Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

There are moments when one has to accept one´s limitations.

For example, the wife and I were asked to attend her employer´s Christmas Party yesterday evening, but neither one of us was healthy (or motivated) enough to attend.

I have been home all week when I would have rather been working, but it is hard to be a barista or teacher when one has lost his voice.

The demands of work and other personal responsibilities limit my ability to travel very far at present, so some of the places where I would like to visit I cannot visit due to both the constraints of limited time and money to do so.

As regular readers (both of them!) of my blog know I have been retracing the life and “footsteps” of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531).

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I wrote about walking from Wildhaus to Strichboden to Arvenbuel to Weesen.

(See Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg and Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows of this blog.)

I wrote that Zwingli was born in Wildhaus and was first educated in Weesen (1489 – 1494)

Zwingli then completed his secondary education in Basel (1494 – 1496), then five years later returned to Basel to complete his Master´s Degree at the University of Basel (1502 – 1506).

I did not walk to Basel, but having frequently visited and worked in the city I felt that my readers would still like a glimpse of the place.

(See Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect of this blog.)

But what of the years (1496 – 1502) between Zwingli´s Basel educational periods?

Well, Zwingli was sent to Bern, the Swiss capital, and stayed with the humanist Henry Wölfflin.

The Dominicans in Bern tried to persuade Zwingli to join their order and it is possible that he was received as a novice, but as both his father and uncle disapproved of such a course of action, he left Bern without completing his Latin studies.

Zwingli then enrolled in the University of Vienna in the winter semester of 1498 but was expelled, according to the University´s records.

Zwingli´s activities in 1499 are unknown, but history records that he re-enrolled in the summer of 1500 and continued his studies until 1502, after which he transferred to the University of Basel.

After Basel, Zwingli would be ordained in Konstanz, celebrate his first mass in Wildhaus, and then take up his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus.

The walking tourbook Zwingli- Wege mentions Bern, Vienna and Konstanz, but the authors do not extend their book´s walks to these three cities.

As far as I can tell there is little celebration of Zwingli´s life in Bern, Vienna and Konstanz.

And even though Zwingli´s time in Glarus is definitely noteworthy, it isn´t until he began his reformatory crusade for change in the Church in Zürich do the Swiss take much notice of the man.

As I have written of both Bern and Konstanz in the past within this blog, I want to speak of Vienna, not so much in regard to Zwingli but in regards to the wisdom of spending time in this place.

(For stories about Bern, see Capital Be and Canada Slim in the Capital of this blog.)

(For stories about Konstanz, see Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?, Flames and Broken Promises, and Canada Slim and the City of the Thousand of this blog.)

Above: View of Vienna (Wien) from the Stephansdom (St. Stephen´s Cathedral)

Vienna, Austria, 2 October 1998

It was my second adventure travelling about Europe, and, as a result of my first adventure, this time I was not alone.

Accompanied by the woman who would one day become my wife, Ute and I travelled by train and bus from Freiburg im Breisgau in southwestern Germany´s Black Forest, north to Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Trier and Köln (Cologne), east to Nuremburg, Praha (Prague) and Kutná Hora, south to Ceske Budojovice and Cesky Krumlov, and finally southeast to Wien (Vienna) arriving by overnight train.

The journey to Vienna had been, for the most part, pleasant, filled with discoveries and missteps as are common to any long adventure spent together.

The arrival to this imperial city started poorly.

I had gotten into my head that Vienna was a place where I was expected to wear a suit.

Somehow I convinced myself that Vienna was an élite environment that would not accept me unless I was wearing a suit.

Said suit had lain balled up at the bottom of my backpack, but at the crack of dawn I rolled it out, put it on and waited for us to arrive.

A sudden braking of the train caused me to split wide open the crotch of my suit trousers, putting me in a frightfully ugly and grumpy mood.

My Ute is never one to let an ugly mood go to waste and she responded in kind, so perhaps it was a mixed blessing that we spent our nights in Vienna in separately segregated youth hostel beds.

And though we would later argue yet one more time during our sojourn there, we were generally happy together in this romantic city of hidden courtyards, mysterious cellars and forgotten cemeteries, of Harry Lime (The Third Man) and Mozart (Rock me, Amadeus!), of Schubert, Strauss and Freud, of Marilyn Monroe and Karl Marx, of Vivaldi and 007, the blue Danube and the kaleidoscope of colour that is the Hundertwasserhaus.

Above: Hundertwasser, Vienna

Vienna conjures up a myriad of memories: impressive imperial palaces and dictatorial failed artists, coffeehouses crammed with cakes and customers, baroque mirrors and angelic choirboys, Art Nouveau architecture and Klimt canvasses, horsedrawn fiacre carriages and lovely leaping Lippanzer stallions.

This is also a city of music: a Strauss waltz, a cathedral choir, an organ recital, an opera performance, a celebration of the talents of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Liszt and Mahler, a litany of life, melodies of magic.

Above: Johann Strauss II Monument, Stadtpark, Vienna

As is normal in any relationship of two or more travelling companions, there must be a certain amount of give-and-take for harmony to happen.

And I must confess I was searching for the poetry of Canadian balladeer Leonard Cohen to be reflected on the streets of Vienna.

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Above: Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

“Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women.”

Ah, the things men do to woo women….

The Neidhart Frescoes show a thief groping beneath a woman´s skirt, while another uses snowballs to win the favours of a peasant girl.

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Ah, the things men do to escape women….

The Kornhäusel Tower was designed by architect Josef Georg Kornhäusel (1782 – 1860) as a refuge from his nagging wife, having a retractable iron staircase from the first floor rather than a conventional doorway at street level.

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Above: Kornhäuselturm, Vienna

“There´s a shoulder where Death comes to cry.”

On 15 March 1938 German Chancellor Adolf Hitler came to Vienna to proclaim the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria.

Above: Adolf Hitler, Heldenplatz, Vienna, 15 March 1938

Within days Vienna´s elegant Hotel Metropole at Morzinplatz was commandeered as the regional headquarters of the Nazi secret police and Heinrich Hemmler´s henchmen began rounding up opponents of National Socialism: Fascists, Communists, Jews, men, women and children for interrogation, torture and dispatch to concentration camps.

Above: The former Hotel Metropole, Vienna

Above: Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Gestapo, Morzinplatz, Vienna

“There´s a lobby with nine hundred windows.”

A lobby is a place where people wait.

Kaballah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that this earthly existence is a lobby where we wait for the “world to come”.

10 Sephirot

Kaballah also teaches that there are 900 – yes, exactly 900 – potential types of death for a human being.

This refers not to the manner or cause of death, but to the inner experience of the person who is dying and the different experiences of death vary in degree of gentleness or painfulness.

The most gentle & peaceful death is referred to as “the kiss”, or “the kiss of Shekinah” and is described as feeling like a hair being pulled from a cup of milk.

The most painful death is described as feeling like a spiked ball at the end of a hairy rope being pulled out of the person’s throat.

Vienna is a city where some people still keep a separate savings account in order to ensure an appropriately lavish funeral.

Above: Grave of Ludwig von Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

Vienna´s chief cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof is one of the biggest in Europe, larger than the entire Innere Stadt, and with a much bigger population – 2.5 million – than the whole of the city (1.8 million).

Above: Grave of Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

It even has its own bus service to help mourners get around the cemetery.

Above: Grave of Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Opened in 1874, at the height of Viennese funereal fetishism – when having eine schöne Leich (a beautiful corpse) was something to aspire to, the Zentralfriedhof is still very much a working graveyard.

1 November / All Saints´ Day sees up to a million Viennese make the trip out here and leave candles burning in remembrance on virtually every grave.

And here the music is buried along with its decomposing composers: Beethoven, Schubert, Gluck, Brahms, Wolf and the entire Strauss clan.

Or could the 900 windows be more pedantic and simply be Vienna´s first skyscraper, the 16-storey, 50-metre high Hochhaus, built in 1932?

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Above: Hochhaus, Herrengasse, Vienna

“There´s a tree where the doves go to die.”

A cross where the King of Peace was crucified?

Stephansdom, a cathedral that has dominated the Viennese skyline for centuries and an obvious military target that has endured two Turkish sieges, Napoleonic bombardment, American bombers and Russian artillery.

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Above: St. Stephan´s Cathedral, Vienna

Despite the tourists, it is still very much a place of worship.

The Pötscher Madonna, an object of great veneration even today, wept tears from her unusual large eyes during the Battle of Zenta against the Turks in 1697 and in so doing miraculously secured victory against the invading infidels.

Above: The Pötscher Madonna, Stephansdom, Vienna

In the Apostles´ Choir is the glorious red marble tomb of Emperor Friedrich III (1415 – 1493) with the Emperor´s mysterious acronym AEIOU (Alles Erdreich ist Österreich Untertan / The whole world is subject to Austria.)

Down in the catacombs, around 16,000 locals are buried here, their bones piled high in more than thirty rooms.

“There´s a piece that was torn from the morning and it hangs in the Gallery of Frost.”

A reference to Sisi (1837 – 1898), a young girl torn away so soon in the morning of her life to become Empress Elisabeth to the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and whose life and love were lynched to death by her loveless husband and his control freak mother?

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Above: Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Married at 16, her mother-in-law Sophie denied Sisi any privacy by choosing her ladies in waiting for her, denied Sisi any love by having her children removed from her care as soon as they were born.

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Above: Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1805 – 1872)

Later, Elisabeth would tell her daughter:

“Marriage is an absurd institution.

 

Above: Sisi´s husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830 – 1916)

At the age of fifteen you are sold, you make a vow you do not understand, and you regret for thirty years or more that you cannot break it.”

By 1860, Sisi had suffered enough.

She abandoned her children and husband and fled to Madeira for six months.

She then spent the rest of her lonely life travelling around Europe, crisscrossing the Continent, never staying in one place too long and went on endless cruises.

Sisi sought solace in fencing, hiking and horseback riding and in the preservation of her beauty.

When her cousin, King Ludwig, and then her only son Rudolf, committed suicide within a few years of each other, she became convinced that she was mentally unstable.

Above: Photos of Prince Rudolf (1858 – 1889) and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera who died together in a suicide pact in the Meyerling Hunting Lodge in the Vienna Woods

From then on, she dressed only in black and carried a black fan to hide her wrinkles.

“When we cannot be happy in the way that we desire there is nothing for it but to fall in love with our sorrows.”

By 1897, Elisabeth´s health began to deteriorate rapidly – a condition partly brought on by anorexia – to the extent that she could barely walk.

Despite her poor health and her obsession with madness and death, few would have predicted her final demise.

