartori (once owned by the Artaria family, publishers of the compositions of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc)….

Villa Taglioni (built in 1840 by Marie Taglioni, the famous dancer who invented ballet “en pointe”, who once was so rich she also possessed five palaces by the Grand Canal in Venezia, but lost her fortune when her father made poor investments. She died penniless in Marseille.)….

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Above: Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884)

Then….

Day 2 of our vacation was turning out to be the Quest for George Clooney.

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Above: American actor George Clooney

Villa Erba in Cernobbio, west bank of the Lake, was built in 1894 by the grandparents of the famous director Luchino Visconti.

Some important scenes of Ocean´s 12, the 2001 film starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, were shot here.

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The boatload of passengers were suitably impressed.

Villa Allamel, Villa Belgioioso Schouvaloff (in Blevio, east bank of the Lake, built by Russian Prince Schouvaloff and owned today by casino prince Oleg Boyko. It once belonged to Cristina Trivulzio Belgioioso, an exceptional woman who, despite failing health, led a very interesting and adventurous life, working hand in hand with those who fought to release Italy from Austrian rule.)….

Above: Cristina Belgioiso (1808 – 1871)

Villa Cima (where the noble intellectual beauty, rich and refined Vittoria Cima della Scala once lived), Villa Belvedere (belonged to the Imbonati Family, whose grandson, the famous Italian writer, Alessandro Manzoni spent many happy summers)….

And on and on…

Till the mind could not take in any more Villas and the tales they harboured.

Then the boat threatens to tip to one side as we all rush to get a glimpse of Villa Oleandra, to the left of the church of Laglio, owned by George Clooney (and his wife (his 2nd marriage) human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, of British-Lebanese heritage), near the former residence of Italian author Ada Negri.

Above: Villa Oleandra

Above: Julia Roberts with George and Amal Clooney at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Why did Mr. American Apple Pie buy property in Italy?

We foreigners don’t just come to Italia.

We keep coming back.

Hollywood actors like Clooney come and stay, because the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants more money from him than he feels they deserve.

He wants the reassurance of noble surroundings, to show off his excellent taste, his genius, his charisma and importance in a land that still appreciates such things.

He does not realise that Italians treat him as one treats children, with courtesy and sympathy.

But the reality of being Italian is too disturbing, too difficult, too mysterious, too undefinable, for folks like George or myself.

A boatload of female fans were disappointed as George was not seen.

The women still love George, at least those over 30.

George Timothy Clooney, born 6 May 1961, exactly 4 years and 8 days before yours truly, is an American actor, director, producer, screenwriter, activist, businessman and philanthropist.

He has received three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for his work in Hollywood.

His rise to fame came when he played Dr. Doug Ross on NBC´s medical drama ER (1994 – 1999).

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His first major Hollywood role was in the horror-comedy-crime thriller From Dusk till Dawn, co-starring Harvey Keitel.

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He then increased his profile in the romantic comedy One Fine Day (with Michelle Pfeiffer), the action-thriller The Peacemaker (with Nicole Kidman), the superhero movie Batman and Robin (with Arnold Schwarznegger, Uma Therman and Chris O`Donnell), crime comedy Out of Sight (with Jennifer Lopez) and  the war satire Three Kings all while still on contract to ER.

Three men in army fatigues

After leaving ER, Clooney starred in the disaster drama The Perfect Storm, the adventure comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the heist comedy Ocean´s 11 – Clooney´s most successful film with him in the lead role.

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Clooney made his directorial debut in the 2002 film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the autobiography of TV producer Chuck Barris.

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He then starred in Syriana, a story based loosely on former CIA Agent Robert Baer´s memoirs of his Service in the Middle East.

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He then directed, produced and starred in Good Night, and Good Luck, a film about 1950s TV Journalist Edward R. Murrow´s famous war of words with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Clooney next appeared in the film noir The Good German set in post WW2 Germany, then in the legal thriller Michael Clayton.

A blurred pictured of a man with the words "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" superimposed

He directed and starred the sports comedy Leatherheads, costarred with Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey in the war parody The Men Who Stare at Goats, starred in the comedy-drama Up in the Air, produced and starred in the thriller The American, starred in the drama The Descendants, and in the political drama The Ides of March, and produced the thriller Argo.

