Canada Slim and the Mandir of Nose Hill

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 21 May 2019

This Sunday in Switzerland some folks will attend services in either a Reformed Church or a Roman Catholic Church and both groups will call themselves Christian.

 

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And as the Earth spins around the Sun, from the Dark Continent of Africa to the Canadian tundra, Christians will kneel on this day to receive the elements of their own version of the eternal Eucharist as written in the Bible that speaks of how God sent His Son whose sacrifice somehow saved our wretched souls and whose resurrection conquered death for all of us, despite death being our destiny.

 

 

In Jerusalem and parts of the planet where the Great Diaspora has led them over centuries, others, wrapped in the prayer shawls that their ancestors wore in the desert, recite the Torah, as their Rabbi lovingly guides a wand across sacred text that Yahweh spoke to His Chosen People.

 

 

And within the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and anywhere where the Qu’ran reigns the mind, five times a day, the faithful prostrate themselves towards Mecca, towards Mohammed’s holy city, and show their devotion to Allah, who also remains God the Father of Christianity and Yahweh of the Jews and yet is unrecognizable as the same God of Abraham said to be the originator of all three great religions.

 

 

Same deity, different names, different practices, same intolerance too often seen by those who claim this deity as their own.

 

 

In a tiny house by the Ganges River at the foot of the Himalayas, a Hindu Swami will not speak today, but will continue his devotional silence that, with the exception of three days each year, he has kept for years.

 

 

In Yangon, the monks of Shwedagon sit alone and together with the eternal in the tranquil silence and privacy of their Buddhist shrine, as do the Zen monks in Kyoto, spending most of the day sitting immovable in the lotus position, as they seek to plumb with absolute absorption the Buddha-nature that lies at the centre of their being.

 

 

What a freaky fellowship, an odd misplaced madness, this is, this seeking of something divine that defies description or definition, voices raised in desperate disparate ways, sacrificing precious life to a God of life that cannot be proven not to exist.

Such strange ethereal harmony, each faith claiming superiority over every other belief, no individual religion understanding the others, and yet united in lifting their voices to the heavens in the hopes that what binds the universe will spare a moment for those who are naught more than carbonated stardust.

 

Are the faithful foolish or the unbelieving unredeemable?

 

We cannot know.

 

All we can do is try and listen carefully, with full attention to each voice as it in its turn addresses the divine that lies within and without us.

 

Religions wrap the globe in their comfort, with histories stretching back into the forgotten mists of time, that still motivates more people today than ever before.

Nothing unites us more nor divides us more than religion does.

 

 

Who should we follow?

What should we believe?

 

Should Christians worship in ornate cathedrals bedecked with icons or consider even steeples divine desecrations?

How should Muslims decide between Sunni and Shi’ite or feel about Sufism?

Must a Jew be orthodox to call himself a true Jew?

And let us wonder as Buddhists ponder different traditions of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana philosophies.

 

Millions live by a faith.

More than three quarters of the world’s population consider that they belong to a religion, however little or much they do about it.

Communities of people who share practices and beliefs gather in special buildings for worship or meditation and seek to live lives in special ways in the world.

Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, religion has been the resource and inspiration for virtually all the most enduring art, architecture, music, drama, dance and poetry that the world has known, in search and expression of that which endures when all else passes away.

 

 

We must decide if faith has relevance in these digital days, our modern minds, our computerized lives.

 

As every religion mixes universal truths with local peculiarities we must lift out the former from the latter and embrace that which speaks to what  is generically human in us all.

 

This is not easy for the irreverent, for religion is rich in rites and laden in legends.

This is not simple for those whose lives are reigned by rationalism, for the claim that the universal principles of faith are more important than rites and rituals is like contending that the trunk of a tree is more important than the branches, leaves or roots of that tree.

I know that when I seek to understand the religious impulse, that I myself lack, this is akin to trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

 

The mind that is mine struggles to grasp how Hindu’s holy Kali Temple in Calcutta revers two million cows to the point of nuisance while fakirs offer their bodies to bedbugs as sacrifice.

 

 

I find myself conflicted between the stillness of Bethlehem and department stores blaring “Silent Night” from stereos above plastic reindeer and overweight Santas.

 

 

I seek to define the divine amidst images of crucified Christs and chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

 

 

I wallow in a mire of confusion as to how Crusades can be Christian or Jihads holy, or how a God of love co-exists with witch slaughter in Salem, monkey trials in Tennessee and Grand Inquisitions in Spain.

 

 

I, like billions before me and aeons after me, seek the meaning to my existence in the hope that my short span of life has worth.

 

I am reminded of a Faustian fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and seized hold of the Truth.

Satan, suspecting sedition from this mortal upstart, directed a demon to tail the determined seeker.

When the demon reported with alarm the man’s success, Satan was not in the least bothered by the bulletin.

Don’t worry.“, Satan yawned.

I will tempt him to institutionalize the Truth.

 

 

The empowering theological and metaphysical truth of faith is inspirational, but the religious institutions built around this truth are often not.

Religion is constituted of people with their inbuilt frailities, vices and virtues.

When the vices get compounded by masses, the results are horrifying to the point where one might suggest that faith should be left outside the hands of humanity.

But faith without the faithful would have left no mark upon humanity’s history, for better or for worse.

Had faith remained as only aloof disembodied insight and had not embraced institutions and rituals, then faith could not have established traction on history or upon men’s souls.

What is important is to not get lost in the smoke and ceremony of rite and ritual, but instead we need to sift religion for the truths they try to preserve, the wisdom that maintains our world.

 

 

As T.S. Eliot so wisely phrased it:

Where is the knowledge that is lost in information?

Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?

 

Eliot in 1934 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

 

I categorically reject the premise that one religion is superior to another, for it is this comparison that is the most odious aspect of all institutions, for, as Arnold Toynbee observed:

There is no one alive today who knows enough to say with confidence whether one religion has been greater than all others.

 

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Above: Arnold Toynbee (1852 – 1883)

 

It must be admitted that though I seek to embrace the world, I am incorrigibly myself and I know that the tale I am about to tell might be quite differently written had I been a Burmese Buddhist, a Turkish Muslim, a Nepalese Hindu, a Serbian Orthodox, a Swiss Catholic or a Polish Jew instead of a Canadian humanist with delusions of fluency.

 

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

 

We live in a world of wonders.

Lands across the planet are our neighbours, China is around the corner, the Middle East is our backyard, my younger colleagues and close companions with backpacks go everywhere, while I – who often remain at home in this wee hamlet of Landschlacht – have access to an endless parade of books and videos and visitors from abroad.

It isn’t so much that East meets West as it is humanity is being flung at one another, hurled across distances at jet speed, information invading our impatient intelligence within the breath between atoms.

 

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

 

Diogenes, twenty-five hundred years ago, exclaimed:

I am not an Athenian or a Greek but a citizen of the world.

 

Above: Diogenes (412 – 323 BC)

 

Today we have the possibility to not only think of ourselves by the nations we found ourselves born in, but rather we have the opportunity to judge our heartbeat by the pulse of the planet.

We need to understand the faiths of others if we are to meet them as allies or antagonists, so that we can avoid military engagement through diplomacy.

We need to understand one another through our faiths so we can enjoy the world vision it offers us.

 

 

Or put another way….

What do they know of England, who only England know?

 

Location of England (dark green) – in Europe (green & dark grey) – in the United Kingdom (green)

 

How can we truly understand our beliefs if we never question them by comparison with others?

How truly enriching our lives become when we truly understand what belonging means to the Japanese, to sense with a Burmese grandmother what passes in life and what endures, to comprehend with the Hindu that our personalities mask the Infinite within, to follow the paradox of a Zen monk who assures you that everything is sacred but refrains from acts that are unholy, to feel the comfort that confession offers the devout Catholic….

For as language opens the mind to understanding other people, faith enlarges the heart to compassion and love for humanity.

 

True faith, not a dull habit but a living passion, confronts the individual with the momentous wisdom that life can offer.

Faith calls a soul to the highest adventure, a journey across the landscape of the human spirit.

It is the siren call to confront reality as it is, to master the self.

It is a lonely journey, a personal quest….

 

A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse,

A difficult path is this – the poets declare!

(Alfred Toynbee, Civilization on Trial)

 

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, 16 July 1945

Today is the day that the chain reaction of scientific discoveries that began at the University of Chicago and focused here at Site Y has reached the final culmination.

 

 

No one has been more instrumental in this project’s achievement than the director of the Los Alamos Project, Robert Oppenheimer.

All eyes are upon him closely this morning.

 

Head and shoulders portrait

Above: Robert Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967)

 

He grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off.

He scarcely breathed.

He held on to a post to steady himself.

When the announcer shouted “Now!”, there came this tremendous burst of light, followed by the deep-growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed in an expression of tremendous relief.”

The first atomic bomb is a success.

 

 

What flashed through Oppenheimer’s mind during those moments were two lines from the Bhagavad-Gita in which the speaker is God:

I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds;

Waiting that hour that ripens to their doom.

 

Photograph of a bronze chariot. The discourse of Krishna and Arjuna in Kurukshetra is the Bhagavad Gita.

(The Bhagavad Gita is a discourse between Krishna and Arjuna set in a chariot at the start of the Mahabharata War.)

 

Thus began an age in which violence and peace continue to confront each other more fatefully than ever before.

 

In India, Gandhi’s name became, in the middle of the 20th century, the counterpoint to those of Stalin and Hitler, but not just for the British withdrawl from the Subcontinent in peace, but, more importantly, for his lowering a barrier even more formidable than that of race in America.

Gandhi renamed India’s untouchables harijan – God’s people – and raised them to human stature.

In doing so, Gandhi provided the non-violent strategy and the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement in the United States.

Gandhi’s inspiration was revealed in his autobiography:

Such power as I possess for working in the political field has derived from my experiments in the spiritual field.

Truth is the sovereign principle and the Bhagavad-Gita is the book par excellence for the knowledge of truth.

 

Studio photograph of Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, 1931.

Above: “Mahatma“(“the Venerable“) Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

 

On a grey day in October 2017, a stone’s throw from the grim North Circular, that drab ring road that encircles London’s northern suburbs of Neasden, I would follow my curiosity and thirst for truth eternal to a Hindu temple.

A temple both alien and appropriate in the homeland of English, in the heart of an empire that once dominated my own birth country of Canada and whose sovereign remains our head of state, from a religion with roots in the land of India – that living coalition of religions and languages where one billion congregate and of which 80% call themselves Hindu – with 30 million adherants dispersed throughout the world.

On that day I would visit the largest traditional Hindu temple outside India (as recognized by Guinness World Records), Neasden’s 8th Wonder of the World, the Crown Jewel of Hinduism, one of Reader’s Digest‘s 70 Wonders of the Modern World, Time Out London‘s Seven Wonders….

The BAPS Shri Swamirayan Mandir Hindu temple.

It would not make me a Hindu nor make me feel any more knowledgeable about Hinduism than I felt before, but, nevertheless, my morning visit left impressions with me that still remain….

 

London Temple.jpg

 

London, England, 26 October 2017

Shri Swaminarayan was not my first visit to a Hindu temple (and I have a feeling that it won’t be my last), for on a visit to Singapore in the spring of 2014, en route to the Perth wedding of friends in Western Australia, I visited Sri Mariamman Temple, paradoxically located in the Lion City’s Chinatown district.

Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and I still remember the temple’s incredible, brightly coloured gopuram (tower) above the entrance, covered in kitsch plaster images of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and (Oppenheimer’s) Shiva the Destroyer, as sacred cow sculptures graze the boundary walls.

 

 

I had a three-day stopover in Singapore and in the process of trying to cram so much into my consciousness in a very short time Sri Mariammen is a blurred memory amongst many that I saw during my short sojourn in the city-state.

I recall also seeing the Peranakan Museum, the Raffles Hotel, the Chinatown Heritage Centre, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, the Taoist Temple of Heavenly Happiness (Thian Hock Temp), Little India, Changi Prison, the Night Safari, Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin.

I remember Little India, not for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with images of Kali, wearing a garland of skulls and ripping out the insides of her victims, but rather for the Bismallah Biryani Restaurant’s mutton kebab.

Hindu temples in Singapore were, for me at the time of my visit, only part of a tightly squeezed adventure and a list of must-sees rather than research for right or righteous religion.

 

 

(Thinking of Singapore and Perth I see future posts about them….)

 

I might not have bothered with London’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir at all had not my wife purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, tubes and trains, and strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the days of the medical conference she would attend that week.

Today would be the first day that I would view London unaccompanied by my spouse during the week.

 

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It was not my first visit to London….

 

 

(I had spent a couple of days on my own in 1995, mostly walking along the Thames rather than doing much exploring as a lack of money dogged my days then.

I spent a day and an evening in 2010 with my good friend Iain and his beautiful companion – now his spouse since the aforementioned Perth wedding – Samantha, visiting Greenwich Observatory and seeing the show Avenue Q in the Theatre District, with time to enjoy life walking well and dining fine.)

 

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But this was the first time I would attempt to deliberately explore London on my own without having to worry excessively about money.

I approached the Project alphabetically from the pages of the London Pass Guide.

As the ArcelorMittal Orbit (London’s tallest sculpture), the All Hallows by the Tower Church (where William Penn was baptized, John Quincy Adams was married and Archbishop William Laud was buried), Apsley House (with the oldest surviving grand piano in the UK) and the Arsenal Stadium Tour & Museum – (Football was never so crucial a sport to me as Canadian ice hockey or American baseball.)(Iain, an Everton fan, would never have forgiven me such a sacrilege.) – didn’t strike me as “must-see-before-I-die” / bucket list attractions, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir seemed the place to start.

 

 

And I must admit the attraction was attractively described:

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a masterpiece of traditional Hindu design and exquisite Indian workmanship in the heart of London. 

Using 5,000 tonnes of Italian and Indian marble and the finest Bulgarian limestone, it was hand-carved in India before being assembled in London in just 2.5 years. 

Since it opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over 400,000 visitors every year. 

Come and marvel at the intricate carvings, experience a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony, or learn about the world’s oldest living faith.

 

 

I took the Tube from our hotel’s neighbourhood way out to Stonebridge Park Station and wandered lost for an hour until I reached Neasden in the London Borough of Brent.

 

Stonebridge Park station, London Transport - geograph.org.uk - 879904.jpg

 

It may seem at first thought that Neasden is an unusual spot for a Hindu temple, but then Neasden has always been an unusual spot in its own right.

Neasden’s name meant “nose hill” and referred to the small promontory at the western end of the Dollis Hill Ridge upon which the hamlet sat.

The countryside hamlet land was once owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and consisted of only several small buildings around a green near the site of the present Neasden roundabout until the mid-19th century.

In 1823 Neasden was no more than a “retired hamlet” with six cottages, four large farms, a pub and a smithy gathered around the green.

 

The Brent Reservoir (aka the Welsh Harp Reservoir from the name of the aforementioned pub) between Henden and Wembley Park, that straddles the boundary between the Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, was completed in 1835 and was breached in 1841.

The breaking of the dam on the River Brent resulted in folks dying and many fields and meadows under water.

Today the Brent Reservoir is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to the great crested grebe, the gadwall, the shoveler, the common pochard, the tufted duck and the common tern, as well as eight species of warbler – a total of 253 species of bird life.

As well the Reservoir possesses 31 species of butterfly, 15 species of dragonflies and is also the residence of grey squirrels, red foxes and bats.

In 1960 the Reservoir hosted the Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Today the Welsh Harp Open Space surely sees not only rowboats and sailboats but those of the Hindu faith enjoying the magic of this unglamourous corner of suburban tranquillity.

 

 

(Not fishermen though, as fishing is strictly forbidden.)

 

In 1873 Neasden had a populace of 110 and the horse was the main form of transport.

As London grew, the demand for horses in the capital soared, so in the second half of the 19th century Neasden farms focused on rearing and providing horses for the City.

Town work was exhausting and unhealthy for the horses….

 

Two Nokota horses standing in open grassland with rolling hills and trees visible in the background.

 

(It ain’t so wonderful for humans either.)

 

In 1886 the RSPCA formed a committee to set up the Home of Rest for Horses with grounds in Neasden, where, for a small fee, town horses were allowed to graze in the open for a few weeks.

 

The urbanization of Neasden began with the arrival of the railway.

The first railway running through Neasden was opened for goods traffic in 1868 with passenger services following soon after.

 

Neasden station building 2012.JPG

 

In the 1890s change led to a conscious effort to create a village atmosphere.

At this time, the Spotted Dog became a social centre for local people.

By 1891 Neasden had a population of 930, half of whom lived in the village.

Despite the presence of the village in the west, it was the London end that grew fastest.

 

In 1893 the Great Central Railway got permission to join up its main line from Nottingham with the Metropolitan.

The Great Central set up a depot south of the line at Neasden and built houses for its workers.

 

 

The Great Central village was a “singularly isolated and self-contained community” with its own school and single shop, Branch No. 1 of the North West London Co-operative Society.

It is now part of a conservation area.

There was considerable sporting rivalry between the two railway estates and a football match was played every Good Friday.

By the 1930s the two railways employed over 1,000 men.

 

 

Neasden Hospital was built in 1894 and closed in 1986.

 

Apart from the railways, Neasden was dominated by agriculture until just before the First World War.

In 1911, Neasden’s population had swelled to 2,074.

By 1913, light industry at Church End had spread up Neasden Lane as far as the station.

 

In the 1920s, the building of the North Circular Road, a main arterial route round London, brought another wave of development.

It opened in 1923.

 

 

The 1924 British Empire Exhibition led to road improvements and the introduction of new bus services.

Together with the North Circular Road, it paved the way for a new residential suburb at Neasden.

The last farm in Neasden was built over in 1935.

The Ritz Cinema opened in 1935, and Neasden Shopping Parade was opened in 1936, considered then to be the most up-to-date in the area.

All of Neasden’s older houses were demolished during this period, except for The Grange.

The Spotted Dog was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style.

Industries sprung up in the south of the area, and by 1949, Neasden’s population was over 13,000.

 

The Post Office Research Station was located nearby in Dollis Hill.

 

 

There the Colossus computers, among the world’s first, were built in 1943-1944, and underneath them the Paddock Wartime Cabinet Rooms had been constructed in 1939.

 

Colossus.jpg

 

Neasden Power Station, which was built to provide power for the Metropolitan Railway, was closed and demolished in 1968.

 

The post-war history of Neasden is one of steady decline.

Local traffic congestion problems necessitated the building of an underpass on the North Circular Road that effectively cut Neasden in half and had a disastrous effect on the shopping centre by making pedestrian access to it difficult.

The decline in industry through the 1970s also contributed to the area’s decline.

 

But nonetheless Neasden has somehow survived, largely due to a succession of vibrant immigrant communities keeping the local economy afloat.

 

Neasden Depot continues to be the main storage and maintenance depot for the London Underground’s Metropolitan line (and is also used by trains of the Jubilee line).

It is London Underground’s largest depot and as such it is a major local employer.

The Grange Tavern (previously called The Old Spotted Dog) on Neasden Lane was closed in the 1990s and demolished to make way for a block of flats, bringing to an end the inn that had stood there for around two centuries.

Another old pub, The Pantiles, which stood on the North Circular Road was converted into a McDonald’s restaurant.

 

The Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA opened its second UK outlet in Neasden in 1988.

 

Ikea logo.svg

On 14 July 1993, in an MI5 anti-terrorist operation, a Provisional IRA man was arrested in his car on Crest Road carrying a 20 lb bomb.

It came just over a year after the Staples Corner bombing just over 500 yards away, which devastated the junction.

 

 

In 1995, Neasden became the unlikely home of the biggest Hindu temple outside India: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, known locally as the Neasden Temple.

 

In 2004, the shopping centre area was partially redeveloped by the Council in an effort to reverse its fortunes.

The Grange, which had housed a museum about the people of Brent, was closed by the Council in 2005.

The 2004 redevelopment proved to be unpopular with local businesses, as it changed the layouts of parking, thus forcing customers and local trade to pass by due to the parking restrictions of the redevelopment.

Neasden was once nicknamed “the loneliest village in London” and “God’s own borough“.

Neasden has achieved considerable notoriety thanks to the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Since early in its history (when the magazine was actually printed in Neasden) the magazine has used Neasden as an exemplar of the suburban environment in pieces parodying current events, personalities, and social mores (for example, the University of Neasden).

Spoof sports reports in the magazine usually feature the perennially unsuccessful football team, Neasden F.C. with their manager, “ashen-faced” Ron Knee and their only two supporters, Sid and Doris Bonkers.

 

Image result for private eye magazine images

 

Neasden was one of the locations in the TV documentary Metro-land.

In it, Sir John Betjeman described Neasden as “home of the gnome and the average citizen” (the former a reference to the preponderance of gnome statuettes in suburban front gardens, but possibly also a nod in the direction of the Eye’s fictional proprietor, Lord Gnome).

Background music was provided by William Rushton’s recording of Neasden (1972):

(“Neasden

You won’t be sorry that you breezed in.“)

 

Title card with the title "Metro-land with John Betjeman" in mock Edwardian script - yellow on a deep red background.

 

In a celebrated spoof of the Early Music phenomenon which grew enormously in the late 1960s, Neasden was selected by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer David Cain as the home of a fictional ensemble dedicated to historically-informed performances on authentic musical instruments from an indeterminate number of centuries ago.

It was thus that in 1968, listeners to BBC Radio 3 were given a recital by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis whose members performed on the equally fictional Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clackett.

 

BBC.svg

 

Athletico Neasden was an amateur football team of mostly Jewish players, which played in the Maccabi (Southern) Football League in the 1970s and 1980s and were named after the place, though they didn’t actually play in the area.

The team eventually merged with North West Warriors to form North West Neasden.

 

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David Sutherland’s children’s novel A Black Hole in Neasden reveals a gateway to another planet in a Neasden back garden.

 

Diana Evans’s 2006 novel 26a details the experiences of twin girls of Nigerian and British descent growing up in Neasden.

Willie Hamilton reported in ‘My Queen and I‘ that the Victorian Order medals were made on a production line in Neasden from used railway lines.

 

A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached

 

A pirate radio station, Dread Broadcasting Corporation, credited as Britain’s first black music radio station, was broadcast from a Neasden garden between 1981 – 1984.

 

In the Dangermouse episode “Planet of the Machines“, Dangermouse and Penfold arrive back in Neasden from the planet in the Baron’s space time machine.

 

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Konnie Huq and Matt Cooke from BBC TV present the Your News programme from Neasden.

 

So all of this begs the question:

 

What in the name of Krishna is a Hindu temple doing here?

 

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Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in the old Hindu proverb:

The lotus blooms in splendour, but its roots lie in the dirt.

 

Sacred lotus Nelumbo nucifera.jpg

 

Let me be frank.

Neasden is a glum place, especially after the glamour of the City has been seen, thus the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir seems to rise majestically above the dismal, between-the-world-wars housing like a welcome oasis of sight.

So sudden and grandiose does the Mandir appear that the viewer wonders whether it is a mirage, a shimmering dream, conjured up by one’s overactive imagination.

Here in London’s loneliest village is an experience of India’s glorious tradition and faith, a legacy that seems to have evolved over millennia rather than appearing miraculously on the landscape in a mere 30 months.

 

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Since the Mandir opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over half a million visitors a year.

The inventory of visitors, including your humble blogger, has incorporated prime ministers and presidents, royalty and religious leaders, artists and industrialists, school children and journalists, the devout and the merely curious.

 

It is impossible to catalogue all the appelations, emotions, inspirations and experiences that this Mandir has evoked.

On a personal profound level, the Mandir is a pavilion of peace and promise, a dissolver of disquiet, a messenger dispelling misunderstanding, a statement of hope and faith for the future.

 

Image result for baps shri swaminarayan mandir london photos

 

I am fascinated by the power of belief and teamwork and the spirit of volunteerism that made the Mandir possible.

In June 1970, the first BAPS Mandir in Britain opened in a converted disused church in Islington, North London, by Yogji Maharaj.

In 1982, having outgrown the Islington temple, the congregation moved to a small former warehouse in Neasden.

The present Mandir was designed by Pramukh Swami, a 92-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man) and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors.

 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, 2010

Above: Pramukh Swami (1921 – 2016)

 

It was built and funded entirely by the Hindu community.

The entire project took five years, although the Neasden construction itself was completed in a mere 30 months.

 

In November 1992, the temple recorded the largest concrete pour in the United Kingdom, when 4,500 tons were put down in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 1.8 metres / 6 feet thick.

The first stone was laid in June 1993.

Two years later, the Mandir was complete.

 

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Designed according to the Shilpa-Shastras, a Vedic text that develops Hindu architecture to metaphorically represent the different attributes of God, it was constructed almost entirely from Indian marble, Italian marble, Sardinian granite and Bulgarian limestone.

No iron or steel was used in the construction, a unique feature for a modern building in the UK.

From the conceptual design and vision of Pramukh Swami, the architect C. B. Sompura and his team created the Mandir entirely from stone.

 

It is a shikharbaddha (or pinnacled) mandir:

Seven-tiered pinnacles topped by golden spires crowd the roofline, complemented by five ribbed domes.

The temple is noted for its profusely carved cantilevered central dome.

Inside, serpentine ribbons of stone link the columns into arches, creating a sense of levitation.

Light cream Vartza limestone from Bulgaria was chosen for the exterior, and for the interior, Italian Carrara marble supplemented by Indian Ambaji marble.

The Bulgarian and Italian stone were shipped to the port of Kandla in Gujarat, where most of the carving was eventually completed, by over 1,500 craftsmen in a workshop specially set up for the project.

More than 26,300 individually numbered stones pieces were shipped back to London and the building was assembled like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw.

 

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The Mandir was inaugurated on 20 August 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS – the organisation behind the temple.

The entire Mandir complex represents an act of faith and collective effort.

Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, more than 1,000 volunteers worked on the building, and many more contributed and solicited donations, or organised sponsored walks and other activities.

Children raised money by collecting aluminium cans and foil for recycling – the biggest can collection in English history – 7 million cans collected by 1,500 children.

 

The Mandir serves as the centre of worship.

Directly beneath each of the seven pinnacles seen from the outside is a shrine.

Each of these seven shrines houses murtis (sacred images) within altars.

Each murti is revered like God in person and devoutly attended to each day by the sadhus (monks) who live in the temple ashram.

 

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Beneath the Mandir is the permanent exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism‘.

Through 3-D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork, it provides an insight into the wisdom and values of Hinduism.

Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs and contribution of Hindu seers, and how this ancient religion is being practised today through traditions, such as the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampraday.

 

The Mandir is open to people of all faiths and none.

Entrance is free, except to the ‘Understanding Hinduism‘ exhibition where there is a £2 fee, which was covered by the London Pass.

 

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(A note about BAPS….

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) (Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā) is a Hindu religious and social organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

BAPS was established on 5 June 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj after leaving the Vadtal Gadi of the Swaminarayan Sampraday.

It was formed on the founder’s interpretation that Swaminarayan was to remain present on Earth through a lineage of Gunatit Gurus (or Akshar) dating all the way back to Gunatitanand Swami – one of Swaminarayan’s prominent devotees.

Gunatitanand Swami was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.

