Canada Slim and the Coming of the Fall

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 October 2017

There are some things that I don´t enjoy about working at Starbucks: shift work, impolite customers, how horribly messy the customers can be, how terrible things can become when things get insanely busy, especially with the arrival of autumn and the annual St. Gallen OLMA fair on now.

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No job is perfect.

As well, no person is perfect at their job 100% of the time.

I´m certainly not.

But to justify supporting an employee, standards are set that he/she must meet.

From the bottom rung of humble baristas, such as myself, to shift managers, to store managers, to district managers, all the way to corporate HQ in faroff Seattle.

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Above: Starbucks Corporation Headquarters, Seattle, Washington, USA

The job is defined, standards are set, and, hopefully, those hired by the company will do their jobs by the set standards.

If one doesn´t do his/her job as he/she should, then it is no great surprise to find that person asked to leave the position.

Politics shouldn´t be that far removed from business practices.

National leaders have their jobs defined, by either constitutions or by, the basest standard of measurement, the welfare of those for whom he/she has been entrusted responsibility.

Standards are set, either through comparisons with other current counterparts in a similar position of power or through comparisons with those who previously held the position.

Depending on the system of government by which a nation is administered, an unsuitable leader is forced to relinquish power if he/she is not following the constitution by which the country defines itself or if the welfare of the people has become so unpleasant that legal or even violent methods are sought to force the leader out.

Which brings me to the topic of two leaders, a century and an ocean apart….

In America there are three ways to end a presidency: vote him out of office in the following election, impeachment, and assassination.

Flag of the United States

Assassination is usually a bad idea, for it creates a martyrdom of that presidency.

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Above: The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, Ford Theater, Washington DC, 14 April 1865

Election is the normal course, if the dislike of a particular president is less a consequence of wrongdoing the president has done as it is a preference for a different candidate, then folks will willingly, albeit begrudgingly, wait until the customary time for re-election is due and then not return the president to power.

Impeachment is reserved for times when the President has already proven himself unsuitable for the position based on the dual standards of the rules set out by the US Constitution and by the intolerable welfare of the American populace.

At present, the United States is administered by Donald John Trump, a man uniquely unsuitable for the position of President.

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Above: Donald John Trump, 45th US President since 2016

At present, his popularity wavers in the low 30s percentage mark.

So, is there a case for impeachment?

“Impeachment will proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust, and they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” (Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist)

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Above: Alexander Hamilton (1755 – 1804)

“History is not geometry and historical parallels are never exact, yet a president who seems to have learned nothing from history is abusing and violating the public trust and setting the stage for a myriad of impeachable offenses that could get him removed from office.” (Allan J. Lichtman, The Case for Impeachment)

The Case for Impeachment - Allan J. Lichtman

What follows is an abridgement of Lichtman´s excellent abovementioned book….

The President is the nation´s chief executive and commander in chief of its armed forces, but herein lies the danger that a President might pervert his administration into a scheme of oppression, or betray his public trust to foreign powers.

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To keep a rogue president in check, power in America is shared by three independent branches of government, but a determined President can crash through these barriers.

Above: The political system of the United States

So, impeachment exists as the final solution to remove an unsuitable President before an election or before his/her term is due to end.

“The genius of impeachment is that it could punish the man without punishing the office.” (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.)

The impeachment of a President is rare.

America has seen the impeachment of only two Presidents: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

Both were acquitted after impeachment by the Senate.

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Above: Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), 17th US President (1865-1869)

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Above: William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd US President (1993 – 2001)

Richard Nixon avoided impeachment by resigning.

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Above: Richard Nixon (1913-1994), 37th US President (1969-1974)

One in fourteen US Presidents has faced the possibility of impeachment.

Trump has broken all the rules.

He has stretched presidential authority nearly to the breaking point, appointed cabinet officials dedicated to destroying the institutions they are assigned to run, and has pushed America toward legal, military and constitutional crisis.

No previous President has entered the Oval Office without a shred of public service or with as egregious a record of enriching himself at the expense of others.

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Trump´s penchant for lying, disregard for the law and conflicts of interest are lifelong habits that permeate his entire Presidency.

He has a history of mistreating women and covering up his misdeeds.

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Above: The Women´s March, the largest single day protest in US history, 21 January 2017

He commits crime against humanity by reversing the battle against catastrophic climate change.

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His dubious connections to Russia could open him up to a charge of treason.

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Above: The flag of Russia

There are standards of truthfulness that a President must uphold.

There is a line between public service and private gain.

A free press is needed for a democracy to function.

A country should be immune against foreign manipulation of its politics.

A President has a responsibility to protect his people and, where applicable, the world.

By all these standards, Donald J. Trump has failed as a President.

As I have previously stated in this blog, impeachment is only possible with the majority vote of the US House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republican Party whom Trump represents.

Seal of the U.S. House of Representatives

Only when Republicans themselves become convinced that Trump has committed high criminal offenses against the United States, that he imperils public safety and is unwell to occupy the Oval Office, then and only then will impeachment become a possibility.

Above: Logo of the US Republican Party

Trump could be convicted for illegal acts that occurred before he assumed office, for the Constitution specifies no time limit on any of its impeachable offenses: violation of the Fair Housing Act, the fraudulent charity Trump Foundation which is not legally registered, violation of the federal government´s strict embargo against spending any money for commercial purposes in Cuba, the fraudulent Trump University, and his exploitation of undocumented immigrants to build Trump Tower and in Trump Model Management.

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Above: Trump Tower, Trump Organization HQ, New York City

To guard against foreign leverage on a President, the Constitution has a provision known as the Emoluments Clause, which says that “no title of nobility will be granted by the United States, and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, with the consent of Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state.”

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Above: Page 1 of the original US Constitution (1787)

The Emoluments Clause prohibits all federal officials, including the President, from receiving anything of value from foreign governments and their agents.

The prohibition is absolute.

No amount is specified.

A quid pro quo is not required to trigger a violation.

The Trump Company has millions invested in the Philippines and Trump´s profits depend on the good faith of the Filipino agent in the United States.

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Above: The flag of the Philippines

The Trump Company has been granted a valuable trademark right for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry in China.

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Above: The flag of the People´s Republic of China

Which begs the question of whether there is a quid pro quo agreement between the President and China.

Besides China and the Philippines, there are more than twenty nations in which Trump has business connections.

Does Trump distinguish his economic interests from the interests of the United States?

Trump businesses are heavily laden with debts that give lenders leverage over the Presidency.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump owes more than a billion dollars to some 150 financial institutions.

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“The problem with any of this debt is if something goes wrong and there is a situation where the President is suddenly personally beholden or vulnerable to threats from the lenders.” (Trevor Potter)

Trump and his appointees make policy and regulatory decisions that affect these lenders.

Federal regulators have sanctioned one of Trump´s largest creditors, Deutsche Bank for fraud and the laundering of money from Russia.

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Above: Logo of Deutsche Bank

Trump also has debts in China.

“Trump´s election may usher in a world in which his stature as the US President, the status of his private ventures across the globe, and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined.” (Rosalind Helderman/Tim Hamburger)

Already, there is a lawsuit, brought by a bipartisan group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which accuses Trump of having violated the Emoluments Clause.

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Above: The White House

Trump´s domestic interests violates other federal laws.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act prevents members of Congress and other federal employees from reaping private economic benefits through access to nonpublic governmental information.

“If Trump continues to own his businesses and he uses insider information or information he has as President, then arguably it is a violation of the STOCK Act.” (Larry Noble)

The Act also applies to any nonpublic information that Trump provides family members.

Withholding his tax returns, Trump makes it difficult to distinguish between benefits flowing to him personally versus those flowing to members of his family.

Above: Page 1, Form 1040, US tax return form, 2005

Then there is the question of conflicts of interest.

Trump has been urged to sell his interests in all his properties, to liquidate his debts and to put his remaining assets in a blind trust, administered by a third party who would not report to the President or his family any details of financial transactions.

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Instead Trump handed over management of his enterprises to his children.

Trump retains all ownership and licensing rights to his enterprises and continually and personally profits from all his businesses.

The list of conflict-making presidential decisions cuts across virtually the entire range of national policies, including taxation, regulation, infrastructure spending, government contracts, trade, military operations, relations with foreign leaders, and so on.

A technical violation of the law is not necessary to trigger impeachment.

Any subordination of America´s national interests to Trump´s financial interests will suffice.

Donald Trump is a liar.

His lies have profited him in business, burnished his image, helped him fight thousands of lawsuits and won him the White House.

It is his reflex response to any challenge or opportunity.

Legally, Trump can lie while in office, but if he lies intentionally on a material matter in sworn testimony, that is a crime known as perjury.

Lying to Congress or to federal officials is also an impeachable offense.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that a President cannot be sued for his official duties, but is not otherwise immune from lawsuits involving unofficial conduct, whether before or after assuming office.

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If Trump is sued and forced to testify under oath and lies, this could lead directly to his impeachment.

If Trumps corrupts the government information upon which an informed citizenry depends, this is another avenue to impeachment in that his lies threaten national credibility and trust.

Is Donald Trump a traitor?

If it can be proven that there was some level of collusion between Trump or his agents and a foreign power to manipulate the results of an American election, then Trump could be charged with treason.

No one in Congress will tolerate a compromised or treasonous President.

Impeachment and trial will be quick and decisive.

Trump may be destined for impeachment for egregious abuses of power.

Through his travel bans, Trump has violated the letter and spirit of the Immigration Act, which rejects nationality quotas and states that no person can be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigration visa because of the person´s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence”.

The travel bans violate the First Amendment´s prohibition against “an establishment of religion”, which forbids any government to favour one religion over another.

The travel bans violate the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the government from depriving individuals of their “life, liberty or property, without due process of law”.

The Whistleblowers Protection Act protects the rights of federal employees to report misconduct, without retaliation or reprisals.

Some 1,000 professional American diplomats submitted a dissent memo declaring that Trump´s ban was discriminatory.

They were told that they “should either get with the program or they can go”.

Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she refused to defend his travel ban in court, because she believed, in good conscience, that the ban violated American law.

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Above: Sally Yates, US Attorney General (2017)

In drafting his travel ban, Trump did not consult with Congress or any pertinent committees.

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Instead Trump recruited staff members of the House Judiciary Committee to assist in drafting the executive order, without prior consultation with their bosses, imposing on them confidentiality agreements.

The unauthorised use of congressional staffers and the coercing upon them of gag orders, violates the separation of powers between the executive and Congress.

When Senior Federal District Court Judge James L. Robart issued an injunction halting implementation of Trump´s travel ban, Trump responded by waging war on the judiciary suggesting that the Courts will be to blame for any future terrorist attack upon US soil.

Trump´s dispargement of the Judiciary raises concerns that, in the event of another terrorist incident, Trump will blame the Courts and his political enemies as a pretext for taking total control under martial law.

To eliminate another check on his powers, Trump discredits any reporting that does not follow his propaganda line as “fake news” by the “very dishonest press”.

The White House has barred from press briefings selected outlets that have reported news critical of the administration.

Above: President George W. Bush unveiling the James Brady White House Press Briefing Room, 11 July 2007

He continues to threaten suppression of those news sources he disapproves of.

Even if President Trump does not brazenly violate the First Amendment through censorship, he can still be impeached for his war on the press as an abuse of presidential power.

Issues surrounding Trump´s temperament raise the question of whether he might be charged with “incapacity”.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides a means for removing a President for disabilities – not limited to the physical – that render him unable to fulfill the duties of office.

It is a procedure that has never been used to remove a President and requires the cooperation of the Vice President and the cabinet.

Should Trump challenge this declaration, then Congress must declare him incapable by at least a two-thirds vote.

Mental health professionals have already challenged Trump´s mental fitness to govern.

By the standard of ensuring that the citizenry under his control are provided for, Trump has again failed.

From his desire to remove millions of Americans from health coverage, to his unwillingness to ensure American safety from the overabundance of and lack of regulation of guns, to his provocation of North Korea in a game of nuclear roulette, to his reversal of needed climate change legislation and cooperation, to his unwilling reluctance to assist a devastated Puerto Rico, Trump has proven again and again of his unfitness to govern America.

 

Perhaps it is not a question of whether Trump will be impeached but more of a question of when?

 

A similar inevitable scenario existed in Russia a century ago….

To be fair, Tsar Nicholas II had powers that Trump could only dream of, but there are definite parallels that can be drawn between Nicholas and Trump and why these parallels led to the necessary abdication of Nicholas as Tsar of Russia.

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Above: Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918), Tsar (1894-1917)

The Russian Revolution did not come of the blue.

The dress rehearsal for the events of 1917 took place in 1905.

1904 had seen military defeat by the Japanese, starvation and discontent in the countryside, appaling living and working conditions in the cities, and the spread of socialist and democratic ideas among the intelligentsia.

These all came together on 9 January 1905, Bloody Sunday, when the Imperial Guard in St. Petersburg gunned down hundreds of unarmed demonstrators.

The result was a mortal blow to the credibility of Nicholas II and his regime.

Massive nationwide strikes and demonstrations forced the Tsar to accept the first-ever representative assembly in Russian history, the Duma.

This concession brought a few years of precarious stability.

The next few years saw a bitter tug of war between a Tsar, who was intent on maintaining his autocratic power, and a series of Dumas demanding economic and political reform.

With the abandonment of serious efforts at reform, rising social disorder and discontent was Russia´s entry into the First World War in 1914.

Russian society pulled together in the face of a common enemy.

Strikes stopped.

Agitators were jalied.

There were huge patriotic demonstrations.

But as the War dragged on, the resulting military humiliation and rising economic discontent, was the final nail in the coffin of the tsarist regime.

The War took Nicholas far away from Petrograd (the new, patriotic name for St. Petersburg) to command his troops.

(Like Trump, Nicholas thought himself to be a military leader.

He wasn´t.

Trump isn´t.)

Government was left in the hands of the capricious and incompetent Tsarina Alexandra.

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Above: Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), Tsarina (1894-1917)

The standing of the Tsar reached rock bottom, with even members of his own family plotting to remove him.

Rising popular discontent came to a head with bread riots in Petrograd.

After some attempts at suppression the army joined the rioters.

Nicholas was asked by the Duma to respond directly in Petrograd.

On his train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

Russia had only a provisional government sharing its powers with a workers´ soviet.

The temporary government needed the aura of authority through which to yield power, while the soviet knew its powers need not extend beyond the capital.

The people needed a legitimate sense that order would indeed be reestablished.

It was clear that Nicholas had long ago failed them, but, sheep need a shepherd, someone needed to lead and organise.

Nicholas needed to abdicate and someone needed to replace him.

Trump needs to be impeached and someone is needed to replace him.

Nicholas, like Trump a century later, had shown no willingness to accept advice, to grow in his role, to internalise criticism or to show restraint.

Nicholas, like Trump, lacked the protection of a wide popular mandate.

Both men fought to keep their power regardless of the damage wrecked on others.

Trump´s end has yet to be written.

What follows soon in this blog is how Nicholas´ chapter drew to a close and how an exile in Switzerland would seize the fall of a Tsar to grab ultimate power for himself.

Sources: Wikipedia / Allan J. Lichtman, The Case for Impeachment / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points in the Russian Revolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Evil Road

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

I am determined to not write myself into too predictable a rut.

There have been a number of themes running through the posts of this blog since I started it back on 18 May 2015.

I have written of many things: my travels in Switzerland and abroad, topics currently relevant at the time of writing, and occasional glimpses into the comedy that is everyday life.

I have started themes that have yet to be completed, like the Brontes and Brussels, my own solo travels prior to this blog, the crucial importance of Turkish politics and history, and, of course, the current political malaise that is the US Trump Administration.

After a long break from blog writing over the summer I have found two themes that interest me greatly: travelling in Italy, and the Russian Revolution and how it was shaped from Switzerland.

To keep both the reader´s attention and my creative juices flowing I have decided to alternate between these themes.

This is not to say that current events are not worthy of my attention….

They have it.