On 10 September 1898, the Empress was assassinated by an Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, on Lake Geneva.

Thousands turned out for Sisi´s funeral in Vienna.

Above: Sisi´s funeral procession, Vienna, 17 September 1898

She is buried in the basement vault of the Capuchin Church beside her estranged husband and her suicidal son, amongst other royal remains – some with death´s heads emblazoned on their coffins.

Above: Tombs of Sisi (left), Franz Joseph (centre), Rudolf (right), Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt), Capuchin Church, Vienna

It is a gallery of glorified ghosts, a chamber of frost, a cold place indeed.

“There´s a concert hall in Vienna where your mouth had a thousand reviews.”

Could Leonard have meant the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), which opened in May 1869 with a performance of Mozart´s Don Giovanni?

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Above: The Staatsoper, Vienna

“There´s a bar where the boys have stopped talking.

They´ve been sentenced to death by the blues.”

Surveys have shown that the vast majority of Viennese are safely tucked up in bed by as early as 10 pm.

Nonetheless it is still quite possible to keep partying around the clock in Vienna.

Vienna´s late night bars are concentrated in three main areas, the most famous being the Bermuda Triangle, which focuses on Rabensteig, Seitenstettengasse, Ruprechtsplatz and the streets around.

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If I was searching for a blues bar, the Bermuda Triangle is where I would look.

“There´s an attic where children are playing, where I´ve got to lie down with you soon, in a dream of Hungarian lanterns, in the mist of some sweet afternoon.”

The attic of the body is the mind and who we are psychologically is often formed by the events of our childhood.

Few people are as intimately associated with Vienna as Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), for though he was born in Freiburg in Moravia and died in exile in London, in the intevening 83 years he spent most of his life here.

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Above: Sigmund Freud

The father of psychoanalysis was the first to come up with having patients discuss their problems while lying down on a couch.

Freud´s The Interpretation of Dreams contains two revolutionary ideas:

  1. All dreams represent the fulfillment of wishes.
  2. The functioning of dreams provides systematic evidence of the unconscious.

Sigmund Freud moved to the second floor of Berggasse 19 in 1891 and remained there until 4 June 1938 when he and his family fled to London.

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His apartment is now a place of pilgrimage, even though Freud took most of his possessions with him into exile.

His hat, coat and walking stick are still here.

There is movie footage from the 1930s, but the only room with any original decor, any ancient atmosphere, is the waiting room with odd oriental rugs, a cabinet of antiquities and some burgundy furniture sent back from London by his daughter Anna after the War.

Rooms of photographs and Freud-inspired art and a library are all that remain of eight decades of living in Vienna.

“And I´ll dance with you in Vienna….

….Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

We would visit the bookshop Shakespeare & Company, have lunch at the University Mensa (cafeteria) and supper at the Restaurant Marché Mövenpick and coffee at Café Bräunerhof with Parisian style snooty waiters in penguin tuxedos.

Parliament Building, Vienna

Above: Austrian Parliament, Vienna

We would tour Parliament and watch horses perform ballet at the Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School).

Above: The Spanische Reitschule, Vienna

The King of the Waltz, composer Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899) lived on the first floor of Praterstrasse 34 from 1863 until the death of his first wife, the singer Jetty Treffz, in 1878.

Today´s Strauss Museum contains a room with ceiling cherubs, a grand piano, an organ and a standing desk.

There are dance cards and ball pendants which were kept as mementoes of the evenings tripping the light fantastic.

Strauss is, of course, best known for having written Vienna´s signature tune, An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube), but he also composed stirring tunes such as the Revolution March and the Song of the Barricades.

His operatta, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), written to take Viennese minds off the economic crash of 1873, was another huge success.

Freud would have had a field day had he taken Johann Junior on as a patient.

Johann Strauss the Elder (1804 – 1849) began his career serenading diners in Viennese restaurants, however it was in the dance hall of Zum Sperl that Johann Senior made his mark as a band leader, conducting a frentic mixture of dances, orchestral fantasies and somber melodies.

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Above: Johann Strauss the Elder

Papa Strauss´ gypsy-like features and wild, vigorous conducting style became very popular in Vienna and he and his orchestra would gain fame touring Europe.

However Strauss Senior´s touring took a toil on domestic life and he created a public scandal in 1842 when he left the Family home and moved in with a young seamstress, who bore him several illegitimate children.

Strauss Junior, the eldest son, followed in his father´s footsteps, writing his first waltz at the age of six, though his father wished for him to become a banker.

Above: Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899), photo taken by Fritz Luckhardt

Father and son soon became rivals, both musically and politically, with son surpassing father in fame.

Despite their rivalry, father and son were quite alike, for Johann Junior was a difficult character like his father and something of an outsider.

And like his father, Johann Junior caused a scandal, divorcing his second wife Lili in order to marry his mistress.

What would Freud have thought?

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

Cohen sings when I remember Vienna and think of my emotions towards my wife then and often now:

Take this waltz.

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Take this waltz with its “I´ll never forget you, you know!”

….And I´ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss.

And I´ll yield to the flood of your beauty my cheap violin and my cross.”

I no longer wanted “some hallway where love´s never been”, or to simply be “on a bed where the moon has been sweating”.

O, my love.

O, my love.

Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

I would like to return to Vienna, not to visit the non-descript Zwinglikirche, but to walk on fog-filled streets to pay my last farewell to the impatient young man I was, his coffin lowered into the frozen ground of his impatience.

To perhaps pass him by with incredulity or perhaps no recognition of my present self in his past features, just other stranger on the Strand.

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But for now we walk in the cold Swiss air, our freezing breath on the window pane.

Lying, waiting.

I am a man in the dark in a picture frame, so mystic and soulful.

Memory stays with me until the feeling is gone.

The waltz is weaving.

The rhythm is willing.

Cold, empty silence?

Cold grey sky?

These mean nothing to me.

Oh, Vienna.

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“Slow down, you crazy child.

You´re so ambitious for a juvenile.

But then if you´re so smart,

Tell me why you are still so afraid.

Where´s the fire?

What´s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

You got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want

Or you can just get old.

You´re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you?

….Slow down, you crazy child.

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile.

It´s alright you can afford to lose a day or two.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Austria / Lonely Planet Central Europe on a Shoestring / The Rough Guide to Austria / Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Freud: A Graphic Guide to the Father of Psychoanalysis / Graham Greene, The Third Man / Duncan J. D. Smith, Only in Vienna: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects / Leonard Cohen, “Take this Waltz”, I´m Your Man / Billy Joel, “Vienna”, The Stranger / Ultravox, “Vienna”, Vienna

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Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 December 2017

Soon, thoughts of expatriates will turn to thoughts of home as Christmas draws ever closer.

My American friends will wish to fly back to California and Florida, Boston and Philadelphia.

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My Canadian friend will wish to fly to Nova Scotia to proudly show off her new daughter, while my Indian friend resident in Canada will fly to Delhi to proudly show off his one year old son.

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As for my coworkers, our Ethiopian to Addis Ababa, our Nepalese to Kathmandu, our Turks to Turkey, our Swede to Sweden, and so on, while the Swiss that surround me will probably want to go back to their villages and visit their friends and family for the holidays.

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As for me and mine, we will work over much of the holidays as sick people still need tending and coffee drinkers still need coffee.

While the Mamas and Papas sing in my mind´s jukebox:

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Above: The Mamas and the Papas: Left to right – Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and John Phillips

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church
I´d passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I began to pray.
You know the preacher likes the cold.
He knows I’m gonna stay….

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day.

The desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else, is strong.

To be in some sort of faraway California where we could be safe and warm, instead of wrestling with the constant anxieties our respective jobs contain as we struggle against worsening weather and we hear ad nauseum infinitum of colleagues and companions about to jet off here, there and everywhere while we remain behind to fight the fight absurdium.

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And in the process we forget the joys and benefits of remaining here.

I think about past travels and ask myself:

Does anyone actually learn anything from all the travel we do?

I think back to our own vacations together this past year….our trip to Reichenbach Falls, our summer fortnight in northern Italy, our October week in London, and I ask myself….

Do we travel simply to escape the trivality of our normal lives of quiet desperation?

Is travel only a means to relax or is wanting to walk away from my travels somewhat better than I started putting too much pressure on this period of time?

Of all the books I treasure in the library I have been building for myself over the past two decades, I have come to love the writings of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his best seller The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims´ Progress, which humourously chronicles his excursion through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travellers in 1867.

Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad.jpg

As I write this blog and describe the places where I have travelled I hope that Twain´s complaints about others´ travelogues are not applicable to my own writing.

Granted I am not prone to lampooning or often writing in a humourous vein, and I can live with that assessment, but I do sincerely hope that I don´t regale my poor readers in such a way that they find me to be bland, pointless or repetitive.

I admit to a love of history but I hope that my historical anecdotes do not detract from the uniqueness of the present moment´s recollections.

For it is my intention to make a place as understandable as possible in ways that modern travel guides seem to fail, in their focus in helping the foreign traveller find as much as the common comforts he left behind everpresent wherever he travels, and show both the contrasts and comparisons between places….to celebrate the unique while embracing the common humanity.

I have often felt that the biggest problem with our modern world that we are so focused with the moving from place to place that we have forgotten about the significance of what lies between these places.

We have reached a point where only certain locations are designated worthy of being named places and the landscape has become an unimportant generic blur to be tolerated and travelled through as quickly as possible.

We forget that who we are is where we are, wherever we are at a given moment in time.

Wherever we go, there we are.

We have become indifferent and impatient with what lies between our starting-out point and our destination.

The faster we travel, the more we miss.

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We have forgotten how to live in the here and now.

Lago di Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Twain and I share similar observations about Lake Como:

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Above: Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

“I always had an idea that Como was a vast basin of water shut in by great mountains.

Well, the border of huge mountains is here, but the lake itself is not a basin.

It is as crooked as any brook….

There is not a yard of low ground on either side of it – nothing but endless chains of mountains that spring abruptly from the water´s edge, and tower to chains of mountains that spring abruptly from a thousand to two thousand feet.

Their craggy sides are clothed with vegetation and white specks of houses peep out from the luxuriant foliage everywhere.

They are even perched upon jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above your head.

Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats, surrounded by gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes in nooks carved by nature out of the vine-hung precipices, and with no ingress or egress save by boats.

Some have great broad stone staircases leading down to the water, with heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and fancifully adorned with creeping vines and bright coloured flowers – for all the world like a drop curtain in a theatre, and lacking nothing but long-waisted and high-heeled women and plumed gallants in silken tights coming down to go serenading in the splendid gondola in waiting.