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He co-starred with Sandra Bullock in the science fiction thriller Gravity, co-wrote, directed and starred in the WW2 thriller The Monuments Men, produced August: Orange County (starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), starred in science fiction adventure Tomorrowland and in the 1950s Hollywood spoof Hail, Caesar!, reunited with Julia Roberts for Money Monster and directed Suburbicon (starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore).

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Clooney is the only person in Academy Award history to be nominated for Oscars in six different categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Clooney has appeared in commercials outside the US for Fiat, Nespresso, Martini vermouth, and Omega.

Clooney was named one of Time magazine´s “100 Most Influential People in the World” (2007, 2008, 2009) and has been described as one of the most handsome men in the world.

TV Guide ranked Clooney #1 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list. (2005)

He has been parodied by South Park and American Dad.

Director Alexander Cartio made his debut feature film, Convincing Clooney, about a LA artist who, faced with rejection as an actor and screenwriter, tries to get Clooney to star in his first-ever low-budget short film.

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As an activist, Clooney supported President Obama´s campaigns in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

He is a supporter of gay rights.

In 2003, he opposed the Iraq War, saying:

“You can´t beat your enemy any more through wars. 

Instead you create an entire generation of people seeking revenge.

Our opponents are going to resort to car bombs and suicide attacks because they have no other way to win.

I believe Donald Rumsfeld thinks this is a war that can be won, but there is no such thing anymore.

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Above: Donald Rumsfeld, 13th and 21st US Secretary of Defense (1975-1977 and 2001-2006

We can´t beat anyone any more.”

In 2016, Clooney endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential election.

He is involved with Not On Our Watch Project, an organisation that focuses global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities.

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He organised the telethon Hope for Haiti Now after the 2010 earthquake.

Clooney performed with Martin Sheen and Brad Pitt in Dustin Black´s play 8, re-enacting the federal trial that overturned California´s Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriage, raising money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Clooney advocated a resolution of the Dafur conflict, spending ten days in Chad and Sudan making the TV special “A Journey to Dafur” reflecting the situation of Darfur´s refugees, with proceeds donated to the International Rescue Committee.

He spoke to the UN Security Council to ask the UN to find a solution to the conflict and to help the people of Dafur, and he visited China and Egypt to ask both governments to pressure Sudan´s government.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Above: Flag of the United Nations

He sent an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling on the European Union to take decisive cction in the region given the failure of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to respond to UN Resolutions.

He narrated and produced the documentary Sand and Sorrow and also appeared in the documentary Dafur Now.

The United Nations announced Clooney´s appointment as a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008.

Clooney initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project to monitor armed activity for signs of renewed civil war between Sudan and South Sudan and to detect and deter mass atrocities along the border regions there.

Clooney is an avid supporter of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and is one of the chief associates of the 100 Lives Initiative, a project which aims to remember the lives lost during the event.

He has urged various American government officials to support the United States´ recognition of the Armenian Genocide and he visited Armenia to commemorate the 101st anniversary of the event in April 2016.

In May 2015, Clooney told the BBC that the Syrian conflict was too complicated politically to get involved in and he wanted to focus on helping the refugees.

In March 2016, George and Amal met with Syrian refugees living in Berlin to mark the 5th anniversary of the conflict, before meeting with Mrs. Merkel to thank her for Germany´s open door policy.

All of this about George was unknown by the ladies on our boat and, quite frankly, I don´t think they would have cared to know.

As access to celebrities is strictly controlled by their entourage of staff, including managers, publicists, agents, personal assistants and bodyguards, this makes it difficult for even journalists to have access to them.

We on the boat knew that most of us would never meet George face to face in our lifetimes.

Still I don´t envy George.

While being famous offers some advantages such as wealth and easier access to things that are more difficult for non-famous people to access – like the ability to easily meet other famous or powerful people – being famous comes with the disadvantage of creating conditions in which the celebrity finds himself acting in superficial, inauthentic fashion.

Being famous means a life without anonymity, often without privacy.

And a private persona that is different from the public persona that the celebrity created can lead to difficulties in accepting the celebrity for the person he/she really is.

But ironically there remains a strong public curiosity about celebrities´ private affairs.

George´s love life prior to his marriage to Amal interested a great many people and….

George has dated.

A lot.