The monsoons in Bangladesh, the destructiveness of hurricanes in America, the reversal of DACA resulting in over 800,000 people forced to leave their homes in America and return to birthplaces they have never really known, the tragedy of Standing Rock and international indigenous peoples, the ongoing farce that is Brexit, the abyss of race relations in the US, world poverty, immigration and refugees, the relevance of the media in modern times, terrorism….

The list and the complexity of world events seems endless and daunting for a simple blogger such as myself to tackle.

But be patient, gentle readers, over time I shall try to weave these events and more into the ongoing saga that is the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

At present, I want to talk about a place that at first glance seems easy to ignore.

The Splügen Pass (Italian: Passo dello Spluga) is a 2,115-metre high mountain pass which marks the boundary between the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps, respectively dividing the Western Alps from the Eastern.

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The pass road connects the Swiss Hinterrhein valley and the hamlet of Splügen in Graubünden Canton with the Valle Spluga and the town of Chiavenna in the Italian province of Sondrio, the road continuing on to Lago Como.

The Pass is the water divide between the drainage basins of the Rhine, which flows into the North Sea, and the Po, which flows into the Adriatic.

On the Italian side of the Pass is the small three-street village of Montespluga, which is cut off from both Italy and Switzerland during the winter.

Above: Montespluga in summer

So the best time of year to travel this quiet pass is June to October.

The Pass was already in use in the Roman era.

The route follows historic mule trails and was recorded in the Roman Empire´s list of arterial roads as it followed an almost dead-straight link between southern Germany and Lombardy.

Path and road construction, transport services and trading traffic, spiritual exchange and creative artistic power have influenced the landscape and settlements as well as improving living standards and broadening horizons for local farmers.

The name Splügen/Spluga is possibly derived from the Latin specula (lookout).

From 1818 to 1823 the modern road was built at the request of Austrian authorities then ruling the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in the south.

In 1840, English author Mary Shelley (best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein) travelled through the Pass on the way to Lake Como with her son Percy Florence.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

This was not her first trip to Italy and one might wonder why she would return to a country that had seen her suffer great sorrow.

The threat of debtor´s prison, combined with their ill health and fears of losing custody of their two children, her husband Percy Bysshe and Mary left England for Italy in 1818.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

They had no intention of returning to England.

The Shelleys then embarked on a roving existence, never settling in any one place for long.

They devoted their time to writing, reading, learning, sightseeing and socialising.

Their Italian adventure was blighted by the deaths of both their children:  Clara, in September 1818 in Venice; and William, in June 1819 in Rome.

These losses left Mary in a deep depression that isolated her from her husband.

For a time, Mary found comfort only in her writing.

The birth of her son Percy Florence, on 12 November 1819, lifted her spirits, though she nursed the memory of her lost children till the end of her life.

On 8 July 1822, her husband and Edward Williams set out on a return sailing journey from Livorno to Lerici with their 18-year-old boatsman Charles Vivian.

They never reached their destination.

Ten days after the storm that arose after they sailed from Livorno, their three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici.

Mary eventually returned to England to raise her son.

In 1840, mother Mary (age 43) and son Percy (21), along with three of his friends, travelled together on the Continent.

This journey and a subsequent journey together in 1842 would result in the travel narrative Rambles in Germany and Italy.

Map showing routes of Shelley's European trips. 1840 trip begins in Brighton, proceeds to Dover, crosses the Channel to Calais, proceeds south to Paris, east Metz, north to Coblenz, east to Frankfurt, south to Freiburg, south to Milan, west to Lyons, and north to Paris and Calais. 1842–43 trip begins in Southampton, proceeds to London, crosses the Channel to Antwerp, proceeds southeast to Frankfurt, northeast to Berlin, south to Prague, Salzburg, Padua, Rome, and Naples.

Although her husband and her two children had died there, Italy had become for Mary “a country which memory painted as Paradise”.

From their home in north London, they travelled to Paris and Metz.

From Metz, they went down the Moselle by boat to Koblenz and then up the Rhine to Mainz, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Baden Baden.

Feeling ill, Mary rested at a spa in Baden Baden.

Above: Baden-Baden

She had wracking pains in her head and convulsive shudders, symptoms of the meningioma that would eventually kill her.

(Meningioma is a tumor that attacks the brain and spinal cord.)

This forced stop dismayed Percy and his friends as it provided no entertainment for them, but because none of them spoke any German they were forced to remain together.

The group eventually travelled on to Freiburg im Breisgau, Schaffhausen, Zürich to arrive at the Splügen Pass.

She describes the Pass in her travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published in 1844:

Chiavenna, Italy, Monday 13 July 1840

“At five in the morning we were in the yard of the diligence (stagecoach) office (at Chur).

We were in high spirits – for that night we should sleep in Italy.

The diligence was a very comfortable one.

There were few other passengers and those were of a respectable class.

We still continued along the valley of the Rhine, and at length entered the pass of the Via Mala (the evil road), where we alighted to walk.

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It is here that the giant wall of the Alps shuts out the Swiss from Italy.

Before the Alp itself (the Splügen) is reached, another huge mountain rises to divide the countries.

A few years ago, there was no path except across this mountain, which being very exposed , and difficult even to danger, the Splügen was only traversed by shepherds and travellers of the country on mules or on foot.

But now, a new and most marvellous road has been constructed.

The mountain in question is, to the extent of several miles, cleft from the summit to the base, and a sheer precipice of 4,000 feet rises on either side.

The Rhine, swift and strong, but in width a span, flows in the narrow depth below.

The road has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries.

It passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm.

The precipices, indeed, approach so near, in parts, that a fallen tree could not reach the river below, but lay wedged in midway.

It may be imagined how singular and sublime this pass is, in its naked simplicity.

After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame.

It is giddy work to look down over the parapet that protects the road, and mark the arrowy rushing of the imprisoned river.

Midway in the pass, the precipices approach so near that you might fancy a strong man could leap across.

This was the region visited by storm, flood and desolation in 1834.

The Rhine had risen several hundred feet, and, aided by torrents from the mountains, had torn up the road, swept away a bridge, and laid waste the whole region.

An English traveller, a Mr. Hayward, then on his road to Chiavenna, relates that he traversed the chasm on a rotten uneven plank, and found but a few inches remaining of the road overhanging the river.

It was an awful invasion of one element on another.

The whole road to Chiavenna was broken up, and the face of the mountain so changed that, when reconstructed, the direction of the route was in many places entirely altered.

The region of these changes was pointed out to us, but no discernible traces remained of where the road had been.

All here was devastation – the giant ruins of a primaeval world; and the puny remnants of Man´s handiwork were utterly obiliterated.

Puny, however, as our operations are, when Nature decrees by one effort that they should cease to exist, while She reposes they may be regarded proudly and commodiously traversed by the antlike insects that make it their path.

We dined at the village of Splügen.

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Above: Splügen in summer

It was cold and we had a fire.

Here we dropped all our fellow travellers – some were going over the San Bernandino – and proceeded very comfortably alone.

It was a dreary-looking mountain that we had to cross, by zigzags, at first long, and diminishing as we ascended.

The day, too, was drear, and we were immersed in a snowstorm towards the summit.

Naked and sublime the mountain stretched out around, and dim mists, chilling blasts and driving snow added to its grandeur.

We reached the dogana (Italian customs) at the top and here our things were examined.

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Above: Spluga Pass, present day

The customs house officer was very civil – complained of his station, where it always rained – at that moment it was raining – and, having caused the lids of one or two trunks to be lifted, they were closed again and the ceremony was over.

More time, however, was consumed in signing passports and papers.

We then set off downhill, swiftly and merrily, with two horses – the leaders being unharnessed and trotting down gravely after us, without anyone to lead or drive them.

All Italian travellers know what it is, after toiling up the bleak, bare, northern, Swiss side of an Alp, to descend into ever vernal Italy.

The rhododendron, in thick bushes, in full bloom, first adorned the mountain sides, then pine forests, then chestnut groves.

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The mountain was cleft into woody ravines.

The waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody.

Flowery and green, and clothed in radiance and gifted with plenty, Italy opened upon us.