A great feature of Como´s attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides.

They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when everything seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como, can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.”

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Lake Como is Paul McCartney´s Mull of Kintyre, Linda Ronstadt´s Blue Bayou, James Hilton´s Shangri-la.

While Twain and his companions voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco from Bellagio, my wife and I drove through wild mountain scenery, passed hamlets and villas, with towering cliffs on our left and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right.

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Flanked by these mountains of scored granite, Como´s eastern fork, the Lago di Lecco, is as austere as a priest and fjord-like as an Norwegian postcard.

This is not the Como of George Clooney but rather the Italy of a Jude the Obscure.

One arrives in Como and Bellagio.

The traveller simply gets to Lecco.

Twenty-seven years prior to Twain, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy) also took a steamer from the promontory of Bellagio.

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Above: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

“We found that the lake soon lost much of its picturesque beauty.

Manzoni and Grossi have both chosen this branch of the lake for the scene of their romances, but it is certainly far, very far, inferior to the branch leading to Como, especially as at the end of the lake you approach the flat lands of Lombardy and the bed of the Adda.

At Lecco, we hired a caleche for Bergamo.”

Lecco is a workday world, a centre of commerce.

Piazza XX Settembre, in the centre of the town, and the San Martino mountain.

And yet some culture managed to escape this ancient town of ironmongers that unceremoniously straddles the River Adda, defenselessly striving to reach the safety of the Lake from the roughness of her passage.

Twain did not try to sing Lecco´s praises and spoke little of it except to say he was there to leave a steamer and board an open barouche with a wild and boisterous driver, hellbent determined to reach Bergamo within two hours so Twain´s party could meet the train.

Lonely Planet doesn´t touch the town with a thesaurus nor does Rick Steeves or any of the other guidebooks designed for the Anglo traveller.

Rough Guide begins its description of Lecco with the words:

“You almost certainly won´t want to stay in Lecco.”

Rough Guide expends itself exhaustively telling the trapped traveller how to exit Lecco posthaste: hop on the bus, Gus; take the train, Jane; there´s the ferry, Mary.

Clearly, there must be 50 ways to leave your Lecco.

Then RG suggests that if you have time to kill you could pop into the Basilica or visit the Villa Manzoni.

If you have time to kill?

Not exactly slaying the reader with seductiveness or enthusiasm.

Even the local Lake Como tourist guidebook, created by folks whose job is to compel the reader to explore the region, uses words like “industrious” and “commercial” to describe Lecco, in a manner similar to describing a blind date as possessing “a great personality” as if her beauty were so minimal as to not warrant description.

Anglo writers fail to generate even the slightest spark of interest in the town and guidebooks written for them reflect this.

Leave it to the underestimated, much-maligned Germans to save the day, for how easily we forget that it was they who invited the romantic novel and seductive poetry that can respectfully rival even Keats and Shakespeare.

These are the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, that most famous of German writers, who while admitting that his people can be detail-obsessed in their “Ordnung ist Alles.” (order is everything) methodology, seeking to grasp the nature of all that he sees in his Italian Journey:

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Above: Goethe in the Roman Campagna, by Johann Tischbein

Trento, Italy, 11 September 1786

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“I console myself with the thought that, in our statistically minded times, all this has probably been printed in books which one can consult if need arise.

At present I am preoccupied with sense impressions to which no book or picture can do justice.

The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life.

How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me?

Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?

How much can I take in at a single glance?

Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced?

This is what I am trying to discover.”

 

Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Eberhard Fohrer – what an uninspiring name – the writer of Michael Müller Verlag´s Comer See Reiseführer, though not so verbose as the reader might hope, still manages to pique interest in this industrious and commercial town with a great personality.

Fohrer speaks of how the town nestles besides the lake with its long promenade of large trees and how pedestrians pleasantly stroll between sidewalk cafés and open air restaurants, shops and boutiques.

Lecco, lying at the southern extremity of the east branch of Lago di Como where the River Adda adds its substance to the lake, seems as disregarded as one´s nether regions or the heel of one´s foot.

Does no one see the imposing outline of Mount Resegone that has protected the town since Roman times?

Can no one sense romantic purpose to the determined currents beneath the Ponte Visconteo as plain plains have wrought lovely lake?

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Does not the Palazzo della Paure (Palace of Fears) still inspire trepidation to the visitor as it did to the citizenry who were compelled to leave their taxes within?

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Can no one sense the quiet majesty of the Basilica with its high neo-Gothic 98-metre bell tower and 14th century Giottesque frescoes and feel the divine protection from the relics of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boatmen?

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Is there no history worth discovering within the Torre Viscontea which once belonged to a mighty castle guarded by long high walls?

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Is the neoclassical Teatro della Societa or the rationalist Justice Building on Piazza Garibaldi unworthy of a glance, a photograph, or even a mention?

Is Lecco nothing more than a historical hub, the frontier´s border between beauty and boredom?

Is Lecco simply a place to disembark, to fuel up, to stock up, before dashing down to Bergamo or eagerly anticipating the much-touted delights of Como and the other branches of the lake?

The town contains over 48,000 people.

Are they nothing more than unwilling residents resigned to their fate or do they simply exist to serve those rushing through?

Yet can not poetry, literature, music, adventure and progress not emanate from such a place?

Lecco has produced some citizens that stand out for attention:

  • Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873), poet and novelist, author of the Italian classic The Betrothed
  • Antonio Ghislanzoni (1824 – 1893), journalist, poet and novelist, who wrote many librettos for the great composer Verdi
  • Carlo Mauri (1930 – 1982), a great climber and explorer
  • Antonio Rossi, Olympian kayaker and five-time medal winner

Just to name four that even the foreigner can learn about.

This is not a “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” kind of town.

Of the aforementioned four, the casual visitor quickly deduces that it would take very little convincing for the town to rename itself Manzoniville as his name and image seem to be everywhere.

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Above: The Villa Manzoni, Lecco

There is the Villa Manzoni, the Manzoni Monument, the Piazza Manzoni….

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Above: The Manzoni Monument

Manzoni, Manzoni, Manzoni….

Who knows who this is, outside of those who are Italian or who study things Italian?

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Above: Alessandro Manzoni

Lecco won´t help you in your quest if you don´t read Italian, for the stores don´t seem to stock his classics in translation.

Which is a shame, really, for Manzoni was considered so talented a writer that the Count de Gubernatis remarked that there was “one genius having divined the other” when the great Goethe defended Manzoni against attacks on his first tragedy Il Conte di Carmagnola which in its day violated all classical conventions of how a poet was supposed to be poetic.

The death of Napoleon in 1821 inspired Manzoni´s powerful stanzas Il Cinque maggio (The 5th of May), one of the most popular lyrics in the Italian language.

Gold-framed portrait painting of a gaunt middle-aged man with receding hair and laurel wreath, lying eyes-closed on white pillow with a white blanket covering to his neck and a gold Jesus cross resting on his chest

Above: Napoleon on his Deathbed, by Horace Vernet

The political events of 1821 and the imprisonment of many of his friends, seeking Italian liberation from Austrian suppression, weighed much on Manzoni´s mind, so he sought distraction in historical studies.

These studies suggested his greatest work, I Promessi sposi (The Betrothed).

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The Penguin Guide to European Literature notes that “the book´s real greatness lies in its delineation of character”.

The heroine Lucia, the Capuchin friar Padre Cristoforo, the saintly Cardinal of Milan…

These are what Republicans should model their Christianity upon, instead of the weak perverse President upon whom they serve.

The novel, much like Lecco itself, is rich in pictures of ordinary men and women, filled with irony and disenchantment which always stops short of cynicism.

In 1822, Manzoni published his second tragedy, Adelchi, turning on the overthrow by Charlemagne of the Lombard domination in Italy, with clear allusions to the existing Austrian rule.

Above: Statue of Charlemagne (742 – 814), St. Peter´s Basilica, Vatican City

Manzoni was brought up in several religious institutions and his wife´s conversion to Catholicism led him to become an austere Catholic intensely interested in the subject of human morality.

He tried to lead a life true to his beliefs.

For example, in 1818, when Manzoni had to sell his paternal inheritance as his money had been lost to a dishonest agent, rather than having his heavily indebted peasants compensate him for his losses, Manzoni not only cancelled the record of all sums owed to him, he allowed the peasants to keep for themselves the whole of the coming harvest.

Yet much like Job, Manzoni´s faith would be sorely tested.

His wife died in 1833, preceded and followed by the death of several of his children.

Manzoni married again, but his second wife also died before him, as did seven of his nine children from both marriages.

The death of his eldest son in 1872 hastened Manzoni´s own demise.

He was already a weakened man when on 6 January 1873 while exiting Milan´s San Fedele Church, he fell and hit his head on the steps and died after five months of cerebral meningitis, a complication of the trauma.

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Above: Chiesa San Fedele, Milano

His funeral was given great pomp and ceremony, attended by princes of the realm and great officers of state.

Above: Manzoni´s funeral procession in Milan

Giuseppe Verdi´s (1813 – 1901) Requiem was written to honour Manzoni´s memory.

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Yet outside of Italy, distant from the 19th century, I, like many non-Italians, had to ask:

“Alessandro Manzoni? Who?”

Does our education teach us nothing beyond the national or linguistic love of ourselves?

Have the Bielievers of our society any clue as to who Verdi was or that there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in The Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons?

Do they know or care that there was life and love before Kayne West and that self expression does have and should have its moral limits?

Above: Kanye West taking the microphone from Taylor Swift, MTV Video Music Awards, 13 September 2009

This grumpy old man accompanied by his truly lovely lady strolled through the town which, by the time of our arrival, was slowly ending its business day.

The Villa was closed, the shops shuttered, the streets mostly devoid of pedestrian traffic, yet Lecco still quietly charmed us.

The Cathedral did not need throngs of tourists to reveal its importance, nor did the promenade need scores of visitors to suggest it was a place worth lingering on.

The human spirit, much like the human mind, must sometimes meander about in unfamiliar marketplaces and wander uncharted and unheralded towns.

Let the Rough Guides dissuade their sychophants from visiting.

Let Lonely Planet lead the Australians to another pub and the English to yet another club.

Steeves is blind to Lecco´s hidden charms and Frommer caters to the armchair traveller who will only leave his comfort zone when there is no other choice.

Let´s Go to that budget bistro, the door of which no local´s shadow will cross.

Or instead we can find in a place like Lecco, that industrial, commercial, unloved, unremarkable lady of a town that unwavering strength of character that Manzoni could see and so eloquently showed.

Como has charisma and Belgamo has beauty, but Lecco is…real.