He has dated actress Kelly Preston, actress Talia Balsam, porn star Ginger Lynn Allen, French TV personality Céline Balitran, British model Lisa Snowdon, actress Renée Zellweger, actress Krista Allen, dating reality personality Sarah Lawson, Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, wrestling diva Stacy Kiebler and finally his present wife Amal Alamuddin.

Above: Italian actress/model Elisabetta Canalis

And why not?

Women have found him attractive, both physically and socially.

Perhaps the ladies gawking and craning their necks to shore hoped to see George without his shirt, but perhaps the recent births of twins to George and Amal has kept him secluded inside the Villa Oleandra….

Or inside his main home in Los Angeles….

Or in his home in Los Cabos, Mexico, next door to supermodel Cindy Crawford….

Or in his new home, the Mill House, on an island in the River Thames at Sonning Eye in England.

The ladies aboard sailed past the Villa Oleandra disappointed but not surprised.

I met a celebrity only once in my life, riding the same elevator as myself, riding up to do separate interviews for CBC Radio inside the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Canada.

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Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark and I had little to say to one another and I am certain his meeting me was quickly forgotten.

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Above: Joe Clark, 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979 – 1980)

And I am certain that whatever it was that I said in my stunned surprise was both unintelligible and unintelligent.

And I am certain that if George Clooney ever crossed my path I would have absolutely no idea what it is I would say to him.

Above: Amal and George Clooney, 2016 Berlin Film Festival

But considering that my wife has always lusted after George since she first began watching ER I think I would say:

“George, thanks for keeping your shirt on.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and Our Lady of St. Petersburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 September 2017

It has been a hard year for my heart in my dual roles of teacher and barista.

In the former role, I have been disappointed that my preferred profession of choice, teaching, has sadly not been as busy lately as I might have hoped.

In the latter, I have been saddened by the grim reality that the gastronomy industry has always had lots of personnel turnover.

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Above: The Starbucks logo

In plainer language, I keep having to say good bye to colleagues whom I love.

I have had to say good bye to Anna, a lovely multilingual young lady, and Ricarda, so sensitive and shy, for reasons of health.

Some have left for love, like Katja, Vanessa and Alanna bringing new life into this old world.

Some have left for better work opportunities, like Bryan, Kasia, Ricardo, Natalie, Valentina, Anne Catherine and Coco.

Some have returned to their homelands, like the aforementioned Bryan of Newcastle, Julia of Poland and Natan of Italy.

And though I have warmly welcomed into the fold new Partners, like Sukako of Japan and Michaela of Sweden, and I am truly happy that partners like Volkan, Roger, Jackie, Pedro, Eden, Dino, David, Alicia, Nesha, Christa and Rosio still remain, my poor old heart still has trouble letting go of those partners who leave us behind.

(And apologies to those whose names have been forgotten at this time of writing.)

Tonight we say good bye to yet another partner whose departure affects me in ways complicated to express, for Lyudmila of St. Petersburg, Russia, a place that is prominent in my latest blog posts, will move next week to Canada, my homeland, to live in Annapolis Royal, Canada´s oldest town and where my walking adventures across Canada ended.

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Above: Seaward view from Annapolis Royal

(My tale of Annapolis Royal and the end of my walking adventures in Canada will be told, God willing, at another time.)

Lyudmila is a very open and caring woman.

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Her husband is clearly a very fortunate man, for Lyudmila´s outer beauty is only diminished by her amazing inner beauty of imagination, passion and compassion.

Her spirit is as bright as summer midnight in Siberia, her tenderness towards others makes her as huggable as a soft teddy bear and her red hair, as crimson as the old Soviet flag, blazes and brands a memory in every man´s mind.

Sadly I did not work that often with Lyudmila as she was mostly at Starbuck´s Arena store and I remained mostly at the other two St. Gallen locations, the Bahnhof and Marktgasse.

Yet despite this, we were always delighted to see one another and the warmth between us was real and open.

I will miss her.

How ironic it is that her new home will be in my homeland.

How ironic that she is beginning a new life where I left an old one behind.

How far she has travelled from her old home in St. Petersburg.

I have an odd hobby.

When I meet a partner whose homeland I have never visited I buy a guidebook to their countries and plan a visit there.

My home library, for example, contains guidebooks of places never visited, yet because of the warm feeling that the partners from these countries give me I know that one day I will visit Valentina and Nesha´s Serbia, Vanessa´s Macedonia, Julia and Kashia´s Poland, Pedro and Natalie´s Brazil, Alicia´s Nepal, Eden´s Ethiopia and now Lyudmila´s Russia.