Thus – and be not shocked by the illustration, for it is all God´s creation – after dreary old age and the sickening pass of death, does the saint open his eyes on Paradise.” (Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

After Chiavenna, Mary and her travelling companions would spend two months at Lake Como and then go on to Milan.

In Milan, the young men left Mary to go back to their studies in England, while Mary slwoly made her way back home via Geneva and Paris.

Upon her return, she became depressed.

“In Italy I might live as once I lived: hoping, loving, aspiring, enjoying.

I am placid now and the days go by….and darkness creeps over my intellect.”

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

In 1843 the road was further expanded with a 312-metre/1,024-foot long avalanche gallery designed by Swiss engineer Richard La Nicca which today is out of use but largely preserved.

Above: Richard La Nicca (1794 – 1883)

Plans to build a railroad line across Splügen Pass were abandoned in favour of the Gotthard Railway opened in 1882.

The author Sir Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle as well as his beloved creation Sherlock Holmes, a creation that Doyle himself was not particularly fond of, are inextricably linked to Switzerland.

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Above: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, M.D. (1859 – 1930)

Doyle, who spent most of his childhood and youth in boarding schools, spent some time at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria.

On his journey back home to Edinburgh in 1876, Doyle had his first contact with Switzerland.

Many years later, 34-year-old Dr. Doyle came to Switzerland in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

Doyle was a sporty doctor.

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

Along with the Branger brothers, Doyle scaled the saddle of the Jacobshorn in the Albula range, now served by cable car and renowned for snowboarding.

They then tackled the 2,253-metre pass between Davos and Arosa, rising at 4 am, heading to Frauenkirch, crossing the Maienfelder Furka Pass and sliding down to Arosa.

Since 2008 this area has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, traversed by the Rhaetian Railway and by “lads leaping about on planks tied to their feet”. (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain)

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season”. (Conan Doyle, “An Alpine Pass on Ski”, The Strand, August 1894)

Time has proved him right.

Doyle would then travel on to Maloja and Caux with his wife.

On 6 November 1895, the Doyles left Caux for Italy.

Did he enter Italy through the Splügen Pass?

I have no information so far about his exact route.

After a few days in Rome, the family left Brindisi by ship to Egypt, where they would spend the winter in Cairo.

It remains a question of debate whether Doyle ever came back to Switzerland after his journey to Egypt and his subsequent return to his home in England.

Besides skiing, Doyle left his mark on Switzerland by setting the Holmes Story “The Final Problem” at Reichenbach Falls.

(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem of this blog.)

Splügen Pass is mentioned in Doyle`s “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, a Holmes story published in 1924.

“Both Holmes and I (Dr. Watson, the narrator) had a weakness for the Turkish bath….

On the upper floor of the Northumberland Avenue establishment, there is an isolated corner where two couches lie side by side, and it was on these that we lay upon 3 September 1902, the day when the narrative begins.

I had asked him whether anything was stirring, and for answer he had shot his long, thin, nervous arm out of the sheets which enveloped him and had drawn an envelope from the inside pocket of the coat which hung beside him….

…This is what I read:

“Sir James Damery presents his compliments to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and will call upon him at 4:30 tomorrow….”

Sir James comes to see Holmes and Watson about his illustrious client´s problem.

(The client´s identity is never revealed to the reader, although Watson finds out at the end of the story, it is heavily implied to be King Edward VII.)

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Above: Edward VII, King of Great Britain (1901 – 1910), (1841 – 1910)

General de Merville`s young daughter Violet has fallen in love with the roguish and sadistic Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner….

Damery: “…for we are dealing on this occasion, Mr. Holmes, with a man to whom violence is familiar and who will, literally, stick at nothing.”

I should say that there is no more dangerous man in Europe.”

Holmes: “….May I ask his name?”

Damery: “Have you ever heard of Baron Gruner?”

Holmes: “You mean the Austrian murderer?”

Damery: “There is no getting past you, Mr. Holmes! Wonderful! So you have already sized him up as a murderer?”

Holmes: “It is my business to follow the details of Continental crime.  Who could possibly have read what happened at Prague and have any doubts as to the man´s guilt?  It was a purely technical legal point and the suspicious death of a witness that saved him!  I am as sure that he killed his wife when the so-called “accident” happened in the Splügen Pass as if I had seen him do it….”

The Granada TV series (1984 – 1994), with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, is faithful to the original story as penned by Doyle, though it takes some artistic licence regarding the Bruner wife murder.

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“The Illustrious Client” shows the fallen Baroness, to whom Gruner rushes to her side, accusing him with her dying breath of pushing her off the mountainside.

The viewer sees the scene is witnessed by a young boy, whom we are told by Holmes in his interview with Sir James that he suspected that Gruner had seduced his mother to poison the shepherd boy.

In “The View from Olympus”, the 18th episode of the 3rd season of the US modernised adaptation Elementary, with Holmes as a recovering drug addict who aids the New York City police accompanied by a female Dr. Joan Watson, Holmes mentions a previous case about a man who killed his wife on the Splügen Pass and tried to make her murder look like an accident.

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In this blog`s Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys, I wrote of how my wife (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) and I travelled from our home by the Lake of Constance in Landschlacht to Chur.

“We leave the Autobahn and enter a wild land – a land of deep, narrow valleys, ancient forests, mountain torrents and villages that have seen little excitement or change since Roman times.

Past Rhäzüns and its isolated chapel of Sogn Gieri/St. George to the town of Thusis loomed over by threatening mountains and mysterious forests, the road, the Evil Road / Via Mala plunges into a narrow ravine, with sheer rock walls rising over 500 metres from the bed of the foaming Hinterrhein River.”

Above: The Chapel of Sogn Gieri, Rhäzüns

Via Mala, that ancient and notorious section of an abomination of a path along the Hinterrhein River between Zillis and Thusis in Graubünden Canton….

Via Mala, that narrow gorge that blocks the approach to two mountain sorties that defiantly declares that the traveller shall not pass….

Via Mala, so beautifully maleviolent and enchanting that the German director Werner Herzog filmed his 1976 psychological drama Heart of Glass there….

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(Heart of Glass is the story of an 18th-century Bavarian town with a glassblowing factory that produces a brilliant red ruby glass.

When the master glass blower dies, the secret to producing the ruby glass is lost.

The local Baron and factory owner is obsessed with the ruby glass and believes it to have magical properties.

With the loss of the secret, he soon descends into madness along with the rest of the townspeople.

The main character is Hias, a seer from the hills, who predicts the destruction of the factory in a fire.

During shooting, almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis.

Every actor in every scene was hypnotized, with the exception of the character Hias and the professional glassblowers who appear in the film.

The hypnotized actors give very strange performances, which Herzog intended to suggest the trance-like state of the townspeople in the story.

Herzog provided the actors with most of their dialogue, memorised during hypnosis.

However, many of the hypnotised actors’ gestures and movements occurred spontaneously during filming.)

As I look into the gorge of the Via Mala, my heart grips tightly in fear….

As we navigate the climbing hairpin curves leading to the Paradise of Italy, my heart grips tightly in fear….

For my wife is driving.

She is mostly a fine driver but give her a challenging, cliff-hanging, narrow road and suddenly she becomes a Grand Prix Formula race car driver, a Maria Andretti or a Michaela Schumacher.

Of all the duties that are split between man and spouse, my wife has assumed the role of driver.

This has never bothered me, for I had never the urge to learn to drive and as a result I believe I am a great passenger.

Perhaps because ignorance is bliss, she could drive down a one-way pedestrian street knocking over a half dozen old ladies in the process and I would not react because I foolishly assume she knows what she is doing.

Now I have read statistics that say when partners are in a car together, the man is four times likely more to drive.

And perhaps I should feel more emasculated when she is driving, but she loves to drive and I make an excellent navigator (despite what the wife says).

But cliff hanging races and breakneck curves make me reassess my masculinity and I once again, especially on this trip, wonder if I will somehow survive my marriage (unlike Baron Gruner`s wife) or make it through the Evil Road of the shadow of Death to Italian Paradise (like Mary Shelley).