We too had made the error of following the advice of guidebooks and disregarded the possibilities of Lecco beyond a few hours´ visit.

Our prepackaged, preplanned trip, though not at all horrible, did not allow for much spontaneity.

Our night´s accommodation lay outside of Lecco´s limits in better advertised, more recommended, Belgamo.

We did not remain in Lecco, but Lecco remains in us.

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May we have the strength of character to visit her again.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lariologo, Lake Como: Itineraries and Photographs of Lario, Ceresio and Surrounding Valleys / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us about the World / Eberhard Fohrer, Comer See / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey / Alessandro Mansoni, The Betrothed / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

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

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

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

Flag of the United States

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

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

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

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

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

I am truly a fortunate man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheer folly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, England, 23 October 2017

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

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

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

Above: The Tate Modern, London

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

I had no objections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Globe Theatre, London

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

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

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

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

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Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

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

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

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

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

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

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

Sir Christopher Wren

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

If anyone calls,

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

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

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

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

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

Some hated it.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Queen Elizabeth II

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

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

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

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

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

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

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

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

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

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

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

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

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Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

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

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

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Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so the story goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

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

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One contemporary commentator wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

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

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

Should one care to ask.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Voyageur´s Album

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 November 2017

I have just returned home from the dentist (one more tooth less) and I find that listening to Franz Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsodies seems to keep pace with the throbbing pain experienced inside my mouth, as if each tooth is an ivory piano key pressed upon in tempo with the music being produced by pianist Georges Cziffra.

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Above: The flag of Hungary

As if to mock me, the weather outside, though seasonably cold, is astonishingly beautiful and invites exploration, but I am later committed to teaching this afternoon, toothache or sunny day be damned.

Liszt listening has become my latest hobby as I keep stumbling across his name in my travels: he visited Weesen, his daughter Cosima was conceived in Como and later born in Bellagio when he visited the town with his lover and mistress the Comtesse Marie d´Agoult.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

He also spent time in other places I have visited, like Budapest, Paris, Rome, Sopron, Vienna and Zürich.

(More on Weesen later in this blog…)

(Clearly Liszt must make a future contribution to this blog.)

Facebook recently drew my attention to a Swiss Info article of three days ago that says, for the first time, Switzerland has two million foreigners living in its midst, which accounts for nearly 25% of the nation´s 8.3 million population.

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More than 80% of the foreigners living in Switzerland are from European countries, with half of these coming from Italy, Germany, France and Portugal.

(The latter does bring sense to Swiss philosophy teacher-writer Pascal Mercier´s Night Train to Lisbon.)

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Above: Poster from the film adaptation starring Jeremy Irons (2013)

These non-Swiss, of whom I am one, are often the subject of huge political debate especially by the current xenophobic government party, the SVP (the Schweizer Volks Partei or Swiss People´s Party).

The big issue, of course, is:

Will all these pesky foreigners and their foreign ideas change the character of the place?

This effect of an alien group affecting the area they choose to alight upon was much on my mind the day my wife and I visited Bellagio….

 

Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

Women worry too much.

Too many of them are convinced that their men remain with them only because they have been able to maintain the illusion of youth, and that once the spell has been broken by the inevitable passage of time fickle men will trade them in for newer models.

Nevertheless there remains good men, men who fall in love with a woman´s character and inner beauty that no horrid hourglass, no mere mirror could ever alter.

For these men, a woman´s beauty is eternal.

Only women can really judge how many of these men there actually are.

I have tried to be a man worthy of the title.

My wife´s birthday, a deeply guarded secret and not a cause for celebration despite my desires to celebrate her life and its importance to my own, finds us in Bellagio, a northern Italian town famous for both its location and the visitors attracted to it over the centuries.

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Above: Bellagio

Bellagio sits at the peak of the Larian Triangle, the peninsula that divides Lake Como into two arms of an inverted Y, and looks across at the northern trunk of the Lago and behind this the Alps extending from Switzerland.

Bellagio is luxury itself with a myriad of trees, including the laurel tree from which the peninsula gets its name, and flowers favoured by a mild and sweet climate.

The Borgo, the historic centre of Bellagio, lies southwest of the promontory tip between hilltop Villa Serbelloni and Como´s southwest arm.

Beyond the Serbelloni are a park and a marina.

Parallel to the shore are three streets: Mazzini (after Italian author and politician Giuseppe Mazzini), Centrale and Garibaldi (after Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi) in ascending order.

Cutting across them to form a sloped grid are seven medieval stone staircases running uphill.

The Basilica of San Giacomo and the Torre delle Arti Bellagio (the last remnant of medieval defences) sit in a piazza at the top.

Above: The Basilica of San Giacomo

There have been signs of humanity around Bellagio since 30,000 years ago, but only in the 7th to 5th centuries before Christ did there appear a place of worship and exchange upon the promontory.

The first identifiable inhabitants of Bellagio, from 400 BC, were the Insubres, a Celtic tribe.

The Insubres lived free and independently until the arrival of the Gauls, led by Belloveso, around 600 BC, whom they replaced or intermarried.

The Gauls created a garrison at the extreme point of the promontory, Bellagio, after their commander Belloveso.

(Another theory is that Bellagio was originally Bilacus – in Latin, “between the lakes”)

In 225 BC, the territory of the Gauls was occupied by the Romans in their gradual expansion to the north.

The Romans, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, defeated the Gauls in a fierce battle near Camerlata.

Gaulish hopes of independence were raised by an alliance with Hannibal during the Second Punic War, but dashed by defeat in 104 BC and absorbed into a Roman province in 80 BC.

Bellagio became both a Roman garrison and a point of passage and wintering for the Roman armies on the way to the Splügen Pass.

Troops wintered at the foot of the promontory, sheltered from north winds and the Mediterranean climate.

In the early decades of the Roman Empire, two great figures brought fame to the Lake and Bellagio:  Virgil and Pliny the Younger.

Virgil, the Latin poet, visited Bellagio and remembered the lake in his second book of the Georgics.

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Above: Publius Vergilius Maro, aka Virgil (70 – 19 BC)

Pliny the Younger, resident in Como for most of the year, had, among others, a summer villa near the top of the hill of Bellagio, known as “Tragedy”, which he described in a letter the long periods he spent there not only studying and writing but also hunting and fishing.

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Above: Statue of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus aka Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD), Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, Como

In 9 AD, the Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus passed through Bellagio en route to the Splügen Pass then onwards to Germany against Arminius.

They were annihilated in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, near present day Osnabrück, Germany.

At the time of the barbarian invasions, Narses, a general of Justinian, in his long wanderings through Italy waging war, created along Lake Como a fortified line against the Gauls.

Nevertheless, around 568 the Lombards, led by Alboin, poured into the Po Valley and settled in various parts of Lombardy, in the alpine Valleys and along the lakes.

With their arrival in Italy, the Franks of Charlemagne descended on Lombardy through the high Alps and defeated the Lombards in the Battle of Pavia (773).

The suzerainty of the Frankish kings was followed by the rule of the Ottonian dynasty of Germany.

By 1100 Bellagio was already a free commune and the seat of a tribunal.

In 1154, under Frederick Barbarossa, Bellagio was forced to swear loyalty and pay tribute to Como.

Towards the end of the 13th century, Bellagio, which had participated in numerous wars, became the property of the House of Visconti and was integrated into the Duchy of Milan.

With the death of Filippo Maria, the House of Visconti lost power.

For a short time the area was transformed into the Ambrosian Republic (1477 – 1450), until Milan capitulated to Francesco Sforza, who became Duke of Milan and Lombardy.

In 1535, when Francisco II Sforza, the last Duke of Milan, died, then began two centuries of Spanish rule.

Favoured by Bellagio´s ideal position for transport and trade, various small industries flourished, most notably candle making and silk weaving

During the brief Napoleonic period, the port of Bellagio assumed military and strategic importance and Count Francesco Melzi d´Eril established his summer home here.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril, Bellagio

Melzi proceeded to build his magnificent Villa, bringing to the area the flower of the Milanese nobility and the promontory was transformed into a most elegant and refined court.

(For more on the Villa Melzi, please see Canada Slim and the Holiday Chronicles of this blog.)

The fame of the lakeside town became well known outside the borders of the Kingdom of Lombardy – Venetia.

Emperor Francis I of Austria visited in 1816 and again in 1825.

Stendhal first visited Bellagio in 1810:

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Above: Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

“What can one say about ……Lake Como, unless it be that one pities those who are not badly in love with them…..

The sky is pure, the air mild, and one recognises the land beloved of the gods, the happy land that neither barbarous invasions nor civil discords could deprive of its heaven-sent blessings.”

At Bellagio he was the guest of Melzi d´Eril, from whose Villa he wrote:

“I isolate myself in a room on the second floor.  There, I lift my gaze to the most beautiful view in the world, after the Gulf of Naples.”

 

In January 1833, the 21-year-old Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt met Comtesse Marie d´Agoult, a Parisian socialite six years his senior.

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Above: Author Marie d´Agoult (pen name: Daniel Stern)(1805 – 1876)

She had been married since 1827 to Comte Charles d´Agoult and had borne two daughters, but the marriage had become sterile.

Drawn together by their mutual intellectual interests, Marie and Franz embarked on a passionate relationship.

In March 1835 the couple fled Paris for Switzerland.

Ignoring the scandal they left in their wake, they settled in Geneva where, on 18 December 1835, Marie gave birth to a daughter, Blandine-Rachel.

In the following two years Liszt and Marie travelled widely in pursuit of his career as a concert pianist.

Franz and Marie d´Agoult stayed for four months in Bellagio in 1837.

Here, on Christmas Eve 1837, in a lakeside hotel in Bellagio, a second daughter was born, named Francesca Gaetana Cosima.

It is as “Cosima” that the child would become known.

In Bellagio, Franz wrote many of the piano pieces which became Album d´un Voyageur, which later became landscapes seen through the eyes of Byron and Senancour.

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Above: Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)

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Above: Étienne Pivert de Senancour (1770 – 1846)

These works contributed much to the image of Bellagio and Lake Como as a site of romantic feeling.

The Comtesse´s letters show that they were sadly aware of drawing an age of motorised tourism in their train.

Franz and Marie continued to travel in Europe.

Their third child and only son, Daniel, was born on 9 May 1839 in Venice.

That same year, while Franz continued his travels, Marie took the social risk of returning to Paris with Blandine and Cosima.

Marie´s hopes of regaining her social status in Paris were denied when her influential mother, Madame de Flavigny, refused to acknowledge the children.

Marie would be socially shunned while her daughters were clearly in evidence.

