Canada Slim and the Harry Potter Fado

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Friday 11 October 2019

As you read what follows….

Download a fado piece.

Portugal’s most famous musical form, fado (Portuguese for “fate“) is urban music, of night and bars, of a yearning that is beautiful and melancholic, accompanied by guitarra and viola.

 

Above: Fado, José Malhoa (1910)

 

To the south, fado is feminine.

But in the north, fado is a man’s music, full of lusty lyrics and soaring vocals, and usually the most memorable fado of all is performed by the least advertised, the most anonymous, performer of all, where one’s identity is overwhelmed by one’s soul.

Fado is to the Portuguese soul as rich, deep and satisfying as a cup of Portuguese coffee or a glass of Porto port.

Fado is played on the radio, on buses, in taxis, cafés and restaurants, on TV and drifting down darkened streets from shadowy clubs.

Fado is fate and how fate has foiled the lover in love and in life.

Fado is the homeland that is missed or the longing for a lover that has left.

To sing fado, the singer must become fadista with an attitude that cries out:

I am a pessimist, a nihilist and everything that fado demands from me is me.”

It is the mourning of a devil cast out of heaven, a broken heart beyond repair, a spirit beyond redemption….

 

 

What the hell was she thinking?

This is a question that American Catholic theologians are asking J.K. Rowling the creator of the Harry Potter franchise….

 

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Above: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC – the largest enclosed church building in the world

 

Religious debates over the Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling are based on claims that the novels contain occult or Satanic subtexts.

 

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A number of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have argued against the series, as have some Shia and Sunni Muslims.

 

Above: The Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia – the Muslim destination of pilgrimage

 

Supporters of the series have said that the magic in Harry Potter bears little resemblance to occultism, being more in the vein of fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White, or to the works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both of whom are known for writing fantasy novels with Christian subtexts.

Far from promoting a particular religion, some argue, the Harry Potter novels go out of their way to avoid discussing religion at all.

 

The Harry Potter logo first used for the American edition of the novel series (and some other editions worldwide), and then the film series.

 

However, the author of the series, J. K. Rowling, describes herself as a practising Christian, and many have noted the Christian references which she includes in the final novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

 

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In the United States, calls for the books to be banned from schools have led to legal challenges often on the grounds that witchcraft is a government-recognised religion and that to allow the books to be held in public schools violates the separation of church and state.

 

Flag of the United States

 

The Orthodox church of Bulgaria and a diocese of the Orthodox Church of Greece have also campaigned against the series, and some Catholic writers and officials have voiced a critical stance.

 

Church of St. George, Istanbul in 2010

Above: Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George, Istanbul (Constantinople)

 

The books have been banned from all schools in the United Arab Emirates.

 

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Above: Flag of the United Arab Emirates

 

Religious responses to Harry Potter have not all been negative.

Rowling notes:

At least as much as they’ve been attacked from a theological point of view the books have been lauded and taken into pulpit, and most interesting and satisfying for me, it’s been by several different faiths.

 

Rowling in April 2010

Above: J.K. Rowling, 2010

 

From The Times, 3 December 2018

The Harry Potter books gave birth to a global franchise, provided steady work to grateful British actors and created millions of new readers, convinced of the magical properties of a good book.

 

A large crowd of fans wait outside of a Borders store in Delaware, waiting for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Above: Crowd outside a bookshop awaiting the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

 

They also created a generation of Americans who are more likely to believe that they are possessed by the Devil, with Catholic priests reporting that they are overwhelmed with requests to perform exorcisms.

 

When I was appointed 13 years ago, I probably received maybe 100 inquiries a year.“, said Vincent Lampert, the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Now I receive about 1,700 inquiries a year.

He thinks the Harry Potter books and films, which spurred a broad interest in magic, are partly to blame.

Magic is the focus on the individual, rather than having to deal with God.“, he said.

It encouraged “the belief that somehow the power is within them.

Even within the world of exorcism, the premise would be that God is not a bystander.

God is the main actor.

Priests who conduct exorcisms say occult practices and symbols can serve as doorways for a demon.

The Harry Potter books “disarmed Americans from thinking that all magic is darkness“, one unnamed exorcist recently told The Atlantic magazine.

 

Above: St. Francis Borgia performing an exorcism, Goya

 

Adam Jortner, a historian of religion in American life at Auburn University, Alabama, said it was not the first time that members of the church had feared the influence of children’s books.

The church had a go at C.S. Lewis for the Narnia books, a powerful allegory of Christianity itself.“, he said.

 

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Jortner agreed that interest in the occult had grown.

Harry Potter is responsible for mainstreaming magic.“, he said.

Exorcism had a clear history within the church and it sought to treat magic with respect.

He added:

The Catholic church has some of the most stringent rules about exorcism in the world.

Most Catholic exorcists are required to go through this long list of things to ensure that it is not a neurological problem.

Father Lampert said that all who sought his help were required to undergo an assessment by a medical professional, which ended most applications….

 

Above: St. Francis exorcising the demons of Arezzo, Giotto

 

When I read an article like this I am shocked to find that this sort of folly is taken seriously.

Putting aside for the moment the question of the existence of God, for which the largest defence is that God’s non-existence cannot be proven, and grasping with the notion that God possesses a team (angels) to battle another team (demons) led by His most bitter opponent (the Devil), then to further suggest that demons possess people….

This pushes rational credibility.

 

 

But then to blame the author of a series of children’s books for the rise in exorcism applications is utter poppycock in my opinion.

 

To play the Catholic advocate for a moment it can certainly be argued that children are gullible, easily influenced and misled.

But it insults the intelligence of our young people to suggest that they cannot discern the difference between a clever storyline and reality.

 

Could they believe in magic?

Sure, for there is much about existence that is difficult to explain.

But it stretches my incredulity that children, those poor deluded Muggles, would assume from a story that they too possess magical powers as the alumni and staff of Hogwarts do.

 

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Above: Model of Hogwarts, Warner Bros. Studio, Leavesden, England

 

Nonetheless, let us humour these men of the cloth for a moment….

Let us imagine (if that is even possible) that Harry Potter leads to the need for exorcism.

Over the years, some religious people, particularly Christians, have decried Rowling’s books for supposedly promoting witchcraft.

 

Rowling identifies as a Christian.

She once said:

I believe in God, not magic.

 

Early on, she felt that if readers knew of her Christian beliefs they would be able to predict plot lines of characters in her books.

In 2007, Rowling said she was the only one in her family who went regularly to church.

She was an adherent of the Church of England.

 

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As a student she became annoyed at the “smugness of religious people” and attended less often.

Later, she started to attend a Church of Scotland congregation at the time she was writing Harry Potter.

Her eldest daughter, Jessica, was baptised there.

 

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Above: Logo of the Church of Scotland

 

In a 2006 interview with Tatler magazine, Rowling noted:

Like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes about if my faith will return.

It’s important to me.”

 

Greene in 1939

Above: Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)

 

She has said that she has struggled with doubt, that she believes in an afterlife and that her faith plays a part in her books.

In a 2012 radio interview, she said that she was a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a province of the Anglican Communion.

 

In 2015, following the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland, Rowling joked that if Ireland legalised same-sex marriage, Dumbledore (Headmaster of Hogwarts) and Gandalf (of the Lord of the Rings series) could get married there.

 

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Above: Flag of the Republic of Ireland

 

The Westboro Baptist Church, in response, stated that if the two got married, they would picket.

Rowling responded:

Alas, the sheer awesomeness of such a union in such a place would blow your tiny bigoted minds out of your thick sloping skulls.

 

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Above: Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas

 

Is Rowling then guilty of intellectual or spiritual manslaughter by unintentionally killing children’s beliefs in God?

Or taking the concept to its ultimate crazy extreme….

Was this death of the divine within our children pre-meditated by Ms. Rowling?

Is she guilty of spiritual murder?

 

To answer this question with any certainty we must ask ourselves how and why did Rowling write the Harry Potter series.

To answer this question, come with me, back in time, both in Rowling’s past and my own….

 

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Joanne Rowling (born 31 July 1965), better known by her pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author, film producer, television producer, screenwriter, and philanthropist.

 

Above: J.K. Rowling, 1999

 

She is best known for writing the Harry Potter fantasy series, which has won multiple awards and sold more than 500 million copies, becoming the best-selling book series in history.

The books are the basis of a popular film series, over which Rowling had overall approval on the scripts and was a producer on the final films.

 

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She also writes crime fiction under the name Robert Galbraith.

 

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Born in Yate, Gloucestershire, Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.

 

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The seven-year period that followed saw the death of her mother, birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband, and relative poverty until the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover.jpg

 

There were six sequels, of which the last, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007.

 

Since then, Rowling has written five books for adult readers: The Casual Vacancy (2012) and—under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith—the crime fiction Cormoran Strike series, which consists of The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), The Silkworm (2014), Career of Evil (2015), and Lethal White (2018).

 

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Rowling has lived a “rags to riches” life in which she progressed from living on benefits to being the world’s first billionaire author.

She lost her billionaire status after giving away much of her earnings to charity but remains one of the wealthiest people in the world.

She is the UK’s best-selling living author, with sales in excess of £238 million.

The 2016 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £600 million, ranking her as the joint 197th richest person in the UK.

Time named her a runner-up for its 2007 Person of the Year, noting the social, moral and political inspiration she has given her fans.

In October 2010, Rowling was named the “Most Influential Woman in Britain” by leading magazine editors.

She has supported multiple charities, including Comic Relief, One Parent Families, and Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain, as well as launching her own charity, Lumos.

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Joanne Rowling was born in Yate, Gloucestershire, the daughter of science technician Anne (née Volant) and Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer Peter James Rowling.

 

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Above: View of Yate, Gloucestershire, England

 

Her parents first met on a train departing from King’s Cross Station bound for Arbroath in 1964.

They married on 14 March 1965.

 

A platform on the London Underground.

 

One of Rowling’s maternal great-grandfathers, Dugald Campbell, was a Scottish man from Lamlash.

 

Her mother’s French paternal grandfather, Louis Volant, was awarded the War Cross for exceptional bravery in defending the village of Courcelles-le-Comte during World War I.

Rowling originally believed Volant had won the Legion of Honour during the war, as she said when she received it herself in 2009.

She later discovered the truth when featured in an episode of the UK genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? in which she found out it was a different Louis Volant who won the Legion of Honour.

When she heard her grandfather’s story of bravery and discovered that the War Cross was for “ordinary” soldiers like her grandfather, who had been a waiter, she stated the War Cross was “better” to her than the Legion of Honour.

 

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Rowling’s sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old.

The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four.

As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories which she frequently read to her sister.

 

Above: Duck pond, Winterbourne, Gloucestershire

 

Aged nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales.

 

Above: Church Cottage, Tutshill, Gloucestershire

 

When she was a young teenager, her great-aunt gave her a copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, Hons and Rebels.

Mitford became Rowling’s heroine and Rowling read all of her books.

 

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Rowling has said that her teenage years were unhappy.

Her home life was complicated by her mother’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and a strained relationship with her father, with whom she is not on speaking terms.

Rowling later said that she based the character of Hermione Granger on herself when she was eleven.

 

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Above: Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, poster for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

 

Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth, owned a turquoise Ford Anglia which she says inspired a flying version that appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

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Like many teenagers, she became interested in rock music, listening to the Clash, the Smiths and Siouxsie Sioux, adopting the look of the latter with back-combed hair and black eyeliner, a look that she would still sport when beginning university.

 

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Above: Siouxsie Sioux, 1980

 

As a child, Rowling attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More.

Her headmaster at St Michael’s, Alfred Dunn, has been suggested as the inspiration for the Harry Potter headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

 

Above: Richard Harris (1930 – 2002) as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

 

She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother worked in the science department.

Steve Eddy, her first secondary school English teacher, remembers her as “not exceptional” but “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English“.

Rowling took A-levels in English, French and German, achieving two As and a B, and was Head Girl.

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Above: Logo of Wyeburn School, Sedbury, Gloucestershire

 

In 1982, Rowling took the entrance exams for Oxford University but was not accepted and earned a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter.

Martin Sorrell, a French professor at Exeter, remembers “a quietly competent student, with a denim jacket and dark hair, who, in academic terms, gave the appearance of doing what was necessary“.

Rowling recalls doing little work, preferring to read Dickens and Tolkien.

After a year of study in Paris, Rowling graduated from Exeter in 1986.

In 1988, Rowling wrote a short essay about her time studying Classics titled “What was the Name of that Nymph Again? or Greek and Roman Studies Recalled“.

It was published by the University of Exeter’s journal Pegasus.

 

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Above: Crest of the University of Exeter

 

After working as a researcher and bilingual secretary in London for Amnesty International, Rowling moved with her then boyfriend to Manchester, where she worked at the Chamber of Commerce.

 

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In 1990, while she was on a four-hour-delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry “came fully formed” into her mind.

When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately.

 

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Above: Clapham Junction Railway Station

 

In December, Rowling’s mother, Anne, died after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Rowling was writing Harry Potter at the time and had never told her mother about it.

Her mother’s death heavily affected Rowling’s writing and she channelled her own feelings of loss by writing about Harry’s own feelings of loss in greater detail in the first book.

 

An advertisement in The Guardian led Rowling to move to Porto, Portugal, to teach English as a foreign language.

JK Rowling moved to Porto in 1991.

 

A panned out image of city buildings.

Above: Porto

 

This was a difficult time in her life, as her mother had recently passed away after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

And to rub salt in the wound, her house in Manchester had been burgled, and everything her mother had left her was stolen.

 

Eager for a change of scenery, she accepted a job teaching English as a second language in Porto at a private language school on Avenida de Fernão de Magalhães called Encounter English.

 

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Rowling spent her evenings teaching English to young teenagers, business people and housewives and spent her days working on the manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

 

The time Rowling spent in Portugal was in many ways a dark and painful period of her life, and one that she rarely talks about.

For this reason, it’s hard to know for sure exactly which elements of the Harry Potter saga were inspired by her experiences in Porto.

Nevertheless, the influence is clearly there.

 

Many people have speculated that Rowling took inspiration from certain Porto landmarks, shops and cafés.

Some of these supposed inspiration locations almost certainly did inspire her, while others require a stretch of the imagination.

Rowling may have been subconsciously influenced by them, even if she didn’t recognize it at the time.

She taught English-as-a-foreign language at the Encounter English School at night and began writing in the day while listening to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

 

Above: Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)

 

After 18 months in Porto, she met Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes at a café and found they shared an interest in Jane Austen.

Arantes would later tell London’s Daily Express newspaper the story of his whirlwind romance and doomed marriage to the then-unknown Joanne Rowling.

 

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Above: Jorge Arrantes

 

It was a sexually passionate relationship that ended in violence and bitterness.

She was a 25-year-old teacher, he was a 23-year-old journalism student.

He spotted her drinking with some friends in a café, was drawn to her piercing, aquamarine eyes and tried to pick her up.

Immediately there was a connection between us.“, Arrantes said.

Joanne could not speak any Portuguese, but my English was good.

We both realized we had a great deal in common with our love of books.

I remember her saying she was re-reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which I had also read.

 

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Arrantes said she told him about an affair she had had with another Portuguese man and about a love affair with a man in England.

When the night ended, they exchanged telephone numbers – and a kiss.

 

Two days later, he said, they had their first date – and ended up in bed.

Before we knew what was happening, she was back at my flat and we spent the night together.

There was nothing sordid about it.

We were simply two young, independent people enjoying life.

After that night, Joanne and I saw each other two or three times a week.

It was an intense and passionate relationship.

 

It was also tempestous.

Their frenetic lovemaking was punctuated with furious arguments.

We were always either in Heaven or in Hell.

 

They moved into his mother’s apartment, a shabby two-bedroom flat with a tiny kitchen, on Rua do Duque de Saldanha.

 

Casa onde morou depois de ter casado com Jorge Arantes. Foi lá que Jessica, a filha de ambos, viveu os primeiros meses de vida e foi de lá que Rowling foi expulsa numa madrugada de Novembro de 1993

Above: Entry to Arantes flat, Rua do Duque de Saldanha, Porto

 

Arantes later claimed he had helped her come up with ideas for the Harry Potter novels, though she denies this.

Among the belongings she brought to their home, according to Arantes, was a well-thumbed copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings.

 

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Several months later, Joanne discovered she was pregnant.

It was unplanned and both were afraid of the responsibilities parenthood might bring.

 

According to Arantes, Rowling began writing her first Harry Potter book during this pregnancy.

She kept her writing secret for a time, then showed her work in progress to Arantes.

I am proud to say that I was the first person to read about Harry Potter.

It was obvious to me straight away that this was the work of a genius.

I can still remember telling Joanne:

‘Whoa! I am in love with a great, great writer.’

Even in those days, Joanne had a great talent for structure.

I never doubted it would be a success.

 

Arantes says they discussed the stories, which Rowling found helpful.

We studied each other’s work and made suggestions.

When I told Joanne to change something, she would usually make an alteration.

He claims she had planned the full series of seven books, because  she believed the number 7 has magical associations.

 

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But just as they had begun to look forward to the birth of their child, tragedy struck.

Joanne miscarried.

 

They married on 16 October 1992 and their child, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes (named after Jessica Mitford), was born on 27 July 1993 in Portugal.

