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.

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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.

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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.

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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)?

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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.

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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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A Revolution of One: The Power of Passion

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 March 2017

Pick up a newspaper.

Read a book.

Explore the Internet.

And the thinking man is left with one conclusion…

There is much that is wrong in the world: disease, division, war, terror, discrimination, denied opportunities, environmental degradation and pollution, a scarcity of water, unequal distribution of resources, hunger and starvation, a lack of education, corruption and bad governance, the abuse of human rights including slavery and torture, global warming – the list seems endless.

So, where to begin?

Be the change you desire.

“I said, ‘Somebody should do something about that.’.

Then I realised…I am somebody.”(Lily Tomlin)

Lily Tomlin at the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

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You only need one thing to start making a difference in the world: passion.

Passion gives you the bravery to stand up and start speaking out.

Passion will keep you going, despite insults and threats and the passage of time and the responses received.

There is much about the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro I like: sword fighting, romance, action, love, loyalty, the triumph of good against evil, superb acting performances, a gripping plot, magnificient scenery, exciting music, humourous moments….

In short, it was a film that deserved its financial and critical success.

A dimly-lit figure sporting a rapier, a black costume with a flowing Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed black gaucho hat, and a black cowl sackcloth mask that covers the top of the head from eye level stands with the film's title: THE MASK OF ZORRO in white font. He is silhouetted against a red hue fading to black at the top with the star billing of ANTONIO BANDERAS and ANTHONY HOPKINS.

But for me there is a scene that stands out…

Don Diego De La Vega (aka Zorro) had been unmasked, his wife killed, his home destroyed, his daughter taken and his freedom denied by the departing corrupt governor Don Rafael Montero.

Twenty years later, Montero returns as a civilian determined to regain power and De La Vega escapes from prison.

De La Vega enconters a thief, Alejandro Murrieta, and agrees to groom Murrieta to become the new Zorro.

De La Vega needs to discover Montero’s plans so he convinces Murrieta to pose as a visiting nobleman named Don Alejandro del Castillo y Garcia while attending a party at Montero’s hacienda.

Don Alejandro tells Montero that the reason he is visiting him is that he had heard that Montero was a man of vision.

Montero asks Don Alejandro if he is also a man of vision.

Alejandro responds with:

“I am a man in search of a vision.”

Without a vision, without passion, change will not happen.

What are the issues you feel passionately about?

What really (pardon the vulgarity that follows) pisses you off?

What do you want to change?

Find something YOU wholeheartedly believe in.

The great changes that have happened in the world were accomplished by individuals of passion, whether these changes were negative or positive.

Names are easy to recall.

Pick up a newspaper, read a book, explore the Internet and you will notice that the one binding theme of the individuals spearheading the changes is passion, regardless of the endeavour, regardless of the person’s other attributes, regardless if the cause is just or morally reprehensible.

The most evil of men achieved their infamous accomplishments because they were passionate about what they believed.

The most remarkable of men who have made great positive social and political changes were men possessed of passion.

History is filled with countless examples of this principle of passion: revolutionary leaders, dictators, philosophers, writers, political leaders, scientists, inventors, financial moguls…from George Washington to Che Guevara; from Alexander of Macedonia, Napoleon of Ajaccio, Adolf of Austria to more modern examples of Gaddafi, Kim, Putin and Xi; from Moses to Muhammad, from Buddha to Jesus and others who spoke of the divine that lies beyond our mortal understanding; from Marx to Proust, from Hemingway to Hesse, from Gandhi to Mandela, from Curie to Edison to Steve Jobs, from the first founders of financial empires to the modern entrepreneurs – the changes they wrought, for evil or for good, would never have happened had they not been men and women of passion.

Let’s look at the most blatant example of this passion dominating the headlines of the moment.

Trump won the US election, not because he was better qualified, not because he was more moral or talented.

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Those who chose him as President did so for he had more passion (or at least, bluster) than his chief competitor Hillary Clinton.

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For though Hillary was better qualified, somewhat more moral, certainly as talented as the Donald in clawing her way to the top, I believe she lost because she forgot the cardinal rule:

Facts and figures impress, but it is passion that persuades.

Had the Democrats not outmanuevered Sanders out of primary contention, I believe his passion for change would have beaten Trump.

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I am not convinced that Trump was the wisest decision for America or for the world, nor do I believe that he will be the change that America desperately needs, but like any good salesman Trump understood that you can convince anyone of anything if you sound as if you believe it too.

Hate as I do the right wing elements that seem to dominate the world, they impress me with the passion they exhibit to defend their hateful rheotric.

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Above: Political commentator Bill O’Reilly

Folks like Bill O’Reilly or Alex Jones or Tomi Lahren are an offense to the ear, the heart and the conscience, but folks willingly listen to them because their passion is persuasive.