Franz´s solution was to remove the girls from Marie and place them with his mother Anna in her Paris home.

By this means, both Marie and Franz could continue their independent lives.

Relations between the couple cooled, and by 1841 they were seeing little of each other.

They were both engaged in their own affairs.

 

In 1838, Bellagio received with all honours the Emperor Ferninand I, the Archduke Rainer and the Minister Metternich, who came from Varenna (on the east shore of Como north of Bellagio) on the Lario, the first steamboat on the Lake, launched in 1826.

Bellagio was much frequented by the nobility and saw the construction of villas and gardens.

Luxury shops opened in the village and tourists crowded onto the lakeshore drive.

Gustav Flaubert visited Bellagio in 1845.

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Above: Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

He told his travel diary:

“One could live and die here.  The outlook seems designed as a balm to the eyes….

The horizon is lined with snow and the foreground alternates between the graceful and the rugged – a truly Shakespearean landscape, all the forces of nature are brought together with an overwhelming sense of vastness.”

In 1859, Bellagio became part of the Kingdom of Italy until 1943 when Germany created the Italian Social Republic under Benito Mussolini.

Bellagio was part of the Italian Social Republic until 1945.

The Futurist writer and poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a Mussolini loyalist who had helped shape Fascist philosophy, met his death from a heart attack in Bellagio in December 1944.

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Above: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876 – 1944)

Since the end of the Second World War, Bellagio has degenerated into a place of mass tourism.

There are at least seven churches in the area where the visitor can recite the Lord´s Prayer, beseeching God that he/she be not lead into temptation.

For beauty can lead to temptation, here in this cradle between cypress-spiked hills, with promenades planted with oleander and limes, fin de siecle hotels painted in pastel shades of butterscotch, peach and cream, steep cobbled streets and secret alleyways.

This village lined with upmarket souvenir shops, piped music and scandalous swimwear worn by carefree sun worshippers enjoying the days of summer in the waters of the Lido.

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This is not a local´s village.

Here one finds money in all of its denominations from old money sitting silently in mute accounts and spent on old patrician houses that line the banks of the promontory, to new money unashamedly exposed and spent carelessly in boutiques and fancy hotels.

This is not a local´s village.

Just behind the hill of the promontory, protected from the winds of change, sits the Villa Serbelloni, which dominates the town´s historic centre.

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Above: Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio

Serbelloni was built in the 15th century in place of an old castle razed in 1375, and has been rebuilt several times.

In 1798 it came into possession of Alessandro Serbelloni (1745 – 1826) who enriched it with precious decorations and works of art of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 1905, the Villa was transformed into a luxury Hotel, which still offers the well-to-do their own private jetty, beach, tennis courts, fitness centre, sauna, poolside restaurant and beauty farm as just some of the luxurious facilities available.

In 1959, it became the property of the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.

Rockefeller Foundation logo

Since then, the Bellagio Center in the Villa has been home to international conferences, held by American scholars, housed in the Villa.

This is not a local´s Villa.

Today the visitor can visit only the gardens, while trails lead to the remains of a 16th century Capuchin monastery.

The gardens of Serbelloni resemble a woodland where paths spacious invite strolls amongst oaks, firs, osmanti, myrtles, junipers and pines which shade confidences and confidently screen against storms.

Outside these gardens of lost Eden, the locals quietly enjoy rowing and football at the Bellagio Sporting Union, eat tóch (polenta  mixed with butter and cheese), share red wine from communal jugs, and enjoy miasca, pan mein, and paradel for dessert.

At least this is what the tourists are taught that the locals do.

No one meets the locals.

Service to the foreigner is, more often than not, provided by other foreigners.

No one comes to Bellagio in search of Italy, but rather in search of a sort of sexual electricity that is produced by foreigners mingling with other foreigners in a Mediterranean Babel and babble of intertwining nationalities and languages.

Some foreigners reside here, retire here and some even respire here, for Bellagio even has a small cemetery for foreigners.

Here lies Nellie, 25, the wife of Arthur Charles Parkinson of London, who died here after only 10 days of marriage on 10 June 1895.

Nearby lies Sidney Brunner, of Nennington, Cheshire, 23, who lost his life saving his older brother from drowning on 8 September 1890.

Why wife and brother were left to rest in peace in an isolated forgotten cemetery in Bellagio rather than back in England, posterity does not record.

 

The wife and I do as the other tourists do: we eat in cafés, we shop in boutiques, we wander the streets, we linger at the Lido.

There is beauty here in Bellagio but it feels purchased, artificial, imported.

A few hours here and we feel no impulse to linger.

We let the rich be rich and the tourist be complacent in his superiority.

There is life beyond Bellagio, richer in quality and more beautiful in substance than this pastel Paradise.

We create and carry with us our own sexual electricity.

We don´t need Bellagio for this.

“Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn´t already have.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / America, In the Country, “Tin Man”

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 November 2017

Last week ago I began to tell a story.

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

A story of how a religion and a continent tore itself apart over questions of how to worship a God who cannot be proven to exist.

Ah, the folly of man!

My quest for one of the two dominant figures of the Swiss Reformation, Huldrych Zwingli (the other being Jean Calvin) began as a daytripper´s excursion rather than yet another “let´s follow someone else´s footsteps” project.

Above: Statue of Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531), Wasserkirche, Zürich

A book I bought last year, Thomas Widmer´s Schweizer Wünder: Ausflüge zu kuriosen und staunenswerten Dingen (Swiss wonders: Excursions to curious and astonishing things) recommended that I ride the Selunbähnli to Strichboden from Starkenbach in Canton St. Gallen.

I had already visited the Swimming Island of Berchet Lake in Canton Thurgau and had been delighted by the experience, so I eagerly set my sights on yet another of Widmer´s suggestions.

In search of hiking maps I visited a local bookshop in St. Gallen, close to the Starbucks where I work, and stumbled across Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis : Ein Wander- und Lesebuch. (Zwingli Ways: On Foot from Wildhaus to Kappel am Albis: A Hiking and Reading Book)

To my delight the Selunbähnli I wished to ride and the starting section of the Zwingli Ways coincided.

Thus my Zwingli Project began.

To be fair, the Steiners do not claim that the paths they recommend were actually walked on by Zwingli himself or even thematically connected to his life.

Rather they show hiking trails of scenic and historical interest near the Swiss sites where Zwingli had been.

So it is known for certain that Zwingli had been in Wildhaus, Wessen, Glaurus, Einsiedeln, Zürich and Kappel am Albis, all locations within eastern and central Switzerland.

Other locations like Basel, Bern, Konstanz and Vienna were also important in Zwingli´s life, but the Steiners did not include these in their book.

(Of these latter aforementioned places, I have visited these before and will include them in future posts.)

Though the Steiners recommended that the hiker begin the Ways from Zwingli´s birthplace and walk from there to Starkenbach, I decided that I wanted to rediscover Wildhaus as a hiker entering the town on foot rather than a traveller simply dropped off in the middle of town.

(I say “rediscover” for I had visited Wildhaus before, but had not as yet seen the Zwingli House…)

Let us begin….

 

Starkenbach, Canton St. Gallen, Switzerland, 10 October 2017

A superbly wonderful day for hiking, perfect summerlike conditions.

The Toggenburg is a region of Switzerland that corresponds to the upper valley of the Thur River and that of its main tributary, the Neckar River.

The valley descends in a northwestern direction from the watershed between the Rhine and the Thur and is encircled on the northeast by the chain of the Säntis (2,504 metres / 8,216 feet) and on the southwest by that of the Churfirsten (2,306 metres/7,566 feet) and of the Speer (1,954 metres/6,411 feet).

This is farming country within this valley that stretches 45 km (28 miles) from the source of the Thur River to Wil on the railway line between St. Gallen and Winterthur.

Wildhaus is the valley´s highest village at 1,107 metres/3,632 feet.

To get to Starkenbach a person without his own mode of transportation must either take a train to Neu St. Johann or Buchs, then ride Bus 790 from Neu St. Johann via Stein or in the opposite direction from Buchs via Grabs, Gams, Wildhaus, Unterwasser and Alt St. Johann.

I travelled from my village of residence to Neu St. Johann (the S8 Train travels from 0500 until midnight between Schaffhausen, Romanshorn, St. Gallen, Wattwil and Neu St. Johann) then Bus 790 from there.

I had previously walked from Wildhaus to Neu St. Johann following the Thur Trail, which takes the hiker eventually to the Thur River´s point of entry into the mighty Rhine River, so I had a passing acquaintance with the region.

The bus stop marked Starkenbach is in front of a guesthouse, so already being lunchtime I fuelled the body with a Chinese dish.

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Yellow diamond signage compells the hiker to go behind the guesthouse, cross a pasture and walk about ten minutes to a house that has instead of a garage a shed with old cablecars ascending from and descending to it.

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This ancient-looking cablecar service, dubbed the Cabriobahn, has been in operation since 1911 and it must be admitted that upon first viewing it a person wonders – and hopes – that the system has been maintained since.

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For, unlike its regional counterparts that are built of ultramodern materials and maintained by smartly dressed personnel in uniforms, the Cabriobahn seems not much more than a wooden box held together by decaying materials – like miracles and spit – and ran by farming folk who begrudingly operate the machinery for those too lazy to walk up the damn mountain.

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It looks like a family-sized wooden coffin, suspended upon creaking cables that lead to isolated Heaven or down to civilised Hell.

It is a family-run affair. so don´t try showing them any of your fancy reduction discount cards accepted by the new-fangled bunch of cablecar operators.

It´s full price for everyone.

Take it or leave it.

I take it, along with a mother, her children and their dog.

I make jokes about bringing a second pair of underpants as I am afraid that the swinging car and the dizzying height might make me soil the ones I have on.

I again marvel that I as a tall man frequently find myself at dangerous heights, yet remain extremely uncomfortable with these heights that I stupidly choose to climb.

But apparently today I am not scheduled for the afterlife and I find myself, after an eternity, once again on solid ground looking down from a height of 1,600 metres upon the mountain Strichboden.

Happily the day´s walk is neither long nor steep and is well-signposted, for this trail is part of the Toggenburger Höhenweg that takes the wanderer a distance of 87 km from Wildhaus to Wil.

Close by the lonely cabin that serves as the mountaintop station for the Cabriobahn, the walker comes to the Wildenmannslisloch (the wild man´s hole), the site of the story of Johannes Seluner (1828 – 1898).

Wildenmannsloch is a limestone cave on the northern slope of the Churfirsten range, two kilometres due north of the peak of Selun, at an elevation of 1,640 metres.

The cave extends for 142 metres.

