Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. 

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

(The Beautiful South, “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)”, Blue is the Colour)

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There are a couple of songs that I enjoy listening to from this group:

“Don´t Marry Her” – purely for its shock value.

“Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” – for the feelings its lyrics inevitably generate within me.

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Above: Rotterdam

My wife recently bought me a new computer whose kinks and quirks I have yet to comprehend and overcome.

But these First World problems could have happened to anyone anywhere in the First World.

The sadness and annoyance at yet another piece of technology in my possession suddenly becoming obsolete, the frustration of having to master yet another new machine, I believe, are common emotions of someone of my generation trying to cope with the tools of a more modern time that make us sometimes feel obsolete as well.

During a break between completed errands in town and waiting for a train to take me to my only teaching job (at present) I spontaneously decided to visit the public library across the square from the Bahnhof (Train Station) St. Gallen.

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

To the library´s credit they do possess more English language books than I do in my own personal library (though my wife doesn´t believe this to be true).

Spontaneously I grab the works of three authors whose writing I have hesitated to read for various irrational reasons: Jonathan Ames (because he has struck me as being elitist), Maya Angelou (too urban with themes common to the USA but almost unrecognizable to white Canadians) and Margaret Atwood (out of pure and simple jealousy for her success rather than any logical premise at all).

I need to grow beyond myself and try to read authors for the value and power of their words rather than reject them without reading their works because of stupid preconceptions.

I begin with Ames´  Wake Up, Sir! for the simplest reason of all: his name takes precedence alphabetically.

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My attempts to dispel my prejudices about Ames do not begin well….

In Chapter One, the damned hero of the book has a valet!

But I must admit that the opening situation of the book is one with which I can relate to….

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the novel, is awoken by his valet and informed that – Horror of Horrors! – his uncle is already up and about.

“It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness.

He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.”

I love my wife, but, like Blair´s uncle, she does not see how important solitude is to producing literature (or in my case, semblances of literature).

Like Uncle Irwin, my wife (being the well-organized German woman she is) has schedules that she adheres to, with a discipline well-trained soldiers would appreciate.

So, when she alters her schedule, I find myself suddenly in a funk and am uncertain as to how to recapture my muse with the alarming alteration of her presence demanding attention to herself rather than any attempts of creation I might be fostering.

Art is more akin to spontaneous ejaculations of expression and emotion, but even I realize that some amount of order and self-control are required to produce something worthy to be published.

Much like Uncle Irwin, my wife views sitting down and producing words on a computer (dead laptop or recently acquired mystery machine notwithstanding) akin to a kind of laziness.

For surely there are better things I could be doing with my time, such as household duties (husbands are, after all, unpaid valets), finding more employment as a teacher or requesting more hours at my “temporary” job as a barista.

She feels, and rightly so, that the inequality of our incomes puts an unjust burden upon her, but, in my defence, I argue that her education should leave her with a larger income than me and that money, as pleasant as it can be, is not the only criteria when it comes to devoting 80% of our lives to a job.

When work presents itself I do not shirk my responsibilities, but by the same token I do not want my life to be nothing more than living to pay bills.

I have more leisure time than she does as a doctor, but I would be lying if I said that I am not glad that I do.

I like having mornings to myself when I can write, or evenings when she has gone to bed exhausted and I am writing my electronic journal.

I like working weekends when the Café closes earlier than weekdays, leaving me free during the week – when I am not teaching – to go hiking or travelling while average people are chained to their workplaces.


It is a fine thing to go hiking on a Sunday, but nature is truly a wonderland on a Wednesday when most everyone is working leaving the wilderness to myself alone.

That having been said, my ability to travel would not be possible (at least in the same manner I have grown accustomed to since we got married) were it not for her superior income.

And, understandably, she wants to have leisure time to travel as well, though her desire for solitude is rarer for her than mine is.

So, except for conferences, when she travels I usually accompany her.

And, it must be said, as too swift as our travelling together can be, travelling alone can, on occasion, make a place feel like Rotterdam or anywhere.

I can appreciate a sunset alone, but sharing that same sunset does lend the dying day a certain poignancy that solitude does not.

There is an Island that we both visited this past summer that listening to “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” always brings to mind, for had I not been with her not only might I not have seen the Island, I might not have appreciated it without her by my side.

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

Traffic-free Monte Isola, Italy´s largest lake island, at over 3 km long and 600 metres / 1,969 feet high, at the south of the Lago d´Iseo, is defined by Italian legislation as an “area of particular importance from the natural and environmental point of view”.

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

Accessible by hourly ferries from the lakeside ports of Iseo and Sulzano, Monte Isola is a magnet for daytrippers in summers and at weekends, so the Island then is unlikely to provide much solitude.

Still, mid-season or out of season, the Island is well worth a visit, to walk or cycle around the edge of the Island and for great views of the lake.

The population of the Island (1,800 inhabitants) is spread over 11 villages and hamlets.

There are several churches built between the 15th and the 17th centuries with frescoes, statues and altars in vernacular art.

With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres / 4.9 square miles, Monte Isola ranks as the largest lake island not only in Italy, but also in Central and South Europe.

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

(The world´s largest lake island is Canadian: Manitoulin Island.)

The Island is served and reached by two main ports: Carzano to the north and Peschera Maraglio to the south.

There are indications of a Roman settlement, but the Island is first mentioned in a written document in 905 when it was listed among the properties of the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia.

The family Oldofredi, rulers of Iseo, built two strongholds on the Island in the 11th to the 19th centuries.

One of these, on the lower promontory of the Island, covered by olive tree and wine cultivation, is the Rocca Oldofredi-Martinego, built in the 14th century as a strategic and defense point and then turned into a residence by the Martinegos during the Italian Renaissance.

Members of the powerful Visconti family came to the Island to hunt in 1400.

In 1497 Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, gave the islanders some fishing rights and reduced their taxes.

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

In the same year, Caterina Cornaro, Queen and last monarch of Cyprus, resided a while on the Island.

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

During the 19th century the main industry on the Island was the construction of boats and the manufacturing of fishing nets.

In 2016, Monte Isola was the site of the Floating Piers by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Above: The Floating Piers

In Peschiera Maraglio is the single-nave Church of San Michele Arcangelo.

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Consecrated in 1648, this baroque church is notable for the many frescoes on the walls and ceiling and for its wooden carvings.

Climb the mountain from the small village of Cure in the middle of the Island.

The peak offers the most panoramic site of the Lago and from here it is possible to admire all the villages of both lakeshores, the natural reserve of Torbiere del Sebino and a large part of the mainland.

At the top, amongst walnut woods and ancient dolomite rocks stands the Shrine of the Madonna della Ceriola.

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This 13th century church was the first parish church on the Island and the Madonna, the protectress not only of the inhabitants of Monte Isola but the entirety of Lago Iseo, is represented by a 12th century seated wooded sculpture carved from the trunk of a turkey oak.

Wander the Island and feel soothed by the barely tamed bushy copse woods containing oak, bay, hornbeam, ash and fruit chestnut trees.

Brown kites fly above, while wild ducks and great crested grebes swim below.

Agriculture, once an island mainstay, is nowadays practised more as a hobby, yet, nonetheless, it is the maintenance of this ancient art that still plays a crucial role in the preservation of the landscape heritage, preventing the Island being overdeveloped as a Tourist resort similar to other major northern Italian lakes such as Garda and Como.

The 1,800 inhabitants of this lake oasis move about by motorcycle or mini-buses which connect all hamlets and the two main ports.

All connections to and from the mainland run between Peschiera Maraglio and mainland Sulzano (the route we took) or between Carzano and mainland Sale Marasino.

This ferry service, operated by Navigazione Lago d´Iseo, runs every 15 to 20 minutes from 0500 to midnight and every 40 minutes between midnight and 5 a.m.

On Monte Isola cars are banned and the only cars allowed are the ones used for community services (ambulance, doctor, police, priest and taxi).

Motorcycles are for the exclusive use of permanent Monte Isola residents.

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the Island by bike.

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

And the paths leading from the Lago to the top of the Island and to the Shrine.

This is an extremely interesting site, both from a natural and an artistic point of view.

The island´s littlest church contains contemplative quiet beauty and is both the oldest and the highest point on Monte Isola.

The rest of the Island itself is worth a look and a linger.

Artistic churches surrounded by tiny squares and large pale stone houses, sunny arcades, companionable courtyards, lovely landscapes, a rough and simple people  –  some still using ancient wooden farm tools – set in a solid and certain architecture and proud heritage.

Siviano, the most populated hamlet, is the central core of the community.

Above: Siviano

Here, here, is the town hall, the Kindergarten, the Primary School and the Secondary School, the post office, the bank, the two supermarkets.

Peschiera Maraglio, the main harbour of Monte Isola, has a tourist office, another bank, a chemist´s, another Kindergarten, many restaurants, hotels and shops.

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

Carzano was also a fishermen´s village, also all about the fish and fish preservation.

