Canada Slim and the Life Electric

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2017

We live in such modern times that sometimes it is hard to imagine that there were times before that weren´t so modern.

Perhaps in a thousand years, folks will think that the manner of measuring time using the abbreviations BC and AD (before Christ and Anno Dominiin the Year of Our Lord) later modified to signify religious equality or a lack of religion BCE and CE (before the Common Era and Common Era) might later be interpreted to mean Before Computers (BC) and the Age of Digital (AD)!

We measure electric current in amperes and conveniently forget that amperes are named after the French physicist André Marie Ampere (1775-1836).

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Above. André-Marie Ampere

We measure energy in joules, named after English physicist James Prescott Joule (1818-1889).

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Above: James Prescott Joule

Force is measured in newtons, because of English mathematician Isaac Newton (1642-1726).

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Above: Isaac Newton

The Standard Internationale unit for frequency is the hertz, named after German physicist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz (1857-1894).

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Above. Heinrich Rudolph Hertz

Power is measured in watts, thanks to Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819).

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Above. James Watt

The unit for resistance is the ohm, because of German physicist Georg Simon Ohm (1789-1854).

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Above: Georg Simon Ohm

We use kelvin, fahrenheit and celcius to measure temperature, named after Scottish physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824-1907), Polish physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) and Swedish astronomer Anders Celcius (1701-1744)

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Above: William Thomson, Baron Kelvin

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Above: Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit

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Above: Anders Celsius

We have Napoléon Bonaparte and revolutionary France to thank for the metric system.

But the Italians of Como would be very cross if you forgot their native son, father of the volt that measures electric force, Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (1745-1827).

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Above: Alessandro Volta

Italy´s smaller contributions to everyday life are so numerous as to go unnoticed.

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Above: The flag of Italy

There would be no pistols but for the city of Pistoia, no savon in France but for the city of Savona; no faience anywhere but for the city of Faenza; no millinery but for the city of Milano; no blue jeans but for the city of Genoa (Gênes in French); no Neapolitan ice cream without Napoli; no Roman candles without Roma; no Venetian blinds without Venezia; no bologna without Bologna; no Parmesan cheese without Parma;

Italian Cristoforo Colombo discovered America for the Americans, albeit after the Original Peoples, the Vikings and Atlantic fishermen.

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Above: Italian Explorer Cristoforo Columbo (in English, Christopher Columbus)(1451 – 1506)

Italians taught poetry, statesmanship and the ruses of trade to the English, military art to the Germans, cuisine to the French, acting and ballet dancing to the Russians, and music to everybody.

The list of famous Italians is awe-inspiring and far too many to list conclusively.

Suffice to say, Italy has produced some of the world´s finest saints and sinners, political thinkers and military leaders, admirals and scientists, navigators and philosophers, poets, painters and musicians.

Italians have always respected and admired great scientists, especially if their discoveries and theories were abstract and incomprehensible.

Nowhere is this mix of respect and admiration combined with the abstract and incomprehensible more evident than it is in Como with their native born son Italian physicist and chemist Alessandro Volta.

 

Como, Italia, 2 August 2017

From the modern hotels and banks of Piazza Cavour, the main square overlooking the Lago di Como, the wife and I walked south along arcaded Via Caio Plinio to Como´s marble-faced Duomo.

Above: Duomo di Como (Como Cathedral)

The Duomo is considered to be Italy´s best example of Gothic-Renaissance fusion.

Fairytale pinnacles, rose windows and clownish gargoyles combine with rounded arch portals.

Inside the Gothic aisles are hung with dark rich tapestries woven with biblical scenes, including a sleepy Madonna, an adoration by the Magi and a leisurely flight to Egypt of Joseph and Mary avoiding Herod´s planned execution of the Christ child.

(See Canada Slim and the Inappropriate Statues of this blog regarding the Duomo.)

Next to it the polychromatic town hall, the Broletto, is an elegant construction with a tricolour facade of gentle pink, white and grey, with a 15th century balcony deliberately designed for municipal orators.

Above: Il Broletto di Como (Como Assembly Hall)

The Broletto is also known as the Palazzo della Ragione – the Palace of Reason.

Behind the Duomo the neoclassical facade of the Teatro Sociale built on the remains of the castle of the Torre Rotunda – the Round Tower – stands out with its Corinthian columns.

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Above: Torre Rotunda, Como

Beyond the railway there is the Piazza del Popolo with the famous Casa del Fascio – the House of Fascism – erected in the 1930s as the headquarters of the local Fascist party and designed by Comoese architect Giuseppe Terrigni – it is universally considered to be a masterpiece of the architectural style known as Rationalism.

Above: Casa del Fascio, Como

In the heart of the old town we encountered the medieval square Piazza San Fedele, (formerly called the Piazza del mercato del grano – Grain Market Square), which owes its name to the basilica situated here named after the saint who brought Christianity to the Como region.

Above: Piazza San Fedele, Como

The basilica´s unusual layout is noteworthy, as it is a circular building with three naves and three apses, looking very much like a three-leaf clover.

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Above: La Basilica di San Fedele, Como

At the end of the old town is the imposing Porta Torre, the ancient entrance to the walled city built in the 12th century along with the surrounding walls that, to this day, protect the historic town centre.

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Above: Porta Torre, Como

Not far from the Porta Torre there is the Piazza Medaglie d´Oro Comasche.

In this square are two distinct buildings: the Palazzo Giovio – home to the Museo Civico e Archeologico Paolo Giovio– and the Palazzo Olginati – home to a museum dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi.

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Above: Museo Civico e Archeologico, Como

(Garibaldi is worth a blog post by himself.)

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

Back toward the Lago, almost directly on the water, sits the Tempio Voltiano – a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta and hosting a collection of scientific instruments used or designed by the famous scientist – from where one can look out onto the Lago itself and see in the middle of the harbour the contemporary sculpture by Daniel Libeskind dedicated to Volta, the Life Electric.

Above: Tempio Voltiano (Volta Temple), Como

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Above: The Life Electric, Como

Walk northeast along the waterfront, past Piazza Matteotti and the train Station, and take the Funicolare Como-Brunate – a cable car built in 1894 – walk through hilltop Brunate with its Chiesa di San Andrea, up to San Maurizio and then climb 143 steps to the top of the lighthouse Faro Volta, built in 1927 to mark the centenary of Volta´s death.

Above: Funicolare Como-Brunate Station, Como

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Above: Faro Volta / Volta Lighthouse

Then you, Como visitor, have had a full day of things Volta.

There are a number of problems with the manner in which Volta is remembered, primarily making the man interesting, making the science for which he is honoured meaningful to today´s generation who take what has evolved since his day for granted,

I climbed up from Brunante with my wife and saw the view from Faro Volta.

We admired the Life Electric sculpture from the boat cruise we took the day before.

But on this day, after much marching about town – we also visited the Museo didattico della Seta (worth a blog post on its own) – my wife needed a break, to simply sunbathe and dip her toes in the waters of Lago di Como.

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Above: Museo didattico della Seta (The Educational Museum of Silk), Como

So she left an exploration of the Tempiano Volta solely to myself.

The Tempio Voltiano is a lakeside neoclassical temple built in 1927.

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Above: Lakeside view of Tempio Voltiano, Como

Inside is an exhibition on the life of Como-born electric-battery inventor Alessandro Volta, after whom the electric unit, the volt, is named.

Above: Alessandro Volta

Some of the instruments he used to conduct his experiments are displayed inside.

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But the lack of friendliness by the sole guard assigned to both sell tickets and secure the place against unwanted activity and the lack of interactive and explanatory descriptions leave the modern visitor numb.

And this is a shame, for it is important for the visitor to understand how dependent modern civilisation is on Volta´s discoveries and inventions, to truly appreciate this man and this temple that once graced the front and back of the 10,000 lire Italian banknote (1984-2001).

Those who honour Volta seem to forget that God did not make all visitors alike – some enjoy and embrace science, while others feel intimidated and bewildered by its seeming complexity and unapproachability.

I would love to see how Bill Nye, the Science Guy, or The Big Bang Theory´s Professor Proton, would bring this museum and the man it honours to reach an audience today that scorns intelligence and has a very limited attention span.

I am not these men.

It would be great if a character like the BBC´s Doctor Who actually existed and we could transport ourselves back in time to see the inventor himself.

But sadly we do not possess 1950s police phone box TARDIS machines.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2017

To get an understanding of what Volta did, we need to comprehend what electricity is and what happened before Volta came along.

In 1850, British Prime Minister William Gladstone asked the scientist Michael Faraday why electricity was valuable.

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Above: English scientist Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867), inventor of the first electric generator. The SI unit of capacitance (how much electricity can be created) the Farad is named after him.

Faraday answered: “One day, Sir, you may tax it.”

In the 19th and early 20th century, electricity was not part of the everyday life of most people, even in the industrialised Western world.

The popular culture of the time depicts electricity as a mysterious, quasi-magical force that could slay the living, revive the dead or bend the laws of nature.

Long before any knowledge of electricity existed, people were aware of shocks from electric eels.

Ancient Egyptian texts dating from 2750 BC referred to these fish as the “Thunderer of the Nile” and described them as the protector of all other fish.

Electric fish were again reported millennia later by ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic naturalists and physicians.

Several ancient writers, such as Pliny the Elder and Scribinious Largus, attested to the numbing effects of electric shocks delivered by catfish and electric rays, and knew that such shocks could travel along conducting objects.

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Above: Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)

Patients suffering from ailments such as gout or headache were directed to touch electric fish in the hope that the powerful jolt might cure them.

Possibly the earliest and nearest approach to the discovery of the identity of lightning and electricity, is to be attributed to the Arabs.

Ancient cultures around the Mediterranean knew that certain objects, such as rods of amber, could be rubbed with cat´s fur to attract light objects like feathers.

Thales of Miletus made a series of observations on static electricity around 600 BC, from which he believed that friction rendered amber magnetic, in contrast to minerals such as magnetite, which needed no rubbing.

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Above: Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (624 – 576 BC)

Thales was incorrect in believing that the attraction was due to a magnetic effect, but later science would prove a link between magnetism and electricity.

(The Parthians may have had knowledge of electroplating, based on the 1936 discovery of the Baghdad Battery, which resembles a galvanic cell, though it is uncertain whether the artifact was electrical in nature.)

Above: “The Baghdad Battery”, found in Khuyat Rabu, Iraq, near the ancient site of Ctesiphon, capital of the Parthian empire (150 BC – 223 AD)

Above: An example of a galvic cell, named after Luigi Galvani by Alessandro Volta; also called a voltaic cell.

Electricity would remain little more than an intellectual curiosity for millennia until 1600, when the English scientist William Gilbert made a careful study of electricity and magnetism, distinguishing the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber.

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Above: English scientist William Gilbert (1544 – 1603), the “Father of Electricity”

He coined the new Latin word electricus (“of amber”, from the Greek word elektron) to refer to the property of attracting small objects after being rubbed.

This association gave rise to the English words “electric” and “electricity”, which made their first appearance in print in Thomas Browne´s Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646).

Further work on electricity was conducted by German scientist Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), Irish chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), English scientist Stephen Gray (1666-1736) and French chemist Charles Francois du Fay (1698-1739).

In the 18th century, American polymath Benjamin Franklin conducted extensive research in electricity, selling his possessions to fund his work.

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Above: Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

In June 1752, he is reported to have attached a metal key to the bottom of a dampened kite string and flown the kite in a stormy sky.

A succession of sparks jumping from the key to the back of his hand showed that lightning was indeed electrical in nature.

Franklin also explained the apparently paradoxical behaviour of the Leyden jar as a device for storing large amounts of electrical charge in terms of electricity consisting of both positive and negative charges.

Above: Typical construction of a Leyden jar

In 1791, Italian physicist Luigi Galvani published his discovery of bioelectromagnetics demonstrating that electricity was the medium by which neurons passed signals to the muscles.

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Above: Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1798)

(Could electricity be the key to increasing our longevity?

Is the movie Crank 2 completely far-fetched to suggest that a man could extend his life by juicing himself up with electricity?

Could it be possible to extract human bioelectricity and thermal energy to power machines as suggested in the dystopian film The Matrix?)

Alessandro Volta´s battery, or voltaic pile, of 1800, made from alternating layers of zinc and copper, provided scientists with a more reliable source of electrical energy than the electrostatic machines previously used.

Above: A voltaic pile on display in the Tempio Voltiano

Following Volta, mankind would begin to recognise the concept of electromagnetism as the unity of electric and magnetic phenomena.

This would be followed by the invention of the electric motor (1821), the mathematical analysis of the electric circuit (1827), and the linking of electricity, magnetism and light (1862).

While the early 19th century had seen rapid progress in electrical science, the late 19th century would see the greatest progress in electrical engineering.

Electricity turned from a scientific curiosity into an essential tool for modern life, becoming a driving force of the Second Industrial Revolution.

Later mankind would learn that electrodes illuminated with ultraviolet light cause electric sparks more easily, and that the photelectric effect is the result of light energy being carried in energising electrons.

German physicist Albert Einstein´s 1905 discovery of the latter would lead to the Quantum Revolution.

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Above: Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

This photoelectric effect is now employed in photocells that can be found in solar panels and is frequently used to make electricity commercially.

This understanding of electrons would lead to the detection of radio waves and mankind´s present ability to switch and amplify these waves.

Current flow which we now understand as negatively charged electrons and positively charged electron deficiencies (charges and holes) have led to the development of Quantum Physics and the development of crystalline semiconductors.

Wires connected to crystals would lead to the invention of the transistor (1947), and later the vacuum tube, semiconductor diodes, integrated circuits, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), microprocessor chips and the concept of RAM (random access memory).

Mankind has learned how to generate, store and transmit electricity, but it wasn´t until Volta´s battery that a viable source of electricity became available – the ability to store energy chemically and make it available upon demand in the form of electrical energy.

Above: A voltaic pile

Through Volta´s inspiration and invention, mankind had learned to generate electricity from fossil fuel combustion, nuclear reaction, wind or flowing water.