Sixty metres from the entrance is a chamber.

This great cave is at first very broad and high, so that it could be entered by a horse and wagon.

The cave then becomes narrower, then again wider, and in such alteration continues along various bends for a quarter of an hour before its end is reached.

Toggenburger Sagenweg - Infotafel Wildmannlisloch

On 9 September 1844, atop Selun Alp, a cow herder, Niklaus Baumgartner discovered a half-naked, deaf and mute feral child estimated to be 15 years old.

Police investigation proved futile as no proof of the boy´s identity or origins could be found.

It was unclear how he had survived isolated in the mountains, despite the wild child being studied by doctors and anthropologists.

The press dubbed him “the Puzzle of Selun”, “the Wild Man”, “the Wolf´s Child” and “the Idiot”.

In August 1845, the foundling was given the name “Johannes Seluner” – “Johannes” for the Commune of Alt St. Johann that took responsibility for his care and “Seluner” for the Alp where he was found.

On 20 January 1898, Johannes was baptised in the local Catholic Church and formally registered by the town of Neu St. Johann.

Above: Johannes Seluner

He died, after a short illness, on 20 October of the same year and is buried in the cemetery of Neu St. Johann.

An examination of Wildmannlisloch on 15 July 1906 yielded bones of cave bears.

A more detailed survey, conducted from 1923 to 1928, found a large number of bones, mostly of bears, with a number of stone tools.

The bones were artifically deposited in heaps.

The cave is presumed to have been used, either as a habitation or as a storage site for meat or as a sacrificial site, by prehistoric man about 40,000 years ago.

It has been presumed that Johannes lived in the cave for a number of years.

Photographs and documents of Johannes can be seen at the Toggenburger Museum in Lichtensteig. (Open: April to October, weekends, 1300 – 1700)

Further along the Höhenweg the walker discovers that the Sagenweg (the Saga Trail) joins and crosses the path.

Imagine Grimm´s Fairy Tales, then imagine if this sort of storytelling had instead been done by Swiss people recounting Swiss tales instead.

Now presuming you could read German, each brightly coloured saga sign encourages the thinking hiker to stop, relax, read and then take a tale with you in your mind as you continue to enjoy nature and anticipate the next sign down the trail.

Such is the Saga Trail of Toggenburg.

Having left home rather late and concerned about catching a cable car down from the mountains before the descent of darkness, I end my hiking of the day at the Alpine resort of Sellamatt, having accomplished only a couple of hours of walking and about 10 km distance covered.

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Still I don´t mind.

It is nice to walk without putting too much pressure on oneself.

Wildhaus can wait for me until tomorrow.

I take the cable car down to Alt St. Johann, a village of about 1,500 people.

Alt St. Johann is historically the site of a monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was first mentioned in 1152.

Around 1200, Castle Starkenstein (Starkenstein is German for the French Montfort.) was built by the Counts of Werdenburg-Montfort.

Starkenstein passed into the hands of the Counts of Toggenburg in 1414, and after their lineage was extinct, ownership was in the hands of St. Johann Abbey.

Above: The Catholic church in present day Alt St. Johann

A village named Sant Johann was first mentioned in 1439.

In 1626, St. Johann Abbey was moved, after a series of calamities – the Reformation and a great fire – to what is now Neu St. Johann to contrast with the new site of the monastery.

Bus ride to Buchs, train to St. Gallen, another train back home.

 

Alt St. Johann, Switzerland, 11 October 2017

Earlier start today, repetition of train ride to Neu St. Johann, bus ride back to Alt St. Johann, back up the mountain to Sellamatt via the Sessellift cable car.

The Toggenburger Höhenweg begins to be incorporated with another footpath called the Klangweg, that leads from the foot of the Churfirsten range from Oberdorf to Alp Sellamatt.

Twenty-six “klang installations” encourage passers-by to bang and clang to their heart´s delight on the various metallic structures set up to encourage interactive fun and instruction.

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Opened in 2004, the Klangweg already sees more than 10,000 visitors a year, and on this day I see dozens of school groups joyfully expressing their delight at being permitted and encouraged to make noise.

The Höhenweg continues to descend gradually from over 1,400 metres to 1,339 metres at another Alpine resort Iltios, the end station for the Unterwasser-Iltios Railroad descending to the town of Unterwasser and the cable car system that carries the traveller up to Mount Chäserrugg (at an altitude of 2,262 metrres).

I continued to follow the Höhenweg towards Wildhaus, as I had already been to Unterwasser (as in “below the water”)(with the Thur River waterfalls)(the home of ski jumper and Switzerland´s most decorated Olympian Simon Ammann, fourtime gold medal winner in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games)….. during my walking of the Thur Way and I had no desire to ascend up to Mount Iltios today.

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Above: Simon Ammann

From Iltios I walk on, following the Höhenweg overlooking the Schwendlisee, ever descending to the Oberdorf cable car station and the town of Wildhaus.

Above: Schwendlisee

Wildhaus, population just over 1,200, at an altitude of 1,095 metres, attracts tourists for three main reasons: it is the starting point of both the Thurweg (which follows the Thur River through St. Gallen and Thurgau Cantons) and the Toggenburger Höhenweg (which ends in Wattwil) and holds the birthplace of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli.

Above: Zwingli Haus

Being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Wildhaus also offers the history afficiando the Zwingli Monument as well as the Zwingli Fountain, and until the end of 2017 a special Reformation exhibition.

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Above: The Zwingli Reformation Exhibition, Wildhaus

This house is one of the oldest farmhouses in Switzerland and also served as a schoolhouse before it was purchased by the Evangelical Reform Church and converted into a museum and Zwingli library.

Huldrych Zwingli was born in this house on New Year´s Day 1494, to a family of farmers, the 3rd child of nine.

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His family may have produced oats, rye, cabbage, wheat, carrots, garlic, wild flax, parsnips, turnips, celery, a variety of herbs and garden flowers as well as raising livestock, like cows, pigs and poultry.

They would have probably sold their produce at the regional market in Lichtensteig.

His father, Ulrich, played a leading role in the administration of the community as the chief local magistrate.

The greatest problem for the population was the payment of tithes and taxes.

Prior to Zwingli´s birth, in 1436, following the death of the last Duke of Toggenburg, the representatives of the “right of initiative” of the Regional Assembly of Wattwil won contracts with Canton Glarus and Schwyz.

In addition the Assembly ensured a guarantee of security with the protecting power of Canton Zürich against the demands of the Prince Abbey of St. Gallen.

In 1468, the Abbott of St. Gallen bought the Toggenburg for 14,500 gulden.

In 1475, Huldrych´s grandfather Heini Zwingli led the Toggenburg Delegation which successfully mediated between the Abbott and Glarus.

Huldrych felt the family´s love of the Swiss Confederacy.

Even in his time, Heini Zwingli exported cattle and other specialities from Toggenburg to Milano by the Septimer or Splugen Passes.

On the return journey Heini brought back wine and textiles.

Huldrych`s grandfather and father were repeatedly on business trips and had many personal contacts as far away as Milano.

The family had become internationally active as the combination of alpine farming and transalpine trade brought them better living standards.

Huldrych´s attitude to faith was the consequence of his mother, Margaretha, who kept extensive contact with many religious figures, including the Abbott of Fischingen.

Consequently two of Huldrych´s brothers studied theology and two of his sisters took the veil.

Huldrych would remain in Wildhaus for six years before he was sent away for schooling in Weesen, Bern, Vienna and Basel.

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He would only return for family visits and would later celebrate his first mass as priest on 29 September 1506 before beginning his ten-year service in Glarus.

So what would it have been like to grow up in Wildhaus in the 15th century?

Would the Zwingli family have been aware of the great changes happening in the world beyond the Toggenburg?

Would they have heard about the Treaty of Tordesillas dividing the New World between Portugal and Spain (7 June 1494)?

Did the new highly contagious STD known as “the French pox” reach the Toggenburg?

Had they heard about Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and his voyages to Newfoundland and Labrador? (1497)

Had they learned about American tobacco and Chinese toothpaste?

Did they learn of the Battle of Fornovo between the French and Italians, the latter allied with the Swiss? (6 July 1495)

Were they aware of Girolamo Savonarola, the Black Friar of Firenze and his defiance of the Pope in setting up his own puritanical republic (25 December 1497) or of the Inquisition happening in Spain (1498)?

Difficult to say, but it is possible.

Did Huldrych play with his brothers and sisters around the abandoned Wild Castle, once built (in 1200) and owned by the nobility (the Counts of Sax, the Dukes of Toggenburg, the Lords of Raron) but at this time belonging to the Abbey of St. Gallen?

Burghügel der Wildenburg bei Wildhaus SG

Above: Castle Wildenburg, Wildhaus, Canton St. Gallen, Switzerland

History doesn´t say.

I diligently visit the Zwingli Museum and the Zwingli Monument and the Zwingli Fountain and the Evangelical Reform Church, and am pleasantly surprised to discover that there is some literature in English, informing the uninformed about Zwingli´s CV, his background, life and influence, and the Zürich reform done by him.

I leave Wildhaus and the Zwingli Way behind….only eight more walks to accomplish….bus back to Neu St. Johann, Train back home.

I have learned and seen so much beauty and wonder today.

This is truly God´s country.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / Zwingli Geburtshaus, Wildhaus / Zwingli Zentrum Toggenburg, Wildhaus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Bad Boss

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 November 2017

This particular post I write today will be different from others I have written since 2017 began.

I do not wish to recount stories and histories or travelogs.

There will few pictures in this post, because I want the reader to truly focus on what I have to say, rather than be distracted by too many photographs.

And this post is a plea to those who have been given responsibility over others.

Above: Coronation picture of Queen Elizabeth II

Let me first begin by saying:

Bosses, especially those in middle management, you have my sympathy.

I am not blind nor deaf to how difficult your job can be, how much pressure is put on your performance, how hard it can be to find good employees.

Life ain´t easy.

But the line between being viewed by the vast majority of your workers as a good boss and being viewed by your workers as someone who needs to be handled as delicately as walking on eggshells is a line that too many managers cross.

I believe that the first problem that managers often have is learning the difference between strategy and tactics.

The fundamental principles of strategy are the same for all managers, all times and all situations.

Only the tactics change – and tactics are modified to constantly changing situations.

Strategy is doing the right thing.

Tactics is doing things right.

A statue of Sun Tzu

Above: Statue of The Art of War author Sun Tzu, Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, Japan

I believe many managers are confused by this distinction.

So, where does strategy end and tactics begin?

Strategy stops at the headquarters door.

Tactics begin with the customer.