Due to the organizational emphasis on the Akshar Purushottam doctrine, it essentially forms the organization’s middle name.

The fundamental beliefs of BAPS include the spiritual guidance through the living Akshar (or Guru) who is believed to have attained oneness with Swaminarayan.

Mahant Swami Maharaj is the current Guru and the president of the organization.

As a global, well-established Hindu organization, BAPS actively engages in a range of endeavors aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare.

The activities span religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains.

Through these activities, it aims to preserve Indian culture, ideals of Hindu faith, family unity, selfless service, interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.

55,000 volunteers and 3,300 temples serve 3,300 communities around the world.

As of August 2018, BAPS has approximately 1,560 saints (or sadhus), among the most saints in one sanstha in Hinduism.

As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS also engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable endeavors, by which its volunteers serve neighbors and communities.

With total assets of 17.5 billion USD, BAPS is able to contribute to a lot of welfare and public service works.

Through BAPS Charities, a non-profit aid organization, BAPS has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes and community-building campaigns.)

 

BAPS Logo with the symbol of Akshar Deri

 

For the Hindu community, the Mandir is a unifying force that installs pride and dignity with a zeal to serve society.

Every week, hundreds of faithful devotees, young and old alike, gather for prayers and services.

The annual Diwali and New Year’s festivals are witnessed by thousands of devotees and well-wishers.

Diwali is a spectacular celebration that falls in the month of November, a festival of lights and fireworks that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

Every year 35,000 children visit the Mandir.

 

 

What exactly is a Mandir, you ask?

A Mandir is a Hindu place of worship, literally a place where the mind becomes still and the soul floats freely to seek the source of life, bliss and meaning, a place to pause for a moment to pray, reflect and absorb the peaceful ambiance.

 

 

The problem is that the Mandir is a place that takes religion seriously, and though it is listed as a tourist attraction, the Mandir is anything but one.

Here, there is no pandering to curiosity seekers.

It is not a place to go rifling through the Hindu faith to light on what has shock value, for the focus on what is bizarre and outside one’s experience is the crudest kind of vulgarization of faith.

Behind the ceremony and ritual, we seek what is of deepest concern to ourselves, that search for the essential similarity in human nature.

Hinduism is, like true faith, like other religions, not a dull habit but a raging fever, a pounding pulse that gives its adherants all that is startling about life itself.

 

The Mandir in the suburbs of Neasden is as unbelievable to the eyes as a garden in the Sahara.

This spectacular edifice, this the largest Hindu temple outside India, includes seven spires (shikhars), six domes, 193 pillars and 55 different ceiling designs.

The Mandir‘s visual splendour and tranquil atmosphere have spontaneously generated poetic expressions and sentiments.

The media have dubbed the Mandir as “hallucinogenic” and described the profuse carvings as “frothy milk on a cappuccino“.

Deities and motifs representing the Hindu faith spring from the ceilings, walls and windows.

The impressive monument is supported by a 1,070-foot long pageant of extraordinary stone elephants and a 610-foot long ornately carved outer wall.

The Narayan Sarovar, a water body that embraces the monument on three sides, gives the Mandir an aura of a traditional place of pilgrimage.

The Mandir is entered through the richly carved portico of the Grand Haveli (cultural complex), welcoming you into a majestic wooden courtyard with soaring teak columns and oak panels.

Elegant peacocks, delicate lotus flowers and royal elephants beckon in greeting, with the carpet designed to compliment the motifs.

 

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Wood for the Haveli was sourced from sustainable forests, and for each tree felled, ten saplings were planted.

The Haveli Prayer Hall is a pillar-less assembly area that measures 2,750 square metres and seats over 2,500 worshippers.

The Hall incorporates environment-friendly features such as light wells, energy-saving lighting and a heat exchanger which uses thermal energy dissipated by the congregation to heat other parts of the complex.

Here is the venue for weekly assemblies and regular festivals.

 

 

The heart of the Mandir is its murtis (the sacred images of the deities who are revered as living gods), ritually infused with the presence of the divine.

Hindus worship murtis to express and enhance their loving relationship with that which is holy.

Murtis are the soul of the Mandir, making it a sacred place of worhsip wherein God resides – the home of God.

 

 

The shrine’s foundations are His feet, the pillars His knees, the inner sanctum His stomach, the throne His heart, the murti His soul, the shikhars His shoulders, the bell His tongue, the lamp His breath, the lion His nose, the windows His ears, the ringed stone on the shikhar His neck, the golden pot His head and the flags His hair.

The entire Mandir is revered as a divine manifestation.

In total, there are 11 shrines with 17 murtis, including Ganesh, Hanuman and Swaminarayan – this last to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

 

The murtis are ritually served by dedicated sadhus (monks) who live in the Mandir.

Before sunrise, the murtis are awakened by the sadhus and the shrine doors opened for the first of five daily artis (prayers), the Mangala Arti.

 

 

An arti is a ritual wherein a specific prayer is recited to a poetic format with music while the sadhus wave a lighted lamp in front of the murtis.

The sadhus recite some shlokas (prayers), serve the murtis, offer them food and bathe them and close the shrine doors.

Feeding and bathing of the murtis continues throughout the day.

 

The shrines are opened again for the second aarti, the Shangar Arti, and remain open from 0900 to approximately 1100, when the shrines are closed and offered thal (hymns).

At 1145, the shrines are opened for the midday arti, the Rajbhog Arti, and the thal is recited before the murtis.

The shrines are closed after this to allow the murtis to rest during the afternoon.

The shrines reopen at 1600 until 1830 for darshan.

 

 

The Sandhya Arti (sunset arti) follows at 1900.

Thereafter, a selection of prayers are recited by the devotees including dhun (where the names of God are chanted and verses of praise are sung).

The shrines are closed again for approximately one hour so they can be offered their final meal by the sadhus.

The murtis are then prepared for the night and adorned in their evening attire by the sadhus.

The shrines are opened a final time for the Shayan Arti (night-time arti) with the lights dimmed and music lowered.

The devotees recite a few hymns, gently sending the murtis to sleep, before the shrines are finally closed for the night.

 

The elaborately carved pillars, friezes, ornate ceilings and the magnificent dome provide an aesthetic and elevating atmosphere to the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir.

 

 

The murtis of the Mandir – Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Guru Parampara, the avatars of Sanatan Dharma, Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj, Shri Radha-Krishna, Shri Sita-Ram, Shri Shiv-Parvati, Shri Ganeshji and Shri Hanumanji – exude a heavenly calm and beauty.

 

Don’t despair if you can’t decipher who is who and what is what, for, to understand all of this, one needs to be steeped in Hindu history and Indian heritage.

 

 

Here prayers are whispered, songs of praise are heightened and the soul rejoices beyond the frontiers of mundane existence to experience the divine peace of God.

It is a nucleus of socio-spiritual activities for the benefit and elevation of individuals, families and society.

It inspires a society free from violence, crime and addiction.

It infuses people with a spirit of selfless service, to live in tune with God and in harmony with humanity.

 

Or at least these are the Mandir’s intentions.

 

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An hour of lost and bewildered walking finally led me to a procession of French teenagers who were scrutinized carefully by the burly security that met us.

 

Here at 105 Brentfield Road, as in most places that devote time and attention to unearthly divinity, apparently God has a strict dress code that must be adhered to before you will be allowed to worship Him.

Clothing must be respectable, respectful.

Shorts and skirts must be below knee-length and footwear removed upon entering the Mandir complex.

No one smokes on the premises.

Video and photography are forbidden upon entry.

Mobile phones must be turned off and no food or beverages are allowed on the premises.

 

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By the time I reach the security shed where backpacks are stored upon long shelves and make my way into the Mandir I am immediately summoned by personnel into the Prayer Hall where row upon row of folding chairs support a large collection of English senior citizens let loose here on this most unusual excursion.

The film is agonizingly long and as I am not officially a part of this senior set, despite the balding pate and silver mane that is mine, I extrude myself as quietly as I can and find myself lining up to enter the Inner Sanctum with the aforementioned French and some Indian devotees.

 

Hindu worship (puja) involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).

The simplest yantra is a circle within a square within a rectangle, with four gates to represent the four directions of the universe.

Hindu temples are based on this design, although still open to endless additions and variations in decoration.

Central to worship is the icon, or sacred image, which together with the temple, is believed to both house and represent a manifestation of God.

An icon can be worshipped at home or in a temple.

Most Hindu worship at home more often and the majority of Hindu homes have a shrine, where at certain times different members of the family make offerings and say prayers.

Most Hindus worship individually, not in a communal service.

Worship involves mantras (vibrating sounds that summon the murti) and prasad (the offering of gifts).

While many prayers and offerings are made for the fulfillment of wishes, the ultimate objective is the offering of the self to become one with God.

Central to this worship is darshan (seeing and being in the presence of the central murti).

 

 

The best time to visit the Mandir is just before 1145, when the rajbhog arti ceremony is performed.

Lit candles are waved in front of the embodiments of the murtis, accompanied by a musical prayer performed by drums, bells, gongs and a conch shell.

 

It is truly a haunting and uplifting experience.

 

Abhishek is the ancient Hindu practice of pouring water over the sacred image of God to honour Him and to attain His blessings.

In this Mandir, abhishek of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (or Bhagwan Swaminarayan) is performed daily to the chanting of Vedic verses, including the ancient prayer of peace (the Shanti Paath) and the recital of the 108 auspicious and liberating names of Varni (the Janmangal Namavali), in a ceremony that lasts 15 minutes.

The abhishek is done by devotees on days of special significance to them or to seek blessings for personal reasons.

 

 

The Abhishek Mandap is a marble chamber on the lower floor of the Mandir, housing the sacred image of Shri Nilkanth Varni, the teenage form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

The chamber is clad in Brazilian and Italian marble and embellished with intricate traditional designs.

At the chamber’s heart lies the murti of Varni in gilded brass.

He is depicted in mid-step, emaciated, yet looking calm and resolute.

With matted hair and a small gutko (handwritten manuscript of excerpts from sacred texts) wrapped in a kerchief around his neck, Varni is wearing nothing but his loincloth tied at the waist by a jute cord.

In his left hand, Varni carries a dand (a wooden staff) and a kamandalu (a drinking pot made from dry gourd), both common marks of Hindu ascetism.

 

 

Who was Varni?

After renouncing his home at the tender age of 11, Bhagwan Swaminarayan embarked upon an epic journey of spiritual awakening that took him around India, into Nepal and Tibet, and through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

During this time, he became to be known as Nilkanth Varni.

Barefoot and alone, Nilkanth walked almost 8,000 miles over seven years, blessing the land and liberating numerous spiritual aspirants along the way.

Carrying no maps, no food and no money, Varni crossed raging rivers, faced ferocious animals and survived the freezing heights of the Himalayas.

His solitary journey is a story of courage, kindness and enlightenment, and the inspiration for the naming of the Mandir.

 

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But can the non-believer understand Hinduism?

I have tried and what I have concluded is the following….

 

Hinduism is the world’s oldest ongoing living religion, practised as early as 6500 BC.

It has, unlike Christianity or Islam, no one single founder, but is rather a collective of experiences of ancient seers over the centuries.

According to Hinduism’s adherents, Hinduism teaches one to see the presence of God in everything and thus honour the whole of creation.

You can find God in the world of everyday affairs as readily as anywhere else.

 

Shiva

 

With this perspective, there are no heathens nor enemies.

Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a divine man, while believing that there have been many as such, including Rama, Krishna and the Buddha.

 

Everyone, even Canada Slim your humble blogger, has the right to evolve spiritually and will, at some time, realise the truth.

 

Hindus believe that souls are not limited to one life – many lives offer many chances for spiritual elevation.

 

 

Like many religions, this faith has rigorous rules.

People are responsible for every action they perform, through the Law of Karma.

 

Hindus believe in one supreme, all-powerful God, the Creator, who has a divine form, is immanent (eternal), transcedent and the grantor of spiritual liberation (moksha).

Jews, Christians and Muslims view the worship of God in the form of one chosen ideal.

Hindus view and represent God in innumerable forms.

 

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Each form (avatar) is but a symbol that points to something beyond.

No one form can truly encapsulate God’s actual nature, so an entire array is needed to complete the picture of God’s aspects and manifestations.

Each representation’s vocation is to introduce the human heart to what it represents but what it itself is not.

Though each representation points equally to God, the Hindu devotee tends to form a lifetime attachment to one, the ishta, the form of the divine the devotee wishes to adopt.

This worship of sacred images of God is called murti puja.

After all, love assumes different nuances according to the relationship involved.

 

Hindus believe in Karma that the soul reaps fruit – good or bad – which is experienced either in this life or in future lives.

They believe in reincarnation (punar-janma), that the soul is immortal, repeatedly born and reborn in one of millions of lifeforms until it attains spiritual liberation (moksha).

Moksha is the release of the soul from this perpetual cycle of births and deaths, remaining eternally in the blissful presence of God.

 

 

Dharma is how we choose to live our lives according to divine law, which values service, sacrifice, humility, duty, devotion, purpose, fidelity, respect and integrity among other positive practices and virtues.

This divine law is believed to be revealed by the authority of the Vedic scriptures, the four Vedas – the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishad.

And in a model of efficiency these are encapsulated in the Shikshapatri, a book of moral conduct in 212 succinct Sanskrit verses.

 

 

In a nutshell of simplicity:

  • Do not steal.
  • Do not eat meat.
  • Do not consume alcohol or other intoxicants.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Maintain purity of conduct.

 

Hindus claim a proud heritage:

  • the world’s first university (700 BC), Takshashila, India
  • the invention of the Zero, which makes the binary system and computers possible
  • the invention of the decimal system
  • the invention of geometry and trigonometry
  • the value of pi – the ratio of the circumference and diameter of a circle
  • the prior formulation of the Pythagorean Theorem (which says that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the two sides)  (For me, mathematics is as arcane and mysterious as faith.)
  • a theory of the revolution of the Earth 1,000 years before Copernicus
  • a formulation of the law of gravity 1,200 years before Newton
  • an idea of the smallest and largest measures of time from a kratl (34,000th of a second) to a kalpa (4.32 billion years)
  • the practice of surgery 2,600 years ago with 125 types of surgical instruments for 300 different operations

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I did not leave the Mandir of London as a convert to Hinduism, but what my visit showed me was worth the effort.

 

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Life holds more than what one is experiencing now.

People need to live for something which makes life worthwhile, a quest for meaning and value beyond oneself.

Life holds other possibilities beyond our own experience.

 

Hinduism holds that underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss.

Hinduism sees the mind’s hidden continents as stretching to infinity, infinite in being, infinite in awareness, infinite in joy.

Hindus believe that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for a distinctive mode of travel, each starting from the kind of person one is.

 

Lakshmi

 

We all play the roles our personalities dictate, cast in this moment in the greatest of all tragi-comedies, the drama of life itself in which we are all simultaneously co-authors and actors, powered less by reason than by emotion.

To find meaning in this drama, in the mystery of existence, is life’s final and fascinating challenge.

Life is a training ground for the human spirit.

The world is the soul’s gymnasium, both a school and a training field.

 

Hindus believe that the world is lila, God’s plan, that the goal of life is life itself.

 

The various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal to find meaning to our lives beyond ourselves.

The various religions are but different languages through which God, should God exist, speaks to the human heart.

 

Truth is one.

Sages call truth by different names.

 

Differences in culture, history, geography and temperament all make for diverse starting points.

Is life not more interesting as a result of its infinite variety in endless combinations?

 

I may not always understand that which is out of my experience, but the benefits of trying to go beyond my experience are boundless.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Understanding Hinduism Exhibition Guidebook, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir / John Bowker, World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored and Explained / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Huston Smith, The World’s Religions / The Bhagavad-Gita

 

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday 5 May 2019

Imagine the perfect holiday.

Perhaps it is an active one spent hiking and windsurfing.

Perhaps you are a culture vulture mesmerized by museums and attracted to artefacts of days gone by.

Or perhaps you long for a lengthy siesta where your hardest decision is how much sunscreen to wear today.

 

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The Canary Islands have what you want, however you want it, but being all things to all people means this is a place of contradictions.

 

The Islands lie off the coast of Africa yet they are European.

 

The Canary Islands form a Spanish archipelago and the southernmost autonomous community of Spain located in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Morocco at the closest point.

The Canary Islands, which are also known informally as the Canaries, are among the outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union proper.

It is also one of the eight regions with special consideration of historical nationality recognized as such by the Spanish Government.

The Canary Islands belong to the African Plate, like the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the African mainland.

 

Location of the Canary Islands within Spain

 

The seven main islands are (from largest to smallest in area) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

The archipelago includes much smaller islands and islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.

It also includes a series of adjacent roques (those of Salmor, Fasnia, Bonanza, Garachico and Anaga).

 

In ancient times, the island chain was often referred to as “the Fortunate Isles“.

But delving into Canarian history the casual observer has to ponder the question:

Fortunate for whom?

 

Historically, the Canary Islands have been considered a bridge between four continents: Africa, North America, South America and Europe.

And it has been their strategic location that has been both a blessing and a curse to those who have chosen to make the Islands their home.

 

Flag of Canary Islands

Above: Flag of the Canary Islands

 

The archipelago’s beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (a World Heritage Site) in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

 

 

Imagine living on an island where more people around you are tourists than residents.

 

Tourists are, by their very nature, selfish in that the pleasure principle dominates their every thought.

Most care nothing about those who reside there except in how the locals cater to their needs.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

 

The islands have a subtropical climate, with long hot summers and moderately warm winters.

The precipitation levels and the level of maritime moderation vary depending on location and elevation.

Green areas as well as desert exist on the archipelago.

Rain seems rare and snow something never seen.

 

Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation.

For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.

 

The day sky is cloudless.

The night sky stretches to infinity and beyond.

The horizon beckons with promise.

 

 

So it may be reasonable to assume that piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce.

 

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties.

Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates.

Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

 

 

Due to the strategic situation of this Spanish archipelago as a crossroads of maritime routes and commercial bridge between Europe, Africa and America, this was one of the places on the planet with the greatest pirate presence.

In the Canary Islands, the following stand out:

  • The attacks and continuous looting of Berber, English, French and Dutch corsairs
  • The presence of pirates from this archipelago who made their incursions into the Caribbean.
  • Pirates and corsairs, such as François Le Clerc, Jacques de Sores, Francis Drake, Pieter van der Does, Murat Reis and Horacio Nelson, attacked the islands.
  • Among those born in the archipelago who stands out above all is Amaro Pargo, whom the monarch Felipe V of Spain frequently benefited from his commercial incursions.

 

During the time of the Spanish Empire, the Canaries were the main stopover for Spanish galleons – galleons seeking to be laiden with treasure – on their way to the Americas, which came south to catch the prevailing northeasterly trade winds.

 

 

Sailing off the coast of Africa the closest of the Canaries to be reached is the Island of Lanzerote and thus it became the first Canary Island to be settled.

 

Lanzerote is the northernmost and easternmost of the autonomous Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is located approximately only 125 kilometres (78 miles) off the north coast of Africa and 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) from the Iberian Peninsula.

Covering 845.94 square kilometres (326.62 square miles), Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the islands in the archipelago.

With 149,183 inhabitants, it is the third most populous Canary Island, after Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

Located in the centre-west of the island is Timanfaya National Park, one of its main attractions.

The island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

The island’s capital is Arrecife.

 

Spain Canary Islands location map Lanzarote.svg

 

The Phoenicians may have visited or settled there, though no material evidence survives.

The first known record came from Roman author Pliny the Elder in the encyclopaedia Naturalis Historia on an expedition to the Canary Islands.

The names of the islands (then called Insulae Fortunatae or the “Fortunate Isles“) were recorded as Junonia (Fuerteventura), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Ninguaria (Tenerife), Junonia Major (La Palma), Pluvialia (El Hierro), and Capraria (La Gomera).

Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two easternmost Canary Islands, were only mentioned as the archipelago of the “purple islands“.

The Roman poet Lucan and the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy gave their precise locations.

 

 

Several archaeological expeditions have uncovered the prehistoric settlement at the archaeologic site of El Bebedero in the village of Teguise.

In one of those expeditions, by a team from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the University of Zaragoza, yielded about 100 Roman potsherds, nine pieces of metal, and one piece of glass.

The artefacts were found in strata dated between the 1st and 4th centuries.

They show that Romans did trade with the Canarians, though there is no evidence of settlements.

Lanzarote was previously settled by the Majos tribe of the Guanches, though the Romans did not mention them.

 

 

Guanches were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.

In 2017, the first genome-wide data from the Guanches confirmed a North African origin and that they were genetically most similar to modern North African Berber peoples of the nearby North African mainland.

It is believed that they migrated to the archipelago around 1000 BC or perhaps earlier.

The Guanches were the only native people known to have lived in the  region before the arrival of Europeans, as there is no evidence that the other archipelagos (Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira) were inhabited before Europeans arrived.

After the Spanish conquest of the Canaries they were ethnically and culturally absorbed by Spanish settlers, although elements of their culture survive to this day, intermixed within Canarian customs and traditions such as Silbo (the whistled language of La Gomera Island).

 

 

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Canary Islands were ignored until 999, when the Arabs arrived at the island which they dubbed al-Djezir al-Khalida (among other names).

An account of the Guanche population may have been made around AD 1150 by the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in the Nuzhatul Mushtaq, a book he wrote for King Roger II of Sicily, in which al-Idrisi reports a journey in the Atlantic Ocean made by the Mugharrarin (“the adventurers“), a family of Andalusian seafarers from Lisbon.

The only surviving version of this book, kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and first translated by Pierre Amédée Jaubert, reports that, after having reached an area of “sticky and stinking waters“, the Mugharrarin moved back and first reached an uninhabited island (Madeira or Hierro), where they found “a huge quantity of sheep, which its meat was bitter and inedible” and, then, “continued southward” and reached another island where they were soon surrounded by barks and brought to “a village whose inhabitants were often fair haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty“.

Among the villagers, one did speak Arabic and asked them where they came from.

Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.

Apart from the marvelous and fanciful content of this history, this account would suggest that Guanches had sporadic contacts with populations from the mainland.

Al-Idrisi also described the Guanche men as tall and of a reddish-brown complexion.

During the 14th century, the Guanches are presumed to have had other contacts with Balearic seafarers from Spain, suggested by the presence of Balearic artifacts found on several of the Canary Islands.

 

Map of the Balearic Islands

Above: (in red) The Balearic Islands

 

In 1336, a ship arrived from Lisbon under the guidance of Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello, who used the alias “Lanzarote da Framqua“.

A fort was later built in the area of Montaña de Guanapay near today’s Teguise.

 

 

Castilian slaving expeditions in 1385 and 1393 seized hundreds of Guanches and sold them in Spain, initiating the slave trade in the islands.

 

Where there is profit to be found on the open seas there will be those who will seek to claim it.

Slavery and piracy differ only in that the plunder of the former is the lives of human beings.

The violence used by both is indistinguishable from the other.

 

French explorer Jean de Béthencourt arrived in 1402, heading a private expedition under Castilian auspices.

Bethencourt first visited the south of Lanzarote at Playa de Papagayo, and the French overran the island within a matter of months.

 

Above: Jean de Béthencourt (1362 – 1425)

 

The island lacked mountains and gorges to serve as hideouts for the remaining Guanche population and so many Guanches were taken away as slaves.

Only 300 Guanche men were said to have remained.

 

The Castilian conquest of the Canary Islands began in 1402, with the expedition of Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle (1340 – 1415) to the island of Lanzarote.

Gadifer would invade Lanzarote and Fuerteventura with ease since many of the aboriginals, faced with issues of starvation and poor agriculture, would surrender to Spanish rule.

 

 

At the southern end of the Yaiza municipality, the first European settlement in the Canary Islands appeared in 1402 in the area known as El Rubicón, where the conquest of the Archipelago began.

In this place, the Cathedral of Saint Martial of Limoges was built.

The cathedral was destroyed by English pirates in the 16th century.

The diocese was moved in 1483 to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Roman Catholic Diocese of Canarias).

 

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In 1404, the Castilians (with the support of the King of Castile) came and fought the local Guanches who were further decimated.

The islands of Fuerteventura and El Hierro were later similarly conquered.

 

In 1477, a decision by the royal council of Castile confirmed a grant of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, with the smaller islands of Ferro and Gomera to the Castilian nobles Herrera, who held their fief until the end of the 18th century.

In 1585, the Ottoman admiral Murat Reis temporarily seized Lanzarote.

In the 17th century, pirates raided the island and took 1,000 inhabitants into slavery in Cueva de los Verdes.

 

From 1730 to 1736, the island was hit by a series of volcanic eruptions, producing 32 new volcanoes in a stretch of 18 kilometres (11 miles).

The priest of Yaiza, Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, documented the eruption in detail until 1731.

Lava covered a quarter of the island’s surface, including the most fertile soil and 11 villages.

100 smaller volcanoes were located in the area called Montañas del Fuego, the “Mountains of Fire“.

 

 

In 1768, drought affected the deforested island and winter rains did not fall.

Much of the population was forced to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas, including a group which formed a significant addition to the Spanish settlers in Texas at San Antonio de Bexar in 1731.

 

 

Another volcanic eruption occurred within the range of Tiagua in 1824, which was less violent than the major eruption between 1730 and 1736.

Thus the island has become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protected site.

 

According to a report in the Financial Times, this status was endangered by a local corruption scandal.

Since May 2009, police have arrested the former president of Lanzarote, the former mayor of Arrecife and more than 20 politicians and businessmen in connection with illegal building permits along Lanzarote’s coastline.

UNESCO has threatened to revoke Lanzarote’s Biosphere Reserve status, “if the developments are not respecting local needs and are impacting on the environment“.

The President of the Cabildo of Lanzarote denied “any threat to Lanzarote’s UNESCO status“.

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Piracy upon the open sea beside the shores of Lanzarote may be a thing of the past but greed remains eternal.

 

 

Teguise, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Sunday 1 December 2018

As described in a previous post of this blog, my wife and I arrived on the island and drove from the airport near the island capital of Arrecife to the resort town of Costa Teguise where we overnighted for the entirety of our stay on Lanzarote.

(Please see Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.)

 

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Above: Lanzarote Airport

 

Our previous research gleaned that Sunday was market day in Teguise so soon after we checked into our hotel we quickly headed here.

 

Teguise, also known as La Villa de Teguise, is a village in the Municipality of Teguise in the north central part of the Island, 12 km north of Arrecife.

Here North Africa meets Spanish pueblo.

Like no other place on Lanzarote, it has preserved its historic appearance to this day.

It is an intriguing mini-oasis of low buildings set around a central plaza and surrounded by the bare plains of central Lanzarote.

The small old town forms a compact whole that impresses in its uniformity.

The Andalusian style of southern Spain sets the tone.

 

Plaza Mayor

 

The outwardly simple, white houses have high, carved wooden portals and large shutters in front of the windows.

The former capital was built in the 15th century for fear of pirate raids in the middle of the island, right at the foot of the striking Montana de Guanapay.

Built in the Spanish colonial style, it presents a magnificent ensemble of stylish churches and monasteries, harmonious squares, magnificent old houses and quiet streets.