Here, every five years, the fishing folk decorate all the streets of the village with handmade paper flowers to celebrate the religious feast of the Holy Cross, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to watch the spectacle.

Here on Monte Isola it is possible to sleep in small silent hotels and to savour the endless ways to eat a fish.

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

The lake sardines are salted, dried and bottled in oil….

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

The wife and I strolled from Peschiera´s docks, occasionally popping into shops and then settled ourselves down by the shore to watch children splash joyfully in the water.

Ute swam for hours while I read some forgettable tome important only at that and for that moment.

Day Five of our vacation and this day we had driven (or to be precise she drove us) from Bregamo to Sulzano, via Crespi d´Adda and Clusone.

We parked the car near the ferry port in Sulzano and waited for the boat to arrive.

A man in an ambulance gurney is taken off the boat, an ambulance waiting to take him to an emergency room in some nearby town with a hospital.

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

Neither our Italian nor our courage was up to the task of enquiring as to the patient´s identity or circumstances.

On the Island while my wife waded amongst the crowd of mer-children the chilly recollection of the gurney man remained with me but not in a sad or morbid way.

I love my wife, but I won´t deny that my brain wanders off and wonders what it would be like to go somewhere, anywhere, and retreat to an “isolated” spot and devote myself solely to my writing.

(Of course, this is with the assumption that I have the financial means to do this, which, sadly, I do not.)

I fantasize about finding some remote village like Ezra Pound´s Rapallo, or some tranquil wilderness vista like Henry David Thoreau´s Walden Pond, or some artistic alcove like Ernest Hemingway´s in Paris, and devote myself purely to doing nothing but creation.

In my mind´s eye I see myself typing some novel or a magazine article in the early hours before dawn, strolling through the just-waking village to watch the sunrise and smell the baker´s first bread and rolls being prepared for sale, more writing in my small den until lunchtime, lounging in some intimate café soaking the afternoon sun into my bones like some self-indulgent cat, strolling to the harbour to see what cast of characters the lake has spawned this day, more writing just before sunset, down to the beach to watch the sun dissolve into dream tides of amnesiac waters, then walk with purpose and anticipation to my favourite restaurant and slowly sip glass after glass of some local wine until fatigue quietly whispers to me to return back to my bed.

I am not quite certain exactly where my writer´s retreat would be or whether it even could be.

My mind has had this writer´s retreat in Paris, in Ticino and Graubünden, in Lisbon, in Istanbul, and now on Monte Isola.

It wouldn´t have to be in Monte Isola or Istanbul, Lisbon or Paris, or in some remote hamlet in southern Switzerland or northern Italy.

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

I think about the story of Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510), the last Queen of Cyprus (1474 – 1510), how she came to be a temporary resident here on Monte Isola after her husband died and Venice claimed control over Cyprus.

What must it have been like to be an exiled and deposed queen and living in isolation in an old fortress on an Island which has always been barely recognized by anyone?

Did she see her future as nothing more than a destiny of disillusioned despair and diminishment?

Does one need to be defeated, disillusioned and diminished before escaping to a retreat?

(Similar to Colin Firth´s character Jamie, in the film Love…Actually, retreating to a French cottage after he discovers his girlfriend having an affair with his brother.)

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I hope not.

Though my time on Monte Isola was short, decidedly too short –  time (and my wife) waits for no one and we had booked accommodation down the road some distance in Sirmione by Lago di Garda – I am still left with the desire to return some day to Monte Isola.

As good a place as anywhere.


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy /




Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

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I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.


And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

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On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.


It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

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Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

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Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.


Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.


Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.


Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

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Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

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Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

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Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

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She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

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The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

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Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum /


Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 November 2017

Where is the line between insanity and sanity?

What does it actually mean to be sane?

Sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies brokenness?

One theory suggests that sanity is tied to how we fit with what is actually going on in the world.

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Psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire socieites “may be lacking in sanity”.

One of the most deceptive features of social life involves consensual validation.

“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings.

Nothing is further from the truth….

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues.

The fact that they share so many errors does not make these errors to be truths.

The fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” (Erich Fromm, The Sane Society)

(This might explain American politics?)

Are the religious insane?

Is it insane to believe in all-powerful invisible forces we can´t see because there are phenomena we can´t explain and because we fear our own mortality?

Is it insane for groups of people to believe in the same divinity yet believe that only their manner of belief or worship is the correct one and are willing to fight to the death to defend it?

Or are our lives empty echo chambers without religion to fill them?

I am neither psychologist nor theologian and my only philosophy is to accept other people´s points of view unless their perspective hurts either themselves or others.

I handle humanity on a case by case basis, situation to situation.

For example, I have a friend who is convinced to his bones that we live on a flat Earth, that the moon landing was staged and that space photographs are faked.

On one level, I admire his tenacity to stick to his beliefs and his insistence that one should question everything.

On the other, I am baffled that he can so easily deny so much that is based on empirical evidence and scientific experimentation over centuries.

I listen to him expound his case and though I can´t agree with him, his beliefs are not sufficient grounds for dissolving our friendship, and as long as he does not insist that I share his beliefs, then we can co-exist without agreement.

Still those who live in greenhouses shouldn´t throw stones, for I am unusual in my own eccentric manner.

I don´t drive, I am not glued to my mobile devices every available moment, I prefer print to electronics, I prefer walking to any other form of transportation no matter the distance or time involved.

I am not fanatical about these preferences.

I don´t drive but I can see the wisdom of knowing how to do so.

I have a mobile phone and see its practicality but I try not to let its use become an addiction.

My wife prefers the compactness of an electronic library, while I prefer the personal connection I feel towards physical books in my hands.

But many Swiss, as well as my German wife, question my sanity when it comes to walking.

Flag of Switzerland

Not because they don´t enjoy hiking, they do.

But here hiking is not usually a solitary sport, but rather it is usually done in groups of people or minimally it´s done as a duo.

They feel that hiking can be dangerous and that there is safety in numbers should one of the group get injured.

Wise, to be sure, but for me the point of hiking is isolation, getting away from humanity and bathing oneself in the delights of nature.

I love my wife and we have hiked together, but she is not a quiet person comfortable with silence, nor does one stroll but rather they march with her.

But she and the Swiss are right….

Hiking can be dangerous, even fatal, and the local papers are quick to trumpet to the reading public the latest fatalities.

I derisively laugh at all of this until I find myself in solitary difficulties on some godforsaken trail of my own choosing….


Toggenburg, Switzerland, 18 October 2017

I recently began following a man.

A religious man, willing to die for that which he believed in.

In an attempt to derive some sort of meaning from the hubbub of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I have begun following the life and “footsteps” of the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli, through the use of biographies and a recently purchased book, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

The previous week I walked from Strichboden in the heart of the Toggenburg region to Zwingli´s birthplace in the town of Wildhaus.

Above: Zwingli´s birthplace, Wildhaus

(For an account of this, please read Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg of this blog.)

I accomplished the first walking section of the nine-stage rediscovery of Zwingli´s life by walking from the wilderness to Zwingli´s birth home to get a greater appreciation of arriving in Wildhaus on foot then simply disembarking from a Postbus to walk the intended direction of the Zwingli-Wege book.

Today though I would do things the right way, the intended direction.

To do so meant returning back to Strichboden.

So, once again, train to Neu St. Johann, bus to Starkenbach, a ride up the mountain via the ancient rickety cable car system called the Selunbahn, to arrive back on top of the mountain called Strichboden, this time to walk away from, rather than towards, Wildhaus.

Destination: Weesen, where Zwingli lived and went to school from age 6 to 10.

I began hiking early afternoon, for it is hard to awake early on my days off and it takes over two hours to reach Starkenbach from my home on public transportation.

Now there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you, gentle reader, read these words….

October means the ending of many tourist facilities, diminishing daylight hours, and a reduced tendency for people to go hiking in the wilderness at this time of year.

All of these were factors I had to keep in mind.

Still the weather was warm, almost summerlike, and as the Selunbahn rose through the alpine sky, so did my spirits.

From Alp Vorderselun / Starkenbach, I began strolling towards Amden / Arvenbüel 8.4 km distance, three hours away.

Now 8 kilometres may not seem like much of a distance to walk, but midway in the walk, the trail descends steeply from 1,800 metres to 1,200 metres.

The walk began quite pleasantly.

After only one kilometre, the hiker heading west comes to the Ochsenhütte (the Oxen Huts), a small mountain inn just 100 meters from the trail (still the Toggenburger Höhenweg).

Above: Ochsenhütte, Starkenbach, Toggenburger Höhenweg

Happily, hunger is deliciously abated and after wolfing down lunch, I resume the Höhenweg and gradually ascend the Alps Bleien and Hüeberlis to arrive at the Donnerlöcher (the Thundering Hollows).

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In the totality of the Churfirsten Region there are no streams.

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Rainwater and melting snow simply seep into the ground.

Innumerable hollows and depressions dent the alpine pastures on this Toggenburger side of the Churfirsten range.

When it rains, water rushes through these funnel depressions to form pits deep into the earth.

Along the walls of these funnels limestone is dissolved and sinks into these depressions to form deposits within these hollows.

Over vast amounts of time the increasing weight of the accumulating limestone deepens the hollows as much as 800 metres below the surface.

Depending on the wind conditions the sound that emerges from these hollows is said to be akin to thunder.

Beyond the Donnerlöcher and the summit of Alp Tritt I find myself suddenly on the side of limestone cliffs descending maniacally sharp down towards the pastoral hills of Arvenbüel.

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How easy to make a misstep, how quickly one could get injured, how foolish one feels clinging to a cliff, how insane an activity is this solitary hiking….

The hiker is torn between the reflex of great hesitation and the need to continue onwards to safety.

The feet complain, arms and back comment, the rock is unforgiving and intolerant of careless fools, and one begins to envy the carefree manner by which mountain goats navigate these heights.

This aging man is no young mountain goat gleefully leaping from rock to rock unconcernedly.

Palms sweat, despite firm grip on walking stick and mountain cable.

I recall a similar situation during my walking days in Canada when I spontaneously decided to climb up the side of the Scarborough Bluffs (just outside Toronto) with a discovered tennis ball in one hand!

Above: Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Apparently I was not very wise in the past and clearly I have not gotten much wiser since then.

Still I persevere….too scared to live, too stubborn to die.

Eventually limestone turns to hilly pastureland and pastureland with glimpses of the Walensee (Walen Lake) gives way to flat streets and roads.

Fear is forgotten in a tidal wave of relief when I reach the end bus stop of the Arvenbüel – Ziegelbrücke bus 650 route before sunset.

Bus 650, happily arriving when I do, winds its way down the slopes with stops in the villages of Amden and Weesen.

I resolutely refuse to explore these villages until I return again to walk from Arvenbühl.

Weather and work make the return walk wait for nearly a fortnight….


Arvenbüel, Switzerland, 1 November 2017

All Saints´ Day is one of the days of the year that one perceives how divided Switzerland is between Catholics and Protestants.

Central Switzerland, Canton Valais, Canton Ticino, the Jura region, Canton Freiburg/Fribourg, Canton Solothurn, Baselerland, half of Canton Aargau, Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden and Canton St. Gallen remain devoutly Catholic.

Wealthier and more urban Cantons are stubbornly Protestant.

This difference of religious opinion even led to a bloody civil war in Switzerland called the Sonderbundkrieg (the Sonderbund, or Separate Alliance, War) in November 1847.

Take, for example, the half-Cantons of Appenzell: Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR).

(In Switzerland´s Parliament, AI and AR get only an one half cantonal vote, despite being separate individual cantons.)

AI (Cantonal Capital: Appenzell) is predominantly Catholic, so today schools, government offices, banks and shops are closed there.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Innerrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden

AR (Cantonal Capital: Herisau) is predominantly Protestant, so there everything is business as usual today.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Thurgau Canton where I reside is Protestant, while St. Gallen Canton is Catholic, (despite the efforts of St. Gallen reformer Vadian, whose statue is across from the Starbucks where I work when I am not teaching).

Above: Statue of Joachim von Watt, aka Vadian (1484 – 1551)

AI and AR are often confused in my mind so I had cancelled my Herisau lesson for today, forgetting that the company for whom I teach was operational today, and opted to resume my Zwingli walking.

(For more on the wonders of the Appenzell Cantons, please see A to Z: Adam to Zelg, An Aura of Appenzell Alpacas and Aion A, Riding the Rails, Railroads to Anywhere: Urnäsch and Appenzell and This Gais in Plain Sight of this blog.)

Today´s hiking trek began after a train to St. Gallen, another to Herisau and yet another to Ziegelbrücke, then a bus back up to Arvenbüel.

Another pleasant hiking day.

The trail started reassuringly level for 1.5 km from Arvenbüel through Stock and Chapf, offering great views of the Walensee, but then it began a rapid 4 km descent from a height of 1,300 metres to 900 metres through Giregärtli, Fallen and Hofstetten -a quarter of the town of Amden – to arrive at the back of an apartment building where a Turkish family offers communal drinks paid for by voluntary contributions.

What can one say about Amden?

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Well, Amden is one of the largest municipalities in Switzerland at 43 square kilometres, as well as one of the most varied in terms of extremes of elevation from 2,101 metres high down to 421 metres low at Walen Lake.

There are a little more than 1,600 Ammlers, most of them good Catholics, despite Amden having seen Romans, Goths, Franks, Swabian, invading Swiss from other cantons, and the French come tromping through over the millennia.

For Amden is desirable, with scenic and strategic value and fertile land.

But its location is both a blessing and a curse, for not only has it been a much coveted area for many, but nature herself has restlessly fought against Amden with a major rockslide in 1972 that sealed off roads leading to the town, requiring facilities to be flown in and new roads built.

There are ruins of a Roman fortress here, Burg Strahlegg, built in 15 BC by order of Caesar Augustus, and uncovered by soldiers en route to the Battle of Näfels in 1388.

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One Turkish coffee and 200 more meters descended to Faren later, the trail bends back upon itself heading towards another wonder of Switzerland, but not before I see one of the faithful entering the Catholic church of St. Gallus in Amden.

Perhaps it is the rare alpine air here that seems to create talent….

German landscape painter Otto Meyer (1885 – 1933) loved the place so much he renamed himself Otto Meyer-Amden, while a generation later painter Doris Stauffer (1934 – 2017) remained ever devoted to the town.

Above: Amden Landscape (1913), Otto Meyer-Amden

But Amden´s size and dominant Catholicism must not be easy for everyone.

Local popular singer Michael von der Heide´s sexuality remains a topic of much debate, a debate in which he refuses to engage in, saying that he should be judged by his talent and not his sexuality.

Above: Michael von der Heide

And, of course, he is right.

At Faren, the hiker must choose to either walk east towards the Seerenbachfälle or walk west down towards Weesen and the Walensee.

The detour to the Falls is well worth it, for they are not just one set of waterfalls but three, cascading down from a height of 585 metres, making the Seerenbachfälle trio the 3rd highest waterfalls in Switzerland.

Above: The Seerenbach Falls, Amden

The day´s goal and the focus of this walking project was to visit a location where Huldrych Zwingli once lived….

Weesen, where from ages 6 to 10 Zwingli attended the village school and lived with his uncle Bartholew.

According to the Zwingli Zentrum Toggenburg back in Wildhaus, the walk I followed over the course of three days from his birthplace to his primary school residence was also actually taken by Huldrych and his father Ulrich.

It is said that Ulrich frequently followed this path through the Amdener Pass to keep in personal contact with his son, his brother and the commerce of the area.

For commercial profit, Weesen was built at the meeting point where the Linth River flowed into the Walensee and was thus a much travelled route.

Above: Aerial view of Weesen, where Linth Canal meets Walensee

It was in Weesen where Huldrych learned German, reading, writing and arithmetic and where he met Katharina von Zimmern.

Katharina von Zimmern was born in 1478 in the rich southern German noble family of Baron Hans Werner von Zimmern and Countess Margarethe von Oettingen.

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Above: Katharina von Zimmern (1478 – 1547)

Katharina was the fourth girl and had four further brothers and two sisters.

Her father loved hunting, played several musical instruments, and was in the service of the Duke Sigmund of Tyrol.

In 1488 he fell from the favour of Emperor Frederick III, due to intrigues and was forced to flee with his family.

Katharina had an adventurous escape with her mother and some siblings before arriving at Weesen on the Walensee lakeshore.

There in 1490 she met the boy Huldrych, who had been given to his uncle, the parish priest in charge.

Little did the 22-year-old nun imagine then that this boy would one day make her future position of Abbess in Zürich to be the last Abbess of the Fraumunster Abbey.

The aforementioned history of Amden is quite similar to that of Weesen, with two significant differences:

Weesen didn´t suffer a rockslide….it was razed by the victorious Swiss after the Battle of Näfels then rebuilt a few years later.

Weesen has an Abbey.

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Above: Weesen Abbey

The Weesen Abbey, or as it is properly known the Maria Refuge Dominican Order of Nuns Cloister, has existed since 1256, and is known for quite a number of remarkable things:

It is one of the few monasteries that wasn´t looted during the Swiss Reformation as the cloister´s vows of charity meant there was little for anyone to steal, and though it too was a victim of iconoclastic attacks (the destruction of religious symbology) it still was able to repair itself and continue to function right up to today.

The Abbey library contains over 8,400 books, mostly in German on how to be a good nun.

The Abbey accommodates and is served by nine nuns and one laywoman who range from ages 46 to 78.

It offers a temporary guesthouse for women from ages 18 to 40.

The ladies manage their own cloister shop, bakery and atelier which produces candles and icons.

Their bakery is, surprisingly, the most modern wafer-producing factory in Switzerland, manufacturing 30,000 brown and 3,000 white wafers per week, or two million wafers a year.

The wafers are created from a mixture of flour and water without the use of either yeast or baking powder.

The Eucharist wafer, the symbolic body of Christ, is mass produced, though fully automated, in astonishing purity and massive quantities by less than a dozen women who are mostly past their prime of life.

Walk around Weesen a bit, though the tourism infrastructure doesn´t yet appreciate that non-German speakers might visit, and you may find yourself pleasantly charmed by this town.

The Hotel Schwert has been offering food and lodging since 1523, while the Town Hall has been administering since 1388 – despite the Great Fire of 1523 that razed the original building.


Follow the flow of the Lauibach, a stream that should never be underestimated, which flooded the streets of Weesen in 2005.

Visit the aforementioned Cloister and be inspired by these ladies of Maria Zuflucht.

See the Schlössli (small chateau) in the town centre where the von Zimmern family once lived after their flight from Austria.

More divinity awaits within the walls of the Holy Cross Church should you desire the trappings of Catholicism or deep within the sanctuary of the Zwingli Reformed Church if plain and simple surroundings are more to your religious inclinations.

Above: Zwingli Church, Weesen

Ponder the Russian Monument beneath the Zwingli Church and recall that the acceptance of war refugees into foreign communities began long before our present Syrian War crisis.

In the First World War and in the years between the global conflicts millions left the ruins of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Second World War saw many thousands of people flee wartorn areas and many afterwards sought to escape the chokehold of Communist dominated lands.

More than 100 Russian refugees called Weesen their new home from 1951 until 1992.

The Monument was unveiled in 2006.

Beneath the ground of Speerplatz the Middle Ages are still being uncovered and rediscovered, while on the walls of the Weesen Museum and Gallery are fine paintings capturing on humble canvases the mighty glory of the Seerenbachfälle and the quiet majesty of the Walensee.

Along the harbour of Weesen the casual stroller learns of how high the floodwaters of the Walensee can be, that Zwingli once lived here and that Franz Liszt visited, while watching as a summer fountain flings water high above the surface of the lake.

Above: High water marker, Weesen Harbour

Enjoy delicious pastries and High Tea, served by lovely ladies in 19th century period dress, inside the warm and inviting Café Liszt and see photos and sheet music by the famous composer peeking at the patrons from the walls and from on top of cleverly arranged furniture pieces.

There is a timelessness to Weesen that soothes the visitor.

This is a place contented with itself, complacent in its attractiveness.

Large enough to handle commerce and accommodate throngs of lake cruise disembarking passengers and summer visitors, small enough to feel cosy and comfortable and intimate with the surroundings and one another.

In Weesen, a young boy would learn the fundamentals of basic education, a young girl would be inspired to take up a life of service to Christ, and a wild Hungarian romantic would feel compelled by his surroundings to linger and create music that would delight crowds and put the name of Weesen into their souls.

Look up into the mountains or across the waters of the Walensee and feel the place work its quiet spell upon you.

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Let your curious feet lead you down to the Linth canals and decide spontaneously which canal you will follow, whether you wish to visit Glaurus or Zürich Cantons today.

The hallows of your heart will thunderously applaud your decision to come here.

Linger awhile.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwengli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis


Canada Slim and the Holiday Chronicles

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 16 November 2017

I hate November: shorter days (dawn still incomplete after 6 am, dusk already started at 1600), grey clouds ever threatening rain, blocking the sun by day and the stars by night.

November with its month flower, the chrysanthemum, a symbol of adversity, grief and death.

And I miss seeing the Lake under blue skies by day and the stars beyond my grasp overhead above the lamplightless-after-midnight streets that usually makes life for me in Landschlacht worthwhile.

I like slipping outside onto our balcony, sprawl upon a deck chair and gaze out upon a sky full of stars.

(See Thus one journeys to the stars of this blog regarding star spotting in Landschlacht and Zürich.)

I wish it were August again and we were once again exploring Italy….

(For a description of the journey through Switzerland and Italy leading to Como, please see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, …..and the Apostle of Violence, …..and the Road to the Open,……and the Quest for George Clooney, …..and the Injured Queen, …..and the Isle of Silence, …..and the Inappropriate Statues, …..and the Life Electric, …..and the Distant Bench, …..and the Smarter Woman, of this blog.)


Lake Como, Italy, 3 August 2017

It was the kind of road my wife both loved and hated: curvy with high vistas of great scenery, but demanding constant alertness for traffic and pedestrians with no more sense than God gave a cantalope.

There are three big lakes in Italy which reach a depth of more than 300 metres and cover an area of hundreds of square kilometres.

The most west is Lago Maggiore, the most east is Lago di Garda, the central one is Lago di Como.

Lago di Como is distinguishable from its charateristic shape of an upside-down “Y”.

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(The Lake of Constance is distinguishable as an eastwardly swimming fish.)

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The triangle formed by the two branches of the Lago is named the Triangolo lariano. (the Larius Triangle)(Larius is the Latin name for the Lago.)

The eastern shore of Lago di Como, stretching from flat marshes in the north to the lake´s right leg, Lago Lecco, overshadowed by the sawlike ridge of Monte Resegone, is often as sunless as November on the southern shore of the Lake of Constance (Bodensee) is.

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This lack of direct sunlight consequently means that the eastern shore is less visited than the western.

There are few places to stay and and these are not easily accessible scattered among and between the quiet villages that line the shore from Como to Bellagio.

The S5340 feels like an old military road, less concerned with tourist infrastructure as it is with the simple linkage of the lakeside communities.

We left Como after a stay of three glorious days and nights, from the Sant´ Agostino quarter, passed the funicular that runs to Brunate, ascending away from the city.

We reached Blevio with its Villa Taglioni, which once belonged to the Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884), the daughter of an Italian choreographer father and a Swedish ballerina mother.

Above: Marie Taglioni

Taglioni was a central figure in the history of European dance and she is credited with being the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe.

Taglioni was married to Comte Auguste Gilbert de Voisins in 1832, but separated in 1836.

She later fell in love with Eugene Desmares, a loyal fan, who had defended her honour in a duel.

He later died in a hunting accident.

When her father Filippo was appointed the ballet master at the court opera in Vienna, there was a decision that Marie would debut her dancing career in the Habsburg capital.

Her father created a rigourous six-month training program where she would hold positions for 100 counts.

Her training was conducted daily and consisted of two hours in the morning with difficult exercises focusing on her legs and two hours in the afternoon focusing on adagio movements that would help her refine poses in ballet.

She focused her energy on her shape and form and less on bravura tricks and pirouettes.

Taglioni would dance in her father´s court opera ballet as well as in Munich and Stuttgart before joining the Paris Opéra, where she would rise to fame.

She would later dance in St. Petersburg, where “the cult of the ballerina” was so strong that a pair of her pointe shoes were sold for 200 rubles, cooked, served with a sauce and eaten by a group of her fans.

She would even perform for Queen Victoria.

Taglioni retired from performing in 1847 after been active since 1824 and began to chereograph and judge other ballet dancers´  performances.

Her only choreographic work was Le Papillon, wherein her student Emma Livry died when her costume was set alight by a gas lamp used for stage lighting.

Taglioni died in Marseille, the day before her 80th birthday.

Her body was moved to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

Above: Montmartre Cemetery with the rue Coulaincourt viaduct passing through it

Local dancers began leaving their worn toe shoes on her grave as a tribute and thanks to the first toe dancer.

In the local Blevio cemetery of the Ferranti chapel lies buried the Italian soprano opera singer Giuditta Pasta (née Negri)(1797 – 1865), the Maria Callas of the 19th century.

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Above: Giuditta Pasta

From 1823 to 1854, Pasta would perform in Milan, Naples, Venice, Paris and London.

Her voice was such that composers, like Stendhal and Bellini, would create roles specifically for her to sing.

Her voice was said to be clear and powerful, encompassing tones that ranged from fine and full-bodied to husky and harsh.

Her voice was said to resonate with a magnetic vibration that exercised an instantaneous and hypnotic effect upon the soul of the spectator, a voice directed towards expressing the most intense passions accompanied by physical movements unknown and unseen before in lyrical theatre.

Her voice is silent now.

There are beautiful Villas near the lakeside square at the boat wharf: Cademartori, Da Riva and Pozzi.

Through the tunnel, the provincial road continues on towards the town of Torno.

Before Torno, there is a cartway branching off to Piazzaga`s famous ancient tombs and Monte Piatto with its Pietra Pendula (pendulum stone) near the small church which honours Mary´s visit to Elisabeth.

Up the mountain above Torno is the church of San Giovanni, characterised by a magnificent Renaissance marble portal and said to preserve a sacred nail from the Cross of Jesus.

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Above: The town of Torno, Lombardy, Italy

Near San Giovanni, a path leads to the Villa Pliniana near an awe-inspiring cascade praised by both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as well as Leonardo da Vinci.

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Above: Villa Pliniana

(Please see Canada Slim and the Inappropriate Statues for discussion about the Plinys, uncle and nephew.)

Pliniana rises above the lake, embraced by greenery.

Built in 1500 by Giovanni Anguissola, the Villa Pliniana – named after Pliny the Younger´s whose estate this once was – has hosted writer Ugo Foscolo (1778 – 1827), opera composer Gioschino Rossini (1792 – 1868), poet Giovanni Berchet, writer Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842), the poet Percy Shelley (1792 – 1822), and writer Cristina Belgioioso (1808 – 1871), but the Villa did not welcome us as it remains closed to the hoi polloi such as my wife and I.

Torno is situated in an ideal position above a promontory and stands out as a typical medieval village, which is surprising when one considers the Spanish razed it to the ground in 1522.

Some of the houses are gathered around the church of Santa Tecla and the beautiful little square on the pier by the lake.

Above: The Church of Santa Tecla, Torno, Italy

Remaining suspended high above the shore of the lake, the S5340 passes through the hamlet of Palanza with its, still in working condition, big wooden press from the 1500s.

Heading onwards towards Bellagio, the traveller soon comes to the hamlet of Careno, stone houses clinging to the mountain along steep pathways that can only be accessed on foot.

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Above: Careno

At the top of the town there is the Masera Grotto with a pond and a large hall that displays numerous ammonite fossils.

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Above: The Masera Grotto, Careno, Italy

But it is Nesso that most people want to see, easily the most photographed town on the Lago di Como.

Above: Nesso

Situated at the mouth of the Tuf and Nosse Valleys, streams descend to create a picturesque haven of rocks forming a perfect canyon and cascade of water.

Above: L´Orrido Nesso

Descend the tiny streets and stairways to the lake and stand upon the old bridge that joins the two shores of these streams and view the simple lovely majesty of this cascade.

Above: Nesso

Just beyond the northern entry of the S5340 into Nesso there is a road on the right that climbs above the lake to Vico with its small Romanesque church of Santa Maria filled with precious frescoes, passes through Erno that has been making metal nets for generations, rises to the Colma di Sormano and the space observatory of Brianza, then descends to Valassina and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo where souvenirs of the greatest champions that ever rode a bicycle are preserved on the walls and ceilings.

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But we forego this pleasure and continue upon the cliff clinging road, hellbent to reach Bellagio.

Everything is a blur of trees and cliffs and moments of close calls of we hitting someone/something or the reverse scenario.

Places and placenames are barely registered: Crotto, Pescau, Bagnana, Rozzo, Sossana, Villa and the town of Lezzeno.

Cars have stopped upon the Punta della cappelletta to catch a lovely look upon the lake and Comacina Island.

The road remains panoramic as we see Tremezzina and the Villa Carlotta on the oppposite shore.

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Above: Villa Trotti

And Villas never stop appearing: Villa Trotti, determinedly exotic with neo-Gothic mixed with Moorish design surrounded by Chinese and Japanese plants, the Villa Trivulzio with its grand English garden, and finally the Villa Melzi.

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Above: Villa Trivulzio

Every traveller soon discovers that there are names of famous individuals that are repeatedly stubled upon as they too were travellers.

For us, we constantly seem to run into the ghosts of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and composer Franz Liszt in our travels in Switzerland and Italy.

(For a description of Mary Shelley´s travels, see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, and Canada Slim and the Road into the Open of this blog, as well as Mary Shelley`s Rambles in Germany and Italy.)


Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 6 August 1840

“This evening we crossed again to visit…..the opposite bank.

Villa Melzi is a very pleasant country house.

Its marble halls and stuccoed drawing rooms are the picture of Italian comfort – cool, shady and airy. 

The garden has had pains taken with it. 

There are some superb magnolias and other flowering trees, but one longs for English gardening here. 

What would not some friends of mine make of a flower garden in Italy: how it would abound and run over with sweets – no potting and greenhouses to check, no frost to decimate. 

The Italians here know not what flowers and a flower garden are.”

(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)


Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

I am not so certain if Fulco Gallarati Scotti, the present owner of the Villa Melzi d´Eril (to give its full name) would agree or approve of Mary Shelley´s opinion.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril

The Melzi Villa and gardens have belonged to the Scotti family for more than 90 years and I am certain that Fulco is proud that every year tens of thousands of tourists descend upon the d´Eril property.

As early as 1821, Davide Bertolotti (1784 – 1860) in his Viaggio al lago di Como (Journey to Lake Como) praised the sight of the Villa and its wonderful gardens.

In 1831, Cesare Cantu (1804 – 1895) in his Guida al Lago di Como consolidated the Villa´s fame by mentioning how magnificent Melzi was with an annexed “very elegant oratory”, surrounded by “a garden made delightful by its location and its variety of plants and flowers”.

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Above: Cesare Cantu

In 1912, the Villa and the gardens Melzi d´Eril of Bellagio, designed and built between 1808 and 1831, were declared to be an Italian National Monument and thus came to be officially considered as part of the historic and artistic heritage that remains guarded by the State.

The beauty began on a bloody battlefield.

Early 19th century European history is marked by the great Napoleonic campaign between 1796 and 1814, when the Austrians were chased out of northern Italy to be replaced by the French.

Though French occupation was a period less than twenty years long, it was characterised by a rapid succession of military and political events and intense cultural changes, of which Francesco Melzi d´Eril (1753 – 1816) would play a significant role.


Above: Francesco Melzi d´Eril

Francesco was born in Milan into a family of ancient nobility known since the 14th century.

His father was Count of Magenta; his mother was a Spanish noblewoman.

Francesco completed his education in Milan and also travelled extensively to England, Spain and France widening his cultural experiences.

As a member of Milan´s Consiglio die Sessanta Decuroni, the city´s administrative representatives, Francesco met Napoleon (1769 – 1821) on the battlefield of Lodi in 1796 and presented him with the symbolic keys to the city.

Above: The Battle of Lodi, 10 May 1796

Napoleon appreciated Melzi since this first meeting, considering him a cultivated and balanced man, so he entrusted him with political and diplomatic duties over the newly-created Cisalpina Republic in the turbulent years from 1797 to 1802.

When the first Italian Republic was founded in 1802 with Napoleon as President, Melzi was appointed Vice President, responsible for managing the complex political and administrative organisation of a nation in dire need of reforms in almost all sectors of civil life.

Melzi´s personal dedication was so intense that it took him only three years to successfully create a national army, to balance the books and to reform the educational and judicial systems of the new Italian nation.

Of great relevance was also his contribution to Italian arts and crafts through his support of the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and his commitment to protect and restore the inheritance let behind by the Austrians, including the Royal Palace in Milan and the Royal Villa in Monza.

In spite of his poor health, fatigue for his government duties and his disillusionment caused by Napoleon´s turning to authoritarianism – when Napoleon became self-proclaimed Emperor, he named himself King of Italy in 1805 – Melzi continued to play a role in government though with not as much influence as he had previously.

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: Coronation of Napoleon, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2 December 1804

During the Kingdom of Italy (1805 – 1814), Melzi was appointed Grand Chancellor and Minister of Justice, supporting (and occasionally replacing) Viceroy Eugenio of Beauharnais in governing the royal domains.


Above: Eugenio de Beauharnais (1781 – 1824)

Though Melzi remained on good and constant terms with Napoleon, Melzi longed for a more intimate and less demanding life.

When Melzi would visit the Villa Loppia of his friend Paolo Taverna, Melzi regarded Bellagio as a place desireable for both physical and spiritual recovery, owing to its peacefulness, climate, landscape beauty, the spontaneity of its people and their unaffected way of life.

Though he was of high aristocratic rank, Melzi was not rich, so it wasn´t until December 1807 that his wish for his own Villa was realised when Napoleon named him the Duke of Lodi and granted him a large annual income as an award for “his accomplishments in the field of public administration” and in memory of their encounter in Lodi ten years before.

The 20 December 1807 decree reads:

“Melzi was the first Italian to bring us on the battlefield of Lodi the keys and the confidence” of the city of Milan.

Work began on the Villa Melzi.

Bellagio has attracted people since ancient times for its location for military and commercial purposes and its attractiveness for leisure.

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Above: Bellagio, Lombardy, Italy

According to tradition, Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD) testified to the region´s attractiveness when he wrote his friend Voconius Romanus in 104 AD, explaining why he was setting his Villa Tragedia here.

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Above: Statue of Pliny the Younger, Santa Maria Maggiore Duomo, Como

Located at the tip of the peninsula that separates the two branches of the Lago di Como, Bellagio enjoys a privilieged fame as compared to the many admirable places elsewhere along the lake, for it possesses a unique multifaceted landscape of everchanging light nuances and a kaleidoscope of perspectives and sights,

Such qualities were written about by Sigismondo Boldoni in his work Larius (1606), when the Spanish dominated Bellagio.

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Above: Sigismondo Boldoni

This trend never reversed.

On the contrary, it increased in the 18th century after the Spanish left Lombardy to be replaced by the Austrians, who would build many residences in Bellagio and wherever they could on the shores of Lago di Como to spend their holidays.