Electricity´s ability to transfer energy has led to the light bulb, electric heating, electric refrigeration, and the telegraph.

Though optical fibres and satellite communication make our modern communication systems possible, electricity remains an essential part of the process.

I look at my own life and realise how utterly dependent I am upon electricity.

Without electricity, I could not operate this computer or use the printer that sits beside it.

Without electricity, my food supply would not be cool in the fridge or cold in the freezer, nor could I prepare this food in the microwave, the oven or on the stove.

My coffee would not be hot without our electric kettle.

My room would not be warm without the electrical heating nor would I be able to navigate through my apartment without electric lighting.

My cellphone would soon cease to function and there would be no electricity to power my television set nor could I listen to music on my stereo.

Without the basic knowledge of how to generate, store and retrieve electricity when needed, our planet would be very different than it is today.

Electricity has become such a necessity of modern life that we pay attention to it only when it stops flowing for us, an event that usually signals disaster.

The people who keep it flowing are still often cast as heroic, wizard-like figures.

So, let´s look at Alessandro Volta.

Alessandro Volta was born in Como on 18 February 1745, to Filippo and Maddalena Volta.

The Volta family had risen to nobility and wealth from commercial origins and intermarriage, but by the time Alessandro was born the Volta family had lost much of its wealth and Alessandro was raised in a humble one-storey building on Contrada Porta Nuova (today called Via Volta).

“Till his 4th year of age, Alessandro had not enough strength to articulate words.

In his 7th year, he started to show clear signs of propensity to study, and he was born to make good use of it.”  (Maurizio Monti)

After the death of Filippo in 1752, the young Alessandro, as well as his mother and his younger sisters Marianna, Cecilia and Chiara, lived with his uncle, Canon Alessandro Volta, while his older brothers were taken care of by his other uncle, Archdeacon Antonio Volta.

“Alessandro started at the age of 12 to be extremely curious about the secrets of nature, and I still keep an extraordinary text on this subject written by him at this time.

He almost drowned in a water spring at Monteverde to inspect a mineral vein that, according to local peasants, released small gold straws, but in fact turned out to be plain yellow mica.” (Giulio Cesare Gattoni)

By age 14, Alessandro made up his mind to become a physicist.

In his 17th year of age, Volta began to analyse throughly works on natural and artificial electricity, on his own, without any instruments whatsoever.

In his 18th year, he had already entered into correspondence with renowned physicists.

In 1769, Volta officially made his scientifc debut with his dissertation, De vi attractiva ignis electrici, ac phaenomenis inde pendentibus.

In 1774, Volta became a professor of physics at the Royal School in Como.

By October, he is appointed head of the public schools in Como, so he takes advantage of his post to insist that Como should have its own physics laboratory.

The following year, Volta obtained the Chair of Experimental Physics at the Royal Grammar School of Como, and began to improve and popularise the electrophorus, a device that produced static electricity.

His promotion of the electrophorus was so extensive that he is often credited with its invention, even though a machine operating on the same principle was described in 1762 by the Swedish experimenter Johan Wilcke (1732 – 1796).

Above: An electrophorus, a manual machine used to generate static electricity

In 1776, Volta made considerable efforts to establish a central public library in Como.

It would take 20 years to pass before the founding of Como´s Municipal Library.

This same year, Volta studied the chemistry of gases, researching and discovering methane after reading a paper by Benjamin Franklin on “flammable air”.

In November, he found methane at Lago Maggiore.

In September 1777, Volta set out on a long study tour that, via the Gotthard Pass, led him to visit Bern, Basel and Zürich.

On 16 September 1777, Volta showed his experiments with the pistol to the members of the Zürich Physics Society.

After a sojourn in Strasbourg and Alsace, Volta returned to Como via Geneva and the Savoy.

Volta carried out barometrical and geological surveys at high altitude.

Among the personalities Volta met during this journey, he met the BernouillisDaniel (1700-1782), Johann II (1710-1790), Jean (1744-1807) of the family of physicists and mathematicians – in Basel, and Swiss physicist Horace Bénédict De Saussure (1740-1799) in Geneva, but above all, his visit to the elderly Voltaire in Fernet should be mentioned.

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Above: French philosopher Francois Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire (1694-1778)

From Aiguebelle in the Savoy, Volta brought home potatoes and made great contributions to the diffusion of this North American vegetable to Lombardy and Italy.

By 1778, Volta managed to isolate methane and devised experiments such as the ignition of methane by an electric spark in a closed vessel.

By virtue of a bill promoting outstanding professors, Volta was invited to take on the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Pavia.

“He banned the old methods of teaching physics and chose a textbook that was one of the most authoritative advocates of experimental science.

His lectures were attended by an extremely large number of students.

He was admired because of his great fame, because his discourse was clear, lucid and often lively, his accent agreeable, and because his manner was self-effacing but at the same time imposing.” (Maurizio Monti)

Volta also studied what we call “electrical capacitance”, developing separate means to study both electrical potential and electrical charge and discovered for any given object, they are proportional.

This is called Volta´s Law of Capacitance, and it was for this work that the unit of electric potential has been named the volt.

Volta would remain the Chair of Experimental Physics for almost 40 years.

Luigi Galvani, another Italian physicist, had discovered something he named “animal electricity”, when two different metals were connected in series with a frog´s leg and to one another.

Volta realised that the frog´s leg served as both a conductor of electricity (what we would now call an “electrolyte”) and as a detector of electricity.

He replaced the frog´s leg with brine-soaked paper and detected the flow of electricity by other means familar to him from his previous studies.

In this way Volta discovered the electrochemical series, and the law that the electromotive force (emf) of a galvanic cell, consisting of a pair of metal electrodes separated by electrolyte, is the difference between their two electrode potentials.

This is called Volta´s Law of the Electrochemical Series.

In 1781, Austrian Governor Count Firmian – Austria ruled Como at this time. – decided that Volta´s request of a long journey through Europe “in order to get to know renowned men and useful factories” deserved to be accepted.

Volta´s journey lasted from September 1781 until October 1782.

Starting from Torino, Volta headed to Lyons and Geneva, spent a week in Strasbourg, crossed the Rhine to the palaces of Radstadt and Karlsruhe, lingered in Mannheim, Mainz, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf.

In 1782, in Paris, Volta showed French chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) his experiences with the eudiometer, from which the scientist drew a conclusive proof of the composition of water.

Above: An eudiometer, a laboratory device that measures the change in the volume of a gas mixture following a physical or chemical change

He then went to the Netherlands, Flanders and finally England, where he stayed for a few weeks.

In June, Volta visited Birmingham and Oxford, accompanied by Joao Magellan, a Portuguese scientist and a direct descendant of the famous explorer.

His return trip took him across France and finally back home via Genoa.

In July 1784, travelling through Tyrol, Volta reached Wien (Vienna), where, on the 27th, he was received by Emperor Joseph II.

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Above: Joseph II (1741-1790), Holy Roman Emperor (1764-1790)

Volta´s journey then continued towards Bohemia and Germany and ended in November.

In 1785, at the beginning of the new academic year, the students of Pavia University, elected Volta as Chancellor of the University.

In 1794, Volta married an aristocratic Comoese lady, Teresa Peregrini (1794-1841), with whom he will raise three sons: Zanino, Flaminio and Luigi.

In 1800, as the result of a professional disagreement over the galvanic response advocated by Luigi Galvani, Volta invented the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current.

Volta determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and copper.

In announcing his discovery of the voltaic pile, Volta paid tribute to the influences of English chemist William Nicholson (1753-1815), Italian physicist Tiberius Cavallo (1749-1809) and English physicist Abraham Bennet (1749-1799).

The battery made by Volta is credited as one of the first electrochemical cells.

It consists of two electrodes: one of zinc, the other of copper.

The electrolyte is either sulfuric acid mixed with water, or saltwater brine, existing in the form of hydrogen and sulfate.

The zinc, which is higher in the electrochemical series than both copper and hydrogen, reacts with the negatively charged sulfate.

The positively charged hydrogen ions (protons) capture electrons from the copper, forming bubbles of hydrogen gas.

This makes the zinc rod the negative electrode and the copper rod the positive electrode.

Thus, there are two terminals, and an electric current will flow if they are connected.

The copper does not react, but rather functions as an electrode for the electrc current.

However, this cell also has some disadvantages:

It is unsafe to handle, since sulfuric acid, even if diluted, can be hazardous.

Also, the power of the cell diminishes over time, because the hydrogen gas is not released.

Instead, it accumulates on the surface of the copper electrode and forms a barrier between the metal and the electrolyte solution.

In March 1800, Volta reported his results in a long letter to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society in Britain.

The letter was entitled “On the electricity excited by the mere contact of conducting substances of different kinds”.

Without a buzzer or a semiconductor to detect voltage, Volta used his body as a detector and did not seem to mind getting electric shocks!

In 1801, during the autumn, Volta left for Paris, on behalf of the University of Paris.

Volta paid his respects to Napoléon – Como is now governed by the French. – and triumphally displays his battery to the Institute of France.

Above: Volta explains the principle of “the electric column” to Napoléon, 1801

Volta enjoyed a certain amount of closeness with Napoléon throughout his life and would be conferred numerous honours by him.

Portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. In the original image He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.

Above: Napoléon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

By 1804, Volta has repeatedly asked to be relieved from his University commitments.

Despite his professional success, Volta tended to be a person inclined towards domestic life and he preferred to live secluded from public life for the sake of his family.

But, in 1806, Napoléon, during his visit to Pavia in May, pleaded with Volta to remain in his position.

Volta then accepted the nomination as Professor Emeritus.

Persistent requests led Volta to resume, at least in part, his physics lectures.

From 1806 to 1809, Volta organised 40 experimental lessons, carried out over two months.

After the defeat of Napoléon and the return of the Austrians, Volta is appointed the Dean of the School of Philosophy, a position he holds until 1819.

Towards the end of his life, Volta pioneered the remotely operated pistol, whereby an electric current travelled 50 km / 30 miles from Como to Milano and fired a pistol.

This was the forerunner of the telegraph, which uses electricity to communicate.

In 1814, the death of Volta´s son Flamino strengthen Alessandro´s resolve to give up his academic commitments.

Volta retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago, now named Camnago Volta, in his honour.

Volta died there on 5 March 1827, just after his 82nd birthday.

Volta´s remains rest in Camnago Volta.

In 1927, Francesco Somaini, a local Como cotton industrialist and Member of Parliament, promoted the idea of establishing the idea of establishing a musuem dedicated to Volta, the Tempio Voltiano, and financed its construction on the occasion of the first centenary of the scientist´s death.

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Above: The Tempio Voltiano, Como

The opening ceremony of the Tempio Voltiano was held on 15 July 1928.

In the main hall of the Tempio, the visitor encounters relics and scientific instruments for experiments with inflammable gases and thermal phenomena, devices to sudy electrical phenomena, an exhibit on Volta´s dispute with Luigi Galvani regarding electricity and animals, a display of Volta´s famous battery and a collection of other scientific instruments either used by or invented by Volta.

The mezzanine tells the story of Alessandro Volta as a man and as a scientist and the times in which he lived in.

In addition, the scenic lighthouse, the Faro Volta, dedicated in his honour by the city´s telegraph and telephone workers, was inaugurated on 8 September on the top of Mount San Maurizio which dominates Como.

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Above: Faro Volta, Como

The contemporary steel sculpture, the Life Electric, in Como´s harbour, also dedicated to Volta, was completed in 2015 by the artist Daniel Libeskind.

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Above: The Life Electric, Como

The sculpture is 13.75 metres tall and weighs 11,000 kilograms.

The Life Electric takes inspiration from the electric tension existing between the two poles of a battery.

Above: The design of The Life Electric

The Life Electric is meant to act as a third pole, located mid-distance from the Faro Volta and the Tempio Voltiano, and is meant to show the connections among the natural elements of light, wind and water, the geometry that connects the sky, the lake and the mountains.

And this interplay between light, wind and water….

This interplay between the remote past, the touristic present and the unimaginable future….

This harmony of sky, lake and mountains makes Como feel electric.

Multiple lightning strikes on a city at night

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / David Clarke, Technical English at Work / Georgina Palffy (editor), The Science Book / Robert Winston (editor), Science Year by Year: The Ultimate Visual Guide to the Discoveries that Changed the World / Alberto Longatti (editor), The Volta Temple in Como: A Guide

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Goodnight poster.jpg

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.

Convincing-clooney-poster.jpg

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 the Road into the Open

Cadenabbia di Griante, Italia, Monday 7 September 1840

“We leave Cadenabbia in a day or two. 

I go unwillingly.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

The calm weather invites my stay, by dispelling my fears.

The heat is great in the middle of the day and I read a great deal to beguile the time….

I breathe the air.

I am sheltered by the hills and woods that give its balmy breath, which lend their glorious colouring….”

(Mary Shelly, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Rambles in Germany and Italy was Mary Shelley´s last published work.

The text describes two European trips Shelley took with her son, Percy, and several of his university friends.

After crossing Switzerland by carriage and railway, the group spent two months at Cadenabbia on Lago Como, where Shelley relaxed and reminisced about the years she had lived in Italy with her husband.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 September 2017

Below is how the local tourism board of Cadenabbia tries to seduce the traveller to stop for a while….

Cadenabbia is the ashore cluster of Griante. The origins of its name are bound to different etymological traditions, one of which says that it comes from the contraction of Ca’ dei Nauli (boatmen’s house). As a matter of facts, in old times, on that very spot there was an inn to which all boatmen coming from Como or Lecco to deliver their goods to the along shore villages used to stop and taste the excellent local wine: the Griantino. At the beginning of the 19th century, Gianella turned it into the very first hotel for tourists and visitors on this area, which immediately became well known among travellers all over the world. For a long time Cadenabbia has been one of the favoured places for the British and a large community lived here. For that reason it was built the Anglican Church, the very first one on Italian soil, which was consecrated in 1891.