Sharing a car ride with my wife is a lot like being an unwilling participant in a hostage situation – you don´t know what´s going to happen and you hope you will survive the experience.

I am reminded once again of Canadian comedian Lorne Elliott´s comments on driving through the mountains:

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“Not only can you fall down these mountain things, these mountain things can fall down on you!”

The climb up to Splügen reminds me of the lacing of a corset thrusting the hills into prominence.

Corsets?

How fear emasculates!

After 20 years together there are very few off-putting things we don´t know about one another, but I have learned, the hard way, that a little paranoia is a good thing in marriage.

Normally she does not want to kill her husband….

But my wife is driving.

I am not certain whether we will arrive in an Italy that resembles Paradise or in a Paradise that resembles Italy.

I will keep you posted….

Sources: Wikipedia / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes / Nicole Glücklich (Editor), The Adventures of Two British Gentlemen in Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes / Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

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

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

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

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

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

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

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

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life should have been glorious.

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

Hofstrasse 116, Hofburg, Zürich-Hottingen 1936

Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

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

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

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

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

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Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what of Mileva?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I found parallels with my own past…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich

Wikipedia

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Canada Slim and the Great Expedition

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

We live in an age where we take for granted many things and we only seem to question things when they don’t happen as we think they should.

We live in an age where we casually accept what is, without questioning how it came to be.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that there is no such thing as coincidence.

We may not understand why things happen, but I believe that things happen (or don’t happen) for a reason, even if we don’t know what that reason is.

“God only knows.

God makes His plans.

The information is unavailable to the mortal man.

We work at our jobs.

Collect our pay.

Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip-sliding away.”

(Paul Simon, “Slip-Sliding Away”)

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I recently discovered a book called Literaturführer Thurgau, which has me looking anew at the region where I live, through the eyes of writers who have experienced this region.

(See Dreams of Dragonflies of this blog for the start of my walking adventures tracing the literary figures of Canton Thurgau.)

Reading this book and as well about recent events have led me to consider the topic of flying.

I am very much like the John McClane character, portrayed by Bruce Willis, in the Die Hard movie series….

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I hate flying.

Or, put another way, I am the composite antithesis of the Ryan Bingham character, portrayed by George Clooney, in the film Up In the Air, whereas Bingham lives to fly, I will fly only when I truly feel I have no other choice.

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I am an English teacher who has found himself, much to my own surprise, teaching aircraft technicians and engineers, pilots and cabin crew, the necessary English they need to do their jobs more professionally.

So, ignorance is bliss…

For knowing what keeps a plane functioning, what allows it to fly, land and take off safely, and what passengers know and don’t know about the flight happening around them…

This knowledge does not comfort me.

I know what can go wrong.

I like to travel and to do so I have flown across continents and oceans.

I have been buffeted by winds that have caused my pants to get stained by coffee.

I have been bumped up to first class and have been bumped off flights that had been overbooked.

I have missed flights due to changes in either the airline schedule or my inability to meet the airline schedule.

All part of the experience…

Overbooking, also known as overselling, is the sale of a good or service in excess of the actual supply,  or ability to supply, that good or service.

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It is a common practice in the travel industry, because it is expected that some people will cancel or miss their flights.

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By overselling, the supplier is ensured that 100% of the available supply will be used, resulting in the maximum return on the supplier’s investment.

But if most customers do wish to purchase or use the good or service, this practice of overselling leaves some customers lacking the good or service they paid for and expected to receive.

Overselling is regulated, but rarely prohibited.

Companies that practice overbooking are usually required to offer large amounts of compensation to customers as an incentive for them to not claim their purchase.

An alternative to overbooking is discouraging customers from buying services they don’t actually intend to use by making reservations non-refundable or requiring them to pay a termination fee.

An airline can book more customers onto a flight than can actually be accommodated by the aircraft, allowing the airline to have a full aircraft on most flights, even if some customers are denied their flight.

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Airlines may ask for volunteers to give away their seats or refuse boarding to certain passengers in exchange for a compensation that may include an additional free ticket or an upgrade on a later flight.

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Airlines can do this and still make more money than if they booked only to the plane’s capacity and had taken off with empty seats.

Some airlines do not overbook as a policy that provides incentive and avoids customer disappointment.

By making their tickets non-refundable, these airlines lower the chances of passengers missing their flights.

A few airline frequent flier programs allow a customer the privilege of flying an already overbooked flight, requiring other customers being asked to deplane.

Often it is only Economy Class that is overbooked, while higher classes are not, allowing the airlines to upgrade some passengers to otherwise unused seats while providing assurance to higher paying customers.

Chicago O’Hare Airport, 9 April 2017

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Early April 2017 saw severe weather on the east coast of the United States, causing many flight cancellations.

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Due to the large number of stranded passengers trying to board flights, many flights were far too overbooked.

On this date of 9 April 2017, United Airlines Express Flight 3411 was scheduled to leave O’Hare at 5:19 pm/1719 hours.

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After passengers were seated in the aircraft, bound for Louisville, Kentucky, but while the plane was still at the gate, the flight crew announced that they needed to remove four passengers to accommodate four staff members who had to cover an unstaffed flight at another location.

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Passengers were initially offered $400 US in vouchers for future travel, a hotel stay and a seat on a plane leaving more than 21 hours later, if they voluntarily deplaned.

No volunteers.

The offer was increased to $800 in vouchers.

Still no volunteers.

A manager boarded and informed the flight that four people would be chosen by computer (based on specific factors such as priority to remain aboard for frequent fliers and those who had paid higher fares).

Three of the computer-selected customers agreed to deplane.

The 4th selected passenger, Asian American 69-year-old Dr. David Dao of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, refused, saying he needed to see patients the next day at his clinic.

 Dr David Dao has been revealed as the man who was dragged from a United flight in Chicago on Sunday. He is pictured with his wife, Teresa, and one of their grandchildren. It was his wife who alerted authorities to his inappropriate relationship with a patient

Above: Dr. David Dao (on the left) with his family

United Airlines decided it required assistance from Chicago Department of Aviation Security officers.

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A security officer threw the Doctor against the armrest of his seat, causing injuries to the physician’s head and mouth (a broken nose, the loss of two front teeth, sinus injuries and a concussion), before dragging Dao down the aisle by his arms unconscious.

Other passengers on the flight recorded the incident on video using their Smartphone cameras and the incident was quickly and widely circulated on social media and was picked up by the mainstream media agencies.

The violent methods used by the security personnel distressed a number of passengers who voluntarily left the aircraft along with the three passengers who had been selected for deplaning.

Four United Airlines staff promptly sat in the now vacated seats.

The flight departed at 1921 hours – two hours and two minutes behind schedule – and arrived at Louisville at 2101 hours – two hours behind schedule.

Back in Chicago, Dao was taken to hospital and would require reconstructive surgery.

No one has been fired as a result of this incident, which could have been avoided had United simply had the computer choose another passenger when Dao had refused to leave.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

Imagine how differently things might have been had the effects of overbooking and a methodology had been practiced to deal with dissatisfied customers by United.

In fairness, running an airline is not an easy task.

So far we have considered ourselves only with the issue of assigning and seating the passengers, but now let’s think about the men and women who actually pilot these aircraft.

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What must they plan for?

Part of a pilot’s job is straightforward and traditional: inspecting the aircraft about to be piloted.

The pilot looks at the external surfaces of the aircraft for signs of damage, then he/she checks the nose undercarriage for excessive wear and the tires for any cuts.

The leading edges of the wings are inspected for damage, the fastenings on the engine cowling are checked and the visible fan blades on the engine are examined.

Moving along the fuselage to the tail, the pilot does the same visual checks over all surfaces before ensuring that all cargo doors and access hatches are securely fastened.

All pretty standard operating procedure….

But not only must the pilot be concerned as to whether the craft can fly, but as well thought must be brought to bear on the actual flight itself.

In the very early days of powered flight, pilots were contented with simply getting airborne and flying short distances.

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Navigational aids did not exist and the basic technique followed was pilotage – flights were at low altitudes and the pilot simply looked out the window and navigated with reference to known landmarks.

In some cases, it was just a question of the pilot following a road, river or railway to the desired destination.