Old town Teguise has been a listed heritage site for over twenty years and is the jewel of Lanzarote.

It is considered one of the best preserved settlement centers of the Canaries.

As of 1 January 2018 the village’s population was 1,776.

 

The town was founded in 1418 and served as the capital of the Kingdom of the Canary Islands from 1425 to 1448 and as capital of Lanzarote until the capital was moved to Arrecife in 1852.

Teguise is said to have been founded by Maciot – the successor of the aforementioned Jean de Béthencourt – who is rumoured to have lived here with Princess Teguise, the daughter of the Guanche King Guadarfia.

 

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Various convents were founded and the town prospered.

But with prosperity came other problems, including pirates who plundered the town several times.

 

Although the strategic location of the city was favorable – protected to the north by the Famara reef, in addition to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara enthroned above the city, a broad overview in all directions, the following centuries were marked by numerous bloody pirate attacks, undoubtedly reactions to the brutal raids of Teguise’s feudal lords, who had previously deported thousands of Berbers to slavery on the African coasts.

Teguise went through hard times and was said to be no more than a miserable village with thatched huts.

 

In 1586, Algerian pirates stormed the city under their infamous leader Morato Arráez and put down everything that stood in their way.

The Callejon de Sangre (Blood Alley) behind the parish church recalls this terrible tragedy.

 

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In 1618, plundering Berber hordes burnt down the city completely, enslaving much of the island’s population.

As a result, Teguise’s historic buildings were increasingly economically unattractive for most of the late 17th and 18th centuries.

 

And this is why, in 1852, the up-and-coming port city of Arrecife was named the new capital of the island, while Teguise evolved into the open-air museum that it still represents today.

 

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Firmly on the tourist trail, there are several shops here selling flowing garments and handmade jewellery, plus restaurants, bars and a handful of monuments testifying to the fact that the town once was the capital.

This is a town of spacious squares and well-kept cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored houses that testify to Teguise’s former glory.

For a stroll, however, you should choose a really sunny day, because Teguise is located in a relatively uncomfortable island corner, namely on a cold and draughty plateau.

During the week, Teguise is a quiet place, ideal for a leisurely stroll through the streets.

 

Sunday is all about the huge folksy market that takes place here every week.

It is a day of flourishing handicrafts in the market with throngs of tourists shopping and gorging themselves into a satiated stupor and locals lounging beneath a gentle breeze and a warm sun.

Throughout the entire old town, stands are close to one other, in between streams of visitors from the whole island crowded here for this one moment in time, the bars and restaurants bursting in an exuberant mood.

A day for dancing, if being leisurely was not so tempting.

 

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What strikes the visitor to Teguise Market the most is the foreign feel of the artists, the arts and crafts, the ecological and esoteric scene.

Various shops around the two central squares offer natural products, jewelery, antiques and so on – certainly not only because Teguise is so “beautiful“, but above all for tangible commercial reasons, because during the big Sunday market, the city is always very well attended.

 

But as well Canarian culture has a focus in Teguise.

Thus, the former capital of the island is considered the place of origin of the timples, the traditional guitar-like string instruments of Canarios, of which an exhibition in the Palacio Spinola proudly praises in the central square of Teguise.

 

 

The timple is a traditional 5-string plucked string instrument of the Canary Islands.

On La Palma Island and in the north of the island of Tenerife, many timple players omit the fifth (D) string, in order to play the timple as a four-string ukulele, though this is considered less traditional by players and advocates of the five-string version.

The players of the four-string style, in return, say that they are simply playing the timple in the old-fashioned way from before the time when a fifth string was introduced in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Timple players (timplistas) of note are Benito Cabrera from Lanzarote, José Antonio Ramos, Totoyo Millares, and Germán López from Gran Canaria, and Pedro Izquierdo from Tenerife.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, at Calle Flores 8, is one of the last to build the famous Canarian guitars.

He also supplies many music groups in other Canary Islands.

Various sizes are produced, from the mini-model to the contratimple.

The Cabildo de Lanzarote, through its Departments of Culture and Industry, has recognized Antonio Lemes Hernández for his involvement of more than half a century in the production of timples.

Lemes, a craftsman from Teguise, has been building timples since he was very small.

He himself recognizes that:

“I have not done anything else, all my life making timples.
I made them out of cardboard as a child.

We brushed them and made them from that material, but of course, I made them and broke them, I did not have a teacher.” 

So he perfected his technique.

And to transform the wood….
I used to make them from polisandro, moral, mahogany, and the lid, which is always made of pine.

The important thing is that it is good wood so that they can tune well.

 

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Sixty years after his first contact with the timple, Antonio’s hands continue to mold, giving life to the sound camel .

To play what is the treasure of Lanzerote music.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, popularly known as Lolo, was born in the stately Villa de Teguise.

As a child he learned the technique of woodworking in the School of Crafts of Teguise, although it was his carpenter companion, Antonio de León Bonilla, who had some knowledge of the timple, who taught him to shape the sound camel.

Little by little, Antonio became fond of this instrument, so today his works are highly valued and requested, some to make sound alone or at parties and others are conservative and wish to possess a timble like a real jewel in private storage.

 

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Antonio Lemes has always been linked to the world of music.

In his youth he was part of the famous orchestra of Teguise known as Lira and Lido and he was also a part of cultural institutions such as Rancho de Pascuas de Teguise.

 

At present, Antonio Lemes enjoys his retirement, although as he can not stand idly by, so every day he goes to his workshop located on Flores Street, where he continues to practice the work that made him fall in love as a child, the construction of the timple.

 

In 2016, the Guagime Folkloric Association of Tahíche showed him public recognition by giving him their highest award, the ‘Silver Insignia‘, for his dedication to the development of the timple.

 

 

The eclectic church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe skulks in the town square.

Constructed in the mid-15th century, it has been rebuilt many times that it feels like the divine is in a perpetual state of confusion

Inside neo-Gothic furnishings surround a statue of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, but it was afternoon when we arrived in Teguise, so we were forced to imagine the scene rather than witness it for ourselves.

 

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On the opposite side of the square stands the Palacio Spinola.

The light of God facing the darkness of man.

 

The Palacio, completed after half a century in 1780, is beautiful with a small patio and a well.

It now doubles as both a museum and the official residence of the Canary Islands government.

It too was closed by the time we decided we wanted to visit it.

 

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This impressive edifice is host to the Casa del Timple – a museum dedicated to the small guitar like instrument which plays a big role in local folklore and tradtional music.

 

The building was renovated during the 1970´s by the ubiquitous César Manrique- and provides the perfect opportunity to step back in time and sample the lifestyle of an affluent nobleman in 18th century Lanzarote, whilst also learning more about the role of the timple in island life.

 

César Manrique

Above: César Manrique (1919 – 1992)

(“For me, Lanzarote was the most beautiful place on Earth, so I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world.“)

(More on this amazing man in a future post….)

 

Today, echoes of the glorious past still resonate through Teguise´s cobbled streets – which are home to some fantastic old buildings and a wealth of colonial architecture that cannot be found anywhere else on Lanzarote.

Making La Villa, as it is known locally, one of the best-preserved historic centers in the whole of the Canary Islands.

Many of these buildings are now private residences and are therefore hidden away from public gaze behind green wooden shutters.

But the house-museum at the Palacio Spinola is open to the public.

 

The Palacio Spinola is located in the heart of Teguise in the Plaza de San Miguel – also known locally as the Plaza de Leones because of the two statues of lions that stand guard opposite the entrance to the Palace.

Construction on the building started in 1730 – the same year that the south of the island was subjected to a six-year volcanic eruption that forged the national park at Timanfaya.

These eruptions obviously disrupted life on Lanzarote and the building of the Palacio took another fifty years to complete.

The Palacio was originally known as the Inquisitors House – as it was once the HQ of the Holy Inquisition.

From the middle of the 18th Century it became home to the Feo Peraza family, the best known of whom was the policitican Jose Feo Armas.

But by 1895 the Palacio had passed into the hands of the wealthy Spinola family.

The impressive frontage of the building with its six huge windows enclosed by intricately carved wooden shutters is a clear indication of the prosperity of the original owners.

 

Image result for palacio spinola teguise

 

You needed serious money to afford this sort of opulence in the early 18th century.

 

Visitors walk through a formal entrance way, tiled with volcanic stone – where a small admission charge of €3 is made (free for children under 12 years) – and they are then free to explore the passageways and patios of the Palacio with the help of a basic printed guide which outlines the function of each room.

Amongst the most fascinating of these are the kitchens, with a chimney arrangement that is open to the elements in order to carry away cooking smoke, a latticed viewing gallery that overlooks the two main salons, or living rooms, a massive dining room with seating for thirty two guests and a small private family chapel, featuring an intricately carved wooden altar.

Throughout the Palacio, modern paintings by local artists, such as Aguilar, are juxtaposed with antique and reproduction furniture.

The exterior of the building is equally impressive, as long passageways lead visitors out into a delightful courtyard area that houses two stately old Canarian palm trees as well as a variety of flowering plants such as hibiscus and strelitza as well as an array of colourful succulents.

Here, visitors can observe the giant wooden door guarding the entranceway – built to a height that would allow both a horse and rider to enter unhindered.

 

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The Palacio Spinola isn’t huge – comprising eleven rooms in total, so it will probably only occupy an hour or so of your time at best, but it is an extremely well preserved example of 18th century architecture.

And who knows – you might even bump into a modern day grandee.

As the Palacio Spinola is also now the official residence of the President of the Canary Islands when he is visiting Lanzarote.

 

Fernando Clavijo 2015 (cropped).jpg

Above: Fernando Clavijo Batlle, current President of the Canary Islands

 

 

Towering over the town is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, built in the early 16th century on top of the 452-metre (1,480 foot) high Guanapay Peak and provides a view almost over the entire island.

Visible from afar, the fortress Santa Bárbara perches on a bare crater ridge above Teguise.

A real mini “knight’s castle” with massive masonry, drawbridge and small round towers awaits the visitor.

Inside, a pirate museum has been housed here for several years.

 

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The Museo de la Pirateria (Pirate Museum) has an exhibition that deals with an almost existential theme for Teguise and is also good for children.

With cartoon figures, picture stories, dioramas, historical signs and museum relics, the city’s hard times come to life again.

Excerpts from pirate films with six galleys from 1586 under Morato Arráez who conquers the castle and leaves Teguise with 200 prisoners, including the wife and daughter of the city commander Marquis Agustin Herrera y Rojas, for which Arráez finally receives 20,000 ducats for their ransom.

 

For me, Teguise, and most especially the Pirate Museum of Castle Bárbara, struck me as incongruous and felt somehow wrong.

 

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Teguise had made a fortune from the slave trade until it was punished by Africans from whose populations these slaves had come.

The mercantile nature of the town, exhibited on a Christian day that is supposed to be free of commerce and labour, though less barbaric than former times, still resonates in the overpriced restaurants with substandard food and at the overvalued merchandise stalls where the buyer need be aware of deals done deceptively.

 

The Pirate Museum bothers me intensely, for it seems inherently callous to make profit from all the pain and violence committed by these bandits of the sea, celebrated and packaged glamourously for children’s consumption.

Pirates have always been and shall always be bloodthirsty bastards unable and unwilling to earn a honest day’s labour for the bread on the table.

How many hardworking families lost all that they had, including their lives, at the gory bloody hands of murderous, torturing and raping pirates?

And yet we have given pirates a mythical mystique of free men thirsting for liberty outside the confines of society.

We have made legends out of murderers, rapists and thievies and have given them colourful sobriquets like Blackbeard and Calico Jack.

 

Above: Pirate Cemetery, Île Sainte Marie, Madagascar

 

Beginning with Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, piracy has become a celebrated cause since 1724.

 

Cover page of "A General History of the Pyrates" (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson.jpg

 

Since then we have had Long John Silver of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Captain Hook as Peter Pan‘s aristocratic villain of J.M. Barrie’s play, and the sea stories of Rafael Sabatini.

These have led to films like Captain Blood, The Black Swan, and, of course, the immensely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

 

Captain Blood.jpeg

 

Somehow we have brainwashed ourselves with glamourous images of men walking the plank, being marooned, buried treasure, wooden legs and black eye patches, Jolly Roger flags and parrots squawking “pieces of eight, pieces of eight“.

Somehow we have come to warmly embrace and bring to life a seagoing world, befuddled twixt fact and fantasy, favouring felons of murderous, greedy, untrustworthy character, addicted to violence, crime committed casually, consciousness lacking conscience.

Somehow we don’t see unarmed fathers and sons viciously attacked, but instead we see elegant choreographed duels and sword fights, and not the bloody encounters where merciless men hack innocents down with axe and cutlass.

Real pirates bore little resemblance to Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp.

 

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Above: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

 

And women aboard ship were rarer than chocolate truffles at a homeless shelter despite what Hollywood would have you believe with their lovely heroines playing a key role in the outcomes of their films.

 

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Pirates are a frequent topic in fiction and, in their Caribbean incarnation, are associated with certain stereotypical manners of speaking and dress, most of them wholly fictional:

Nearly all our notions of their behavior come from the golden age of fictional piracy, which reached its zenith in 1881 with the appearance of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

 

 

Hugely influential in shaping the popular conception of pirates, Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pirates, published in London in 1724, is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age.

The book gives a mythical status to pirates, with naval historian David Cordingly writing:

It has been said, and there seems no reason to question this, that Captain Johnson created the modern conception of pirates.

Such as a person costumed like the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s lead role in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

 

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Some inventions of pirate culture such as “walking the plank“–in which a bound captive is forced to walk off a board extending over the sea–were popularized by J. M. Barrie’s novel, Peter Pan, where the fictional pirate Captain Hook and his crew helped define the fictional pirate archetype.

 

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English actor Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island also helped define the modern rendition of a pirate, including the stereotypical West Country “pirate accent“.

 

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Other influences include Sinbad the Sailor and the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films have helped rekindle modern interest in piracy and have performed well at the box office.

 

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The video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag also revolves around pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy.

 

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The classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Pirates of Penzance focuses on The Pirate King and his hapless band of pirates.

 

 

Many sports teams use “pirate” or a related term such as “raider” or “buccaneer” as their nickname, based on these popular stereotypes of pirates.

 

Such teams include the Pittsburgh Pirates, who acquired their nickname in 1891 after “pirating” a player from another team.

 

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The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both in the National Football League, also use pirate-related nicknames.

 

Oakland Raiders logo

Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo

 

In the early 21st century, seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$16 billion per year in 2004), particularly in the waters between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore.

 

Today, pirates armed with automatic weapons, such as assault rifles, and machine guns, grenades and rocket propelled grenades use small motorboats to attack and board ships, a tactic that takes advantage of the small number of crew members on modern cargo vessels and transport ships.

They also use larger vessels, known as “mother ships“, to supply the smaller motorboats.

 

Above: Somalian pirates

 

The international community is facing many challenges in bringing modern pirates to justice, as these attacks often occur in international waters.

Some nations have used their naval forces to protect private ships from pirate attacks and to pursue pirates, and some private vessels use armed security guards, high-pressure water cannons, or sound cannons to repel boarders, and use radar to avoid potential threats.

 

Piracy in the 21st century has taken place in a number of waters around the world, including the Gulf of Guinea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, and Falcon Lake.

 

Due to the crisis in Venezuela, issues of piracy returned to the Caribbean in the 2010s, with the increase of pirates being compared to piracy off the coast of Somalia due to the similar socioeconomic origins.

In 2016, former fishermen became pirates, appearing in the state of Sucre, with attacks happening almost daily and multiple killings occurring.

By 2018 as Venezuelans became more desperate, fears arose that Venezuelan pirates would spread throughout Caribbean waters.

 

Above: Gasoline smugglers, Limon River, Zulia State, Venezuela

 

Piracy on Falcon Lake involves crime at the border between the United States and Mexico on Falcon Lake.

The lake is a 100-kilometre-long (60 mi) reservoir constructed in 1954 and is a known drug smuggling route.

A turf war between rival drug cartels for control of the lake began in March 2010 and has led to a series of armed robberies and shooting incidents.

All of the attacks were credited to the Los Zetas cartel and occurred primarily on the Mexican side of the reservoir but within sight of the Texas coast.

The so-called pirates operate “fleets” of small boats designed to seize fishermen and smuggle drugs.

While the events have been referred to colloquially as piracy, all the waters of Falcon Lake are considered either US or Mexican territorial waters and therefore are not technically piracy under Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

 

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Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community.

By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern.

Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.

In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year.

 

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved over the first decade of the century.

For some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria.

Over time, pirates became more aggressive and better armed.

 

Above: The Gulf of Guinea

 

As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas.

This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces.

 

Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks.

They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks.

The local pirates’ overall aim is to steal oil cargo.

As such, they do not attach much importance to holding crew members and non-oil cargo and vessels for ransom.

 

Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen.

The increasingly violent methods used by these groups is believed to be part of a conscious “business model” adopted by them, in which violence and intimidation plays a major role.

 

By 2010, 45, and, by 2011, 64 incidents were reported to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (UN – IMO).

 

However, many events go unreported.

 

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Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As an example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70%.

The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about $2 billion.

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013 maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Southeast Asia.

 

Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the civil war in Somalia in the early 21st century.

Since 2005, many international organizations have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.

Piracy impeded the delivery of shipments and increased shipping expenses, costing an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).

 

 

According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a veritable industry of profiteers also arose around the piracy.

Insurance companies significantly increased their profits from the pirate attacks as insurance companies hiked rate premiums in response.

 

Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting the piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden and Guardafui Channel.

By September 2012, the heyday of piracy in the Indian Ocean was reportedly over.

 

 

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks had by October 2012 dropped to a six-year low, with only one ship attacked in the third quarter compared to thirty-six during the same period in 2011

 

By December 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence reported that only 9 vessels had been attacked during the year by the pirates, with zero successful hijackings.

 

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Control Risks attributed this 90% decline in pirate activity from the corresponding period in 2012 to the adoption of best management practices by vessel owners and crews, armed private security onboard ships, a significant naval presence and the development of onshore security forces.

 

Pirates in the Strait of Malacca near Indonesia are normally armed with guns, knives, or machetes.

Many reports on attacks could have gone unreported because the companies are scared of the pirates attacking them more often because the company told the authorities.

The pirates in this area also attack ships during the night.

If vessels sound an alarm, the pirates usually leave without confronting the crew.

Pirates in the Singapore Straits attack at night, while ships are underway or anchored.

 

 

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca had by mid-November 2013 reached a world high, surpassing those in the Gulf of Guinea.

 

 

I am all for generating income to feed a family and I realize that Teguise is highly dependent on tourism to feed theirs.

But a community that claims to be Christian should not be making a market day out of a day of rest and religious reflection.

 

I am all for having a museum that portrays reality historically accurate, but I find it objectionable to package criminal barbarity as a fun day out with the kids.

Piracy in all of its horror is not something that should be forgotten, but neither should it be glamorized nor sanitizied as entertainment for children.

 

Perhaps being a tourist is all about ignoring the realities of life, escaping from life.

But nothing is learned from life or travel if all we choose to see is only pleasureable.

 

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Teguise is a beautiful town worth visiting but it has forgotten what value truly is.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of faith.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of truth.

 

When houses of worship are ignored on a day of faith to increase a merchant’s profits….

When violent crime is packaged to sell tickets to children….

Then a community has sold its soul for filthy lucre.

 

I liked the streets of the town and the warm sunshine after the cold and damp of Switzerland, but I longed for real people uninterested in garnering money or attention from visitors.

Real folks content with living life on their own terms rather than that dictated by others.

 

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The aforementioned timple maker Antonio Lemes Hernandez is one.

Don Pillimpo is another.

 

On the access road from Mozaga, diagonally across from the petrol station, there is a house with a garden full of original sculptures, everyday and art objects, children’s toys, teddy bears and dolls.

 

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Pillimpo, who is actually known as José Garcia Martin, is constantly expanding and changing his unusual collection, the children of Teguise bring him their discarded toys, new color paintings enliven the large sculptures, unusual compositions call out for the viewer to notice.

 

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This strange collection of statues frequently stops passers by in their tracks.

Cars pause in the road whilst their passengers stare.

Pedestrians stop to browse the chaotic display of figurines.

The colour of the statues change frequently, shades of grey, green and pale pink.

 

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The house is referred to as the Casa Museo Mara Mao after the statue holding this name up.

The front door is generally open, although it is said the artist is shy about being photographed and doesn’t like people entering his garden.

Rogue dolls’ heads daubed with paint and teddy bears chained to the tree  have been embraced into this artist’s eclectic display.

In his 60’s Don Pillimpo is free to use his quirky imagination for everyone to wonder at.

Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, pass the Pillimpo figurine park every year, but few people know the name of this artist.

 

Speechlessness, astonishment, amusement and helplessness is felt by those who pass by Pillimpos’s garden, as well as rejection, a sad shaking of the head, indifference, even fear.

But if you ask someone about these characters, who makes them, if they have any meaning, why Pillimpo dresses them in new colors over and over again, you only hear shrugs.

Maybe because it is not easy to approach the creator of this chaotic world?

 

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Because the God of this Garden, of these saint sculptures, dolls, teddy bears, plush moose, Santa Clauses and action toy monsters with names like “Cloverfield” or “Zombie Spawn” does not show his world to the audience?

Pillimpo does not want to explain his world.

This world is dominated by larger than life figures of sand and cement, and the iconography reminds all those who grew up in the Christian context of saints that in the midst of society children have become disposable victims.

 

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I never saw a greater balance between order and chaos, kitsch and authenticity.“, wrote a Spanish admirer of Pillimpos art on his blog.

Horrible.  I do not like it.  It’s just too heavy for me.“, an island-renowned German artist described his feelings about Pillimpo’s work.

Another artist looks at Pillimpos’s work from his own perspective of usual order and harmony:

So if my garden should look like this then you can instruct me!

 

So, is this art?

 

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Art is a human cultural product, the result of a creative process.

The artwork is usually at the end of this process, but can also be the process itself.

Admiration, as such, is essential to art, but this does not have to be immediate in time and can only be the result of gaining knowledge.” is one definition of art according to Wikipedia.

 

Perception, imagination and intuition are some of the requirements for the artistic process.

Pillimpo’s creativity and imagination are innate to him, he says.

A gift from God that he believes in, for which he is grateful.

He emphasizes this again and again.

He knows his art is not universally loved.

In their opinion, I disturb the cityscape.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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But they can not easily get rid of the man.

Thank God.

 

The land is his property.

The house in which he lives, and which is also inhabited by his creatures inside him, belongs to him.

He built it with his own hands.

No problem for the skilled bricklayer, who was born over half a century ago in his grandfather’s house near Teguise.

 

A hard time was the time of his youth, he recalls, and speaks of his mother, who gave birth to five more children, three girls and two boys.

Even as a young boy, Pillimpo had a thriving imagination.

Every morning, as he gazed at the sunbeams that filtered through the holes and cracks in the meagerly plastered walls, he was fascinated by the play of light and shadow and the forms his imagination accepted.

Too high reaching dreams for a boy from poverty, on Lanzarote, where at times, water was valuable, food scarce and schooling almost impossible.

Although little José could go to school, it was not fun for him.

When you come into the world, God has already given you all the skills you should have.

He gave me imagination.

 

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Pillimpo leaves the subject quickly behind, almost as fast as the questions – about the meaning of his characters, whether he gives them names, why he always wraps them in new colors and how often he does that, where do the toys come from and why does his art matter – come flying at him.

It’s as if he does not hear these questions right.

He mentions that he gets the toys from local children.

He is happy when they look into his garden as they hold their parents’ hands and proudly point to their old teddy bear.

A special meaning?

Do his characters have names?

Names?  What names ?  No, they have no names.

As for the colours, I change, because I just enjoy it.

I love colors and I love all these things.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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And, with that, the explanation is done for him.

Pillimpo goes into the house.

When he comes back, he has a magazine in his hand.

He leafs a bit until he finds what he’s looking for and then proudly shows an article about himself with many photos of his sculpture park and a poem.

He reads it aloud.

The interviewers are silent.

They go home but their thoughts remain in this other world for a long time.

In Pillimpos’s world.

 

In Pillimpos’s world, toys cast out of children’s rooms find a new home, new appreciation and attention.

A new place where they are admired or pitied.

Here, childlike feelings return to the adult.

No viewer can escape the power of this mixture of chaos and order, kitsch and originality.

 

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Who is this man and why does he do what he does?

It is futile to ask others.

Nobody really knows anything about him.

There are only stories, rumours, now and then a grin.

 

Pillimpo began to scrape drawings in the sand with a stick and form figures out of loam, sand and water.

He often sits for hours, giving free rein to his imagination.

 

Not everyone likes that, but his mother had understood.

She had protected him, even defended his “quirks” from others, and did not laugh when he started to make music and dreamed of becoming an actor.

 

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Pillimpo speaks of his dreams only to those able to exchange views with a true philosopher.

I would like to speak with a great thinker, so maybe I can know if I’m right in my views or if I’m a bit of a fool.“, he says seriously.

 

I cannot help but compare and contrast the Pirate Museum with the garden of Don Pillimpo.

 

The former forms the fantastic from facts best forgotten in the frentic thirst for profits.

The latter at no cost leaves a legacy of nostalgia for the children we once were.

 

The Museum claims to be history but it is not.

The garden makes no claims about being art but it is.

 

Teguise, for me, will never be about El Mercadillo (the name of this Sunday market) or the Castillo Santa Bárbara, despite how both dominate the attention.

Teguise is instead quiet humble pride whispered from a timple workshop and an eclectic sculpture garden.

 

And this is something no pirate could ever take from me.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Canary Islands / DK Eyewitness Canary Islands / Eberhard Fohrer, Lanzarote / http://www.lanzarote37.net / https://lanzaroteinfomration.co.uk

Canada Slim and the Chocolate Factory of Unhappiness

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 January 2019

This is not India, but nonetheless there are a few sacred cows in Switzerland one would be wise to not offend.

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First, one should never question Switzerland’s superiority….

In anything.

Just as the laws of physics decree that the bumblebee cannot possibly fly, so the laws of economics similarly decree that Switzerland should not be doing so sickeningly well.

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It is land-locked, has a home market smaller than London, speaks four languages, has no natural resources other than hydroelectric power, a little salt and few fish, no colonies nor membership in any major trading block, Switzerland should have faded from existence centuries ago.

Instead the Swiss are the only nation to make the Germans appear inefficient, the French undiplomatic and Texans poor.

Thus their mountains are higher, their tunnels longer, their watches superior, their cheese holey, their chocolate legendary and their gold real.

Flag of Switzerland

Second, appearances are deceiving.

Switzerland is not really a nation but rather a collection of 26 nations (or cantons) which finance themselves, raise their own taxes and spend them as they want.

Or one could also easily argue that it is not a collection of 26 cantons but rather an assemblage of 3,000 totally independent communities each making their own decisions about welfare, gas, electricity, water, roads and public holidays.

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They are successful and proud of what they have accomplished yet simultaneously refuse to believe they are doing well and are convinced that tomorrow they will lose everything they have worked for.

They are officially quadlingual polyglots.

Yet not only have I never heard of anyone who can speak all four (French, German, Italian and Rumanisch) languages, I have rarely encountered outside of Freiburg/Freibourg and Biel/Bienne anyone who is bilingual in even two of the four.