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Above: Radio host Alex Jones

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

President Obama has his faults – ask O’Reilly, Jones or Lahren, they will gladly detail them – but he remains a man of both passion and compassion, intelligence and class, courage and conviction, and for this he maintains my respect.

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Above: Political commentator Tomi Lahren

Trump’s bluster mimics these qualities but never duplicates them.

For quality of character will always be the defining karma of a man.

But Trump is President, not by virtue of his character but in spite of it.

Passion persuades.

But what is passion?

How can passion be developed?

“In my experience, passion doesn’t always pop up and accost you with a raging fervor.

Passion can start in a much gentler way.

My own passion started with a sense of unease, a feeling of being weirded out.

When this feeling refused to go away, I began to look deeper, to try to find out what was going on.”

(Lucy-Anne Holmes, How to Start a Revolution)

“The life of the mind should be open to all who want to commit themselves to the time and energy it demands….

There are many ordinary men and women who have never gone to a university.

Many workingmen are self-taught intellectuals.

They devote their free time to serious reading and discussion.

Their limitations stem more from a lack of method than a lack of intelligence….

I noticed how much satisfaction some people got out of going beyond self-discovery to discovery of something important or beautiful or powerful or fascintating about the world.

Self-fulfillment consists of finding and filling their “hole in the world”….

Such people have discovered a particular question, problem, issue, person, task or puzzle that is theirs.

It intrigues them, challenges them, amuses them, enchants them, bedevils them – and they love it.”

(Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook)

This is passion.

“Those who have looked closely at the lives and work of individuals who have found their “hole in the world” have realised that talent is not simply given or “found”….

Talent is a product people create, rather than a gift they receive.

Talent is the retrospective acknowledgement that a person has identified and intensively pursued his work.

Any person can discover and develop the unique potential for talented behaviour which each of us possesses.

The secret is to focus on the field of activity that you find compelling and relate all your random experience to it.

This leads to accomplishment, expertise, self-education and recognition as being talented.”

(Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook)

For these people, they have found their passion.

“I enjoy these people’s enthusiasms.

They have something to tell us about how to live a full life.”

(Henry Doering, The World Almanac Book of Buffs, Masters, Mavens and Uncommon Experts)

“I will not wait till I have converted the whole society to my view but will straightaway make a beginning with myself.”

(Mohandas Gandhi, Constructive Workers’ Conference, 24 January 1946)

The face of Gandhi in old age—smiling, wearing glasses, and with a white sash over his right shoulder

Above: Mohandas “Mahatma” Karamchand Gandhi, Indian independence leader (1869 – 1948)

If there is one universal fact of life that can be proven beyond any shadow of a doubt, it is that a single person can bring change.

Change – even the greatest change – begins with a single person.

Change begins the moment that person begins it.

If you mean to make a difference in the world, you cannot wait for others to begin the change.

You cannot wait even for your own changes to become widespread or universal.

Begin the project, no matter how ambitious, with yourself.

Begin now.

Sources: Alan Axelrod, Gandhi CEO / Henry Doering, The World Almanac Book of Buffs, Masters, Mavens and Uncommon Experts / Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook / Lucy-Anne Holmes, How to Start a Revolution / Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World / Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Shadows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 February 2017

Sometimes inspiration flows like sap through a maple tree.

Sometimes it is as slow-moving as molasses in January.

Those who read this blog (both of them!) or follow me on Facebook (the rest of their families!) are aware that I work…a lot.

Between working as an English teacher during the work week and at Starbucks on weekends, I don´t seem to have an abundance of leisure time.

And what leisure time is not required by my spouse´s instructions is not always used as productively as it should be, for there is much in this modern world to distract even the most resolute of urban animals.

And though I feel most alive when writing my thoughts and feelings, peppered with facts obtained through reading and research, writing – an exercise of the mind´s creative muscles – does feel like work sometimes, so my impulses don´t always cause me to leap behind the keyboard and create words that drip like honey from the lips of the gods.

Yesterday was my first day off – not counting sick days when I truly was ill with that most fatal of ailments, the man cold – in weeks, when I had no immediate urgent obligations to spouse or employers.

A much-beloved private student of mine works at the Kunsthaus in Zürich and finally after months of discussion, I took advantage of her offer to explore the museum for free.

Kunsthaus Zürich.jpg

I thought that getting out of Casa Kerr – our humble wee apartment a short stroll away from the Lake of Constance – would aid me psychologically and inspire me creatively.

For though there are a number of ideas I am working on, words have been trickling slowly these past few weeks.

Part of the problem has been the immediacy of the moment…

It is one thing to write about problems in faraway places like Turkey or Belgium or speak of times past remembered or researched, but to capture the electricity of the moment, fresh and still sparking, this is what has been missing from both my spirit as well as my writing.

I later visited the FIFA Museum and though I see future ideas from this visit there was still lacking the sense of urgency to verbalise what I witnessed there.