Planes nowadays fly further, so they need a method to find their way safely and efficiently to their final flight arrival.

As well an airplace can only carry a limited amount of fuel.

Failure to reach a destination before the fuel runs out might have fatal consequences.

In modern times all flights operate under VFR (visual flight rules) or IFR (instrument flight rules).

A VFR pilot is qualified and authorised to fly only in good weather conditions and is responsible for maintaining separation from other aircraft and obstructions based on what can be seen.

An IFR pilot is permitted to fly in all weather conditions, including when visibility may be low, relying on flight instruments and navigational aids to follow a safe course.

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While an IFR pilot may still use VFR pilotage techniques, it is advisable for all pilots that their flights be planned careful before taking off, using detailed navigational charts.

Pilots plan their routes, taking into consideration natural obstacles and airspace which may be restricted, which they then mark on their charts.

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Planning a flight is dependent upon a number of factors: topographical, geographical and meteorological.

An area needs to have been mapped out, navigational beacons established, geographical features noted and the weather conditions monitored.

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But in the pioneering days of public air transportation, there were few maps, few beacons, few airports and few refuelling locations.

Before satellites, there was only one way to ascertain what route lay ahead, someone had to go there first.

As well, as any reader of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War can tell you, one cannot defeat a potential enemy if one is unprepared for the terrain upon which one might be forced to battle.

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So geographical knowledge is not only an exercise in exploration, it is crucial for the planning of strategy, both politically and militarily.

Konstanz, Germany, 4 January 1927

It was a time of great change.

Germany was still the Weimar Republic and to reduce the state’s cost of funding two airlines, Deutsch Aero Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr, a merger of the two under the composite name of Deutsche Luft Hansa (German Air Hanseatic) was born on 6 January 1926.

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British and Belgian troops had left German soil and many of the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, that marked Germany’s World War One defeat, had been lifted, enabling Deutsche Luft Hansa to expand its routes beyond the borders of Germany worldwide.

Luft Hansa planned an airline connection between Berlin and Beijing and needed to know the meteorological conditions of the land over which it planned to fly – Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and the Chinese province of Xinjian (then known as East Turkestan) – as well as possible locations for landing, weather monitoring and refuelling.

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The top man for such an expedition, the only man capable of leading such an expedition, was someone who had experience in such matters.

Swedish geographer, topographer, explorer, photographer, travel writer and illustrator Sven Anders Hedin (1865 – 1952) was the man chosen to lead this Sino-Swedish Expedition of 1927 – 1928.

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Already Hedin had made four expeditions to Central Asia, explored the Himalayas, located the sources of the rivers Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej, mapped the “wandering lake” Lop Nur and discovered the remains of cities, grave sites and the Great Wall of China in the deserts of the Tarim Basin.

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Hedin had visited Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, India, China, Russia and Japan, in an age where air travel was not common, trains were not everywhere and where the automobile had yet to be developed to a point of affordable utility.

Hedin would enter uncharted territory and literally put these places on the map, filling the “white spaces” up with his discoveries.

On the Sino-Swedish Expedition, Hedin, age 62, would be accompanied by a multinational team of 29 men, among them a humble bookkeeper who would serve as the Expedition’s logistics manager.

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This bookkeeper, the son of a Konstanz pharmacist, would later write about his adventures in Mongolia (and his explorations of the Lake of Constance upon his return home), which would be published by a small Lengwil publisher.

Fritz Mühlenweg (1898 – 1961), educated as a chemist in Bielefeld and taking over his family’s business when his father died, left Konstanz for Berlin and began to work for Deutsche Luft Hansa.

On this day of 4 January 1927, Mühlenweg said his final farewells to his family in Konstanz and boarded a train bound for Berlin where the Expedition would begin, not knowing when or if he would ever return.

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Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

Through Mühlenweg’s youthful eyes – he was 29 at the start of the Expedition –  and masterful writing, not only is the reader exposed firsthand to countries that, even today, few Westerners visit, but as well the reader is given the common man’s perspective of travelling with a legendary explorer.

 Fritz Muehlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

 

 

 

I have been inspired by the writing of Fritz Mühlenweg, for he sought not just to see the places he visited but to understand what he saw, to see the romance in the commonplace, the exotic in the familiar and the familiar in the exotic.

Like Mühlenweg, I intend to expose my readers to both the exotic and familiar in the hopes that they too will see the wonder of the world as I do.

Men like Mühlenweg and Hedin have been mostly forgotten and our ability to traverse oceans and continents taken for granted.

Journeys that once took months now take only hours.

Journeys that once demanded much time and money are now expected to be quick and affordable.

We now move through and over landscapes that once meant something, that have now been reduced to simply spaces of transit, where everything is temporary and everyone is just passing through.

The wonder of the distinctiveness of a place has been replaced with a disdain for the local and an indifference to the uniqueness of every locality.

Human progress is now measured out in air miles, while communities find their common ground in cyberspace rather than terra firma.

We live in an age where we wish the world to be fully codified and collated, a world where ambiguity and ambivalence have been so sponged away that we know exactly and objectively where everything is and what it is called.

We want to arrive, instead of travel.

The case of Dr. Dao and United Airlines is a malaise particular to our modern age.

We conveniently forget that for every gain there is a loss.

Completeness removes the possibility of exploration, escape and hope.

We need the unnamed and the unexplored.

We need to examine our discarded sense of place and explore places both distant and at our doorstep.

For romance needs place and in a world “fully” discovered exploration must never stop.

The idea of exploration now needs to be reinvented.

We must not only see a place but as well observe it for its uniqueness and romance.

Let’s go on a journey – to the ends of the Earth and the other side of the street, as far or as close as we need to go to get away from the familiar and the routine prisons we have built for ourselves.

Whether they be good or bad, scary or wonderful, we need unruly and unexplored places that defy our expectations and make us question our preconceptions.

Love of place can never and should never be extinguished or sated.

Utopia (from the Greek for “no place”) is a happy land.

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Sometimes the most fascinating places are often also the most disturbing, entrapping and appalling and often temporary.

In ten years’ time, most places will look very different.

Some will no longer exist, because nature is often horrible and life is transitory.

Love of place is not finding a place that is cute and cuddly, but rather love of place is a fierce love, a dark enchantment, that runs deep and demands our attention.

As Herman Melville wrote, in Moby Dick, when the first mate of the Pequod was describing his home:

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“It is not down in any map. 

True places never are.”

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Sources:

Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia

Albert M. Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Fritz Mühlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Big Yellow Taxi

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Ides of March 2017

These are interesting times we live in, where nothing seems as certain as it once was.

Uncertainty as to whether foreign governments can determine other national elections…

Increased irrationality and xenophobia and hate crimes against folks whose only offence is the appearance of being different…

Wars that never end, from the ancient conflict between the Koreas that was resolved by uneasy ceasefire but without a peace treaty, to Afghanistan whose location and lithium cause empires to clash, to Syria so divided and torn apart causing untold millions to become adrift in modern diaspora, Africa where bloodshed is constant but media attention is scarce…

The most public nation on Earth run by an administration whose only real goal seems to be the total erasure of any achievements the previous administration might have accomplished…

Flag of the United States

Brazil: where governments change and prison conditions worsen…

Flag of Brazil

Turkey: a land of wonderful people ruled over by a government that seems desperate for the world to view the country in the completely opposite way…

Flag of Turkey

Israel: fighting for its rights of self-determination while denying the same rights of those caught within its reach…

Centered blue star within a horizontal triband

India: a land of unlimited potential yet prisoner of past values incompatible with the democracy it would like to be…

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the centre of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

A world where profit is more important than people, short-term gain more valuable than long-term consequence…

"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.

Interesting times.

And it is these interesting times that find me re-evaluating the behaviour of the routine traveller and why this type of person may be more deserving of respect than is often shown him…

A routine traveller is that kind of person who, regardless of a world that has so much to offer visitors, will not visit any other location than the one to which he returns to, again and again, year after year.

This kind of routine traveller tends to be found amongst the older population.