In the Bundeshaus in Bern (the national/federal parliament in the capital) one sees a minor miracle of one member speaking in one language while the other member responds in a different one with no loss of comprehension or pause in conversation.

But beyond Bern, when the Swiss have to communicate in an official language not their own, then in all likelihood the French speaker will address his German counterpart in English and vice versa.

 

The Swiss Army doesn’t actually use the Swiss Army knives the tourists buy.

Swiss cheese is not called Swiss but Emmentaler.

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Swiss fondue is simply (cheese) fondue while a meat fondue is inexplicably called a Chinese fondue.

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Two Swiss national heroes are also problematic puzzlers.

 

Heidi, everyone’s favourite Swiss Miss, though created by a Swiss writer, was actually a German girl who moved to Switzerland to live with her Swiss grandfather in Frau Johanna Spyri’s books.

William Tell (or Wilhelm) is a proud Swiss symbol of independence but whether he actually existed or whether he was invented by those who were not Swiss (Germans Goethe and Friedrich Schiller / Italy’s Rossini) is debatable.

The cuckoo clock is not Swiss.

It is German from the Black Forest, despite what Orson Wells would have us believe.

 

Trains are not as punctual as the legend suggests that folks could use their stopwatches to predict a train’s exact arrival.

The S8 connecting Schaffhausen with St. Gallen is, in my personal experience of using it on an almost daily basis, more often tardy rather than timely.

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The Swiss are world class diploments who make the world believe that they want the world to love them, but they have a problem with not loving the world in return but not liking other Swiss as well.

 

They are famous for their neutrality yet armed to the teeth.

 

And much like my fellow Canadians, they are proud of their homeland yet would be hard-pressed to say what exactly that identity is of which they are proud.

 

They are conservative to the extreme, yet Switzerland has harboured radicals of every political ideology imaginable (including Mussolini and Lenin), has surprised with artistic movements (like Dadaism and Bauhaus) and has sheltered movie and music legends who revolutionized the world with their creativity and talent (like Freddy Mercury, Charlie Chaplin and Tina Turner).

Switzerland is dull and uninspiring.

Even though Mary Shelley was English her Frankenstein‘s Monster was as Swiss as the Matterhorn.

 

James Bond is the product of a Swiss mother and a Scottish father and much of Bond lore (movies and literature) has taken place within Switzerland.

 

A land of contradictions with an identity as firmly guarded as a bank vault.

 

Let us consider Swiss chocolate.

The world over, chocolate is the foodstuff most readily identifiable with Switzerland.

Chocolate is everywhere.

It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction.

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The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac and Emperor Montezuma would gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts as a type of non-prescription Viagra.

 

The solid, moldable chocolate “bar” was developed by the Bristol confectioner Joseph Fry in 1847.

But many early pioneers of chocolate-making were Swis:

  • Francois-Louis Cailler, who started production of what was then largely sold as a restorative tonic at Vevey in 1819.

  • He was soon followed by Philippe Suchard in Neuchâtel.

  • Until 1875, all chocolate was dark and bitter, but in that year Vevey-based Daniel Peter, a candlemaker who married Cailler’s daughter, became involved in chocolate-making, invented milk chocolate, aided by his neighbour Henri Nestlé.

  • Nestlé started his firm (now one of the world’s largest food multinationals) by manufacturing condensed milk, which Peter used in chocolate manufacture in preference to the too-watery ordinary milk, creating a concoction that was not only more palatable than previously available but less expensive as well.

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  • In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt of Bern invented “conching“, a process which creates the smooth melting chocolate familiar today.

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  • Jean Tobler, also of Bern, was another pioneer and today every one of the seven billion triangles of Toblerone eaten annually are still produced in that city.

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Today, more chocolate is sold in Switzerland per head of population than any other country.

 

The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavor.

After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted.

The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form.

Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor.

The liquor also may be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Baking chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugar.

Powdered baking cocoa, which contains more fiber than it contains cocoa butter, can be processed with alkali to produce Dutch cocoa.

Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or added vegetable oils, and sugar.

Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk.

White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.

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Chocolate is one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world, and many foodstuffs involving chocolate exist, particularly desserts, including cakes, pudding, mousse, chocolate brownies, and chocolate chip cookies.

Many candies are filled with or coated with sweetened chocolate, and bars of solid chocolate and candy bars coated in chocolate are eaten as snacks.

Gifts of chocolate molded into different shapes (such as eggs, hearts, coins) are traditional on certain Western holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Hanukkah.

Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages, such as chocolate milk and hot chocolate, and in some alcoholic drinks, such as creme de cacao.

 

Chocolate is big business.

In 2005 the global market was approximately $100 billion.

Each year, the world consumes close to three million tons of chocolate and other cocoa products.

One Swiss firm alone, Lindt & Sprüngli had a revenue of CHF 4.088 billion in 2017.

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It was my discovery that Lindt has their headquarters and outlet shop in Kilchberg (near Zürich) and a separate visit to Maestrani’s Chocolarium outside the town of Flawil (near St. Gallen) that made me curious about the actual production of chocolate….

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Bern, Switzerland, 12 March 2013:

Lindt produces the Gold Bunny, a hollow milk chocolate rabbit in a variety of sizes available every Easter since 1952.

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Each bunny wears a small coloured ribbon bow around its neck identifying the type of chocolate contained within.

The milk chocolate bunny wears a red ribbon, the dark chocolate bunny wears a dark brown ribbon, the hazelnut bunny wears a green ribbon, and the white chocolate bunny wears a white ribbon.

Other chocolates are wrapped to look like carrots, chicks, or lambs.

The lambs are packaged with four white lambs and one black lamb.

During the Christmas season, Lindt produces a variety of items, including chocolate reindeer (which somewhat resemble the classic bunny), Santa, snowmen figures of various sizes, bears, bells, advent calendars and chocolate ornaments.

Various tins and boxes are available in the Lindt stores, the most popular colour schemes being the red and blue.

Other seasonal items include Lindt chocolate novelty golf balls.

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For Valentine’s Day, Lindt sells a boxed version of the Gold Bunny, which comes as a set of two kissing bunnies.

Other Valentine’s Day seasonal items include a selection of heart-shaped boxes of Lindor chocolate truffles.

 

They are the symbol of Easter in Switzerland, but the golden Lindt bunnies aren’t Swiss.

As revelations go, this one is up there with Heidi was German and Switzerland isn’t neutral in terms of shock value.

How can those cute little gold-wrapped bunnies not be Swiss?

They are made by Lindt & Sprüngli, one of the oldest and most famous chocolate makers in Switzerland.

Except they are made by Lindt & Sprüngli in Germany.

Flag of Germany

 

 

Diccon Bewes discovered this thanks to a friend from Helvetica LA who bought a Lindt bunny in Los Angeles only to find it was made in Germany.

Fair enough, Bewes thought, as America is an export market.

But surely the ones in Switzerland would be made here?

Wrong.

All the ones in the supermarkets in Bern are made in Germany, although you have to have good eyesight to discover that.

On the back of the bunny the ingredients are listed in German, French and Dutch but down at the bottom are the words:

Fabriqué par / Geproduceerd door: Lindt & Sprüngli GmbH (Allemagne/Deutschland) D-52072 Aachen.

Oddly this isn’t written in German given that they are sold in Germany.

Obviously they don’t want to have that anywhere for fear of scaring away canny Swiss consumers – even though most of them can understand the French anyway!

To reassure anyone who does cotton on to the fact that the bunny isn’t Swiss, there are the words:

Garantie de Qualité Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli Kilchberg/Suisse.

In other words, Lindt in Switzerland is the distributor for the German Lindt products.

At a time when “Swissness” is being debated in the Federal Parliament, it is interesting to see that this Swiss icon is not Swiss at all.

Bewes checked the shelves and Lindt very carefully marks their chocolate bars with SWISS MADE where it applies (so the bunny does not get that stamp of approval).

There was a proposal that foodstuffs get the SWISS MADE stamp only if 80% of their ingredients are Swiss, unless they include things that cannot possibly be Swiss because they are not grown here….

Diccon Bewes Logo

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 January 2019

But here’s the thing.

Not only is much of Swiss chocolate production reliant on imported sugar, but cocoa, the raw material of chocolate, itself isn’t grown in Switzerland.

Although cocoa originated in the Americas, West African countries, particularly Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, are the leading producers of cocoa in the 21st century, accounting for some 60% of the world cocoa supply.

Thousands of miles away from the American and European homes, where the majority of the world’s chocolate is devoured – Europe accounts for 45% of the world’s chocolate revenue – lies the denuded landscape of West Africa’s Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa.

As the nation’s name suggests, elephants once abundantly roamed the rain forests of the Côte d’Ivoire.

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Today’s reality is much different.

Only 200 – 400 elephants remain from an original population of hundreds of thousands.

Much of the country’s national parks and conservation lands have been cleared of their forests to make way for cocoa operators to feed demand from large chocolate companies like Nestlé, Cadbury and Mars.

 

Washington DC, 15 September 2017

NGO Mighty Earth released the results of an in-depth global investigation into the cocoa cartel that produces the raw material for chocolate.

The chocolate companies purchase the cocoa for their chocolate production from large agribusiness companies like Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut, who together control half the monopoly of global cocoa trade.

Most strikingly, the investigation found that for years the world’s major chocolate companies have been buying cocoa grown through the illegal deforestation of national parks and other protected forests, in addition to driving extensive deforestation outside of protected areas.

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In the world’s two largest cocoa producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the market created by the chocolate industry has been the primary driver behind the destruction of forests.

Much of Côte d’Ivoire’s national parks and protected areas have been entirely or almost entirely cleared of forest and replaced with cocoa growing operations.

Côte d'Ivoire (orthographic projection).svg

In the developed world, chocolate is seen as an affordable luxury that gives ordinary people a taste of sensuous delight at a modest cost.

But in West Africa, chocolate is rare and unaffordable to the majority of the population.

Most Ivorian cocoa farmers have never even tried chocolate.

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Much of Côte d’Ivoire was densely covered by forests when it achieved independence in 1960, making it prime habitat for forest elephants and chimpanzees.

Elephants are on the verge of total disappearance.

A female African bush elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

13 of 23 Ivorian protected areas have lost their entire primate populations.

Chimpanzees are now considered an endangered species.

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Côte d’Ivoire once boasted one of the highest rates of biodiversity in Africa, with thousands of endemic species.

Pygmy hippos, flying squirrels, pangolins, leopards and crocodiles are rapidly losing their last habitats.

Today less than 12% of the country remains forested and less than 4% remains densely forested.

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The cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire has not been content with landscapes it was able to clear legally.

In recent years, it has pushed large-scale growing operations into the country’s national parks and other protected areas.

Needless to say, clearing forest to produce cocoa within protected areas violates Ivorian law.

Flag of Ivory Coast

Above: Flag of Côte d’Ivoire

 

A study conducted by Ohio State University and several Ivorian academic institutions examined 23 protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire and found that seven of them had been entirely converted to cocoa.

More than 90% of the land mass of these protected areas was estimated to be covered by cocoa.

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Mighty Earth investigated Goin Débé Forest, Scio Forest, Mt. Péko National Park, Mt. Sassandra Forest, Tia Forest and Marahoué National Park.

Three of the world’s largest cocoa traders – Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut – buy cocoa grown illegally in protected areas.

They sell this cocoa to the world’s largest chocolate companies like Mars, Hershey, Mondelez, Ferrero, Lindt and others.

Other traders engage in similar practices.

Illegal deforestation for cocoa is an open secret throughout the entire chocolate supply chain.

 

Between five and six million people, largely small landholders, grow cocoa around the world.

In Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa farmers, who produce 43% of the world’s cocoa, earn around US 50 cents per day, 6.6% of the value of a chocolate bar.

By comparison, 35% goes to chocolate companies and 44% goes to retailers.

 

Additionally, the chocolate industry is notorious for labour rights abuses including slave labour and child labour.

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According to the US Department of Labor:

21% more children are illegally laboring on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast than five years ago.

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An estimated 2.1 million West African children are still engaged in dangerous, physically taxing cocoa harvesting.

Rather than eliminate the problem, the industry has merely pledged to reduce child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 70% by 2020.

 

The investigation implicates almost every major chocolate brand and retailer, including Lindt & Sprüngli and my employer Starbucks.

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Mighty Earth shared the findings with 70 chocolate companies.

 

None denied sourcing cocoa from protected areas.

None disputed any of the facts presented.

 

Kilchberg, Switzerland, 12 August 2018

Kilchberg - Albis-Uetliberg - ZSG Pfannenstiel 2013-09-09 14-34-19.JPG

This bedroom community of Zürich has only 8,470 people, but it is a significant place for three reasons:

  • It was the final home and resting place for Nobel Prize German author Thomas Mann as well as his wife and most of his children.

Mann in 1929

Above: Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955)

(See Canada Slim and the Family of Mann of this blog.)

  • It was also the final home and resting place of Swiss author Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, in whose honour Kilchberg has a Museum.

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Above: Conrad Meyer (1825 – 1898)

(See Canada Slim and the Anachronistic Man of this blog.)

  • It was the final home and resting place of Swiss chocolatier David Sprüngli-Schwartz and his son Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann, and it remains the headquarters location of the company they founded, today’s Lindt & Sprüngli.

In 1836 David and Rudolf bought a small confectionery in the old town of Zürich, producing chocolates under the name David Sprüngli & Son.

Two years later, a small factory was added that produced chocolate in solid form.

With the retirement of Rudolf in 1892, the business was divided between his two sons.

The younger brother David received two confectionery stores that became known under the name Confiserie Sprüngli.

The elder brother Johann received the chocolate factory.

To raise the necessary finances for his expansion plans, Johann converted his private company into publicly traded Chocolat Sprüngli AG in 1899.

That same year, Johann acquired the chocolate factory of Rodolphe Lindt in Bern and the company changed its name to Aktiengesellschaft (AG) Vereingte Berner und Züricher Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli (the United Bern and Zürich Lindt and Sprüngli Chocolate Factories Ltd.).

In 1994, Lindt & Sprüngli acquired the Austrian chocolatier Hofbauer Österreich and integrated it, along with its Küfferle brand, into the company.

In 1997 and 1998, respectively, the company acquired the Italian chocolatier Caffarel and the American chocolatier Ghirardelli, and integrated both of them into the company as wholly owned subsidiaries.

Since then, Lindt & Sprüngli has expanded the once-regional Ghirardelli to the international market.

On 17 March 2009, Lindt announced the closure of 50 of its 80 retail boutiques in the United States because of weaker demand in the wake of the late-2000s recession.

On 14 July 2014, Lindt bought Russell Stover Candies, maker of Whitman’s Chocolate, for about $1 billion, the company’s largest acquisition to date.

In November 2018, Lindt opened its first American travel retail store in JFK Airport’s Terminal 1 and its flagship Canadian shop in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto.

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Above: Lindt Yorkdale

 

Lindt & Sprüngli has twelve factories: Kilchberg, Switzerland; Aachen, Germany; Oloron-Sainte-Marie, France; Induno Olona, Italy; Gloggnitz, Austria; and Stratham, New Hampshire, in the United States.

The factory in Gloggnitz, Austria, manufactures products under the Hofbauer & Küfferle brand in addition to the Lindt brand.

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Caffarel’s factory is located in Luserna San Giovanni, Italy, and Ghirardelli’s factory is located in San Leandro, California, in the United States.

Furthermore, there are four more factories of Russell Stover in the United States.

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Lindt has opened over 410 chocolate cafés and shops all over the world.

The cafés’ menu offers mostly focuses on chocolate and desserts.

They also sell handmade chocolates, macaroons, cakes, and ice cream.

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Above: “The Little Wash House“, Lindt Café, Zürich

 

Originally, Lindor was introduced as a bar in 1949 and later in 1967 in form of a ball.

Lindor is a type of chocolate produced by Lindt, which is now characterized by a hard chocolate shell and a smooth chocolate filling.

It comes in both a ball and a bar variety, as well as in a variety of flavours.

Each flavour has its own wrapper colour.

Most of the US Lindor truffles are manufactured in Stratham, New Hampshire.

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Lindt sells at least 29 varieties of chocolate bars.

 

Lindt’s “Petits Desserts” range embodies famous European desserts in a small cube of chocolate.

Flavours include: Tarte au Chocolat, Crème Brulée, Tiramisu, Creme Caramel, Tarte Citron, Meringue, and Noir Orange.

 

Lindt makes a “Creation” range of chocolate-filled cubes: Milk Mousse, Dark Milk Mousse, White Milk Mousse, Chocolate Mousse, Orange Mousse, Pistachio and Cherry/Chili.

 

Bâtons Kirsch are Lindt Kirsch liqueur-filled, chocolate-enclosed tubes dusted in cocoa powder.

 

In Australia, Lindt manufactures ice cream in various flavours:

  • 70% Dark Chocolate
  • White Chocolate Framboise
  • Sable Cookies and Cream
  • Chocolate Chip Hazelnut
  • White Chocolate and Vanilla Bean

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The curious visitor and chocolate lover can have a guided tour of the Lindt production facilities by contacting Zürich Tourism in the Zürich Main Station.

Tours take place from May to September, Monday to Saturday and last 40 minutes for individuals or groups up to 16 people.

(http://www.lindt-experience.ch)

The factory outlet shop outside the factory is open from Monday to Friday 1000 – 1900, and Saturday 1000 – 1700.

The shop is seductive, the chocolate sinful.

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In 2009, Swiss tennis star Roger Federer was named as Lindt’s “global brand ambassador” and began appearing in a series of commercials endorsing Lindor.

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Roger Federer has huge popularity in the world of sport, to the point that he has been called a living legend in his own time.

Given his achievements, many players and analysts have considered Federer to be the greatest tennis player of all time.

No other male tennis player has won 20 major singles titles in the Open Era and he has been in 30 major finals, including 10 in a row.

He has held the world No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for longer than any other male player.

He was also ranked No. 1 at the age of 36.

Federer has won a record eight Wimbledon titles and a joint-record six Australian Open titles.

He also won five consecutive US Open titles, which is the best in the Open Era.

He has been voted by his peers to receive the tour Sportsmanship Award a record thirteen times and voted by tennis fans to receive the ATP Fans’ Favorite award for fifteen consecutive years.

Federer has been named the Swiss Sports Personality of the Year a record seven times.

He has been named the ATP Player of the Year and ITF World Champion five times and he has won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award a record five times, including four consecutive awards from 2005 to 2008.

He is also the only individual to have won the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award four times.

Federer helped to lead a revival in tennis known by many as the Golden Age.

This led to increased interest in the sport, which in turn led to higher revenues for many venues across tennis.

During this period rising revenues led to exploding prize money.

When Federer first won the Australian Open in 2004 he earned $985,000, compared to when he won in 2018 and the prize had increased to AUD 4 million.

Upon winning the 2009 French Open and completing the career Grand Slam, Federer became the first individual male tennis player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated since Andre Agassi in 1999.

He was also the first non-American player to appear on the cover of the magazine since Stefan Edberg in 1992.

Federer again made the cover of Sports Illustrated following his record breaking 8th Wimbledon title and second Grand Slam of 2017, becoming the first male tennis player to be featured on the cover since himself in 2009.

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Federer is one of the highest-earning athletes in the world.

He is listed at No. 1 on the ForbesWorld’s Highest Paid Athletes” list.

He is endorsed by Japanese clothing company Uniqlo and Swiss companies Nationale Suisse, Credit Suisse, Rolex, Lindt, Sunrise, and Jura Elektroapparate.

In 2010, his endorsement by Mercedes-Benz China was extended into a global partnership deal.

His other sponsors include Gillette, Wilson, Barilla, and Moët & Chandon.

Previously, he was an ambassador for Nike, NetJets, Emmi AG and Maurice Lacroix.

In 2003, he established the Roger Federer Foundation to help disadvantaged children and to promote their access to education and sports.

Since May 2004, citing his close ties with South Africa, including that this was where his mother had been raised, he began supporting the South Africa-Swiss charity IMBEWU, which helps children better connect to sports as well as social and health awareness.

Later, in 2005, Federer visited South Africa to meet the children that had benefited from his support.

Also in 2005, he auctioned his racquet from his US Open championship to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.

At the 2005 Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Federer arranged an exhibition involving several top players from the ATP and WTA tour called Rally for Relief.

The proceeds went to the victims of the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

In December 2006, he visited Tamil Nadu, one of the areas in India most affected by the tsunami.

 

He was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF in April 2006 and has appeared in UNICEF public messages to raise public awareness of AIDS.

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In response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Federer arranged a collaboration with fellow top tennis players for a special charity event during the 2010 Australian Open called ‘Hit for Haiti‘, in which proceeds went to Haiti earthquake victims.

He participated in a follow-up charity exhibition during the 2010 Indian Wells Masters, which raised $1 million.

The Nadal vs. Federer “Match for Africa” in 2010 in Zürich and Madrid raised more than $4 million for the Roger Federer Foundation and Fundación Rafa Nadal.

In January 2011, Federer took part in an exhibition, Rally for Relief, to raise money for the victims of the Queensland floods.

In 2014, the “Match for Africa 2” between Federer and Stan Wawrinka, again in Zurich, raised £850,000 for education projects in Southern Africa.

 

On 24 November 2017, Federer received an honorary doctorate awarded to him by his home university, the University of Basel.

He received the title in recognition for his role in increasing the international reputation of Basel and Switzerland and also his engagement for children in Africa through his charitable foundation.

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But is he aware of the damage that Lindt’s demand for cocoa is doing to West Africa in regards to the destruction of both human lives and the environment?

Or, if he is aware, is he like many things Swiss – deceptive in appearance?

 

Flawil, Switzerland, 16 January 2018

As you pull into St. Gallen train station, you can’t miss the huge Chocolat Maestrani sign suspended above the tracks.

The local firm in nearby Flawil and the chocolate factory is within easy reach west of St. Gallen.

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The name Maestrani has stood for exquisite chocolate creations since 1852.

At Maestrani’s Chocolarium – the Chocolate Factory of Happiness – the history of chocolate is brought alive in a fascinating Experience World for young and old alike.

Whether independently or on a guided tour, guests can explore the interactive zone and discover where chocolate comes from and how it is produced.

They also have the chance to view chocolate being produced live.

What’s more, sampling is actively encouraged!

At the end of the tour, for a small surcharge, a show confiseur will mold a fresh bar of chocolate, which guests can decorate as they wish.

Besides a movie theater, a cafe and chocolate molding courses, during which guests can make their own chocolate creations, sweet-toothed visitors can purchase their favorite chocolate products from the factory shop.

He who sees the world through the eyes of a chocolate lover will find true beauty and happiness.” Aquilino Maestrani, founder and chocolate pioneer, (1814-1880)

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The Chocolarium at Toggenburgerstrasse 41, Flawil, is open Monday to Friday 0900 – 1800, Saturday 0900 – 1700, Sunday 1000 – 1700, the last tour is one hour before closing.

The tour includes a gallery above the factory floor to watch the production lines.

To get there, take a train to Flawil from St. Gallen (12 minutes) then switch to a bus for the five-minute ride to “Flawil Maestrani” bus stop.

(http://www.maestrani.ch)

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Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, 30 January 2019

It is a stunner, shingled with starfish-studded sands, palm tree forests and roads so orange they resemble strips of bronzing powder.

This is a true tropical paradise.

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Above: Azuretti Beach, Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire

 

In the south, the Parc National de Tai hides secrets, species and nut-cracking chimps under the tree boughs.

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Above: Parc National de Tai, Côte d’Ivoire

 

The peaks and valleys of Man offer a highland climate, fresh air and fantastic hiking opportunities through tropical forests.

Above: Dent de Man, Côte d’Ivoire

 

The beach resorts of Assinie and Grand Bassam are made for weekend retreats from Abidjan, capital in all but name, where lagoons wind their way between skyscrapers and cathedral spires pierce the heavens.

Collection of views of Abidjan, featuring St. Paul's Cathedral, the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium, the Republic square, the beach of Vridi and the CBD named Le Plateau.

Above: Images of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

 

Assinie and Dagbego have surf beaches.

In Yamoussoukro, the capital’s basilica floats on the landscape like a mirage.

Above: Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire

 

Sacred crocodiles guard the Presidential Palace.

Tourists gather as they are fed in the afternoon.

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Above: Lac aux Crocodiles, Presidential Palace, Yamoussoukro

 

This is a culture rich with festivals and some of the most stunning artwork in Africa.

This is what the tourist sees.

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The process of deforestation starts with settlers who invade parks and other forested areas.

They progressively cut down or burn existing trees.

Trunks are denuded of their crowns and are left as ghostly reminders of the great forests that once reigned.

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With the forests gone, the settlers plant cocoa trees, which take years before they are ready to harvest.

Each cocoa tree bears two harvests of cocoa pods per year.

Farmers hack off the ripe cocoa pods from the trees with machetes.

They split open the pods to remove the cocoa beans, which are sorted and placed into piles.

The beans are left in the sun to ferment and dry and turn brown.

 

It is at this point that a first level of middlemen called “pisteurs” buy the cocoa beans from the settlers, transport it to villages and towns across the cocoa-growing region and sell them onto another set of middlemen, known as cooperatives.

The cooperatives then either directly or through a third set of middlemen bring the cocoa to the coastal ports of San Pedro and Abidjan, where it is sold to cocoa traders Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut, who ship the cocoa companies in Europe and North America.

Illegal towns and villages called “campements” have sprung up inside Côte d’Ivoire’s national parks and protected forests.

Some campements boast tens of thousands of residents, along with public schools, official health centres, mosques, churches, stores and cell phone towers in plain sight of government authorities.

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There is an excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides that is killing the country’s biodiversity.

Deforestation and exposure to the fullness of the sun makes the environment suspectible to disease.

Over two million children are victims of the worst forms of child labour.

This is a land of child workers, slaves and low wages.

Low pay foments food insecurity and low school enrollment and attendance rates.

Inadequate prices paid for the coffee means farmers live under the poverty line.

Chemicals pollute the waterways, killing wildlife and harming communities.

This is a true tropical hell.

 

And what of the future?

 

Demand for chocolate continues to rise by 5% every year.

The chocolate industry has aggressively expanded to other rainforest nations around the world – Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peru – exporting the same bad practices that are contributing to the destruction of West Africa’s forests and the creation of a living hell for its people.

Deforestation for cocoa has a significant impact on climate.

Tropical rainforests have among the highest carbon storage of any ecosystem on the planet.

When they are cleared, they release enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

A single dark chocolate bar made with cocoa from deforestation produces the same amount of carbon pollution as driving 4.9 miles in a car.

 

In Switzerland, life is rich and sweet.

In Côte d’Ivoire, life is poor and sour.

 

In Canada, a remembered jingle asks:

When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?

Do you suck them very slowly or crunch them very fast?

It’s candy and milk chocolate, so tell me when I ask:

When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?

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An important question for these dark and bitter times, eh?