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Serendipitiously I stumbled across a dozen books I had neither seen nor read before in three different bookshops, but again ideas from them must be sifted before grains of inspiration can be found lying at the bottom of the goldpan of the mind.

I returned home, began watching To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Bronte Sisters and, like many typical husbands unsupervised by their spouses, I fell asleep on the couch.

I was awakened by a phone call from Canada.

My childhood was rather…unusual.

I have four brothers (Christopher, Thomas, Kenneth and a stepbrother Stephen) and three sisters (Valerie, Cythnia and a foster sister Victoria).

Having met or learned of my brothers and my biological sisters only when I was in my mid-twenties and finding that decades apart does not a family create, the only true sibling I have any significant contact with is my foster sister Victoria.

It was she who phoned me last night / this morning.

There are many similarities between Vicki and myself.

We both come from large families yet were raised as isolated foster children by the same Irish Canadian woman and French Canadian home owner.

We were taken from our biological families because they were unable to properly take care of us themselves.

In a revolving door type scenario, Vicki, 14 years my senior, moved out to pursue her post-secondary education when I moved in.

For a time Vicki was a French teacher while I remain an English teacher.

There is a significant age difference between ourselves and our spouses.

Vicki remains quite spiritual in her beliefs and I can be occasionally philosophical in my expression.

Vicki feels too much.

I have often been accused of thinking too much.

We both worry too much.

We both desperately need to learn and practice the tenets of St. Francis of Assisi´s Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

And, sadly, though we both are driven by the creative impulse, we are both hampered by crippling bouts of self-doubt and discouragement.

She confessed to me last night that she had written two books and having been unsuccessful at getting them published, she simply tossed all of her work into the rubbish bin.

I love my sister and I know her mind and I am convinced that she, like me, need not worry whether her words are good enough to share with others but instead she should keep writing and keep learning how to market her writing.

Instead of seeing shadows of a winter endless in prospect and prophetically cold and unwelcoming, Vicki needs to believe that success will eventually spring her way and that the only handicaps preventing her from reaching that spring are those she has created herself.

Which leads me to the subject of Groundhog Day…

Last year I wrote a blog post called Omens and portents from a rodent.

I spoke of the tradition of Groundhog Day celebrated across many locations in Canada and the United States, where, according to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring weather will arrive six weeks early before the spring equinox; if it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow and retreats back into its den to resume its hibernation then winter weather will persist for six more weeks.

I wrote of the largest Groundhog Day celebration that is held every February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the “holiday” since 1886.

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I told of other groundhogs less famed than Punxsutawney Phil, like Wiarton Willie (an albino groundhog)(Wiarton, Ontario), Balzac Billy (Alberta), Fred la Marmotte (Val d’Espoir, Quebec), Shubenacadie Sam (Nova Scotia), Manitoba Merv (Winnipeg), Oil Springs Ollie (Ontario), Winnipeg Willow (Manitoba), Dundas Donna (Ontario)…and these are just the Canadian celebrations…

Flag of Canada

In the US, besides Punxsutawney, Groundhog Days are celebrated in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Connecticut, New York and many other places across the US…and not always with a groundhog.

Flag of the United States

Red Rock Canyon in Nevada has Mojave Max, a desert tortoise.

And Claude the Cajun Crawfish annually predicts the weather one day earlier in Shreveport, Louisiana.

And in faroff Srentenje, Serbia on 15 February (2 February according to the local religious Julian calendar), it is believed that if a bear awakens from his winter slumber and meets his shadow in his sleepy and confused state, the bear will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging winter.

So, if it is sunny on Sretenje on 15 February, winter ain´t over yet in Serbia.

And it is this idea of a sleepy and confused state, this viewing of shadows of portents and omens to come, that first made me think of waxing political about how Donald Trump´s hair resembles a dead groundhog and how he casts shadows of doubt upon the future…

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Then Vicki´s phone call and my encouragement of her literary efforts made me think of the 1993 film Groundhog Day.

Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again and again.

After indulging in hedonism and committing suicide numerous times, Connors begins to re-examine his life and priorities.

Estimates regarding how long Connors remains trapped in the time loop, in real time, vary widely.

During the filming of Groundhog Day, director Harold Ramis, a Buddhist, observed that according to Buddhist doctrine, it takes 10,000 years for a soul to evolve to its next level.

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Therefore, in a spiritual sense, the entire arc of Groundhog Day spans 10,000 years.

Groundhog Day is often considered to be an allegory of self-improvement, emphasizing that happiness comes from placing the needs of others above one’s own selfish desires.

For some Buddhists, the film’s themes of selflessness and rebirth are reflections of the Buddha’s own spiritual messages.

Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpg

Some Jews and Christians see Connors’ time loop as a representation of Purgatory, from which Connors is released once he has shed his own selfishness and commits himself to acts of love.

Above: Gustave Doré’s image of a non-fiery Purgatory illustration for Dante Alleghieri’s Purgatorio

Theologian Michael Pholey has suggested that the film could be seen as a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress.

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Above: Title page of first edition of John Bunyan´s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)

Others see Groundhog Day as an affirmation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s directive to imagine life – metaphorically and literally – as an endless repetition of events.

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Above: Friedrich Nietzche (1844 – 1900)

The phrase “Groundhog Day”, as a result of the film, has entered into common usage as a reference to an unpleasant situation that continually repeats, as in today is SSDD – same stuff, different day.

Fourteen years after the movie´s release, “Groundhog Day” was noted as common US military slang for any day of a tour of duty in Iraq.

Major Roger Aeschliman in his Iraq War memoir Victory Denied describes guarding assorted visiting dignitaries as his “Groundhog Day”:

“The dignitaries change, but everything else remains the same.

The same airplanes drop them off at the same places.

The same helicopters take us to the same meetings with the same presenters covering the same topics using the same slides.

We visit the same troops at the same mess halls and send them away from the same airport pads to find our way home late at night.

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until we are redeemed and allowed to go home.”

And this is my take on Groundhog Day, both the film and the event…

Yes, there is fear that success in our endeavours is a long long way away and that it will take 10,000 years, or at least a lifetime, for us to achieve our goals, so it is almost instinctive to return back to our caves/our burrows/our warrens and ignore the unpleasant weather and let our dreams remain dormant.

But not venturing outside our comfort zones, we avoid dangerous difficulties that may lie ahead.

But just as Phil Connors had to continually relive Groundhog Day until he finally did the day right securing his release, so must we continue to strive, despite failure after failure, until we finally learn how to succeed.

So, my sister, if you are reading these words, keep on keeping on.

Fail, learn why, fail again and again, until finally you find the formula to see your thoughts and ideas spring into the hands and minds of others for their enjoyment and enlightenment.

Ignore the shadows of doubt.

Spring will come.

Groundhog Day (movie poster).jpg

Sources: Wikipedia

That which survives 2d: A matter of perspective

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2016

There are many things that are unpleasant about getting older: diminishing senses, unflattering changes to one´s body, memory lapses, acquisition of a world-weariness…

But for myself, especially in 2016, it has been the loss of one´s heroes.

Yet another musical legend passed away over Christmas: George Michael, age 53.

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Famous for many songs, including “Last Christmas I gave you my heart”, George died from a sudden heart attack.

In a truly crappy year of celebrity deaths (Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher…to name only a few) George Michael´s demise has affected me more than the rest as his age at death is disturbingly near my own at present.

Prince´s death was pharmaceutically linked, Bowie had cancer, Cohen was not a young man…all tragic but somehow not so bone-chillingly uncommon to my own life status.

If a man only two years my senior can suddenly be no more, can I truly take for granted the time left to me?

Barring accident or lingering disease, how much time do I truly have left?

What follows is not so much resolutions I intend to pursue as they are affirmations of what I have come to realise.

Many a friend has commented to me that it is important that I write.

They have said that my past is somewhat unique, that I can on occasion string words together, that I have my moments when I have written something of significance.

I am also reminded of something that David Bowie once said in an interview: “Don´t play to the gallery.”

Bowie smiling

I have taken this to mean that I should write what matters to me.

If others love it, great.

If not, I must still continue to write what matters to me.

This blog, The Chronicles of Canada Slim, is written to express my ongoing feelings and to represent my memories and emotions that led me here to this time and place.

My other blog, much neglected, Building Everest, is meant to tell stories outside of myself.

It is my hope that those who read this particular post will feel the excitement of travel, the thrill of discovery and an appreciation of the past that I felt as I wrote what follows:

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, but now also the capital of Europe, buzzes with economic, financial and political activity.

And as I recall time spent there in 1993 and 1997 I think of Brussels as I would Ottawa, the capital of Canada, as I would have others think of me, perhaps boring at first glance, but a closer look reveals continuous momentum, regular heroics, relatable villainy, spectacular moments and a vulnerability to capture both the imagination and interest.

In reading Charlotte Bronte´s The Professor one senses that she never really liked the Belgians, especially the Flemish, but did she like Brussels itself?

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The Professor was based on her own experiences in Brussels, a story of love and doubt, of a teacher seeking fortune and love while being severely tested by beguiling sensuality and manipulation.

If a city could be compared to a woman, could our assessment be affected by our experiences?

“Our likings are regulated by our circumstances.

The artist prefers a hilly country because it is picturesque, the engineer a flat one because it is convenient.

The fashionable young gentleman admires the fashionable young lady – she is of his kind.

The toilworn, exhausted, probably irritable teacher, blind almost to beauty, insensible to airs and graces, glories chiefly in certain mental qualities: application, love of knowledge, natural capacity, docility, truthfulness, gratitude are the charms that attract his notice and win his regard.

These he seeks, but seldom meets.