 

Griante The village lies on a wide plateau overlooking the lake, at about 50 mt. above lake level. It faces the promontory of Bellagio with the dolomite massifs of the Grigna and Grignetta in the background, which gives the opportunity to enjoy unique landscape views both for beauty and charm.

For many centuries Griante gave hospitality to a number of great visitors. It would be enough to quote Giuseppe Verdi, who in the quietness of Villa Margherita wrote the most beautiful airs of his La Traviata. Stendhal, who dedicated many pages of his masterpiece La Chartreuse de Parme to describe the village and its environment. The enchanting beauty of the place enraptured Longfellow, the American poet, who wrote many poems about this place.

Here came the British Queen Victoria, the German Kaiser William II, Nicolas II of Russia, the Prince of Piedmont (the last Italian King), Pius XI, until he was elected Pope, and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who used to call Griante: my second hometown.

Many pages of modern history have been written in the peaceful atmosphere of Griante, the village the Celts called Griant – Tir, that is to say: The land of the sun.

Ah, to be in Cadenabbia right now instead of here!

Here where rain is more frequent than paycheques and fine weather is invisible and ignored by the demands of work.

Cadenabbia´s great beauty of scenery and vegetation, at its utmost with the blossoms of spring or the changing of the leaves of autumn, beckons my spirit, yet the demands of the flesh maintain my tiresome sojourn here.

Cadenabbia di Griante, Tuesday, 14 July 1840

“The steamer, however, did not stop (in Bellaggio), but on the opposite shore, Cadenabbia, which looked southward and commanded a view of Bellaggio and the mountains beyond surmounting Varenna….

Strange to say, there is discontent among us.

The weather is dreary, the Lake tempest-tossed.

And, stranger still, we are tired of mountains.

I, who thinks a flat country insupportable, yet wish for lower hills and a view of a wider expanse of sky.

The eye longs for space.”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia di Griante, Monday 31 July 2017

The heat is intense, our mood is dreary and our conversation tempest-tossed.

And, in so short a space of time from the northern tip of Lake Como to this town of Cadenabbia, 15 miles north of the city of Como, we – the wife and I – have grown tired of one another´s personality quirks shown in the car journey southwards.

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The car ride is insupportable.

The mind longs for solitude and space.

But we are on vacation, chained to one another by obligation and prearranged travel details.

She has exhausted her patience trying to locate for me Mussolini`s execution spot while negotiating rush hour traffic.

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence of this blog.)

Her impatience has exhausted my tolerance.

Yet, stranger still, we persevere.

Cadenabbia, Friday 17 July 1840

“Descriptions with difficulty convey definite impressions, and any picture or print of our part of the Lake will better than my words describe the scenery around me….

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High mountains rise behind, their lower terraces bearing olives, vines and Indian corn – midway clothed by chestnut woods; bare, rugged, sublime at their summits….

These Alps are in shape more abrupt and fantastic than any I ever saw.

I wish I could, by my imperfect words, bring before you not only the grander features, but every minute peculiarity, every varying hue, of this matchless scene.

The progress of each day brings with it its appropriate change.

When I rise in the morning and look out, our own side is bathed in sunshine, and we see the opposite mountains raising their black masses in sharp relief against the eastern sky, while dark shadows are flung by the abrupt precipices on the fair Lake beneath.

This very scene glows in sunshine later in the day, till at evening the shadows climb up, first darkening the banks, and slowly ascending till they leave exposed the naked summits alone, which are long gladdened by the golden radiance of the sinking sun, till the bright rays disappear, and, cold and gray, the granite peaks stand pointing to the stars, which one by one gather above.

Here then we are in peace, with a feeling of being settled in….”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

As we struggle, crawling and cursing ever southwards to a city called Como that seems forever out of reach, I am reminded that Cadenabbia is known for more than Mary Shelley.

CADENABBIA
E. W. Longfellow- Summer 1872

No sound of wheels or hoof beat breaks
The silence of the summer day.
As by the loveliest of all lakes
I while the idle hours away.

I pace the leafy colonnade.
Where level branches of the plane
Above me waves a roof of shade
Impervious to the sun or rain.

At times a sudden rush of air
Flutters, the lazy leaves o’ erhead
And gleams of sunshine toss and flare
Like torches down the path I tread.

By Sommariva’s garden gate
I make the marble stairs my seat,
and hear the water as I wait
lapping the steps beneath my feet.

The undulation sinks and swell
Along the stony parapets,
and far away the floating bells
tinkle upon the fisher’s nets.

Silent and slow by tower and town
The freightened barges come and go,
their pendent shadows gliding down
by town and tower submerged below

The hills sweep upward from the shore
With villas scattered one by one,
upon their wooded spurs, and lower
Bellagio blazing in the sun.

And dimly seen a tangled mass
Of walls and woods of light and shade,
stands beckoning up the Stelvio Pass
Varenna with its white cascade.

I ask myself is this a dream?
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?


Sweet vision! Do not fade away;
linger until my heart shall take
into itself the summer day,
and all the beauty of the lake.

Linger until upon my brain
Is stamped an image of the scene;
then fade into the air again,
and be as if thou hadst not been.

GRIANTE
STENDHAL: “LA CHARTREUSE DE PARMA” description di GRIANTE

Everything is noble and delicate. Everything speaks of love. Nothing reminds the ugliness of civilisation. The villages placed halfway up the hills are sheltered by trees, and above the tops of the trees rises the fine architecture of their slender bell towers. If, from time to time, some small fields, fifty yard wide, interrupt the “bouquets” of chestnut and cherry wild trees, the satisfied eye sees the plants growing happier and more vigorous then anywhere else. Beyond these hills, which host some hermitages where everyone would like to live, the enchanted eyes discover the picks of the Alps, always covered with snow, and their majestic austerity reminds the strife of life, and this increases the voluptuousness of the present hour.
The imagination is moved by the far away twinkling of a bell, coming from some small village hidden under the trees; and the sounds brought by the water that sweeten them, assume the colour of soft melancholy and meekness that seems to tell men: “Life passes by quickly. Do not be reluctant towards the happiness that comes to you. Reach out and enjoy it.” The language of these enchanting places, that have no equal in the world, gave back to the Countess’ heart the feelings of when she was sixteen.

Above are descriptions of Cadenabbia by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle).

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1851)

In 1853, Giulio Ricordi built a mansion here, the Villa Margherita Ricordi where Giuseppe Verdi visited and is said to have composed some parts of La Traviata here.

Above: Giulio Ricordi (1840 – 1912)

Above: Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)

Lake Como - between Cadenabbia and Menaggio

Above: The Villa Margherita Ricordi

Visits by Giuseppe Verdi to this mansion may have been related to the successful strategy of luring the aging composer out of his retirement with the composition of his two final works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).

But Ricordi had the good sense to promote younger composers of merit, including Giacomo Puccini, said to be the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi.

Above: Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)

Ricardo was something of a father figure to Puccini, feared (and often needed to be censorious over Puccini´s dilatory work habits) but deeply trusted.

Arthur Schnitzler wrote movingly about Cadenabbia´s cemetery in his 1908 novel The Road into the Open.

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Above: Arthur Schnitzler, M.D. (1862 – 1931)

My research of the places on our itinerary bring to mind the works and life of Schnitzler beyond his account of Cadenabbia’s final resting place for its dead.

Schnitzler was the son of a Viennese doctor and the grandson, through his mother, of another Viennese doctor.

Schnitzler himself was a doctor until he abandoned the practice of medicine in favour of writing.

(I could never imagine my wife, also a doctor, abandoning her long years of study and practice to try another profession.

I am sceptical of her allowing me to pursue a writing career without working fulltime at some other profession, whether respectable as teaching or steady as in the hospitality service.)

At age 40, Schnitzler married Olga Gussmann, a 21-year-old aspiring actress and singer, with whom he had already produced a son the year previously.

In their 6th year of marriage, they also had a daughter, who committed suicide at the tender age of 19.

The Schnitzlers separated shortly thereafter.

Schnitzler´s works were, to say the least, even today, controversial, for their frank description of sexuality.

In a letter to Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud confessed:

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Above: Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis (1856 – 1939)

“I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition – although actually as a result of sensitive introspection – everything that I have had to unearth by labourious work on other persons.”

Schnitzler was branded as a pornographer after the release of his play Reigen, in which ten pairs of characters are shown before and after the sexual act, leading and ending with a prostitute.

Reigen was made into a French language film in 1950 as La Ronde, (starring Simone Signoret) achieving considerable success in the English-speaking world, with the result that Schnitzler´s play is better known there under its French title.

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(Whether the designers of Montréal´s La Ronde amusement park had the film in their mind when they made the park remains a mystery.)

Roger Vadim´s film Circle of Love (1964)(starring Jane Fonda) and Otto Schenk´s Der Reigen (1973) and Fernando Meirelles´ film 360° (starring Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) are all based on the play.

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360 Poster.jpg

Schnitzler´s novella Fräulein Else is a first-person stream of consciousness narrative by a young aristocratic woman in the throes of a moral dilemma that ends tragically.

This novella has been adapted a number of times, including the German silent film Fräulein Else (1929)(starring Elisabeth Bergner) and the Argentine film The Naked Angel (1946)(starring Olga Zubarry).

The Naked Angel is the story of a sculptor who agrees to lend a bankrupt man money provided that his beautiful daughter pose nude for his latest work of art.

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In response to an interviewer who asked Schnitzler what he thought about the critical view that his works all seemed to treat the same subjects, he replied:

“I write of love and death.

What other subjects are there?”

Indeed.

(As I sneakily look into the passenger mirror above the car´s dashboard, my balding pate and silver hair remind me that there are probably fewer years ahead of me than I have left behind.

As I watch my wife struggle with the frustrations of Italian traffic and think that we have been a couple for two decades having known few others before our union, I am reminded that regardless of the moments that she may annoy me I remain passionately in love with this tumultous woman.

Love and death are much on my mind today.

How much must I love this woman even to tolerate her at her worst?

How much must she love me to tolerate me at my worst?

How dangerous these streets are!

How easy to be struck or to strike others!)

The bedroom is often the focus of many of Schnitzler´s works and he himself had an affair with one of his actresses, Adele Sandrock.

An exception to his farcicial attitude towards the bedroom and the games adults play within it, Professor Bernhardi, a play about a Jewish doctor who turns away a Catholic priest in order to spare a patient the realisation that she is on the point of death, is his only major dramatic work without a sexual theme.

(These modern times simply demand a modernised adaptation of this play.)

(I ask myself: “Would I want to know when I am dying?”

My honest answer is “No”.

I prefer the deception, the illusion, that the closing of my eyes is a mere prelude to temporary rest rather than the final curtain over a permanent slumber.)

Schnitzler toyed with formal as well as social convention.

With his short story Lieutenant Gustl, he was the first to write German fiction in stream-of-consciousness narration in a story of a soldier and the army´s obsessive code of formal honour.

This story caused Schnitzler to be stripped of his commission as a reserve officer in the medical corps.

(It is a curious thing how man disguises the murder of other men in cloaks of honour wrapped in flags, thinking that this somehow justifies the barbarity of the act and the senselessness of the sacrifice.)

Schnitzler wrote two full-length novels: the above-mentioned The Road into the Open (the story of an aristocratic young composer Georg von Wergenthin-Recco, who has talent but lacks the drive to get down to work and spends most of his time socialising with others like himself, and his ultimately unhappy affair with a Catholic lower middle class girl named Anna Rosner) and Therese (the story of a woman, who gives birth to an illegitimate child during the final decades of the First World War, and who, having to live in poverty herself, is unable to secure an education for her son, so she has a succession of lovers all of whom act irresponsibly towards her until she meets a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur who proposes to her, but dies before they can get married thwarting all her hopes of the good life, and, in the end, she is killed by her ungrateful and estranged son Franz).

(Did Schnitzler have Puccini in mind when he wrote The Road into the Open?)

In addition to his plays and fiction, Schnitzler meticulously kept a diary from the age of 17 until two days before his death.

Running to almost 8,000 pages, the diary is most notable for Schnitzler`s casual descriptions of sexual conquests – he was often in relationships with several women at once, and for a period of several years he kept a record of every orgasm he experienced (!).

(Who does this sort of thing?)

Schnitzler´s works were called “Jewish filth” by Adolf Hitler and were banned by the Nazis in Austria and Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

In 1933, when Joseph Goebbels organised book burnings in Berlin and other cities, Schnitzler´s works were thrown into the flames along with those of other Jews, including Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud and Stefan Zweig.

I am reminded of Schnitzler`s Dream Story, which was later adapted into the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut (starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kiddmann).

A framed image of a nude couple kissing – she with her eye open – against a purple background. Below the picture frame are the film's credits.

Though the film remains one of my least favourite films, and Nicole Kiddmann one of my least favourite actresses, this story of a doctor who is shocked when his wife had contemplated having an affair a year earlier, so he is thus inspired to embark on an adventure during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society, still stirs something inside me when I consider one particular scene where Dr. Harford claims to know his wife completely.

Alice finds his confidence in his ability to understand women extremely amusing.

The idea of openness intrigues me as our car seems stuck in perpetual gridlock.

Do I really want to tell my wife of moments when she has disappointed me, or of moments when the mind has thoughts of an impure nature for those who are not her?

And if my thoughts are those of occasional displeasure with her and pleasure with others, wouldn´t it be hypocritical of me to imagine that there are not similar moments, similar thoughts for her?

In the novella and the film the participants in the private orgy have their faces covered by Venetian masks.

Historians, travel guide authors, novelists and, of course, merchants of Venetian masks have all noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscous activities.

Tim Kreider and Thomas Nelson have linked the film’s usage of these masks to Venice´s reputation as a centre of both eroticism and mercantilism.

Carolin Ruwe argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, reflecting the masks that we all wear in society.