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Landschlacht, 24 September 2017

There were a combination of factors that diminished the bittersweet good bye party I had unconsciously wished for last night:

A head cold (Nothing worse than a man´s cold, ladies!),

Fatigue (I have been doing A LOT of extra hours at Starbucks because of a shortage of personnel at present, including a double shift earlier today.),

Location (We all met inside the basement restaurant Tres Amigos, which was hot, crowded and noisy.),

Numbers (Too many people had been invited, making conversations, at a level more than superficial, impossible.) and…

Age (I truly felt like an old man last night since so many of those invited were either significantly younger than me or were much better at faking a youthful spirit than I was.).

I have over the past few months stopped colouring my hair and have let nature show my age with silver hair and balding pate, and last night my age showed.

I felt shy and awkward and three pina coladas didn´t help.

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But the party wasn´t about me nor should it have been.

It was a farewell party for a beloved and lovely colleague.

And it was nice to see colleagues I don´t see that often.

And seeing the ladies all fancied up, wearing make-up and colourful clothing, made my eyes delighted with the images they presented.

And I lost in the comparison amongst the men, for I had unwisely changed into a shirt that exposed a middle-aged belly and the zipper on my pants chose yesterday of all days to break.

Plus it must be said that youthful bearded men, full of vim and vigour like Volkan and Dino, always have a distinct advantage over me in the attractiveness factor.

Had I been trying to attract one of the ladies last night, I was a drooping daisy that could not compete with all the bright sunflowers around me!

But enough about me and my self pity.

Lyudmila looked lovely and excited about the new life she will begin next week.

Since I have known of her impending departure, I have often thought of how far a road she has travelled from St. Petersburg to Annapolis Royal via St. Gallen.

I wish I had had the opportunity to have spoken to her about her life and the journey that her life had taken her, but, despite our mutual liking of one another, ours was never a relationship that was as close as one she shared with the girl friends she worked with at Starbucks.

I have lived in both Canada and Switzerland, but I have never had the opportunity to visit Russia.

Flag of Russia

And my only exposure to Russians I have had has been with Lyudmila in St. Gallen and the Russian women I met during my days in South Korea.

My knowledge of Russia has been limited to what I have read and the biased media coverage that the Western media provides us.

I am surprised to discover how few books I own in regards to Russia and the media leaves me with the notion, without direct experience or proof, that all Russian leaders in my lifetime have been men of questionable morality, that Russia is a bleak and cold desolate land, and that Russians are humourless bullies obsessed with the notion of the Russian soul.

It is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and its connection to Switzerland has compelled me into trying to discover the truth, as best as I can, about Russia past and present.

What must it have been like to grow up in St. Petersburg?

Above: Pictures of St. Petersburg: St. Isaac´s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, Senate Square horseman, Trinity Cathedral, Peterhof Palace, the Winter Palace.

Originally founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as “Russia´s Window to Europe”, St. Petersburg was constructed on swampland by thousands of serfs, many of whom perished, their bones laying the city´s foundations.

St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia in 1712 and remained so until 1918.

The city´s name was changed to the more Russian-sounding Petrograd in 1914, then to Leningrad in 1924., after the death of Vladimir Lenin.

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

Its original name was restored following the collapse of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

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Above: Flag of the Soviet Union / USSR (1922 – 1991)

St. Petersburg is a name suggesting great literature.

Alexander Pushkin was the first writer to explore the rich potential of the Russian language as spoken by the common people.

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Above: Russian poet/playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

His masterpiece is Evgeniy Onegin, a novel set in verse form.

Nikolai Gogol, although a Ukranian by birth, a huge amount of his striking original work is set in St. Petersburg, including The Nose and The Overcoat.

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Above: Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the author of some of the world´s most profound literature, such as Crime and Punishment, spent much of his life in St. Petersburg, where in 1849 he was subjected to a mock execution for “revolutionary activities” – a trauma which affected him the rest of his days.

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Above: Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

Osip Mandelstam, the author of symbolic taut poetry, in 1933, composed a poem about Stalin in which he wrote that the dictator´s “fingers were as fat as grubs” and that he possessed “cockroach whiskers”.

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Above: Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

This poem ultimately led to Mandelstam´s death and became known as the “16-line death sentence.”