Those in direct contact with the customer need to be motivated and shown how to motivate their customers.

Customers are individual people who, if given the illusion that the salesperson actually gives a damn about them and their lives, will cheerfully pass onto the organisation their hard-earned money.

They will not do this if those that serve them have not been taught that compassion wins more money than the big hard sell.

Richard Branson said it best:

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers.”

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Above: Richard Branson

Those on the front line of consumerism, those with direct contact with the customers, will not be motivated if their needs as individual people are perceived as unimportant as compared with filling the coffers of the higher-ups.

We may be seen by management, especially the higher up the ladder of power one goes, as being nothing more than defenseless kittens.

But abused or embarrassed kittens become enraged tigers and will manifest their discontent either…..

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Aggressively with a “Hell be damned” attitude towards keeping their job, where they tell management that they are mad as a cat thrown into a bathtub and are “not going to take it any more”, or….

Passively plant their feet in quiet stubborn resistance by increased absenteeism or a “I simply don´t give a damn” attitude when the boss is not breathing down their necks.

Which is then perceived by management that the employees have an “attitude problem”, not realising in their complete and total blind ignorance that the problem is not so much with the employees as it is with the manner in which they have been dealt.

Profit is a matter of vital importance to the organisation, a matter of life and death for a company, the road to ruin or survival, therefore management must constantly be aware of five factors:

1.  A Spirit of Mission:

Everyone must believe that their role is important and right, so that the entire team can rally a fighting spirit and generate a firestorm of loyalty and commitment.

Generating profit for the upper echelon with no perception of the individual worker´s importance will not motivate the worker to give his best effort to the job.

2.  Outside Forces:

Everyone should be made aware of where their company is in terms of competiton and should be taught the tangents of the industry which the company is in.

Teach and train your employees not only how to sell a muffin but also what is in the muffin and how the muffin is made.

This product and process knowledge makes the employee more knowledgeable and more of an asset to both the customer and the company.

Teach and train your employees to view their job not only for the workplace that they actually work in, but give them the larger picture and teach them to look at how other companies do things and encourage employee feedback and ideas from their observations.

3.  The marketplace

A manager is, theoretically, chosen for his/her knowledge and experience within the organisation or industry, but in industries with high staff turnover what is often the case is that a manager is simply chosen for the fact they showed up to work over a long period of time, which is similar to the idea of a homeless person sleeping in a tunnel for over a year being promoted to the position of tunnel engineer.

Employees, especially those with management potential, need to be taught how to deal with people (customers or not), how to maximise the potential of their workplace, product knowledge, and the art of promoting the product, and not just the price of the product.

4. Leadership

Employees need to be taught that regardless of their position within the firm that they represent the firm in their actions and thus their intimate knowledge of their firm makes them leaders.

In other words, a McDonald´s counterperson should know more about McDonald´s than the customers.

5. Guiding principles

Employees need to be taught the process of how to do their job, where they fit in the overall process and how they can improve within their job in a motivational manner rather than with only negative criticism.

Throwing a new employee into “the deep end of the pool” and expecting them to suddenly be Olympic caliber swimmers and criticizing them when they fail to meet these expectations is quite simply cruel.

Olympic Rings

So, managers, ask yourselves:

Are you a bad boss?

If your employees can answer “yes” to the following questions, then you Sir, or you Madame, are a bad boss:

–  Is your boss someone who demotivates or demoralises you?

–  Is nothing you do ever good enough?

–  Do you have a boss who yells or throws tantrums when things do go his/her way?

–  Are you working for someone who is moody as if on an emotional rollercoaster – one day he/she is cheery and friendly, the next day he/she is downright mean?

–  Does your boss take credit for your work or play favourites or worry only about his/her own career?

–  Is your manager someone whom you don´t respect?

–  Is your boss a negative role model – an example of someone whom you do NOT want to be like when you manage others?

If your employees are nodding their heads to these questions, then you Sir, you Madame, are a bad boss.

The bottom line, and this is important, is that a bad boss is someone with whom the employees can´t do their best work or someone they dread seeing when they go to work.

Their failure to be good employees is often caused by your inability to motivate them to be good employees.

There are two ways to drive a mule: the carrot and the stick.

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Too often employers believe that the stick should be used more than, or instead of, the carrot.

The opposite is true.

Micromanaging your workers expecting them to be lazy or incompetent is not motivational.

Bullying your employees, especially in public, is not motivational.

If you will not listen to your employees, but only insist they listen to you, then this is not motivational.

Show them what to do, occasionally and quietly assessing their performance. 

Trust that they will do what you expect them to do and make certain that it is clear what it is you expect and then leave them to do their jobs.

Praise them publicly and criticise them privately.

Lead by promises of rewards (and follow through with these promises) rather than by threats of punishment.

The average person works 80% of their adult life, so most employees with any sense of pride in their accomplishments identify with the work they do.

If a person is not enjoying their job, then what is the point of devoting most of our limited lifespan to the job?

There must be more to life than simply paying our bills.

If our jobs do not lend our lives purpose, then what is the purpose of life?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Sherrie Gong Taguchi, The Career Troubleshooter: Tips and Tools for Overcoming the 21 Most Common Challenges to Success / Gerald A. Michaelson, Sun Tzu´s The Art of War for Managers: 50 Strategic Rules

 

Canada Slim and the Outcast

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 November 2017

Maybe it´s the endless days of grey skies outside or being restless with being confined indoors by illness that has got me feeling morbid of late.

Perhaps my ghastly mood has been affected by the topics I have written about recently: ghosts and corpses on the London Tube (Canada Slim Underground) and the millions dead in the Thirty Years War (Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation), so maybe I need not wonder that I find myself even dreaming about mortality.

My choice of reading material hasn´t helped, what with police constables talking with ghosts (Rivers of London) and a story about how death stalked three brothers (The Tales of Beedle the Bard) or the news…..

I need to think about happier places and more joyful times.

It´s once again time to write about London.

Maybe this will help….

 

London, England, 23 October 2017

Day One of our London week and already we had discovered Paddington Bear and Praed Street and rode the Underground.

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We left the Tube at Piccadilly Circus, one of the great centres of London life and one of the noisiest and busiest traffic intersections we had ever seen, situated at the meeting of five major streets.

I thought of the hustle and bustle of New York City (Piccadilly Circus resembles, in many ways, Times Square in Manhattan.), and the chaos and clutter of Paris or Rome, the madness of Seoul….

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This is THE fashionable place to be, a Circus (from the Latin for “a round open space at a street junction”) named after Piccadilly Hall, belonging to Robert Baker, a tailor famous for selling piccadills (large broad collars of cutwork lace that were fashionable in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by folks like Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I).

Above: Potrait of English nobleman Grey Brydges wearing a piccadil (1615)

The myriad of night spots….this is the West (End) World of entertainment, never resting, constantly abuzz with activity day and night, at once both obviously artificial yet vibrantly real and alive.

This is the heart of Theatreland.

Here is the Criterion Theatre, built in 1873, seating for 588 people, featuring The Comedy about a Bank Robbery since March 2017.

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Over there is the London Pavilion, now a shopping arcade and home to Ripley´s Believe It or Not! Museum dedicated to the weird, the unusual and the unbelievable, once was a theatre, then was transformed into a cinema that once premiered The Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. No and A Hard Day´s Night and once housed Madame Tussaud´s Wax Museum.

Come into the world´s largest branch of Ripley´s.

See a chewing gum sculpture of the Beatles and the Tower Bridge built from 264,345 matchsticks.

Nearly 30 pounds just to get in the door.

Wherever that door might be, for on the day of our arrival Ripley´s permanently closed at the Piccadilly Circus location.

Still not as expensive as the Chinawhite.

Nearby is the famous nightclub for the famous, the Chinawhite, where only members and celebrities enter – Membership costs 700 pounds a year.

Bildergebnis für china white london

Here Premier League footballers hobnob with Hollywood actors and supermodels.

The Chinawhite has seen the likes of celebrities like Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jude Law, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Prince Harry, Justin Bieber, to name only a few….

Piccadilly Circus is a high profile location, eternally recognisable by its bright billboards that dominate a curve of this traffic circle.

Coca Cola shouts, the public is updated about Tube closures and delays, new products and promotions are ablaze these days in bright LED glory.

And even this symbol of commercialism gone ecstatic is not immune to politics.

In 2002, Yoko One paid 150,000 pounds to display a lyric of her late husband (1940 – 1980) John Lennon´s song Imagine: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” for a number of weeks.

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The lights have been turned off when national figures of great importance have died, like Winston Churchill (1965) and Princess Diana (1997) on the days of their funerals.

All the people seem to congregate at Piccadilly Circus, so much that the phrase “It´s like Piccadilly Circus.” is used in English parliance to say that a place is extremely crowded.

It is said that if a person lingers long enough in Piccadilly Square that they will eventually bump into everyone they know.

Once seen, this can be believed.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired sculptors, painters and musicians.

Bob Marley (1945 – 1981) mentions Piccadilly Circus in his song “Kinky Reggae”, in his album Catch a Fire.

The sleeve art from the 1974 issue of the album

And where everyone is…. makes Piccadilly Circus the site of numerous political demonstrations.

In the centre of the Circus stands the Shaftesbury Memorial, commemorating the philanthropic Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801 – 1885).

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Above: Shaftesbury, National Portrait Gallery, London

Anthony´s early family life was loveless, a circumstance common among the British upper classes, so he grew up without any experience of parental love.

He saw little of his parents and when duty or necessity compelled them to take notice of him they were formal and frightening.

Even as an adult, Anthony disliked his father and was known to refer to his mother as “the Devil”.

This difficult childhood was softened by the affection he received from their housekeeper, Maria Millis, and his sisters.

Ashley was elected to Parliament in 1826 and a year later, he was appointed to the Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics and Lunatic Asylums.

The Committee examined many witnesses concerning the White House, a madhouse in Bethnal Green in London.

Ashley visited the White House on the Committee´s behalf.

The patients were chained up, slept naked on straw, and went to toilet in their beds.

They were left chained from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning when they were cleaned of the accumulated excrement.

They were then washed down in freezing cold water and one towel was shared by 160 people, with no soap.

It was overcrowded and the meat provided was “that nasty thick hard muscle that a dog could not eat”.

The White House had been described as “a mere place for dying” rather than a cure for the insane.

Ashley would be involved in framing and reforming the Lunacy Laws of the land.

After giving his maiden speech, in support of madhouse reform, Ashley wrote in his diary:

“So, by God´s blessing, my first effort has been for the advance of human happiness. 

May I improve hourly! 