And the line between our private lives and our public personas seems often deliberately complicated and blurred on so many issues of sexuality: breastfeeding, the rights of a woman to be as covered or uncovered as she chooses, the rights of an undeveloped fetus versus a woman´s body burdened with an unplanned pregnancy, the choice of what one wears and what is deemed feminine or masculine and what is not, the choice of with whom we choose or don´t choose to intimate with, the morality of self abuse, the acceptance or rejection of the gender nature assigned us, the question of fidelity versus being true to one´s sexual instincts even to exploration outside of monogamy….

Many questions that dominate our thinking….

Perhaps Italy is responsible for these thoughts?

“What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

Sometimes it seems almost possible to measure it exactly….by comparing the difference between a traveller´s enraptured recollection of his personal experiences and more sober and objective accounts of the same events.

What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

….that gives middle-aged and resigned people the sensation of being, if not young again, at least daring and pleasant to others, and the illusion that they could still bite the fruits of life with their false teeth?

….that makes unwanted people feel wanted, unimportant people feel important, and purposeless people believe that the real way to live intelligently is to have no earnest purpose in life?

Italy….is one of the last countries in the Western world where the great god Pan is not dead, where life is still gloriously pagan, where Christianity has not deeply disturbed the happy traditions and customs of the ancients, where the Renaissance has not spent itself.

Religion is but a thin veneer over older customs.

Foreigners come to taste la dolce vita, to play on solitary beaches, to sit in secluded caves and woods, to eat simple food with their hands, consort with vendors and workmen, living close to nature and in harmony with the vagaries and caprices of human instinct.

Italy is the world´s earthly paradise, where sin is unkown, man is still a divine animal and all loves are pure.

Italy is the right milieu for legal and illegal, natural, seminatural or unnatural honeymoons, affairs, liasons and escapades.

We long for things that have kept their natural flavour, those simple flavours threatened by industrial civilisation.

We like the guileless wines, the local cheeses which are unknown a few miles away, freshly-picked fruit warmed by the sun, fish still dripping sea water and eaten with lemon juice, home-baked bread….all combined with the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people themselves.”

(Luigi Barzini, The Italians)

“In this beautiful country one must only make love.

Other pleasures of the soul are cramped here.

Love here is delicious.

Anywhere else is only a bad copy.” (Stendhal)

Is this why German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer regularly took his holiday in Cadenabbia?

Villa La Collina - Pool

Above: The Villa la Collina, built in 1899, where Adenauer used to stay, and since 1977, used as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Institute

Konrad Adenauer was a German statesman who served as the first post-WW2 Chancellor of West Germany, leading his country from ruin to a productive and prosperous nation.

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Above: Konrad Adenauer (1876 – 1967), Chancellor (1949 – 1963)

During his years in power West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity.

He was the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) political party that under his leadership became, and remains, one of the most influential parties in Germany.

Cdu-logo.svg

Adenauer, who was Chancellor until age 87, was dubbed “the old man”, as he was the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office, masking his age by his intense work habits and his uncanny political instinct.

He found relaxation and great enjoyment in the Italian game of bocce and spent a great deal of his post political career playing this game.

His favourite place to do this was in Cadenabbia.

His rented Villa has since been acquired as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), associated with the CDU, as the think tank of the European People´s Party (EPP).

Logo Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.svg

(The KAS´s aim is the “promotion of freedom and liberty, peace and justice through furthering European unification, improving transatlantic relations and deepening development cooperation” through the research and analysis of current political trends.

The KAS offers more than 2,500 conferences and events each year worldwide, and actively supports the political involvement and education of universally gifted youth through a prestigious scholarship program as well as an ongoing comprehensive seminar program.)

Perhaps this old man who believed so strongly in openness between nations was attracted to Italy by the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people.

Italians have emotions and are unashamed of them and seldom try to hide them.

This tense, dramatic quality, this shameless directness about the Italians, is refreshing to foreigners accustomed to nordic self-control and frigidity of feeling.

Italians seek that combination of love, sensuality and sincerity to define their lives.

Music lives only in Italy.

Is this what continually draws the wife and me to Italy?

This trip is our 6th visit.

Perhaps we as nordic dwellers unconsciously follow the advice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

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Above: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

“For strange effects and extraordinary combinations, we must go to Life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

Cadenabbia, Saturday 1 August 1840

“The snow is gone from the mountain tops.

Warm, really warm, weather has commenced, and we begin to enjoy one of the most delicious pleasures of Life, in its way.

The repose necessitated by heat during the day, the revival in the evening, the enjoyment of the cooler hours, the enchantment of the nights – to stroll beside or linger upon the divine lake, to see the sun´s declining rays gild the mountain peaks, to watch the stars gather bright over the craggy summits, to view the vast shadows darken the waters, and hear the soft tinkling bells, put by the fishermen to mark the spot where the nets are set, come with softened sound across the water….

This has been our lot each evening.”

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

Life is both moonlit strolls and traffic troubles.

I long for the former and tire of the latter.

I pray we reach the city of Como soon and escape from the heat and the noise and the stress.

In Como, we will park our car and refuse to move it for the next few days.

We will stroll along the lake in the cool of the evening and lounge on the shore in the heat of the afternoon, and drink from the joyful cup of Life in days happy and ethereal.

And who knows?

Maybe we will learn to play bocce.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Red-Headed League”, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes / http://www.cadenabbia.it / http://www.kas.de

Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

It may be founded on love, trust and a shared sense of purpose, but it runs on cowardice, impatience, ill-advised remarks and low cunning.

But also: apologies, belated expressions of gratitude and frequent appeals for calm.

Every day is a lesson in what I am doing wrong.”

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“Twenty years ago my wife and I embarked on a project so foolhardy, the prsopect of which seemed to us both so weary, stale and flat that even thinking about it made us shudder….

We simply agreed – we’ll get married – with the resigned determination of two people plotting to bury a body in the woods.”

(Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband)

Since autumn of 2016 I have been teaching technical English to a company in two locations: Amriswil in Canton Thurgau (the Canton where I reside) and in Neuhaus in Canton St. Gallen (the Canton where I mostly work) on the border of Canton Zürich.

From Neuhaus it is closer to visit Zürich than it is for me to return back to Landschlacht, so when my schedule as a freelance English teacher finds me with a free afternoon after the company class I take myself down to Zürich.

Zürich possesses many temptations for me: museums, bookshops, the Limmat River, the Lake of Zürich, restaurants and cafés.

File:ZurichMontage.jpg

And as well Zürich is where my wife resides from Sunday afternoon to Thursday evening every week.

And somewhere buried deep within our marriage contract in words only my wife can read is a clause that insists that I occasionally be nice and visit the Wife, aka my own personal She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Upon my arrival in Zürich yesterday a bus ride and a train journey later, I still had a few hours to myself with which I had the illusion of freedom to do what I wished before my wife, the doctor, finished work at her hospital.

I foolishly forgot that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays and I had this explained to me politely by a security guard at the Swiss National Museum.

File:Zürich - Landesmuseum - Platzspitzpark IMG 1254 ShiftN.jpg

But like every bibliophile bookworm I never travel without literature for such situations, so with Duncan Smith’s Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Ununsual Objects in hand I once again set out to discover Zürich before meeting the wife who would then set my agenda for me.

All guidebooks to Zürich mention the fact that Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) spent time in the city during the years leading up to the First World War.

File:Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer - restoration.jpg

Seven years and eight months (1896 – 1900 / 1909 – 1911 / 1912 – 1914 / 1919), to be precise, at six different addresses (Unionstrasse 4 / Klosbachstrasse 87 / Dolderstrasse 17 / Moussonstrasse 12 / Hofstrasse 116 / Hochstrasse 37).

Albert Einstein’s name is now synonymous with genius and his face has become a 20th century icon.

But what about his wife during this time, the gifted mathematician Mileva Maric (1875 – 1948)?

File:Mileva Maric.jpg

Few books mention her name and even fewer mention that she was buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich.

Albert Einstein arrived in Zürich in October 1896 to study at the Federal Polytechnic Institute (Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum) – today the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)(ETH).

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A wall plaque at Unionstrasse 4 marks one of the addresses where Albert lived during this period.

In the same year Mileva attended the same institution and the two soon became close friends.

Born to wealthy parents in Titel (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of Serbia), Mileva was the first and favourite child of an ambitious pesant who had joined the army, married into money and then dedicated himself to making sure his brilliant daughter was able to prevail in the male world of mathematics and physics.

Mileva spent most of her childhood in Novi Sad and attended a variety of ever more demanding schools, at each of which she was at the top of her class, culminating when her father convinced the all-male Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb to let her enroll.

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Above: St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb, Croatia

After graduating there with the top grades in physics and math, Mileva made her way to Zürich, where she became, just before she turned 21, the only woman in Albert’s section of the Polytechnic.

More than three years older than Albert, she was afflicted with a congenital hip dislocation that cause her to limp.

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

One of her female friends in Zürich described her as “very smart and serious, small, delicate, brunette, ugly”.

But she had qualities that Albert, in his romantic scholar years, found attractive: a passion for math and science, a brooding depth and a beguiling soul.

Her deepset eyes had a haunting intensity, her face an enticing touch of melancholy.

Mileva would become, over time, Albert’s muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist and she would create an emotional field more powerful than that of anyone else in Albert’s life.

Mileva would alternately attract and repulse Albert, with a force so strong that a mere scientist, a mere man, like himself would never be able to fathom it.

Mileva and Albert met when they both entered the Polytechnic in October 1896, but their relationship took a while to develop.

They were nothing more than classmates that first academic year, but they did, however, decide to go hiking together in the summer of 1897.

“Frightened by the new feelings she was experiencing” because of Albert, Mileva decided to leave the Polytechnic temporarily and instead audit classes at Heidelberg University.

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Mileva and Albert corresponded, her letters a mix of playfulness and seriousness, of lightheartednes and intensity, of intimacy and detachment.

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

By February 1898, Mileva made up her mind to do so.

By April she was back, in a boarding house a few blocks from him and now they were a couple.

They shared books, intellectual enthusiasms, intimacies and access to each other’s apartments.

Friends were surprised that a sensuous and handsome man such as Albert, who could have almost any woman fall for him, would find himself with a short and plain Serbian who had a limp and exuded an air of melancholy.

But it is easy to see why Albert felt such an affinity for Mileva.

They were kindred spirits who perceived themselves as aloof scholars and outsiders, rebellious toward others’ expectations, intellectuals who sought as lovers someone who would also be a partner, a colleague and collaborator.

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

She would eventually gain the same score in physics as Albert.

In 1900 Albert presented his first published scientific paper to the Annalen der Physik, Europe’s leading physics journal, in which his unified physical law of relativity was already apparent.

In February 1901, Switzerland made Albert a citizen, but his parents insisted that he go with them to Milan and live there if he could not find work in Zürich.

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Both in Zürich and in Milan, Albert was unsuccessful at attaining fulltime employment.

He spent most of 1901 juggling temporary teaching assignments and some tutoring.

Waiting for a decent post to materialise, Albert accepted a temporary post at a technical school in Winterthur for two months, filling in for a teacher on military leave, while Mileva remained in Zürich.

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To make up for his absences, Albert proposed that they have a romantic getaway by Lake Como.

It was early Sunday morning, 5 May 1901, Albert waited for Mileva at the train station in the village of Como, “with open arms and a pounding heart”.

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Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

Back in Zürich preparing to take her exams and hoping to go on to get a doctorate and become a physicist, she decided instead that she wanted Albert’s child – even though he was not yet ready or willing to marry her.

Perhaps as a consequence of her pregnancy or her dissatisfaction that Albert went on summer vacation with his parents and sister in the Alps instead of finding employment after Winterthur as he had promised her, Mileva failed her exams and gave up her dream of being a scientific scholar.

In the fall of 1901, Einstein took on a job as a tutor of a rich English schoolboy at a little private academy in Schaffhausen.

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Mileva was eager to be with Albert, but her pregnancy made it impossible for them to be together in public, so she stayed at a small hotel in a neighbouring village.

Their relationship became strained, as Albert came only infrequently to visit her claiming he did not have the spare money.

Albert was desperately unhappy with his job in Schaffhausen so it was with some relief that his friend Marcel Grossmann told him that a job as a Bern patent office clerk would soon be his.

Albert moved to Bern in late January 1902, while Mileva returned to her parents’ home in Novi Sad to have their baby, a girl they called Lieserl.

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

Though Albert wrote to Mileva asking about Lieserl, his love for the child was mainly abstract.

Albert did not tell his friends or family about his daughter and never once publicly speak of her or even acknowledge she existed.

Albert found a large room in Bern but Mileva would not be sharing it.

They were not married and an aspiring Swiss civil servant could not be seen cohabitating in such a way.

After a few months Mileva moved back to Zürich to wait for Albert to marry her as he had promised.

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

Lieserl was left back in Novi Sad with relatives and friends, so that Albert could maintain both his unencumbered lifestyle and respectability he needed to become a Swiss official.

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

Albert married Mileva at a tiny civil ceremony in Bern’s registry office on 6 January 1903.

Their son Hans Albert Einstein was born on 14 May 1904.

After gaining his doctorate in 1905 while working in the Swiss Patent Office, assessing the worth of electromagnetic devices, Albert wrote four groundbreaking articles: one concerning the photoelectric effect (for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921) and another containing his now famous mass-energy equivalence equation: E=mc squared.

In 1909 Albert and Mileva along with Hans moved back to Zürich, where Albert was made Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Zürich.

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The Einstein family lived on the second floor at Moussonstrasse 12, where in 1910 their second son Eduard “Tete” Einstein was born.

In March 1911 the family relocated to Prague, where Albert became full professor at Charles University.

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Einstein’s fame would lead him to wander around Europe giving speeches and basking in his renown, while Mileva stayed behind in Prague, a city she hated.

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She brooded about not being part of his scientific circles that she had once struggled to join.

She became even more gloomy and depressed than her natural disposition had often led her to before.

So it was in this instability between them that Albert travelled alone to Berlin during the Easter holidays of 1912 and became reacquainted with a cousin, three years older, whom he had known as a child, Elsa.