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / The Rough Guide to Switzerland / Lonely Planet The World / Lonely Planet Africa on a Shoestring / Etelie Higonnet, Marisa Bellantonio and Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth, Chocolate’s Dark Secret: How the Cocoa Industry Destroys National Parks / http://www.dicconbewes.ch / http://www.lindt-experience.ch / http://www.maestrani.ch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Man Who Invented the Future

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 January 2019

(Continued from Canada Slim and the Visionary & Canada Slim and the Current War)

Imagine a man a century ago, bold enough to design and actually build a huge tower with which to transmit the human voice, music, pictures, press news and even power, through the Earth to any distance whatever without wires!

He probably would have been hung or burnt at the stake.

(Hugo Gernsback, Preface to Nikola Tesla’s My Inventions: 5. The Magnifying Transmitter, Electrical Experimenter, June 1919)

Electrical Experimenter Aug 1916 Cover.png

Such was the high regard that Gernsback, Tesla’s greatest admirer, had for the Serbian inventor.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was one of the greatest scientists and innovators during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

The Serbian genius went to America in 1884 and would be followed by his Luxemburger admirer Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967) twenty years later.

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

 

Both men would come to America to bring realization to their visionary ideas.

 

Tesla is the creative genius behind many great inventions which are today utilized in radio, industrial and nuclear technology.

Gernsback’s contributions as a publisher were so significant that, along with the novelists H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, that he is sometimes called the Father of Science Fiction, and it is in his honour that the annual awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention are named the Hugos.

 

For me there is an irony that Tesla was discovered by the world through Gernsback while I discovered Gernsback through the world of Tesla.

 

Belgrade, Serbia, 5 April 2018

A week’s vacation where boys will be boys in a part of the world far removed from our respective spouses found me visiting my Serbian friend Nesha in his home city of Belgrade.

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Sadly, Nesha had more obligations in Serbia than just playing host to this Canadian blogger so half my stay involved me on my own.

I had arrived the previous day, travelling with Nesha from his home in Herisau, Switzerland, to his childhood house in the Serbian capital.

After breakfast the following morning, the dateline above, I set out to explore the city.

Krunska Street runs parallel to the Bulevar (King Aleksander Boulevard, one of the longest streets in Belgrade) and, in contrast, is a relatively quiet street and makes for a very pleasant stroll.

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At Krunska 51, the Raska style villa of politician Dorde (George) Gencic, built in 1929, the Nikola Tesla Museum is engaged in educating and informing the public about the life and inventions of this Serbian scientist who died in Manhattan in 1943.

 

(Gernsback would die in the same city twenty-four years later.)

 

The Museum was founded when Sava Kosanovic, Tesla’s heir….

 

(Tesla never married.

He explained that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities.

He once said in earlier years that he felt that he could never be worthy enough for a woman, considering women superior in every way.

His opinion started to sway in later years when he felt that women were trying to outdo men and make themselves more dominant.

 

(I know how he feels!)

 

This “new woman” was met with much indignation from Tesla, who felt that women were losing their feminity by trying to be in power.

In an interview with The Galveston Daily News on 10 August 1924, he stated:

In place of the soft voiced, gentle woman of my reverant worship, has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making herself as much as possible like man – in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements of every kind.

The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me.”

 

(Clearly his confusion has carried on into the modern age where the ongoing internal struggle between a woman defining herself and letting herself be defined by others still remains.)

Although he told a reporter in later years that he sometimes felt that by not marrying, he had made too great a sacrifice to his work, Tesla chose to never pursue or engage in any known relationships, instead finding all the stimulation he needed in his work.)

 

(Unlike Tesla, Gernsback would marry three times.)

 

Kosanovic brought Tesla’s effects and legacy to Belgrade.

These mainly consist of sketches of his unrealized works, his scientific journal, personal notes and also an urn containing his ashes.

Also at the Museum are thematic rooms, categorized according to different periods of his life.

The most interesting area is certainly that containing models which explain the functioning principles behind his inventions.

Above: Tesla two-phase induction motor

 

Though quite small the Museum has several interesting items on display and an interactive exposition that will capture your attention.

It holds more than 160,000 original documents, over 2,000 books and journals, over 1,200 historical technical exhibits, over 1,500 photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, instruments and apparatus, and over 1,000 plans and drawings.

Above: Nikola Tesla’s baptismal certificate (24 July 1856)

 

The Museum is also of interest to researchers since it keeps almost all belongings left by the eccentric scientist.

Due to the importance that Tesla’s writings still have for science, the archive of the Museum has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World list.

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The Museum is divided into two parts.

The historical part is where one can see many of Tesla’s personal belongings, exhibits illustrating his life, awards and decorations bestowed.

The second presents the path of Tesla’s discoveries with models of his inventions in fields of electricity and engineering.

Guided tours in English and Serbian with fascinating demonstrations on how Tesla’s inventions work take place every hour on the hour.

 

Though Tesla never had great financial success, he nonetheless registered over 700 patents worldwide – examples of his best known discoveries being rotating magnetic fields, wireless communication (the foundation of remote control and radio) and rotary transformers.

During his life Tesla was recognized as a striking but sometimes eccentric genius.

Today he is praised for his great achievements:

In 1895 he designed the first hydroelectric power plant at the Niagara Falls.

Above: Schoellkopf Stations 3, 3B and 3C, Niagara Falls

 

His alternating current (AC) induction motor is considered one of the greatest discoveries of all time.

Tesla’s name has been honoured with the International Unit of Magnetic Flux Density, the Tesla (T).

 

Nevertheless I cannot help but wonder whether Tesla’s genius would be as well-known to the average man had it not been for Gernsback or whether he would have gone down in history as simply a clever eccentric without the additional fame Gernsback provided him.

And, to be fair, I wonder whether Gernsback would have found the inspiration for founding “scientifiction” had it not been for the scientific wonders that Tesla invented.

To bring these two men together I need to continue with Tesla’s story first.

 

From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla spent a great deal of time and fortune on a series of projects trying to develop the transmission of electrical power without wires.

It was an expansion of his idea of using coils to transmit power that he had been demonstrating in wireless lighting.

He saw this as not only a way to transmit large amounts of power around the world but also, as he had pointed out in his earlier lectures, a way to transmit worldwide communications.

 

At the time Tesla was formulating his ideas, there was no feasible way to wirelessly transmit communication signals over long distances, let alone large amounts of power.

 

By the mid 1890s, Tesla was working on the idea that he might be able to conduct electricity long distance through the Earth or the atmosphere, and began working on experiments to test this idea including setting up a large resonance transformer magnifying transmitter in his East Houston Street lab.

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Above: Tesla’s East Houston Street lab, New York City

 

Seeming to borrow from a common idea at the time that the Earth’s atmosphere was conductive, he proposed a system composed of balloons suspending, transmitting, and receiving, electrodes in the air above 30,000 feet (9,100 m) in altitude, where he thought the lower pressure would allow him to send high voltages (millions of volts) long distances.

To further study the conductive nature of low pressure air, Tesla set up an experimental station at high altitude in Colorado Springs during 1899.

The Experimental Station was located on empty land on the highest local point (Knob Hill) between the 1876 Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind and the Union Printers Home, where Tesla conducted the research described in the Colorado Springs Notes, 1899-1900.

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A few papers of the times listed Tesla’s lab as about 200 feet east of the Deaf and Blind School and 200 feet north of Pikes Peak Ave.

This put it on top of the hill at E. Kiowa St. and N. Foote Ave (facing west); as documented by Pikes Peak Library District.

There he could safely operate much larger coils than in the cramped confines of his New York lab, and an associate had made an arrangement for the El Paso Power Company to supply alternating current free of charge.

 

Tesla was focused in his research for the practical development of a system for wireless transmission of power and a utilization system.

Tesla said, in “On electricity“, Electrical Review (27 January 1897):

In fact, progress in this field has given me fresh hope that I shall see the fulfillment of one of my fondest dreams; namely, the transmission of power from station to station without the employment of any connecting wires.

 

Tesla went to Colorado Springs in mid-May 1899 with the intent to research:

  1. Transmitters of great power.
  2. Individualization and isolating the energy transmission means.
  3. Laws of propagation of currents through the earth and the atmosphere.

Tesla spent more than half his time researching transmitters.

Tesla spent less than a quarter of his time researching delicate receivers and about a tenth of his time measuring the capacity of the vertical antenna.

Also, Tesla spent a tenth of his time researching miscellaneous subjects.

J. R. Wait’s commented on Tesla activity:

“From an historical standpoint, it is significant that the genius Nikola Tesla envisaged a world wide communication system using a huge spark gap transmitter located in Colorado Springs in 1899.
A few years later he built a large facility in Long Island that he hoped would transmit signals to the Cornish coast of England.
In addition, he proposed to use a modified version of the system to distribute power to all points of the globe”.

 

To fund his experiments he convinced John Jacob Astor IV to invest $100,000 to become a majority share holder in the Nikola Tesla Company.

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Above: John Jacob Astor IV (1864 – 1912)(died on the Titanic)

Astor thought he was primarily investing in the new wireless lighting system.

Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments.

 

Upon his arrival, he told reporters that he planned to conduct wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris.

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Above: Pike’s Peak, 12 miles / 19 km west of Colorado Springs

 

The lab possessed the largest Tesla coil ever built, 49.25 feet (15 m) in diameter, which was a preliminary version of the magnifying transmitter planned for installation in the Wardenclyffe Tower.

He produced artificial lightning, with discharges consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet (41 m) long.

Thunder from the released energy was heard 15 miles (24 km) away in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

People walking along the street observed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground.

Sparks sprang from water line taps when touched.

Light bulbs within 100 feet (30 m) of the lab glowed even when turned off.

Horses in a livery stable bolted from their stalls after receiving shocks through their metal shoes.

Butterflies were electrified, swirling in circles with blue halos of St. Elmo’s fire around their wings.

While experimenting, Tesla inadvertently faulted a power station generator, causing a power outage.

In August 1917, Tesla explained what had happened in The Electrical Experimenter:

As an example of what has been done with several hundred kilowatts of high frequency energy liberated, it was found that the dynamos in a power house 6 miles (10 km) away were repeatedly burned out, due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them, and which caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation!

 

There he conducted experiments with a large coil operating in the megavolts range, producing artificial lightning (and thunder) consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet (41 m) long discharges and, at one point, inadvertently burned out the generator in El Paso, causing a power outage.

The observations he made of the electronic noise of lightning strikes, led him to (incorrectly) conclude that he could use the entire globe of the Earth to conduct electrical energy.

 

During his time at his laboratory, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he speculated to be communications from another planet.

He mentioned them in a letter to a reporter in December 1899 and to the Red Cross Society in December 1900.

Reporters treated it as a sensational story and jumped to the conclusion Tesla was hearing signals from Mars.

Mars appears as a red-orange globe with darker blotches and white icecaps visible on both of its poles.

Above: Mars

 

He expanded on the signals he heard in a 9 February 1901 Collier’s Weekly article “Talking With Planets” where he said it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing “intelligently controlled signals” and that the signals could come from Mars, Venus, or other planets.

 

It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Guglielmo Marconi’s European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.

Guglielmo Marconi.jpg

Above: Guglielmo Marconi (1874 – 1937)

 

Tesla had an agreement with the editor of The Century Magazine to produce an article on his findings.

The magazine sent a photographer to Colorado to photograph the work being done there.

The article, titled “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy“, appeared in the June 1900 edition of the magazine.

He explained the superiority of the wireless system he envisioned but the article was more of a lengthy philosophical treatise than an understandable scientific description of his work, illustrated with what were to become iconic images of Tesla and his Colorado Springs experiments.

 

Tesla made the rounds in New York trying to find investors for what he thought would be a viable system of wireless transmission, wining and dining them at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Palm Garden (the hotel where he was living at the time), The Players Club and Delmonico’s.

 

On 7 January 1900 Tesla made his final entry in his journal while in Colorado Springs.

In 1900 Tesla was granted patents for a “system of transmitting electrical energy” and “an electrical transmitter.”

 

When Guglielmo Marconi made his famous first-ever transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla quipped that it was done with 17 Tesla patents, though there is little to support this claim.

Above: Marconi watching his associates raising the kite used to lift the antenna, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 12 December 1901

 

In 1904, Tesla was sued for unpaid debts in Colorado Springs.

His lab was torn down and its contents were sold two years later at auction at the court house to satisfy his debts.

 

In March 1901, Tesla obtained $150,000 ($4,517,400 in today’s dollars) from J. Pierpont Morgan in return for a 51% share of any generated wireless patents and began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, 100 miles (161 km) east of the city on the North Shore of Long Island.

Tesla Broadcast Tower 1904.jpeg

Tesla’s design for Wardenclyffe grew out of his experiments beginning in the early 1890s.

 

His primary goal in these experiments was to develop a new wireless power transmission system.

 

He discarded the idea of using the newly discovered Hertzian (radio) waves, detected in 1888 by German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz since Tesla doubted they existed and basic physics told him, and most other scientists from that period, that they would only travel in straight lines the way visible light did, meaning they would travel straight out into space becoming “hopelessly lost“.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

Above: Heinrich Hertz (1857 – 1894)

 

In laboratory work and later large scale experiments at Colorado Springs in 1899, Tesla developed his own ideas on how a worldwide wireless system would work.

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He theorized from these experiments that if he injected electric current into the Earth at just the right frequency he could harness what he believed was the planet’s own electrical charge and cause it to resonate at a frequency that would be amplified in “standing waves” that could be tapped anywhere on the planet to run devices or, through modulation, carry a signal.

His system was based more on 19th century ideas of electrical conduction and telegraphy instead of the newer theories of air-borne electromagnetic waves, with an electrical charge being conducted through the ground and being returned through the air.

 

Tesla’s design used a concept of a charged conductive upper layer in the atmosphere, a theory dating back to an 1872 idea for a proposed wireless power system by Mahlon Loomis.

MahlonLoomisExLibCongress.jpg

Above: Mahlon Loomis (1826 – 1886)

 

Tesla not only believed that he could use this layer as his return path in his electrical conduction system, but that the power flowing through it would make it glow, providing night time lighting for cities and shipping lanes.

 

In a February 1901 Collier’s Weekly article titled “Talking With Planets” Tesla described his “system of energy transmission and of telegraphy without the use of wires” as “using the Earth itself as the medium for conducting the currents, thus dispensing with wires and all other artificial conductors … a machine which, to explain its operation in plain language, resembled a pump in its action, drawing electricity from the Earth and driving it back into the same at an enormous rate, thus creating ripples or disturbances which, spreading through the Earth as through a wire, could be detected at great distances by carefully attuned receiving circuits.

In this manner I was able to transmit to a distance, not only feeble effects for the purposes of signaling, but considerable amounts of energy, and later discoveries I made convinced me that I shall ultimately succeed in conveying power without wires, for industrial purposes, with high economy, and to any distance, however great.

 

Although Tesla demonstrated wireless power transmission at Colorado Springs, lighting electric lights mounted outside the building where he had his large experimental coil, he did not scientifically test his theories.

He believed he had achieved Earth resonance which, according to his theory, would work at any distance.

Tesla began working on his wireless station immediately.

 

As soon as the contract was signed with Morgan in March 1901 he placed an order for generators and transformers with the Westinghouse Electric Company.

Westinghouse Design Mark

 

Tesla’s plans changed radically after he read a June 1901 Electrical Review article by Marconi entitled SYNTONIC WIRELESS TELEGRAPH.

At this point Marconi was transmitting radio signals beyond the range most physicists thought possible (over the horizon) and the description of the Italian inventor’s use of a “Tesla coil” “connected to the Earth” led Tesla to believe Marconi was copying his earth resonance system to do it.

Tesla, believing a small pilot system capable of sending Morse code yacht race results to Morgan in Europe would not be able to capture the attention of potential investors, decided to scale up his designs with a much more powerful transmitter, incorporating his ideas of advanced telephone and Image transmission as well as his ideas of wireless power delivery.

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Above: J.P. Morgan (1837 – 1913)

 

In July 1901 Tesla informed Morgan of his planned changes to the project and the need for much more money to build it.

He explained the more grandiose plan as a way to leap ahead of competitors and secure much larger profits on the investment.

With Tesla basically proposing a breach of contract, Morgan refused to lend additional funds and demanded an account of money already spent.

Tesla would claim a few years later that funds were also running short because of Morgan’s role in triggering the stock market panic of 1901, making everything Tesla had to buy much more expensive.

Despite Morgan stating no additional funds would be supplied, Tesla continued on with the project.

 

He explored the idea of building several small towers or a tower 300 feet and even 600 feet tall in order to transmit the type of low-frequency long waves that Tesla thought were needed to resonate the Earth.

 

His friend, architect Stanford White, who was working on designing structures for the project, calculated that a 600-foot tower would cost $450,000 and the idea had to be scrapped.

Stanford White by George Cox ca. 1892.jpg

Above: Stanford White (1853 – 1906)

 

By July 1901, Tesla had expanded his plans to build a more powerful transmitter to leap ahead of Marconi’s radio based system, which Tesla thought was a copy of his own system.

He approached Morgan to ask for more money to build the larger system but Morgan refused to supply any further funds.

A month after Marconi’s success, Tesla tried to get Morgan to back an even larger plan to transmit messages and power by controlling “vibrations throughout the globe“.

Over the next five years, Tesla wrote more than 50 letters to Morgan, pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of Wardenclyffe.

 

Tesla continued the project for another nine months into 1902.

The tower was erected to its full 187 feet (57 m).

In June 1902, Tesla moved his lab operations from Houston Street to Wardenclyffe.

 

In 1906 the financial problems and other events may have led to a nervous breakdown on Tesla’s part.

 

The mentally unstable multimillionaire Harry Kendall Thaw shot and killed the prominent architect and New York socialite Stanford White in front of hundreds of witnesses at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden on the evening of 25 June 1906, leading to what the press would call the “Trial of the Century“.

During the trial, Nesbit testified that five years earlier, when she was a stage performer at the age of 15 or 16, she had attracted the attention of White, who first gained her and her mother’s trust, then sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious, and then had a subsequent romantic and sexual relationship with her that continued for some period of time

Above: Evelyn Nesbit (1884 – 1967)

 

In October, long time investor William Rankine died of a heart attack.

 

Things were so bad by the fall of that year George Scherff, Tesla’s chief manager who had been supervising Wardenclyffe, had to leave to find other employment.

The people living around Wardenclyffe noticed the Tesla plant seemed to have been abandoned without notice.

 

In 1904 Tesla took out a mortgage on the Wardenclyffe property with George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, to cover Tesla’s living expenses at the hotel.

George Charles Boldt, Sr. (1851-1916) portrait.jpg

Above: George Boldt (1851 – 1916)

 

In 1908 Tesla procured a second mortgage from Boldt to further cover expenses.

The facility was partially abandoned around 1911, and the tower structure deteriorated.

Between 1912 and 1915, Tesla’s finances unraveled, and when the funders wanted to know how they were going to recapture their investments, Tesla was unable to give satisfactory answers.

 

The 1 March 1916 edition of the publication Export American Industries ran a story titled “Tesla’s Million Dollar Folly” describing the abandoned Wardenclyffe site:

There everything seemed left as for a day — chairs, desks, and papers in businesslike array.

The great wheels seemed only awaiting Monday life.

But the magic word has not been spoken, and the spell still rests on the great plant.

 

Investors on Wall Street were putting their money into Marconi’s system, and some in the press began turning against Tesla’s project, claiming it was a hoax.

The project came to a halt in 1905.

 

Tesla mortgaged the Wardenclyffe property to cover his debts at the Waldorf-Astoria, which eventually mounted to $20,000 ($500,300 in today’s dollars).

He lost the property in foreclosure in 1915 and by mid-1917 the facility’s main building was breached and vandalized.

In 1917 the Tower was demolished by the new owner to make the land a more viable real estate asset.

Meanwhile….

Gernsback was an entrepreneur in the electronics industry, importing radio parts from Europe to the United States and helping to popularize amateur “wireless“.

In April 1908, he founded Modern Electrics, the world’s first magazine about both electronics and radio (“wireless“).

Modern Electrics 1910 06.jpg

While the cover of the magazine itself states it was a catalog, most historians note that it contained articles, features and plotlines, qualifying it as a magazine.

Under its auspices, in January 1909, Gernsback founded the Wireless Association of America, which had 10,000 members within a year.

In 1912, Gernsback said that he estimated 400,000 people in the US were involved in amateur radio.

In 1913, he founded a similiar magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, which became Science and Invention in 1920.

It was in these magazines he began including scientific fiction stories alongside science journalism – including his own novel Ralph 124c 41+ which he ran for 12 months in Modern Electrics.

ModernElectrics1912-02.jpg

By playing a key role in the wireless industry, Gernsback secured a position and a significant influence on the adoption of new legal regulations.

At the same time, aware of the low level of education of radio amateurs, he founded several magazines covering radio and later also television.

It is widely believed that the term television appeared for the first time in the December 1909 issue of his Modern Electrics, in the article “Television and the Telephot“.

Gernsback began publishing articles with a futuristic view of scientific and technological developments very early.

When finishing the preparation of an issue of his magazine Modern Electrics in 1911, Gernsback discovered that some free space remained on one of the pages.

Since he was already used to writing his predictions for the future of radio and other technologies, which were well received by the readers, he decided to go one step further.

He wrote a short adventure story, focusing on the application of technology in the year 2660.

It was a spur of the moment thing that he wrote late at night in his office and the text was long enough to fit into the available space into the magazine.

The readers wanted to learn what happened next.

And so the next installment came about – 12 of them in total until the story was completed.

Encouraged by its popularity, Gernsback continued to publish this specific type of texts, which he called scientifiction, later to be known as science fiction.

As the publisher of successful magazines, Gernsback managed to draw the attention of leading scientists, including Tesla, Marconi, Fessenden, Edison and many others….

Above: Hugo Gernsback demonstrating his television goggles in 1963 for Life magazine

 

After Wardenclyffe closed, Tesla continued to write to Morgan.

After “the great man” died, Tesla wrote to Morgan’s son Jack, trying to get further funding for the project.

 

In 1906, Tesla opened offices at 165 Broadway in Manhattan, trying to raise further funds by developing and marketing his patents.

Image result for nikola tesla 165 broadway manhattan images

Above: City Investing Building, 165 Broadway, Manhattan

 

On his 50th birthday, in 1906, Tesla demonstrated a 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine.

 

During 1910–1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100–5,000 hp.

Tesla worked with several companies including the period 1919–1922 working in Milwaukee for Allis-Chalmers.

Allis-Chalmers logo.svg

He spent most of his time trying to perfect the Tesla turbine with Hans Dahlstrand, the head engineer at the company, but engineering difficulties meant it was never made into a practical device.

Tesla did license the idea to a precision instrument company and it found use in the form of luxury car speedometers and other instruments.

Tesla went on to have offices at the Metropolitan Life Tower from 1910 to 1914, rented for a few months at the Woolworth Building, moving out because he could not afford the rent, and then to office space at 8 West 40th Street from 1915 to 1925.

After moving to 8 West 40th Street, he was effectively bankrupt.

Tesla working in his office at 8 West 40th Street, New York City

Above: Tesla working in his office, 8 W. 40th Street, New York City

Most of his patents had run out and he was having trouble with the new inventions he was trying to develop.

 

By 1915, Tesla’s accumulated debt at the Waldorf-Astoria was around $20 thousand ($495 thousand in 2018 dollars).

When Tesla was unable to make any further payments on the mortgages, Boldt foreclosed on the Wardenclyffe property.

Boldt failed to find any use for the property and finally decided to demolish the tower for scrap.

On 4 July 1917 the Smiley Steel Company of New York began demolition of the tower by dynamiting it.

The tower was knocked on a tilt by the initial explosion but it took till September to totally demolish it.

The scrap value realized was $1,750.

 

Since this was during World War I a rumor spread, picked up by newspapers and other publications, that the tower was demolished on orders of the United States government with claims German spies were using it as a radio transmitter or observation post, or that it was being used as a landmark for German submarines.

Tesla was not pleased with what he saw as attacks on his patriotism via the rumors about Wardenclyffe, but since the original mortgages with Boldt as well as the foreclosure had been kept off the public record in order to hide his financial difficulties, Tesla was not able to reveal the real reason for the demolition.

George Boldt decided to make the property available for sale.

 

When World War I broke out, the British cut the transatlantic telegraph cable linking the US to Germany in order to control the flow of information between the two countries.

They also tried to shut off German wireless communication to and from the US by having the US Marconi Company sue the German radio company Telefunken for patent infringement.

Telefunken brought in the physicists Jonathan Zenneck and Karl Ferdinand Braun for their defense and hired Tesla as a witness for two years for $1,000 a month.

The case stalled and then went moot when the US entered the war against Germany in 1917.

In 1915, Tesla attempted to sue the Marconi Company for infringement of his wireless tuning patents.

Marconi’s initial radio patent had been awarded in the US in 1897, but his 1900 patent submission covering improvements to radio transmission had been rejected several times, before it was finally approved in 1904, on the grounds that it infringed on other existing patents including two 1897 Tesla wireless power tuning patents.

Tesla’s 1915 case went nowhere, but in a related case, where the Marconi Company tried to sue the US government over WWI patent infringements, a Supreme Court of the United States 1943 decision restored the prior patents of Oliver Lodge, John Stone and Tesla.

The court declared that their decision had no bearing on Marconi’s claim as the first to achieve radio transmission, just that since Marconi’s claim to certain patented improvements were questionable, the company could not claim infringement on those same patents.

 

On 6 November 1915, a Reuters news agency report from London had the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

However, on 15 November, a Reuters story from Stockholm stated the prize that year was being awarded to Sir William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg “for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.”

There were unsubstantiated rumors at the time that either Tesla or Edison had refused the prize.

The Nobel Foundation said:

Any rumor that a person has not been given a Nobel Prize because he has made known his intention to refuse the reward is ridiculous“.

A recipient could decline a Nobel Prize only after he is announced a winner.

There have been subsequent claims by Tesla biographers that Edison and Tesla were the original recipients and that neither was given the award because of their animosity toward each other, that each sought to minimize the other’s achievements and right to win the Award, that both refused ever to accept the award if the other received it first, that both rejected any possibility of sharing it, and even that a wealthy Edison refused it to keep Tesla from getting the $20,000 prize money.

In the years after these rumors, neither Tesla nor Edison won the prize (although Edison did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1915 and Tesla did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1937).

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

 

On 20 April 1922, Tesla lost an appeal of judgment on Boldt’s foreclosure of Wardenclyffe.

This effectively locked Tesla out of any future development of the facility.

 

Tesla attempted to market several devices based on the production of ozone.

These included his 1900 Tesla Ozone Company selling an 1896 patented device based on his Tesla coil, used to bubble ozone through different types of oils to make a therapeutic gel.

He also tried to develop a variation of this a few years later as a room sanitizer for hospitals.

 

Tesla theorized that the application of electricity to the brain enhanced intelligence.

In 1912, he crafted “a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity,” wiring the walls of a schoolroom and, “saturating the schoolroom with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency.

The whole room will thus, Mr. Tesla claims, be converted into a health-giving and stimulating electromagnetic field or ‘bath.'”

The plan was, at least provisionally, approved by then superintendent of New York City schools, William H. Maxwell.

 

Before World War I, Tesla sought overseas investors.

After the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries.

 

In the August 1917 edition of the magazine Electrical Experimenter, Tesla postulated that electricity could be used to locate submarines via using the reflection of an “electric ray” of “tremendous frequency,” with the signal being viewed on a fluorescent screen (a system that has been noted to have a superficial resemblance to modern radar).

Tesla was incorrect in his assumption that high frequency radio waves would penetrate water.

 

Émile Girardeau, who helped develop France’s first radar system in the 1930s, noted in 1953 that Tesla’s general speculation that a very strong high-frequency signal would be needed was correct.

Girardeau said:

Tesla was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly.

Emile Girardeau

Above: Émile Girardeau (1882 – 1970)

 

In 1928, Tesla received U.S. Patent 1,655,114, for a biplane capable of taking off vertically (VTOL aircraft) and then of being “gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices” in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane.

Tesla thought the plane would sell for less than $1,000, although the aircraft has been described as impractical.

Sea Harrier

Above: VTOL (vertical take-off/landing) Harrier

 

This would be his last patent and at this time Tesla closed his last office at 350 Madison Avenue, which he had moved into two years earlier.

Image result for nikola tesla 350 madison avenue nyc images

Above: Borden Building, 350 Madison Avenue, New York City

 

Since 1900, Tesla had been living at the Waldorf Astoria in New York running up a large bill.

Above: Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

 

In 1922, he moved to St. Regis Hotel and would follow a pattern from then on of moving to a new hotel every few years leaving behind unpaid bills.

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Above: St. Regis New York

 

Tesla would walk to the park every day to feed the pigeons.

He took to feeding them at the window of his hotel room and bringing the injured ones in to nurse back to health.

He said that he had been visited by a specific injured white pigeon daily.

Tesla spent over $2,000, including building a device that comfortably supported her so her bones could heal, to fix her broken wing and leg.

Tesla stated:

I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years.

But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings.

That one was different.

It was a female.

I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me.

I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.

As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.

 

 

Tesla’s unpaid bills, and complaints about the mess from his pigeon-feeding, forced him to leave the St. Regis in 1923, the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1930 and the Hotel Governor Clinton in 1934.

At one point, he also took rooms at the Hotel Marguery.

 

In 1934, Tesla moved to the Hotel New Yorker and Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying him $125 per month as well as paying his rent, expenses the company would pay for the rest of Tesla’s life.

NewYorker Hotel.JPG

Accounts of how this came about vary.

Several sources say Westinghouse was worried (or warned) about potential bad publicity surrounding the impoverished conditions under which their former star inventor was living.

The payment has been described as being couched as a “consulting fee” to get around Tesla’s aversion to accept charity, or according to one biographer as a type of unspecified settlement.

 

Tesla worked every day from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. or later, with dinner from exactly 8:10 p.m., at Delmonico’s restaurant and later the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Tesla would telephone his dinner order to the headwaiter, who also could be the only one to serve him.

The meal was required to be ready at eight o’clock …

He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations.

Tesla would then resume his work, often until 3:00 a.m.

 

For exercise, Tesla walked between 8 and 10 miles (13 and 16 km) per day.

He curled his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells.

Tesla became a vegetarian in his later years, living on only milk, bread, honey and vegetable juices.

 

Tesla read many works, memorizing complete books and supposedly possessed a photographic memory.

He was a polyglot, speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.

 

Tesla claimed never to sleep more than two hours per night.

However, he did admit to “dozing” from time to time “to recharge his batteries.”

On one occasion at his laboratory, Tesla worked for a period of 84 hours without rest.

Kenneth Swezey, a journalist whom Tesla had befriended, confirmed that Tesla rarely slept.

Swezey recalled one morning when Tesla called him at 3 a.m.:

I was sleeping in my room like one dead …

Suddenly, the telephone ring awakened me …

Tesla spoke animatedly, with pauses, as he worked out a problem, comparing one theory to another, commenting.

And when he felt he had arrived at the solution, he suddenly closed the telephone.”

 

Tesla was asocial and prone to seclude himself with his work.

However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of Tesla.

Writer Robert Underwood Johnson described him as attaining a “distinguished sweetness, sincerity, modesty, refinement, generosity, and force.”

Above: Robert Underwood Johnson (1853 – 1937)

 

His secretary, Dorothy Skerrit, wrote:

His genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul.”

 

Tesla’s friend, writer Julian Hawthorne, commented:

Seldom did one meet a scientist or engineer who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and drink.”

Julian Hawthorne

Above: Julian Hawthorne (1846 – 1934)

 

Tesla was a good friend of Francis Marion Crawford, Robert Underwood Johnson, Stanford White, Fritz Lowenstein, George Scherff and Kenneth Swezey.

 

In middle age, Tesla became a close friend of Mark Twain.

They spent a lot of time together in his lab and elsewhere.

Twain notably described Tesla’s induction motor invention as “the most valuable patent since the telephone.”

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

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

 

At a party thrown by actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1896, Tesla met Indian Hindu monk Vivekananda and the two talked about how the inventors ideas on energy seemed to match up with Vedantic cosmology.

Black and white image of an Indian man, facing left with his arms folded and wearing a turban

Above: Narendranath Datta (aka Swami Vivekananda)(1863 – 1902)

 

In the late 1920s, Tesla befriended George Sylvester Viereck, a poet, writer, mystic, and later, unfortunately, a Nazi propagandist.

Tesla occasionally attended dinner parties held by Viereck and his wife.

Portrait of Viereck, by Underwood & Underwood, 1922

Above: George Viereck (1884 – 1962)

 

Tesla could be harsh at times and openly expressed disgust for overweight people, such as when he fired a secretary because of her weight.

He was quick to criticize clothing.

On several occasions, Tesla directed a subordinate to go home and change her dress.

 

When Thomas Edison (b. 1847) died, in 1931, Tesla contributed the only negative opinion to The New York Times, buried in an extensive coverage of Edison’s life:

Thomas Edison2.jpg

He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene …

His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labor.

But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.

 

Tesla was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) tall and weighed 142 pounds (64 kg), with almost no weight variance from 1888 to about 1926.

His appearance was described by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane as “almost the tallest, almost the thinnest and certainly the most serious man who goes to Delmonico’s regularly“.

He was an elegant, stylish figure in New York City, meticulous in his grooming, clothing, and regimented in his daily activities, an appearance he maintained as to further his business relationships.

He was also described as having light eyes, “very big hands“, and “remarkably big” thumbs.

head-and-shoulder shot of slender man with dark hair and moustache, dark suit and white-collar shirt

Hugo Gernsback was literally spellbound with Tesla and believed that the ideas of the great inventor were the salvation for all of mankind.

This is how Gernsback describes Tesla in the February 1919 issue of Electrical Experimenter:

The door opens and out steps a tall figure – over six feet high – gaunt but erect.

It approaches slowly, stately.

You become conscious at once that you are face to face with a personality of a high order.

Nikola Tesla advances and shakes your hand with a powerful grip, surprising for a man over 60.

A winning smile from piercing light blue-gray eyes, set in extraordinarily deep sockets, fascinates you and makes you feel at once at home.

 

You are guided into an office immaculate in its orderliness.

Not a speck of dust is to be seen.

No papers litter the desk.

Everything just so.

It reflects the man himself, immaculate in attire, orderly and precise in his every movement.

Dressed in a dark frock coat, he is entirely devoid of all jewelry.

No ring, stickpin or even watch-chain can be seen.

 

Tesla speaks – a very high almost falsetto voice.

He speaks quickly and very convincingly.

It is the man’s voice chiefly which fascinates you.

As he speaks you find it difficult to take your eyes off his own.

Only when he speaks to others do you have a chance to study his head, predominant of which is a very high forehead with a bulge between his eyes – the neverfailing sign of an exceptional intelligence.

Then the long, well-shaped nose, proclaiming the scientist….

 

His only vice is his generosity.

The man who, by the ignorant onlooker has often been called an idle dreamer, has made over a million dollars out of his inventions – and spent them as quickly on new ones.

But Tesla is an idealist of the highest order and to such men money itself means but little.

My Inventions - The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.jpg

I wonder if Tesla felt the same towards Gernsback….

 

Gernsback was noted for sharp (and sometimes shady) business practices,and for paying his writers extremely low fees or not paying them at all.

H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as “Hugo the Rat“.

As Barry Malzberg has said:

Gernsback’s venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature

That the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field’s most prestigious award and who was the Guest of Honor at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established.

 

Nonetheless, Gernsback earned Tesla’s sympathy and Gernsback became an important publisher of Tesla’s articles in his many publications.

In the August 1917 Electrical Experimenter, under the title “Tesla’s Views on Electricity and the War“, Tesla made the first technical description of radar.

The author of the article (H. Winfield Secor, the magazine’s Associate Editor) explained to his readers that “Dr. Tesla had invented, among other things, an electric ray to destroy or detect submarines under water at a considerable distance.

Mr. Tesla very courteously granted the writer an interview and some of his ideas on electricity’s possible role in helping to end the Great War.”

Later that year, in addition to Tesla’s autobiographical serial My Inventions, the Electrical Experimenter also published a number of other Tesla-authorized articles with considerable regularity:

  • The Effect of Statics on Wireless Transmission
  • Famous Scientific Illusions
  • Tesla’s Egg of Columbus (or how Tesla performed the feat of Columbus without cracking the Egg)
  • The Moon’s Rotation
  • The True Wireless
  • Tesla’s Bulbs
  • Electrical Oscillators
  • Can Radio Ignite Balloons?(or the Opinions of Nikola Tesla and Other Radio Experts)

 

Tesla and Gernsback started correspondence with one another from the end of 1918 and throughout 1919.

Tesla could not fit himself into the strict deadlines presented to him by the rules of periodical press and wrote to Gernsback at the end of July 1919:

I think it well on this occasion to notify your readers, as a precaution, that I am not one of those who display the sign ‘Do it now.’ on their desks and office doors.

My motto is: ‘Do not do it now.  Think it over.‘ ”

 

Over the next several years, only a few letters were exchanged between Tesla and Gernsback, in which the famous publisher tried whatever he could to appease his most prominent writer and resume their cooperation, but as a reply received very cold letters, demonstrating Tesla’s injured pride and his objections to the egoism of the publisher.

In one of the last letters, Tesla wrote:

I appreciate your unusual intelligence and enterprise but the trouble with you seems to be that you are thinking only of H. Gernsback first of all, once more and then again.”

 

Tesla wrote a number of books and articles for magazines and journals.

Among his books are My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla and The Tesla Papers.

Many of Tesla’s writings are freely available online, including the article “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” published in The Century Magazine in 1900 and the article “Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency” published in his book Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla.

 

In 1931, Kenneth Swezey, a young writer who had been associated with Tesla for some time, organized a celebration for the inventor’s 75th birthday.

Tesla received congratulatory letters from more than 70 pioneers in science and engineering, including Albert Einstein, and he was also featured on the cover of Time magazine.

The cover caption “All the world’s his power house” noted his contribution to electrical power generation.

The party went so well that Tesla made it an annual event, an occasion where he would put out a large spread of food and drink (featuring dishes of his own creation) and invite the press to see his inventions and hear stories about past exploits, views on current events, or sometimes odd or baffling claims.

 

(“Tesla is very fussy and particular about his food:
He eats very little, but what he does eat must be of the very best.
And he knows, for outside of being a great Inventor in science he is an accomplished cook who has invented all sorts of savory dishes.
Hugo Gernsback, Electrical Experimenter, February 1919)

At the 1932 occasion, Tesla claimed he had invented a motor that would run on cosmic rays.

 

In 1933, at age 77, Tesla told reporters that, after thirty-five years of work, he was on the verge of producing proof of a new form of energy.

He claimed it was a theory of energy that was “violently opposed” to Einsteinian physics and could be tapped with an apparatus that would be cheap to run and last 500 years.

He also told reporters he was working on a way to transmit individualized private radio wavelengths, working on breakthroughs in metallurgy, and developing a way to photograph the retina to record thought.

At the 1934 party, Tesla told reporters he had designed a superweapon he claimed would end all war.

He would call it “teleforce“, but was usually referred to as his death ray.

Tesla described it as a defensive weapon that would be put up along the border of a country to be used against attacking ground-based infantry or aircraft.

Tesla never revealed detailed plans of how the weapon worked during his lifetime, but in 1984, they surfaced at the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade.

The treatise, The New Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media, described an open-ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that allows particles to exit, a method of charging slugs of tungsten or mercury to millions of volts, and directing them in streams (through electrostatic repulsion).

Tesla tried to interest the US War Department, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia in the device.

 

In 1935, at his 79th birthday party, Tesla covered many topics.

He claimed to have discovered the cosmic ray in 1896 and invented a way to produce direct current by induction, and made many claims about his mechanical oscillator.

Describing the device (which he expected would earn him $100 million within two years) he told reporters that a version of his oscillator had caused an earthquake in his 46 East Houston Street lab and neighboring streets in downtown New York City in 1898.

He went on to tell reporters his oscillator could destroy the Empire State Building with 5 lbs of air pressure.

Empire State Building (aerial view).jpg

 

He also explained a new technique he developed using his oscillators he called “Telegeodynamics“, using it to transmit vibrations into the ground that he claimed would work over any distance to be used for communication or locating underground mineral deposits.

 

At his 1937 celebration in the Grand Ballroom of Hotel New Yorker, Tesla received the “Order of the White Lion” from the Czechoslovakia ambassador and a medal from the Yugoslavian ambassador.

On questions concerning the death ray, Tesla stated:

But it is not an experiment …

I have built, demonstrated and used it.

Only a little time will pass before I can give it to the world.

 

In the fall of 1937, after midnight one night, Tesla left the Hotel New Yorker to make his regular commute to the cathedral and the library to feed the pigeons.

While crossing a street a couple of blocks from the hotel, Tesla was unable to dodge a moving taxicab and was thrown to the ground.

His back was severely wrenched and three of his ribs were broken in the accident.

The full extent of his injuries were never known.

Tesla refused to consult a doctor, an almost lifelong custom, and never fully recovered.

 

On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla died alone in Room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel.

Nikola Tesla’s Room 3327 at The New Yorker Hotel - September 2014

Above: Room 3327, New Yorker Hotel, Present day

 

His body was later found by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered Tesla’s room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier.

Assistant medical examiner H.W. Wembley examined the body and ruled that the cause of death had been coronary thrombosis.

 

Two days later the Federal Bureau of Investigation ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings.

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John G. Trump, a professor at MIT and a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was called in to analyze the Tesla items, which were being held in custody.

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Above: John G. Trump (1907 – 1985)(Donald’s paternal uncle)

After a three-day investigation, Trump’s report concluded that there was nothing which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:

Tesla’s thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power, but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.

In a box purported to contain a part of Tesla’s “death ray“, Trump found a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box.

 

At the request of Gernsback, on 9 January 1943, two days after Tesla’s death, a death mask of the inventor was made by F. Moynihan.

 

On 10 January 1943, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1882 – 1947) read a eulogy written by Slovene-American author Louis Adamic live over the WNYC radio while violin pieces “Ave Maria” and “Tamo daleko” were played in the background.

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On 12 January, two thousand people attended a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

After the funeral, Tesla’s body was taken to the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated.

 

The following day, a second service was conducted by prominent priests in the Trinity Chapel (today’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava) in New York City.

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Above: Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava, New York City

 

On the occasion of 100 years since Tesla’s birth, on 25 June 1956, the aforementioned death mask was placed on the business premises of Gernsback Publications in New York.

On a marble pedestal, in relief, were presented the symbols of Tesla’s greatest discoveries and ideas – the first induction motor, Tesla’s transformer, and the famous Wardenclyffe Tower at Long Island intended for the “World System” project….

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An astonishly accurate prediction of the electronic and wireless world we live in today.

The symbol of Tesla’s great and unfulfilled dream.

 

In Hugo Gernback’s honour, the Hugo Awards or “Hugos” are the annual achievement awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention, selected in a process that ends with vote by current Convention members.

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They originated and acquired the “Hugo” nickname during the 1950s and were formally defined as a convention responsibility under the name “Science Fiction Achievement Awards” early in the 1960s.

The nickname soon became almost universal and its use legally protected; “Hugo Award(s)” replaced the longer name in all official uses after the 1991 cycle.

In 1960 Gernsback received a special Hugo Award as “The Father of Magazine Science Fiction“.

Hugo Gernsback died at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City on 19 August 1967.

In late 2002 Gernsback Publications went out of business.

 

 

Tesla’s legacy has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games.

In Jim Jarmusek’s film Coffee and Cigarettes, Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil!

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Tesla features prominently in the movies The Prestige (David Bowie as Tesla) and The Current War, as well as in Family Guy‘s Season 9, Episode 15.

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Above: David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, The Prestige

 

Tesla appears in Ron Horsley’s and Ralph Vaughan’s re-imaginings of the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

 

In The Big Bang Theory, Tesla is referred to as “a poor man’s Sheldon Cooper“.

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In 2011, Sesame Street introduced the world to grumpy Professor “Nikola Messla“.

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The impact of the technologies invented or envisioned by Tesla is a recurring theme in several types of science fiction.

 

In science and engineering Tesla has given his name to the Tesla coil and the singing Tesla coil, Tesla’s Egg of Columbus, the Tesla Experimental Station, Tesla’s oscillator, the Tesla Principle, the Tesla Tower, the Tesla turbine, the Tesla unit and the Tesla valve.

Tesla is a 26-km wide crater on the far side of the Moon as well as a minor planet (2244 Tesla).

There is both the Nikola Tesla Award and the Nikola Tesla Satellite Award.

Tesla was an electrotechnical conglomerate in the former Czechoslovakia.

Tesla is an American electric car manufacturer, the Croatian affliliate of the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, a bank in Zagreb and two companies in the Serbian cities of Novi Sad and Plandiste.

His birthday (10 July) is celebrated every year in Croatia, in Vojvodina and in Niagara Falls.

Every year the annual Nikola Tesla Electric Vehicle Rally is held in Croatia.

In music, there is Tesla (US), Tesla Boy (Russia) and Tesla Coils (Australia) – all the names of band groups, while “Tesla Girls” is a song by the British pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) released in 1984.

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The groups They Might Be Giants released “Tesla“, The Handsome FamilyTesla’s Hotel Room” and the Polish band Silver Rocket‘s last album was named “Tesla“.

There is a Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, Washington.

Tesla is both an Airport and a Museum in Belgrade.

TPP Nikola Tesla is the largest power plant in Serbia.

And 128 streets in Croatia have been named after Nikola Tesla, making him the 8th most common street name in the country.

 

It took me a few hours, despite the Museum’s small size, for my eyes to absorb all that was revealed about Tesla here.

It has taken me months for my mind to absorb all that I have learned since my visit.

 

But of all of this I find myself drawn not to his inventions but to his character.

 

I walked away from the Museum that day, sat on a bench and watched a pigeon approach.

I thought of Tesla.

The pigeon and I looked at each other.

No words were needed.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions / Vladimir Dulovic, Serbia In Your Hands / Marija Stosic, Belgrade

Canada Slim and the Station Sanctuary

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 January 2018

Romance!“, the season tickets mourn,

He never ran to catch his train,

But passed with coach and guard and horn –

And left the local – late again!

Confound romance and all unseen

Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.

Rudyard Kipling, “The King

Kipling in 1895

Above: Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

 

Paul Theroux, in the first book of his I ever read, The Old Patagonian Express, once wrote that “travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography, the simplest sort of narrative, an explanation which is its own excuse for the gathering up and the going“.

That Theroux would say these things does not surprise me as it seems from a reading of his works (many of which I have tried to collect) that many, if not all, of his journeys were done alone on his own, without spouse or offspring to distract him from his observations of fellow travellers and the landscape around him.

 

Travelling with your spouse is not the same as travelling by your lonesome, for the necessity to communicate significantly with strangers is drastically diminished as your beloved is beside you.

She won’t casually allow me to vanish into the surroundings nor blend into a crowd anonymously, and simplicity in our narrative is rarely achieved, as marriages, blissful as they might be, are always accompanied with their own complexities of opinions and tangled desires.

To travel with another human being one must learn to negotiate and compromise in your travel decisions.

To suggest a destination one must be prepared to defend that choice of destination.

For example, in Porto during our last summer’s vacation, it was not sufficient to simply suggest walking the Ponte de Dom Luis I without waxing eloquently about the fantastic views yet to be seen over the Rio Douro.

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Speak not of the Porto stock exchange unless you mention the wonderfully ornate palace it once was.

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Don’t suggest the Livraria Lello without mentioning J.K. Rowling’s frequency within it.

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Much like the advice I have given my Cambridge Certificate test-takers in regards to the oral (speaking) component of the examinations….

It is not enough to voice an opinion.

You must give a reason for that opinion.

 

We found ourselves in another far-from-home point on the map, as couples often do, based on the opinions of her friends.

And, as all husbands learn through trial and error, time and experience, if the ideas of your wife are always right then the brainstorm of possibilities suggested by her gaggle of girlfriends that gather around her must certainly be right by sheer weight of numbers.

In this blog I wrote of flying to and arriving in Porto and of our visit to the Sé, the city’s largest cathedral.

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(Please see Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges.)

 

What is important for you to know before you read further is that we arrived at our B & B by taking a taxi from the Airport.

Though this little detail may seem innocuous and innocent at first glance it is vitally important to the tale that follows….

 

Porto, Portugal, 24 July 2018

The signs on the Avenida Dom Afonso Henriques did not speak to me.

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They were of local matters and were written in Portuguese so despite the size of the massive billboards that hugged the incline leading to Sao Bento I found myself inclined to ignore them.

Did I imagine our attending a concert here in two months’ time?

We had a week to spend in Porto and the region so there was no profit in pausing our progress in trying to decipher their messages.

As usual, in my rucksack I lugged a library with me: the Pocket Rough Guide to Porto, The Rough Guide to Portugal, Lonely Planet Portugal, A.H. de Oliveira Marques’ A Very Short History of Portugal, Matthew Hancock’s Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese and Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon.

I would later purchase and add to my burden Fernando Pessoa’s Mensagem (Message) and Livro do desassossego por Bernardo Soares (The Book of Disquiet) and Luís de Camoes’ Sonetos Amorosos (Love Sonnets).

 

It is a rare moment that a train station concourse is a tourist attraction in its own right, but the one at Sao Bento is one of the most beautiful in the world.

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But this was not always so.

 

Until the late 19th century there was the convent of the Benedictine nuns of Sao Bento de Ave Maria, built at the beginning of the 16th century, heavily destroyed in a fire in 1783 but fully restored by 1821.

In 1821 this convent was inhabited by 55 nuns, as well as by 105 members of staff (mostly personal maids).

The Catholic Church has long been the world’s largest Christian organization and has been Portugal’s largest religion since the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Roman Empire.

In 1834, Joaquim António de Aguiar (1792 – 1884) terminated the state sanction of religious orders and nationalized their lands and possessions.

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Later referred to as Mata-Frades (Killer of Brothers), Aguiar’s government took control of the convents, churches, manor homes and holdings of various institutes that had been sustained by donations of the religious faithful and placed them for sale.

Although they hoped to place land and goods in the hands of the more disadvantaged, most of the poor did not have the capital to purchase them.

In fact, total sales were ten times less than expected and most holdings were purchased by speculators or existing landowners.

Aguiar’s famous decree of 30 May 1834 ordered the immediate extinction of all male religious orders (and the confiscation of their property), the prohibition of new nuns to profess their vows and the extinction of the convents after the death of the last nun who lived there.

 

Female religious orders struggled a lot during those days, encapsulated in a time that no longer had space for them.

The convent of the Benedictine nuns of Sao Bento de Ave Maria was no exception.

It had to sell most of their precious silver service in the public square to face financial struggles.

The convent slowly fell apart.

The nuns were dying, one by one.

The last nun died in May 1892, more than 58 years after the dissolution decree.

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When the first steam locomotive reached Porto on 7 November 1896, goods still had to be transported by oxcart from the Campanha train station, 4 km away, over the hills to the city centre.

After 15 years of construction, by way of the demolition of the railway tunnel through the eastern hills and an elaborate interior design with 20,000 tiles, the station was finally inaugerated in 1916.

 

Today Sao Bento is the main terminus of Porto’s suburban railway lines and the western terminus for the scenic Douro line between Porto and Pocinho.

The Station also serves the Minho, Braga, Guimaraes, Caíde / Marco de Canaveses and Aveiro lines.

All trains leaving Sao Bento call at Campanha as their next station.

The Station is near the vintage tramline 22 and is connected to Sao Bento Metro Station on Metro line D.

most beautiful train station porto

 

Porto has some of Portugal’s best azulejos – decorative ceramic tiles – and you can see a variety of styles decorating houses, shops, monuments and churches all over the city.

The craft was brought over by the Moors in the 8th century.

Portuguese azulejos developed their own style around the mid-16th century when a new Italian technique enable images to be painted directly onto the clay, thanks to a tin oxide coating which prevented runnage.

Above: Adoration of the Magi, Museum of Azulejos, Lisbon

 

Wealthy Portuguese began to commission large azulejo panels displaying Vasco da Gama’s voyages to the East.

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Above: Vasco da Gama (1460 – 1524)

 

The early 18th century saw highly trained artists producing elaborate multicoloured ceramic mosaics, often with Rococo or Baroque themes as in the interior of the Sé.

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Above: Sé, Porto

 

After the Great Earthquake of 1 November 1755, more prosaic tiled facades, often with neoclassical designs, were considered good insulation devices, as well as protecting buildings from fire and rain.

After the mid-19th century, azulejos were being mass-produced to decorate shops and religious buildings, such as the fantastic interior of the Igreja de Carmo.

Above: Igreja de Carmo, Luanda, Angola

 

By the 1900s Portugal had become the world’s leading producer of azulejos, with Art Deco designs taking hold in the 1920s.

Witness the facade of the Pérola do Bolhao shop.

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Sao Bento station’s entrance hall represents a coming together of all the best the azulejos have to offer.

The Station was decorated by painter Jorge Colaco.

The first tiles were placed on 13 August 1905.

His tiles show various scenes from Portuguese history.

The towering, ornate ceilings, arched windows and impressive clock all give the appearance of a palace ballroom rather than a ticket hall.

The upper parts of the frieze are decorated with polychromatic azulejos depicting a chronology of the forms of transport used by man in Portugal.

The lower and upper frame of the frieze consists of a line of tile in blue, brown and yellow in a stylized geometric pattern.

Under this, on the top of the north wall, is a large composition that covers the entire wall, depicting the Battle of Valdevez (1140), with two groups of antagonists and other knights in the background.

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This monochromatic composition is executed in blue on white tiles, similar to all the other main azulejopaintings“.

Below the battle is another composition that represents the meeting between the Knight Egas Moniz and Alfonso VII of León in Toledo (12th century), offering his life, his wife and his sons during the siege of Guimaraes.

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In the south is a painting of the entrance to Porto of King John I and Philippa of Lancaster, on horseback, to celebrate their wedding (1387).

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Below that is the Conquest of Ceuta (1415) with the principal figure of Infante Dom Henrique who subjugated the Moors.

The wall into the Station is divided into multiple compositions.

To the left, a vision of the procession of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego, an exhaustive description and detail showing the multitudes within an urban setting.

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Under this composition are two panels that represent her “promise” on her knees and, the other, her actions at the “miraculous” fountain.

In the same detail is the pilgrimage of Sao Trocato to Guimaraes.

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The lower panels show a picture of a cattle fair and pilgrim camp.

The central panels of the wall represent four work scenes: the vineyards, the harvest, the wine shipment down the Rio Douro and work in the watermill.

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On the pilasters separating the vains with access to the street, below the polychromatic frieze, is a series of smaller compositions.

Above these are medallions depicting romantic scenes and, below, allegories associated with the railway referencing time and signalling, in an expression of Art Deco.

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As the wife and I take photograph after photograph after photograph of the Station, I find myself thinking many things.

 

Legend says that, in a stubborn but serene way, the ghost of the last nun of the former convent still walks the corridors of Sao Bento, and in the silence in the time between midnight and daybreak, one can hear her prayers.

But only the attuned and the attentive can hear the nun, just as only in the space between spaces, the silence between breaths, the magic of moments does Porto reveal herself to those who truly seek her.

 

I find myself feeling contradictory.

I do not believe in ghosts yet I believe in the spirit of a place.

I may not believe in God and yet I can sense when a place is sacred.

The Station is no longer a consecrated convent and yet it has never lost its divine power to move strangers within these walls.

 

I recall reading what Paul Theroux once said about a nation’s railways.

Years before, I had noticed how trains accurately represented the culture of a country:

The seedy distressed country has seedy distressed railway trains.

The proud efficient nation is similarly reflected in its rolling stock, as Japan is.

There is hope in India because the trains are considered vastly more important then the wagons some Indians drive.

Dining cars, I found, told the whole story (and if there were no dining cars the country was beneath consideration).

The noodle stall in the Malaysian Train, the borscht and bad manners in the Trans-Siberian, the kippers and fried bread on the Flying Scotsman.”

 

The Comboios de Portugal (CP)(Portuguese National Railways) operates all Portuguese trains, yet despite this journey being our third time in this country, I have no memory of taking a train when we visited the Algarve on our first adventure or when we remained in Lisbon on our second.

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For the most part the CP is an efficient network with modern rolling stock, but, as is often the case in Europe, rural train stations can sometimes be a long way away from the town or village they serve.

 

A casual Google search suggests that the Bard of Train Travel, Paul Theroux once stood in Sao Bento Station as we did.

But whether he took the famous Linha do Douro I do not know, but if his travel accounts are anything to go by Theroux would have been more interested in taking train journeys that crossed national borders and spanned continents rather than taking a Portuguese train of which most are designated Regionals (R) or Interregionals (I).

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In its heyday the Linha crossed the border to Spain bound for Salamanca and Madrid and sprouted some stunning valley branch lines but this is no longer so.

 

(The determined train traveller can cross into Spain via Valenca do Minho to the north, Vilar Formoso, Marvao-Beira or Caia to the east, or Vila Real de Santo António to the south.

Theroux’s travelogue The Pillars of Hercules, which is an account of his travels around the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Morocco travelling clockwise along the coasts, may have been prefaced by his travelling by train along the Portuguese coast through Porto and Lisbon, Tunes and Vila Real de Santo António to Seville then Ronda and Algeciras, then by bus to La Línea de la Concepción followed by a five-minute walk to the border of the British colony.

But this is simply conjecture on my part.)

 

Trains depart daily from Sao Bento along the Linha do Douro, reputed to be one of the most beautiful rail routes in Europe as it follows the course of the Rio Douro into the heart of the port wine-growing estates.

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(We would that week take the train and ride the rails of the Linha do Douro to Pocinho and return by boat back to Porto, but that is a tale best told at another time.)

 

But what Sao Bento represents is what impressed me most.

A centuries-old convent transformed into an azulejo-covered train station.

The mystery of faith transformed into the mystique of travel.

 

sao bento train station porto

Locals were astonishingly easy to distinguish from tourists, for the local does not look at the azulejos with any admiration for they are as much a part of Porto as a red fire hydrant is a normal fixture of a Manhattan street.

Almost invisible, inconsequential, something to be walked past as one shakes one’s head at the weird ones so fascinated by the mere commonplace.

For them Sao Bento is simply a station, a pit stop, a necessary go-through or starting point.

 

But to me, surrounded by tiled masterpieces of living history, Sao Bento is forbidden seduction.

You desire her but she is untouchable.

You want to linger but you know you cannot.

 

Beyond the doors the traffic never-ceasing reminds you of life beyond these walls.

From these platforms an escape from one’s cloistered existence beckons.

 

Photographs never capture the essence of a place just as words never fully describe the magic of women.

 

We cannot stay, for there is much yet to be seen, much life left to be lived.

A last lingering look in the dim hope of branding these images into one’s memory.

We know that we ourselves will leave no trace that we were here, for we are mere members of a multitude passing through.

For some reason Leonard Cohen croons his “Sisters of Mercy” song from the jukebox of my mind.

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Somehow this feels appropriate.

Oh, the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.

Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging. I think I can see how you’re pinned.
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

Well, they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them
They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn,
They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
Don’t turn on the lights. You can read their address by the moon.
And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night.
We weren’t lovers like that and besides, it would still be all right.
We weren’t lovers like that and besides, it would still be all right.”

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Pocket Rough Guide to Porto / Rough Guide Portugal / Lonely Planet Portugal / Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express / http://portoalities.com / http://www.visitportoandnorth.travel.com

 

 

Canada Slim and the Current War

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2018

(Continued from Canada Slim and the Visionary)

What has gone before….

I visited Serbia this past April and spent a few wonderful days exploring the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Flag of Serbia

Of the many wonders to explore and of the many things Belgrade and Serbia have to offer, one particular attraction that stands out is the Nikola Tesla Museum.

Nikola Tesla was a great Serb physicist and inventor who almost, but not quite, became an international household name.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

Many say that if it were not for occasional stubbornness and a poor sense of financial management, Tesla might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Despite a lack of international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero.

It is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

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In the first part of three (this is the second) I briefly spoke of Hugo Gernsback that made Tesla as famous as he did become and I spoke of his life before he left for the United States.

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967)

 

What follows is the sad story of a prisoner execution, a deadly blizzard and a very ugly battle between two business magnates with Tesla smack dab in the middle of it all….

 

But first….

Let there be light.

 

The first type of widely used electric light was the arc lamp.

These lamps had been around for most of the 19th century but by the late 1870s were beginning to be installed in cities in large scale systems powered by central generating plants.

Arc lighting systems were extremely brilliant and capable of lighting whole streets, factory yards, or the interior of large buildings.

They needed high voltages (above 3,000 volts) and some ran better on alternating current.

Alternating current had been under development for a while in Europe with contributions being made to the field by Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), the dynamo work of Zénobe Gramme, Ganz Works (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris.

The high voltages allowed a central generating station to supply a large area, up to 7-mile (11 km) long circuits since the capacity of a wire is proportional to the square of the current traveling on it, each doubling of the voltage allowed the same size cable to transmit the same amount of power four times the distance.

1880 saw the installation of large-scale arc lighting systems in several US cities including a central station set up by the Brush Electric Company in December 1880 to supply a 2-mile (3.2 km) length of Broadway in New York City with a 3,500–volt demonstration arc lighting system.

The disadvantages of arc lighting were:

It was maintenance intensive, buzzed, flickered, constituted a fire hazard, was really only suitable for outdoor lighting, and, at the high voltages used, was dangerous to work with.

 

In 1878 inventor Thomas Edison saw a market for a system that could bring electric lighting directly into a customer’s business or home, a niche not served by arc lighting systems.

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Above: Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)

 

By 1882 the investor-owned utility Edison Illuminating Company was established in New York City.

Edison designed his “utility” to compete with the then established gas lighting utilities, basing it on a relatively low 110 volt direct current supply to power a high resistance incandescent lamp he had invented for the system.

Edison direct current systems would be sold to cities throughout the United States, making it a standard with Edison controlling all technical development and holding all the key patents.

 

Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps, which were the principal load of the day.

Direct-current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation.

Direct-current generators could be easily paralleled, allowing economical operation by using smaller machines during periods of light load and improving reliability.

Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter worked only with direct current.

Direct current also worked well with electric motors, an advantage DC held throughout the 1880s.

The primary drawback with the Edison direct current system was that it ran at 110 volts from generation to its final destination giving it a relatively short useful transmission range:

To keep the size of the expensive copper conductors down generating plants had to be situated in the middle of population centers and could only supply customers less than a mile from the plant.

 

Starting in the 1880s, alternating current gained its key advantage over direct current with the development of functional transformers that allowed the voltage to be “stepped up” to much higher transmission voltages and then dropped down to a lower end user voltage for business and residential use.

Using induction coils to transfer power between electrical circuits had been around for 40 years with Pavel Yablochkov using them in his lighting system in 1876 and Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs using the principle to create a “step down” transformer in 1882, but the design was not very efficient.

A prototype of the high efficiency, closed core shunt connection transformer was made by the Hungarian “Z.B.D.” team (composed of Károly Zipernowsky, Ottó Bláthy and Miksa Déri) at Ganz Works in 1884.

Above: (left to right) Károly Zipernowsky, Otto Bláthy, Miksa Déri

The new Z.B.D. transformers were 3.4 times more efficient than the open core bipolar devices of Gaulard and Gibbs.

Transformers in use today are designed based on principles discovered by the three engineers.

Their patents included another major related innovation:

The use of parallel connected (as opposed to series connected) power distribution.

Ottó Bláthy also invented the first AC electricity meter.

The reliability of this type of AC technology received impetus after the Ganz Works electrified Rome, a large metropolis, in 1886.

 

In North America the inventor and entrepreneur George Westinghouse entered the electric lighting business in 1884 when he started to develop a DC system and hired William Stanley, Jr. to work on it.

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Above: George Westinghouse (1846 – 1914)

Westinghouse became aware of the new European transformer based AC systems in 1885 when he read about them in the UK technical journal Engineering.

He grasped that AC combined with transformers meant greater economies of scale could be achieved with large centralized power plants transmitting stepped up voltage very long distances to be used in arc lighting as well lower voltage home and commercial incandescent lighting supplied via a “step down” transformer at the other end.

Westinghouse saw a way to build a truly competitive system instead of simply building another barely competitive DC lighting system using patents just different enough to get around the Edison patents.

The Edison DC system of centralized DC plants with their short transmission range also meant there was a patchwork of un-supplied customers between Edison’s plants that Westinghouse could easily supply with AC power.

Westinghouse purchased the US patents rights to the Gaulard-Gibbs transformer and imported several of those as well as Siemens AC generators to begin experimenting with an AC-based lighting system in Pittsburgh.

 

William Stanley used the Gaulard-Gibbs design and designs from the ZBD transformer to develop the first practical transformer.

The Westinghouse Electric Company was formed at the beginning of 1886.

In March 1886 Stanley, with Westinghouse’s backing, installed the first multiple-voltage AC power system, a demonstration incandescent lighting system, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Expanded to the point where it could light 23 businesses along main street with very little power loss over 4000 feet, the system used transformers to step 500 AC volts at the street down to 100 volts to power incandescent lamps at each location.

By fall of 1886 Westinghouse, Stanley, and Oliver B. Shallenberger had built the first commercial AC power system in the US in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of 1887 Westinghouse had 68 alternating current power stations to Edison’s 121 DC-based stations.

Above: William Stanley (1858 – 1916)

 

To make matters worse for Edison, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts (another competitor offering AC- and DC-based systems) had built 22 power stations.

Thomson-Houston was expanding their business while trying to avoid patent conflicts with Westinghouse, arranging deals such as coming to agreements over lighting company territory, paying a royalty to use the Stanley AC transformer patent, and allowing Westinghouse to use their Sawyer-Man incandescent bulb patent.

 

Besides Thomson-Houston and Brush there were other competitors at the time included the United States Illuminating Company and the Waterhouse Electric Light Company.

 

All of the companies had their own electric power systems, arc lighting systems, and even incandescent lamp designs for domestic lighting, leading to constant lawsuits and patent battles between themselves and with Edison.

 

Elihu Thomson of Thomson-Houston was concerned about AC safety and put a great deal of effort into developing a lightning arrestor for high-tension power lines as well as a magnetic blowout switch that could shut the system down in a power surge, a safety feature the Westinghouse system did not have.

Thomson also worried what would happen with the equipment after they sold it, assuming customers would follow a risky practice of installing as many lights and generators as they could get away with.

He also thought the idea of using AC lighting in residential homes was too dangerous and had the company hold back on that type of installations until a safer transformer could be developed.

 

Due to the hazards presented by high voltage electrical lines most European cities and the city of Chicago in the US required them to be buried underground.

The City of New York did not require burying and had little in the way of regulation so by the end of 1887 the mishmash of overhead wires for telephone, telegraph, fire and burglar alarm systems in Manhattan were now mixed with haphazardly strung AC lighting system wires carrying up to 6000 volts.

Insulation on power lines was rudimentary, with one electrician referring to it as having as much value “as a molasses covered rag“, and exposure to the elements was eroding it over time.

A third of the wires were simply abandoned by defunct companies and slowly deteriorating, causing damage to, and shorting out the other lines.

In June 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States from Paris.

He arrived in America with four cents in his pocket (he had been robbed aboard ship), a book of poetry and a letter of recommendation.

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“I wish that I could put into words my first impressions of this country.

In the Arabian Tales I read how genii transported people into a land of dreams to live through delightful adventures.

My case was just the reverse.

What I had left was beautiful, artistic and fascinating in every way.

What I saw here was machined, rough and unattractive.

A burly policeman was twirling his stick which looked to me as big as a log.

I approached him politely with the request to direct me.

Six blocks down, then to the left.“, he said, with murder in his eyes.

Is this America?“, I asked myself in painful surprise.

It is a century behind Europe in civilization.

When I went abroad in 1889 – five years having elapsed since my arrival here – I became convinced that it was more than one hundred years AHEAD of Europe and nothing has happened to this day to change my opinion.”

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“The meeting with Edison was a memorable event in my life.

I was amazed at this wonderful man who, without early advantages and scientific training, had accomplished so much.

I had studied a dozen languages, delved in literature and art, and had spent my best years in libraries reading all sorts of stuff that fell into my Hands, from Newton’s Principia to the novels of Paul de Kock, and felt that most of my life had been squandered.

Portrait of man in black with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair, a large sharp nose, and a distracted gaze

Above: Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

But it did not take long before I recognized that it was the best thing I could have done.

Within a few weeks I had won Edison’s confidence and it came about this way:

The SS Oregon, the fastest passenger steamship at the time, had both of its lighting machines disabled and its sailing delayed.

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As the superstructure had been built after their installation it was impossible to remove them from the hold.

The predicament was a serious one and Edison was much annoyed.

In the evening I took the necessary instruments with me and went aboard the vessel where I stayed for the night.

The dynamos were in bad condition, having several short circuits and breaks, but with the assistance of the crew I succeeded in putting them in good shape.

At five o’clock in the morning, when passing along 5th Avenue on my way to the shop, I met Edison with Batchelor and a few others as they were returning home to retire.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

Here is our Parisian running around at night.“, he said.

When I told him that I was coming from the Oregon and had repaired both machines, he looked at me in silence and walked away without another word.

But when he had gone some distance I heard him remark:

Batchelor, this is a damn good man.

 

From that time on I had full freedom in directing the work.

 

For nearly a year my regular hours were from 10:30 am to 5 o’clock the next morning without a day’s exception.

 

Edison said to me:

I have had many hard-working assistants but you take the cake.

 

During this period I designed 24 different types of standard machines with short cores and of uniform pattern which replaced the old ones.”

(A few notes for those of an unscientific background:

Imagine a blanket that covers everything and stretches into infinity.

Imagine that this blanket consists of two types of energy: that which remains stationary (magnetic) and that which is constantly in motion (electrical).

Further imagine that within all matter there is, on the subatomic level, particles of a positive nature (protons) and a negative nature (electrons) and that they create fields that either attract or repel other particles towards or away from them.

This force’s presence and motions between these particles is manifested in current (how this flow varies over time) by either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).

Direct current means that there is a one-way flow from positive magnetic spot to negative magnetic spot.

Alternating current means that the current flow can reverse direction repeatedly.

Direct current means direct contact with a conductor, for example, a copper wire, but much energy is lost as heat due to wire resistance.

Alternating current means that the waves of electromagnetic radiation (manifested in the form of heat) rather than travelling through a wire will instead ride upon the surface of the wire.

Direct current motors sparked, needed constant replacements and servicing, and offered limited range.

But until Tesla no one had found an effective method to create an AC motor.)

 

Meanwhile, Hugo Gernsback (né Gernsbacher)(1884 – 1967) was born in Luxembourg Ville to Moritz Gernsbacher, a Jewish winemaker, and his wife Berta (née Dürlacher).

Flag of Luxembourg

Above: Flag of Luxembourg

 

Tesla began working almost immediately at the Machine Works on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in an overcrowded shop with a workforce of several hundred machinists, labourers, managing staff and 20 field engineers struggling with the task of building the largest electric utility in New York City.

As in Paris, Tesla was working on troubleshooting installations and improving generators.

Tesla met Thomas Alva Edison only a couple of times.

Edison called Tesla “the Poet of Science“, for both men had very different approaches.

Where Edison was a practical, mercantile, trial and error man, Nikola Tesla was a theoretical, well-educated business-naive visionary who never fully understood the American tendency to disbelief in science unless it was cloaked in the “show me” sensibility.

Tesla had been working at the Machine Works for a total of six months when he quit.

Tesla had made considerable improvements on DC dynamos, but when he approached Edison for the money he had been promised he was told:

Tesla, you don’t understand American humour.

head-and-shoulder shot of slender man with dark hair and moustache, dark suit and white-collar shirt

Above: Nikola Tesla

 

This caused Tesla to resign and to form his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing, but this came to nought as his investors pulled out over his plan for an alternating current motor.

Soon after leaving the Edison company, Tesla was working on patenting an arc lighting system.

Tesla worked for the rest of the year obtaining the patents that included an improved AC generator, but investors showed little interest in his ideas for new types of alternating current motors and electrical transmission equipment.

By 1886 the inventor was left penniless so he had to work at various electrical repair jobs and as a ditch digger.

 

In late 1886, Tesla met Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent, and New York attorney Charles F. Peck.

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The two men were experienced in setting up companies and promoting inventions and patents for financial gain.

Based on Tesla’s new ideas for electrical equipment, including a thermo-magnetic motor idea, they agreed to back the inventor financially and handle his patents.

Together they formed the Tesla Electric Company in April 1887, with an agreement that profits from generated patents would go 1/3 to Tesla, 1/3 to Peck and Brown, and 1/3 to fund development.

They set up a laboratory for Tesla at 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan, where he worked on improving and developing new types of electric motors, generators, and other devices.

 

In 1887, Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on AC, a power system format that was rapidly expanding in Europe and the United States because of the advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission.

The motor used polyphase current, which generated a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor.

This innovative electric motor had a simple self-starting design that avoided sparking and the high maintenance of constantly servicing and replacing mechanical brushes.

Along with getting Tesla’s motor patented, Peck and Brown arranged to get the motor publicized, starting with independent testing to verify that it was a functional improvement, followed by press releases sent to technical publications for articles to run concurrent with the issue of the patent.

Physicist William Arnold Anthony (who tested the motor) and Electrical World magazine editor Thomas Commerford Martin arranged for Tesla to demonstrate his AC motor on 16 May 1888 at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Engineers working for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company reported to George Westinghouse that Tesla had a viable AC motor and related power system – something Westinghouse needed for the alternating current system he was already marketing.

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Westinghouse decided that Tesla’s patent would probably control the market.

In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Tesla’s polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor.

Westinghouse also hired Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 ($54,500 in today’s dollars) per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Pittsburgh labs.

During that year, Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an alternating current system to power the city’s streetcars.

He found it a frustrating period because of conflicts with the other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power.

Between them, they settled on a 60-cycle AC system that Tesla proposed (to match the working frequency of Tesla’s motor), but they soon found that it would not work for streetcars, since Tesla’s induction motor could run only at a constant speed.

They ended up using a DC traction motor instead.

 

Tesla’s demonstration of his induction motor and Westinghouse’s subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, came at the time of extreme competition between electric companies.

The three big firms, Westinghouse, Edison, and Thompson-Houston, were trying to grow in a capital-intensive business while financially undercutting each other.

There was even a propaganda campaign going on with Edison Electric trying to claim their direct current system was better and safer than the Westinghouse alternating current system.

Competing in this market meant Westinghouse would not have the cash or engineering resources to develop Tesla’s motor and the related polyphase system right away.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 (11 – 14 March 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America.

The storm, referred to as the Great White Hurricane, paralyzed the East Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Maine, as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Snowfalls of 10 to 58 inches (25 to 147 cm) fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m).

Railroads were shut down, and people were confined to their houses for up to a week.

Railway and telegraph lines were disabled, and this provided the impetus to move these pieces of infrastructure underground.

Emergency services were also affected.

 

The Great Blizzard of 1888 tore down a large number of the lines, cutting off utilities in the city.

This spurred on the idea of having these lines moved underground but it was stopped by a court injunction obtained by Western Union.

Legislation to give all the utilities 90 days to move their lines into underground conduits supplied by the city was slowly making its way through the government but that was also being fought in court by the United States Illuminating Company, who claimed their AC lines were perfectly safe.

As AC systems continued to spread into territories covered by DC systems, with the companies seeming to impinge on Edison patents including incandescent lighting, things got worse for the company.

The price of copper was rising, adding to the expense of Edison’s low voltage DC system, which required much heavier copper wires than higher voltage AC systems.

Thomas Edison’s own colleagues and engineers were trying to get him to consider AC.

Edison’s sales force was continually losing bids in municipalities that opted for cheaper AC Systems and Edison Electric Illuminating Company president Edward Hibberd Johnson pointed out that if the company stuck with an all DC system it would not be able to do business in small towns and even mid-sized cities.

Edison Electric had a patent option on the ZBD transformer, and a confidential in-house report recommended that the company go AC, but Thomas Edison was against the idea.

 

After Westinghouse installed his first large scale system Edison wrote in a November 1886 private letter to Edward Johnson:

Just as certain as death Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size.

He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it working practically.

 

Edison seemed to hold a view that the very high voltage used in AC systems was too dangerous and that it would take many years to develop a safe and workable system.

Safety and avoiding the bad press of killing a customer had been one of the goals in designing his DC system and he worried that a death caused by a mis-installed AC system could hold back the use of electricity in general, Edison’s understanding of how AC systems worked seemed to be extensive.

He noted what he saw as inefficiencies and that, combined with the capital costs in trying to finance very large generating plants, led him to believe there would be very little cost savings in an AC venture.

Edison was also of the opinion that DC was a superior system (a fact that he was sure the public would come to recognize) and inferior AC technology was being used by other companies as a way to get around his DC patents.

 

In February 1888 Edison Electric president Edward Johnson published an 84-page pamphlet titled “A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Company” and sent it to newspapers and to companies that had purchased or were planning to purchase electrical equipment from Edison competitors, including Westinghouse and Thomson Houston, stating that the competitors were infringing on Edison’s incandescent light and other electrical patents.

It warned that purchasers could find themselves on the losing side of a court case if those patents were upheld.

The pamphlet also emphasized the safety and efficiency of direct current, with the claim DC had not caused a single death, and included newspaper stories of accidental electrocutions caused by alternating current.

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As arc lighting systems spread so did stories of how the high voltages involved were killing people, usually unwary linemen, a strange new phenomenon that seemed to instantaneously strike a victim dead.

One such story in 1881 of a drunken dock worker dying after he grabbed a large electric dynamo led Buffalo, New York, dentist Alfred P. Southwick to seek some application for the curious phenomenon.

He worked with local physician George E. Fell and the Buffalo ASPCA, electrocuting hundreds of stray dogs, to come up with a method to euthanize animals via electricity.

Southwick’s 1882 and 1883 articles on how electrocution could be a replacement for hanging, using a restraint similar to a dental chair (an electric chair) caught the attention of New York State politicians who, following a series of botched hangings, were desperately seeking an alternative.

An 1886 commission appointed by New York governor David B. Hill, which including Southwick, recommended in 1888 that executions be carried out by electricity using the electric chair.

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Above: William Kemmler (1860 – 1890), the world’s first person to be executed by electric chair (6 August 1890)

 

There were early indications that this new form of execution would become mixed up with the war of currents.

As part of their fact-finding, the commission sent out surveys to hundreds of experts on law and medicine, seeking their opinions, as well as contacting electrical experts, including Elihu Thomson and Thomas Edison.

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Above: Elihu Thomson (1853 – 1937)

 

In late 1887, when death penalty commission member Southwick contacted Edison, the inventor stated he was against capital punishment and wanted nothing to do with the matter.

After further prompting, Edison hit out at his chief electric power competitor, George Westinghouse, in what may have been the opening salvo in the war of currents, stating in a December 1887 letter to Southwick that it would be best to use current generated by “‘alternating machines,’ manufactured principally in this country by George Westinghouse“.

 

Soon after the execution by electricity bill passed in June 1888, Edison was asked by a New York government official what means would be the best way to implement the state’s new form of execution.

“Hire out your criminals as linemen to the New York electric lighting companies” was Edison’s tongue in cheek answer.

 

As the number of deaths attributed to high voltage lighting around the country continued to mount, a cluster of deaths in New York City in the spring of 1888 related to AC arc lighting set off a media frenzy against the “deadly arc-lighting currentand the seemingly callous lighting companies that used it.

These deaths included a 15-year-old boy killed on 15 April by a broken telegraph line that had energized with alternating current from a United States Illuminating Company line, a clerk killed two weeks later by an AC line, and a Brush Electric Company lineman killed in May by the AC line he was cutting.

The press in New York seemed to switch overnight from stories about electric lights vs gas lighting to “death by wire” incidents, with each new report seeming to fan public resentment against high voltage AC and the dangerously tangled overhead electrical wires in the city.

 

Tesla became a US citizen in 1889.

In 1889, Tesla moved out of the Liberty Street shop Peck and Brown had rented and for the next dozen years would work out of a series of workshop/laboratory spaces in Manhattan.

These included a lab at 175 Grand Street (1889–1892), the fourth floor of 33–35 South Fifth Avenue (1892–1895), and sixth and seventh floors of 46 & 48 East Houston Street (1895–1902).

Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, 1894

Above: Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) at Tesla’s 5th Avenue laboratory

 

Tesla and his hired staff would conduct some of his most significant work in these workshops.

 

In the summer of 1889, Tesla traveled to the Exposition Universelle in Paris and learned of Heinrich Hertz’s 1886–88 experiments that proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation, including radio waves.

Tesla found this new discovery “refreshing” and decided to explore it more fully.

In repeating, and then expanding on, these experiments, Tesla tried powering a Ruhmkorff coil with a high speed alternator he had been developing as part of an improved arc lighting system but found that the high frequency current overheated the iron core and melted the insulation between the primary and secondary windings in the coil.

To fix this problem Tesla came up with his Tesla coil with an air gap instead of insulating material between the primary and secondary windings and an iron core that could be moved to different positions in or out of the coil.