Fright almost deprived me of recollection but again, thank Heaven, I did not sit down a presumptuous idiot.”

He had cited the case of a Welsh lunatic girl, Mary Jones, who had for more than a decade been locked in a tiny loft with one boarded-up window with little air and no light.

The room was extremely filthy and filled with an intolerable smell.

She could only squat in a bent position in the room which caused her to become deformed.

Shaftesbury´s work in improving the care of the insane remains one of his most important, though less well-known, of his achievements.

He was better known for his work on child labour and factory reform, mining conditions, the prohibition of boys as chimney sweeps, education reform, the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land and the suppression of the opium trade.

Centered blue star within a horizontal triband

Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

Forget the Mary Poppins Disney idea of chimney sweeping being a glamourous profession…..

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Many of these climbing boys were illegitimate and had been sold by their parents.

They suffered from scorched and lacerated skin, their eyes and throats filled with soot, in danger of suffocation, in danger of cancer of the scrotum.

This show a cross section of two chimneys with an internal diameter of about twenty eight centimetres in each is a climbing boy of about ten years old. To the left the boy is climbing by bracing his back and knees against the chimney. To the right the boy is 'stuck', his knees are wedged up against his chin, and calfs, thighs and torso block the chimney preventing him from moving up or down.

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

Though not Jewish, Shaftesbury believed that the Jews should have their own Homeland – however others might object – that they were “a country without a nation” in need of “a nation without a country”.

The Shaftesbury Memorial is a bronze fountain topped by a cast aluminium figure of an archer, that everyone calls Eros, but was intended by the artist Sir Alfred Gilbert to identify the angel of charity, Eros´ brother Anteros.

Fuente Eros, Piccadilly Circus, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 159.JPG

This is fashionable London, where Eros, the angel of love, is more fashionable than Anteros.

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

In 1750, London was disturbed by two earth tremors severe enough to bring down a pair of old houses and a number of chimneys on 8 February and 8 March.

A former member of the Life Guards, on the evening of 7 April, created mass panic after walking up and down Piccadilly shouting out that the world would end on 8 April.

A huge number of Londoners made plans to escape the City, but Piccadilly  was so choked wth traffic that many got no further than Hyde Park.

Women sat out of doors in their gowns while men played cards, awaiting the apocalypse that never came.

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.

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Above: “Bedlam”, a word meaning “uproar and confusion” and the nickname of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London

During World War II so many prostitutes assembled at Piccadily Circus that the men in uniform who enjoyed their services called them “the Piccadilly Commandoes”.

And the idea of assembling together leads to “Piccadilly Circus” being used as the codeword for the spot where the D-Day (6 June 1944) Invasion fleet would assemble in the English Channel before landing on the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazi hordes.

Above: D-Day assault routes into Nazi-occupied Normandy, France

We would ourselves, the wife and I, assemble with the hundreds that gather at Piccadilly Circus all day and all night.

No apocalypse came, and the prostitutes now frequent another section of London these days.

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

I read about Fore Street, Edmonton Green, North London.

When the pubs empty and the night is late, the girls come out.

This is when the work picks up, when the men get loud and want it….bad.

Between the street lights there are no other women walking the street.

Folks reckon there are at least 7,000 prostitutes in London – 96% of them immigrants.

Above: Prostitution worldwide: legal/regulated (green), legal/unregulated (blue), organised illegal (yellow), illegal (red)

Girls from Europe´s east or the Americas or Asia south….

At least 2,000 of them out every night on the streets.

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

They´ll tell you that there are many more than that.

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

There used to be a lot of women of easy virtue in Soho and in Southwark.

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

The girls now live at the fringes, cast out from city centre.

They don´t do this for pleasure, and sometimes it is they who pay.

The need for men´s money is overshadowed by the danger of men.

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

We are surprised by the Swiss Court with maypole adorned by the coats of arms of Switzerland´s 26 cantons.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

To the left/north, we see a church on Leicester Place, the Notre Dame de France.

The French have been in London for a very long time.

The Huguenots built fortunes in the textile industry, but Notre Dame was not built for the wealthy.

It was founded in 1865 to take care of the lower class French.

Soho was once, not that long ago, a kind of French enclave.

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

At first glance Notre Dame looks unremarkable, although circular churches in Britain are rare.

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

Murals by legendary French filmmaker/artist/designer Jean Cocteau fill one side chapel.

Depicting themes from the Crucifixion and the Assumption of Mary, Cocteau´s work is vigourous, seductive, alive in a manner no Brit could ever imitate.

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

A black hole sun, the feet of Christ, muscular soldiers in tiny skirts toss dice for the Saviour´s robe at the base of the Cross.

Above the altar a tapestry by Robert de Caunac….Mary is the new Eve and a huge statue of the Virgin of Mercy by Georges Saupique watches over all.

Light a candle before plunging into the former fleshpots of Soho and Leicester Square.

Most Londoners avoid Leicester Square unless they´re heading for the cinema.

Leicester Square is famous not only for huge cinemas, but also for the old clockhouse which has been converted into a popular tourist information centre where we picked up our London Passes, granting us free access or reduced rates at many of the attractions London has to offer.

Leicester Square, long famous as a centre of entertainment, is built around a small garden laid out by Albert Grant (1831 – 1899) in 1874.

In the centre of the garden is a statue of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) and at the four corners of the garden are scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726), painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), artist William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) and Scottish surgeon Dr. John Hunter (1728 – 1793), along with a statue of Hollywood actor/director Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977).

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

I think of William Hogarth´s most famous pictorial series, A Harlot´s Progress, paintings show the story of a young country woman, M. (Moll or Mary) Hackabout, and her search for work as a seamstress in London and how she eventually ends up as first as a mistress to become a common prostitute who gets imprisoned and then dies from syphilis at the age of 23.

Above: Plate 1, A Harlot´s Progress, brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham (on the right) procures a young woman newly arrived in London

It is suggested that Hogarth either meant for M. to be named after the heroine of Moll Flanders or ironically named after the Virgin Mary.

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Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

(Daniel Defoe´s novel Moll Flanders tells the story of “the fortunes and misfortunes of a woman who was Born in Newgate Prison, was 12 times a whore, 5 times a wife, 12 years a thief, 8 years a criminal in Virginia, who had last grew rich, lived honestly and died a penitent”.)

(Daniel Defoe´s most famous novel Robinson Crusoe is second only to the Bible in its number of translations.)

In the 18th century, this once pleasant leafy square was home to the fashionable “Leicester House set”, headed by successive Hanoverian Princes of Wales who did not get along with their fathers.

In the mid-19th century, Leicester Square boasted Turkish baths and music halls.

Today M & M´s World has taken the sheen off the traditional shine.

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We debate how and when we will use our London Passes.

We opt to visit an attraction that doesn´t require admission, that can allow us to delay until the next day using our London Passes.

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

South, the Tube propels us under the Thames River, with stops at Charing Cross, Embankment, Waterloo, Elephant and Castle.

(Charing Cross is named after the Queen Eleanor (of Castile)(1241 – 1290)(reigned 1272 – 1290) Memorial Cross in what was once the hamlet of Charing.

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

Embankment is the name of a Thames River pier, the main western departure point of the river boat service, the MBNA Thames Clippers.

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Waterloo Road, Bridge, Train Station and Tube Station are all named to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, Belgium (18 June 1815).

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler

The Elephant and Castle was once the name of a local inn.)

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Another tube line northeast to Borough tube station.

In the time of Stuart and Tudor kings and queens, the main reason for crossing the Thames to Southwark, was to visit the disresputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, people come to visit the mighty Tate Modern Museum, the remarkably reconstructed Shakespeare´s Globe Theatre and the Shard with its sublime view which on a clear day stretches on forever.

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Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

We poke our heads up from the Underground, to a junction where the three streets of Marshalsea Road, Long Road and Great Dover Street meet and greet Borough High Street.

Where the High meets the Long, we see the Church of St. George the Martyr, separated from the tiny lane of Tabard Street by the last remaining wall of the infamous Marshalsea Prison.

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Southwark was home to many famous literary figures, including Geoffrey Chauncer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

Charles immortalised The Borough area in his novel Little Dorritt, whose fictional father, like Charles Dickens´ own father, was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison for failing to pay his debts.

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Dorritt gets married at St. George and inside the church is a stained glass memorial showing Dorritt kneeling in prayer.

Little Dorrit in stained glass in one of the church windows.

St. George´s steeple has four clocks, but one of them, facing Bermondsey to the east, is black and is not illuminated at night, allegedly because the parishioners of Bermondsey refused to pay their share for the church.

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

Go through Little Dorritt Park to Redcross Way, turn right and cross over Union Street, and on your left you will see a wasteland.

This piece of wasteland, owned by Transport for London (TfL), contains the bodies of over 15,000 people, over half of them children.

There is no evidence of their passing, for this was unhallowed ground, for prostitutes and paupers.

Crossbones Graveyard, in medieval times, was an unconsecrated graveyard for the prostitutes, the “single women”/”trulls”/”buttered buns”/”squirrels”/”punchable nuns”, known as “Winchester Geese” as this Liberty of the Clink area of Southwark was administered by the Bishop of Winchester who had the power to licence prostitutes and brothels (“stews”).

The Liberty was a free zone outside the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of London, near the prison called the Clink.

The brothels in the Liberty persisted for 500 years until Oliver Cromwell closed down the entire area.

The Winchester Geese were refused burial in the graveyard of St. Saviour´s parish, even though they owed their jobs to the church.

After the closure of the Liberty, Crossbones Graveyard served as a burial place for the poor.

It was closed in 1853 as it was “completely overcharged with the dead”.

The round brown memorial sign on the gates, where the local people have created a shrine, reads “The Outcast Dead R.I.P”.

The gates are covered with ribbons of sympathy, there are vigils for the Outcast on the 23rd of each month at 7 pm and the perfectly formed Crossbones Garden of Remembrance is open weekday afternoons from noon to 3 pm.

But we are hours too soon for the vigil and are too late to enter the Garden.

Our goal is to whirlwind view the Tate Modern within the space of 90 minutes before it closes at 5 pm then stroll beside and across the Thames before returning to our hotel.

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

Above: The Tate Modern

The dead of Crossbones remain outcast, the women who shared their bodies forgotten, the destitute have no value.

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

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Above: The Shard, London

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Baedeker´s- AA London / DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 London 2017 Lonely Planet London Condensed / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Michael Bond, Paddington´s Guide to London: A Bear´s Eye View / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Ben Judah, This Is London: Life and Death in the World City / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City / Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison, Literary London

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot