Canada Slim and the Life Electric

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2017

We live in such modern times that sometimes it is hard to imagine that there were times before that weren´t so modern.

Perhaps in a thousand years, folks will think that the manner of measuring time using the abbreviations BC and AD (before Christ and Anno Dominiin the Year of Our Lord) later modified to signify religious equality or a lack of religion BCE and CE (before the Common Era and Common Era) might later be interpreted to mean Before Computers (BC) and the Age of Digital (AD)!

We measure electric current in amperes and conveniently forget that amperes are named after the French physicist André Marie Ampere (1775-1836).

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Above. André-Marie Ampere

We measure energy in joules, named after English physicist James Prescott Joule (1818-1889).

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Above: James Prescott Joule

Force is measured in newtons, because of English mathematician Isaac Newton (1642-1726).

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Above: Isaac Newton

The Standard Internationale unit for frequency is the hertz, named after German physicist Heinrich Rudolph Hertz (1857-1894).

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Above. Heinrich Rudolph Hertz

Power is measured in watts, thanks to Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819).

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Above. James Watt

The unit for resistance is the ohm, because of German physicist Georg Simon Ohm (1789-1854).

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Above: Georg Simon Ohm

We use kelvin, fahrenheit and celcius to measure temperature, named after Scottish physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824-1907), Polish physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) and Swedish astronomer Anders Celcius (1701-1744)

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Above: William Thomson, Baron Kelvin

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Above: Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit

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Above: Anders Celsius

We have Napoléon Bonaparte and revolutionary France to thank for the metric system.

But the Italians of Como would be very cross if you forgot their native son, father of the volt that measures electric force, Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (1745-1827).

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Above: Alessandro Volta

Italy´s smaller contributions to everyday life are so numerous as to go unnoticed.

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Above: The flag of Italy

There would be no pistols but for the city of Pistoia, no savon in France but for the city of Savona; no faience anywhere but for the city of Faenza; no millinery but for the city of Milano; no blue jeans but for the city of Genoa (Gênes in French); no Neapolitan ice cream without Napoli; no Roman candles without Roma; no Venetian blinds without Venezia; no bologna without Bologna; no Parmesan cheese without Parma;

Italian Cristoforo Colombo discovered America for the Americans, albeit after the Original Peoples, the Vikings and Atlantic fishermen.

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Above: Italian Explorer Cristoforo Columbo (in English, Christopher Columbus)(1451 – 1506)

Italians taught poetry, statesmanship and the ruses of trade to the English, military art to the Germans, cuisine to the French, acting and ballet dancing to the Russians, and music to everybody.

The list of famous Italians is awe-inspiring and far too many to list conclusively.

Suffice to say, Italy has produced some of the world´s finest saints and sinners, political thinkers and military leaders, admirals and scientists, navigators and philosophers, poets, painters and musicians.

Italians have always respected and admired great scientists, especially if their discoveries and theories were abstract and incomprehensible.

Nowhere is this mix of respect and admiration combined with the abstract and incomprehensible more evident than it is in Como with their native born son Italian physicist and chemist Alessandro Volta.

 

Como, Italia, 2 August 2017

From the modern hotels and banks of Piazza Cavour, the main square overlooking the Lago di Como, the wife and I walked south along arcaded Via Caio Plinio to Como´s marble-faced Duomo.

Above: Duomo di Como (Como Cathedral)

The Duomo is considered to be Italy´s best example of Gothic-Renaissance fusion.

Fairytale pinnacles, rose windows and clownish gargoyles combine with rounded arch portals.

Inside the Gothic aisles are hung with dark rich tapestries woven with biblical scenes, including a sleepy Madonna, an adoration by the Magi and a leisurely flight to Egypt of Joseph and Mary avoiding Herod´s planned execution of the Christ child.

(See Canada Slim and the Inappropriate Statues of this blog regarding the Duomo.)

Next to it the polychromatic town hall, the Broletto, is an elegant construction with a tricolour facade of gentle pink, white and grey, with a 15th century balcony deliberately designed for municipal orators.

Above: Il Broletto di Como (Como Assembly Hall)

The Broletto is also known as the Palazzo della Ragione – the Palace of Reason.

Behind the Duomo the neoclassical facade of the Teatro Sociale built on the remains of the castle of the Torre Rotunda – the Round Tower – stands out with its Corinthian columns.

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Above: Torre Rotunda, Como

Beyond the railway there is the Piazza del Popolo with the famous Casa del Fascio – the House of Fascism – erected in the 1930s as the headquarters of the local Fascist party and designed by Comoese architect Giuseppe Terrigni – it is universally considered to be a masterpiece of the architectural style known as Rationalism.

Above: Casa del Fascio, Como

In the heart of the old town we encountered the medieval square Piazza San Fedele, (formerly called the Piazza del mercato del grano – Grain Market Square), which owes its name to the basilica situated here named after the saint who brought Christianity to the Como region.

Above: Piazza San Fedele, Como

The basilica´s unusual layout is noteworthy, as it is a circular building with three naves and three apses, looking very much like a three-leaf clover.

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Above: La Basilica di San Fedele, Como

At the end of the old town is the imposing Porta Torre, the ancient entrance to the walled city built in the 12th century along with the surrounding walls that, to this day, protect the historic town centre.

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Above: Porta Torre, Como

Not far from the Porta Torre there is the Piazza Medaglie d´Oro Comasche.

In this square are two distinct buildings: the Palazzo Giovio – home to the Museo Civico e Archeologico Paolo Giovio– and the Palazzo Olginati – home to a museum dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi.

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Above: Museo Civico e Archeologico, Como

(Garibaldi is worth a blog post by himself.)

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

Back toward the Lago, almost directly on the water, sits the Tempio Voltiano – a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta and hosting a collection of scientific instruments used or designed by the famous scientist – from where one can look out onto the Lago itself and see in the middle of the harbour the contemporary sculpture by Daniel Libeskind dedicated to Volta, the Life Electric.

Above: Tempio Voltiano (Volta Temple), Como

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Above: The Life Electric, Como

Walk northeast along the waterfront, past Piazza Matteotti and the train Station, and take the Funicolare Como-Brunate – a cable car built in 1894 – walk through hilltop Brunate with its Chiesa di San Andrea, up to San Maurizio and then climb 143 steps to the top of the lighthouse Faro Volta, built in 1927 to mark the centenary of Volta´s death.

Above: Funicolare Como-Brunate Station, Como

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Above: Faro Volta / Volta Lighthouse

Then you, Como visitor, have had a full day of things Volta.

There are a number of problems with the manner in which Volta is remembered, primarily making the man interesting, making the science for which he is honoured meaningful to today´s generation who take what has evolved since his day for granted,

I climbed up from Brunante with my wife and saw the view from Faro Volta.

We admired the Life Electric sculpture from the boat cruise we took the day before.

But on this day, after much marching about town – we also visited the Museo didattico della Seta (worth a blog post on its own) – my wife needed a break, to simply sunbathe and dip her toes in the waters of Lago di Como.

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Above: Museo didattico della Seta (The Educational Museum of Silk), Como

So she left an exploration of the Tempiano Volta solely to myself.

The Tempio Voltiano is a lakeside neoclassical temple built in 1927.

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Above: Lakeside view of Tempio Voltiano, Como

Inside is an exhibition on the life of Como-born electric-battery inventor Alessandro Volta, after whom the electric unit, the volt, is named.

Above: Alessandro Volta

Some of the instruments he used to conduct his experiments are displayed inside.

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But the lack of friendliness by the sole guard assigned to both sell tickets and secure the place against unwanted activity and the lack of interactive and explanatory descriptions leave the modern visitor numb.

And this is a shame, for it is important for the visitor to understand how dependent modern civilisation is on Volta´s discoveries and inventions, to truly appreciate this man and this temple that once graced the front and back of the 10,000 lire Italian banknote (1984-2001).

Those who honour Volta seem to forget that God did not make all visitors alike – some enjoy and embrace science, while others feel intimidated and bewildered by its seeming complexity and unapproachability.

I would love to see how Bill Nye, the Science Guy, or The Big Bang Theory´s Professor Proton, would bring this museum and the man it honours to reach an audience today that scorns intelligence and has a very limited attention span.

I am not these men.

It would be great if a character like the BBC´s Doctor Who actually existed and we could transport ourselves back in time to see the inventor himself.

But sadly we do not possess 1950s police phone box TARDIS machines.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2017

To get an understanding of what Volta did, we need to comprehend what electricity is and what happened before Volta came along.

In 1850, British Prime Minister William Gladstone asked the scientist Michael Faraday why electricity was valuable.

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Above: English scientist Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867), inventor of the first electric generator. The SI unit of capacitance (how much electricity can be created) the Farad is named after him.

Faraday answered: “One day, Sir, you may tax it.”

In the 19th and early 20th century, electricity was not part of the everyday life of most people, even in the industrialised Western world.

The popular culture of the time depicts electricity as a mysterious, quasi-magical force that could slay the living, revive the dead or bend the laws of nature.

Long before any knowledge of electricity existed, people were aware of shocks from electric eels.

Ancient Egyptian texts dating from 2750 BC referred to these fish as the “Thunderer of the Nile” and described them as the protector of all other fish.

Electric fish were again reported millennia later by ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic naturalists and physicians.

Several ancient writers, such as Pliny the Elder and Scribinious Largus, attested to the numbing effects of electric shocks delivered by catfish and electric rays, and knew that such shocks could travel along conducting objects.

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Above: Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)

Patients suffering from ailments such as gout or headache were directed to touch electric fish in the hope that the powerful jolt might cure them.

Possibly the earliest and nearest approach to the discovery of the identity of lightning and electricity, is to be attributed to the Arabs.

Ancient cultures around the Mediterranean knew that certain objects, such as rods of amber, could be rubbed with cat´s fur to attract light objects like feathers.

Thales of Miletus made a series of observations on static electricity around 600 BC, from which he believed that friction rendered amber magnetic, in contrast to minerals such as magnetite, which needed no rubbing.

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Above: Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (624 – 576 BC)

Thales was incorrect in believing that the attraction was due to a magnetic effect, but later science would prove a link between magnetism and electricity.

(The Parthians may have had knowledge of electroplating, based on the 1936 discovery of the Baghdad Battery, which resembles a galvanic cell, though it is uncertain whether the artifact was electrical in nature.)

Above: “The Baghdad Battery”, found in Khuyat Rabu, Iraq, near the ancient site of Ctesiphon, capital of the Parthian empire (150 BC – 223 AD)

Above: An example of a galvic cell, named after Luigi Galvani by Alessandro Volta; also called a voltaic cell.

Electricity would remain little more than an intellectual curiosity for millennia until 1600, when the English scientist William Gilbert made a careful study of electricity and magnetism, distinguishing the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber.

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Above: English scientist William Gilbert (1544 – 1603), the “Father of Electricity”

He coined the new Latin word electricus (“of amber”, from the Greek word elektron) to refer to the property of attracting small objects after being rubbed.

This association gave rise to the English words “electric” and “electricity”, which made their first appearance in print in Thomas Browne´s Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646).

Further work on electricity was conducted by German scientist Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), Irish chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), English scientist Stephen Gray (1666-1736) and French chemist Charles Francois du Fay (1698-1739).

In the 18th century, American polymath Benjamin Franklin conducted extensive research in electricity, selling his possessions to fund his work.

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Above: Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

In June 1752, he is reported to have attached a metal key to the bottom of a dampened kite string and flown the kite in a stormy sky.

A succession of sparks jumping from the key to the back of his hand showed that lightning was indeed electrical in nature.

Franklin also explained the apparently paradoxical behaviour of the Leyden jar as a device for storing large amounts of electrical charge in terms of electricity consisting of both positive and negative charges.

Above: Typical construction of a Leyden jar

In 1791, Italian physicist Luigi Galvani published his discovery of bioelectromagnetics demonstrating that electricity was the medium by which neurons passed signals to the muscles.

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Above: Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1798)

(Could electricity be the key to increasing our longevity?

Is the movie Crank 2 completely far-fetched to suggest that a man could extend his life by juicing himself up with electricity?

Could it be possible to extract human bioelectricity and thermal energy to power machines as suggested in the dystopian film The Matrix?)

Alessandro Volta´s battery, or voltaic pile, of 1800, made from alternating layers of zinc and copper, provided scientists with a more reliable source of electrical energy than the electrostatic machines previously used.

Above: A voltaic pile on display in the Tempio Voltiano

Following Volta, mankind would begin to recognise the concept of electromagnetism as the unity of electric and magnetic phenomena.

This would be followed by the invention of the electric motor (1821), the mathematical analysis of the electric circuit (1827), and the linking of electricity, magnetism and light (1862).

While the early 19th century had seen rapid progress in electrical science, the late 19th century would see the greatest progress in electrical engineering.

Electricity turned from a scientific curiosity into an essential tool for modern life, becoming a driving force of the Second Industrial Revolution.

Later mankind would learn that electrodes illuminated with ultraviolet light cause electric sparks more easily, and that the photelectric effect is the result of light energy being carried in energising electrons.

German physicist Albert Einstein´s 1905 discovery of the latter would lead to the Quantum Revolution.

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Above: Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

This photoelectric effect is now employed in photocells that can be found in solar panels and is frequently used to make electricity commercially.

This understanding of electrons would lead to the detection of radio waves and mankind´s present ability to switch and amplify these waves.

Current flow which we now understand as negatively charged electrons and positively charged electron deficiencies (charges and holes) have led to the development of Quantum Physics and the development of crystalline semiconductors.

Wires connected to crystals would lead to the invention of the transistor (1947), and later the vacuum tube, semiconductor diodes, integrated circuits, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), microprocessor chips and the concept of RAM (random access memory).

Mankind has learned how to generate, store and transmit electricity, but it wasn´t until Volta´s battery that a viable source of electricity became available – the ability to store energy chemically and make it available upon demand in the form of electrical energy.

Above: A voltaic pile

Through Volta´s inspiration and invention, mankind had learned to generate electricity from fossil fuel combustion, nuclear reaction, wind or flowing water.

Electricity´s ability to transfer energy has led to the light bulb, electric heating, electric refrigeration, and the telegraph.

Though optical fibres and satellite communication make our modern communication systems possible, electricity remains an essential part of the process.

I look at my own life and realise how utterly dependent I am upon electricity.

Without electricity, I could not operate this computer or use the printer that sits beside it.

Without electricity, my food supply would not be cool in the fridge or cold in the freezer, nor could I prepare this food in the microwave, the oven or on the stove.

My coffee would not be hot without our electric kettle.

My room would not be warm without the electrical heating nor would I be able to navigate through my apartment without electric lighting.

My cellphone would soon cease to function and there would be no electricity to power my television set nor could I listen to music on my stereo.

Without the basic knowledge of how to generate, store and retrieve electricity when needed, our planet would be very different than it is today.

Electricity has become such a necessity of modern life that we pay attention to it only when it stops flowing for us, an event that usually signals disaster.

The people who keep it flowing are still often cast as heroic, wizard-like figures.

So, let´s look at Alessandro Volta.

Alessandro Volta was born in Como on 18 February 1745, to Filippo and Maddalena Volta.

The Volta family had risen to nobility and wealth from commercial origins and intermarriage, but by the time Alessandro was born the Volta family had lost much of its wealth and Alessandro was raised in a humble one-storey building on Contrada Porta Nuova (today called Via Volta).

“Till his 4th year of age, Alessandro had not enough strength to articulate words.

In his 7th year, he started to show clear signs of propensity to study, and he was born to make good use of it.”  (Maurizio Monti)

After the death of Filippo in 1752, the young Alessandro, as well as his mother and his younger sisters Marianna, Cecilia and Chiara, lived with his uncle, Canon Alessandro Volta, while his older brothers were taken care of by his other uncle, Archdeacon Antonio Volta.

“Alessandro started at the age of 12 to be extremely curious about the secrets of nature, and I still keep an extraordinary text on this subject written by him at this time.

He almost drowned in a water spring at Monteverde to inspect a mineral vein that, according to local peasants, released small gold straws, but in fact turned out to be plain yellow mica.” (Giulio Cesare Gattoni)

By age 14, Alessandro made up his mind to become a physicist.

In his 17th year of age, Volta began to analyse throughly works on natural and artificial electricity, on his own, without any instruments whatsoever.

In his 18th year, he had already entered into correspondence with renowned physicists.

In 1769, Volta officially made his scientifc debut with his dissertation, De vi attractiva ignis electrici, ac phaenomenis inde pendentibus.

In 1774, Volta became a professor of physics at the Royal School in Como.

By October, he is appointed head of the public schools in Como, so he takes advantage of his post to insist that Como should have its own physics laboratory.

The following year, Volta obtained the Chair of Experimental Physics at the Royal Grammar School of Como, and began to improve and popularise the electrophorus, a device that produced static electricity.

His promotion of the electrophorus was so extensive that he is often credited with its invention, even though a machine operating on the same principle was described in 1762 by the Swedish experimenter Johan Wilcke (1732 – 1796).

Above: An electrophorus, a manual machine used to generate static electricity

In 1776, Volta made considerable efforts to establish a central public library in Como.

It would take 20 years to pass before the founding of Como´s Municipal Library.

This same year, Volta studied the chemistry of gases, researching and discovering methane after reading a paper by Benjamin Franklin on “flammable air”.

In November, he found methane at Lago Maggiore.

In September 1777, Volta set out on a long study tour that, via the Gotthard Pass, led him to visit Bern, Basel and Zürich.

On 16 September 1777, Volta showed his experiments with the pistol to the members of the Zürich Physics Society.

After a sojourn in Strasbourg and Alsace, Volta returned to Como via Geneva and the Savoy.

Volta carried out barometrical and geological surveys at high altitude.

Among the personalities Volta met during this journey, he met the BernouillisDaniel (1700-1782), Johann II (1710-1790), Jean (1744-1807) of the family of physicists and mathematicians – in Basel, and Swiss physicist Horace Bénédict De Saussure (1740-1799) in Geneva, but above all, his visit to the elderly Voltaire in Fernet should be mentioned.

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Above: French philosopher Francois Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire (1694-1778)

From Aiguebelle in the Savoy, Volta brought home potatoes and made great contributions to the diffusion of this North American vegetable to Lombardy and Italy.

By 1778, Volta managed to isolate methane and devised experiments such as the ignition of methane by an electric spark in a closed vessel.

By virtue of a bill promoting outstanding professors, Volta was invited to take on the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Pavia.

“He banned the old methods of teaching physics and chose a textbook that was one of the most authoritative advocates of experimental science.

His lectures were attended by an extremely large number of students.

He was admired because of his great fame, because his discourse was clear, lucid and often lively, his accent agreeable, and because his manner was self-effacing but at the same time imposing.” (Maurizio Monti)

Volta also studied what we call “electrical capacitance”, developing separate means to study both electrical potential and electrical charge and discovered for any given object, they are proportional.

This is called Volta´s Law of Capacitance, and it was for this work that the unit of electric potential has been named the volt.

Volta would remain the Chair of Experimental Physics for almost 40 years.

Luigi Galvani, another Italian physicist, had discovered something he named “animal electricity”, when two different metals were connected in series with a frog´s leg and to one another.

Volta realised that the frog´s leg served as both a conductor of electricity (what we would now call an “electrolyte”) and as a detector of electricity.

He replaced the frog´s leg with brine-soaked paper and detected the flow of electricity by other means familar to him from his previous studies.

In this way Volta discovered the electrochemical series, and the law that the electromotive force (emf) of a galvanic cell, consisting of a pair of metal electrodes separated by electrolyte, is the difference between their two electrode potentials.

This is called Volta´s Law of the Electrochemical Series.

In 1781, Austrian Governor Count Firmian – Austria ruled Como at this time. – decided that Volta´s request of a long journey through Europe “in order to get to know renowned men and useful factories” deserved to be accepted.

Volta´s journey lasted from September 1781 until October 1782.

Starting from Torino, Volta headed to Lyons and Geneva, spent a week in Strasbourg, crossed the Rhine to the palaces of Radstadt and Karlsruhe, lingered in Mannheim, Mainz, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf.

In 1782, in Paris, Volta showed French chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) his experiences with the eudiometer, from which the scientist drew a conclusive proof of the composition of water.

Above: An eudiometer, a laboratory device that measures the change in the volume of a gas mixture following a physical or chemical change

He then went to the Netherlands, Flanders and finally England, where he stayed for a few weeks.

In June, Volta visited Birmingham and Oxford, accompanied by Joao Magellan, a Portuguese scientist and a direct descendant of the famous explorer.

His return trip took him across France and finally back home via Genoa.

In July 1784, travelling through Tyrol, Volta reached Wien (Vienna), where, on the 27th, he was received by Emperor Joseph II.

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Above: Joseph II (1741-1790), Holy Roman Emperor (1764-1790)

Volta´s journey then continued towards Bohemia and Germany and ended in November.

In 1785, at the beginning of the new academic year, the students of Pavia University, elected Volta as Chancellor of the University.

In 1794, Volta married an aristocratic Comoese lady, Teresa Peregrini (1794-1841), with whom he will raise three sons: Zanino, Flaminio and Luigi.

In 1800, as the result of a professional disagreement over the galvanic response advocated by Luigi Galvani, Volta invented the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current.

Volta determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and copper.

In announcing his discovery of the voltaic pile, Volta paid tribute to the influences of English chemist William Nicholson (1753-1815), Italian physicist Tiberius Cavallo (1749-1809) and English physicist Abraham Bennet (1749-1799).

The battery made by Volta is credited as one of the first electrochemical cells.

It consists of two electrodes: one of zinc, the other of copper.

The electrolyte is either sulfuric acid mixed with water, or saltwater brine, existing in the form of hydrogen and sulfate.

The zinc, which is higher in the electrochemical series than both copper and hydrogen, reacts with the negatively charged sulfate.

The positively charged hydrogen ions (protons) capture electrons from the copper, forming bubbles of hydrogen gas.

This makes the zinc rod the negative electrode and the copper rod the positive electrode.

Thus, there are two terminals, and an electric current will flow if they are connected.

The copper does not react, but rather functions as an electrode for the electrc current.

However, this cell also has some disadvantages:

It is unsafe to handle, since sulfuric acid, even if diluted, can be hazardous.

Also, the power of the cell diminishes over time, because the hydrogen gas is not released.

Instead, it accumulates on the surface of the copper electrode and forms a barrier between the metal and the electrolyte solution.

In March 1800, Volta reported his results in a long letter to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society in Britain.

The letter was entitled “On the electricity excited by the mere contact of conducting substances of different kinds”.

Without a buzzer or a semiconductor to detect voltage, Volta used his body as a detector and did not seem to mind getting electric shocks!

In 1801, during the autumn, Volta left for Paris, on behalf of the University of Paris.

Volta paid his respects to Napoléon – Como is now governed by the French. – and triumphally displays his battery to the Institute of France.

Above: Volta explains the principle of “the electric column” to Napoléon, 1801

Volta enjoyed a certain amount of closeness with Napoléon throughout his life and would be conferred numerous honours by him.

Portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. In the original image He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.

Above: Napoléon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

By 1804, Volta has repeatedly asked to be relieved from his University commitments.

Despite his professional success, Volta tended to be a person inclined towards domestic life and he preferred to live secluded from public life for the sake of his family.

But, in 1806, Napoléon, during his visit to Pavia in May, pleaded with Volta to remain in his position.

Volta then accepted the nomination as Professor Emeritus.

Persistent requests led Volta to resume, at least in part, his physics lectures.

From 1806 to 1809, Volta organised 40 experimental lessons, carried out over two months.

After the defeat of Napoléon and the return of the Austrians, Volta is appointed the Dean of the School of Philosophy, a position he holds until 1819.

Towards the end of his life, Volta pioneered the remotely operated pistol, whereby an electric current travelled 50 km / 30 miles from Como to Milano and fired a pistol.

This was the forerunner of the telegraph, which uses electricity to communicate.

In 1814, the death of Volta´s son Flamino strengthen Alessandro´s resolve to give up his academic commitments.

Volta retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago, now named Camnago Volta, in his honour.

Volta died there on 5 March 1827, just after his 82nd birthday.

Volta´s remains rest in Camnago Volta.

In 1927, Francesco Somaini, a local Como cotton industrialist and Member of Parliament, promoted the idea of establishing the idea of establishing a musuem dedicated to Volta, the Tempio Voltiano, and financed its construction on the occasion of the first centenary of the scientist´s death.

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Above: The Tempio Voltiano, Como

The opening ceremony of the Tempio Voltiano was held on 15 July 1928.

In the main hall of the Tempio, the visitor encounters relics and scientific instruments for experiments with inflammable gases and thermal phenomena, devices to sudy electrical phenomena, an exhibit on Volta´s dispute with Luigi Galvani regarding electricity and animals, a display of Volta´s famous battery and a collection of other scientific instruments either used by or invented by Volta.

The mezzanine tells the story of Alessandro Volta as a man and as a scientist and the times in which he lived in.

In addition, the scenic lighthouse, the Faro Volta, dedicated in his honour by the city´s telegraph and telephone workers, was inaugurated on 8 September on the top of Mount San Maurizio which dominates Como.

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Above: Faro Volta, Como

The contemporary steel sculpture, the Life Electric, in Como´s harbour, also dedicated to Volta, was completed in 2015 by the artist Daniel Libeskind.

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Above: The Life Electric, Como

The sculpture is 13.75 metres tall and weighs 11,000 kilograms.

The Life Electric takes inspiration from the electric tension existing between the two poles of a battery.

Above: The design of The Life Electric

The Life Electric is meant to act as a third pole, located mid-distance from the Faro Volta and the Tempio Voltiano, and is meant to show the connections among the natural elements of light, wind and water, the geometry that connects the sky, the lake and the mountains.

And this interplay between light, wind and water….

This interplay between the remote past, the touristic present and the unimaginable future….

This harmony of sky, lake and mountains makes Como feel electric.

Multiple lightning strikes on a city at night

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / David Clarke, Technical English at Work / Georgina Palffy (editor), The Science Book / Robert Winston (editor), Science Year by Year: The Ultimate Visual Guide to the Discoveries that Changed the World / Alberto Longatti (editor), The Volta Temple in Como: A Guide

 

 

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 October 2017

I was 24 and living in Ottawa, Canada, in 1989, when I read the news about the fall of the Berlin Wall that had separated West Germany from East Germany for a generation.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada

I would see remnants of this wall in subsequent visits to Berlin with my wife and my cousin in 2007 and 2008.

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In 1999, I visited the De-militarised Zone (the DMZ) that still separates North Korea from South Korea.

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In 2000, I saw the Green Line that separates North Cyprus from Cyprus.

I am a little over a half century old and in the past 50 or so years I have witnessed the independence of 18 African nations, 10 Caribbean nations, 14 Middle East or Asian nations, 11 European nations and 11 South Pacific nations.

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I have watched dictatorships change into democracies and I have sadly seen some democracies devolve into dictatorships.

So I guess it feels quite normal to watch with growing fascination the growing movements of the Kurdish people of Turkey, Iran and Iraq and the Catalonian people of Spain.

As a man who has seen his fair share of historical events, though like most men of my socio-economic class living in the West mostly indirectly, I find it compelling to watch how nations develop from ideas to actual sovereign states.

And having grown up as an Anglophone in Francophone Québec, a province that has itself toyed with the idea of independence from Canada, I can´t say that I am unemotional in regards to this topic of sovereign states and what it is exactly that constitutes a nation.

Flag of Quebec

I have always felt that it is more to the advantage of both Canada and Québec to remain together, as Canada, for all its faults has acknowledged that Québec is a distinct society whose language and culture must be respected within the framework that is Canada.

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

Québec, both economically and culturally, would be weakened should it attempt total self-reliance surrounded as they are by an Anglo North America, especially when considering the economic and military clout of the United States.

In regards to the desire of the Kurdish people to determine their own destiny, I cannot deny that I am partially sympathetic to their cause, for as reprehensible as the violence that has been used by some Kurdish factions has been (and it has been reprehensible indeed), the determination by the dominant powers that rule them to eliminate their culture and deny them their language and, in some dark chapters of the past, attempt their extermination, leaves me hopeful that through wiser leadership and true diplomacy the Kurds may one day create their free Kurdistan.

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Above: One of the symbols used to represent Kurdish nationalism

(See The Sick Man of Europe 1: The Sons of Karbala and The Sick Man of Europe 2: The Sorrow of Batman of this blog for greater explanation and background of the Kurdish situation.)

But in regards to Catalonian independence I am on more insecure footing…

The Principality of Catalonia was a territory of the Crown of Aragon at the time of the Union of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in the late 15th century, which led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain.

Above: L´Estelada Brava, the pro-independence flag of Catalonia

Initially, Catalonia kept their own fueros (laws and customs) and political institutions.

Catalans revolted against the Spanish monarchy in the Reaper´s War of 1640 – 1652, which ended in Catalan defeat.

The end of the War of Spanish Succession was followed by the loss of the fueros and the imposition of the Nueva Planta decrees which centralised Spanish rule.