 

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Above: Joanne and Jorge Arantes with baby Jessica

 

Two months after Jessica’s birth, Arantes admits, he ordered Joanne out of their apartment.

She refused to go without Jessica and, despite my saying she could come back for her in the morning, there was a violent struggle.

I had to drag her out of the house at 5 in the morning and I admit I slapped her very hard in the street.

 

The couple separated on 17 November 1993.

Biographers have suggested that Rowling suffered domestic abuse during her marriage, although the extent is unknown.

 

In December 1993, Rowling and her then infant daughter moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to be near Rowling’s sister with three chapters of what would become Harry Potter in her suitcase.

Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as a failure.

Her marriage had failed and she was jobless with a dependent child, but she described her failure as liberating and allowing her to focus on writing.

During this period, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide.

Her illness inspired the characters known as Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book.

 

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Rowling signed up for welfare benefits, describing her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.”

 

Rowling was left in despair after her estranged husband arrived in Scotland, seeking both her and her daughter.

She obtained an Order of Restraint and Arantes returned to Portugal, with Rowling filing for divorce in August 1994.

 

She began a teacher training course in August 1995 at the Moray House School of Education, at Edinburgh University, after completing her first novel while living on state benefits.

She wrote in many cafés, especially Nicolson’s Café (owned by her brother-in-law) and the Elephant House, wherever she could get Jessica to fall asleep.

 

 

Meanwhile Arantes’ life was falling apart.

He lost his job as a television journalist and descended into a nightmare of drug addiction.

 

His 70-year-old mother, Marilia Rodrigues, told the London Daily Mail that Arantes stole family heirlooms and jewellery to feed his drug habit.

He still loved her very much and was heartbroken when they parted.“, Rodrigues said.

He still believes they could get together again and he would take her back at the drop of a hat.

He just wants her and his daughter.

 

Arantes says he has recovered from his drug addiction and lives in a small apartment in the Paris suburb of Clichy with his brother Justino, a travel agent.

 

Rowling rarely talks about her first marriage, but once told the Times of London:

I married on 16 October 1992.

I left on 17 November 1993.

So that was the duration of what I considered to be the marriage.

Obviously, you do not leave a marriage after that very short period of time unless there are serious problems.

I’m not the kind of person who bales out without there being serious problems.

My relationship before that lasted seven years.

I’m a long-term girl.

And I had a baby with this man.

But it didn’t work.

And it was clear to me that it was time to go, and so I went.

I never regretted it.

 

In a 2001 BBC interview, Rowling denied the rumour that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat, pointing out that it had heating.

One of the reasons she wrote in cafés was that taking her baby out for a walk was the best way to make her fall asleep.

 

In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which was typed on an old manual typewriter.

Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evens, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agency agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher.

The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript.

A year later she was finally given the green light by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London.

The decision to publish Rowling’s book owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next.

Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books.

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Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated US$15 billion and the last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history.

The series, totalling 4,195 pages, has been translated, in whole or in part, into 65 languages.

The Harry Potter books have also gained recognition for sparking an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for computers and television, although it is reported that despite the huge uptake of the books, adolescent reading has continued to decline.

 

On 26 December 2001, Rowling married Neil Murray (born 1971), a Scottish doctor, in a private ceremony at her home, Killiechassie House in Scotland.

Their son, David Gordon Rowling Murray, was born on 24 March 2003.

 

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Above: Joanne and Neil Murray

 

Shortly after Rowling began writing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she ceased working on the novel to care for David in his early infancy.

Rowling’s youngest child, daughter Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, to whom she dedicated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was born on 23 January 2005.

 

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Regarding Jessica’s career, she can best be described as an Instagram model who posts beautiful photos of herself as well as videos with her family and friends.

Jessica started her Instagram account in 2013 and instantly started sharing photos.

She has now managed to gather almost 7,000 followers.

Apart from that, Jessica owns a clothing line called Jc.closefit.

She also loves travelling and taking photos while on her exotic tours.

 

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Above: Jessica Arantes

 

Rowling’s life in Portugal clearly influenced aspects of the books:

 

Many of Potter’s spells can be easily understood by Portuguese speakers:

  • aguamenti (bring out water)
  • duro (make things hard)
  • protego (protect people)
  • silencio (to silence people)

 

One of Hogwart’s founding professors was Salazar Slytherin.

Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar was Portugal’s notorious dictator for much of the 20th century.

 

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Above: António de Oliveira Salazar (1889 – 1970)

 

There are also many similarities between Porto’s most colourful buildings and elements of Hogwarts, and as my wife (Ute) and I explored the city of Porto, I found myself trying to imagine Joanne Rowling’s life pre-Harry Potter fame and fortune.

I also found myself marvelling at her choice of a dictator’s name for one of the school’s founders.

Was her deciding to take the name of Salazar suggesting that despite his  nature he was partially responsible for making the place possible?

Without a Salazar could it have become what it eventually became?

Rowling’s relationship with Arantes did not end well though their union resulted in Jessica’s birth.

Perhaps Arantes was Rowling’s Salazar?

Perhaps the rumours of domestic violence are true, but perhaps Arantes’s claims of inspiring Rowling’s ideas are also credible.

What would Porto, through a Rowling lens, tell me about writing and inspiration?

What would it tell me about myself?

 

From the top left corner clockwise: Clérigos Church and Tower; Avenida dos Aliados; Casa da Música concert hall; Ribeira district; Avenida da Boavista business hub; Luiz I bridge and Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia

Above: Images of Porto

 

Porto, Portugal, Thursday 26 July 2018

There are a number of sites in Porto frequently mentioned on Potterhead blogs that my mentioning will surprise no one.

The only difference I can offer is my perspective of them.

I shall briefly list them here and then offer my perspective:

  • Livraria Lello
  • Escovaria de Belomonte
  • Universidade do Porto
  • Café Majestic
  • Fonte dos Leones
  • Torre dos Clerigos

 

The Livraria Lello, Porto’s famous galleried Art Nouveau bookshop, with its neo-Gothic exterior and inner staircase just begging for a grand entrance, is a visual delight beyond words.

It was founded by the well-to-do Lello intellectual brothers in 1906 and specialized in limited edition books – many of which are still here.

The brothers now appear as bas-reliefs on the walls, alongside busts of great writers, including Eca de Queiroz and Miguel Cervantes.

The Lellos commissioned an engineer and fellow bibliophile Francisco Xavier Esteves to design the interior, which is simply stunning.

The ground level even has rails set into the floor for transporting book “carriages“.

 

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The impressive double, freestanding staircase (actually made of concrete) lures people upstairs where you can admire the extraordinary plasterwork ceiling, which resembles ornately carved wood.

Columns and a stained glass roof light add to the air of something far grander than a bookshop, the whole design having an almost organic feel, as if the walls and ceiling are the ribs and bones of a living creature.

 

 

The first floor was the traditional meeting point of artists and intellectuals and was frequented by Rowling during her time in Porto in the 1990s.

It is this, and the similiarity of the shop’s decor to some of Hogwarts’ more outlandish design characteristics, that has put the bookshop firmly on the tourist circuit, with up to 4,000 people visiting daily.

There are often queues to get in, but if you come first thing in the morning or in the evening shortly before closing time, you may be able to experience the place more as a bookshop than a tourist site.

 

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Porto’s famous galleried Art Nouveau shop has become a tourist site in its own right, but behind the crowds this still remains one of the city’s best bookshops.

There’s general fiction on the ground floor (including the Harry Potter stories in many languages), much of it in English, with reference and non-fiction (including travel) on the upper floor.

 

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You can also find rare editions of Portuguese books.

 

Look out for the original till, made in 1881, the first in Portugal to issue paper receipts and with prices in reis (the currency before the escudo and the euro).

 

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You get your €5.00 entry fee back on any purchase.

 

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In 1869, the Livraria Internacional de Ernesto Chardron was founded, from a shop on Rua dos Clérigos by the Frenchman Ernesto Chardron.

Following its founder’s death, at the age of 45, the firm was sold to Lugan & Genelioux Sucessores.

Alternately, in 1881, José Lello along with his brother-in-law created the firm David Pereira & Lello.

But, the following year, after the death of David Lourenço Pereira, the establishment began to be operated as José Pinto de Sousa Lello & Irmão, when he partnered with his younger brother (António Lello).

The brothers both became prominent members of Porto’s intellectual bourgeoisie by the turn of the century.

The brothers hired engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves (1864-1944) to construct the new bookstore on Rua das Carmelitas.

In 1906, the Livraria Lello was inaugurated.

By 1919, the bookstore was simply designated as the Lello & Irmão, Lda.

With the 1930 addition of José Pereira da Costa, the bookstore began to be known simply as Livraria Lello.

But, between 1930 and 1940, it once again became designated Lello & Irmão.

Beginning in July 2015, the bookstore began requesting entrance fees for visitors.

On 21 April 2016, an artistic mural was erected to conceal the scaffolding placed on the facade of the building, during its restoration, by graffiti writer Dheo and colleague Pariz One.

 

 

Dheo painted the central area of the mural with a pile of old books, a lit candle and a bottle of Port wine, while the rest was painted by Pariz One with geometric shapes, referring to the stained glass inside the bookstore.

The work took two months to produce.

On 31 July, following the restoration, the main facade of the building was uncovered, showing the laboratory-tested recovered primitive gray.

 

 

There is no denying that the woodwork and the glass art and the red winding staircase do make the Livraria Lello a beautiful place to visit and certainly there is a good case to argue that Hogwarts’ moving staircases and the interior of the Diagon Alley bookstore Flourish and Blogs were inspired by the Livraria.

 

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Above: Hogwarts’ moving staircases

 

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But therein lies the problem.

It attracts too many tourists and it knows it.

 

As a passionate bibliophile I certainly admire the architecture, but for me a bookshop should in some ways resemble a library, a sanctuary of literature, a temple of tomes, rather than a marketplace for mobs.

A person cannot linger in any one spot too long before some impatient patron will jostle and push you about the place.

One could make a grand entrance if the store were a little less crowded, but one loses one’s regal bearing very quickly after enduring long queues to get in, for the indignity of paying an entrance fee just to view the shop, down each and every aisle, up and down the staircase, and at the cash register….

This is not the place for those who dislike crowds in enclosed spaces.

And though the Livraria does offer rare Portuguese books I am not so certain the Lello brothers would have liked the changes that time and fame have wrought, for as wonderful as it is to see people eagerly seeking books to read in this awkward age of automation and animation, a sense of intellectualism no longer pervades this establishment.

The place feels like a souvenir shop at one of Walt Disney’s magic kingdoms of artificiality than it does a sacred reminder of Portugal’s literary past.

 

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Above: Disney World, Orlando, Florida

 

I doubt the American tourists who came to or left the Livraria had any conception of, or compassion for, the existence of a Portuguese literary history.

For the place is populated with Potterheads and nothing else seems to matter.

But suggesting such sacrilege to these Rowling fanatics is akin to being Cervantes’ Don Quixote tilting at thick stone windmills.

 

 

Pointlessly defending an honour long gone.

 

The Livrario made me think of St. Gallen’s Stiftbibliothek (Abbey Library) with its hefty admission fee and cramped interior when crowds congregate.

It is my hope that Rowling (or those of her ilk) never visit the Abbey Library and over-popularize the place with their writing, for the Library at least still maintains an aura of the sacred which the Livrario has long ago lost.

 

Above: The Abbey Library of St. Gallen

 

I was seeking a Porto version of Paris’ Shakespeare & Co., but got instead an amusement park souvenir shop.

 

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It was worth a visit for the heart but at a cost to the mind and soul.

 

The Escovaria de Belomonte (Brushes of Belomonte), founded by Antonio da Silva on 29 January 1927, is not, at present, part of guidebook description, but it is most definitively part of Potter lore and appears on every blog where Rowling and Porto are mentioned in the same breath.

Though the Escovaria de Belomonte has only existed for 82 years, they excel in the manufacture and restoration of industrial brushes.

Why buy new brushes when you can have your old ones renewed?

The Escovaria de Belomonte replenishes and renews any type of brush.

They create brushes for every kind of customized applications for all types of industries, including industrial factories, textile production, footwear producers, jewelry stores, cast moulding manufacturers, grinding establishments, water treatment plants, car washes, typographical firms, gastronomy, and the list goes on….

They make any and every kind of brush and broom.

Whatever your needs, Escovaria de Belomonte will help you find a solution.

 

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The handsome Belomonte brooms with their rustic luxurious look, many of them hanging from the store ceiling, handmade with high-quality wood and natural fibres, bear a striking resemblance to Harry Potter’s flying broom, the Nimbus 2000.

 

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It has also been suggested that the name of Harry Potter that graces the front cover of every Potter novel bears a striking resemblance to the lettering and design of Escovaria de Belomonte‘s street sign.

Visually it is a great store to visit, but I wonder whether Potterheads actually make a purchase here.

There is no entrance fee and I am certain the place is much photographed by Potterheads, but whether the Escovaria is pleased with being a tourist attraction more than a serious business establishment is debatable.

 

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It has been suggested by Potterhead blogs that the outfit worn by Universidade do Porto (University of Porto) students was the inspiration for the outfits that Hogwarts students were required to wear during academic hours.

The wife and I were not able to fit in a visit to the University, saw no one on the streets dressed in such attire and found very few photos of students dressed in this manner.

 

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What can be said about the University:

  • Founded on 22 March 1911, it is the 2nd largest Portuguese university by enrolled students (after the University of Lisbon) and has one of the most noted research outputs in Portugal.
  • It is ranked among the best Portuguese universities, is among the 100 universities in Europe and ranked 328th of the best 400 universities in the world.
  • Today, about 28,000 students (11,000 postgraduates) attend the programmes and courses provided by the University of Porto’s 15 schools (13 faculties, a biomedical sciences institute and a business school) each with a considerable degree of autonomy.
  • It offers 63 graduate degree courses, over 160 master courses and several doctoral degree courses and other specialization courses, supported by 2,300 lecturers and a technical and administrative staff of over 1,600 people.
  • Of those who can call themselves alumni or staff of the University are:
    • Richard Zimler (journalist / writer / professor)
    • Julio Dinis (1839 – 1871)(writer)
    • Jorge de Sena (1919 – 1978)(doctor / writer)
    • José Neves (billionaire businessman / founder of Farfetch)
    • Marisa Ferreira (artist)
    • Camilo Castelo Bianco (1825 – 1890)(writer)
    • Agostinho da Silva (1906 – 1994)(writer)

(This last mentioned I find inspirational:

What you need, above all, is to not remember what I said. 

Never think for me. 

Think always for yourself. 

Be sure that all your mistakes that you commit are, according to your own thinking and deciding, all more valuable than all your correct actions made according to my thinking, not yours.

If the Creator wanted to put us together we perhaps couldn’t have two different bodies and two different heads.

My counselling should serve you to confront it.

It is possible that, after this confrontation, you come to think like me, but, at this time, your thought is yours.

My disciples, if I have any, are the ones who oppose me, because in their deep soul they guard what truly animates and what I most want to transmit to them.

The wish is to not conform.“)

 

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Above: Agostinho da Silva

 

It is more likely that Rowling was inspired not by the University of Porto, but rather by the University of Coimbra – 1.5 hours south of Porto – whose students do indeed wear academic robes similiar to those of Hogwarts students.

We did not get to Coimbra.

We did not need to.

 

Above: University of Coimbra students in ceremonial robes

 

There are hundreds of places to eat and drink in Porto, from old town tascas and Art Nouveau cafés to riverfront designer restaurants.

Of these, the one place that attracts the Potterhead is the Café Majestic.

In 1916, Rua de Santa Catarina 12 was built on a paved shopping street.

Opened in 1921, the Café Elite was designed in Art Nouveau style.

The then Bohemian quarter of the city did not think the name “Elite” was appropriate as it was not part of the Zeitgeist that was the post-1910 revolutionary Portuguese Republic.

The coffee house was subsequently given the name it is still known by.

The Majestic became over time a place frequented by intellectuals and literary legends, including Gago Coutinho, Beatriz Costa, Júlio Resende, José Régio and Teixeira de Pascoaes.

 

 

(Carlos Viegas Gago Coutinho, generally known simply as Gago Coutinho (1869 – 1959) was a Portuguese geographer, cartographer, naval officer, historian and aviator.

An aviation pioneer, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral were the first to cross the South Atlantic Ocean by air, from March to June 1922, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.)

 

Above: Coutinho (right) and Cabral (left) on the Lusitánia

 

(Beatriz Costa (born Beatriz da Conceição; 1907 – 1996) was a Portuguese actress, the best-known actress of the golden age of Portuguese cinema.)

 

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Above: Beatriz Costa

 

(Júlio Resende is a Portuguese pianist and composer.

He is active as a jazz musician (both as a bandleader and as a sideman for other artists) and is also involved in the Fado scene, having recorded a solo piano tribute to Amália Rodrigues and collaborating with singers like António Zambujo, Ana Moura and Aldina Duarte.

He is also the leader of Alexander Search, a rock band fronted by Eurovision Song Contest 2017 winner Salvador Sobral and inspired by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.)

 

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(José Maria dos Reis Pereira, better known by the pen name José Régio (1901 – 1969), was a Portuguese writer.

José Régio was the author of novels, plays, poetry and essays.

His works are strongly focused on the theme of conflict between man and God and between the individual and society, a critical analysis of solitude and human relations.)

 

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Above: José Régio

 

(Joaquim Pereira Teixeira de Vasconcelos (1877 – 1952), better known by his pen name Teixeira de Pascoaes, was a Portuguese poet.

He was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.)

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Above: Painting of Teixeira de Pascoaes

 

In the 1960s, the Café experienced a decline, parallel to the increasingly repressive social situation of Portugal under the authoritarian regime of António de Oliveria Salazar’s Estado Novo (“New State“).

In 1992 the Barrias family decided to extensively restore the Majestic.

Using old photographs as their guide, the restoration was completed, a new floor laid and the Café reopened in 1994.

In the year prior to the commencement of the Majestic’s renovations, Rowling often visited the Café, writing her thoughts for her first Harry Potter novel on Majestic napkins.

The Majestic today is the best known of Porto’s belle époque cafés, with a perfectly preserved decor of celestial cherubs, bevelled mirrors, carved chairs and wood panelling.

 

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Waiters float to the strains of The Blue Danube.

Come for coffee or afternoon tea as we did.

 

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The Fountain of the Lions (Portuguese: Fonte dos Leões), is a 19th-century fountain built by French company Compagnie Générale des Eaux pour l’Etranger.

 

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Cast by the Val d’Osne foundry in France, it is a copy, in most part, of the fountain in the Town Hall Square of Leicester, England.

The fountain is located in an urban, isolated location, within the gardened Praça de Gomes Teixeira.

The central fountain has a cruciform layout with a group of sculptures at the base supported by four seated lions on the extremes.

Between each lion, the axis of the source has a column with base, shaft and capital.

To top, two central, circular cups superimposed and staggered, with a pine cone surmounting all.

The octagonal shaped granite tank has rounded edges.

The outer profile of the tank walls is corrugated.

The edge of the lower plane bowl is outlined in relief by a frieze with plant elements interrupted only by four cornets from which water flows.

 

 

It is thought by Potterheads that this fountain inspired Rowling’s choice of logo for the House of Gryffindor at Hogwarts.

 

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The Clérigos Church (Portuguese: Igreja dos Clérigos,”Church of the Clergymen“) is a Baroque church with its tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos, seen from various points of the city and is one of Porto’s most characteristic symbols.

 

Torre de los Clérigos, Oporto, Portugal, 2012-05-09, DD 01.JPG

 

The main façade of the church is heavily decorated with baroque motifs (such as garlands and shells) and an indented broken pediment.

This was based on an early 17th-century Roman scheme.

The central frieze above the windows present symbols of worship and an incense boat.

The lateral façades reveal the almost elliptic floorplan of the church nave.

The Clérigos Church was one of the first baroque churches in Portugal to adopt a typical baroque elliptic floor plan.

 

 

The monumental tower of the church, located at the back of the building, was only built between 1754 and 1763.

The baroque decoration here also shows influence from the Roman Baroque, while the whole design was inspired by Tuscan campaniles.

The tower is 75.6 metres high, dominating the city.

There are 240 steps to be climbed to reach the top of its six floors.

This great structure has become the symbol of the city.

 

 

Did the Torre dos Clerigos inspire Hogwarts’ Astronomy Tower?

Potterheads like to think so.

 

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At all of these sites, especially atop the Torre dos Clerigos, the visitor, headphones on, fado playing, can ponder how fado, Arantes, Rowling and yours truly all interconnect.

We have learned that Arantes probably abused Rowling as possibly did her father.

Fans who re-read Harry Potter as adults quickly realize that the behaviour of the Dursleys reads like child abuse: starvation, forced labour and confinement.

 

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Starvation has been a stranger to me, but forced labour and confinement I did know.

 

In the Harry Potter series, more explicit abuse is described when Harry learns through a Pensieve memory that Severus Snape’s father beat his son and wife.

Porto is a Pensieve for me….

 

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And then there is Rowling’s post-Potter writing….

 

In her novel The Casual Vacancy, Andrew is a restless teen who lives with his abusive, degrading father.

Rowling once told The New Yorker that Andrew represented her mindset as a teen, and although Andrew was not exactly based on her father, she said:

I did not have an easy relationship with my father.

 

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Above: Andrew Price, The Casual Vacancy

 

Abuse also finds its way into Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Credence has an adopted mother who hits him with a belt.

That resentment from his mother’s frequent beatings turns him into an Obscurial, a repressed being that the evil Gellert Grindelwald wants to use for dark magic.

 

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Often, but certainly not always, children who were abused by their parents often abuse their children when they become parents.

Perhaps this was the case in the behaviour of Arantes.

 

And, lest we forget, why Rowling chose António de Oliveira Salazar as the inspiration for the repressive Hogwarts co-founder Salazar Slitherin….

One overriding criticism of Salazar’s regime is that stability was bought and maintained at the expense of suppression of human rights and liberties.

Abuse on a national level.

Under Salazar’s authoritarian rule, he brought stability and prosperity to Portugal, but at enormous cost: censorship, imprisonment and torture.

 

Above: Salazar, 1939

 

Arantes was born in 1967.

Salazar’s Estado Nova lasted from 1932 to 1974.

Arantes’ father knew abuse and repression and so would Arantes.

 

It is hard to sympathize with those that abuse unless we realize that they were probably a product of abuse themselves.

Arantes lost the mother of his child and his daughter as well.

In the quiet of night as Arantes lies in his solitary bed in his brother’s Clichy apartment fado music plays inside his head.

Arantes is a pessimist, a nihilist, alone, and forever known for his greatest failure:

Losing the world’s most famous novelist as his lover and the child they made together.

 

We quietly walk through the wonders of Porto.

Fado fills the streets.

Sadness of memory fills my soul.

And sits upon my shoulders like an invisibility cloak.

 

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Above: Porto, night

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Pocket Rough Guide Porto / Lonely Planet Portugal / Rough Guide Portugal / Matthew Hancock, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese / A.H. de Oliveira Marques, A Very Short History of Portugal

 

A poster depicting a young boy with glasses, an old man with glasses, a young girl holding books, a redheaded boy, and a large bearded man in front of a castle, with an owl flying. The left poster also features an adult man, an old woman, and a train, with the titles being "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Elastic Novice

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 17 September 2019

Damn that man!

One man’s writings has had and continue to have a major effect on my life and this has been reflected in my travels and I have already spoken of the man previously in this blog.

 

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens, New York, 1867

 

(Please see Canada Slim and the Dickensian Moment – first published as “Goodbye, Charles” on 9 June 2015.)

 

(As one of the shortest and woefully inadequate posts I have ever written, expect to see an updated version of “Goodbye, Charles” as soon as possible and the addition of another post that continues the chronicle of my first travels in Europe last described in Canada Slim and the Promised Land – first published as “That which survives 3: The promised land“.)

 

It was he who made me decide to first enter Britain via Broadstairs.

 

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Above: Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs

 

It was he who compelled me to convince my good friends Samantha and Iain to visit his birthplace in Portsmouth.

 

Above: Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, Portsmouth

 

It was he who inspired me to first find the courage to write.

 

It was he whose footsteps I was determined to trace during my visit to London in the last week of October 2017.

 

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My wife had purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, on the Tube, and on trains.

She strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the time when she was attending her medical conference.

 

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26 October was the first day that I would have a chance to view London on my own.

I had, following the Passbook alphabetically, already visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir that morning, so my next goal was the Charles Dickens Museum in the Bloomsbury district.

 

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Above: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

 

(For previous posts on London, please see….

Canada Slim….

  • and the Paddington Arrival
  • and the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • and the Outcast
  • and the Wonders on the Wall
  • and the Calculated Cathedral
  • and the Right Man
  • and the Queen’s Horsemen
  • and the Royal Peculiar
  • and the Lamp Ladies
  • and the Uncertainty Principle
  • and the Museum of Many
  • and the Breviary of Bartholew
  • and the Body Snatchers
  • and the Freudian Slippers
  • and the Mandir of Nose Hill )

 

 

London, England, 26 October 2017

Few cities are as closely associated with one writer as London is with Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870).

The recurrent motifs in his novels have become the clichés of Victorian London (though Dickens was active and successful before Queen Victoria came to the throne) – the fog, the slums and alleys, the prisons and workhouses and the stinking river.

Drawing on his own personal experience, Dickens was able to describe  the workings of the law and the conditions of the poor with an unrivalled accuracy.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

Born in Portsmouth (Please see Canada Slim and the Dickensian Moment.), Dickens was the second of eight children.

His father, John Dickens, was a clerk who worked for the Navy and had set up home in Portsmouth with his wife Elizabeth.

 

A view of Old Portsmouth taken from the viewing deck of the Spinnaker Tower. Old buildings, cobbled streets and a small island can be seen in the frame.

Above: Old Portsmouth

 

In 1817 John was posted to the dockyard in Chatham.

John and his family took a full part in the life of the community.

They were friendly with neighbours and with the family of a local landlord.

 

Charles and his sister Fanny were frequently set up by their father atop a table in the Mitre Inn to entertain the tavern with songs and ballads of the day.

It was in Chatham that Charles began his education.

 

Above: Chatham Dockyard

 

His widowed aunt Mary Allen married for a second time while the Dickens family were in Chatham.

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Above: 2 Ordnance Terrace, Chatham (Dickens’ home: 1817 – 1821)

 

This was to a widowed doctor, Matthew Lambert, who had a son Matthew, a little older than Charles and became a great influence upon this early part of Charles’ life, for it was Matthew who introduced Charles to the wonders of the theatre.

This was the beginning of a lifelong passion.

I tried to recollect whether I had ever been in any theatre in my life from which I had not brought away some pleasant association, however poor the theatre, and I protest, I could not remember even one.

In fact, Charles always had a great relish for bad theatre.

 

Allow me to introduce myself—first negatively.

No landlord is my friend and brother.

No chambermaid loves me.

No waiter worships me.

No boots admires and envies me. 

No round of beef or tongue or ham is expressly cooked for me.

No pigeon pie is especially made for me.

No hotel advertisement is personally addressed to me.

No hotel room tapestried with great coats and railway wrappers is set apart for me.

No house of public entertainment in the United Kingdom greatly cares for my opinion of its brandy or sherry. 

When I go upon my journeys, I am not usually rated at a low figure in the bill.

When I come home from my journeys, I never get any commission. 

I know nothing about prices, and should have no idea, if I were put to it, how to wheedle a man into ordering something he doesn’t want. 

As a town traveller, I am never to be seen driving a vehicle externally like a young and volatile pianoforte van, and internally like an oven in which a number of flat boxes are baking in layers. 

As a country traveller, I am rarely to be found in a gig, and am never to be encountered by a pleasure train, waiting on the platform of a branch station, quite a Druid in the midst of a light Stonehenge of samples.

And yet—proceeding now, to introduce myself positively—I am both a town traveller and a country traveller, and am always on the road. 

Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great house of Human Interest Brothers, and have rather a large connection in the fancy goods way. 

Literally speaking, I am always wandering here and there from my rooms in Covent Garden, London—now about the city streets: now, about the country by-roads—seeing many little things, and some great things, which, because they interest me, I think may interest others.

These are my chief credentials as the Uncommercial Traveller.

 

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In The Uncommercial Traveller, he revisited Rochester where he enjoyed the somewhat shaky productions he saw there.

He does not spare the company:

Many wondrous secrets of Nature had I come to the knowledge of in that sanctuary:

Of which not the least terrific were, that the witches in Macbeth bore an awful resemblance to the Thanes and other proper inhabitants of Scotland, and that the good King Duncan could not rest in his grave, but was constantly coming out of it and calling himself somebody else.

 

Above: High Street, Rochester

 

John Dickens’ job entitled him and his family to regard themselves as middle class, but the middle classes had little money behind them if things went wrong or if they couldn’t support their large families in seizing the opportunities they had anticipated.

Prosperity could unravel very quickly.

By the time John was recalled to London in 1822, the debts were considerable and his new post meant a drop in salary.

 

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Above: John Dickens (1785 – 1851)

 

Such was the family situation in 1823 that the young Charles, age 11, had to go out to work, finding employment in a boot-blacking factory, Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, on the north bank of the Thames, near the site of the modern Charing Cross Station.

Charles and his colleagues had to cover pots of boot polish (blacking) and paste on to them paper labels.

He was paid six shillings a week.

Great numbers of children in early 19th century England would have done similar work – and many, much, much worse.

 

drawing

 

It was a crazy, tumbledown old house, abutting, of course, on the river, and literally overrun with rats.

Its wainscotted rooms and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and the decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again.

The counting house was on the first floor, looking over the coal barges and the river.

There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work.

 

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This episode affected Charles profoundly.

He thought his parents had given up on him.

It is amazing to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.

It is amazing to me, that, even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion enough for me … to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been, to place me at any common school ….

No one made any sign.

My father and mother were quite satisfied.

They could hardly have been more so, if I had been 20 years of age, distinguished at a Grammar School and going to Cambridge.”

 

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Above: Cambridge University coat-of-arms

 

On 20 February 1824 John Dickens was arrested and imprisoned in Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison.

 

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Above: Marshalsea Prison Gate

 

Charles was deeply ashamed of his family’s circumstances and hurt further when his mother forced him to keep his blacking job even after his father’s release.

 

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Above: Elizabeth Dickens (1789 – 1863)

 

This influenced Dickens’s view that a father should rule the family, and a mother find her proper sphere inside the home:

I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back.

His mother’s requesting his return was a factor in his dissatisfied attitude towards women.

 

Righteous indignation stemming from his own situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works, and it was this unhappy period in his youth to which he alluded in his favourite, and most autobiographical, novel, David Copperfield:

I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to Heaven!

 

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In the end, a number of circumstances brought an opportunity for change.

John inherited some money, began receiving a pension from the Navy and started working as a journalist, thus enabling the family to dispense with the few shillings Charles was adding to the family income.

 

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Dickens got to school eventually.

He spent two years at Wellington House, which he remembered with little affection.

He did not consider it to be a good school:

Much of the haphazard, desultory teaching, poor discipline punctuated by the headmaster’s sadistic brutality, the seedy ushers and general run-down atmosphere, are embodied in Mr Creakle’s Establishment in David Copperfield.

 

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When he left, at age 15, he was ready for work.

An acquaintance of the family found Charles work as a lawyer’s clerk with the firm of Ellis and Blackmore, which lasted 18 months.

Dickens worked at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore, attorneys, of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn, as a junior clerk from May 1827 to November 1828.

 

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Above: Gray’s Inn Square, London

 

Charles was a gifted mimic and impersonated those around him: clients, lawyers, and clerks.

He went to theatres obsessively—he claimed that for at least three years he went to the theatre every single day.

His favourite actor was Charles Mathews and Dickens learnt his monopolylogues (farces in which Mathews played every character) by heart.

 

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Above: Charles Matthews (1776 – 1835)

 

Then, having learned Gurney’s system of shorthand in his spare time, he left to become a freelance reporter.

 

Above: Example of Thomas Gurney (1705 – 1770) shorthand

 

A distant relative, Thomas Charlton, was a freelance reporter at Doctors’ Commons and Dickens was able to share his box there to report the legal proceedings for nearly four years.

 

Above: Doctors’ Commons in the early 19th century

 

This education was to inform works such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, and especially Bleak House—whose vivid portrayal of the machinations and bureaucracy of the legal system did much to enlighten the general public and served as a vehicle for dissemination of Dickens’s own views regarding, particularly, the heavy burden on the poor who were forced by circumstances to “go to law“.

 

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Charles had family in journalism.

His father wrote occasional pieces, but Charles also had a maternal uncle, John Henry Barrow, who in 1828 launched The Mirror of Parliament.

It was not long before Charles was part of Barrow’s parliamentary reporting team and was soon striking out writing for other publications, including the radical newspaper The True Sun.

 

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Sometime before 1830, Dickens fell in love with a young woman called Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker.

The relationship between them flashed on and off for around four years, despite hostility from her parents, interference from friends and Maria’s own capricious nature.

The letters that survive show how thoroughly Dickens was absorbed in pursuing her.

Maria’s parents disapproved of the courtship and ended the relationship by sending her to school in Paris.

When the end finally came, he wrote to her, claiming:

I have never loved and I can never love any human creature breathing but yourself.

 

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Above: Maria Beadnell (1810 – 1886)

 

She is thought to be the model for the character Dora in David Copperfield.

 

Above: David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow

 

Many years later, Dickens got a letter from Maria out of the blue and a short correspondence between them began in which he proclaimed the intensity of his original feelings for her.

The tone of these letters soon changed after he arranged to see her and she turned out to be “toothless, fat, old and ugly” (her words).

 

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Above: Miriam Margoyles as Maria Beadnell Winter

 

The Maria romance is interesting because of the marked contrast it makes with Dickens’ engagement and marriage.

Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of his boss at the Evening Chronicle, could hardly have been a more different young woman.

At least Dickens looked at her in a completely different way.

His letters to her are affectionate but occasionally overbearing, as if he was asserting himself to ensure that no more nonsense got in the way of his own ambition.

He was particularly careful to outline the primacy of his work and its demands.

His commitments at this time were extremely heavy.

Catherine and Charles married on 2 April 1836 and went for a week’s honeymoon to Chalk in Kent (during which, true to form, Dickens was busy with The Pickwick Papers).

 

Above: Catherine Hogarth Dickens (1816 – 1879)

 

In August 1834 Charles was given a permanent position on The Morning Chronicle, a liberal paper, to report on all parliamentary matters.

This included elections (there were two in 1835) and political meetings – all around the country, before there were railroads.

Deadlines were nevertheless overwhelmingly important and Dickens experienced many freezing, wet stagecoach journeys, bouncing about, writing on his knees, racing back to London to get his account in before the rival reporters on The Times.

 

 

Dickens’ first published piece of creative work appeared in the Monthly Magazine in 1833.

It was called “A Dinner at Poplar Walk“.

The publication had a circulation of 600 and the young author wasn’t paid, but he knew what it all meant.

 

Above: Monthly Magazine (1796 – 1843) issue, 1 February 1810

 

In the preface of the cheap edition of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens tells us that he practically smuggled the piece into the magazine’s offices:

It was dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street.”

The piece’s emergence into print was an occasion of some emotion:

I walked down to Westminster Hall and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street and were not fit to be seen there.

 

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More pieces for the Monthly Magazine followed.

These were comic stories, which owed a lot to the theatrical farces so common on the London stage.

It was at the end of one of these pieces, published in May 1834, that he signed his name as “Boz“, the nom de plume by which he first began to establish his reputation and indeed his brand.

Boz being a family nickname he employed as a pseudonym for some years.

Dickens apparently adopted it from the nickname “Moses“, which he had given to his youngest brother Augustus Dickens, after a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield.

 

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Above: Augustus Dickens (1827 – 1866)

 

When pronounced by anyone with a head cold, “Moses” became “Boses“—later shortened to Boz.

As “Boz“, Dickens began to collect readers.

He was given further opportunities to please them.

 

Dickens began to write occasional pieces for the Morning Chronicle in addition to his reporting.

These were his “sketches” – informal surveys of parts of London, London themes or observations of London people, held together by a conversational tone rather than a narrative: a Londoner talking to Londoners.

When an evening sister paper to the Morning Chronicle was launched, Dickens obtained a salary to continue his writing explorations in the same vein.

 

Above: London, 1886

 

The increasing exposure brought Dickens to the attention of Harrison Ainsworth, a writer not much read today, but a real star of the literary scene at this time.

Ainsworth admired Boz‘s work and introduced Dickens to his own publisher John Macrone.

 

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Above: William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882)

 

Soon a collected volume of the newspaper and magazine pieces with drawings of George Cruikshank, the leading illustrator of the day, was published in February 1836.

Sketches by Boz sold so well that a second edition was needed that year and two more in 1837.

 

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As the first edition of Sketches by Boz emerged in 1836, Dickens was approached by the publishers Chapman and Hall.

They came with an idea that had been proposed to them in turn by a well-known illustrator, Robert Seymour.

The plan went like this:

Seymour would produce a series of engravings depicting the amusing mishaps attending a club of Cockney sportsmen – men from the new middle classes, with money to spend on the aristocratic pursuits of previous generations: hunting, shooting and fishing.

These illustrations would be published as a monthly serial.

Would Dickens care to write some text to help string the images together?

Fourteen pounds a month might be possible.

No one really knows what or how much Dickens saw in this offer at the time.

He liked the money.

He was told that serials were a “low, cheap form of publication” that would ruin him.

The fact that he kept all his other irons in the fire suggests that he did not count too much on the new venture establishing his reputation.

But that is exactly what it did.

He claims, in the preface to The Pickwick Papers, that he recognized that the idea wouldn’t do:

I objected, on consideration, that although born and partly bred in the country I was no great sportsman, that the idea was not novel, and had already been much used, that it would infinitely better for the plates to arise naturally out of the text, and that I should like to take my own way….

At first sales were disappointing, but by the end of its run in November 1837,  The Pickwick Papers was selling 40,000 copies per month, it had been adapted for the stage many times over and the words of its characters  seemed to be on everyone’s lips – as was the name of its young author.

 

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After their 1836 wedding, Charles took Catherine to a set of chambers he was renting in Furnival’s Inn, one of the inns of court, the traditional home of English law practice and accommodation for many non-lawyers too.

 

 

As The Pickwick Papers started bringing in a more secure income, Charles set his sights on more substantial living quarters.

These turned out to be at 48 Doughty Street, into which Catherine and Charles moved with their son Charley in March 1837.

 

Above: 48 Doughty Street, London

 

They took in Catherine’s younger sister Mary Hogarth, who had supported Catherine during her first pregnancy.

It was not unusual for a woman’s unwed sister to live with and help a married couple.

Dickens became very attached to Mary.

She inspired characters in many of his books.

Mary is seen as the inspiration for Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist.

She is also seen as the inspiration for Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Nell had many traits that Dickens associated to Howarth, including describing Nell as “young, beautiful and good“.

Other characters believed to have been inspired by Mary include:

  • Kate Nickleby, the 17-year-old sister of the hero of the novel Nicholas Nickleby
  • Agnes Wickfield, the heroine in David Copperfield
  • Ruth Pinch from Martin Chuzzlewit
  • Lilian, the child who appears in Trotty Veck’s visions in The Chimes
  • Dot Peerybingle, the sister in The Cricket on the Hearth.

 

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Above: Mary Hogarth (1819 – 1837)

 

Unlike Mary, Dickens’ wife Catherine does not appear to have been the inspiration for any of his characters.

 

Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London, famed as a fashionable residential area and as the home of numerous prestigious cultural, intellectual and educational institutions.

It is bounded by Fitzrovia to the west, Covent Garden to the south, Regent’s Park and St. Pancras to the north, and Clerkenwell to the east.

Bloomsbury is home of the British Museum, the largest museum in the United Kingdom, and numerous educational institutions, including the University College London, the University of London, the New College of the Humanities, the University of Law, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and many others.

 

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Above: The British Museum, London

 

Bloomsbury is an intellectual and literary hub for London, as home of world-known Bloomsbury Publishing, publishers of the Harry Potter series, and namesake of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of famous British intellectuals, including author Virginia Woolf and economist John Maynard Keynes, among others.

 

Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford

Above: Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

 

Bloomsbury began to be developed in the 17th century under the Earls of Southampton, but it was primarily in the 19th century, under the Duke of Bedford, which the district was planned and built as an affluent Regency era residential area by famed developer James Burton.

The district is known for its numerous garden squares, including Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square and Tavistock Square, among others.

Notable residents of Bloomsbury have included J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Ricky Gervais, Vladimir Lenin, Bob Marley, Catherine Tate (Donna Noble, Doctor Who) and William Butler Yeats.

 

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Above: Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)

 

Despite a plethora of blue plaques, Bloomsbury boasts just one literary museum, the Charles Dickens Museum, the only one of the writer’s fifteen London addresses to survive intact.

 

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Doughty Street was a well-to-do gated Georgian street when Dickens – flush with the success of his first two published works – moved here in 1837.

The family lived in this light and airy house for two years, during which he completed Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby and worked on Barnaby Rudge.

Catherine gave birth to two children in the bedroom here.

 

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On Saturday, 6 May 1837, Charles took Catherine and Mary to the theatre.

They returned home in good spirits, enjoyed some supper and a drink together and went to bed at one in the morning.

A few moments later Charles heard a cry from Mary’s bedroom and hurried in to find her still in her day clothes and visibly ill.

Catherine came to see what was wrong.

Charles said afterwards that they had no idea there was anything seriously the matter with Mary, but that they sent for medical assistance to be on the safe side.

Whatever Dr. Pickthorn did had no effect, yet still there seemed no cause for alarm.

Mary was, after all, only 17 years old and until then had been in perfect health.

Fourteen hours went by before Mary sank under the attack and died – died in such a calm and gentle sleep, that although Charles had held her in his arms for some time before, when she was certainly living (for she swallowed a little brandy from his hand) Charles continued to support her lifeless form, long after her soul had fled to Heaven.

This was about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

Thank God she died in my arms and the very last words she whispered were of me.“, Charles told fellow reporter and friend Tom Beard.

Before Charles laid Mary’s body down he was able to remove a ring from her finger and put it on one of his own.

And there it stayed for the rest of his life.

 

Above: Mary’s bedroom, Charles Dickens Museum

 

Mary’s death is fictionalized as the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

 

 

The building at 48 Doughty Street was threatened with demolition in 1923, but was saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, who raised the mortgage and bought the property.

The house was renovated and the Dickens House Museum was opened in 1925, under the direction of an independent trust, now a registered charity.

 

Above: Study, Charles Dickens Museum

 

48 Doughty Street is presented as far as possible in its inhabited state, the idea being to give the impression that the Dickens family is still resident.

Much of the house’s furniture belonged, at one time or another, to Dickens, and the house also owns the earliest known portrait of the writer (a miniature painted by his aunt Mary Allen in 1830).

 

Above: Charles Dickens

 

Perhaps the best-known exhibit is the portrait of Dickens known as Dickens’s Dream by R. W. Buss, an original illustrator of The Pickwick Papers.

This unfinished portrait shows Dickens in his study at Gads Hill Place surrounded by many of the characters he had created.

The painting was begun in 1870 after Dickens’s death.

 

Above: Dickens’ Dream, Robert William Buss

 

(Gads Hill Place in Higham, Kent, sometimes spelt Gadshill Place and Gad’s Hill Place, was the country home of Charles Dickens.

Today the building is the independent Gad’s Hill School.

The house was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester, Thomas Stephens, opposite the present Sir John Falstaff Public House.

Gad’s Hill is where Falstaff commits the robbery that begins Shakespeare’s Henriad trilogy (Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2 and Henry V). )

 

Above: Gad’s Hill Place, Rochester

 

Other notable artefacts in the Museum include numerous first editions and original manuscripts as well as original letters by Dickens, and many personal items owned by Dickens and his family.

 

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The only known item of clothing worn by Dickens still in existence is also displayed at the Museum.

This is his Court suit and sword, worn when Dickens was presented to the Prince of Wales in 1870.

 

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The Charles Dickens Museum also owns the adjacent house, #49, where they stage special exhibitions, house the bookshop and have a lovely café with free Wifi.

 

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There runs within both London and Rochester (where Charles spent the last years of his life) a Dickens Trail.

On London’s Dickens Trail, there is:

  • the Old Curiosity Shop (currently a shoe shop) on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the inspiration of Dickens’ novel of the same name
  • the atmospheric Inns of Court (once the headquarters of the Knights Templar) which feature in several Dickens novels
  • Nancy’s Steps, where Nancy tells Rose Maylie Oliver’s story in Oliver Twist
  • the evocative dockland area east of Shad Thames where Bill Sykes (also of Oliver Twist) had his hide-out.

 

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(This dockland area, known as China Wharf – today very photogenic with its stack of semicircular windows picked out in red – was once dubbed “the very capital of cholera“.

In 1849, the Morning Chronicle described it thus:

Jostling with unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children, and the very raff and refuse of the river, the visitor makes his way with difficulty along, assailed by offensive sights and sounds from the narrow alleys which branch off.

This was the location of Dickens’ fictional Jacob’s Island, a place with “every imaginable sign of desolation and neglect“, where Bill Sykes met his end in Oliver Twist.)

 

Above: China Wharf, London

 

Charles John Huffam Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic.

He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius.

His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education and other social reforms.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1842

 

Dickens’s literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers.

Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society.

His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication.

Cliffhanger endings in his serial publications kept readers in suspense.

The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback.

For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens improved the character with positive features.

His plots were carefully constructed and he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

Masses of the illiterate poor chipped in ha’pennies to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.

His 1843 novella A Christmas Carol remains especially popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre.

 

Brown book cover bearing the words "A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens" in gold.

 

Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London.

 

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His 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities (set in London and Paris) is his best-known work of historical fiction.

 

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The most famous celebrity of his era, public demand saw him undertake a series of public reading tours in the later part of his career.

 

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Dickens has been praised by many of his fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell, G. K. Chesterton and Tom Wolfe—for his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations and social criticism.

However, Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing and a vein of sentimentalism.

 

Above: Dickens’ chair, Charles Dickens Museum

 

The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

 

There is much in Charles Dickens’ life before and up to his residency at 48 Doughty Street that I can relate with.

Charles came from a large family, as did I, but like the titular hero of Oliver Twist it was not until later in my life did I come to realize that I was neither an orphan (nor an only child) as far as my biological heritage went.

 

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My first work during my school years was labour intensive like Charles’ was.

While his was labouring in a blacking factory, mine was summer employment as a farmhand.

(A position I occasionally returned to when financing my travels.)

 

 

Like Charles, I spent much of the early years of my life outdoors when I wasn’t reading voraciously.

The boy Charles read Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding and The Arabian Nights.

I read Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stephenson and the adventures of the Hardy Boys.

 

 

Charles was separated from his family by mounting debts and living beyond one’s means.

It is said that these were the cause of my biological parents’ break-up and it was the prevention of these to my foster parents that led to my being taken in for the provincial support the government provided for my care.

 

Canadian Provinces and Territories

 

Unlike Charles, I was never small for my age and I would by the age of 14 surpass Charles’ adult height of 5’9″ to reach my current height of 6’4″, but, like Charles, I had felt that I was a “not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy“.

 

After my secondary and post-secondary studies, I, like Charles, worked as a clerk, but what for him would be a brief two years would be for me always a position to return to between my travels.

I have worked as a clerk for a customs broker, federal government departments and for a registered charity.

 

 

More akin to George Orwell, I would later work as a teacher and a restaurant worker, but in a Dickensian vein, I have written (sometimes for money, sometimes for exposure) for local newspapers and school publications.

 

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I have never achieved great fame, but then neither have I greatly sought it to the extent that Dickens did.

 

What I have always admired about Dickens and his works are:

  • his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society.
  • his carefully constructed plots wherein he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.
  • his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations and social criticism.
  • his walking which led to his descriptions of the neglected and forgotten corners of London.

 

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Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night.“, wrote the poet Rupert Brooke.

London’s own Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, William Blake and Thomas De Quincey were all night time perambulators, but of those who walk the streets at night the supreme nightwalker was Charles Dickens.

 

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In Great Expectations (1861), Pip at one point visits Miss Haversham in her home in Kent in order to inform her and her ward Estella, with whom he is still madly in love, that he has finally discovered the identity of his benefactor, the convict Magwitch.

Pip confirms that, because he knows Miss Haversham was not responsible for his transformation into a gentleman, he realizes that she and Estella have all along treated him not as their protegé but “as a kind of servant, to gratify a want or whim“.

It is on this occasion, too, that Estella admits she is to be married, as Pip feared, to the odious and oafish aristocrat Bentley Drummle.

Thus discarded, and in a deeply disconsolate state of mind, Pip escapes from Satis House and, as the afternoon light thickens, hides himself for a time “among some lanes and bypaths“.

Then, in a moment of decision, he strikes off “to walk all the way to London“.

I could do nothing half so good for myself as tire myself out.”, he decides.

It is “past midnight” when he eventually crosses London Bridge.

 

 

Four years later, Dickens made roughly the same journey on foot, in reverse.

 

One night in October 1857, when he was in his mid-forties, Dickens retired to bed in the family home in Bloomsbury, but found himself completely unable to get to sleep.

He had suffered from intermittent insomnia throughout his adult life, but on this occasion he felt particularly agitated.

He did not feel at home at home.

So at 0200 Dickens climbed out of bed, dressed in warm clothes and set off through the gaslit streets of the city.

 

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Dickens had written more than two decades earlier:

The streets of London, to be beheld in the very height of their glory, should be seen on a dark, dull, murky winter’s night.

When the heavy, lazy mist, which hangs over every object, makes the gas lamps look brighter.

 

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In the damp silence of the autumn night, beneath the scuffing sound of his boots on the stone pavements, Dickens would have heard the gas whispering its secrets in the softly rasping pipes.

Heading south in the direction of the Thames, Dickens walked through London directly to Gad’s Hill Place, his country residence in Kent.

Like Pip’s journey through the night, it was a distance of some 30 miles.

 

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Catherine and Charles had been….prolific – ten children – “the largest family ever known with the smallest disposition to do anything for themselves” as Dickens later described them – and 15 novels, each published in monthly (or weekly) installments, which were awaited with baited breath by the public.

Then in 1857, at the peak of his career, Dickens fell in love with the actress, Ellen Ternan.

Charles was 45, Ellen just 18.

 

Above: Ellen Ternan (1839 – 1914)

 

On the evening of his nightwalk, Catherine and Charles quarrelled.

They were becoming inrcreasingly estranged, partly because of his relationship with Ellen.

For this reason, Charles visited Tavistock House, their home at this time, only rarely.

 

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Above: Tavistock House, London

 

Charles spent most of the autumn of 1857 at Gad’s Hill Place.

When he needed to be in central London, he tended to stay in a bachelor flat at the offices of his periodical, Household Words.

It was shortly after Charles insisted on partitioning the bedroom he shared with Catherine so that they could sleep separately.

 

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The nighttime journey on foot to Gad’s Hill Place, driven by an acute sense of anguish and guilt, took Dickens little more than seven hours.

(According to present day Google Maps, the same journey normally takes 9.5 hours.)

 

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Above: Google Maps logo

 

Dickens was a fast walker, who took pride in the fact that he could sustain a pace of at least four miles an hour across long distances.

(In my walking days my average pace was 3 mph and on a descent 5 mph.)

 

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Above: Canada Slim, The Dutton Advance, 6 March 1991

 

His friends frequently complained of the speed and impatience with which he walked.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

Edward Johnson, one of his biographers, wrote:

Sometimes his perspiring companions gave way to blisters and breathlessness.

 

Charles himself was boastful of his feats as a pedestrian.

He professed in 1860:

So much of my travelling is done on foot that if I cherished betting propensities, I should probably be found registered in sporting newspapers as the Elastic Novice, challenging all 11-stone mankind to competition in walking.

 

No doubt he secretly harboured dreams of bettering Captain Barclay, a celebrated athlete who, in 1809, when pedestrianism first became a sporting activity, walked a thousand miles in a thousand hours for a thousand guineas.

 

Above: Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce (1779 – 1854), the celebrated pedestrian

 

In the late 1850s, Dickens remained a fit man precisely because he insisted on walking, both in London and in the countryside, whenever he could find the opportunity.

Even so, he was increasingly afflicted with ill health at this time.

His symptoms included neuralgic and rheumatic pains.

His feet also troubled him.

 

According to biographer Claire Tomalin:

First his left foot, and then his right, took to swelling intermittedly, becoming so painful that during each attack he became unable to take himself on the great walks that were essential part and pleasure of his life.

 

Dickens had gout, though he was reluctant to accept the idea, claiming instead that he contracted the pain because he had incautiously walked in snowy conditions.

This did not deter him from walking in all conditions, clement or inclement.

 

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G.K. Chesterton, identifiying a “streak of sickness” in Dickens, which he detected in the novelist’s “fervid” intelligence, nonetheless confirmed that “he suffered from no formidable malady and could always through life endure a great deal of exertion, even if it was only the exertion of walking violently all night.

 

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Above: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

 

For John Hollingshead, who had been apprenticed to Dickens on Household Words, and who therefore saw a good deal of him in the 1850s, this proclivity for “violent walking” was itself a malady.

Hollingshead recalled in retrospect that “when Dickens lived in Tavistock House he developed a mania for walking long distances, which almost assumed the form of a disease.”

When he was restless, his brain excited by struggling with incidents or characters in the novel he was writing, he would frequently get up and walk through the night over Waterloo Bridge, along the London, New Kent and Old Kent Roads, past all the towns on the old Dover High Road, until he came to his roadside dwelling (Gad’s Hill Place).

His dogs barked when they heard his key in the wicket-gate. 

His behaviour must have seemed madness to the ghost of Sir John Falstaff.

(Gad’s Hill Place stood opposite the Falstaff Inn, formerly a notorious haunt of robbers and highwaymen.)

 

Above: John Hollingshead (1827 – 1904)

 

It is likely, then, that Dickens conducted his 30-mile nightwalk to Kent on more than one occasion.

But Dickens’ celebrated feat on that night in October 1857 was less about overcoming physical afflictions than capitulating to his psychological ones.

This was a flight both from his everyday life and from his self.

 

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From an early age Charles had been running away from something, or walking “fast and far” from something.

Going astray“, he called it.

In an article entitled “Going Astray“, printed in Household Words in 1853, Dickens described how he had “got lost one day in the City of London” as an 8-year-old child and roamed and strayed and strolled through London’s precincts all day and into the night, until he found a watchman.

I have gone astray since, many times, and farther afield.“, Dickens concludes with a certain sad pride.

 

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Chesterton argued that Dicken’s originality and genius resided in the fact that he possessed, “in the most sacred and serious sense of the term, the key of the street.

Few of us understand the street.

Even we step into it, as into a house or a room of strangers.

Few of us see through the shining riddle of the street, the strange folk that belong to the street only – the street-walker or the street Arab, the nomads, who generation after generation, have kept their ancient secrets in the full blaze of the sun.

Of the street at night many of us know even less.

The street at night is a great house locked up.

But Dickens had, if ever man had, the key of the street.

His stars were the lamps of the street.

His hero was the man in the street.

He could open the inmost door of his house – the door that leads into that secret passage which is lined with houses and roofed with stars.”

 

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Night Walks, first published in All the Year Round in 1860 and then reprinted in The Uncommercial Traveller in 1861, was Dickens’ finest, most haunting piece of non-fictional prose.

At once impressionistic and replete with intensely related detail, it relates his experiences on the streets of the capital between half past midnight (0030) and the moment when “the conscious gas begins to grow pale with the knowledge that daylight is coming.”

A sense of solitude echoes through his sentences, empty and hollow as the midnight streets through which he walks.

 

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When a church clock strikes, on homeless ears in the dead of the night, it may be at first be mistaken for company, but as the spreading circles of vibration echo out into eternal space, the mistake is rectified and the sense of loneliness is profounder.

Dickens confesses to have discovered a lonely sense of community in the cold depths of the London night, among men defined by “a tendency to lurk and lounge, to be at street corners without intelligible reason“.

My principal object being to get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every night of the year.

 

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These are the everyday casualities of life in the capitalist metropolis – the victims of unemployment, addiction and other symptoms of social and spiritual alienation.

The homeless must conquer time and defend themselves against its blank emptiness, from minute to minute, moment by moment, the shame, desertion, wretchedness and exposure of the great capital, the wet, the cold, the slow hours and the swift clouds of the dismal night.

For the police, the proof of a home, a legal nocturnal place to stay, is the precondition for the recognition of existence.

So the situation of homelessness, roaming the night without aim, without rest, represents exclusion from society.

It is a form of non-existence, non-being, the outer limits of society’s psychological and sociological borderland, the hinterland of humanity, the dark hollow interior of human nature.

 

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London is a city where 55% of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40% were born abroad, and 5% are living illegally in the shadows.

Every week 2,000 migrants unload at Victoria Coach Station, tens of thousands of migrants arriving here every year.

But who can trust statistics?

 

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You will never understand what it means to be a beggar until you have slept on the streets.

They sleep in front of the glare of shop windows, for the light lends a sense of safety.

Crackheads and Roma, street life, disorientation, a jumble of faces, an eternal rumble of traffic, where working girls sell their bodies and throw in their souls for free, the rhythm of the streets, a never sated drumbeat.

 

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Ute (my wife) and I on London evenings are one of many after-dinner couples strolling along.

I hear others with their contempt and disgust regard the beggars who congregate upon the concrete like lost church mice, like mangy parasites, cosmopolitan cockroaches, best belittled than assisted.

 

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They are the invisible, because we choose to ignore them.

They are painful reminders of our privileged life that they cannot imagine having or, if once had, reacquiring.

They are the old and the prematurely aged, shuffling and stumbling, snuffling and sniffing, pleading for pennies from those whose hearts are void of compassion.

Washed-up soiled souls marooned, listless and almost lifeless, easy prey to those who would use them for cruel sport, they lie beneath walls smeared in blood and feces upon flattened cardboard boxes that soften the sidewalk.

Human rubbish amidst human refuse, they are gaunt faces with sunken eyes, needing to beg to survive, to live, to exist, but to beg is to break the law.

What is earned is confiscated.

Law and order trumps love and outreach.

They see the beggar as an offense not as a fellow human being.

Those without homes are an invisible city deliberately unseen by the lucky with lodgings.

 

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Charles Dickens’ home is remembered as I hold my wife’s hand tightly to lend ourselves courage to encounter what we do not comprehend.

Charles feared poverty, was obsessed with money, felt that unease that only those who have raised themselves out from poverty can truly understand.

But his talent, hard work, perseverance and good fortune never required a return to a hand-to-mouth, payment-to-payment survival.

He encountered the homeless and destitute during his night walks but was never reduced to joining their ranks.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

My wife and I have London lodgings during our sojourn here and a warm comfortable flat awaiting our return to Switzerland.

 

Coat of arms of Switzerland

 

I too have known a poverty of sorts, though my begging was limited to government assistance and hitching rides and seeking emergency overnight shelter in the places where rides left me.

In my long-distance walking days I slept wherever I could and rarely needed the tent I carried upon my backpack.

 

Like those migrants of London for whom hope remains despite their desperate circumstances, I worked where and when I could, sometimes in the safety of the law, sometimes not.

Though I have never been much of an evening perambulator I have nonetheless encountered the homeless in more than a few cities I have visited.

I see it regularly amongst the Roma in Konstanz and I give as prudently as I can when I encounter the beggar Bruno in St. Gallen.

I remember the helpless and hapless of London and Paris, Seoul and Istanbul, Naples and New York.

 

Above: The Old Beggar of Bordeaux, Louis Dewis, 1916

 

I think of Oliver Twist.

Advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

 

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Above: Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, Oliver!, 1968

 

Everyone’s hungry for something.

 

Sources: The Rough Guide to London / Matthew Beaumont, Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London / Jeremy Clarke, The Charles Dickens Miscellany / Charles Dickens, Night Walks / Ben Judah, This Is London / Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

 

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Canada Slim and the Road to Utopia

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 27 August 2019

Sometimes a place defines a person.

Sometimes a person defines a place.

 

 

Take the eminent Canarian author Alberto Vásquez-Figueroa as an example of the first.

 

Álberto Vázquez-Figueroa in Barcelona in 2009

 

Alberto’s grandfather was an architect.

Alberto’s father was born in Guadalajara while Alberto’s grandmother was there.

Alberto’s mother, the daughter of a local farmer, was born on Isla de Lobos, one of the Canary Islands.

 

 

Alberto himself was born on 11 October 1936 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, although he had not yet reached one year old when his family was exiled for political reasons to Spanish Africa, since his father was a Socialist Republican during the Spanish Civil War.

There Alberto spent his childhood.

His father was released, but he was admitted to hospital for several years because of tuberculosis.

While Alberto was in Africa, his mother died.

 

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Alberto’s care was picked up by his uncle, the civil administrator of the military fort in the Spanish Sahara where they lived.

His uncle provided Alberto books to read, especially beloved adventure novels, by authors such as Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days), which would later become Alberto’s preferred genre.

Since his youth, Alberto visited the Sahara and would later describe the culture of the desert region in his writing.

 

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At 16 Alberto returned to Tenerife to study, working as a scuba instructor in the Cruz del Sur Diving School, along with Jacques Cousteau, where he would remain for two years.

Alberto worked on the rescue of bodies in Lake Sanabria after the Vega de Tera Dam burst, destroying the town of Ribadelago.

 

Monumento a las víctimas de la catástrofe de Ribadelago.

Above: Monument to the victims of Ribadelago

 

He attended the studios of the Escuela Oficial de Periodismo de Madrid in a 1962 and worked in the Destino specials.

He was a war correspondent in La Vanguardia, for TVE (Televisión Española) and for the program A toda plana with de la Cuadra Salcedo and Silva.

As a correspondent, he documented revolutionary wars in countries such as Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

 

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He later wrote his first novel, Arena y viento (Sand and Wind) and in 1975, he published as many as 14 to 15 novellas such as Ébano.

His other works include Tuareg and El perro as well as the sagas Cienfuegos, Bora Bora, Manaos and Piratas.

 

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Ébano was cinematized in 1979 by director Richard Fleischer and renamed Ashanti.

Ashanti (also called Ashanti, Land of No Mercy) is a 1979 action adventure film.

Despite its impressive cast and setting (on location in the Sahara and in Kenya, Israel and Sicily), it was widely panned by critics upon release.

Michael Caine was reportedly very disappointed with the project and claims it was his third worst film.

Ashanti is an action adventure film, set against the background of modern-day slave trading, with a man who determinedly takes on a perilous journey in order to find his beautiful wife, who has been kidnapped by brutal slave traders.

David and Anansa Linderby (Caine and supermodel Beverley Johnson respectively) are doctors with the World Health Organization (WHO).

On a medical mission carrying out an inoculation programme, they visit a West African village.

While David takes photographs of tribal dancers, Anansa goes swimming alone.

She is attacked and abducted by slave traders led by Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), who mistake her for an Ashanti tribeswoman.

The police can do nothing to find her and David has almost given up hope when he hears rumours that Anansa has been kidnapped by Suleiman to be sold to Arab Prince Hassan (Omar Sharif).

The African authorities deny that the slave trade even exists.

So David must find help in a shadowy world where the rescuers of slaves are just as ruthless as the traders themselves.

As David tracks her across Africa and the Sahara desert, he is helped by a member of the Anti-Slavery League (Rex Harrison), a mercenary helicopter pilot (William Holden) and Malik (Kabir Bedi) a tribesman who is seeking revenge on Suleiman.

 

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Alberto’s novel Tuareg was cinematized in 1984 by director Enzo G. Castellari.

Tuareg is a thriller novel that was his most critically and commercially successful, with global sales in excess of 5,000,000 copies.

It was adapted into a 1984 movie starring Mark Harmon, Tuareg – The Desert Warrior.

This is the first book in the Tuareg trilogy, followed by Los Ojos del Tuareg and El Último Tuareg.

 

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One day, two old men and a boy appear in Gacel Shayah’s camp in the Sahara.

He, a noble inmouchar observing the millennial tradition of the desert, shelters travelers.

But he fails to protect them.

People in dusty military uniforms violate the ancient hospitality law.

They kill the boy and take one old man away.

Gasel Shayah remembers the great commandment of the Tuareg people:

Your guest is under your protection.

Therefore, he must seek vengeance.

 

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Alberto’s novel Iguana was cinematized in 1988 by Monte Hellman.

Iguana is a 1988 American adventure drama/thriller film starring Everett McGill in the main role.

The movie is based on the life of a real Irish sailor called Patrick Watkins.

The movie was mainly shot on location in Lanzarote.

 

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The film takes place at the beginning of the 19th century.

Oberlus (Everett McGill), a harpooner on a whaling ship, is regularly subjected to ridicule and abuse by other sailors.

The right half of his face is bizarrely disfigured and covered with hummocky outgrowths, which leads him to being nicknamed Iguana.

One night, after a brutal beating, Oberlus escapes to the uninhabited Hood Island.

He is soon discovered by a team led by Captain Gamboa (Fabio Testi).

Gamboa brutally tortures Oberlus and ties him up for further punishment, but Iguana manages to escape and hides himself in a cave.

The ship leaves the island and Gamboa orders that sailor Sebastian (Michael Madsen) be tied to a post on the coast as punishment for letting Iguana escape.

Oberlus finds Sebastian and proclaims himself “King of Hood Island” and Sebastian his first slave, forcing him to cook his food.

Declaring revenge upon the world, Oberlus enslaves two other sailors thrown ashore after the shipwreck.

He keeps his captives in a cave with a disguised entrance.

After some time, a ship holding Carmen (Maru Valdivieso) and her fiancé Diego (Fernando De Huang), is moored near the island.

Oberlus takes them prisoner.

Oberlus kills Diego and makes Carmen his concubine.

The captain of the ship, assuming Carmen and Diego to have died in the storm, does not look for them, but sails away.

One day, Oberlus notices the arrival of his former whaling ship.

At night, he climbs on board, kills two sailors on the deck, takes Gamboa prisoner, and sets the ship alight, having previously locked the hull.

Gamboa fights Oberlus, but is killed by him.

Resigned to her fate, Carmen tells Oberlus that she is pregnant with his child.

Months later, the captain of the ship Carmen and Diego arrived on, returns with a group of armed sailors.

They begin their search and Oberlus has to flee to the other end of the island with pregnant Carmen and his surviving prisoners.

Oberlus plans to sail away with Carmen on the boat.

Carmen gives birth, but Oberlus takes the child, claiming that he will allow him to suffer.

With the child in his arms, he enters the sea, intending to drown himself and the child.

 

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Alberto’s novel Garoé (the name of a sacred tree in the Canary Islands) won the 2010 Historical Novel Prize Alfonso X El Sabio, valued at €100,000.

He has also published an autobiography entitled Anaconda.

He is also a screenwriter and film director and has made such films as Oro rojo (Red Gold).

 

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Alberto currently resides between an attic apartment in the Madrid neighbourhood of Argüelles and a home on Lanzarote.

I am not sure if that home is in the village of Haría in the north of the island of Lanzarote, but I suspect it might be, for Alberto once described Haría as the most beautiful village in the world.

Although this description is a tad exaggerated, Haría really does have a pretty bucolic setting, in a palm-filled valley punctuated by splashes of brilliant colour from bougainvillea and poinsetta plants.

 

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But we were not searching for Alberto and had we passed him on the streets we would not have recognized him.

Instead we were looking for a local legend, Lanzarote’s favourite son, César Manrique.

My wife and I spent our mini-vacation tracking down buildings across the Island of Lanzarote that César designed.

We hoped to understand why this place and this man remain inseparably intertwined in the hearts and minds of those who come here and those who knew him.

César Manrique defined Lanzarote.

To understand César Manrique is to understand Lanzarote.

We came to learn.

We began in Haría where his story ends.

 

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Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain,  Monday 2 December 2018

Much like César, our first discovery of Lanzarote was Arrecife.