These if by chance he finds, he would fain retain forever.

And when separation deprives him of them he feels as if some ruthless hand had snatched from him his only ewe lamb.” (Charlotte Bronte, The Professor)

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These I seek, but seldom meet.

“Zoé” had many positive aspects, but what had been felt the year previous seemed lacking within myself.

I told myself “Act as if what is wished is reality until the wish becomes reality.”.

Though she could hardly afford it, Zoé was determined to show me Brussels in the hopes that I would transfer my love for the city with similar feelings towards her.

Zoé was a maniac driver, but no more than many Europeans I would encounter in the following decades.

Breathlessly, my heart a-pounding furiously, we arrived at Bruparck.

Bruparck is close to Metro Station Heysel and is part of Heysel Park.

The Heysel / Heizel is in the north of Brussels where the Brussels International Exposition of 1935 and Expo ´58 took place.

The Brussels International Exposition of 1935 was held between 27 April and 6 November 1935.

Officially sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, 25 countries officially participated and a further 5 were unofficially represented.

The theme was colonisation, on the 50th anniversary of the establishmnet of the Congo.

The fair attracted some 20 million visitors.

Belgian architect Joseph van Neck was the principal architect of the fair and of the Art Deco Palais des Expositions with its interior concrete parabolic arches and four heroic bronze statues on piers.

Among many other contributors, Le Corbusier designed part of the French exhibit.

Belgian modernist architect Victor Bourgeois designed the Grand Palace, Restaurant Leopold II and the Pavilion Soprocol.

The Belgian art exposition prominently displayed the work of contemporary Belgian artists, including Paul Delvaux, René Magritte and Louis Van Lint, boosting their careers.

Expo ´58 (the Brussels World´s Fair) was held from 17 April to 19 October 1958, the first major World´s Fair after World War II.

Nearly 15,000 workers spent three years building the two square kilometre site on the Heysel plateau, using many of the buildings from the Brussels International Exposition of 1935.

Expo ´58 was the 11th World´s Fair hosted by Belgium and the 5th in Brussels, following the fairs in 1888, 1897, 1910 and 1935.

Since 1958 Belgium has not arranged any more world fairs.

This huge event was a showcase for Belgium and 40 other countries.

More than 41 million visitors visited the Expo, which was opened with a call for world peace and social and economic progress, issued by King Badouin.

Three million visitors travelled in the cable car which soared above the Expo.

Eight babies were born on site.

With the slogan “Building a world for the modern man”, Expo ´58 sent out a message of boundless optimism, confident and enthusiastic about the future of humanity.

In spite of its message of peace and friendship between nations, Expo ´58 was not immune from the tensions of the Cold War.

Beneath the Atomium, the United States and the Soviet Union defied each other in symbolic confrontation.

The Soviet pavilion was a large impressive building, which they folded up and took back to Russia when the Expo ended.

Within the pavilion the Soviets displayed a facisimile of Sputnik, the world´s first artifical satellite, and a model of the Lenin, the world´s first nuclear icebreaker, representing the success of a Communist society.

The icebreaker Lenin, former St. Alexander Nevsky

The Sputnik copy mysteriously disappeared and the US was accused of stealing it.

Sputnik 1.jpg

The American pavilion was quite spacious and vaunted the American Dream – the consumer society and the comforts of modern life.

The US pavilion included a fashion show with models walking down a large spiral staircase, an electronic computer that demonstrated a knowledge of history, and a colour TV studio behind glass.

The Philips pavilion played the Poeme électronique from 425 loudspeakers placed throughout the park.

Expo58 building Philips.jpg

The Austrian pavilion included a model Austrian Kindergarten which doubled as a daycare for the employees, the Vienna (Wien) Philharmonic playing behind glass and a model nuclear fusion reactor that fired every five minutes.

An original manuscript of Mozart´s Requiem was placed on display.

Someone somehow gained access to the manuscript and tore off the bottom right corner of one of the pages containing the words “Quam olim d:C” in Mozart´s handwriting, possibly the last words Mozart wrote before he died.

During the six months of the Expo, 300 friendly, multilingual and devoted young ladies welcomed and guided millions of visitors who flocked to the site.

Dressed in red jackets and blue hats, disciplined and flirtatious at the same time, the Expo ´58 hostesses were considered the epitome of the modern woman of those times.

Joyful Belgium, a reconstitution of a village from olden times, was a place of entertainment with a festive atmosphere, constantly bursting with crowds of visitors eating, drinking and having fun.

20,000 workers, including 500 gardeners, served 20,000 meals every day in the 70 restaurants on the Expo site.

Belgian beer flowed copiously bringing joy to many who staggered on cobblestones filled with spirit and memories.

But every event has its dark side which the Art of Design Atomium Museum (ADAM) will not seek to draw the visitor´s attention to…

Inside the Belgian pavilion was the Congolese village, a human zoo, showing exotic humans living in their natural state, to emphasise the cultural differences between Europeans and those people they regarded as primitive in a display that was highly degrading and racist.

Congolese in cages in a nude or semi-nude state forced to work on typical village tasks pretending that the gawking visitors did not exist.

Belgian King Baudouin visited the fair in the company of actress Gina Lollobrigida.

Expo ´58 remains a part of the Bruxellois psyche as its best known site still remains a symbol of the city of Brussels.

The Atomium is a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal, expanded 165 billion times, with each of its nine spheres representing an atom.

Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak, it stands 102 metres / 335 feet tall.

Its nine 18 metre / 60 foot diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected by tubes of 3 metre / 10 foot diameter.

These tubes enclose stairs, escalators and a lift in the central, vertical tube allowing access to the five habitable spheres containing exhibit halls and other public spaces.

The top sphere contains a restaurant with a panoramic view of Brussels.

Jessica Canepa of CNN in her 24 January 2013 report “11 of Europe´s most bizarre buildings” named it Europe´s most bizarre building.

When Zoé and I visited the Atomium in 1993, the Atomium´s spheres were clad with aluminum.

Following renovations in 2007, the aluminum was replaced with stainless steel.

The aluminum was sold to the public as souvenirs to pay for the renovations.

A triangular piece about 2 metres / 7 foot long sold for €1,000 in 2006.

Three of the four top spheres lack vertical support and are therefore not open to the public for safety reasons, although the sphere at the pinnacle is.

Waterkeyn´s original design called for no supports.

The sphere was simply to rest on the spheres.

Wind tunnel tests proved that the Atomium would have toppled in an 80 km/h wind.

(140 km/h winds have been recorded in Belgium.)

Support columns were added in 2006 to achieve enough resistance against overturning.

(Though a building weighing 2,500 tonnes will take one hell of a gust to topple it…)

The Atomium is open every day of the year from 10 am to 6 pm and receives 2,300 individual visitors every day or 600,000 visitors per year.

The record number of visitors in one day: 4,700 on 17 August 2008.

Each year on average the Atomium is visited by 10 heads of state, privately or officially.

Visitors are provided audioguides in 28 languages.

There are 873,000 references to the Atomium on the Internet with more than 13,000 Facebook fans.

In addition to its unique architecture, the Atomium already boasted the fastest lift in Europe in 1958, with a speed of 5 metres per second / 18 kph.

What breath had been regained from Zoé´s driving was once again swept from me by this heady ascent as the entrails of the central tube sped by at a pace hummingbirds would have been impressed by.

And the view…

It has been boasted that on a clear day one can see Antwerp to the north or the Atlantic to the west, but on 8 November 1993 I recall only seeing the Palais des Expositions, the Planetarium and Mini-Europe, the Grand Place, the Royal Palace and the EU district.

For Expo ´58 a new airport terminal was added to the Melsbroek National Airport, on the west side of the Airport, on the grounds of the municipality of Zaventem, which has since become the name of the International Airport.

(Zaventem Airport might register in the minds of today´s readers as it was the first target of the 22 March 2016 Brussels bombings.

At 07:55 Ibrahim El Bakraoui (29), Najim Laachraoui (24) and Mohamed Abrini (b. 1984) arrived at Zaventem in a taxi.

At 07:58, in check-in row 11 and check-in row 2 of Zaventem´s departure hall, Bakraoui and Laachraoui committed suicide by exploding nail bombs in their suitcases nine seconds apart.

Abrini failed to detonate his bomb due to the force of Laachraoui´s explosion.

At 09:11 Khalid El Bakraoui and Osama Krayem committed suicide in the middle carriage of a three-carriage train at the Maalbeek metro station.

The bombings killed 32 civilians and injured more than 300 people.

The bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium´s history.)

(Heysel Park also brings to mind another tragedy of a different sort:

On 29 May 1985, Liverpool were the defending European Champions Cup winners facing Juventus –  both this English club and their Italian competitor club were considered the best two teams in Europe at the time.

Despite Heysel Stadium´s status as Belgium´s national stadium, it was in a poor state of repair by the time of the 1985 European Final.

The 55-year-old Stadium had not been sufficiently maintained for several years and large parts of the Stadium were literally crumbling.

A few years before Arsenal fans called Heysel “a dump” when Arsenal had played there.

Both Juventus and Liverpool had urged the UEFA to choose another venue, claiming that Heysel was not in any condition to host a European Final, but UEFA refused to consider a move.

The Stadium was crammed with 60,000 supporters, with more than 25,000 for each team, between them a neutral area reserved for neutral Belgian fans.

Brussels has a large Italian community and many Juventus fans were in the neutral zone, causing Liverpool fans to perceive that Juventus fans had been accorded more seating rights than they had.

At 7 pm, an hour before kick-off, trouble began.