My biological father will drive down from Canada to Florida once a year, following the exact same route, stay at the same motels and eat at the same restaurants he slept in and ate at before, return to the same trailer by the same beach and do the same things he did before, vacation after vacation, year after year.

An elderly lady student of mine travels from Switzerland to Spain once every seven weeks and lives in Barcelona for a week, remaining in her apartment except to visit familiar places and familiar faces.

22@ district, Sagrada Família, Camp Nou stadium, The Castle of the Three Dragons, Palau Nacional, W Barcelona hotel and beach

And the only thing that would dissuade them from changing their routine would be circumstances beyond their control, like ill health or acts of God or government.

For much of my life I have mocked this kind of traveller.

I have wanted to explore the planet and visit faraway places with strange sounding names.

I have loved the sound of ship horns, train whistles, plane engines…

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I have loved discovering new sights and smells, meeting new people with different perspectives, learning anew just how much I have yet to learn, every day a new discovery, every moment a new adventure.

And that inner child, with eyes wide open with excitement and wonder, never really disappeared from within me.

But as I age I feel I am beginning to understand the routine traveller more, for there is something comforting in the familiar.

My father and my student had made wiser financial investments than I ever had or ever will so they have managed to build themselves second homes in other locales outside their countries of regular residence.

My wife and I, limited like most by time and money, have not even considered the lifestyle of the routine travelling retiree just yet.

But I am beginning to see their point of view.

Last month the wife and I visited the Zürich Zoo and I found myself, to my own amused astonishment, expressing a desire to retire one day in walking distance of a zoo with an annual membership and spend my final days sitting on benches watching the animals obliviously engage in their natural routines.

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I could see myself spending hours watching monkeys climb and swing, penguins march, peacocks strut, elephants calmly forage for food, owls stare back at me unblinkingly, bird song filling my ears, animal odors filling my nose, the solid concrete beneath my feet, the endless activity and colourful wonders of nature in myriad form.

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I can imagine worse ways of spending my last days.

There must be something comforting about going away to a place oft-visited, to once again shop in familiar markets, to take familiar strolls that never require a map, to rediscover the pleasure of a favourite café, to browse again in a well-loved bookshop, to feel at home in a place that isn`t home.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh

I am a married man, for better or worse, so I am unable to simply abandon everything and hit the road as I once did.

I, like most, am bound by schedules and obligations and responsibilities and it is an adjustment, a rut, quite easy to mold oneself to, with its security and certainty in a world not so secure, not so certain.

Time is precious – as is health –  and the unreligious know that we only get one life, so there should be more to life than spending one`s youth working for unappreciative others than finding oneself struggling painfully to maintain a sliver of dignity in a health care centre just waiting to die.

Yet if this be fate then few will avoid it.

As much as I long to see more of a world so vast and unexplored, I think what might attract me to a life of a routine traveller is the increasing realisation that change is inevitable so it is important to appreciate what we’ve got before it is gone, before it is no longer available.

My father at Jacksonville Beach, my student in Barcelona… are comforted by the false security of the familiar getaway.

Images from top, left to right: Jacksonville Beach Pier, water tower, Jacksonville Beach City Hall, Sea Walk Pavilion, Adventure Landing, Jacksonville Beach

No matter how much their lives have changed back in Canada or in Switzerland, the trailer by the beach abides, the apartment in Barcelona is waiting.

But I am not yet ready for a trailer by the sea or an apartment in another city, for what I want to do in the few precious leisure moments afforded me at present, though I am limited by money, I want to step outside as often as possible and explore and re-explore the outdoors within my reach.

While it still lasts…while I still can.

For the newspapers and the media suggest that things might not last.

America has convinced itself that running a pipeline next to a major supply of fresh water is somehow a good idea.

Around the globe, forests are denuded, holes scar the Earth in Man’s mad search for scarce resources, waste is dumped into rivers and oceans with no thought or compassion as to what dwells under the surface or the consequences these actions will have for generations to come.

We rattle our sabres, stockpile our nukes, cry out for war and blindly fight for invisible gods under ever-changing banners, staggering drunk down the road towards our destruction while applauding ourselves for our cleverness.

Nuclear War: Nuclear weapon test, 1954

How long will the forest beyond the village of Landschlacht stand?

How long will seagulls and ducks swim in the clear waters of the Lake of Constance?

How long will the waves crash upon the shores of Jacksonville without dead fish and rotting carcasses polluting the sands?

How long will Barcelona’s streets be filled with music before the sound of marching militia boots tramp over the assumed tranquility?

How long will mothers fear the future for their newborns, teenagers feel the rage of a legacy cheated, the workman groan under the weight of his duties, the elderly too weary to care?

Too many questions…

I still want to explore the planet, but I no longer mock the man who embraces the familiar.

For the routine traveller may be lacking in courage or curiosity, but he is wise in his appreciation of the moment.

The routine traveller abides.

I take some comfort in that.

 

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot….

…They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum

Then they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em….

…Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT.

Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees please….

…Late last night I heard the screen door slam

And a big yellow taxi come and take away my old man

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve gone ’till it’s gone…”

Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”, Ladies of the Canyon, 1970

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The great adventure

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 February 2017

Sometimes words flow out of you, rushing and pouring out of your heart and soul like a waterfall that can´t be stopped.

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Other times ideas and thoughts trickle down into words upon a screen like a desiccated desert drain from which only gasping drops remain.

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And then there are moments when what one wants to say has to be chewed over thoughtfully, ruminating in the sauces of one´s consciousness, digested and processed like the cud of some bovine creature grazing soundlessly on some empty barren prairie.

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For three weeks thoughts and feelings have remained close to me, unsaid, unwritten.

It took the dying of an innocent man to bring fingers back to keyboard and courage back to expression.

Learned recently of a man I only knew of through another person.

He was only 40, a husband and father of a newborn, killed instantly by a lorry while riding his bicycle outside the Kunsthaus in Zürich.

Above: Kunsthaus Zürich

He leaves behind a shocked and grieving widow and an orphaned child who will never know his daddy.

That morning when he rose from the warm bed of his bride he did not imagine the day ending in his death.

He had a lifetime to look forward to.

Watching his son grow into a man, holding his wife in warm embrace as they grew old with one another.

Now all that he was, all that he could have been, is no more.

Death stalks us all, yet we mortal fools deny that death would ever happen to us.

We fight against the dying of the light.

We burn bright against the gathering shadows and we either decide to live life to the fullest, determined to wrestle with mortality with our last breath, or we keep our heads down and slowly sip the waters of life, hoping that a quiet life will keep the Grim Reaper’s attention focused on others.

We are all fools.

I am reminded of my foster parents.

They pinched the Canadian penny until the beaver upon it pissed blood.

American Beaver.jpg

They scrimped and saved with plans to see the world and travel one day.

Cancer cheated them of these hopes.

She died first of ovarian cancer, he a heartbeat later of intestinal cancer.

I would later learn of my biological mother dying of breast cancer when I was but a toddler.

All three had made their plans.

They would travel.

They would see the world.

"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.

They would have adventures.

I was determined while I had my health, whether I had money or not, I would travel, see the world, have adventures.

I have tried in the humblest way I can to learn and understand the world beyond my own limited experience.
The older I get, the more I realise there will always remain much to learn.
I first sought to understand my home and native land of Canada.
 Flag of Canada
Then I travelled to the US and Europe and a wee bit of Asia hoping to understand more about people and places I had only heard about.
I hope, life and health willing, to see the Middle East and Africa and more of Asia and, maybe one day, the rest of the Americas south of the US border.
Limited by love and responsibilities I am not so free as I was when I was single.
Though I have encountered the poor in my travels I have never witnessed 3rd World poverty.
 
I have always preferred peace to war, though I have never been in war conditions to fully understand the fear, horror, sorrow and hate that war produces.
 
Above: The ruins of Guernica, 1937
I have been truly blessed by accident of birth and the shelter of my limited experience not to have seen the things that children of men should never have to see.
And I suspect that having never seen these things that I am a fool to believe that I will understand these things without direct experience.
But if I could see a world where these things no longer exist…that is a world worth experiencing.
Christopher McCandless in a letter to his friend Ron:
 Chris McCandless.png
“I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.