For us it was the international airport north of Arrecife the day previously.

 

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On this day we drove our rented car, from our hotel in Costa Teguise (See Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.), past an aquapark and golf grounds, through the town of Tahiche (more on this town in a future post), through Nazaret and Teguise (See Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise of this blog.), through Los Valles and past a windpark to arrive at Haría.

 

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(Los Valles, a quiet agricultural hamlet between Teguise and Haría, is situated in a valley at the foot of the Famara Massif.

Los Valles was founded by refugees from the village of Santa Catalina, which has been destroyed during the eruptions of 1730 – 1736 of Mount Timanfaya.

 

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The pretty, white village church of Ermita de Santa Cantalina stands at the bottom of the valley on the side of the highway.

 

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Immediately after you pass the restored Casa de los Perazas, one of the oldest buildings on Lanzarote.

 

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The road begins to climb steeply passing the Mirador Los Valles.)

 

César Manrique Cabrera was born in Arrecife on 24 April 1919, the son of Francisca and Gumersindo Manrique.

César’s father was a food merchant and his grandfather a notary public.

César preceded his twin sister Ampara by just a few minutes.

He had another sister and a brother.

Gumersindo came from Fuerteventura and emigrated to Lanzarote.

The Manriques were a typical middle class family, without financial burdens.

In 1934, Gumersindo bought property in Caleta de Famara and built a house next to the ocean.

This house left a visible impression on César that lasted his lifetime.

 

 

Ute and I on our first day spent a few hours on Famara Beach and like César did we remember it with joy:

My greatest happiness is to recall a happy childhood, five-month summer vacations in Caleta and Famara Beach with its eight kilometres of clean and fine sand framed by cliffs of more than 400 metres high that reflected on the beach like a mirror.

That image has been engraved in my soul as something of extraordinary beauty that I will never forget in all of my life.

 

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César would fight in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer on dictator Franco’s side.

His experience of the War was atrocious and he refused to talk about it.

In the summer of 1939, once the War was over, César returned to Arrecife, still wearing his military uniform.

After greeting his family, he went up on the flat roof, took off his clothes, angrily stepped over them, sprayed them with petroleum and burned them.

 

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César attended the University of La Laguna to study technical architecture, which he would abandon after two years.

In 1945 he moved to Madrid and studied art at the Academia de Bellas Artas de San Fernando where he graduated as a teacher of art.

 

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In 1953, César began painting abstracts, which in Franco’s Spain was tantamount to treason, and one year later he exhibited his works alongside those of his friends Manuel Manpaso and Luis Féito.

By the late fifties César had made a name for himself in Madrid.

There followed exhibitions in major cities of Europe, Japan and America, which gave him international renown.

 

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In the fall of 1964, following the advice of his cousin Manuel Manrique, a New York psychoanalyst and writer, César lived in New York City until 1966.

He was the guest of Waldo Diaz-Balart, a Cuban painter, who lived in the Lower East Side, at a time when this was a neighbourhood of artists, journalists and bohemians.

Through César’s cousin Manuel’s friendship with the Director of the Institute of International Education, which was sponsored by Nelson Rockefeller, a generous grant allowed César to rent his own studio and produce a number of paintings which he exhibited with success in the prestigious New York gallery of Catherine Viviano.

 

Clockwise, from top: Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, the Unisphere, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center, Central Park, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Statue of Liberty

 

While in New York, he wrote his friend Pepe Dámaso:

More than ever I feel true nostalgia for the real meaning of things.

For the pureness of the people.

For the bareness of my landscape and for my friends.

My last conclusion is that Man in New York is like a rat.

Man was not created for this artificiality.

There is an imperative need to go back to the soil.

Feel it.

Smell it.

That’s what I feel.”

 

 

In his unpublished diary, César wrote of his homesickness for Lanzarote.

At the time he was still undecided as to where to set up his permanent studio.

In 1968, César travelled straight from New York City to Lanzarote, which he found exactly as he had left it in 1945.

He felt Lanzarote needed him.

He made himself the Island’s champion.

 

 

When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the most beautiful places on the planet, due to the endless possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer.

 

 

The Canarian Island was then just beginning to develop a tourism industry, but César promoted a model of sustainability in an attempt to protect Lanzarote’s natural and cultural heritage.

This Manrique model was a determining factor in Lanzarote being declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

 

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In parallel with his commitment to the Island, César opened his creative work up to other forms of artistic expression.

He developed a new aesthetic ideology, dominated by art-nature / nature-art.

He began a dialogue of respect for the natural surroundings in which  values of local traditions blended harmoniously with modern designs.

Well versed in many forms of creative expression, a very real desire for integration with the surrounding natural landscape underlies César’s body of artistic work as a whole.

 

 

One of the fundamental preoccupations which has guided my artistic work has been to try to achieve harmonious integration of the forms and ideas of painting, sculpture and spaces into nature.

I believe that this way, of integrating the greatest possible number of artistic elements – colour, texture, dimension, ambience, proportion – leads to a greater aesthetic enjoyment and quality of life.

It is necessary to create and act in freedom, to break with formulae and extend the concept of art to everyday human life, to create non-hostile spaces modelled on the integration of art into nature and nature into art.

 

 

That César’s ideas were carried out on Lanzarote is all thanks to the man’s tireless energy, persistence, immense abilities and international fame.

Without César Manrique, Lanzarote would scarcely be what it is today.

It is his influence and his work that have shaped the Island.

César shaped planning policy on the whole island and his influence can be seen everywhere.

He began with a campaign to preserve traditional building methods and a ban on roadside hoardings.

He convinced the authorities to impose a universal ban on advertising and ensure that telephone and high voltage cables were laid underground.

A multifaceted artist, César turned his flair and vision to a broad range of projects, with the whole of Lanzarote becoming his canvas.

César was a painter, sculptor, architect, ecologist, monument preserver, construction advisor, urban development planner, landscape and garden designer.

 

 

César’s work is full of vitality, colour and light.

There is nothing gloomy in either his paintings or sculptures or in the buildings he designed.

 

 

Together with his friend from his youth, José Ramirez Cerdá, who was president of the Cabildo Insular (island government), César skillfully put his architectural projects into operation.

Luis Morales, an employee of the Cabildo, was a sympathetic partner in all this.

As a practical builder, Morales had the skills to execute Manrique’s plans.

 

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Above: Flag of Lanzarote

 

César encouraged the traditional cubic form of architecture.

A house is capable of growth.

The Lanzarotenos start with one or two rooms.

As a family grows, they add cubes of one or two storeys, arranged around a central courtyard and the water tank.

 

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César’s idea was harmony with nature and the continuation of natural processes.

He wanted to preserve Lanzarote tradition and achieve a landscape-related architecture in proportion to the natural surroundings.

He believed in a humane architecture where nature should be spared and not choked with buildings.

Tourism threatened to sweep away everything before it, but César’s ceaseless opposition to such unchecked urban sprawl touched a nerve with Lanzarote locals and led to the creation of an environmental group known as El Guincho, which has had some success in revealing – and at times reversing – abuses by developers.

 

 

As we drove through villages across the Island, we could see how traditional stylistic features still remain.

The standard whitewashed houses are adorned with green-painted doors, window shutters and strange onion-shaped chimney pots.

The entire Island is a testimony to César’s influence and ever-enduring spirit.

 

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The awareness of the miracle of life and its brevity have made me see clearly that we are impoverished by the tragic sentiment of our existence.

The only important reality is the great mystery of life and of man with his inexhaustible imagination and his infinite ways of acting.

We must observe and learn from the energies of life.

 

 

Those who knew César only superficially ignored the streak of puritanism that ruled his conduct.

He was a frugal man.

He didn’t drink or smoke or allow others to smoke next to him.

He regularly went to bed very early and got up at dawn and began work in his studio very early.

 

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In all César carried out seven major projects on the Island and numerous others elsewhere in the archipelago and beyond.

At the time of his death, he had several more in the works.

It was the buildings that my wife and I were determined to visit on our five-day sojourn on Lanzarote.

We wanted to see how César’s life-affirming architecture relates to the Lanzarote landscape.

We were confused by descriptions that suggested that César’s buildings were generous but at the same time deeply modest.

Guidebooks wrote that César, with great aesthetic powers and unerring taste, had created places for the muses, of contemplation, of meditation, which radiate joy and tranquillity, places endowed with humanity.

It was written that César had striven to discover the beautiful and make it visible to everyone, but not simply beauty for beauty’s sake, but a unity of truth and intrinsic originality.

We wanted to see this for ourselves.

 

180° panorama photo taken from Mirador del Río showing La Graciosa

 

To speak of harmony with nature we need to speak of the landscape of Lanzarote.

On arriving in Lanzarote one feels transported in time, whisked back to the beginnings of the world, a fresh, clean world, in which the Traveller himself is the hero of discovery.

Here are seas of lava, enchanted grottos, columns of steam seeping from the bowels of the planet, magnificent multicoloured stone walls, threatening volcanoes, waves that furiously smash upon tortured cliffs that loom like giants frozen for all time in their march to the sea and eternally punished for such audacity, lurking lagoons that appear suddenly among the rocks, pockets scooped from deadly lava where livelihood-sustaining vines thrive to produce unsurpassable wine, golden beaches of skin-caressing sands, transparent blue waters….

Another world, another time, a unique place.

Here are peaceful, flower-bedecked whitewashed villages and a heritage of hardy people who overcame, will always overcome, the desolation that civilization commits and the fury of nature defied.

From lava and ash, drops of dew defiantly defended have been clawed from nature’s clutches and cultivated.

Yet these sturdy island warriors are kind, hospitable people who shelter guests in comfort and compassion.

Civilization’s constants are also found on Lanzarote, but they blend rather than blind the visitor to the natural delights of the Island.

 

 

By far the most beautiful place in the archipelago, Haíra lies within a sea of palm trees and has the charm of a small sheltered oasis.

Haría is a place to relax, a Utopia where the locals set the tone.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, locals traditionally planted a palm tree to celebrate a birth (two for a boy, one for a girl), thus resulting in today’s tourist viewing a palm-filled valley upon a barren Island.

 

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Haría has many positive qualities: magnificent flora, an abundance of trees.

The mind can manage this place so peaceful, so tranquil, as the body sits comfortably under wide spreading canopies of leaves.

No one, except children in haste, runs in Haría.

One strolls here.

The soul quietly smiles at the serenity.

 

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The central pedestrian avenue, Plaza León y Castillo, is shaded by lush leafy laurel and eucalyptus trees and cast-iron lanterns above benches where children play and seniors meet watching tourists gorge themselves at the Plaza’s open-air restaurant.

This is also the site of a superb Satuday morning craft and produce market.

 

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From the town hall up the street about 100 metres, the Traveller comes to the municipal arts and crafts centre, the Taller de Artesania Municipal.

Handicrafts are available throughout the week at the Taller de Artesania Reinaldo Dorta Déniz (to give its full name) on Calle Barranco de Tenesia, a town hall-backed craft workshop where local artists produce macramé, silverware, ceramics, dollmaking, embroidery and some charming pieces made of palm leaves and reeds, where one can watch the crafters at work before buying.

It is open Tuesday to Sunday 1000 – 1330 and 1600 – 1900, Monday only 1000 to 1330.

 

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The Mercado Municipal de Abastos, adjacent to the arts and crafts centre, is a small market here with a health-conscious attitude, with fruit, vegetable, meat and fish counters.

There is also a food stall here where the locals are tempted with tapas.

It is open Monday to Saturday 0900 – 1400.

 

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Haría does not boast any monuments of particular historical or architectural importance, for the history of this municipality is of little relevance.

Theirs is a past marked by poverty, foreign invasions and mass emigrations.

A 1587 account of the neighbourhood mentions a fountain and 100 people, a time when it was the only village on the Island besides the capital of Teguise.

In 1590, there were no more than 1,000 people on the Island, of which 250 were military, as well as 40 horses.

Population scarcity was due to three raids carried out for 16 years by Moorish and Turkish pirates.

One of the most devasting pirate attacks was that of the troops of Morato Arráez, who, in August 1586, burned down all the palm trees.

Fortunately they grew back again.

 

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What is immediately outstanding is the good taste of the town’s buildings and the way they blend into the landscape.

Some stately Andalusian-style houses date back to the 19th century when Haría at times played an important role in island politics.

 

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At the far end of the Plaza Leon y Castillo stands the modern parish church of Our Lady of the Incarnation.

The church was built in 1619 although it has suffered numerous setbacks over time.

The most significant was the storm of 1956, which left only the tower standing.

Inside the church five fine lovingly-carved arches support the ceiling.

 

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In front of the church is the La Tegala Cultural Centre, a more than 100-year-old house which has already served as a barracks, a shop and a workshop.

 

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A visit to the Diocese of the Canaries’ Museum of Popular Sacred Art in Plaza León y Castillo is recommended for the abundance of wonderful works springing from the imagination of the people of Lanzarote.

 

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At the Plaza de la Constitución, the small square next to the Plaza Leon y Castillo, stands the classical town hall also containing the local police station.

 

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Around the corner is the beautiful city library with its rich selection of Canarian historical and cultural materials.

 

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On the square there is a small rest area with benches, above the large cistern Aljibe which has been converted into a meeting and exhibition hall.

 

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Since the advent of tourism in the early 1980s Haría has flourished, but the tourists come not  only for the celebrated beauty of the town or for the Sacred Art Museum or for the handicraft workshops, but they come to see the Casa Museo César Manrique on Calle Elvira Sanchez.

 

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But before we remember the dead, let us honour the living while we can.

 

Behind the Museum one can, if lucky, witness an artist at work in a garage.

That craftsman is Don Eulogio Concepción Perdomo, signposted as “Cesteria“.

This man, the only and last basket weaver on the Island, is now over 80.

In patient manual labour Perdomo makes, from the strong fronds of Canarian date palms, stable baskets of various sizes and the famous Lanzarote conical-shaped hats.

We witness him making a small fruit basket, which takes more than an hour to produce, costs about €20.

I call his name and shake his hand.

Does he know of his fame?

Does he understand just how important he is?

 

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A palm-fringed property was the final home of Lanzarote’s favourite son and has been opened as a shrine to his memory.

This is a house frozen in time, complete with César’s clothes in the closet and personal art collection adorning the walls.

It is an intimate and personal view of César in his domestic surroundings.

It is a strikingly beautiful home situated in a lush palm grove in a charming village that is itself a showcase of Lanzarote’s traditional lifestyle.

This relatively new attraction of Haría, César’s last home, was opened in the summer of 2013.

 

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Surrounded by date palms and tucked away and back from the street, César’s home is a pleasure to stroll through.

The entrance fee is steep but the Museum is well laid out.

Rarely does one experience such harmonious living space with such a feel-good factor.

Within this spacious property, within the context of the comfortable and tasteful decor are many personal items, including painting items and incomplete works.

 

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The living room with a large fireplace and heavy wooden ceiling, the light-flooded dining room, the bedroom with high panelled ceiling, and, as always with César, an extravagant bathroom that opens with glass fronts to the outside, César designed his home with much love, a house that was far from completion when he died.

The Casa Museo César Manrique is open every day from 1030 to 1800 (last entry 1730).

 

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It is in Haría where César was lain to rest, when at the age of 73, still in good health and full of vitality and the joy of living, he was killed in an automobile accident on 25 September 1992, next to the present site of his Fundacion.

The irony of fate that he would meet his death in a car accident is rich as he loathed the massive amount of vehicles.

 

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Above: Painted BMW from 1990 Art Basel exhibition, Casa Museo César Manrique, Haría, Lanzarote

 

César’s final resting place in Haría’s cemetery is located at the exit to Arrieta atop a low hill.

His simple grave is located on the left in front of the small chapel.

César’s differs fundamentally from the other graves which are made of stone slabs and crosses.

His is a flat oval bordered by lava stones under a palm tree and adorned with succulents and cacti.

The carving “C. Manrique 1919 – 92” testifies that here lies Lanzarote’s loyal son.

From the forecourt of the cemetery there is a beautiful view of the valley below.

 

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In retracing his life in reverse chronology, I am reminded of a text he wrote to describe himself and his view of life:

I have never followed the signs indicating the road to Utopia.

Utopia, I do presently believe, is an inner path.

My enthusiasm, in any case, is the sole force that can guide me approximately.

 

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Starting from César’s endpoint is appropriate.

For it is in Haría we view not the celebrity César, not the artist César, but the man César, a man as common as we all are, mortal and preoccupied with all the minutae that comprise a life lived daily.

 

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To fully appreciate César’s impact on the Island one must journey out of Haría, away from a traditional Lanzarote, to a Lanzarote of the future built upon five volcanic bubbles of a lava flow 6km north of Arrecife, César’s birthplace.

The Taro de Tahíche is a dormant remnant of the 1730 eruption of the volcano Timanfaya on the northwest corner of the Island, and it is upon this that the Fundación César Manrique sits.

 

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From the Fundación and the overview of all that César Manrique was and did, the Traveller is encouraged to explore Lanzarote through César’s eyes and creations:

  • the Jameos del Agua

  • the Monumento al Campesino

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  • the Restaurante El Diablo

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  • the Mirador del Río

  • the Castillo San José

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  • the Jardín de Cactus

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It is at the Fundación and at the aforementioned half-dozen Manrique creations that the Traveller senses how César’s life-affirming architecture relates to the Lanzarote landscape:

Generous and yet deeply modest.