As remarked by Carlo Amoretti in his Viaggio da Milano ai tre laghi Maggiore, di Lugano e di Como (1824), they shaped a delightful surrounding, enjoyed shelter from hot summers to their Villas that were accessible not only by boat but as well by the Valsassina road of ancient Roman origin.

Above: Carlo Amoretti (1741 – 1816)

By the advent of Melzi, Bellagio was the most populated town of the lake, surpassed only by Como and Lecco.

According to the anonymous manuscript Cronachette della villaggiatura (Holiday Chronicles), Melzi considered Bellagio as a “buen retiro”, a place of relaxation, far from political duties, where the mind and body could recover.

Sadly, the Duke of Lodi enjoyed his wonderful retreat for only a short time.

In the last three years of his life, Melzi stayed in his Villa 27 days in 1813, two months in 1814 and another two months in 1815.

Despite these short periods of time, the Villa began to acquire fame as a distinguished house of hospitality.

Among Melzi´s guests were the Viceroy of Italy and his wife Augusta Amalia of Baveria, and the painter Giuseppi Bossi.

Above: Self Portrait, Giuseppe Bossi (1777 – 1815)

The typical day of the Duke began at 9 am when he attended church services officiated by his personal chaplain, followed by breakfast and then work began on his various charitable activities for local people in need.

According to the Holiday Chronicles, Melzi showed great concern both for the single destinies of the individuals he met as well as the general progress of the community.

In spite of his poor health – the Duke suffered from gout – Melzi liked to spend his time walking slowly and meditating in his garden, cheered by the luxuriant vegetation and the magnificent lake landscape that could be admired from his property.

Tiny and slender, Melzi nevertheless inspired respect.

He used to wear simple country clothes but in a refined way: long trousers with a large, well-shaped white hat and a thin cane stick to support him during his walks.

Melzi used to have lunch at 3 pm, eating with other guests in enjoyment of conversation in the absence of servants.

At 10 pm he would retire for the night.

The unknown author of the Holiday Chronicles writes in dismay that Duke Francesco left Bellagio and moved to Milan in October 1815 never to return.

Melzi died on 16 January 1816.

His mortal remains were brought back to the Villa two years after his death to be buried in the Oratory.

The estate has remained in the hands of the Melzi family, though the owner surname would change through the course of time.

The Villa passed on to Francesco´s nephew Giovanni (1788 – 1832).

Stendhal visited Villa Melzi in July 1817, where he enjoyed the gardens and the scenery and gazed upon the bust of Francesco in the oratory, as we can read in Stendhal´s travel journal Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817.


Above: Stendhal

In 1825, the Villa Melzi received a visit by the Austrian Emperor Francis II.

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Above: Francis II (1768 – 1835)

The third Duke, Ludovico (1820 – 1886) entertained Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife Maria Anna of Savoy in 1838.

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Above: Ferdinand I of Austria (1793 – 1875)

Thanks to the diffusion of travel literature, the Villa came to be popular not only among a narrow circle of the Duke´s friends, but among a larger number of people as a result of the article “Le lac de Come”, published in 1838 in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, wherein we learn that musician Franz Liszt stayed in Bellagio with his lover Marie d´Agoult in the autumn of 1837.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

The lovers used to go “to the gardens of Villa Melzi to relax beneath the plane trees in the hottest hours of the day” to read Dante´s Divina Commedia before the garden Monument dedicated to Dante and his beloved Beatrice, which inspired Franz to write his subsequent famous Dante Sonatas.

head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Above: Dante degli Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

Franz and Marie were not among the guests of the family Melzi, but, like other travellers then and now, they could enjoy the gardens which, even then though private property, were almost always open to visitors.

By 1856, strangers were allowed to visit the Melzi gardens with money collected by the gardener.

Among the guests who visited the Villa before the world was engulfed in the wars of the 20th century were Russian Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna (1847 – 1928), Princess Marie von Radzwill, King Albert of Saxony (1828 – 1902) and his consort Carola of Sweden in May 1885.

We are told of their enthusiastic admiration for the beauty of the place, their pleasant walks among the plane tree path, the wonderful flower arrangements offered by the Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

In October 1890 the Villa received King Umberto I of Italy and his entourage, who, though only staying one day, were said to deeply admire the place and declared it one of the most “beautiful of the Como basin”.

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Above: Umberto I of Italy (1844 – 1902)

By the start of the first decade of the 20th century, access to the gardens by visitors was regulated by entrance tickets.

In 1923, on the death of Duchess Josephine, Villa Melzi passed on to her daughter from a previous marriage, Luisa (1854 – 1937), who had in 1878 married the Prince of Molfetta, Giancarlo Scotti (1854 – 1927).

Their firstborn son, Tommaso (1878 – 1966), an intellectual, writer and Ambassador to Madrid and London, inherited the Villa from his mother.

Anti-Facist from the beginning, Tommaso had to seek refuge in Switzerland in 1943.

Soon after the Scotti family was officially expelled from Italy and their property was requisitioned by the Italian Social Republic, headed by Mussolini, to house the Aviation Ministry and the diplomatic seats of the countries that had acknowledged the new Fascist state.

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Above: Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence for more about Mussolini.)

At the conclusion of the Second World War, Villa Melzi was restored back into the hands of the Scotti family.

Wandering about the gardens of Tommaso´s grandson, we explored the grounds of the Villa Melzi.

Learning of the property´s history I felt like a pauper who had stumbled into a prince´s gardens.

My wife and I, despite my wife´s profession, can, at best, be described as “middle class”.

My own origins are far humbler than my wife´s and can be quite generously described as “lower class” by Canadian standards.

Yet here we were wandering in gardens that had seen writers and musicians, kings and queens, admiring the same types of flora and the same majestic views of the lake that they had enjoyed.

Here there be stone plaques, grotesque masks and mythological statues.

Within these gardens stands an oddity called the Infamous Column, a memorial stone built in 1364 for the sole purpose of disgracing the memory of the Venetian nobleman Bajamonte Tiepolo who had conspired against the Venetian Republic ruled by Doge Pietro Gradenigo.

The Infamous Column originally stood upon the ruins of the Tiepolo house – destroyed by the Gradenigo government – then it was relocated near the Sant´Agostino Church to make it more visible as a warning to the citizens of Venice to remain loyal to their city.

The Column´s epigraph – now eroded owing to the passage of time – accuses Tiepolo of “wicked treason” to the Republic:

“This land belonged to Bajamonte Tiepolo and it is now public as a consequence of his wicked treason and may be shown forever as a warning to everyone.”

The disgracing monument remained in Venice until 1785.

Here in the garden, one sees the small pink and grey granite statue of Rahotep, a high dignitary during the reign of Pharoah Ramses II, as well as a statue of the Egyptian goddess Pakhet with her lion´s head upon a woman´s body.

Overlooking the lake is the Moorish Pavilion with sculptures dedicated to Ferdinand I and his consort Maria Anna and Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.


Outside the Pavilion stands the Monument to Dante and Beatrice, showing Beatrice consoling Dante after it was prophised that he would be exiled but her promising him that there is a superior divine justice that will sustain him.

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Visited by Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, the Monument´s inscription was translated into English and reads:


“And the lady who to God was leading me said:

“Change thy thought.

Consider that I am near unto Him who every wrong disburdens.”

Unto the loving accents of my comfort I turned me around.”

Here on the grounds of Villa Melzi,  Apollo looks at the sun while Meleagro kills a wild boar.

Sea monsters rise from the water lily fountain and lion-sphinxes guard the Villa staircase.

Wander through the grotto, stroll by the leisure gondola and beyond the stone bridge jetty and view the bronze bell that hangs by the western wall.

Here there be Japanese cedars casting shade upon a Japanese pond and Canadian giant thuja – wood once used to make totems and canoes.

Here there be imposing Florida bald cypress trees, the thick wood of Japanese camillias and maples, holm oaks and mighty California redwoods, Oriental spruce and gingko maidenhair, dwarf palms and Italian cypress, holly olive and cleyera shrubs, cinnamon camphora and Mexican pine, Mediterranean heath and Montezuma pine, azaleas beneath plane trees, red beech and elm trees, bamboo fodder for pandas and black Chinese conifers, Himalyan and Lebanese cedar, the giant dogwood and the North American cedar, cork oak and crape myrtles, cork oak and fragrant olive, Chilean wine palm and Scots pine, weeping beech and strawberry fields, common box and Austrian pine, southern magnolia and Rhododendron, mimosa and tulip.

No, Mary Shelley, the Italians here do know what flowers and a flower garden are.

Lunch time delayed, the wife realises that the husband needs to be fed before maritial strife emerges.

We cast ourselves out of this Garden of Eden, these gardens of Melzi, simply two more anonymous names in a yet-to-be-written Holiday Chronicles.

We must dance and sing while we can.

Winter is coming….







Canada Slim and the Borders

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 11 November 2017

As one travels around the world a person discovers that there are arbitrary lines drawn across landscapes and charts and maps that define what is Here and what is to be considered There, and there are arbitrary lines drawn between classes and positions in our everyday societies.