The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.

 But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.
And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road.
I guarantee you will be very glad you did.
But I fear that you will ignore my advice.
You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me.
You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life.
 Grand Canyon view from Pima Point 2010.jpg
But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day.

I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.

Don’t settle down and sit in one place.

Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.

You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships.

God has placed it all around us.
It is in everything and anything we might experience.
We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life.

It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it.
The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”

But…

An adventure is only an adventure in the telling.

You are 27 miles from Anywhere in the middle of a black night with the cold rain drenching you.

You have no tent.

No cover can be seen.

You are sick.

You are tired.

Loneliness has struck you sharper than any dart could.

You crave people, light, warmth.

No one stops.

No one cares.

You are in the guts of an isolated landscape.

You have no idea of precisely where you are or how you will leave this vale of sorrow and suffering.

Welcome to the adventure.

Are we having fun yet?

Perhaps I have painted a picture of roses and sunsets and intense happiness that I encountered in my own travels.

But suggesting that all of travel is an endless array of joy and harmony is not at all the full story…

As I have already suggested in previous posts I have done a wee bit of travelling…walked thousands of kilometres in Canada and abroad, hitched tens of thousands of kilometres in North America and Europe…journeys sometimes lasting months.

The longest hitching trip I made was a year’s journey from Ottawa to Newfoundland to Key West to California to Vancouver back to Ottawa.

And as many great times as there were, there were also moments of fear, worry and sorrow.

It would take a lifetime to describe them all…
– being shot at in appropriately named Winchester, Ontario
– being caught out on the side of a mountain in the dark and the rain with no shelter
– violent encounters with other residents of men’s shelters in Montreal and Strasbourg
– stranded for three days and nights in Death Valley
– arrested and jailed for two weeks in Phoenix
– a boy threatens me with a rifle in my face in Collingwood
– followed for miles by a person whose intentions were unclear in the night streets of Memphis
– the same evening an old man dies in the bunk across from me in the men’s shelter
– drivers stoned, drivers drunk, uncertainty of arriving at final destination alive
– unwelcome overtures by those eager to share the night

Any one of these moments made me question the wisdom(if any) of the journey I was making.

But, take heart, would be nomad or present nomad, wondering if the darkness really means that dawn is fast approaching…

There were many more moments that more than compensated for the dark times.

Just a few…
– Sharing meals with migrant Mexican workers in the bunkhouse of a winery on Pelee Island
– Landscapes too beautiful for words
– Generosity offered by strangers more precious than gold
– Women whose beauty and character reminded me of why I am alive and stand in awestruck wonder and amazement at the luck that brought them into my life if even for a moment
– Lying on a hillside sharing a bottle of wine and looking up at a sky full of stars by a campfire round which the homeless of Kingman were gathered
– Lying under the stars by the mighty Ottawa River until the next morning’s ferry would depart
– Witnessing the Northern Lights from a snow covered field in the middle of Alaska

Above: Frederic Church, Aurora Borealis (1865)

Is travelling risky?

Yes.

Is it worth the risk?

I recently read the news of a young lady who after exploring 5 continents and more than 33 countries was found dead on an island off the coast of Panama strangled with her own sarong.
A few months ago a young woman was murdered in Nepal by a host whose mental state had been impossible to predict by the website that they had both registered with.
A few years ago a young man who wanted to experience the true wilderness of Alaska died in the attempt.
All sad stories and the fuel of cautionary warnings about the folly of travel.
And if you are looking for more reasons to never leave your country of origin just follow a newsgroup or listen to the fearmongering media or follow the advice of state departments and ministries of foreign affairs.
But before you put bars on your windows and gather the family in the basement waiting for the end times, consider the following…
Who is guaranteed a long and healthy life?
What’s the point of living if you don’t feel alive?
Making a living and ensuring your loved ones have a loving and stable life and a promising future is worthy of merit and respect.
Without this kind of love and devotion, civilisation would not be possible.
But waiting until the time is “right” is no guarantee that when the time arrives you will have the ability to travel.
Were the above mentioned victims of their travels foolish?
Perhaps.
But while they lived, their lives were filled with great moments that are unique to travelling.
Too many people live lives of quiet desperation.
Too many people sell their souls in the name of material wealth.
The young ladies lived their lives to the fullest.
Chris McCandless felt the passion of life until a fatal error of eating poisonous berries ended his life too soon.
But while they breathed they lived.
And isn’t that the point?

If you are looking for guarantees, there are none.

But all that life is, the good and the bad, will be magnified beyond all that you have known when you travel.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things (and experiences) than are dreamt of in your (present) philosophy.
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 I have struggled these past three weeks, save for a few Facebook posts, to sit down in front of my computer and create.
And it has not been that there is nothing to write about, but rather the reverse.
I found myself wondering if anyone is interested in what I think and whether my writing is less inspirational than it is egotistical.
Granted to write is to believe that what one thinks is worthy of communicating.
But recently I have been reminded of George Orwell/Eric Blair and his classic 1984…not because these modern times are Orwellian…but because of the reasons why Winston Smith – the protagonist of the novel – began keeping his journal.
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Smith doubted anyone would read his words, whether anyone who did read his journal would understand him or the reality he was writing about.
But I am inspired by what Smith concluded…
Smith wrote to express himself, to put into words what was real, in an age where reality was regulated to fit the wishes of power rather than what Smith knew to be true through his own experience.
To express with courage the reality of 2+2=4, rather than what someone else insists that 2+2 must be.
Why do I write?
A number of reasons…
Partially psychologically…
By putting an experience into words, I begin to better understand the experience.
Socially, I try to follow two statements:
1) Every person is my superior that I may learn from him/her. And I am superior to everyone that they may learn from me.
This keeps me both humble while it maintains a healthy feeling of self-worth.
2) Do no harm.
I do realise that I will never please everyone all the time, but I continue to try and not hurt anyone with my words or actions.
Travelling has taught me so much and I hope my words offer confidence and comfort to any who have chosen to read them.
I have seen so much and yet there is so much left to see.
I have learned so much and yet there is so much left to learn.
In Africa it is said that when an old man dies, a library is destroyed.
I am not sure, if I live to a ripe old age, whether that will be the case for me.
But in the grand symphony, the great adventure, of Life, if I can know in my own small way I have contributed a verse, then I think my life will have had some meaning after all.
It was suggested to me that when one shares one’s experiences that this is an expression of an overinflated ego with delusions of one’s value in thinking that his experience actually matters to anyone else.
And I can’t deny that this bothers me.
Speaking only for myself, it has bothered me when I have tried to share some of the feelings and thoughts that travelling has generated to find those who have not travelled only marginally interested.
So often those you love neither understand nor care about what you have felt and learned as it has little to do with their own lives.

So why write?
To express myself.
To relate reality as I perceive it to be.
To shout out loud the truth of experience and the certainty of conviction.
In an age where presidents can lie boldface and critics cower and avoid confrontation…
In an age where dignity and respect are secondary to messages transmitted loudly and repeatedly until the listener simply surrenders…
Where a lie becomes truth if spoken by power in a never ceasing cacophony of intimidating relentlessness…
An age where we are taught to be afraid of the future, dissatisfied with the present and unconvinced by the past…
Where thought is discouraged, dissent repressed, emotions controlled and hope is crushed…
We rush through reality without looking at it, eyes downward cast in submission to electronic gods we have fashioned for ourselves.
 
But those who can think, those brave enough to feel and speak…
I encourage you to travel and to speak your minds…
While you still can…
I travel and write to help myself understand…
I hope my words encourage others to do the same.
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Out of the Shadows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 February 2017

Sometimes inspiration flows like sap through a maple tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was awakened by a phone call from Canada.

My childhood was rather…unusual.

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

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

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

There are many similarities between Vicki and myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vicki feels too much.

I have often been accused of thinking too much.

We both worry too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads me to the subject of Groundhog Day…

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

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

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

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

Flag of Canada

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

Flag of the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Friedrich Nietzche (1844 – 1900)

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

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

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

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

The same airplanes drop them off at the same places.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignore the shadows of doubt.

Spring will come.

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Sources: Wikipedia