With great aesthic imagination and impeccable taste César created monuments for muses, cathedrals of contemplation, monoliths of meditation, jubilees of joy, temples of tranquillity, havens of humanity.

He sought what was beautiful and brought to this beauty his strength of purpose and crystalline originality.

In Lanzarote posts to come his creations and the Island that inspired them will be patiently revealed.

I hope that you will enjoy learning of them as I shall enjoy the experience of sharing them with you.

 

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Above: Undiscovered Planets, César Manrique

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Fernando Gómez Aguilera, César Manrique in His Own Words / Wolfgang Borsich, Lanzarote and César Manrique: Seven Buildings / Lucy Corne and Josephine Quintero, Lonely Planet Canary Islands / Jorge Echenique and Andrés Murillo, Lanzarote / Eberhard Fohrer, Müller Lanzarote / Raimundo Rodriguez, Lanzarote

 

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Canada Slim and the Writer’s Apartment 1: Learning

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 13 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flag of North Korea

 

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

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

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

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

 

Flag of the United States

 

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

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

 

Flag of Germany

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Flag of Turkey

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

Flag of Quebec

 

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

 

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Oh, what a lucky man I have been!

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

How dare they love who they choose!

How dare they believe differently than we!

How dare they look not as we do!

How dare they exist!

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Above: Belgrade

 

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps they will be passed by completely unnoticed?

Perhaps nobody will understand them?

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

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

(Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside)

 

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Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, 5 April 2018

The weather was worsening but my spirits were high.

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

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

 

Flag of Serbia

Above: Flag of Serbia

 

The day had started well.

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

 

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

Above: Saint Sava Cathedral

 

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum

 

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

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

 

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

I was learning so much!

(I still am.)

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A map of Canada showing its 13 provinces and territories

 

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

Why care about those who are not us?

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

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

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

 

Flag of the United Nations

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Above: Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975)

 

Possibly not.

 

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

It might even be a step towards world unity.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

It includes a life-sized statue of the writer.

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

Image result for Borislav Stankovic the tainted blood

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Skyline of Travnik

Above: Images of Travnik

 

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

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

 

Ivo Andriac, Ivo Andric - Bosnian Chronicle

 

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

 

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Andrić’s parents were both Catholic Croats.

He was his parents’ only child.

(I too was raised as an only child.)

 

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

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

 

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

Andrić was only two years old at the time.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Višegrad

Above: Images of Visegrad

 

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

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

 

Above: St. Eustache City Hall

 

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

 

Saint-Eustache-Patriotes.jpg

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

 

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

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

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

 

Visegrad bridge by Klackalica.jpg

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Above: Dobrun Monastery

 

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

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

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

Many people from Višegrad worked for the Republic of Ragusa.

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

 

Đurađ Branković, Esphigmenou charter (1429).jpg

Above: Durad Brankovic (1377 – 1456)

 

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

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

 

 

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

Construction of the bridge took place between 1571 and 1577.

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

 

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

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

Construction of the line started in 1903.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The town was strategically important during the Bosnian War conflict.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Eventually on 12 April, JNA commandos seized the dam.

 

Бањска стена - Тешке боје.jpg

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Visegradska banja vilina vlas by Klackalica.jpg

Above: Vilina Vlas Hotel today

 

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

Both of the town’s mosques were razed.

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

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

 

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

 

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Above: Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LUKIC Milan copy.jpg

Above: Milan Lukic

 

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

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

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

 

Above: Main Street, Andricgrad

 

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

 

The Bridge on the Drina.jpg

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Andrić disapproved.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image result for tugomir alaupović

Above: Tugomir Alaupovic (1870 – 1958)

 

Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August Strindberg

Above: Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)

 

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

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

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

Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

University of Zagreb logo.svg

 

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

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

 

 

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

Zagreb has four separate seasons.

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

Heatwaves can occur but are short-lived.

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

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

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

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

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

Winters are cold with a precipitation decrease pattern.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851 Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Zagreb Cathedral interior 1880.jpg

Above: Damage done to Zagreb Cathedral, 9 November 1880

 

The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891.

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

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

An electric power plant was built in 1907.

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

There are about fourteen big shopping centres in Zagreb.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

This led to his being reprimanded by the university.

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

 

Uni-Vienna-seal.png

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These regions work together in a European Centrope border region.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vienna is known for its high quality of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.)

 

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

Above: Images of Vienna (Wien)

 

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

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

 

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

Above: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

 

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

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

 

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

 

POL Jagiellonian University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Jagiellonian University

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Krakow Ghetto Gate 73170.jpg

 

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

 

John Paul II on 12 August 1993 in Denver, Colorado

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

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

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

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

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

In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

In the words of literary critics:

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

 

Flag of Poland

Above: Flag of Poland

 

(This perspective has always made me wonder….

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

 

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

 

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

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

(To be continued….)

Image result for ivo andric museum belgrade images

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

Canada Slim and the Voices without Echo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Monday 2 June 2019

Thursday was Ascension Day, a holiday commemorated in both Thurgau Canton (where my wife works) and in St. Gallen Canton (where I work), and, to our mutual surprise, we found ourselves both free from the obligations of employment simultaneously.

A miracle almost as spectacular as someone rising to Heaven in a cloud!

 

Obereschach Pfarrkirche Fresko Fugel Christi Himmelfahrt crop.jpg

 

We decided to visit the Hundertwasser Exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Lindau, Germany, by taking a train to Romanshorn, then another to Rorschach Harbour and then finally a boat across the Lake of Constance to Bavaria’s only port.

This post is not that story, though it is this story that inspires this post.

 

Image result for hundertwasser lindau bilder

 

In thinking about how my wife and I interacted on yesterday’s day trip I invariably compare it to other times we have travelled together.

 

(For previous posts about Porto, please see Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges as well as Canada Slim and the Station Sanctuary of this blog.)

 

The wife and I have been together for 23 years – she IS tough – and we always somehow muddle through.

We forgive one another.

She forgives me for being wrong and I forgive her for pointing out how truly wrong I can be!

Sadly, the amnesia of our conflicts is sometimes not as permanent as it should be….

 

Main eventposter.jpg

 

Porto, Portugal, Wednesday 25 July 2018

It is a warm day in this the most western country of Continental Europe and happily we are in a city we both like.

Porto is more than a twee tourist trap of little more than pomp and ceremony, like Lisboa the Portuguese capital.

Porto is Portugal’s Chicago, a busy commercial centre, whose fascination lies in its riverside setting and day-to-day life.

Make no mistake there are sites in Porto worth seeing….

  • The riverside barrio of Ribeira with waterfront cafés and restuarants
  • The landmark Clérigos Tower
  • The Sé, Porto’s cathedral
  • The contemporary art gallery and park at the Fondacao de Serralves
  • The port wine lodges across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia
  • A Douro River cruise
  • The bridges that span the Douro: the Ponte Dom Luis I, the Ponte Infante, the Ponte María Pia
  • The Salào Árabe of the Palácio da Bosa

 

From the top left corner clockwise: Clérigos Tower; Palácio da Bolsa; Avenida dos Aliados; Church of São Francisco; Porto Cathedral; Porto City Hall; Ribeira

Above: Images of Porto

 

We had walked through the cathedral square the day previously, but this morning we were determined to explore all the sites that surrounded it.

But the morning began badly.

 

A wardrobe malfunction made us return back to our B & B bedroom.

Then we discovered the English language guidebook we were dependent upon had somehow gone missing.

 

Pocket Rough Guide Porto

 

We returned once again to the room, didn’t find it, so we were forced to find a bookshop and buy the book anew.

We made our way back to the Sé and then she discovered her German-language guidebook was not to be found with us.

She rushed back to the room and left me in the bright sunshine waiting her return.

 

Porto April 2019-19a.jpg

 

Set on a rocky outcrop, a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station, Porto’s Cathedral, the Sé, commands fine views over the rooftops.

I look up at the Sé’s North Tower, the one with the bell, and my eyes trace the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a reminder of the earlier days of Portugal’s maritime epic, when sailors inched nervously down the west Saharan coastline not knowing what dangers were ahead.

Perhaps my wife’s impatience with the morning was partially affected by our cathedral visit, for the Sé’s interior is a disquieting, disastrous doomsday design of Baroque blended with rough Romanesque and gargantuan Gothic architecture that has a spirit as gloomy as a bride and groom forced to wed whom they do not love.

The Sé is redeemed its ghastly first impressions once the senses escape into the cathedral cloisters, with walls lovingly draped with glowing azulejos and a grand staircase that ascends to the breathtaking chapterhouse for panoramic perspectives of the world from the windows.

The Sé is a holy seductress with a mask of beauty that barely conceals a darkness and depth that dares not expose itself to the light.

The Sé is not an intimate ingress of inspiration but rather a stern sorrow-laden scourge of sin and sacrifice designed to intimidate and threaten those unworthy of salvation.

The old dowager lacks teeth, her majesty missing, her glory gone, her gloom inescapable.

 

 

The wife returned to retrieve her German-language Müller Guide which I should have packed in my rucksack and didn’t.

Boys, or men who eternally and internally remain boys, are book-bearing beasts of burden meant to be present but unobtrusive, to be seen but not heard.

I sit in the sun with clear directives to accomplish as set by my bothered bride.

I must plan our progress for the rest of the day.

Planning is never a prospect I embrace, for invariably my plans falls short of her perception of what a perfect plan entails.

I soak the warmth of the sunbaked stone into my already weary bones and tired mind.

I am unmoving and unmoved, immensely immovable.

On the south side of the Sé stretches the grandiose facade of the Paco Episcopal, the medieval archbishop’s palace, where the first King of Portugal was crowned and spent his wedding night.

 

Image result for paço episcopal do porto

 

Like the Sé,  the Paco is a mishmash of architectural elements: a Rococo stairway lined with carved granite flowers, Neoclassical doorways with Baroque decor, priceless furniture of luxurious lifestyle exposed to penny-pinching voyeuristic peasants, a lodging financed by a love of God with 17th century Indonesian cabinets hewed from blood and sweat, toil and tears hatefully demanded by harsh Portuguese taskmasters, religious paintings ironically produced in the secular scene of the first Portuguese Republic (1911 – 1956).

The Palace does not intice nor excite me.

 

 

But the notion of politics and history does, as I read A.H. de Oliveira Marques’ A Very Short History of Portugal and I wonder, as I often do, at what compels a man to demand better from those who would rule him.

The reckless courage that is required to speak truth to power and demand justice from the unjust has always fascinated me.

 

I am a foreigner living in Switzerland and though my lot as a Canadian is far more fortunate than that of other nationalities exiled here, there does exist inequalities and injustices enforced by the Swiss upon those who were not born in the Helvetian Republic.

Just to name a few: taxation without any or only minor representation, difficulty to find employment matching the expat’s experience and the unnecessary requirement that rejects qualifications not obtained within Switzerland, the blatant racial and religious profiling done at border crossings by unsympathetic customs pitbull police, the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, xenophobia encouraged by the eternally re-elected party in power, the bureaucracy that is bathed with greed and complexity, the fortress mentality of a nation determined to remain neutral yet one that profits from the spoils of war, a people who confuse quality of life by quantity of franks in silent bank vaults and wonder why having it all isn’t so much fun….

I often want to climb the stairs to our apartment building’s roof and shout obscenities down upon the unsuspecting neighbourhood of Landschlacht.

But I lack the courage, for attention garnered may mean expulsion, and, for better or worse, Switzerland has been my home for nine years.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

I am a whisper on the Internet, a voice without echo, in a world blind to everything but the square screen of the preset mobile device upon their palms.

 

Image result for mobile phone addiction

 

I think about what we could tour next.

The house behind the Sé at Rua de Dom Hugo 32 was once the home of the poet and writer Guerra Junquiero whose works reflected the revolutionay turmoil of the Republican era.

Today the Casa Museu Guerra Junquiero exhibits the Iberian and Islamic art, the Seljuk pottery, glassware and glazed earthenwear that he had collected over his lifetime, in rooms that recapture the atmosphere of the poet’s last home.

My guidebooks speak of the Junquiero Museum but none lavishes praise upon it, primarily for the reason that all is written only in Portuguese.

 

Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro 88.JPG

 

Abílio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro (1850 – 1923) was a Portuguese top civil servant, a member of the Portuguese House of Representatives, a journalist, author and poet.

His work helped inspire the creation of the Portuguese First Republic.

Junqueiro wrote highly satirical poems criticizing conservatism, romanticism and the Church, leading up to the Portuguese Revolution of 1910.

He was one of Europe’s greatest poets.

 

 

Born in Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal to José António Junqueiro Júnior, a supply trader and farmer, and wife Ana Maria Guerra.

His mother died when he was only three years old.

He completed his secondary studies in Bragança and at sixteen, he enrolled at the University of Coimbra to study theology.

Guerra Junqueiro began his literary career in a promising way in Coimbra in the literary journal A Folha, directed by the poet João Penha, of which later he was editor.

 

Above: Bust of Joao Penha (1838 – 1919), Braga, Portugal

 

Here Junquiero created friendly relations with some of the best writers and poets of his time, a group generally known as the Generation of 70.

Guerra Junqueiro from a very young age began to manifest remarkable poetic talent, and already by 1867 his name was included among the most hopeful of the new generation of Portuguese poets.

In the same year, in the book entitled The Portuguese Aristarchus, appreciating the book  Vozes Sem Echo (Voices without Echo), published in Coimbra in 1867 by Guerra Junqueiro, an auspicious future was already foreseen for its author.

Image result for Vozes sem eco

 

In Porto, on the same date, another work appeared, Baptismo de Amor (Baptism of Love), accompanied by a preamble written by Camilo Castelo Branco.

 

Image result for Baptismo de amor junquiero

 

In Coimbra, Junqueiro published the Lira dos quatorze anos (The Book of Fourteen Years), a volume of poetry, and the poem Mysticae nuptiae.

 

Image result for Lira dos catorze anos junqueiro

 

In Porto, in 1870 the Vitória da Franca (Victory of France) was published, then later republished in Coimbra in 1873.

 

Related image

 

In 1873, when a republic was proclaimed in Spain, Junquiero wrote the vehement poem À Espanha livre (To free Spain).

 

Image result for À Espanha livre junqueiro

 

Junqueiro concluded his study of law also in 1873.

He became secretary of the governors of Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, and later of Viana do Castelo.

 

In 1874 his poem A morte de D. Joao (The death of D. João) achieved great success.

 

A Morte de D. João (Classic Reprint)

 

Camilo Castelo Branco dedicated an article to him in the Nights of Insomnia, and Oliveira Martins, in the magazine Arts and Letters.

 

Camilo Castelo Branco.jpg

Above: Camilo Castelo Branco (1825 – 1890)

 

In Lisbon, Junquiero was a contributor of prose and verse, for political and artistic journals, such as The Magic Lantern  and António Maria, with the collaboration of drawings by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.

In 1875 Junquiero wrote O Crime, a poem on the murder of Ensign Palma de Brito, the poem Aos Veteranos da Liberdade (To the Veterans of Freedom) and the volume of Contos para a infancía (Tales for Childhood).

 

Image result for crime guerra junqueiro

 

In Diário de Notícias (The Daily News) he also published the poem Fiel e Na Ferra da Ladra (Fiel and the Story of Feira da Ladra).

 

Image result for guerra junqueiro

 

In 1878 he published in Lisbon the poem Tragédia infantil.

 

Image result for tragédia infantil junqueiro

 

Junquiero collaborated to several periodical publications, namely: Atlantida (1915-1920), Branco e Negro (1896-1898), Brazil Portugal (1899-1914) (1884-1885), The Press, The Universal Illustration (1884-1885), The Portuguese Illustration (1885-1891), Sunday’s Newspaper (1881-1888), The Reading (1894-1896), Light and Life (1879), The West (1878-1915), Renaissance  (1878-1879), The Pantheon (1880-1881), The Portuguese Republic (1901-1911), Azulejos (1907-1909), in the Tourism magazine, begun in 1916 and in the newspaper O Azeitonense (1919-1920).

A great part of the poetic compositions of Guerra Junqueiro is reunited in the volume A Musa Em Férias (The Muse on Vacation), published in 1879.

 

Image result for a musa em férias guerra junqueiro

 

This year he also wrote the poem O Melro (O Blackbird), which was later included in A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father) of 1885.

 

Image result for o melro guerra junqueiro

 

Idílios e Sátrias (Idylls and Satires) was a translated and collected volume of short stories by Hans Christian Andersen and others.

 

Photograph taken by Thora Hallager, 1869

Above: Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875)

 

After a stay in Paris, apparently for treatment of digestive disease contracted during his stay in the Azores, Junquiero published in 1885, in Porto, A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father), a work that provoked bitter retorts by the clerical opinion, represented in the press, among others, by the canon José Joaquim de Sena Freitas.

 

Image result for José Joaquim de Sena Freitas

Above: José Joaquim de Sena Freitas (1840 – 1913)

 

Controversial with regard to religion, other writings of anticlerical nature by its author have been found in periodical publications like The Lucta and The Light (1919 -1921).