Mankind has done this lineal division with matters large and small for millennia, whether it has been defining the limits of a landowner´s property demarcated by some creek or stone fence to the determination of a border being a river or a mountain range or some parallel of latitude or longitude that is only visible on a political map or geographer´s globe.

Mankind has even extended such boundaries upon the oceans beyond our shorelines and in the skies above our heads.

And soldiers and civilians have died to defend these lines in the sand.

This definition of what is ours versus what is not ours determines where we live, where we work, where we fish and hunt, and where we sail and fly.

And those with power determine the location of those without it, and they determine the extent of what territory they shall possess and dominate.

Those that call themselves our governments consider the land upon which we reside theirs to do with as they see fit, taking it from us if they so desire.

Taxes are considered rent for the privilege of being allowed to live upon the territory.

And what the government giveth, it can surely taketh away.

All that a person possesses can be taken away if justification warrants it, regardless of the justification´s validity.

In turn, we expect our governments to provide for our needs or at least enable us to have the illusion of taking care of our own needs.

We as humans think of ourselves as superior to the animal kingdom, yet what we mark as our territories is differently assessed by the instincts of the beasts and birds.

A bird does not care if a wall divides one human settlement from another.

It simply flies where it will.

A bear does not care if it was you who planted cabbages in a piece of ground claiming the cabbage patch as your own, for when it is hungry it sees no boundaries between your piece of civilization and the wild.

Polar Bear - Alaska (cropped).jpg

So we will kill those who take without asking, be they beast or fellow human beings.

Those with power will, if they can, take what they will, regardless of your needs or wishes in the matter.

This may cause some to defend what they regard as theirs and who believe that they and they alone have the right to this.

Such is how war began and, though modern times may be couched in different mannerisms of speech and behaviour, this is how wars begin and continue.

Where a country draws the line between what belongs to it and what belongs to others has been the source of much of what defines its history and its heritage.

The lines we define, define us.

The separation, for example, of Canada from the United States makes the almost insignificant Detroit River that separates Windsor, Ontario, Canada, from Detroit, Michigan, USA, a river of great importance that not only defines territory, but, in the minds of both Americans and Canadians, this wee stream also separates American culture from Canadian culture.

Do the trout that navigate the polluted waters know or care at what point in the river mankind has decided what is American and what is Canadian?

This definition of what is each country´s territory versus what is not, has created odd borders that make little sense but for various reasons continue in the fashion that they do, resulting in strange segregated territories such as enclaves and exclaves, no man´s land and disputed territories.

Ordinary places become extraordinary in No Man´s Land.

Such in-between places remind us how dependent we are on borders: that somehow our sense of order and certainty would be lost without them.

I don´t have an easy relationship with borders, geographical or psychological.

I have been searched, prodded, poked, delayed, detained, denied, again and again and again, for having the temerity, the colossal nerve, to cross a few feet, mere metres of land.

I have been devalued, disrespected and discredited when I have suggested that the freedom of self expression must not be limited to whatever limits others have determined it must be.

What right do I have to determine what my place in society is?

Who the hell do I think I am?

Borders are bureaucratic faultlines, imperious and unwelcoming.

Their existence is a hostile act of exclusion.

Borders are far more than lines of exclusion – their profusion reflects the varied nature of people´s political and cultural choices.

By the restriction of free movement, by the refusal of self expression, we are denied a world of choices and possibilities.

Borders often make no sense, except to the ones that have defined the borders.

An enclave is a territory, or a part of a territory, that is entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state.

Territorial waters have the same sovereign attributes as land, and enclaves may therefore exist within territorial waters.

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Above: Flag of the Vatican City

So, for example, Vatican City and San Marino could be considered enclaves.

Flag of San Marino

Above: The flag of San Marino

An exclave is a portion of a state or territory geographically separated from the main part by surrounding alien territory (of one or more states).

So, for example, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, just off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland, are an exclave.

Location of Saint Pierre and Miquelon

For simplicity´s sake, an enclave is closer to its national territory than an exclave is.

Geographically speaking, there are 22 bits of Belgium scattered in odd profusion within the Netherlands and eight bits of the Netherlands scattered within Belgium.

These hodge-podge areas are called Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog.

Travel to Asia.

Along the India-Bangladesh frontier there are over 200 enclaves of either Bangladeshi territory surrounded by India or Indian territory surrounded by Bangladesh.

The Hindi name for these enclaves is chitmahals (paper palaces).

To further make a silly situation an act of pure folly, Upan Chowki Bhaini, at 53 square metres one of the smallest enclaves in the world, is an enclave inside another enclave, what geographers call a counter-enclave.

Above: The India – Bangladesh border. Indian territory is pink, Bangladeshi territory is blue.

Switzerland and its neighbours are also not immune from such complexity.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

I just need to follow the Rhine River from my home in Landschlacht towards the town of Schaffhausen to find the closest enclave, Büsingen am Hochrhein, a German town completely surrounded by Switzerland.

Location of Büsingen in detail.svg

Or I can travel south into Canton Ticino and find myself in the town of Campione d´Italia, Italian territory surrounded by Switzerland.

(I have visited both.)

To add further confusion, as an example, the Canadian Embassy in Bern is not on Swiss territory but is Canadian.

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

US military bases are American territory regardless of where they happen to be, so to visit the United States Naval Base in Guantanomo, Cuba, I would need permission from the US not Cuba even though it is located there.

Seal of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.svg

Embassies, consulates and military bases are considered extraterritorial property of the countries that maintain them.

This can also be extended to memorials, such as the Vimy Memorial in France is Canadian territory, the land underneath the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Runnymede, England, is American territory, or the Suvorov Memorial near Göschenen, Switzerland isn´t Swiss but Russian.

Bildergebnis für suvorov monument switzerland

Where the borders of a territory should be has been a subject of controversy and conflict for millennia.

Historically speaking, our trip to Como, Italy, this past summer could have been a trip to Como, Switzerland….


Como, Italy, 2 August 2017

In 2010, a motion in Switzerland´s Parliament by members of the nationalist Swiss People´s Party (SVP) requested the admission of adjacent territories to the Swiss Confederation: the German state of Baden-Württemberg (Population: 10 Million); the Austrian state of Vorarlberg (Population: 360,000); the Italian provinces of Bolzano, Como, Varese and Aosta (Population: 500,000; 580,000; 860,000; 125,000) and the French departments of Savoie, Haut Savoie, Ain, Jura and Alsace (Population: 405,000, 705,000; 405,000; 570,000; 250,000).

Bildergebnis für proposal for a greater switzerland by the swiss people’s party

The motion proposed to offer these territories the “Swiss model of sovereignty” as an alternative to a “creeping accession” of Switzerland to the “centralist” European Union.

Now, at first glance this proposal might appear ridiculous, but we need to consider a number of things before we outrightly dismiss this notion.

There are a number of territories within the European Union member states who wish to leave the EU in view of the ongoing European debt crisis.

Switzerland, with some exceptions, has generally formed its federation through alliance with neighbouring cantons who broke away from countries that had formerly dominated them, voted to join the Confederation and through agreements between the Confederation and the dominant nations, these territories became Swiss.

When Ticino chose to become part of the Swiss Confederation in 1798, the people of Campione d´Italia chose to remain part of the Italian province of Lombardy.

Map of Switzerland, location of Ticino highlighted

Above: Ticino (multicoloured), in Switzerland

In 1848, during the wars of Italian reunification, Campione petitioned Switzerland for annexation, but this was rejected due to the Swiss desire to maintain neutrality (a stance the Swiss have maintained since 1815).

Campione has remained Italian territory ever since.

In 1918 after the First World War, a referendum was held in Büsingen in which 96% of voters chose to become part of Switzerland.

However it never happened as Switzerland could not offer anything suitable that Germany desired.

Büsingen remains German.

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Above: The flag of Germany

In a 1919 referendum, 81% of the people of Vorarlberg voted to join Switzerland, but the effort failed because of the ambivalent position of the Swiss government and the opposition of the Allied powers.

In 1967, the German enclave of Verenahof, consisting of just three houses and fewer than a dozen people became part of Switzerland (Canton Schaffhausen) in exchange for an equal amount of Swiss territory ceded over to Germany.

Above: Today, Verenahof is nothing more than a street name.

A poll by ORF Radio in 2008 reported that half the population of Vorarlberg would be in favour of joining Switzerland.

ORF logo.svg

The 2010 Greater Switzerland Motion was widely seen as anti-EU rheotric rather than a serious proposal.

In a following statement, the Swiss Federal Council (the executive heads of government and state in Switzerland) recommended the motion´s rejection, describing the motion as a “provocation”.

The Council argued that adoption of this motion would be considered an unfriendly act by the countries surrounding Switzerland, and that it would also be at odds with international law, which in the government´s view did not provide for a right to secession except in exceptional circumstances.

(This latter argument is the crux of the problem between Spain and Catalonia at present.)


Above: The flag of Catalonia

(See Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation of this blog for discussion of the Catalonian desire for independence from Spain.)

Understandably, the topic attracted the attention of the European media.