The beginnings of separatism in Catalonia can be traced back to the mid-19th century.

The Renaixenca (cultural renaissance), which aimed at the revival of the Catalan language and traditions, led to the development of Catalan nationalism and a desire for independence.

Between the 1850s and the 1910s, some individuals, organisations and political parties started demanding full independence of Catalonia from Spain.

The first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was Estat Catala, founded in 1922 by Colonel Francesc Macia.

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Above: Francesc Macía (1859 – 1933), 122nd President of Catalonia

Estat Catala went into exile in France during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923 – 1930).

Following the overthrow of Rivera, Estat Catala joined the Parti Republica Catala and the political group L´Opinió to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, with Macia as its first leader.

Macia proclaimed a Catalan Republic in 1931, but after negotiations with the provisional government he was obliged to settle for autonomy, which lasted until the Spanish Civil War.

Following Franco´s death in 1975, Spain moved to restore democracy.

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Above: The flag of Spain

A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation”, but acknowledged “the right to autonomy of the nationalities and  regions which form it”.

Independence parties objected to the constitution on the basis that it was incompatible with Catalan self-determination and formed the Comité Catala Contra la Constitució Espanyola to oppose it.

The constitution was nevertheless approved both in Spain and in Catalonia.

In 1981, a manifesto issued by intellectuals in Catalonia claiming discrimination against the Castilian language drew a response in the form of a published letter, Crida a la Solidarität en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalones, which called for a mass meeting at the University of Barcelona, out of which a popular movement arose.

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Beginning as a cultural organisation, the Crida soon began to demand independence.

In 1982, at a time of political uncertainty in Spain, the Ley Orgánica de Armonización del Proceso Autonómico was introduced in the Spanish parliament, supposedly to “harmonise” the autonomy process, but in reality to curb the powers of Catalonia and the Basque region of northwest Spain and southwest France.

There was a surge of popular support against LOAPA.

During the 1980s, the Crida was involved in nonviolent direct action, among other things campaigning for labelling in Catalan only and targeting big companies.

Following elections in 2003, the Spanish government produced a draft for a new Statute of Autonomy.

The Spanish parliament made changes to the Statute, by removing clauses on finance and language and the article stating that Catalonia was a nation.

The Partido Popular, which had opposed the Statute in the Spanish parliament, challenged its constitutionality in the Spanish High Court of Justice.

The case lasted four years.

In 2014 the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional.

In 2015 the Catalan parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process.

In response Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said the state might “use any available judicial and political mechanism contained in the constitution and in the laws to defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain.”, hinting that he would not stop at military intervention.

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Above: Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain since 2011

In 2016, Carles Puigdemont, on taking the oath of office of President of Catalonia, omitted the oath of loyalty to the King and the Spanish constitution, the first Catalan President to do so.

Carles Puigdemont Casamajó

Above: Carles Puigdemont i Casamojó, President of Catalonia since 2016

In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the Spanish parliament that a binding referendum on Catalan Independence would be held in 2017.

The question on 1 October 2017 was:

“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

The Spanish government said that the referendum could not take place because it was illegal.

The Spanish government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine voters up to €300,000, shut down websites and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store.

Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations, but parents scheduled events at schools (where polling places are located) over the weekend and vowed to keep them open during the vote.

Some election organisers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials, while demonstrations by local institutions and street protests grew larger.

The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout.

The Yes side won, with over 2 million people / 91% voting for independence.

The government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region.

The Catalan parliament passed a law declaring it would only follow Catalan law.

The Spanish constitutional court moved quickly to prevent a declaration of independence.

On 3 October 2017 Carles Puigdemont said that his government intends to act on the result of the referendum “at the end of this week or the beginning of next” and declare independence from Spain.

Puigdemont went before the Catalan Parliament to address them on Monday 9 October 2017, pending agreement of other political parties.

On 4 October 2017, Mireia Boya, a lawmaker of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), announced that a declaration of independence would likely come after the parliamentary session on 9 October.

Felipe VI, the King of Spain, called the Catalan referendum “illegal” and appealed to the union of Spain and called the situation in Catalonia “extremely serious.”

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Above: Felipe de Borbón, aka Felipe VI, King of Spain since 2014

According to Swiss national radio, the Foreign Ministry of Switzerland has offered to mediate between the two sides in the crisis.

Flag of Switzerland

So, here are the questions that remain….

Could Catalonia survive without Spain?

Map of Catalonia in Spain

Above: Map of Spain, with Catalonia in red

What damage would the loss of Catalonia do to Spain?

Will a declaration of independence, which seems likely, lead to bloodshed?

It can be argued that a justifiable reason for a region to declare itself independent of a dominant government over it, is if the dominant force threatens the region´s domestic affairs in regards to how it determines its identity through race, religion, language or cultural traditions, and especially if the region´s economic or humanitarian needs are not being met.

I have insufficient information to decide whether or not the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan language, culture or traditions.

I do believe that Catalonia is strong economically as it stands now, but whether it is in Catalonia´s best interests economically to break free of Spanish rule…..

I am not so certain.

The irony of a people wishing to be free of a monarchy (although Spain is a constitutional monarchy much like Canada) on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and on the 150th anniversary of Canada´s own sovereignity as a confederation, is not lost on me.

 

Petrograd, (present day St. Petersburg) Russia, Monday, 27 February 1917

(Please read Canada Slim and….the Bloodthristy Redhead, the Zimmerwald Movement, the Forces of Darkness, the Dawn of a Revolution, the Bloodstained Ground, and the High Road to Anarchy of this blog for the background to the events below….)

With so much rampant anarchy unleashed on the streets of Petrograd, Duma (Russia´s parliament) President Mikhail Rodzinko and the other Duma members were at a loss as to how to deal with events that had taken them totally by surprise.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzinko (1859 – 1924)

With Russia plunged into political uncertainty, the Duma at the Tauride Palace was a magnet for Petrograders all day.

Above: The Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg

By 1300 hours a crowd of thousands massing around the doors to the Duma was thick with “green uniformed and green capped students, many waving red flags and red bunting and listening to revolutionary speeches”, all anxious to offer their support to the formation of a new government and seeking instructions on what they should do.

What once was a graceful Palladian building of white colonnades, grand reception rooms and columned galleries, the Tauride Palace was now a rackety military camp of political hustling, where urgent meetings were held to establish a provisional government to take charge of the extremely volatile situation.

The Palace was full of troops.

“Everybody seemed to be hungry.

Bread, dried herrings and tea were being endlessly handed around.”

The mental confusion within the Palace was more bewildering than the Revolution outside.

The Palace seethed with tension and excitement, as regiment after regiment arrived and was “drawn up in ranks, four deep, down the length of Catherine Hall” (the main lobby and promenade of the Duma) to swear its allegiance to the new government.

Rodzianko addressed each of them in turn, urging them to “remain a disciplined force”, to stay faithful to their officers and return quietly to barracks and be ready when called.

 

1430 hours

In the semicircular main hall an enormous, mixed assembly of moderate and liberal members of the Duma met to organise themselves, under Rodzianko´s leadership, in the hopes that a reformed, constitutional government could yet be salvaged from the wreckage.

A twelve-man Provisional Executive Committee was eventually elected that evening to take control.

One of its first acts was to order the arrest of the members of the Council of Ministers – the Upper House of the Duma, the Tsar´s men – who met at Mariinsky Palace.

Above: The Mariinsky Palace

Some had already tendered their resignations, including Prime Minister Nikolay Golitsyn.

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Above: Nikolai Golitsyn (1850 – 1925), 8th Prime Minister of Russia (1917)

Others had gone into hiding, and revolutionary patrols were now searching for them.

Even as the Duma members were establishing their own committee, elsewhere in Tauride Palace, a large group of soldiers and workers intent on nothing else than the declaration of a socialist republic and Russia´s withdrawl from the War (WW1) were meeting with the moderate Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries, with the objective of electing their own Petrograd Soviet of Workers´ and Soldiers´ Deputies.

Their most immediate call was an appeal to citizens to help feed the hungry soldiers who had taken their side, until their supplies could be properly organised.

Petrograders responded quickly, welcoming men into their homes to warm themselves and be fed.

Restaurants offered free meals.

Old men were seen in the street “with large boxes of cigarettes, which they handed out to the soldiers.”

 

2100 hours

An unknown American encountered a very well dressed intelligent man, running breathlessly up Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, “stopping a few moments every block to tell the great news….

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Above: Present day Kamennoostrovky Prospekt, St. Petersburg

“The Duma had formed a temporary government.”

It was astonishing, colossal, not to be grasped at once or even half understood.

 

Tuesday 28 February 1917

Midnight

A “tremendous mass of people in the square surrounding a truck packed with soldiers from which a Second Lieutenant was telling the crowd the news:

“Now it´s all right.

There´ll be a new government.

Do you understand?

A new government, and there´ll be bread for everybody.”

“I don´t think any man´s mind that night, except the very leaders in the Duma, could stretch fast enough and far enough to do more than struggle with the realisation of the simplest and most elementary fact of the Revolution – with the plain fact that there actually was a Revolution.”

“On the whole, it may be truthfully said that, so far as Petrograd was concerned, by Tuesday evening the Revolution was over.”

 

0200 hours

The train carrying the Tsar back to Tsarskoe Selo left Mogilev, its windows darkened, its passengers asleep.

On the train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Russia no longer had a government, and over the next crucial 27 hours or more, for all practical purposes, be without an emperor.

Nevertheless, when Nicholas reached Tsarskoe Selo the next morning he expected that General Nikolai Ivanov and his 6,000 front line troops were in place to crush the rebellion.

He could sleep easily.

His train was on schedule.

In consequence, with no government and a nomadic Tsar lost in a train, power in Petrograd passed to the Revolution, with the Tauride Palace home of a Duma that was no more.

The tsarist government was finished.

The Arsenal – the last rallying point of the old regime – had finally surrendered by 1600 hours when the rebels threatened to turn the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress onto it.

The whole of the army in Petrograd had now thrown in its lot with the revolutionaries.

The Tauride Palace now housed a noisy mass of workers, soldiers and students, joined together in a Soviet.

The few hundred respectable deputies who backed the Duma Committee now jostled for places in rooms and hallways packed with excited street orators, mutineers and strike leaders.

It was chaos and would remain so for days to come.

Grave anxiety remained as to the future, with the struggle between the new Soviet and the Executive Committee of the Duma intensifying.

It was already abundantly clear that any power-sharing between the Duma and the Soviet would be extremely fraught.

In the midst of all this chaos, the young man beginning to stand out as the dominant figure was Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Duma Committee but also vice-chairman of the Soviet.

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Above: Alexander Kerensky (1881 – 1970)

Bestriding both camps, Kerensky´s power was enormous.

The Committee had the better claim to government, but the members knew that in this Revolution they could only lead where Kerensky was willing to follow.

For the members of the Soviet, the Executive Committee represented the enemy: the old order of capitalists, the bourgeoise and the aristocracy.

At the same time, the Soviet had the sense to know that they were in no position to form a “people´s government” as their authority did not extend beyond the capital.

They had few if any among them the experience to act as Ministers.

There had to be a deal.

For the Duma men that meant securing the Tsar´s abdication while preserving the monarchy itself.

Nicholas would be replaced by his lawful successor, his son Alexis, with Nicholas´ younger brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich as regent.

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Above: Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878 – 1918)

Michael was a war hero, a cavalry commander holding Russia´s two highest battlefield awards, and he was known to be sympathetic to constitutional monarchy on the British lines.

The army held him in high regard and he would also be a popular choice in the Duma where he was widely trusted and respected.

But Nicholas had first to be compelled to give up the throne.

Trundling across Russia in his train, Nicholas had, as yet, no idea what would be demanded of him.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 October 2017

When I view recent events regarding the Kurds and the Catalonians, I realise that here too, a century after the Russian Revolution…..

There has to be a deal.

But much like Nicholas on the train….

I have, as yet, no idea what will be demanded.

Above: Gathering in Zarautz, Basque Country, in support of Catalonian independence

Sources: Wikipedia / Steve Bloomfield (editor), How to Make a Nation / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Injured Queen

Cernabbio, Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We disembarked from the lake steamer, the wife and I on vacation, eager to visit the Villa d´Este and Villa Erba.

The day would make me consider the role of women in the world and especially the role of my wife in my own.

The Villa d´Este, originally called the Villa del Garovo, is a Renaissance residence in Cernabbio on the shores of Lago di Como, which began as a convent and now functions as a luxury hotel.

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Gerardo Landriani, Bishop of Como (1437 – 1445), founded a nunnery here at the mouth of the Garrovo torrent in 1442.

Learning this, I asked myself:

What would inspire a woman to become “a bride of Christ”, chaste for the rest of her days?

There does exist people who are simply non-sexual and may not feel the urges average folks do.

Their biggest problem is not lack of stimulation as much as the non-acceptance by others for their inclination, for it remains a universal that those who are not understood are often rejected.

And a true belief in a divine power beyond ourselves coupled with a warm welcome into an institution that insists that there should be no distraction away from worshiping the divine may have lead women who have willingly chosen to be nuns – historically not all women have had the choice – feeling content with their cloistered existence.

A century later Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio demolished the convent and commissioned Pellegrino Tibaldi to design a residence for the Cardinal´s own use.

Above: Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio (1527 – 1607)

The Villa del Garovo, together with its luxuriant gardens, was constructed during the years 1565 to 1570 and during the Cardinal´s lifetime it became a resort for politicians, intellectuals and ecclesiastics.

I asked myself:

Why would a man desire a garden beyond the practicality of a fruit orchid or a vegetable garden?

Beyond the interest in botany or medicine that may pique some men´s curiosity, every man whose wife has dragged him into a greenhouse or a florist´s shop or a botanical garden seems damnably discomfited and visibly bored.

Many men see colours, but most don´t make fine distinctions in subtlety of shade.

We see flora but know few names for individual flowers and even less about the odd symbolism humanity attaches to these flowers.

Many men see beauty, but more as an abstract concept, and with the notable exception of the insecure teenage years, don´t see beauty as so applicable to men ourselves as much as it is to women.

And though many men will buy flowers for their ladies, usually as compensation for deeds done wrong in the past or insurance against deeds that will be done wrong in the future, the thinkers amongst my gender reflect how odd a custom it is to cut down flowers, toss them in a vase of water and then slowly watch them die – a rather cruel way to appreciate beauty.

I wonder if the collection of flowers and the observation of their slow demise could be extended into a metaphor about the fairer sex.

Girls are raised to be aware of beauty, often inspired to reflect that beauty, and some even equate their sense of self-worth based on the degree to which they are found beautiful by others, feeling their value diminishes as their beauty fades with the passage of time.

What a strange and terrible idea.

On Gallio´s death the Villa passed to his family who, over the years, allowed it to sink into a state of decay and disrepair.

From 1749 to 1769 Garovo was a Jesuit centre for spiritual exercises, after which it was acquired first by Count Mario Odescalchi and then in 1778 by Count Marliani.

In 1784, Garovo passed to the Milanese Calderari family who undertook a major restoration project and created a new park all´Italiana with an impressive nymphaeum and a temple displaying a 17th-century statue of Hercules hurling Lichas into the sea.

Terrible symbolism of might making right, very macho.

After the death of Marquis Calderari, his wife, Vittoria “la Pelusina” Peluso, a former ballerina at La Scala, married a Napoleonic general, Count Domenico Pino and a mock fortress was erected in the park in his honour.

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Above: Portrait of Count Domenico Pico (1760 – 1826)

A ballerina marrying a general – seems like an odd pairing….

Almost as odd as a teaching barista being married to a doctor….

In 1815 Garovo became the residence of Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of future King George IV.

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Above: Caroline of Brunswick (1768 – 1821)

“Its garden seems almost suspended in the air and forms a scene of complete enchantment.”, she wrote in her diary.

Life ain´t easy, and for women life has challenges unique to her gender that men may try to share but most will never fully understand.

Life ain´t easy for women and historically it rarely has been.

Take my wife.

Please!

There are times she would thank you if you did!

For living with me cannot be easy.

In our apartment lives a grumpy old man and a lovely younger lady.

I do not appreciate orderliness as much as I should, I dance like an elephant stranded on an ice rink and I still cling to remnants of boyhood like a love of games and superheroes.

Like an old lion in winter, I exert myself when I must, growl when disturbed and roar when provoked.

I have the fashion sense of a train wreck, my study reflects photos of a just-bombed Dresden, and my remarks are often as not as loving and poetic as they could be.

And beauty never was my trademark and more so as I age disgracefully.

My balding pate can be seen from space and what hair determinedly remains is as white as alpine snow.

My belly could be used as a baby´s trampoline and my bones complain.

What a fine mess my darling has been harnessed with!

And as much as a burden that my wife´s personal life is, she struggles mightily to get the respect that is accorded her male colleagues.

The adage that women must work twice as hard to get half as much respect is sadly a truism still prevalent in our society.

And this truism has always existed, regardless of a woman´s status in society.

Take the case of Caroline.

Caroline was born a princess of Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) in Germany.

She was brought up in a difficult family situation.

Her mother resented her father´s open adultery and Caroline often tired of being a “shuttlecock” between her parents.

Whenever Caroline was civil to one of them, she was scolded by the other.

She was educated by governesses, but the only subject in which she was given a high education was music.

By age 16, she was an attractive girl with curly, fair hair, whom French politician Honoré Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau described as “most amiable, lively, playful, witty and handsome”.

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Above: Honoré Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (1749 – 1791)

Caroline was brought up with an extreme degree of seclusion from contact with the opposite sex even for her time.

She was constantly supervised, restricted to her room when the family was entertaining guests and ordered to keep away from the windows.

She was normally refused permission to attend balls and court functions, and when allowed, she was forbidden to dance.

Though Caroline was not allowed to socialise with men, she was allowed to ride.

During her rides, she visited the cottages of the peasantry.

Her English mother Augusta, the sister of the British King George III, desired a match between one of her children and a member of her English family.

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Above: Princess Augusta of Great Britain (1737 – 1813)

From the age of 14, Caroline received a number of proposals for marriage  – the Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse-Dartmouth, Duke Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the second son of the Margrave of Baden – were all suggested, but none of these developed.

Caroline´s father Charles forbade her to marry a man she had fallen in love with because of his low status.

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Above: Charles William Ferdinand, Prince of Braunschweig (1735-1806)

The identity of this man is not clear, but a handsome Irish officer who lived in Braunschweig is suspected.

There was also a rumour – rumours were the bane of Caroline´s entire existence – that Caroline had given birth at the age of 15.

There is no confirmation of this rumour – nor the rumours that would follow her later in life – but it was a widely circulated rumour and referred to as a reason why she married at an older age than was customary, despite being regarded as good-looking and having received so many proposals.

In 1794, Caroline and the Prince of Wales were engaged.

They had never met, but George agreed to marry her because he was heavily in debt.

If he contracted a marriage with an eligible princess, Parliament would increase his allowance.

Caroline seemed eminently suitable: she was a Protestant of royal birth and the marriage would ally Braunschweig and Britain.

Although Braunschweig was only a tiny country, Britain was at war with revolutionary France and so was eager to obtain allies on the European continent.

On 20 November 1794, Lord Malmesbury arrived at Braunschweig to escort Caroline to her new life in Britain.

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Above: James Harris, Lord Malmesbury (1746 – 1820)

In his diary, Malmesbury recorded his reservations about Caroline´s suitability as a bride for the Prince….

She lacked judgement, decorum and tact.

She spoke her mind too readily, acted indiscreetly and often neglected to wash or change her dirty clothes!

She had “some natural but no acquired morality, and no strong innate notions of its value and necessity”.

However Malmesbury was impressed by her bravery….

On the journey to England, the party heard cannon fire, as they were not far from the French front.

While Caroline´s mother, who was accompanying them to the coast as chaperone, was concerned for their safety, Caroline was unfazed.

On meeting his future wife for the first time, George called for alcohol.

He was very disappointed in her.

So was she in him.

She told Malmesbury:

“The Prince is very fat and he´s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.”

Above: George IV (1762-1830), King of Great Britain (1820-1830)

At dinner that evening, the Prince was appalled by Caroline´s rough nature and her jibes at the expense of dinner guest Lady Jersey.

Above: Frances Villiers, Lady Jersey (1753 – 1821)

Caroline was upset and disappointed by George´s obvious preference for Lady Jersey over her.

Caroline and George were married on 8 April 1795 at the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace in London.

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Above: St. James Palace, London

At the ceremony, George was drunk.

He regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic and he told Malmesbury that he suspected that she was not a virgin when they married.

He himself was not.

He himself was already secretly married to Maria Fitzherbert, but as his marriage violated the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, their marriage was not legally valid.

Above: Maria Fitzherbert (1756 – 1837)

In a letter to a friend, the Prince claimed that the couple only had coitus three times: twice on their wedding night and the third the night after.

He wrote:

“It required no small effort to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person.”

Caroline claimed that George was so drunk that “he passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate (of the fireplace), where he fell, and where I left him.”

Nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte, George´s only legitimate child, on 7 January 1796.

Above: Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796 – 1817), as a child

Three days after Charlotte´s birth, George made out a new will, leaving all his property to “Maria Fitzherbert, my wife”, while to Caroline he left….

One shilling.

Gossip about Caroline and George´s troubled marriage was already circulating.

The newspapers claimed that Lady Jersey, Caroline´s Lady of the Bedchamber, opened, read and distributed the contents of Caroline´s private letters.

Caroline despised Lady Jersey and could not visit or travel anywhere without George´s permission.

The press crucified George for his extravagance and luxury at a time of war and portrayed Caroline as a wronged wife.

Caroline was cheered in public and gained plaudits for her “winning familiarity” and easy, open nature.

(Doesn´t Caroline remind you of the late Princess Diana Spencer?)

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Above: Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997)

George was dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity, and felt trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman he loathed.

He wanted a separation.

In August 1797, Caroline moved out to a private residence.

No longer constrained by her husband, or, according to rumour, by her marital vows, Caroline entertained whomever she pleased.

Charlotte was placed in the care of a governess and Caroline visited her often.

In 1802, Caroline adopted a three-month-old boy, William Austin, and took him into her home, Montagu House, in Blackheath.

Above: Montagu House

By 1805, Caroline had fallen out with her closest neighbours, Lady and Sir John Douglas, who claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene and harassing letters and accused Caroline of infidelity and alleged that William was Caroline´s illegitimate son.

In 1806, a secret commission was set up, known as the “Delicate Investigation” to examine Lady Douglas´ claims.

The commissioners (the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Home Secretary) decided that there was “no foundation” for the allegations.

Despite being a supposedly secret investigation, it proved impossible to prevent gossip from spreading, and news of the investigation leaked to the press.

Caroline´s conduct with her gentlemen friends was considered improper, but there was no direct proof that she had been guilty of anything more than flirtation.

Later that year, Caroline learned that Braunschweig had been overrun by the French and her father was killed in the battle of Jena-Auerstadt.

Her mother and brother Frederick fled to England.

With much of Europe controlled by the French, Caroline could not leave Britain as much as she wanted so desperately to do.

During the Delicate Investigation, Caroline was not permitted to see Charlotte.

Afterwards her visits were restricted to once a week and only in the presence of Caroline´s mother.

By the end of 1811, King George III was declared permanently insane and the Prince of Wales was appointed as Regent.

Monochrome profile of elderly George with a long white beard

Above: George III, in later life (1738 – 1820), King of Britain (1760 -1801)

The Prince restricted Caroline´s access to her daughter further, and Caroline became more socially isolated as members of high society chose to patronise George´s extravagant parties rather than hers.

Needing a powerful ally to help her oppose George´s increasing ability to prevent her from seeing her daughter, with the help of Henry Brougham, an ambitious Whig political reformer, they began a propaganda campaign against George.

Charlotte favoured her mother´s point of view, as did most of the public.

Author Jane Austen wrote of Caroline:

Watercolour-and-pencil portrait of Jane Austen

Above: Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

“Poor woman!

I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband.”

In 1814, after Napoleon´s defeat, nobility from throughout Europe attended celebrations in London.

Caroline was excluded.

George´s relationship with his daughter was deteriorating as Charlotte sought greater freedom from her father´s restrictions.

On 12 July, George informed Charlotte that she would be confined to Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor, that her trusted household would be replaced and that she could have no visitors except his mother, Queen Charlotte, once a week.

 

Above: Cranbourne Lodge

Horrified, Charlotte ran away to her mother.

After an anxious night, Charlotte was eventually persuaded to return to her father, since legally Charlotte was in her father´s care and there was a danger of public disorder against George, which might prejudice Charlotte´s position if she continued to disobey him.

Caroline, desperately unhappy with her situation and treatment in Britain, negotiated a deal, agreeing to leave the country in exchange for an annual allowance.

After a two-week visit to Braunschweig, Caroline headed for Italy through Switzerland.

Along the way, she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as her most trusted servant and friend.

In 1815, Caroline bought the Villa, even though her finances were stretched.

Caroline gave it the name Nuova Villa d´Este and the park landscaped in the English style.

Meanwhile Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Above: Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold

From early 1816, Caroline, accompanied by Pergami, went on a cruise around the Mediterranean.

By this time, gossip about Caroline was everywhere.

Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers.

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Above: English poet Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)

Baron Friedrich Ompteda, a Hannoverian spy, bribed one of Caroline´s servants for proof of adultery.

None was found.

In 1817 as her debts were growing, she sold the Villa d´Este and moved to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro.

In November 1817, Charlotte died after giving birth to her only child, a stillborn son.

The loss of her daughter meant Caroline lost any chance of regaining her position in England.

George was determined to press ahead with a divorce and set up a commission to gather evidence of Caroline´s adultery.

As the commission was assembling more and more evidence, Caroline was worried.

She informed that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money.

However, at this time in England, divorce by mutual consent was illegal.

It was possible to divorce if one of the partners admitted or was found guilty of adultery.

Caroline said it was impossible for her to admit that.

On 29 January 1820 King George III died.

Caroline´s husband became King, and, at least in name, Caroline was Queen of the United Kingdom.

Instead of being treated like a Queen, Caroline found her estranged husband´s accession made her position worse.

The King demanded that his Ministers get rid of her, but they would not agree to a divorce because they feared the effect of a public trial.

The government was weak and unpopular, a trial detailing juicy details of both Caroline´s and George´s separate love lives was certain to destabilise the government further.

Rather than run the risk, the government entered into negotiations with Caroline, offering her an increased annual allowance if she stayed abroad.

She rejected the offer and embarked for England.

When she arrived on 5 June, riots broke out in support of her.

Caroline had become a figurehead for the growing radical movement that demanded political Reform and opposed the unpopular King.

Nevertheless, the King still adamantly desired a divorce.

On 15 June, the guards in the King´s Mews mutinied.

The mutiny was contained, but the government was fearful of further unrest.

In July, the government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill of 1820, to strip Caroline of the title of Queen and dissolve her marriage.

The government claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with Pergami.

Various “witnesses” were called during the reading of the Bill, which was effectively a public trial of the Queen.

The trial caused a sensation.

Above: The Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820

Caroline joked that she had indeed committed adultery once – with the husband of Maria Fitzherbert, the King.

Even during the trial, the Queen remained immensely popular, with over 800 petitions and nearly a million signatures favouring her cause.

As a figurehead of the opposition movement demanding reform, many revolutionary pronouncements were made in Caroline´s name.

At the end of the Trial, the government again extended the offer of an increased allowance, this time without preconditions, and Caroline accepted.

Soon after her husband´s coronation, from which she was barred, Caroline fell ill.

Above: The Coronation of George IV, 19 July 1821

She died on 7 August 1821, at the age of 53.

She is buried in her native Braunschweig in a tomb bearing the inscription:

“Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England.”

Even today, nearly two centuries later, the double standard of men acceptably being promiscous while women remain condemned for the same remains.

The Villa was briefly owned by the Tsarina Maria Feodorowna, mother of the last Tsar of Russia Nicholas II, but was never visited by her and remained abandoned.

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Above: Tsarina Maria Feodorowna (Dagmar of Denmark)(1847 – 1928)

It was converted into a deluxe hotel for the nobility and the high bourgeoisie in 1873, and kept the name Villa d´Este to take advantage of the apparent link with the more famous Villa d´Este in Tivoli, near Roma.

Visiting the garden in 1903 for Century Magazine, Edith Wharton found Este to be “the only old garden on Como which keeps more than a fragment of its original architecture”.

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Above: US Pulitzer Prize writer Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937)

A gala dinner held at the Villa d´Este on 15 September 1948 was the scene for the celebrated murder of the wealthy silk manufacturer Carlo Sachi, shot dead by his lover Countess Pia Bellentani with her husband´s automatic pistol.

8 pistola bellentani

She spent the rest of her days committed to an insane asylum.

Today, with room rates averaging €1,000 / $1,122 a night and executive suites averaging €3,500 / $3,926 per night, the Villa is a luxury hotel for wealthy people and a high level congress centre.