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Elsa Einstein had been married, divorced and now at age 36 was living with her two daughters in the same apartment buildings as her parents.

Albert was looking for new companionship and thus began secret romantic correspondence between them.

But after returning to Prague from Berlin, Albert began to develop qualms about his affair with his cousin.

What remained between Mileva and Albert was a feeling that living among the middle class German community in Prague had become wearisome, so they decided to return to the one place they thought could restore their relationship: Zürich.

In July 1912 the Einsteins returned once more to Zürich, where Albert took up a professorship at the Polytechnikum.

Life should have been glorious.

They were able to afford a modern six-room apartment with good views.

Hofstrasse 116, Hofburg, Zürich-Hottingen 1936

Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

But Mileva’s depression continued to deepen and and her health to decline.

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

So, when a few months later, Einstein received an offer to work in Berlin and be with Elsa, he was quite receptive.

This time they lived at Hofstrasse 116 where they remained until February 1914, when Albert became professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

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Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

Mileva became involved with Zagreb mathematics professor Vladimir Varicak who challenged Einstein’s theories.

In July Mileva moved out with the two boys into the house of her only friend Clara Haber and her husband the chemist Fritz.

Albert was prepared to take her back if she agreed to a brutal ultimatum of her duties and responsibilites.

He was prepared to live with Mileva again because he didn’t want to lose his children but it was out of the question that they would resume a friendly relationship but he aimed for a businesslike arrangement.

Mileva and the two boys left for Zürich on 29 July 1914.

She filled her time giving private lessons in mathematics, physics and piano playing.

Einstein returned to Zürich once more in January/February 1919 to lecture on his Theory of Relativity, staying at Hochstrasse 37.

That same year Albert divorced Mileva, giving her the proceeds from his Nobel Prize for her and their children’s support.

Mileva invested the money in three properties in Zürich, occupying one of them herself at Huttenstrasse 62, which has been identified by a memorial plaque since 2005.

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Hans Einstein (1904 – 1973) would go on to study engineering at Zürich Polytechnic, get married, become a father to two sons and a daughter with his first wife Frieda, move to the United States becoming a professor of hydraulic engineering at Berkeley, remarry after Frieda’s death, father two more children.

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Above: Hans Einstein’s final resting place, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

Eduard Einstein (1910 – 1965) was smart and artistic.

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Obsessed about Freud, Eduard hoped to be a psychiatrist, but he succumbed to his own schizophrenia and was institutionalised in Switzerland for much of the rest of his life at Zürich University Psychiatric Hospital.

Albert would go on to access even greater fame and award, eventually marrying his cousin Elsa.

And what of Mileva?

By the 1930s, the costs of treating Eduard for schizophrenia had overwhelmed her.

She was forced to sell her two investment properties and to transfer the rights to Huttenstrasse to Albert so as not to lose it.

Although he made regular payments to her Mileva died penniless in 1948.

She is buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich’s Nordheim Cemetery and mostly forgotten.

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It was not until 2009 that a memorial gravestone was erected by the Serbian Diaspora Ministry, just inside the cemetery entrance on Käferholzstrasse.

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I visited the places Mileva had known in reverse order from the cemetery to the first apartment she had shared with Albert.

And I found parallels with my own past…

I too had been left behind by my parents like Lieserl.

My mother lies buried in an unmarked grave, but unlike Mileva there is no society to put a plaque on Fort Lauderdale´s cemetery.

Like Mileva I have married a partner more successful professionally than myself, though unlike Mileva I have no illusions about my ever having the same aptitudes as my wife possesses, nor do I feel jealousy or resentment for her success.

Mileva’s partner required that she uproot her life several times to different locations in Zürich and to other cities like Prague and Berlin.

As my wife´s career is more stable than mine, I have moved with/for her from the Black Forest to the Rhine River border near Basel up to Osnabruck and then to this wee village by the Lake of Constance here in Switzerland.

I, like Mileva, am less attractive and outgoing than my spouse.

I, like Mileva, have my own quiet struggles with depression, but, so far, these bouts seem far less serious than those she suffered.

I came from work at the company in Neuhaus dressed for executive type work.

The temperature in Zürich yesterday was 32°, hot and humid.

Elves could have taken a bath in the pools of sweat gathered under my armpits.

Zürich like Rome is built upon hills so seeing the former abodes of the late Mrs. E demanded energy.

Happily if one gets thirsty in Zürich there is no need to find a café or a supermarket because it is quite acceptable to drink from a public fountain.

One never has to travel far to find a fountain because there are few cities with more fountains than Zürich, again compareable to Rome.

At last count, this city boasts a total of around twelve hundred fountains.

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

With portable Starbucks cup in hand, I drank deeply and often.

Albert, with his great intelligence, achieved great fame and fortune.

Mileva, also possessing great intelligence, gave up fame and fortune for her family.

If Albert was a bad husband and father, history has no record in Mileva’s handwriting.

Her secrets and potential lie buried somewhere beneath the earth of the sprawling necropolis in the metropolis she chose to call home.

Daughter of Serbia, wife of a genius, mother to an abandoned daughter, sons becoming a wandering engineer and an ill schizophrenic, a victim of depression, genetics and passion, Mileva Maric Einstein was many things.

Now she is just a historical footnote lost in the shadows of an uncommunicative cemetery visited by a sweaty Canadian with too much time on his hands.

Mileva had her flaws and made her mistakes, but in the end analysis I am glad I found out about her.

I meet the wife later for a quick bite after her work and before her tango dance lesson and as I watch her speak with drama and passion, and as I consider both are good and bad times I can quietly smile and know that I have met my match, muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say that she has made my past quite interesting.

Being a husband ain’t easy, but it sure isn’t boring.

Sources:

Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich

Wikipedia

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Canada Slim and the Greatest Villain

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 May 2017

I read the news and I feel sometimes that all the media seems to report is bad news – news that angers or saddens me.

To be fair, it’s not the media’s fault completely…

Bad things happen in the world.

It is a terrible thing to admit, but nothing encourages us to remember Life more than a sudden threat to it or its sudden ending.

Recently Chris Cornell, former lead singer of the rock groups Audioslave and Soundgarden, died.

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Suddenly I am reminded of two of his songs: Black Hole Sun and You Know My Name (the theme song of the Bond film Casino Royale), which play again and again like a skipping vinyl record in the jukebox of my mind.

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On 22 May, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena after a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

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The attacker was identified by police as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan ancestry, who detonated a homemade explosive device as concertgoers were leaving the Arena.

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23 people, including Abedi himself, were killed and approximately 120 were injured.

My ignorance of things Mancunian, Libyan and the music of Ariana Grande is made manifest and I find myself suddenly searching literature both hard copy and electronic to know more about these things in an attempt to understand an event that is incomprehensible.

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Increased hits on search engines like Google show that I am not alone in this regard.

I am saddened by the loss of those so young whose only desire was to celebrate life’s rhythms.

I am saddened by the insanity that would drive a young man to commit such an atrocity.

I am angered that the Right will use this incident as a justification for their Islamophobia, making a cowed and frightened populace accept the usurpation of their freedom in the name of “guaranteed” security and create further hate and violence against others whose only “crime” is being of a different faith.

I am angered by those who would use religion as a justification for violence.

I am saddened that the tendency to label entire groups of people by the actions of a few still remains a constant impulse.

I am saddened that only those who think and act upon their consciences seek justice and compassion, while too many of us crave bloody revenge for this carnage committed against innocents.

I am saddened that those who have been chosen to lead us failed to protect us and may have been partially responsible for the violence visited upon us.

The lines between black and white, villain and hero, remain blurred.

Only the victims seem untainted of blame.

I, like many others, ask what could possibly be gained by anyone committing such an act.

A fearful populace brought to its knees who will seek to appease their attackers?

A spotlight thrown upon our vulnerability?

A desperate attack made to show the consequences of the actions made against others by those who lead us?

Events like Manchester also bring out the conspiracy theorists, whom are much harder to dismiss after a tragedy such as this.

The identification of the villains that inspired such violence is not so clear.

The child within me wishes for an obvious hero to combat such villainy, to save us as we cannot save ourselves.

A hero obvious who tells us: You know my name.

A hero like Bond.

James Bond.

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A person with a license to kill, to mete out revenge disguised as justice.

But is Ian Fleming’s fictional creation, immortalised in literature and film, truly a hero?

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour and murder is a funny trick.

Bond’s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.”

(Yuri Zhukov, Pravda, 30 September 1965)

Harsh criticism, but was this journalist completely inaccurate?

“It was part of his profession to kill people.

He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it.

As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.

If it happened, it happened.

Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”

(Ian Fleming, Goldfinger)

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But, by this analysis, where do we draw the line between soldier and criminal?

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Is every act justifiable if it is done for Queen and country, or in the name of religion?

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Since 1953, Bond has been in the public consciousness from Fleming’s literature and since 1962 from a never-ending series of films.

We are reminded of Bond these days, not only for the death of Chris Connell, but for the death, the day after Manchester, of one of the seven actors who have played Bond in the 26 films starring this character (including the Woody Allen spoof of Casino Royale and the independent film Never Say Never Again), Roger Moore, who played the secret agent in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985.

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Above: Sir Roger Moore (1927 – 2017)

Roger Moore died on 23 May 2017, age 89, in his home in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

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It is easy to think of Bond as a hero, for his villains are easy to identify.

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And perhaps it is this dispatching of these villains that has somehow given the character its own immortality, regardless of the mortality of those who portray him on the silver screen.

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Those who portray Bond have a terrible time afterwards of being identified only for the role as Bond.

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Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any other actor, had this typecasting problem.

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But unlike the villains Bond dispatched or the victims of real-life villains that strike down civilians, Moore did not end his days violently.

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In his acting roles, Moore encountered his share of villains who would have delighted in his demise, yet, with the exception of one film, Moore’s character of the moment would survive any and all opposition.

(In the 1956 film Diane, Moore, in the role of French King Henri II, is killed in a jousting tournament.)

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Moore’s characters were survivors, whether he was a highwayman against the armed might of a Duke (The Lion’s Thief, 1955) or a soldier in the Battle of Salamanca (The Miracle, 1959).

Moore played more roles than he is remembered for.

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Moore played Sir William of Ivanhoe (1958 – 59), Silky Harris (The Alaskans, 1959 – 60), 14 Carat John (The Roaring Twenties, 1960 – 62), Beau Maverick (1960 – 61), Simon Templar (The Saint, 1962 – 69), Gary Fenn (Crossplot, 1969), Harold Pelham (The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970), Lord Brett Sinclair (The Persuaders, 1971), Rod Slater (Gold, 1974), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes in New York, 1976), Sebastian Oldsmith (Shout at the Devil, 1976), Shawn Fynn (The Wild Geese, 1978), Rufus Excalibar ffolkes (North Sea Hijack, 1979), Major Otto Hecht (Escape to Athena, 1979), Captain Gavin Stewart (The Sea Wolves, 1980),Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Cannonball Run, 1981), Inspector Clouseau (The Curse of the Pink Panther, 1983), “Adam” (Bed and Breakfast, 1992), Lord Edgar Dobbs (The Quest, 1996), “The Chief” (Spice World, 1997) and Lloyd Faversham (Boat Trip, 2002).

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These TV/movie roles, which can still be seen on websites like YouTube, are just some of the roles Moore played in a long and successful acting career.

Most of these roles had him play the hero.

Most of these roles had moments when the hero’s life was in grave danger.

As Ivanhoe, Moore suffered broken ribs and a battleaxe blow to his helmet.

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In The Man Who Haunted Himself, Moore’s character briefly suffered clinical death after a car accident, but the movie’s director Basil Dearden would die for real in a car accident shortly thereafter.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore, as Bond, would mourn the death of his wife, though in real life Moore would himself marry four times and was the father of three children.

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Moore acted the hero in more than his screen appearances:

He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (1991) and the voice of Father Christmas in a UNICEF cartoon (2004) and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras (2008).

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Moore’s greatest villain was poor health.

He nearly died from double pneumonia when he was five.

He was a long-term sufferer of kidney stones and needed to be hospitalised during the making of the Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and again during the production of Bond film Moonraker (1979).

In 1993, Moore was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent successful surgery for the disease.

He collapsed on stage while appearing on Broadway in 2003 and was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a potentially deadly slow heartbeat.

In 2012, Moore revealed he had been treated for skin cancer several times.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

His greatest villain, cancer, finally beat him on 23 May 2017.

Terrorism is a villainous act I shall never understand, because despite the headlines it garnishes it is only common to my own life indirectly in headlines.

Diseases, like cancer, on the other hand, are something I, like the common man, can relate to.

In my own life I have lost classmates, my mother and my two foster parents to this disease.

The obituary pages are filled with names of people whose lives were snuffed out by disease.

Still we tend to find death’s arrival after a long battle against a disease easier to cope with, for there is a sense of preparedness / readiness for the fatal end, as unwanted as it may be.

Deaths from accident or from incidents such as Manchester are much harder to accept, for we weren’t ready for our loved ones suddenly departing from our lives.

We are saddened by the deaths of entertainment legends, for we feel that their entertainment touched our lives, but their deaths remind us that, like us, they were mortal too.

But when we compare the death of Moore to the deaths of Manchester, we are left with a sense of unfairness.

Moore was 89 and had lived a full life.

The youngest victim of the Manchester bombing was 8.

Chris Cornell and Salman Abedi could be compared in that they both committed suicide because they were both psychologically unhealthy, but Cornell brought value to the world while Abedi took it away.

So, in these times living in the shadow of death, who or what is the greatest villain?

I believe the greatest villain is: apathy.

When someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it should matter to us.

And it shouldn’t take the death of someone for us to finally realise their value to us.

Don’t take your loved ones for granted.

Don’t take life and health for granted.

Manchester bothers me.

It was senseless and sad.

I refuse to hate.

Abedi was one man, but not all are cast in the same mold.

I refuse to be afraid.

I will live my life to the fullest, knowing that there is no way to predict when my final moment will arrive.