 

When the conflict with England over the “pink map“, which culminated in the British Ultimatum of 11 January 1890, Guerra Junqueiro became deeply interested in this national crisis and wrote Finis Patriae (The end of country) and A Cancao do Ódio (The Song of Hate), to which Miguel Ângelo Pereira wrote the music.

 

Finis Patriae (Classic Reprint)

 

(The 1890 British Ultimatum was an ultimatum by the British government delivered on 11 January 1890 to Portugal.

The ultimatum forced the retreat of Portuguese military forces from areas which had been claimed by Portugal on the basis of historical discovery and recent exploration, but which the United Kingdom claimed on the basis of effective occupation.

Portugal had attempted to claim a large area of land between its colonies of Mozambique and Angola including most of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia and a large part of Malawi, which had been included in Portugal’s “Rose-coloured Map“.

 

 

It has sometimes been claimed that the British government’s objections arose because the Portuguese claims clashed with its aspirations to create a Cape to Cairo Railway, linking its colonies from the south of Africa to those in the north.

 

Above: British colonies (pink), Portuguese colonies (purple)

 

This seems unlikely, as in 1890 Germany already controlled German East Africa, now Tanzania, and Sudan was independent under Muhammad Ahmad.

Rather, the British government was pressed into taking action by Cecil Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company was founded in 1888 south of the Zambezi and the African Lakes Company and British missionaries to the north.

 

Cecil Rhodes ww.jpg

Above: Cecil Rhodes (1853 – 1902)

 

When Portugal acquiesced to British demands, it was considered as a breach of the Treaty of Windsor (1386) and seen as a national humiliation by republicans in Portugal, who denounced the government and the King as responsible for it.

On 14 January, the progressive government fell and the leader of the Regenerador Party, António de Serpa Pimentel, was chosen to form the new government.

 

Serpa Pimentel.jpg

Above: António de Serpa Pimental (1825 – 1900)

 

The progressivists then began to attack the King, voting for republican candidates in the March election of that year, questioning the colonial agreement then signed with the British.

Feeding an atmosphere of near insurrection, on 23 March 1890, António José de Almeida, at the time a student in the University of Coimbra and, later on, President of the Republic, published an article entitled Bragança, o último, considered slanderous against the King and led to Almeida’s imprisonment.

 

Antonio Jose de Almeida (official).jpg

Above: António José de Almeida (1866 – 1929)

 

On 1 April 1890, the explorer Silva Porto (1817 – 1890) immolated himself (set himself on fire), wrapped in a Portuguese flag in Kuito, Angola, after failed negotiations with the locals,  attributed to the Ultimatum.

The death of the well-known explorer of the African continent generated a wave of national sentiment and his funeral was followed by a crowd in Porto.

 

 

On 11 April, Guerra Junqueiro’s poetic work Finis Patriae, a satire criticising the King, went on sale.

 

In the city of Porto, on 31 January 1891, a military uprising against the monarchy took place, constituted mainly by sergeants and enlisted ranks.

The rebels, who used the nationalist anthem A Portuguesa as their marching song, took the Paços do Concelho, from whose balcony, the republican journalist and politician Augusto Manuel Alves da Veiga proclaimed the establishment of the republic in Portugal and hoisted a red and green flag belonging to the Federal Democratic Centre.

The movement was, shortly afterwards, suppressed by a military detachment of the municipal guard that remained loyal to the government, resulting in 40 injured and 12 casualties.

The captured rebels were judged. 250 received sentences of between 18 months and 15 years of exile in Africa.

A Portuguesa was forbidden.

Despite its failure, the rebellion of 31 January 1891 was the first large threat felt by the monarchic regime and a sign of what would come almost two decades later.

 

 

The British Ultimatum was considered by Portuguese historians and politicians at that time to be the most outrageous and infamous action of the UK against its oldest ally.

The 1890 ultimatum was said to be one of the main causes for the Republican Revolution, which ended the monarchy in Portugal 20 years later (5 October 1910) and the Lisbon assassinations of the Portuguese king (Carlos I of Portugal) and the crown prince on 1 February 1908.

 

 

After the British Ultimatum and the political crisis associated, he was involved in the political debate in 1891, writing some best sellers that had huge impact on public opinion, contributing to the discredit of the Portuguese monarchy and the success of the Portuguese Republican Party in the 1910 Portuguese Revolution.

The 5 October 1910 revolution was the overthrow of the centuries-old Portuguese monarchy and its replacement by the Portuguese Republic.

It was the result of a coup d’état organized by the Portuguese Republican Party.

By 1910, the Kingdom of Portugal was in deep crisis: British pressure on Portugal’s colonies, the royal family’s expenses, the assassination of the King and his heir in 1908, changing religious and social views, instability of the two political parties (Progressive and Regenerador), the dictatorship of João Franco and the regime’s apparent inability to adapt to modern times all led to widespread resentment against the Monarchy.

The proponents of the republic, particularly the Republican Party, found ways to take advantage of the situation.

The Republican Party presented itself as the only one that had a programme that was capable of returning to the country its lost status and place Portugal on the way of progress.

 

Estremoz13.jpg

 

(Why does this sound so familiar?)

(Make Portugal great again?)

 

 

After a reluctance of the military to combat the nearly two thousand soldiers and sailors that rebelled between 3 and 4 October 1910, the Republic was proclaimed at 9 o’clock of the next day from the balcony of the Paços do Concelho in Lisbon.

 

 

After the revolution, a provisional government led by Teófilo Braga directed the fate of the country until the approval of the Constitution in 1911 that marked the beginning of the First Republic.

 

Teófilo Braga (ChFl).jpg

Above: Joaquim Teofilo Fernandes Braga (1843 – 1924)

 

Among other things, with the establishment of the republic, national symbols were changed: the national anthem and the flag.

 

Flag of Portugal

 

The revolution produced some civil and religious liberties, although there were no advances in women’s rights  and in workers’ rights, unlike what had happened in other European countries.

The First Portuguese Republic (Portuguese: Primeira República Portuguesa; officially: República Portuguesa, Portuguese Republic) spans a complex 16-year period in the history of Portugal, between the end of the period of constitutional monarchy marked by the 5 October 1910 revolution and the 28 May 1926 coup d’état.

The sixteen years of the First Republic saw nine presidents and 44 ministries and has been described as consisting of “continual anarchy, government corruption, rioting and pillage, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and religious persecution“.

The latter movement instituted a military dictatorship known as Ditadura Nacional (national dictatorship) that would be followed by the corporatist Estado Novo (new state) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.

 

Antonio Salazar-1.jpg

Above: António de Oliveria Salazar (1889 – 1970)

 

Kidnapped and driven off into darkness after Salazar snatched power in 1928, Portugal was absent from the Second World War and through most of the 20th century was economically isolated and politically smothered.

 

Portugal is rich with potential and a certain backwardness adds to the charm.

It is easy to fall in love with this fair land on this final edge of the world, though it could use a bit more self-confidence and a lot more marketing of itself and its heritage.)

 

Junquiero married Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves on 10 February 1880.

The couple had two children: Maria Isabel Guerra Junqueiro on 11 November 1880 and Júlia Guerra Junqueiro in 1881.

He died in Lisbon at the age of 72.

In 1940 Junqueiro’s daughter donated his estate in Porto that became the Guerra Junqueiro Museum.

 

 

Chronology of Guerra Junquiero:

1850:  Born in Ligares, Freixo de Espada a Cinta
1864:  The Book of Fourteen Years
1866:  Studies theology at the University of Coimbra;
1867:  Voices Without Echo
1868:  Baptism of Love. Enrolls in the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra.
1873:  Free Spain. Collaboration to The Leaf of João Penha. He earns a bachelor’s degree in law.
1874: The Death of D. João
1875: First issue of The Magic Lantern to which he collaborates
1878: He is appointed Secretary General of the Civil Government in Angra do Heroísmo.
1879:  The Muse on Vacation and The Blackbird.  Joins the Progressive Party. He is transferred from Angra do Heroísmo to Viana do Castelo and elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
1880: Married on 10 February to Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves. 11  November, their daughter Maria Isabel is born.
1881: Daughter Julia is born. Diagnosed with dementia, hospitalized in Porto.
1885:  The Old Age of the Eternal Father. Creation of the “New Life” movement of which Junqueiro is a sympathizer.
1887: Second trip to Paris
1888: The group “Losers of Life” is formed. The Legitimate.
1889: His wife, Filomena Augusta Neves, dies whom he will mourn until the end of his days.
1890:  Finis Patriae. Guerra Junqueiro is elected deputy by the Quelimane circle.
1895:  Sells most of the artistic collections he had accumulated;
1896:  The Fatherland. Departs for Paris.

1902:  Prayer for Bread
1903:  Lives in Vila do Conde.
1904:  Prayer to the Light
1905:  A visit to the Polytechnic Academy of Porto prompts him to settle in this city.
1908:  He is candidate of the Republican Party for Porto.
1910:   He is appointed Extraordinary Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Portuguese Republic to the Swiss Confederation in Berne
1914:  Exonerated from the functions of Minister Plenipotentiary
1920:  Sparse Prose
1923:  He died on 7 July in Lisbon.
1966: His body is solemnly transferred from the Jerónimos Monastery where it had been interred to the National Pantheon of the Church of Santa Engrácia, Lisbon, in a ceremony held to honor other illustrious Portuguese figures.

 

 

Those are the facts as drily given by Wikipedia and Google, but who was the man?

How should we categorize him?

Should we?

Can we?

Was he a mere bureaucratic drone who dabbled in poetry?

Or a poet who dabbled in government work?

Did his writing incite a revolution or did it merely capture the spirit of the times?

 

 

As I sit in the sun my mind should be planning our travel itinerary for the day so to placate my wife upon her return.

But instead I think of Junqueiro and his Museum I won’t mention to the wife, already unhappy with the start of our first full day in Porto.

 

 

I think instead of the power of the printed word and of the impossibility, even through the written expression of a writer’s thoughts, of truly knowing another person.

Though it may be acknowledged that it is surely difficult for us to know a Portuguese poet long dead from nearly a century ago, it must also be acknowledged that even those we presently love remain unsolved mysteries to us.

 

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.

And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.”  (Michel de Montaigne, Essais)

 

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne, circa unknown.jpg

Above: Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

 

Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves.

So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them.

In the vast colony of our being, there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.”  (Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego)

 

Portrait of Pessoa, 1914.

Above: Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935)

 

I think of the mix of contradictory emotions that fill me anticipating my wife’s return, both eagerly awaiting and decidedly dreading her return.

 

I think of how each of us carries around inside ourselves whole worlds.

 

I am more than a sweaty balding head.

I am also a tear-softened soul.

 

I think of how much life I might still have before me, how open my future might be, how much could still happen, how much there might still be experienced.

 

 

Can anyone see beneath my mask that I am a mix of modesty and immodesty, of conformity and eccentricity, that within me lies a silent rage aimed at a pompous world, an unbending defiance against the world of show-offs whose only real accomplishment is their accidental connectivity to realms of power and prestige denied the average man?

 

I sit in the sun, uncertain of what to suggest next, unwilling to face my wife’s disapproval at what she will perceive to be laziness instead of confusion.

 

Perhaps we travel not to experience another world, but to flee from our own experience, simultaneously running to and from life.

 

 

Portugal is a land always in the shadows, a land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests.

It is a land of mournful fado wailing and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

 

 

Critics, most of them Portuguese, call Portugal the graveyard of ambition, the kingdom of mediocrity, where the national pastime is complaining and the ambitious leave.

As late as 2005, Portugal still had 13% of women who couldn’t read, less than 50% of children who made it to high school and was the lowest earner of the EU.

 

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

 

Porto, historically the country’s wine distribution centre, is said to be the hardest working part of Portugal:

Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays.

 

I want to visit the archbishop’s palace and the poet’s place, for I take great comfort from the calm of everything past.

 

So often I am alone with my thoughts, even when surrounded by a cacophony of chaotic conversations convulsing from a crowd.

My mind is sealed and my tongue falters in failing to express the vaulted thought.

My wife speaks and my ears hear and my heart listens, but my mind is my own, adrift on its own adventure, lost in its own odyssey.

 

I am reminded of my reading on the flight the day before, of the writing of Amadeu Prado, as invented by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier in his book Night Train to Lisbon:

 

Night Train to Lisbon.jpg

 

Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one experience at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves.

Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its colour and its melody.

Then, when we turn to these treasures, as archaeologists of the soul, we discover how confusing they are.

The object of contemplation refuses to stand still, the words bounce off the experience and in the end, pure contradictions stand on the paper.

 

What benefit is there in being the archaeologist of one’s self, to dig for buried experience?

 

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpg

 

Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?

 

The Wikipedia photo of Junquiero shows a man of intelligence and self-confidence and boldness.

Or is what I perceive only an observation of qualities I wish I possessed beneath the mask I wear?

 

 

Yet the contradiction that is a man’s character sometimes wonders could something be made different from my life, that there may be more to me than anyone knows.

 

In the centre of the city, in the centre of my life, I sit in the sun in the square of the cathedral.

I reflect how we live in an age rushing through a timeless universe only appreciated when contemplated quietly and calmly.

 

 

I think of the life of a man I never knew, a poet whose words I never read, who wrote in a language I never spoke.

Is Junqueiro only identifiable by what he did and the words he wrote?

Was there more to the man than anyone besides himself could ever possibly know?

 

Related image

 

Is there a mystery under the surfaces of human action?

Or are human beings utterly what their obvious acts indicate?

 

The words that Junquiero wrote, the words I have never read, are they expressions of eternally, essentially, the same things others have said before?

 

Words are so horribly frayed and threadbare, worn out by being used millions of times.

Do they still have any meaning?

Naturally, the exchange of words functions.

People act on them.

They laugh and cry.

They go left or right.

The waiter brings the coffee or tea.

But that’s not what I want to ask.

The question is:

Are they still an expression of thoughts?

Or only effective sounds that drive people here and there because the worn grooves of babble incessantly flash?

 

Perhaps I should follow the advice of Marcus Aurelius when he writes in his Meditations:

Do wrong to thyself.

Do wrong to thyself, my soul, but later thou wilt no longer have the opportunity of respecting and honouring thyself.

For every man has but one life….

Those who do not observe the impulses of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

 

Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius. This masterful portrait captures the pensive temperament of the philosopher-emperor and author of the celebrated 'Meditations', reflections on life and the ways of the gods. The smooth, softly modeled carving of the flesh contrasts markedly with the mass of thick, curling hair. The drooping eyelids and detached gaze suggest his contemplative nature.

Above: Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180)

 

She returns to me still sitting in the sun, with little progress on the planning made.

I imagine her thinking:

What is the point of having a husband if he does not do what he is told?

I imagine that she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders having a man about who is so completely useless at times.

I smile foolishly and say pointless words to defend my pointlessness.

 

 

I don’t mention Junquiero’s house and she never asks.

I also know I would be frustrated being in a museum whose signage I couldn’t read, despite the unfair expectation that a Portuguese museum have any other language besides Portuguese for a poet unknown outside of Portugal.

 

With a heavy sigh, she plans for us.

The morning has been shot to hell, so lunch across the Douro River in Gaia might inspire us.

Like the animal I am, I respond greedily to the prospect of food.

I know there is no excuse for my behaviour and no words to justify it, so I don’t bother trying.

 

Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Above: Vila Nova de Gaia

 

As I rise to my feet, carefully – I am just recovering from an accident where I broke both my arms – I think of Prado who never existed and Junquiero who no longer exists, then I focus on matters at hand.

The universe may be timeless but our vacation time is not.

 

But reading Mercier’s novel and learning of Junquiero’s life has inspired me.

I will ask when I can at random bookshops for the poems of Junquiero available in English translation.

 

Above: Livraria Lello, Porto

 

I know that the rhythm and subtlity of his poetry will be inadequately conveyed in translation, but I also know the painfully slow process of translating the original Portuguese into English I understand will somehow destroy the passion with which I started to read.

Nonetheless there is too little poetry in my life and even the muse of love has her limits and I must make amends for this deficiency.

 

I will return from the vacation and do the things I must do.

Work where and when I can.

Meet my obligations to others as best as I can.

I will seek no evil to see, no evil to hear, no evil to speak.

I remain a true husband, a good friend and loyal employee.

But my mind is my own and my words, as imprecise as they can be, will seek to speak my mind.

Perhaps through reading poetry I shall find the means to express myself.

I am my own archaeologist of my own self.

 

So much generated from simply sitting in the sun.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Portugal / Rough Guide Portugal / Pocket Rough Guide Porto / Matthew Hancock, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese / A.H. de Oliveira Marques, A Very Short History of Portugal / Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon / Pedro Rodrigues, Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories / Melissa Rossi, The Armchair Diplomat on Europe / Jürgen Strohmeier, Nordportugal

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.

 

Arnold Toynbee.jpg

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)

 

Razors edge 84.jpg

 

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.)

 

Royal observatory greenwich.jpg

 

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.

 

DangerMouseTVtitle.jpg

 

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?

 

Lord Krishna with flute.jpg

 

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.

 

Image result for baps shri swaminarayan mandir london photos

 

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.

 

Mount Everest as seen from Drukair2 PLW edit.jpg

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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