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In 2008, Travel and Leisure magazine listed the Villa as the 15th best hotel in Europe and the 69th best hotel in the world.

In 2009, Forbes reckoned that the Villa was the best hotel in the world.

Every April, the hotel hosts the Concorso d´Eleganza Villa d´Este for vintage and concept cars.

Every September, it has hosted since 1975 the annual Ambrosetti Forum, an international workshop attended by prominent figures from the fields of politics, finance and business.

The European House Ambrosetti

The Ambrosetti Forum is organised by The European House – Ambrosetti, a consulting firm, and brings together heads of state, ministers, Nobel laureates and businessmen to discuss current challenges to the world´s economies and societies.

It presents forecasts of the economic and geo-political outlooks for the world, Europe and Italy and analyses the main scientific and technological developments and their impacts on the future of business and society.

Forum participants are privately invited and the event takes place behind closed doors.

Yet media coverage of the event is very relevant, given the presence of over 400 Italian and international journalists.

In addition, BBC World, CNBC, CNN, Financial Times and RAI produce talk shows and in-depth live interviews with the speakers of the Forum for broadcast around the globe.

The Villa Erba is a 19th century villa, built by the founder of the first Italian pharmaceutical company, Luigi Erba, to show off his wealth, and now used as an exposition and congress centre.

Villa Erba, Cernobbio - Concorso eleganza Villa d'Este.jpg

In 2004, Erba served as a filming location for the movie Ocean´s Twelve.

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(See Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney of this blog.)

In 2005, American singer Gwen Stefani shot the music video for her single, Cool, on the Villa´s grounds.

A blond woman is looking back over her right shoulder. She is wearing a dark blue blouse and red lipstick, and she is in a room. Above her image are two stripes. The upper is blue and the words "Stereo" and "Fidelity" are written in light yellow, and between them there is a long red arrow (←→). The second strip is yellow; on it the words "Gwen Stefani · Cool" are written in navy blue capital letters.

Later that same year, a concert of Anastacia´s Live at Last tour was hosted in the Villa´s park.

Above: Anastacia Lynn Newkirk in 2005

So many women with such a large influence on the world all passing through Cernobbia directly or indirectly: nuns, a ballerina, a queen, a tsarina, a countess/murderess, movie stars, singers, a doctor/my wife….

All have made a difference – the last abovementioned a difference in my life.

Men often have a way of disappointing the women in their lives: kings rejecting queens, manufacturers driving countess to insanity, teaching baristas driving doctors to distraction….

My wife will be disappointed that I have mentioned her yet again in my blog.

And she hates when I have called her “She Who Must Be Obeyed” on Facebook or in this blog, but if she could only realise that by “obeyed” I mean “honoured and respected” because I realise that like many women she probably married beneath her, that she might be happier with someone more appropriate and that, despite our differences, she is a far far better life partner than I deserve.

She is my injured queen, for whom I am forever grateful and to whom I wish nothing but happiness.

 

Canada Slim and the Road into the Open

Cadenabbia di Griante, Italia, Monday 7 September 1840

“We leave Cadenabbia in a day or two. 

I go unwillingly.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

The calm weather invites my stay, by dispelling my fears.

The heat is great in the middle of the day and I read a great deal to beguile the time….

I breathe the air.

I am sheltered by the hills and woods that give its balmy breath, which lend their glorious colouring….”

(Mary Shelly, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Rambles in Germany and Italy was Mary Shelley´s last published work.

The text describes two European trips Shelley took with her son, Percy, and several of his university friends.

After crossing Switzerland by carriage and railway, the group spent two months at Cadenabbia on Lago Como, where Shelley relaxed and reminisced about the years she had lived in Italy with her husband.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 September 2017

Below is how the local tourism board of Cadenabbia tries to seduce the traveller to stop for a while….

Cadenabbia is the ashore cluster of Griante. The origins of its name are bound to different etymological traditions, one of which says that it comes from the contraction of Ca’ dei Nauli (boatmen’s house). As a matter of facts, in old times, on that very spot there was an inn to which all boatmen coming from Como or Lecco to deliver their goods to the along shore villages used to stop and taste the excellent local wine: the Griantino. At the beginning of the 19th century, Gianella turned it into the very first hotel for tourists and visitors on this area, which immediately became well known among travellers all over the world. For a long time Cadenabbia has been one of the favoured places for the British and a large community lived here. For that reason it was built the Anglican Church, the very first one on Italian soil, which was consecrated in 1891.

 

Griante The village lies on a wide plateau overlooking the lake, at about 50 mt. above lake level. It faces the promontory of Bellagio with the dolomite massifs of the Grigna and Grignetta in the background, which gives the opportunity to enjoy unique landscape views both for beauty and charm.

For many centuries Griante gave hospitality to a number of great visitors. It would be enough to quote Giuseppe Verdi, who in the quietness of Villa Margherita wrote the most beautiful airs of his La Traviata. Stendhal, who dedicated many pages of his masterpiece La Chartreuse de Parme to describe the village and its environment. The enchanting beauty of the place enraptured Longfellow, the American poet, who wrote many poems about this place.

Here came the British Queen Victoria, the German Kaiser William II, Nicolas II of Russia, the Prince of Piedmont (the last Italian King), Pius XI, until he was elected Pope, and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who used to call Griante: my second hometown.

Many pages of modern history have been written in the peaceful atmosphere of Griante, the village the Celts called Griant – Tir, that is to say: The land of the sun.

Ah, to be in Cadenabbia right now instead of here!

Here where rain is more frequent than paycheques and fine weather is invisible and ignored by the demands of work.

Cadenabbia´s great beauty of scenery and vegetation, at its utmost with the blossoms of spring or the changing of the leaves of autumn, beckons my spirit, yet the demands of the flesh maintain my tiresome sojourn here.

Cadenabbia di Griante, Tuesday, 14 July 1840

“The steamer, however, did not stop (in Bellaggio), but on the opposite shore, Cadenabbia, which looked southward and commanded a view of Bellaggio and the mountains beyond surmounting Varenna….

Strange to say, there is discontent among us.

The weather is dreary, the Lake tempest-tossed.

And, stranger still, we are tired of mountains.

I, who thinks a flat country insupportable, yet wish for lower hills and a view of a wider expanse of sky.

The eye longs for space.”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia di Griante, Monday 31 July 2017

The heat is intense, our mood is dreary and our conversation tempest-tossed.

And, in so short a space of time from the northern tip of Lake Como to this town of Cadenabbia, 15 miles north of the city of Como, we – the wife and I – have grown tired of one another´s personality quirks shown in the car journey southwards.

Lago di Como.png

The car ride is insupportable.

The mind longs for solitude and space.

But we are on vacation, chained to one another by obligation and prearranged travel details.

She has exhausted her patience trying to locate for me Mussolini`s execution spot while negotiating rush hour traffic.

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence of this blog.)

Her impatience has exhausted my tolerance.

Yet, stranger still, we persevere.

Cadenabbia, Friday 17 July 1840

“Descriptions with difficulty convey definite impressions, and any picture or print of our part of the Lake will better than my words describe the scenery around me….

Bellagio 1.jpg

High mountains rise behind, their lower terraces bearing olives, vines and Indian corn – midway clothed by chestnut woods; bare, rugged, sublime at their summits….

These Alps are in shape more abrupt and fantastic than any I ever saw.

I wish I could, by my imperfect words, bring before you not only the grander features, but every minute peculiarity, every varying hue, of this matchless scene.

The progress of each day brings with it its appropriate change.

When I rise in the morning and look out, our own side is bathed in sunshine, and we see the opposite mountains raising their black masses in sharp relief against the eastern sky, while dark shadows are flung by the abrupt precipices on the fair Lake beneath.

This very scene glows in sunshine later in the day, till at evening the shadows climb up, first darkening the banks, and slowly ascending till they leave exposed the naked summits alone, which are long gladdened by the golden radiance of the sinking sun, till the bright rays disappear, and, cold and gray, the granite peaks stand pointing to the stars, which one by one gather above.

Here then we are in peace, with a feeling of being settled in….”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

As we struggle, crawling and cursing ever southwards to a city called Como that seems forever out of reach, I am reminded that Cadenabbia is known for more than Mary Shelley.

CADENABBIA
E. W. Longfellow- Summer 1872

No sound of wheels or hoof beat breaks
The silence of the summer day.
As by the loveliest of all lakes
I while the idle hours away.

I pace the leafy colonnade.
Where level branches of the plane
Above me waves a roof of shade
Impervious to the sun or rain.

At times a sudden rush of air
Flutters, the lazy leaves o’ erhead
And gleams of sunshine toss and flare
Like torches down the path I tread.

By Sommariva’s garden gate
I make the marble stairs my seat,
and hear the water as I wait
lapping the steps beneath my feet.

The undulation sinks and swell
Along the stony parapets,
and far away the floating bells
tinkle upon the fisher’s nets.

Silent and slow by tower and town
The freightened barges come and go,
their pendent shadows gliding down
by town and tower submerged below

The hills sweep upward from the shore
With villas scattered one by one,
upon their wooded spurs, and lower
Bellagio blazing in the sun.

And dimly seen a tangled mass
Of walls and woods of light and shade,
stands beckoning up the Stelvio Pass
Varenna with its white cascade.

I ask myself is this a dream?
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?


Sweet vision! Do not fade away;
linger until my heart shall take
into itself the summer day,
and all the beauty of the lake.

Linger until upon my brain
Is stamped an image of the scene;
then fade into the air again,
and be as if thou hadst not been.