I hope I never forget to be grateful for the life I have and the people within it.

To those reading these words, please know that you are loved and have value.

And it is my hope, whether my life ends in tragic suddenness in some senseless attack or unexpected accident, or if I cling to life against the onslaught of age or disease, that I will be considered to have lived a life of value because I cared.

The greatest villain is apathy.

The best solution is love.

Sources:

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (Dorling Kindersley)

The James Bond Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley)

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

New York Times, 24 May 2017

Wikipedia

Canada Slim and the Bimetallic Question

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 May 2017

In my last blogpost, Canada Slim and the Final Problem, I told of my visit to the Reichenbach Falls where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) ended the life of his detective hero.

Sherlock Holmes is dead.

So suggests the plaque marking the spot where Holmes and Professor Moriarty wrestled before plunging into the Reichenbach Falls.

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The plaque was erected in 1992 by The Bimetallic Question of Montréal and The Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland.

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(More about those responsible for this plaque follows…)

In the last story, The Adventure of the Final Problem, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes short story collection, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), Doyle consigned his hero to the watery depths of the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen, Switzerland.

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Despite the success of the collections, Doyle had grown bored with his creation and wanted to spend more time writing historical fiction.

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As well his wife Louise had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and his father Charles had just died in an asylum, so Doyle defended himself by saying that the demise of Sherlock Holmes…

“It was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defence, since if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.”

Doyle had long felt that Holmes was taking up too much of his life and churning out story after story to a deadline was a demanding task that took precious time away from more serious literary work.

The public response was instant and powerful.

Holmes was very much a product of his age, as Victorians had an intense and morbid fascination with crime, particularly murder, and the idea that a man of genius, through the relentless application of logic and science, could bring light and clarity to the darkest and most terrifying human secrets was intensely appealing.

Though the two novels in which Holmes first appeared – A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four – had been moderately popular, the short stories in the Strand propelled the detective to the giddy heights of fame.

The 24 stories with illustrations on every page and quick bursts of adventure and satisfying resolutions proved perfect for the monthly magazine.

Readers went crazy for Holmes and the Strand became Britain’s best-selling magazine.

When The Final Problem was published in the Strand Magazine, the public’s reaction was consternation, shock and outrage.

Fans reacted as if Doyle had killed a real person.

Letter after letter of protest arrived on the desks of the Strand and Doyle.

One woman famously began her note to Doyle with the words: “You, brute!”

In London, black armbands were worn and the circulation of the Strand dropped so substantially that it almost closed down.

Readers were so outraged that more than 20,000 of them cancelled their subscriptions and Doyle was frequently accosted in the street.

Holmes’ death was referred to as “the dreadful event”.

Ignoring the public howls of complaint about his murder of Holmes, Doyle concentrated on a wide range of other writing projects.

But without Holmes, Doyle found himself in need of further income, as he was planning to build a new home called “Undershaw”, so he decided to take Holmes to the stage and wrote a play.

Bringing Holmes to the stage was not an original idea of Doyle’s, for already other authors had produced Holmesian plays, Under the Clock (1893) and Sherlock Holmes (1894).

But Doyle was no playwright.

Doyle’s literary agent A. P. Watt noted that Doyle’s play needed a lot of work and sent the script to Charles Frohman.

Frohman suggested that the American William Gillette (1853 – 1937), actor, manager and playwright, would be best suited to create a successful adaptation of Doyle’s stories to the stage.

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Gillette was already well-known as being amongst the premier matinee idols of his day, for his patenting of a mechanical reproduction of the sound effects of horses and his introduction of realism into sets and props.

Prior to Gillette, the British had a very low opinion of American art in any form.

Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes consisted of four acts combining elements of Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem, but with the exception of Holmes, Watson and Moriarity, all the characters in Gillette’s play were Gillette’s own creations.

(Doyle would later use Gillette’s Billy Buttons as Holmes’ pageboy in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone in 1921.)

Gillette’s portrayl of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective, with his use of the deerstalker cap and curved pipe which became enduring symbols of the character.

Gillette assumed the role of Holmes more than 1,300 times over 30 years, on stage, in the 1916 silent motion picture based on his Holmes play and as the voice of Holmes on the radio.

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It is sometimes said the Doyle was forced to bring Holmes back to life by public pressure.

If that was the case, then why did it take him a whole decade to do so?

Sherlock’s return after Reichenbach Falls in The Adventure of the Empty House (1903) came not as a result of public pressure, but rather Doyle was swayed by a substantial financial deal being offered by the US periodical Collier’s Weekly.

Doyle would go on to write another 32 Holmes stories and two other Holmes novels and the Great Detective soon became famous all over the world and has remained an international phenomenon ever since.

Doyle accepted that Holmes had his own “life” out in the world, so he never attempted to stop other people trying their hands writing about Holmes.

And other writers quickly did.

The first authors to adopt Holmes parodied him, often with amusing adaptations of his name.

In 1892, the Idler magazine published The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs.

In 1893 Punch magazine featured The Adventure of Picklock Holes.

In 1903 P. G. Wodehouse wrote Dudley Jones, Bore Hunter, while Mark Twain produced A Double-Barrelled Detective Story, in which Holmes goes to California.

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Above: P. G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975)

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Above. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)(1835 – 1910)

Many writers have attempted to imitate Doyle’s efforts at creating reasoning detectives in the Holmesian mold.

Among them, Stephen King, famed American mystery writer John Dickson Carr in collaboration with Adrian Conan Doyle (Arthur’s son)(The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, 1954) and Anthony Horowitz who continues to publish Sherlock Holmes novels with the approval of the Doyle estate. (The House of Silk, 2011 / Moriarty, 2014)

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Above: Stephen King (b. 1947)

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Some authors have written about characters from the Sherlockian tales other than Holmes himself: Inspector Lestrade, Irene Adler (“The Woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia), Mrs. Hudson (Baker Street housekeeper), Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty.

(Even former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tried his hand by writing 2015’s Mycroft Holmes.)

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Holmes mania spread to the Continent.

A German magazine of 1908 described the Holmes craze as “a literary disease similiar to Werther-mania and romantic Byronism.”

(“Werther-mania” refers to the excitement generated by Goethe’s publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther, considered to be literature’s first romantic novel.)

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When two sensational murders occurred in Paris, French newspapers ran imaginary interviews with Holmes to try to get to the bottom of the cases.

Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is the most well-known, with the Guinness Book of World Records listing him as the “most-portrayed movie character” in history, with more than 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films.

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(There have also been more than 750 radio adaptations in English alone.)

His first screen appearance was in the 1900 film Sherlock Holmes Baffled.

In the early 1900s, H. A. Saintsbury took over the role of Holmes in Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes play and in Doyle’s stage adaptation of The Adventure of the Speckled Band, portraying Holmes over 1,000 times.

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Above: Harry Arthur Saintsbury (1869 – 1939)

Basil Rathbone played Holmes in 14 US films and in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the radio from 1939 to 1946.

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Above: Basil Rathbone (1892 – 1967)

Between 1979 and 1986, Soviet TV produced a series of five TV films, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with Vasily Livanov as the Great Detective.

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Above: Vasily Livanov (b. 1935)

The 1984 – 1985 Japanese anime series Sherlock Hound adapted the Holmes stories for children, with its characters being dogs.

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Jeremy Brett, considered by many to be the definitive Holmes, played the detective in four series of Sherlock Holmes for Britain’s Granada Television from 1984 to 1994.

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Above: Jeremy Brett (1933 – 1995)

In the 21st century, the world’s fascination with Holmes is as strong as ever.

Robert Downey Jr. played Holmes in the Guy Ritchie directed films Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011).

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Meanwhile, on the small screen, Holmes has been throughly and modernly reimagined.

In Elementary, begun in 2012, Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict who helps the New York City Police Department solve crimes, assisted by a female Dr. Watson.

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The even more popular BBC TV series Sherlock, begun in 2010 and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has created a new generation of Holmes fans.

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Holmes is so popular and famous that many people have believed him to be not a fictional character but a real individual.

Widely considered a British cultural icon, the character and stories of Sherlock Holmes continue to have a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and pop culture, with both Doyle’s original tales as well as thousands written by other authors being adapted into stage and radio plays, TV, films, video games and other media for over one hundred years.

In 1911 Ronald Knox, a young Oxford academic theologian, wrote an analysis of the Holmes stories, Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.

Intended as a spoof of detailed, scholarly textual analyses of the Bible, Studies used Biblical terms – such as the “Canon”, or the “Sacred Writings” – to refer to the stories of Holmes.

Thereafter, Doyle’s Sherlock tales are known as “the Canon” and the countless stories written by others as “non-canonical works” by Holmes fans.

Numerous literary and fan societies have been founded that pretend that Holmes had indeed been real.

Above: The logo of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

Two Holmes scholars, Ronald Knox and Christopher Morley founded the first societies devoted to the Holmes Canon – the Sherlock Holmes Society in London and the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI) in New York – in 1934.

The BSI logo

(The BSI is named after Holmes’ helpful band of little street children.

In a number of his investigations Holmes was aided by this invisible army of helpers, whom Watson described in A Study in Scarlet as “half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged…that ever I clapped eyes on”, but Holmes knew their value, calling them “the Baker Street division of the detective police force”, for they could “go everywhere and hear everything”, because no one but Holmes paid any attention to dirty little street children.)

BSI members have included such important figures as Isaac Asimov and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Above: Isaac Asimov (1919 – 1992)

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Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), 32nd US President (1933 – 1945)

The BSI is an invitation-only group that oversees a host of “scion societies” across North America – ranging from the Red Circle of Washington (named after Doyle’s 1911 tale The Adventure of the Red Circle) to the Dancing Men of Providence (named after Doyle’s 1903 short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men).

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Each of these societies have their own obscure rituals, but in general members meet up to chat about the Great Detective, watch films, dress up and exchange views about details of the adventures.)

The Sherlock Holmes Society has published, since 1952, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, featuring Holmesian news, reviews, essays and criticism.

Today there are at least 400 groups devoted to Holmes worldwide.

Japan is home to more than 30 Holmes societies, among them the Japan Sherlock Holmes Club, which boasts 1,200 members.

Japan Sherlock Holmes Club

Portugal has the Norah Creina Castaways of Lisbon, named after the ship that went down off the Portuguese coast in Doyle’s 1893 tale The Resident Patient in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes short story collection.

There are also numerous Holmes societies in India, Russia, Germany and around the world.

In my homeland of Canada the equivalent to America’s BSI is The Bootmakers of Toronto, who, like the BSI, have their own scion societies in five other Canadian cities: the Spence Munros of Halifax, the Bimetallic Question of Montreal, the Stratford Sherlock Holmes Society, the Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen of Calgary and the Stormy Petrels of British Columbia based in Vancouver.

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That Canada would have Holmesian societies should come as no surprise, for not only are the Anglo roots to England quite strong in Canada – our head of state is still the Queen of England Elizabeth II – but Doyle refers to Canada a number of times in his Sherlock Holmes stories.

The overseer of Canada’s Holmesian groups, The Bootmakers of Toronto acquired the idea for their name from Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Meyers in Bog

(A boot is stolen from Sir Henry Baskerville, for its scent was intended to let a fierce hound to track and kill Sir Henry.

The boot was fashioned in Toronto by a bootmaker named Meyers.

Each year the leader of the Toronto Holmes society is called “Meyers”.)

The Spence Munros of Halifax acquired their society name from Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Breeches, wherein Violet Hunter, a young governess, tells Holmes that she had been employed for five years in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but she lost that position two months previously when the Colonel received a new posting in Halifax and took his family with him.

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The Stormy Petrels of Vancouver have a name that requires more explanation than simply a reference to Holmesian literature…

In the Holmes story The Last Bow, the detective warns the world about the menace of Germany:

“There’s an east wind coming…such a wind as never blew on England yet.

It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither…

But it’s God’s own wind nonetheless, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

Vancouver is a coastal city.

There is a small seabird, generally with dark plumage, that is found in most of the world’s oceans, that takes shelter on the leeside of ships away from the direction from which the wind blows during a storm.

The bird is called a storm petrel.

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In naval parliance, a person who brings or predicts trouble is called a “stormy petrel”.

Montréal’s Holmesian society name, The Bimetallic Question, is in reference to an explanation made by Sherlock to Watson as to the importance of the detective’s brother Mycroft in the affairs of the British government:

“We will suppose that a Minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question…” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans)

Sherlock’s elder brother Mycroft is a vibrant element in the Holmes Canon – although, like Moriarty, Mycroft only appears directly in two stories.

The reader learns that Mycroft is seven years older than Sherlock and, if it is possible, even cleverer than the Great Detective.

Mycroft is described in various places in the Canon as having “the tidiest and most orderly brain with the greatest capacity for storing facts of any man living”.

Mycroft’s brilliance has given him a place at the heart of the secret government machinery of Britain and he is a crucial source of intelligence.

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In this scope of intelligence, it is hinted that economic expertise is also included with the mention of “the bimetallic question.”

Since 1971, most of the world’s currencies are unconnected to the value of silver or gold but operate by a free floating standard that fluctates in active trading in stock markets around the world.

Money represents value.

Before 1971 the value of a monetary unit was defined by how much of a quantity of metal, typically gold and silver, it could purchase.

A country’s wealth was determined by exactly how much gold and/or silver it possessed.

In Doyle’s day, there was a great deal of scholarly debate and political controversy regarding monometallism and bimetallism, whether a country should only use gold as a standard by which money is valued or if silver should also be included along with gold.

Before the Klondike and the South African Gold Rushes, the supply of gold was minimal, so it was questionable how accurate gold was as a determination of value, thus putting pressure for greater use of silver.

The fact that Mycroft understood the bimetallic question was an indication of just how intelligent he was.

Why Montréal chose The Bimetallic Question for its name might be connected with the society’s postal address in Montréal’s Stock Exchange Tower.

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That is the bimetallic question, isn’t it?

(Christopher Plummer, famed for his role as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 film The Sound of Music, is also called “the Canadian Holmes”.