Liverpool and Juventus supporters were mere metres apart – the boundary between them was marked by a temporary chain link fence and a central thinly policed no-man´s land.

Fans began to throw stones across the divide, using the crumbling terraces under their feet.

As kick-off approached, the throwing became more intense.

Several groups of Liverpool fans broke through the boundary separating them from the Juventus fans, overpowered the police and charged the Juventus fans.

Juventus fans began to flee toward the perimeter wall.

The wall could not withstand the force of the fleeing Juventus supporters and a lower portion collapsed.

The collapse allowed fans to escape, but 39 fans died and 600 fans were injured by suffocation or from being crushed against the wall before its collapse.

Bodies were carried out from the Stadium on sections of iron fencing and laid outside, covered with giant football club flags.

In retaliation for the neutral zone attack, Juventus fans in their end of the Stadium then rioted, fighting the police with rocks and bottles for two hours.

Despite the scale of the disaster, UEFA officials, the Belgian Prime Minister, the Brussels mayor and the city´s police force felt that cancelling the match would incite further trouble and violence.

The match eventually kicked off after the captains of both teams spoke to the crowd and appealed for calm.

Juventus won the match 1 – 0.

29 Liverpool fans were charged with manslaughter, 14 of them convicted.

On 29 May 2005, a sundial sculpture was unveiled at the new Heysel Stadium to commemorate the disaster.

Thirty-nine lights shine, one for each who died that night.)

At the foot of the Atomium, Mini-Europe is a miniature park with reproductions of monuments in the European Union on show, at a scale of 1:25.

Image illustrative de l'article Mini-Europe

Roughly 80 cities and 350 buildings are represented.

The park contains live action models, such as trains, mills, an erupting Mount Vesuvius…

(There is something just wrong about trivialising one of the most volcanic eruptions in European history.

Mount Vesuvius spewed a deadly cloud of gas, stones and ash to a height of 33 kilometres (21 mi), ejecting molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima bombing.

Two aerial photos of atomic bomb mushroom clouds, over two Japanese cities in 1945.

Several Roman settlements were obliterated and buried, the most well known being Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The remains of about 1,500 people have been found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, but the overall death toll is still unknown.)

…and cable cars.

A guidebook gives the details on all the monuments.

At the end of the visit, the Spirit of Europe exhibition gives an interactive overview of the European Union in the form of multimedia games.

As fascinating as it is to play the role of Lemeul Gulliver among the Lilliputians, I wanted to experience these wonders of Europe first hand without a sneak peek so I chose not to visit Mini-Europe.

As I type these words there remains much I have yet to see of Europe, but my feelings have not changed in this respect.

In Bruparck there stands an aquatic park – It was winter when we visited. –  slated to close on 1 October 2018, Océade offers 14 waterslides, a wave pool, a rope bridge, interactive video games, an aquatic playground, three saunas (a hammam, a jacuzzi and a Finnish ice bath) – all with a Pirates of the Caribbean feel.

It is said to be the best-equipped aquatic park in Belgium.

Zoé reminded me that Océade was still trying to rebuild its reputation from the July 1992 incident when two children, ages 5 and 7, drowned in the park.

Thierry Den Doncker, the director of Océade, was found guilty of involuntary homicide by default in December 1996.

Still Océade has maintained its reputation as a fun place, receiving 230,000 visitors to the park every year.

The waters are subtropical at a temperature of 29° Celcius, just perfect on a winter´s day.

Nearby the giantic Kinepolis offers 27 cinemas and IMAX.

As enjoyable as exploring Brussels with Zoé was, and I was extremely grateful to her for spending time and money to be my guide to the city, part of me wanted to discover the city for myself.

Seeing a place through a local´s eyes gives one a perspective that a tourist rarely experiences.

Stubbornly I wanted to make Brussels my experience rather than simply sharing Zoé´s experience of it.

I wanted to get lost and discover the city serendipitiously.

Zoé took this as a rejection of her.

It took an infinite amount of long discussions, debates, persuasion and patience to get Zoé to grant me a few hours of liberty from her side.

Granted liberty, I headed for the downtown core of Brussels to do the mundane activities that a tourist does when abroad: mailing postcards, checking e-mail in an Internet café and finding a café or tavern one can call one´s own.

Over cafés au lait, political discussion at the Café Arcadi with two Belgians and another Canadian (a young lady from Lake Nipissing)…

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Belgium is not a country, the two young Bruxellois university students informed us, but rather a political creation.

Unity between the Flemish and Walloons remains fleeting, a mere whisper in the wind barely heard but desperately sought.

But it is this ability for Belgians to have two diametrically opposed peoples share one country that convinces our local drinking companions that it was the Belgians that created “civilisation”.

To talk to a Belgian is to talk with the world-weary, for Belgium is more than chocolate and diamonds, medieval buildings and comic books, it is a land riddled with corruption, seediness, tension and scandal.