Two years after signing the Tesla contract, Westinghouse Electric was in trouble.

The near collapse of Barings Bank in London triggered the financial panic of 1890, causing investors to call in their loans to Westinghouse Electric.

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The sudden cash shortage forced the company to refinance its debts.

The new lenders demanded that Westinghouse cut back on what looked like excessive spending on acquisition of other companies, research, and patents, including the per motor royalty in the Tesla contract.

At that point, the Tesla induction motor had been unsuccessful and was stuck in development.

Westinghouse was paying a $15,000-a-year guaranteed royalty even though operating examples of the motor were rare and polyphase power systems needed to run it were even rarer.

 

After 1890, Tesla experimented with transmitting power by inductive and capacitive coupling using high AC voltages generated with his Tesla coil.

He attempted to develop a wireless lighting system based on near-field inductive and capacitive coupling and conducted a series of public demonstrations where he lit Geissler tubes and even incandescent light bulbs from across a stage.

He would spend most of the decade working on variations of this new form of lighting with the help of various investors but none of the ventures succeeded in making a commercial product out of his findings.

 

In 1891 Tesla established his own laboratory in Houston Street, where he lit up vacuum tubes as evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission.

 

In early 1891, George Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if he did not meet the demands of his lenders, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to “deal with the bankers” to try to collect future royalties.

The advantages of having Westinghouse continue to champion the motor probably seemed obvious to Tesla and he agreed to release the company from the royalty payment clause in the contract.

 

At the beginning of 1893, Westinghouse engineer Benjamin Lamme had made great progress developing an efficient version of Tesla’s induction motor and Westinghouse Electric started branding their complete polyphase AC system as the “Tesla Polyphase System“.

Westinghouse Electric asked Tesla to participate in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where the company had a large space in a building devoted to electrical exhibits.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin, 1893.jpg

Westinghouse Electric won the bid to light the Exposition with alternating current and it was a key event in the history of AC power, as the company demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated alternating current system.

 

Tesla showed a series of electrical effects related to alternating current as well as his wireless lighting system, using a demonstration he had previously performed throughout America and Europe.

These included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.

An observer noted:

“Within the room were suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil.

These were about fifteen feet apart and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers.

When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous.

These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, where they produced so much wonder and astonishment.”

 

Tesla also explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field in an induction motor by demonstrating how to make a copper egg stand on end, using a device that he constructed known as the Egg of Columbus and introduced his new steam powered oscillator AC generator.

The Egg of Columbus

 

At St. Louis’s Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the National Electric Light Association, Tesla told his audience that he was sure a system like his could eventually conduct “intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires” by conducting it through the Earth.

 

Edward Dean Adams, who headed up the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company, sought Tesla’s opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls.

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

Over several years, there had been a series of proposals and open competitions on how best to use power generated by the falls.

Among the systems proposed by several US and European companies were two-phase and three-phase AC, high-voltage DC and compressed air.

Adams pumped Tesla for information about the current state of all the competing systems.

Tesla advised Adams that a two-phased system would be the most reliable, and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two-phase alternating current.

The company awarded a contract to Westinghouse Electric for building a two-phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls, based on Tesla’s advice and Westinghouse’s demonstration at the Columbian Exposition that they could build a complete AC system.

At the same time, a further contract was awarded to General Electric to build the AC distribution system.

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In 1897 Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent for a lump sum payment of $216,000 as part of a patent-sharing agreement signed with General Electric (a company created from the 1892 merger of Edison and Thompson-Houston).

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The money Tesla made from licensing his AC patents made him independently wealthy and gave him the time and funds to pursue his own interests.

And it would be this pursuit of his own interests that would take a highly-respected engineer and, through Hugo Gernsback, make him into a legend….

Sources:  Wikipedia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

Canada Slim and the Body Snatchers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2018

I should be dead.

In fact, for at least a quarter of a century.

Back in Canada, I tried to chop a log.

The axe bounced off the log and sliced into my foot.

A mile in the bush limp, a drive home, a quick dash to the local hospital and an ambulance ride from there to the metropolis of Montréal, followed by surgery, hospitalization and convalescence….

And I am alive to tell the tale.

This injury, sadly, was the first of many unfortunate accidents I have had, transforming my body from a wonderland into a battlefield.

In earlier days, blood loss or infection might have ended my life, but I live, as many others live, longer and healthier.

We live in an age where the human anatomy has been mapped, where an abundance of drugs are available, where antiseptic conditions are par for the course in all medical institutions, where medical professionals are highly trained and qualified, where the deliverance of babies is no longer such a danger for infant or mother.

A time of liver and lung, uterus and penis, skull and scalp, arm and hand, face and heart, eye and hip replacements, appendectomies and mastectomies….

A time of virtual and remote, robot-assisted and laser-aided, plastic and emergency surgery….

Days of disinfectant, inoculation, anesthesia, x-rays, MRIs and ultrasound….

 

I take my survival for granted, confident in the advances available to me in case of injury or illness.

 

Sometimes it is good to visit places that remind one of how and why mankind has been able to survive the rigours and ravages inflicted upon the body.

Such a place is in London at a venue of body snatchers and “the fastest knife in the West End“.

The tale begins last fall and travels back in time.

Welcome….

25 October 2017

We spend 80% of our adult lives working, but, on average, 80% of workers often confess that they dislike the work that they do.

My wife is among the happy minority of those who do what they love and love what they do.

My wife is a doctor.

When we travel together it is not uncommon to find us visiting, among many, tourist attractions that are medically themed.

During our week in London we would visit at least three attractions of this nature.

 

(For other London attractions not medically themed, please see: Canada Slim and….

  • the Danger Zone
  • the Paddington Arrival
  • the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • the Outcast
  • the Wonders on the Wall
  • the Calculated Cathedral
  • the Right Man
  • the Queen’s Horsemen
  • the Royal Peculiar
  • the Uncertainty Principle
  • the Museum of Many

For medically themed London attractions, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Lamp Ladies
  • the Breviary of Bartholomew)

 

London has its fair share of quirkiness:

Near Wimbledon there is an authentic Buddhist temple that feels like it was discretely teleported directly from Thailand. (Buddhapadipa Temple)

One can climb a castle as if it were the rock face of Mount Everest or the Matterhorn. (Castle Climbing Centre)

Or visit a house lacking electricity and modern plumbing on a Monday night, Silent Night, candlelight tour. (Dennis Severs’ House)

Or tread softly in the necropolis that is Highgate Cemetery.

Come and watch people swing from the gallows. (London Dungeon)

Listen to Anne Boleyn plead her case just before her head is deftly separated from her soft narrow shoulders. (London Dungeon)

Walk by moonlight the Whitechapel backstreets as Jack the Ripper knew them. (London Dungeon)

London Dungeon Logo.jpg

 

We did none of these things, but this is not to suggest that our time was devoid of quirkiness….

 

Time is often not our friend when we travel, so we took the Tube to London Bridge Station instead of walking across the Thames River upon the London Bridge.

We would later sail underneath it but we denied ourselves the tactile experience of trodding upon it.

The River Thames is the longest river in England and the second longest in Britain (after the Severn) and is crossed by over 200 bridges, 27 tunnels, six public ferries, a cable car and a ford.

Thames map.png

Prior to the commencement of my relationship with my wife, I followed on foot the Thames from its source near Cirencester to Oxford.

I would, on visits to London, also spend time by its banks.

 

There has been a London Bridge spanning the Thames since AD 50 and it could be argued that without a London Bridge there might never have been a London.

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The first London Bridge was built by the Romans (“What have they ever done for us?“) as part of their road-building programme, to help consolidate their conquest.

This Bridge, and those London Bridge constructions that followed until 1209, was built of wood.

These timber crossings would fall into disrepair, be rebuilt and destroyed by both Saxons and Danes, be destroyed by the London tornado of 1091 and the fire of 1136.

The nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is connected to the Bridge’s historic collapses.

 

After the murder of friend/foe Thomas à Becket, the penitent King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge with a chapel in the centre dedicated to Becket as martyr.

Begun in 1176, London Bridge was completed in 1209 during the reign of King John.

The Old London Bridge (1209 – 1831) was 26 feet / 8 metres wide, 900 feet / 270 metres long, supported by 19 irregularly spaced arches.

It had a drawbridge to allow for the passage of tall ships and defensive gatehouses on both ends.

By 1358 it was already crowded with 138 shops.

The buildings on London Bridge were a major fire hazard and the increased load on the arches required their reconstruction over the centuries.

In 1212, fire broke out on both sides of the Bridge simultaneously trapping many people in the middle.

Houses on the Bridge were destroyed during Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt (1381) and Jack Cade’s Rebellion (1450).

By the time of the Tudors there were over 200 buildings on the Bridge, some seven stories high, some overhanging the river by seven feet, others overhanging the road forming a dark tunnel through which traffic had to pass.

Yet this did not prevent the addition, in 1577, of the palatial Nonsuch House to the buildings that crowded the span.

The available roadway was just 12 feet / 4 metres wide , divided into two lanes, so that in each direction, carts, wagons, coaches and pedestrians shared a single file lane 6 feet / 2 metres wide.

 

The bridge’s southern gatehouse became the scene of one of London’s most gruesome sights – a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes, dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements.

The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate in 1305, starting a tradition that was to continue for another 355 years.

 

(Keep this morbid tradition in mind while remembering that before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.)

 

Other famous heads on London Bridge pikes included Jack Cade (1450), Thomas More (1535), Bishop John Fisher (1535) and Thomas Cromwell (1540).

In 1598, a German visitor to London, Paul Hentzner, counted over 30 heads on the Bridge.

John Evelyn’s Diary noted that the practice stopped in 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II, but heads were reported at the site as late as 1772.

By 1722 congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the Bridge, and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the Bridge.”

This has been suggested as one possible origin for the practice of traffic in Britain driving on the left.

By 1762, all houses and shops on the Bridge had been demolished through an Act of Parliament.

Even so, the Bridge was narrow, decrepit and long past its useful life.

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The New London Bridge (1831 – 1967) was completed in 1831, and was 928 feet / 283 metres long and 49 feet / 15 metres wide.

By 1896 the Bridge was the busiest point in London and one of its most congested: 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour.

This Bridge is a prominent landmark in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland“, wherein he compares the shuffling commuters across London Bridge to the hellbound souls of Limbo, the first circle of Hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

Subsequent surveys showed that the Bridge was sinking an inch / 2.5 cm every eight years.

By 1924 the east side of the Bridge had sunk 4 inches / 9 cm lower than the west side.

The Bridge would have to be removed and replaced.

In 1967 the City of London placed the Bridge on the market.

 

On 18 April 1868, the Bridge was purchased by Missouri oil entrepreneur Robert McCullough for US $2,460,000.

As the Bridge was dismantled, each piece was meticulously numbered, then shipped via the Panama Canal to California and then trucked from Long Beach to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

This Bridge was rebuilt across the Bridgewater Channel canal and opened on 10 October 1971.

Gary Nunn’s song “London Homesick Blues” includes the lyrics:

Even London Bridge has fallen down and moved to Arizona.

Now I know why.

The modern, current London Bridge was opened on 17 March 1973, with a length of 928 feet / 283 metres.

 

Emerging from the London Bridge Tube Station I recall John Davidson’s poem “London Bridge” and think to myself that clearly Heathrow Airport hadn’t been built when he wrote it:

Inside the Station, everything’s so old,

So inconvenient, of such manifold

Perplexity, and, as a mole might see

So strictly what a Station shouldn’t be,

That no idea minifies the crude

And yet elaborate ineptitude.

The main line station is the oldest railway station in London fare zone 1 and one of the oldest in the world having opened on 14 December 1836.

It is one of two main line termini in London to the south of the River Thames (the other being Waterloo) and is the fourth-busiest station in London, handling over 50 million customers a year.

London Bridge tube stn Tooley Street entrance.JPG

 

In Tudor and Stuart London, the chief reason for crossing the Thames, to what is now Southwark, was to visit the disreputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear-baiting pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, Londoners have rediscovered the habit of heading to Southwark, thanks to the traffic-free riverside path and a wealth of top attractions, with the charge led by the mighty Tate Modern.

Of these attractions, the most educational and strangest is the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, at 9a St. Thomas Street.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum, St. Thomas St. - geograph.org.uk - 1073353.jpg

The operating theatre and garret (1822 – 1862) were originally part of St. Thomas Hospital, itself part of the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary Overie, founded in 1106.

The Priory, which stood on the present site of Southwark Cathedral, provided care for the poor and gave board and lodgings to pilgrims.

The “spital” of St. Mary Overie was named St. Thomas in 1173 in tribute to Thomas à Becket, the Christian martyr murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

When the Priory and the Hospital were destroyed by fire in 1212, the Bishop of Winchester, Pierre des Roches, paid for them to be rebuilt.

The new Hospital, independent of the Priory, was opened in 1215.

It continued to be staffed by monks and nuns, but surgical work was carried out by barbers since the Council of Tours (1163) had ordained that the shedding of blood was incompatible with holy office.

St. Thomas still provided hospitality for pilgrims.

 

Funds for the Hospital were largely provided by donations from individuals who believed giving to the poor would speed their spiritual journey to heaven.

One donation came from Alice de Bregerake who gifted her property in return for a yearly rent of one single rose.

 

(“There’s a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.“)

 

During the early 1500s, Southwark was a thriving community and St. Thomas was at its heart.

Within St. Thomas was the Southwark School of Glaziers, where the stained glass windows for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge were made.

In 1537, the first complete edition of the Holy Bible in English was completed here.

In January 1540 the Priory was dissolved by King Henry VIII, as part of his reforms of the church in England, and the Hospital closed.

In 1551 the Hospital was purchased and repaired by the City of London and two years later Henry’s son Edward VI awarded it a Royal Charter alongside four other London hospitals.

In 1681 fire led to the loss of 24 Hospital buildings.

By 1702 the main Hospital consisted of three grand classical courtyards.

 

In 1703, Dr. Richard Mead (1673 – 1754), one of London’s most famous physicians, was appointed to the Hospital staff.

At the time one of the most common ailments of St. Thomas in-patients, who were treated in the foul wards at the rear of the Hospital, was venereal disease.

Richard Mead 2.jpg

Above: Richard Mead

 

(Remember the aforementioned brothels?)

 

Mead’s recommended cure, aqua limacum (snail water), was included in the Pharmacopoeia Pauperum (a directory of medical treatments to be used in London hospitals) in 1718:

Take garden snails, cleansed and bruised, 6 gallons; earthworms, washed and bruised, 3 gallons; common wormwood, ground ivy and carduus, each one pound and half penny royal; juniper berries, fennel seeds, aniseeds, each half a pound; cloves and cubebs bruised, each 3 ounces; spirit of wine and spring water, of each 8 gallons.

Digest them together for the space of 24 hours and then draw it off in a common alembick.

This is admirably well contrived both for cheapness and efficacy.

It is as good a snail water as can be made….

Mostly given in consumption contracted for viscous practices and venereal contagions, this is the constant drink of those who are under the weakness and decays….

Grapevinesnail 01.jpg

Improvements to the facilities continued throughout the following 150 years.

 

St. Thomas’ Grand Committee Minutes of 21 October 1821 record that the women’s operating theatre be moved from the west end of one of the women’s wards and that “the herb garret over the church be fitted up and in future used as a theatre for such operations instead of the present theatre.

The new operating theatre opened in 1822.

 

John Flint South (1797 – 1882), the son of a Southwark druggist, began his medical training at St. Thomas in 1814.

He was appointed Conservator of the Hospital’s anatomy Museum in 1820 and was made Joint Lecturer in Anatomy in 1823.

In 1841 he was appointed surgeon at St. Thomas, a post he held until 1863.

He was also appointed surgeon to the Female Orphan Asylum in 1843.

South’s Career at St. Thomas spans the entire period of the Old Operating Theatre’s history and as such his memoir, John Flint South Memorials, published 20 years after his death, provides a remarkable insight into how the operating theatre functioned.

Above: John Flint South

 

The Murder Act of 1752 decreed that only executed murderers could be used for dissection, but this did not provide enough subjects for the medical and anatomical schools.

By the 19th century only about 56 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year, but with the expansion of medical schools as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually.

Body snatching – the secret removal of corpses from burial sites to sell them to medical schools – became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial and then keep watch after burial to stop it being violated.

Interfering with a grave was a misdemeanour, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than exile or execution.

The body snatching trade was a sufficiently lucrative business to run the risk of detection, particularly as the authorities ignored what they considered a necessary evil.

In Edinburgh, during 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare brought a new dimension to the trade of selling corpses “to the doctors” by murdering rather than grave robbing and supplying their victims’ fresh corpses for medical dissection.

The murders raised public awareness of the need for bodies for medical research and contributed to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy and required the licensing of anatomy teachers, effectively ending the body snatching trade.

 

When pioneering health reformer, Florence Nightingale, returned to London from the Crimean War in 1856 she set up a fund “to establish and control an institute for the training, sustenance and protection of nurses paid and unpaid.

The specialist training of nurses was not universally supported and many doctors viewed it as a threat to their authority.

The work left for nurses, it was believed, required little more than “on-the-job” training.

There were prejudices too against “delicate“, educated women undertaking manual work or having contact with the coarse realities of the hospital wards.

However, Nightingale was an influential and convincing advocate for reform.

The Nightingale Fund raised almost 50,000 pounds.

She chose to establish her School of Nursing at St. Thomas.

The two main deciding factors were Nightingale’s admiration for Sarah Wardroper, St. Thomas Matron and Superintendent of Nurses, and the fact that the Hospital would soon move to a new site where the School could be built to the latest, Nightingale-inspired plan.

The School of Nursing opened at the St. Thomas Southwark site on 24 June 1860 with 15 students.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

 

In June 1862, the Hospital moved to make way for a railway line to Charing Cross.

 

With the move, the operating theatre, situated in the attic of St. Thomas Church, was sealed up and lay in darkness for nearly a century.

After the Hospital closed the only access to the roof space of the Church was through an opening, 20 metres above floor level, in the north wall of the first floor chamber of the bell tower.

 

In 1956, Raymond Russell (1922 – 1964), while researching the history of St. Thomas decided to investigate the attic.

He found the garret in darkness, the skylight above the operating theatre had been replaced by slates and the other windows were black with a century of dirt.

Russell’s find was extraordinary:

No other early 19th century operating theatre in Europe has survived.

Image showing operating table and viewing galleries in the operating theatre

It is likely that the use of the garret of St. Thomas as a Hospital apothecary dates back to the present Church’s construction in 1703.

Hooks, ropes and nail holes in the roof and dried opium poppy heads discovered under the floorboards in the 1970s are all evidence of the garret’s former use.

Herbs have been used as medicine since ancient times and before the development of the chemical industry, medicinal compounds were made from natural materials, mostly plants.

Even today, the majority of medicines originate from plant sources.

At St. Thomas, quantities of herbs were purchased from a visiting “herb woman” and the Hospital had its own botanical garden and apothecary’s shop within its grounds.

The apothecary was the chief resident medical officer of the Hospital and was responsible for prescriptions for surgical cases and, in the absence of the physician, for dispensing medicine to all the Hospital’s patients.

In 1822 part of the Herb Garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre.

The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care if they could afford it.

Rich patients were treated and operated on at home, probably on the kitchen table, rather than in hospital.

The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women.

 

A description of the students packing the theatre to witness an operation has been left by Dr. South:

The operating theatre was of utterly inadequate size for the numbers of pupils who congregated….

The general arrangement of all the theatres was the same: a semicircular floor and rows of semicircular standings, rising above one another to the large skylight which lit the theatre.

On the floor the surgeon operating, with his dressers, other surgeons and apprentices and the visitors stood about the table, upon which the patient lay, so placed that the best possible view of what was going on was given to all present.

The floor was separated by a partition from the rising stand-places, the first two rows were occupied by the other dressers.

Behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a Barrel, but not so quiet, as those behind them were continually pressing on those before and were continually struggling to relieve themselves of it, and had not infrequently to be got out exhausted.

There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed.

I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate till it had been partially cleared.”

 

Patients put up with the audience in their distress because they received medical treatment from some of the best surgeons in the land, which they otherwise they could not afford.

The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to do internal operations.

The risk of death at the hands of a surgeon was likely, as there was a lack of understanding of the causes of infection.

Beneath the table was a sawdust box for collecting blood.

The death rate was further heightened by the shock of the operation and because operations took place as a last resort, patients tended to have few reserves of strength.

Until 1847, surgeons had no recourse to anaesthetics and depended on swift technique, the mental preparation of the patient, and alcohol or opiates to dull the patient’s senses.

 

(Dr. Robert Liston (1794 – 1847) was described as “the fastest knife in the West End. 

He could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes.

Indeed he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient.)

Portrait of Robert Liston painted in 1847 by Samuel John Stump

Above: Robert Liston

 

After 1847, ether or choloroform was used.

 

The small room at the side of the Theatre was used to spare the patient the sudden alarm of being brought straight into the Theatre full of students, with the operating table and instruments on view.

Soon after….another female was brought in blindfolded and placed on to the table for the purpose of undergoing an operation for the removal of the leg below the knee.

(The Lancet, October 1829)

 

These were the days before antisepsis (eliminating possible infection in the wound after the operation) or asepsis (avoiding any contamination from the start).

Unsterilized clothes were blood and pus stained while undisinfected hands used undisinfected instruments and sponges from previous operations.

In those days, “surgeons operated in blood-stiffened frock coats – the stiffer the coat, the prouder the busy surgeon“. (Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Holmes c. 1879

Above: American Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 – 1894)

 

There was no object in being clean.

Indeed cleanliness was out of place.

It was considered to be finicky and affected.

An executioner might as well manicure his nails before chopping off a head.” (Sir Frederick Treves)

Image-Fredericktreves.jpg

Above: Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923)

 

No one wore a face mask or rubber gloves.

There were no blood transfusions nor vaccines.

Neurosurgery, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery, transplant surgery, Caesarian sections and hip replacements were either unknown or too dangerous to attempt.

 

Charles Bell (1774 – 1842), in his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery (1821), describes the five most complex operations undertaken during the time of the Old Operating Theatre.

Below is a description of what the visitor would expect to see:

To one side a table with instruments, covered with a cloth to preserve the edges of the cutting instruments.

On it we expect to see:

  1. A large cushion with tenacula (sharp hooks), needles, pins and forceps.
  2. Ligatures (binding materials) of every variety, well arranged.
  3. Adhesive straps, well made and not requiring heating, but if they should, let chafing dishes be at hand.
  4. Lint, compresses, flannel and calico bandages, double and single headed rollers, tow, cereate spread on lint.  Let there be no want of sponges, so that when the surgeon calls for a sponge, you have not to seek it among the patient’s clothes.  When a sponge falls among the sand, let it be not necessary to touch the wound with it.
  5. Wine and water and hartshorn (ammonia solution used as smelling salts).
  6. A kettle of hot water, a stoup (flagon) of cold water, basins, bucket, plenty of towels, apron and sleeves.”

Photograph of Sir Charles Bell

Above: Scottish Dr. Charles Bell (1774 – 1842)

 

On the wall are two inscriptions:

 

Miseratione non Mercede (Latin for “For compassion, not for gain“)

 

The other sets out the Regulations for the Theatre as approved by the Hospital’s surgeons:

Apprentices and the dressers of the surgeon who operates are to stand around the table.

The dressers of the other surgeons are to occupy the three front rows.

The surgeon’s pupils are to take their places in the rows above.

Visitors are admitted by permission of the surgeon who operates.

 

The blackboard is a reminder of the Theatre’s use for lectures as a report in The Lancet of November 1923 records:

25 November 1923:  At half past one this day, the following clinical remarks were delivered by Mr. Travers, in the female operating theatre, in reference more particularly to the case of compound fracture….

 

The operating table is made of Scots pine, has four stout legs, and at 60 cm high is low by modern standards.

It has an inclined headboard and a long wooden slide extension at the foot end.

The table stands with the foot end towards the audience.

Beneath the table is the aforementioned wooden box of sawdust.

Distinguished visitors (generally foreign professors) were given seats on chairs, stools or a bench at the foot of the table.

The two small side tables held instruments and equipment.

The cupboard contained the instruments, dressing materials and lotions.

There is a wash stand, also of Scots pine, holding a small basin and ewer of blue and white china.

Above this is a tiny looking glass and a row of pegs from which hang the purple frock coats with grocer’s bib and apron.

A low sturdy wooden chair is used by the surgeon chiefly for cases of piles (hemorrhoids) and leg amputations.

 

The Museum also contains a collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science, including instruments for cupping (skin sunction), bloodletting, trepanning (drilling a circular hole in the skull) and childbirth.

There are also displays on monastic health care, the history of St. Thomas’s, Florence Nightingale and nursing, medical and herbal medicine.

 

Once upon a time body snatchers stole corpses so doctors could practice their skills and students learn anatomy.

Once upon a time doctors created more corpses and snatched lives from bodies than surviving patients.

Now doctors snatch many bodies from the jaws of death and generally make them whole.

 

Without Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Islamic medicine….

Without the trials and errors of dissection and pathological examinations….

Without the development of cell and neuron and molecular theory….

We would not have evolved to the discoveries and understanding of the body that we as a civilization now possess.

Without an understanding of blood circulation, the evolution of dealing with mental illness, the discovery of germs and the dangers of insects, the founding of the talking cures of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the study of hormones and immunology, the genetic revelation of genes and genomes, could we have a fighting chance in understanding health and disease in the manner that we do.

Without the stethoscope, the microscope, the hypodermic syringe, the thermometer, x-rays and radiotherapy, the sphygmomanometer (blood pressure measurement), the defibrillator, lasers, the endoscope, ultrasound and CT (computerized tomographic) scanning, MRI (magnetic resonance Imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), the incubator and medical robots, we would lack the tools that doctors need to heal us and prolong our lives.

Mankind has survived the plague, typhus, cholera, puerperal fever, tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, polio, cancer and AIDS, and thanks to great discoveries in medicine, though the battle against these scourges remains inconclusive, we still have a greater opportunity to overcome than prior generations had.

Opium provides pleasure and pain relief, quinine treats malaria, digitalis is a tonic for the heart, penicillin cures syphilis and gangrene, the birth control pill offers a woman freedom, drugs for the mind ease mental suffering, ventolin helps us breathe easier, Insulin aids the diabetic, dialysis cleans the kidney, statins lower our cholesterol and vitamins compensate for whatever our diets may lack.

Wounds are properly dressed, anaesthesia makes surgery painless, operations are clean, blood is transfused, exploration of the brain is possible, eyesight can be restored, mothers are less likely to die giving birth, hearts can be healed, organs transplanted, hips replaced and scars reduced by less invasive keyhole methods.

 

Truly, compared to the past, we live in an age of miracles.

 

Sometimes we take modern medicine for granted.

Stand in the middle of the Old Operating Theatre and be reminded how lucky we are to live in this day and age and how far we have travelled to get here.

Above: The Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and Medicine

Sources: Wikipedia / William and Helen Bynum, Great Discoveries in Medicine / The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret Museum Guide / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / http://www.thegarret.org.uk