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Plummer played the role of Sherlock Holmes in the Canadian/British 1978 film production, Murder by Decree, wherein Holmes tackles Jack the Ripper.)

The Reichenbach Irregulars is the Holmesian society of Switzerland, keeping the memories of Holmes and Doyle alive over here.

 

 

 

The Reichenbach Irregulars were founded in Meiringen (near the Reichenbach Falls) in 1989 by a group of young Holmesians (or Sherlockians) lead by Marcus Geisser.

Together with The Bimetallic Question of Montréal, the Reichenbach Irregulars erected the commemorative plaque that marks the fateful encounter between Holmes and Moriarty.

More than 300 of these groups are devoted to piecing together the “true” events of the “lives” of Holmes and Watson.

Calling this pursuit “the Grand Game” (after Holmes’ famous exclamation “The game is afoot.”), the Game assumes that Holmes and Watson were real historical figures and the Canon a record of true events.

Doyle is explained as being their literary agent.

Any inevitable mistakes on the part of a fast-working, under pressure of a deadline, author (Doyle) are explained away as deliberate attempts to mislead or simply forgetfulness on the part of the stories’ narrator (usually Watson).

(Gamers are particularly intrigued by the period – named “The Great Hiatus” –  between Holmes’ “death” at Reichenbach Falls and his reappearance in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Doyle left off writing about Holmes from 1893 to 1901, though this first new story The Hound of the Baskervilles was said to occur two years prior to The Adventure of the Final Problem.

Doyle returned to the chronology of Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House in 1903, Holmes’ reappearance after Reichenbach Falls.

But Doyle’s dating of the Holmes’ adventures has Holmes disappear at Reichenbach Falls on 4 May 1891 and reappear in London in 1894 to investigate the Park Lane mystery, the strange murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair.

In The Adventure of the Empty House, Doyle drops hints about what Holmes was up to in these three years – travels to Florence and Tibet, role-playing as a Norwegian explorer, visiting Persia (modern day Iran), Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and Khartoum (Sudan), research work in Montpelier – but these are only hints.)

For the 1951 Festival of Britain, Holmes’ living room was reconstructed as part of a Sherlock Holmes exhibition with a collection of original material.

After the Festival, items were transferred to The Sherlock Holmes (a London pub) and the Conan Doyle collection housed in the Chateau Lucens, near Lausanne, by the author’s son Adrian.

Both exhibitions, each with a Baker Street sitting room reconstruction, are open to the public.

In 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened on Baker Street in London, followed the next year by a Sherlock Holmes Museum in the English Church in Meiringen at Doyle Place.

Walk Along Baker Street!

(Meiringen also has a reconstruction of Holmes’ Baker Street sitting room.)

A private Conan Doyle collection is on permanent exhibit at the Portsmouth City Museum, as Doyle once lived and worked there as a physician.

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The London Metropolitan Railway named one of its 20 electric locomotives deployed in the 1920s for Sherlock Holmes – the only fictional character so honoured.

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In London one can find streets named Sherlock Mews and Watson’s Mews.

Five statues of the Great Detective have been erected across the globe in Edinburgh (the birthplace of Doyle), Meiringen, London (on Baker Street), Moscow and Karuizawa, Japan.

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Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, Edinburgh

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Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, London

Monument to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson Foto

Above: Holmes/Watson Statues, Moscow

Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, Karuizawa

In 2014, 113 Sherlock devotees, dressed in deerstalkers and capes, gathered near University College in London in an attempt to create a world record for the largest group of people dressed as Sherlock Holmes.

People dressed as Sherlock Holmes

So, where does your humble blogger fit into all of this Holmes mania?

I confess that it was Sherlock that drew me into Holmes lore.

I had, of course, known of Holmes, but he had struck me as unapproachable because he was a product of the Victorian age, while Elementary felt more like an Americanisation of the Canon than I imagined.

But it was my best friend Iain of Liverpool who introduced me to the BBC TV series Sherlock and it was this series that has encouraged me to explore and discover Doyle’s works for myself.

It has been my desire to explore the possibilities of Swizerland, my country of residence since 2010, that led me to Reichenbach Falls and Meiringen.

I am now left with my own bimetallic question:

Do I prefer the Holmes from the golden age of Doyle’s writing or the Holmes from the silver screen (TV and movies)?

Either way I don’t need Mycroft Holmes to show me just how valuable his brother has been to the shaping of our modern society.

As Irene Adler said in the Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia:

“Intelligent is the new sexy.”

And I wholeheartedly agree with “Canada’s Sherlock Holmes” Christopher Plummer:

“I don’t think anybody will ever get tired of Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t think the public will ever let him die just as they wouldn’t let Doyle kill him.”

While we remember him, Sherlock Holmes can never die.

Sources:

Dorling Kindersley, The Sherlock Holmes Book

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes Canon

Wikipedia

http://www.bakerstreetdozen.com

http://www.221b.ch (The Reichenbach Irregulars)

http://www.bimetallicquestion.org

http://www.torontobootmakers.com

Quelle: weheartit.com

 

 

Canada Slim and the Final Problem

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 May 2017

They almost have lives and yet we cannot forget them, for they haunt us in the worlds of literature, film, TV, advertising and video games.

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Ours is a world inhabited by Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, Wonder Woman and Darth Vader, Santa Claus and Cinderella, James Bond and Harry Potter.

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They exist as permanent parts of our culture and yet they have never existed as living breathing people.

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They are all around us.

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They are our hopes and fears, our constant companions, our signposts in our rites of passage.

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They are us, for we have created ourselves through them.

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And we recognize these characters within ourselves.

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We all know Cassandra for whom the half-full glass is always half-empty, Scrooge who derives pleasure from wealth, Don Juan who stalks every woman and Peter Pan who will never grow up.

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The basic characteristics of humanity have become the fictional characters that shape that humanity.

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Southsea, Hampshire, England, 1887

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, MD, was a Scotsman, born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1859, the eldest of 10 children, to a Scottish civil servant/occasional artist father and an Irish mother.

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Charles Doyle was prone to fits of epilepsy and bouts of depression and alcoholism.

Mary, despite her struggles to maintain a large family on a meagre income, would tell her children tales of history filled with high adventure and heroic deeds.

In order to help Arthur escape his depressing homelife, Mary saved enough money to send him to Stonyhurst College, a strict Jesuit boarding school in an isolated part of Lancashire.

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It was at Stonyhurst that he encountered a fellow pupil called Moriarity – a name that Arthur would use to great effect later.

Arthur left Stonyhurst in 1875 and after studying a further year with the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria, he surprised his family by choosing to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

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During his time at the University (1876 – 1881), Doyle encountered Dr. Joseph Bell, whose method of deducing the history and circumstances of his patients seemed magical.

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Bell was the model and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

After graduating in 1882, Doyle became a partner in Plymouth, but the partnership soon disintegrated and Doyle set up a practice of his own in Southsea.

By this time Doyle had already tried his hand at writing fiction and had several short stories published, but it was while at Southsea that he made a more determined effort to achieve success as an author.

As he slowly built up his medical practice, Doyle toyed with the idea of creating a detective story in which the protagonist solved a crime by deductive reasoning in the manner of Dr. Bell.

“Reading some detective stories, I was struck by the fact that their results were obtained in nearly every case by chance.

I thought I would try my hand at writing a story in which the hero would treat crime as Dr. Bell treated disease and where science would take the place of romance.”

This idea materialised in the form of the novel A Study in Scarlet – writtten in only a few weeks -and the Sherlock Holmes legend was born.

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Following A Study in Scarlet‘s publication, Doyle turned his attention to historical fiction – his first love, inspired by his mother’s stories and his admiration for the works of Sir Walter Scott.

The result was Micah Clarke (1889), a tale based on the Monmouth Rebellion.

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(The Monmouth Rebellion, or the West Country Rebellion, was an attempt by James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, to overthrow English King James II in 1685.)

Micah Clarke was a great critical and financial success and it was this book – and not the Sherlock Holmes stories – that convinced Doyle that his future lay in writing.

The US-based Lippincott’s Magazine commissioned a second Sherlock Holmes novel in 1890 and Doyle produced The Sign of Four in less than a month.

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Then Doyle approached the Strand Magazine:

“It had struck me that a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the reader, would bind the reader to the magazine.”

In 1891 the Strand Magazine began the Sherlock Holmes series of 12 short stories (later collected and known as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and the public began to embrace the detective.

Within six months of the Baker Street detective’s first appearance in the Strand, in A Scandal in Bohemia, the main selling point of the magazine was each new Holmes adventure.

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In 1891, Doyle – married since 1885 – moved from Southsea to London to be closer to the literary world.

Despite the success of the first series of Holmes tales, Doyle quickly became bored with his creation, and although Doyle succumbed to the offer of an increased fee for a second series, he was determined that this series would be Sherlock’s last.

Doyle wanted to spend more time writing more historical fiction, which he saw as a more worthy pursuit and one that would gain him greater recognition as a serious writer.

Doyle wrote to his mother in November 1891:

“I think of slaying Holmes….and winding him up for good and all.

He takes my mind from better things.”

34-year-old Doyle came to Switzerland with his wife in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

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Perhaps it was his final school year spent with the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria, that gave Doyle a taste for the Alps.

Unlike his wife Louise Hawkins who was in constant ill health, Doyle was a sporty doctor.

He has seen skiing in Norway and imported one of the first pair of Norwegian skis to Davos.

Doyle scaled the Jacobshorn in the Albula Range and then tackled the Maienfelder Furka Pass between Davos and Arosa.

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Doyle wrote up his travels for the Strand:

“But now we had a pleasure which boots can never give.

For a third of a mile we shot along over gently dipping curves, skimming down into the valley without a motion of our feet.

In that great untrodden waste, with snowfields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of life save the tracks of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to whizz along in the easy fashion.”

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season.”

Time has proved him right.

Arthur and Louise discovered the village of Meiringen in the Bernese Alps, famous for the nearby Reichenbach Falls.

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The Doyles were shown the Reichenbach Falls by their host Sir Henry Lunn, of the Park Hotel du Sauvage, who suggested to Arthur that he “push him (Holmes) over the falls.”

The Reichenbach Falls are a series of waterfalls on the Reichen Stream – a tributary of the Aare River – in the Bernese Highlands, 2 km south of the town of Meiringen and 25 km east of Interlaken.

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The Falls have a total drop of 250 metres / 820 feet and are one of the highest waterfalls in the Alps and among the most spectacular in Europe.

They were painted by the English Romanticist painter J. M. W. Turner in 1804.

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Doyle describes the Falls in The Adventure of the Final Problem:

“It is, indeed, a fearful place.

The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.

The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged curtain of spray hissing forever upwards, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.

We (Holmes and Watson) stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.”

It would be here that Doyle would kill off Holmes, getting Doyle’s writing career back on track.

The Reichenbach Falls was a place that would “make a worthy tomb for poor Sherlock, even if I buried my banking account along with him.”

But how to let Holmes go?

Doyle decided to let Holmes go down in a blaze of glory, having rid the world of a criminal so powerful and dangerous that any further task would be trivial by comparison.

“I (Holmes speaking) think I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not lived wholly in vain.

If my record were closed tonight I could still survey it with equanamity.

The air of London is the sweeter for my presence.

In over a thousand cases I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong side.

Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature rather than those more superficial ones for which our artificial state of society is responsible.

Your memoirs will draw to an end, Watson, upon the day that I crown my career by the capture or extinction of the most dangerous and capable criminal in Europe.”

Doyle would create Professor James Moriarty simply to provide a fitting opponent with whom his hero could grapple during his goodbye to the world in The Final Problem, for killing off Holmes was exactly the final problem that Doyle had.

Doyle did not want his literary legacy to be only that of his creation Sherlock Holmes.

Meiringen, Switzerland, 13 May 2017

Weeks have gone by since I have written my blog.

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From mid-April to mid-May much has felt wrong.

I felt poorly, both in mind and body, and worked little as a teacher, a Barista or as a writer, for as I have previously written I occasionally find myself battling depression.

(See Taming the black dog of this blog.)

But this was complicated by a touch of the flu and a touch of mild thrombosis in my left leg causing it to swell like a red Zeppelin airship.

As regular readers of my blog or Facebook know, Switzerland has not been favourable to me personally or professionally since I moved here back in 2010.

I found myself lacking motivation to devote my best efforts to improving my situation and I felt dissatisfied for myself for feeling this way.

A weekend in hospital and a week enforced confinement at home gave me opportunity to think.

Teaching no longer gives me the fulfillment it once did and Starbucks will always remain a mere end to a means of maintaining a steady income.

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I thought backwards in time to events in my life that lead me here and asked myself what inspired me then and still inspires me now.

And what I have enjoyed the most has been travelling and writing.

My travels, like most people’s travels, have been restricted over the years of the constraints of both time and income.

My writing has been hampered by both a lack of discipline and an awareness of how to generate income from its practice.

I felt discouraged.

The health problems ended employment in Winterthur and caused employers in St. Gallen to reflect upon the wisdom of engaging my services.

Over the past few years my wife has made it a point to take me away from Landschlacht on the weekend including or closest to my birthday.

(For example, last year we went to Vevey to see the newly opened Charlie Chaplin Museum, and the year before that we visited Jungfrau and the Top of Europe…both topics of future blog posts…)

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I spoke of a desire to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes “fatally” grappled with Professor Moriarity, for I had seen and enjoyed the third and final episode of the second season of the TV series Sherlock – a modern version of the detective with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes – wherein Holmes falls from the London roof of the Reichenbach building – and I wanted to see for myself the story location not too far removed in distance from my home.

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I had heard that Meiringen has a Sherlock Holmes Museum – one of two in Switzerland, the other in Lucens near Lausanne – and I wanted to see both the Falls as well as the Museum.

(Meiringen has another claim to fame besides the Reichenbach Falls:

It is also known for its claim to have been the place where the meringue was first created.)