Daniil Kharms wrote some of the strangest and most original Russian literature, which was suppressed by Stalin due to its downright oddness rather than any overt political message.

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Above: Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)

Kharms starved to death in the WW2 siege of the city.

Andrey Bely, although Moscow-born, reached the pinnacle of his career with his symbolist masterpiece Petersburg, a choatic, prophetic novel that has been favourably compared to the works of Irish writer James Joyce.

Above: Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev, aka Andrey Bely (1880-1934)

Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg and grew up trilingual speaking Russian, English and French.

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Above: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

His family moved to Europe in 1918 and Nabokov wrote many of his novels in English, including his best known work, Lolita.

Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, after leaving the Soviet Union in 1972 after his works were attacked by the authorities.

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Above. Russian writer Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The poetess Anna Akhmatova, branded a “half-harlot, half-nun” by Soviet authorities, wrote Requiem, her tragic masterpiece about the terrifying Stalin years, which was banned in the USSR until 1989.

Akhmatova in 1922 (Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin)

Above: Anna Andreyevna Govenko, aka Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

Alexander Blok developed complex poetic symbols, especially in his most controversial work The Twelve, which likens Bolshevik soldiers to Christ´s Apostles.

Above: Russian poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921)

Many films have been set in St. Petersburg, with the most familiar to the West probably being Golden Eye, wherein James Bond (007)(played by actor Pierce Brosnan) carries out a daring raid involving the Russian Mafia.

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Above: Poster for 1995 film Golden Eye

The 1990s in which Golden Eye was filmed and set, a criminal class had sprung up, willing and able to do anything to build up fortunes, earning St. Petersburg the reputation as “the Crime Capital of Russia”.

Clearly St. Petersburg is quite inspirational.

 

Landschlacht, 25 September 2017

To get from the platform where I disembark in St. Gallen to the Starbucks where I usually work in the city centre on Marktgasse, I normally stop on Platform 1 and chat with the Starbucks Bahnhof personnel who happen to be working at the time.

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Yesterday I had the late shift (1500 – closing).

On duty at the Bahnhof were Lyudmila and Sukako.

How typical of Starbucks to work a Partner right up to her departure day!

(Lyudmila flies to Canada on Thursday.)

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How interesting to see a Russian and a Japanese working harmoniously together when only a little over a century ago their countries were mortal enemies.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

I call Sukako privately “Suzi Q” (reminiscient of the old Creedance Clearwater Revival (CCR) song) and publicly “Tampopo”(“Butterfly”)(from the only Japanese movie I never forgot).

I showed Lyudmila my old second hand copy of a St. Petersburg guide book I had brought with me and she nostalgically pointed out where in downtown St. Petersburg she once lived.

She smiled and said she tries to visit St. Petersburg at least twice a year if she can and told me she still has many friends and family members there.

Knowing someone like Lyudmila makes me wonder just how wrong the images I have of Russia and Russians might be.

Perhaps I make the same mistake about Russia as many people do about America: judging the country by the leadership.

An ancient habit carried over from the days when kings and queens were their countries as theirs was the only authority, yet this is a habit that just won´t fade away quietly.

We shouldn´t judge Russia by the only Russian most people have heard of: Vladimir Putin.

Nor should we judge America by the American most people wish they had never heard of: Donald Trump.

I am reminded of the old song “Russians” by Sting where the listener is reminded that “the Russians love their children too”.

Lyudmila warmly encouraged me to visit St. Petersburg one day and my reading about it does make the city seem attractive.

From the pre-revolutionary grandeur of the Hermitage (the former residence of the tsars and now home to art collected from around the world) and the Mariinskiy Theatre (Russia is famous for its ballet and opera.) to the unavoidable reminders of the Soviet period, St. Petersburg promises to be a city where eras and architectural styles collide.

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Above: The Hermitage Museum, formerly the Winter Palace

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Above: The Mariinskiy Theatre

Blessed with some of the world´s most magnificent skylines and known throughout Russia as “the Venice of the North”, Russia´s second city is a place of wonder and enigma, of white summer nights and long. freezing winters.

And it seems one could easily spend a week, or a lifetime, discovering the city.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the cultural heart of the city, is home to many of St. Petersburg´s top sights, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

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Above: Winter on Nevskiy Prospekt

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Above: Kazan Cathedral

A stroll along Nevskiy Prospekt is a journey through time, from tsarist-era splendours to the cafés and chic boutiques of modern day St. Petersburg.