The media went on to report a high level of apparent popular support for joining Switzerland in the proposed territories.

In Como, an online poll in June 2010 by the La Provincia di Como newspapers found 74% of the 2,500 respondents in favour of accession to Switzerland, which the local regionalist party Lega Lombarda has long been advocating.

Another online poll by the south German Südkurier newspaper found that almost 70% of respondents replied “Yes, the Swiss are closer to us in outlook.” to a question whether the state of Baden-Württemberg should join Switzerland.

The Südkurier noted that seldom had a topic generated so much activity by its readership.

The Lombard eco-nationalist party Domá Nunch proposed an integration between Switzerland and the Italian-border area of Insubria (the former Duchy of Milano) in order to join into a new confederation.

In Sardinia, the Associazione Sardegna Canton Maritimo was formed in April 2014 with the aim of advocating Sardinia´s secession from Italy and becoming a maritime canton of Switzerland.

Die Welt in June 2014, based on an OECD study, published an article arguing that southern Germany is more similar to Switzerland than to northern or eastern Germany.

(My wife would agree with this assessment.

We have lived in both southern and northern Germany before relocating to the Swiss Canton of Thurgau.

Map of Switzerland, location of Thurgau highlighted

Above: Thurgau (multicoloured) in Switzerland

As a Canadian I did not feel the differences as keenly as she, a south German, did.

She feels more at home in Canton Thurgau in northern Switzerland than she did when we lived in the state of Niedersachsen in northern Germany)

In the wake of the Die Welt article, there were once again reports of high levels of support for accession to Switzerland in southern Germany.

Schwäbische Zeitung reported that 86% of respondents in an online survey expressed approval for accession.

Also in 2014, there were reports of a movement in Südtirol / Trentino-Alto Adige proposing annexation by Switzerland.

The 6th Global Forum Südtirol, held that year in Bolzen / Bolzano, was dedicated to the question.

As alien residents of Switzerland travelling in Italy, seeking to discover what makes Italy Italia, we are feeling rather conflicted, for we have directly experienced both the advantages and disadvantages of living in the Swiss Confederation.

To be fair to those in favour of accession into Switzerland, I understand the attractiveness of the idea, for Switzerland is unique in that its Cantons enjoy a large amount of autonomy as individual parts of an allied federation than do German states or Italian provinces do as part of their federal systems.

Otherwise Switzerland would not have remained a united confederation considering how it is comprised of Swiss German speakers, French speakers, Italian speakers and Rumansch speakers.

Though the languages of Switzerland are not quite as equally respected or universally spoken as they should be, still one retains the feeling that one can speak French and still be Swiss or speak Italian and still be Swiss, despite Swiss German dominating the nation.

So Ticino is Swiss though the Ticinese speak Italian.

Romandie, the French name for the French-speaking Cantons of Switzerland (Suisse), is Swiss though they speak French.

(For a discussion of the languages of Switzerland, please see Sympathy for the dialect of this blog.)

Perhaps the Province of Como might be better off joining the Swiss Confederation than remaining in the Italian Republic, but I have to ask….

It is clear there are certainly gains to this proposal, but what would be lost?

Do the residents of Büsingen, surrounded by Switzerland, feel German?

Do the residents of Campione, surrounded by Switzerland, feel Italian?

Can a person feel a nationality?

I grew up as an Anglophone Canadian in Francophone Québec.

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Above: The flag of Québec

Should my allegiance be for the province that raised me or for the country where English is geographically dominant?

By moving to Switzerland, have I become less Canadian?

Would Como be less Italian if it joined Switzerland?

The attraction for us as Swiss residents in visiting Como is that it isn´t Switzerland.

In Switzerland we live by Swiss expectations.

We travel outside Switzerland because we need places that allow our thoughts and feelings to roam unimpeded by Swiss expectations.

We don´t live in Italy, so, as long as we don´t violate Italian laws, we are free to express ourselves as individually as we wish, for we know we aren´t Italian nor necessarily wish to be Italian.

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Above: The flag of Italy

Which poses other questions….

Does living in Switzerland make me Swiss?

Does not living in Canada make me less Canadian?

Or is Switzerland too set in its ways to acknowledge those not born in Switzerland as being Swiss?

Am I too set in my ways to be anything else but Canadian in spite of where I may live?

There is an illusionary idea that life outside our borders must be different because it is outside our borders, thus we create for ourselves the desire for a world that is not totally known or understood, that has the capacity to surprise us, disregarding a common humanity that shouldn´t require borders to organise itself.

My fear is that if a place like Como sweeps away its Italian past than the world may be deprived of what makes Como Italian.

Above: The lakefront of Como

Or is identity determined more by regional culture as opposed to federal territory?

Would the Comaschi become less Comaschi if Como left Italy?

Are nations only bordered divisions?

Are they linguistic collectives?

Or are they something more?

Would life be better for Como if it joined Switzerland?

Imagine how different history might have been had Como already been part of Switzerland.

We wandered the streets of Como thinking how Italian everything was.

But is Como Italian or something unique of itself?

Is New York City American?

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

Is London English?

London montage. Clicking on an image in the picture causes the browser to load the appropriate article.

Is Landschlacht Swiss?

We wandered, much walking in very hot and humid conditions, to the Educational Silk Museum of Como, which manages to simultaneously be exhaustive and incomprehensible.

The Museum is “dedicated to the production of silk….the one industry that has held the centre of this historic city in a productive embrace since the 1800s”.

The visitor sees all stages of silk production: silkworm rearing, reeling (the unwinding of silk coccoons into threads), silk throwing (the twisting of the silk to make it more amenable to design), weaving (the design pattern), measurement and testing, dyeing (colour application to the design), printing and finishing.

Those of a technical bent might enjoy the various mechanisms on display, as might those deeply into the mechanics of fashion production, but the Museum lacks a universal appeal.

It took us an hour of hard walking to reach the Museum.

We were finished our tour of the Museum in 15 minutes.

It remains, despite its best efforts, a local industrial Museum.

The Museum is too focused on what makes it Comaschi rather than what is universally appealing to everyone.

We are told that the mulberry tree – the silkworm diet – can be found widespread among the foothills of the Alps.

Above: Mulberry Tree, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

We are informed that after diseases devastated Italian silkworm breeding in the 1800s silkworm eggs were needed to be imported once again from Asian countries (Japan, in particular), and carefully selected to guarantee resistance to disease.

Above: Silkworm egg, Micrographica, 1665

We are reassured that silkworm production is now quite scientific and that today´s producing countries (China, India, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam) are able to rear silkworms all year round.

But what is lacking is an explanation of what makes Como silk production unique and an exploration of the fascinating history of silk production.

As long ago as Roman times the West has coveted silk from the East.

For centuries, the first great trade route, from out of the heart of China into the mountains of central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey to the shores of the Mediterranean, has brought silk from the Orient to Europe.

The Great Silk Road, stretching over 7,000 miles, requiring many months of hard travelling, crossing many borders, has always been a journey of great adventure, filled with drama and spectacle, whether it has been accomplished by bus or donkey cart, train or plane, jeep or camel.

The visitor, if afforded glimpses of what makes silk production so universal, could then be led to the understanding of what makes silk production so special an endeavour.

The Museum could stand as a testament to the glory of Como silk production if it were made clearer as to what makes Como silk production so unique besides just having been done in Como.

The Museum could be a perfect testimony of the wisdom of the adage “Think globally. Act locally.”, if it somehow would show both the diversity of silk production origins along with the uniqueness of producing it in Como.

The Museum could transcend borders while highlighting what makes Como special.

It does not.

Instead the visitor is left with a collection of machinery to decipher and extract, with difficulty, some sort of personal meaning.

Perhaps this is what I am feeling when I consider Como.

I don´t want Como to become just one part of a collection of Cantons.

Neither do I want its uniqueness to go unappreciated by the rest of Italy.

But rather I think that the Italian government needs to remind its varied regions of how appreciated their regional differences are while reminding those regions that Italy would not be truly a united Italy without this variety.

(This failure to do just what I have described is the seed of further conflict that will arise between Spain and its reluctant province of Catalonia.)

Borders divide people, but wisely used, borders could also tie places and people together in a common humanity.

I like dreaming.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places, and What They Tell Us about the World / Museo didattico della Seta, Guide to the Educational Silk Museum of Como / Colin Thubron, Shadow of the Silk Road

(For another perspective on borders, please see Borderline Obsessive of this blog.)

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.

File:Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

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.


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.

Donald Trump Pentagon 2017.jpg

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)

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806.jpg

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.

Seal of the President of the United States.svg

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.

Flag of Russia

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.


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.

Flag of the Philippines

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.

Flag of the People's Republic of China

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.

The Wall Street Journal.svg

“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.

The Trump Organization Logo.jpeg

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.

Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg

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











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.


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.


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.

Via Mala.jpg

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.


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.


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.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.jpg

“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.

Elementary intertitle.png

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….

Heart of Glass DVD.jpg

(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:


“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.


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