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There are a number of ways to reach Meiringen:

Meiringen is served by trains: the Brünig line (a narrow gauge railway connecting Interlaken to Lucerne), an hourly InterRegio service between the aforementioned cities and it is also the endstop of an hourly Regio service from Interlaken as well as the local Meiringen – Innertkirchen railway which traverses through the Aareschlucht (Aare Gorge).

A six-minute bus ride or a twenty-minute walk away in nearby Willingen is the lower terminus of the Reichenbachfall funicular which links the village to the Reichenbach Falls.

While on the opposite side of the Meiringen valley, a cable car runs to Reuti, from where a system of gondola lifts runs to Planplatten (2,200 metres / 7, 200 feet) via Mägisalp.

Nearby is the Meiringen Air Base, one of three main air bases of the Swiss Air Force, in Unterbach, which operates mainly F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

The wife and I travelled by car from Landschlacht (on the Lake of Constance) bypassing Zürich and Bern, a journey of approximately three hours.

Meiringen (population nearly 4,700) sits quietly in an outdoor wonderland laced with hiking and cycling paths that crisscross wild valleys, waterfalls and high alpine moors, but the inhabitants of Meiringen remain eternally grateful to Doyle and Holmes for ensuring the worldwide fame of Reichenbach Falls and the promotion of tourism to their town.

There are a number of tourist accommodations available in Meiringen: the smart, modern Hotel Sherlock Holmes, the Alpin Sherpa Hotel, the Hotel Alpbach, and, of course, Doyle’s old haunt, the Park Hotel du Sauvage.

Appropriately, my wife booked us in the Hotel Sherlock Holmes, with carpets bearing an image of Holmes in deerstalker cap, an excellent restaurant, a swimming pool and wellness centre on the 4th floor.

We arrived mid-afternoon and quickly set out for the Falls as the weather forecast warned of the possibility of rain over the weekend and we hoped to see the Falls before bad weather denied us the chance.

I was looking forward to this weekend as I felt that maybe a change of scenery would get me out of the funk I had been in and the exercise might do my body good as well.

The signposted Sherlock Holmes Path leads from the Meiringen train station through the town, crosses the Aare River and leads away from the funicular to climb the slopes of the summit of the Falls.

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The wife, 11 years my junior, was, as usual, in fine form, while I, who only the day before had ended my homebound convalescence, slowly, breathing heavily, made my slow progress upwards behind her.

Thoughts of Doyle and Holmes were much upon my mind.

Here Doyle ended his most famous character’s “life”.

Here Holmes would battle his greatest adversary to ensure that Moriarity could cause no more harm to others.

But why was I here?

Was I too searching for a solution to my final problem?

Was I seeking a solution to how to end my days with more dignity than I had previously known?

Doyle did not want to known as only the writer of detective stories.

I do not want to be known only as an occasionally motivated/motivating freelance teacher and part-time Barista, but to be remembered as leaving the air “sweeter for my presence”.

Moriarity said to Holmes:

“I am quite sure that a man of your intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this affair….

…You have worked things in such a fashion that we have only one recourse left.”

But does there remain a sense of inevitability to the present course of my life?

Or should I tell myself like Holmes responded:

“Danger is part of my trade.”?

Perhaps I need to risk more and follow the spur of my heart, rather than simply do the appropriate things that have sustained my income but at the sacrifice of my spirit?

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, 4 May 1891

“It was upon the 3rd of May that we (Watson writing about Holmes and himself) reached the little village of Meiringen, where we put up at the Englischer Hof (the Hotel Park du Sauvage), then kept by Peter Steiler the elder.

Our landlord was an intelligent man and spoke excellent English, having served for three years as waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel in London.

At his advice, upon the afternoon of the 4th we set off together with the intention of crossing the hills and spending the night at the hamlet of Rosenlaui.

We had strict injunctions, however, on no account to pass the falls of Reichenbach, which are about halfway up the hill, without making a small detour to see them.”

So, who were Watson and Holmes, and why are they in Switzerland?

As previously mentioned, one of the characters from whom Doyle framed his hero Sherlock Holmes was his old teacher at Edinburgh University’s medical school, Dr. Joseph Bell (1837 – 1911).

Doyle recalled that Bell “often learned more of the patient by a few quick glances than I had done by my own questions.”

Other sources of inspiration for the character of Holmes were:

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, for the idea of the locked room mystery and solving crimes by clever deduction
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  • Emile Gaboriau who wrote about a detective using forensic science and crime scene investigation
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  • Wilkie Collins’ detective inspired Holmes’ appearance
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  • Sir Henry Littlejohn who, as the Chairman of Medical Jurisprudence at the medical school as well as police surgeon and medical officer of health in Edinburgh, provided Doyle with a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime
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  • Francis “Tanky” Smith, a policeman and master of disguise who went on to become Leicester’s first private detective
  • Maximilien Heller, a depressed, antisocial, polymath, cat-loving and opium-smoking Paris-based detective by French author Henry Cauvain
  • According to Doyle, Holmes had sharp, angular features, was tall and thin, yet wiry and athletic, with reserves of strength that enabled him to cope relatively well in any physical tussle.

The popular image of Holmes wearing a tweed suit, a cape and a deerstalker cap, and carrying about his person his trademark cane and pipe, were created by Sidney Paget, the first illustrator of the Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine.

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Doyle gave away few details of Holmes’ life, but careful reading of his works can allow the reader to deduce that Holmes was born in 1854, attended a university, and had an older brother named Mycroft.

After university, Holmes moved to London and took up residence in Montague Street, near the British Musuem.

He had connections at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which allowed him to conduct his experiments in the lab there, even though he was neither student nor staff.

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By the time Holmes met Watson in 1881 and moved into 221B Baker Street with him as his co-lodger, he had already developed his business as a consulting detective.

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Holmes was a man with exceptional powers of observation and reasoning, a master of disguise possessed of an uncanny ability to establish the truth.

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In Doyle’s The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Holmes declares:

“I am brain, Watson.

The rest of me is a mere appendix.”

Holmes was skilled in martial arts and was quite capable with a sword.

Dr. John Watson was the narrator of all but four of the Sherlock Holmes tales.

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Watson was the essential witness to Holmes’ brilliance and his tireless biographer.

Watson was the warm-hearted and good-humoured everyman to Holmes’ cool pragmatist.

Watson was loyal, steadfast and utterly dependable.

He was a middle-sized, strongly built man with a square jaw, a thick neck and a moustache.

Watson was an army-trained crack shot and was once athletic, playing for the famous Blackheath Rugby Club, but by the time he met Holmes he had developed a war injury and a taste for wine and tobacco.

It is suggested that Watson was born in 1853.

Watson qualified as a medical doctor at St. Bartolomew’s Hospital in London in 1878.

After qualifying, Watson signed up as an army surgeon with the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to the Second Afghan War (1878 – 1880), where he was shot at the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880.

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While in hospital recovering, Watson became ill with typhoid and was sent home with his health “irretrievably ruined” and was discharged from the army with a meagre pension.

With no family to turn to, Watson was left adrift in London.

It was at this low point that Stamford, Watson’s old friend from medical school, introduced him to Sherlock Holmes, who was looking for someone to share his lodgings.

For eight years, Holmes and Watson were inseparable, until in 1889 Watson fell in love with Mary Morstan and moved away from Baker Street to set up his own practice in West London.

By 1891 and the events of The Final Problem, the relationship between Watson and Holmes had become more distant after Watson’s marriage.

Professor James Moriarity made only a brief, dramatic encounter with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls and only appeared directly in one other story, The Valley of Fear – set earlier in Holmes’ career – but his powerful spectre seemed to haunt the Holmes stories that followed.

The Professor’s power to terrify comes from the fact that he was a dark mirror image of Holmes: the man that Holmes might have become had he chosen to follow Moriarity’s sinister path.

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Both Holmes and Moriarity were tall and thin with high foreheads and sharp eyes, but the Professor’s eyes were sunken, his chin protruding, his head would move from “side to side in curiously reptilian fashion”.

Moriarity came from a privileged background and received an excellent education.

Naturally brilliant at mathematics, at the age of 21, Moriarity wrote a treatise on algebra that achieved recognition throughout Europe.

Moriarity was also celebrated for his brilliant book on the dynamics of asteroids, which Holmes remarked was so advanced that “no man in the scientific press was capable of criticising it.”

Moriarity became a Professor of Mathematics at an English university, until unspecified “dark rumours” began to circulate about him and he relocated to London to begin his criminal career.

Moriarity became the ultimate mastermind, “the Napoleon of crime”, drawing on his massive intellect to run a vast network and yet remaining invisible at its heart entirely above suspicion.

Holmes likened Moriarity to Jonathan Wild, who in the 18th century “was a master criminal…the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organisation on a 15% commission”.

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Wild pretended to apprehend thieves, earning fame and money for the way his network caught criminals, but it was also he who was organising their crimes.

But the strongest inspiration for Moriarity was the true life criminal genius Adam Worth (1848 – 1902), who was dubbed “the Napoleon of crime” by Scotland Yard for Worth’s skill in running a major crime network from his home in London.

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Like Moriarity, Worth, for years, outfoxed the world’s police by conducting well-executed crimes without leaving a shred of incriminating evidence.

“As you are aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the higher criminal world of London so well as I do.

For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organising power which forever stands in the way of the law and throws its shield over the wrongdoer.

Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts – forgery cases, robberies, murders – I have felt the presence of this force and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted.

For years I have endeavoured to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarity of mathematical celebrity….

He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them….

You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal.

My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill.

But at last he made a trip – only a little, little trip – but it was more than he could afford, when I was so close upon him.

I had my chance, and, starting from that point, I have woven my net around him until now it is all ready to close….”

The Final Problem has Holmes arriving at Watson’s residence one evening in an agitated state, with bruised and bleeding knuckles.

Much to Watson’s surprise, Holmes had escaped three separate murder attempts that day after a visit from Moriarity warning Holmes to withdraw from his pursuit of justice against him to avoid any regrettable consequences.

Holmes asked Watson to come to the Continent with him, giving Watson unusual instructions designed to hide his trail to Victoria Station.

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As the train pulled out of Victoria Station, Holmes spotted Moriarity on the platform, trying to get someone to stop the train.

Watson and Holmes disembarked at Canterbury, making a change to their planned route.

As they were waiting for another train to Newhaven, a special one coach train roared past, containing the Professor who had hired the train in an effort to overtake Holmes.

Holmes and Watson were forced to hide behind luggage.

Having made their way to Strasbourg via Brussels, Holmes received a message that most of Moriarity’s gang had been arrested in England but Moriarity himself had slipped out of the grasp of the English police.

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Sherlock the hunter had become the hunted.

Holmes and Watson’s journey took them to Switzerland and Meiringen.

As Holmes and Watson prepared to leave the Falls, a boy approached Watson with a letter, supposedly from the hotel landlord, asking Watson to return and tend to an Englishwoman who was dying of tuberculosis.

When Watson reached the hotel, he found that there was no sick woman awaiting his attention.

Holmes had realised that the letter was a hoax but said nothing to Watson, for he felt that the time had come for his final combat with Moriarity.

Realising that he had been tricked, Watson rushed back to the Reichenbach Falls, but he found only Holmes’ Alpinstock (walking stick) leaning against the rock.

Two sets of footprints led to a precipice above the deep chasm and there were no returning footprints.

The disturbed earth and torn branches and ferns at the edge of the path showed that there had been a struggle beside the chasm.

Watson then saw something gleaming from the top of a boulder and found Holmes’ silver cigarette case.

As Watson picked it up, a note from Holmes fluttered out of it, a note which Moriarity had allowed Holmes to write before their battle.

The note revealed that Holmes was prepared to die in order to rid the world of Moriarity.

When Watson and the police searched the scene, they found unmistakeable signs that the two men had wrestled on the brink and both fell to their deaths.

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Watson believed that he had lost the man that:

“I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.”

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, 13 May 2017

The actual ledge from which Holmes and Moriarity are believed to have fallen is on the other side of the Falls from the funicular.

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Ute (my wife) and I climbed the path to the top of the Falls to the ledge where Holmes and Moriarity struggled.

The ledge is marked by a plaque written in English, French and German.

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The English inscription reads:

“At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarity, on 4 May 1891.”

A white star has been placed above the plaque so viewers across the chasm on the funicular side can identify the spot.

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The path on which the detective and the criminal mastermind wrestled was then in 1891 right beside the Falls, but over the years it has crumbled away and today it ends around 100 metres / 330 feet short of the waterfalls.

When Doyle first viewed the Falls in 1893, the path ended by the Falls, close enough to touch them, but over the hundred years since his visit, the pathway became unsafe and slowly eroded away and the Falls have receded farther back into the gorge.

Unlike the 2011 film adaptation inspired by The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – starring Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft) and Jared Harris (Moriarity) – Reichenbach Falls does not have a large castle built over them.

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We took many photographs of the plaque and the Falls, some with a Sherlock Holmes doll my wife had given me some years back and my own Alpenstock with its Stocknageln (stick pins) showing some of the places I had hiked to.

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Though a fan of crime stories and detective novels, the Sherlock Holmes canon had never captured my wife’s imagination before, but a visit to the Falls, and then subsequently a tour of the small Sherlock Holmes Museum, (in the basement of the English Church beside the Hotel Park du Sauvage back in Meiringen), found Ute waxing enthusiastically about the experience.

I found myself in a reflective mood.

For as sad a “death” as Sherlock’s was, he “died” as he chose, in fitting response to Moriarty’s threat.

Moriarty: You hope to beat me.  If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you.

Holmes: You have paid me several compliments, Mr. Moriarty.  Let me pay you one in return when I say that if I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.

To choose how you will end your days…

“Death, where is your sting?

Grave, where is your victory?”

(I Corinthians 15:55, Holy Bible)

Sources:

Time, The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

Dorling Kindersley, The Sherlock Holmes Book

Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland

Lonely Planet, Switzerland

Rough Guides, Switzerland

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Final Problem

Wikipedia

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