Belgium remains in a mind a country that is a breath away from coming undone.

And to listen to a Belgian speak is to court depression, for there seems to be a litany of problems to worry one´s self sick over in Belgium.

Milk causing cancer, arms deals with greased palms, the constant hiss of secessionism, the spectre of paedophilia, bizarre murders and crimes that would have challenged Agatha Christie´s Hercule Poirot, the sale of passports to criminals, reunions of Nazis, a history of colonial genocide…what topic do you wish to talk about first?

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Above: David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

And living with your neighbour does not mean loving your neighbour.

The Flemish and the Walloons are locked in a marriage of convenience but not comfort.

In the port city of Antwerp, Belgium´s second-largest metropolis, the world´s biggest distributor of diamonds, one finds a hotbed of tension.

Known as the Jerusalem of the West, Antwerp is home to 20,000 Jews, most of which live in the old Jewish quarter.

Right next door is the Arab quarter, home to the city´s 30,000 Moroccans and Turks.

Thrown into this volatile mix Antwerp is also the headquarters of the anti-immigrant party Vlaams Blok, whose main objective is for Flanders to secede.

Vlaams Blok logo.png

Both past and present Belgium is a battlefield.

A strange battlefield of baroque buildings, thick forests, fantastic restaurants, swan-filled canals, crumbling housing, dodgy areas, port crime, war cemeteries, blood-soaked battle grounds, ethnic turmoil, language barriers, racist graffiti, corruption so common it´s casual, a lack of planning and it no longer seems strange that Belgians like to drink.

Happily drinking is one of the best things to do in Belgium, as the country has over 400 beers of amazing flavours.

But to this casual observer, Belgium feels like it was thrown together without any vision, without any rhyme or reason.

The young Bruxellois lads were, of course, curious about Canada, for it too is a land that remains sharply divided along linguistic lines: English vs French.

But as visiting Anglophone Canadians to Brussels we held fast to a unity that we cherish, but as complex as English-French relations are in Canada the difficulties of Ottawa pale by comparison to politics in Belgium.

In Canada, Canadians have one national Parliament and each province has its own legislature.

In Belgium there are six individual Parliaments with each national party split in two – one representing Flanders in the north and one representing Wallonia in the south.

60% of Belgians speak Flemish, but in Brussels 80% of the population speaks French.

In 2001, I would later read that a train crash in Belgium that killed 8 people was caused because the signalmen – one Walloon, one Flemish – spoke different languages and couldn´t communicate.

But for all their problems it must be admitted that Belgians are interesting.

Take a few examples:

King Albert II (reigned from 1993 to 2013) loves motorcycles and riding them fast, to judge by the number of times he has been pulled over.

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Jean-Michel Nihoul, Brussels businessman and self-proclaimed “Monster of Belgium”, suspected for numerous crimes, won´t be prosecuted because he can name too many government officials involved in his sex parties.

King Leopold II (1835 – 1909), responsible for opening up the Congo to Belgian development and genocide and making a fortune in the process, loved nothing more than riding around on an oversized tricycle and sneaking off to court his teenage French lover.

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Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989), celebrated for his Inspector Maigret stories, was unique:

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Simenon wrote at least 4 books a year – totalling more than 500 by the time he died – in between having sex three times a day.

Known as “the man of 10,000 women”, Simenon still managed to write 80 pages a day, typically meeting his goal of finishing a book within two weeks.

(“Francois”, Zoé´s father, with two mistresses, clearly found his role model.)

René Magritte (1898 – 1967) brought the absurd to the commonplace and the everyday to the bizarre in precise frozen images that always contained a snippet of logic and the whisper of a joke, but Belgians didn´t appreciate him.

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In 1927, Belgian art critics so demonized his first show of reality-questioning, surrealistic paintings that Magritte moved to France.

It took Magritte another two decades for his work to be acclaimed as innovative.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525 – 1569) is worth mentioning for several reasons:

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Above: Pieter Brueghel the Elder´s The Painter and the Buyer (1565)

Brueghel, unlike his 16th century contemporaries, dared to paint other themes outside of religion or portraits of the wealthy.

His landscapes weren´t just Biblical backdrops, but vibrant village life captured in all its bawdy detail and glory.

No detail is insignificant in a Brueghal picture, for each minutae is a vignette that tells a tale of life in the 16th century more dramatically than a library of historical tomes ever could.

And in a sense Brueghal captures the essence of Brussels, not just in illustrating life then but as well a message about life now.

When I recall my conversation in Café Arcadi, the drownings at the Océade, the Heysel Stadium tragedy, the bombings of Brussels, the paintings of Brueghal and the recent death of George Michael, I am left with one final impression:

Seize the moment.

Appreciate the moment.

Capture and keep that moment close.

For God only knows how many more moments are left to us.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Charlotte Bronte, The Professor / Melissa Rossi, The Armchair Diplomat on Europe