Immortalised in literature, this 4.5 km/3-mile stretch has been the hub of the city´s social life since the 18th century.

If in Europe all roads lead to Rome, then in St. Petersburg all roads converge on Nevskiy Prospekt.

Just off Nevskiy Prospekt, the Church on Spilled Blood, built as a memorial to Tsar Alexander II in 1881 on the site of his execution, is a kaleidoscope of wondrous colourful mosaics and icons.

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Above: The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Ground

The Russian Museum is an exclusively Russian affair, collecting only works made by Russians.

Above: The Russian Museum in the former Mikhailovsky Palace

The history of St. Petersburg dates from the founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1703, originally intended to defend the city against Swedish invaders, it contains a magnificent cathedral, dark and damp cells, a popular beach(!) and fine examples of Baroque architecture and much like the city itself, much like Russia herself, the Fortress is a contradictory wonder that simultaneously exhilarates the spirit and chills the bones.

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Above: The Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island on the Neva River

And these abovementioned half-dozen sites are just the tiniest sample of all there is to see and do in St. Petersburg.

(I have never been to Russia´s second city, but I have been to its Floridan namesake, which is another adventure that I will share with you, my gentle readers, at a later time.)

Much of what is Russian history happened in St. Petersburg.

To understand the Russia of today, I believe one needs to understand how Russia got to where she is now.

I have previously spoken of the founding of St. Petersburg, “Bloody Sunday” 9 January 1905, the dawn of the February Revolution of 1917, the 900-day WW2 siege of the city when author Daniil Kharms perished from starvation, and the criminal 1990s.

But St. Petersburg is more than these events…

It has seen its share of powerful political figures….

Peter the Great, the driving force behind the city, ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725.

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Above: Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672 – 1725)

Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, was killed by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution of 1917.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Gregori Rasputin was a peasant mystic whose scandalous lifestyle helped discredit Tsar Nicholas II´s rule.

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Above: Gregori Rasputin (1869 – 1918)

St. Petersburg was home to Mikhail Bakunin, a revolutionary involved in insurrections all over Europe and is generally considered to be “the father of modern anarchism”.

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Above: Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

Lenin returned to Russia and St. Petersburg to become the leader of the October/Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union´s first head.

Soviet revolutionary Sergey Kirov´s assassination would mark the beginning of a series of bloody purges in the 1930s.

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Above: Bolshevik politician Sergey Kirov (1886 – 1934)

Anatoly Sobchak would become St. Petersburg´s first democratically elected Mayor in 1991.

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Above: Anatoly Sobchak (1937 – 2000), St. Petersburg Mayor (1991-1996)

Galina Starovoitova (1946 – 1998), a politician known for her democratic principles and assassinated in 1998, would have a funeral attended by thousands of Russian mourners.

Above: Burial site of Galina Starovoitova, Nikolskoye Cemetery, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg

Valentina Matvienko, the Governor of St. Petersburg,  remains a rare female figure in male-dominated Russian politics.

St. Petersburg native and former KGB head Vladimir Putin, who rose to power as Acting President on New Year´s Eve 1999, remains Russia´s dominant leader who has overseen the country´s economic growth while simultaneously cracking down on press freedom and repressing dissent to his rule wherever it may arise.

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Above: Vladimir Putin (born 1952), President of Russia since 2012

But once again we need to remind ourselves that the leadership of a place does not mean that all of its people resemble those leaders.

I would like to think that Lyudmila is perhaps a truer representative, a better ambassador, to the wonder of St. Petersburg and the potential of Russia than Putin or his ilk could ever be.

Sadly, like many things in life, it has taken her departure for me to truly appreciate who Lyudmila is and what she represents to me.

Though it was the commemoration of the Russian Revolution in Swiss museums this year that has evoked curiosity within me about Russia and its relationship with Switzerland, my present country of residence, I am now inspired by Lyudmila to research, and hopefully one day visit, Russia.

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Above: Flag of Switzerland

And maybe, one day, Lyudmila and her husband along with my wife and I will share coffee together on Nevskiy Prospekt, with Lyudmila having an understanding of my homeland and I with a greater understanding of hers.

I still have hope.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Marc Bennetts, Top Ten St. Petersburg, Dorling & Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, 2008