GRIANTE
STENDHAL: “LA CHARTREUSE DE PARMA” description di GRIANTE

Everything is noble and delicate. Everything speaks of love. Nothing reminds the ugliness of civilisation. The villages placed halfway up the hills are sheltered by trees, and above the tops of the trees rises the fine architecture of their slender bell towers. If, from time to time, some small fields, fifty yard wide, interrupt the “bouquets” of chestnut and cherry wild trees, the satisfied eye sees the plants growing happier and more vigorous then anywhere else. Beyond these hills, which host some hermitages where everyone would like to live, the enchanted eyes discover the picks of the Alps, always covered with snow, and their majestic austerity reminds the strife of life, and this increases the voluptuousness of the present hour.
The imagination is moved by the far away twinkling of a bell, coming from some small village hidden under the trees; and the sounds brought by the water that sweeten them, assume the colour of soft melancholy and meekness that seems to tell men: “Life passes by quickly. Do not be reluctant towards the happiness that comes to you. Reach out and enjoy it.” The language of these enchanting places, that have no equal in the world, gave back to the Countess’ heart the feelings of when she was sixteen.

Above are descriptions of Cadenabbia by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle).

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1851)

In 1853, Giulio Ricordi built a mansion here, the Villa Margherita Ricordi where Giuseppe Verdi visited and is said to have composed some parts of La Traviata here.

Above: Giulio Ricordi (1840 – 1912)

Above: Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)

Lake Como - between Cadenabbia and Menaggio

Above: The Villa Margherita Ricordi

Visits by Giuseppe Verdi to this mansion may have been related to the successful strategy of luring the aging composer out of his retirement with the composition of his two final works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).

But Ricordi had the good sense to promote younger composers of merit, including Giacomo Puccini, said to be the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi.

Above: Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)

Ricardo was something of a father figure to Puccini, feared (and often needed to be censorious over Puccini´s dilatory work habits) but deeply trusted.

Arthur Schnitzler wrote movingly about Cadenabbia´s cemetery in his 1908 novel The Road into the Open.

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Above: Arthur Schnitzler, M.D. (1862 – 1931)

My research of the places on our itinerary bring to mind the works and life of Schnitzler beyond his account of Cadenabbia’s final resting place for its dead.

Schnitzler was the son of a Viennese doctor and the grandson, through his mother, of another Viennese doctor.

Schnitzler himself was a doctor until he abandoned the practice of medicine in favour of writing.

(I could never imagine my wife, also a doctor, abandoning her long years of study and practice to try another profession.

I am sceptical of her allowing me to pursue a writing career without working fulltime at some other profession, whether respectable as teaching or steady as in the hospitality service.)

At age 40, Schnitzler married Olga Gussmann, a 21-year-old aspiring actress and singer, with whom he had already produced a son the year previously.

In their 6th year of marriage, they also had a daughter, who committed suicide at the tender age of 19.

The Schnitzlers separated shortly thereafter.

Schnitzler´s works were, to say the least, even today, controversial, for their frank description of sexuality.

In a letter to Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud confessed:

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Above: Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis (1856 – 1939)

“I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition – although actually as a result of sensitive introspection – everything that I have had to unearth by labourious work on other persons.”

Schnitzler was branded as a pornographer after the release of his play Reigen, in which ten pairs of characters are shown before and after the sexual act, leading and ending with a prostitute.

Reigen was made into a French language film in 1950 as La Ronde, (starring Simone Signoret) achieving considerable success in the English-speaking world, with the result that Schnitzler´s play is better known there under its French title.

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(Whether the designers of Montréal´s La Ronde amusement park had the film in their mind when they made the park remains a mystery.)

Roger Vadim´s film Circle of Love (1964)(starring Jane Fonda) and Otto Schenk´s Der Reigen (1973) and Fernando Meirelles´ film 360° (starring Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) are all based on the play.

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Schnitzler´s novella Fräulein Else is a first-person stream of consciousness narrative by a young aristocratic woman in the throes of a moral dilemma that ends tragically.

This novella has been adapted a number of times, including the German silent film Fräulein Else (1929)(starring Elisabeth Bergner) and the Argentine film The Naked Angel (1946)(starring Olga Zubarry).

The Naked Angel is the story of a sculptor who agrees to lend a bankrupt man money provided that his beautiful daughter pose nude for his latest work of art.

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In response to an interviewer who asked Schnitzler what he thought about the critical view that his works all seemed to treat the same subjects, he replied:

“I write of love and death.

What other subjects are there?”

Indeed.

(As I sneakily look into the passenger mirror above the car´s dashboard, my balding pate and silver hair remind me that there are probably fewer years ahead of me than I have left behind.

As I watch my wife struggle with the frustrations of Italian traffic and think that we have been a couple for two decades having known few others before our union, I am reminded that regardless of the moments that she may annoy me I remain passionately in love with this tumultous woman.

Love and death are much on my mind today.

How much must I love this woman even to tolerate her at her worst?

How much must she love me to tolerate me at my worst?

How dangerous these streets are!

How easy to be struck or to strike others!)

The bedroom is often the focus of many of Schnitzler´s works and he himself had an affair with one of his actresses, Adele Sandrock.

An exception to his farcicial attitude towards the bedroom and the games adults play within it, Professor Bernhardi, a play about a Jewish doctor who turns away a Catholic priest in order to spare a patient the realisation that she is on the point of death, is his only major dramatic work without a sexual theme.

(These modern times simply demand a modernised adaptation of this play.)

(I ask myself: “Would I want to know when I am dying?”

My honest answer is “No”.

I prefer the deception, the illusion, that the closing of my eyes is a mere prelude to temporary rest rather than the final curtain over a permanent slumber.)

Schnitzler toyed with formal as well as social convention.

With his short story Lieutenant Gustl, he was the first to write German fiction in stream-of-consciousness narration in a story of a soldier and the army´s obsessive code of formal honour.

This story caused Schnitzler to be stripped of his commission as a reserve officer in the medical corps.

(It is a curious thing how man disguises the murder of other men in cloaks of honour wrapped in flags, thinking that this somehow justifies the barbarity of the act and the senselessness of the sacrifice.)

Schnitzler wrote two full-length novels: the above-mentioned The Road into the Open (the story of an aristocratic young composer Georg von Wergenthin-Recco, who has talent but lacks the drive to get down to work and spends most of his time socialising with others like himself, and his ultimately unhappy affair with a Catholic lower middle class girl named Anna Rosner) and Therese (the story of a woman, who gives birth to an illegitimate child during the final decades of the First World War, and who, having to live in poverty herself, is unable to secure an education for her son, so she has a succession of lovers all of whom act irresponsibly towards her until she meets a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur who proposes to her, but dies before they can get married thwarting all her hopes of the good life, and, in the end, she is killed by her ungrateful and estranged son Franz).

(Did Schnitzler have Puccini in mind when he wrote The Road into the Open?)

In addition to his plays and fiction, Schnitzler meticulously kept a diary from the age of 17 until two days before his death.

Running to almost 8,000 pages, the diary is most notable for Schnitzler`s casual descriptions of sexual conquests – he was often in relationships with several women at once, and for a period of several years he kept a record of every orgasm he experienced (!).

(Who does this sort of thing?)

Schnitzler´s works were called “Jewish filth” by Adolf Hitler and were banned by the Nazis in Austria and Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

In 1933, when Joseph Goebbels organised book burnings in Berlin and other cities, Schnitzler´s works were thrown into the flames along with those of other Jews, including Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud and Stefan Zweig.

I am reminded of Schnitzler`s Dream Story, which was later adapted into the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut (starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kiddmann).

A framed image of a nude couple kissing – she with her eye open – against a purple background. Below the picture frame are the film's credits.

Though the film remains one of my least favourite films, and Nicole Kiddmann one of my least favourite actresses, this story of a doctor who is shocked when his wife had contemplated having an affair a year earlier, so he is thus inspired to embark on an adventure during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society, still stirs something inside me when I consider one particular scene where Dr. Harford claims to know his wife completely.

Alice finds his confidence in his ability to understand women extremely amusing.

The idea of openness intrigues me as our car seems stuck in perpetual gridlock.

Do I really want to tell my wife of moments when she has disappointed me, or of moments when the mind has thoughts of an impure nature for those who are not her?

And if my thoughts are those of occasional displeasure with her and pleasure with others, wouldn´t it be hypocritical of me to imagine that there are not similar moments, similar thoughts for her?

In the novella and the film the participants in the private orgy have their faces covered by Venetian masks.

Historians, travel guide authors, novelists and, of course, merchants of Venetian masks have all noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscous activities.

Tim Kreider and Thomas Nelson have linked the film’s usage of these masks to Venice´s reputation as a centre of both eroticism and mercantilism.

Carolin Ruwe argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, reflecting the masks that we all wear in society.

And the line between our private lives and our public personas seems often deliberately complicated and blurred on so many issues of sexuality: breastfeeding, the rights of a woman to be as covered or uncovered as she chooses, the rights of an undeveloped fetus versus a woman´s body burdened with an unplanned pregnancy, the choice of what one wears and what is deemed feminine or masculine and what is not, the choice of with whom we choose or don´t choose to intimate with, the morality of self abuse, the acceptance or rejection of the gender nature assigned us, the question of fidelity versus being true to one´s sexual instincts even to exploration outside of monogamy….

Many questions that dominate our thinking….

Perhaps Italy is responsible for these thoughts?

“What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

Sometimes it seems almost possible to measure it exactly….by comparing the difference between a traveller´s enraptured recollection of his personal experiences and more sober and objective accounts of the same events.

What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

….that gives middle-aged and resigned people the sensation of being, if not young again, at least daring and pleasant to others, and the illusion that they could still bite the fruits of life with their false teeth?

….that makes unwanted people feel wanted, unimportant people feel important, and purposeless people believe that the real way to live intelligently is to have no earnest purpose in life?

Italy….is one of the last countries in the Western world where the great god Pan is not dead, where life is still gloriously pagan, where Christianity has not deeply disturbed the happy traditions and customs of the ancients, where the Renaissance has not spent itself.

Religion is but a thin veneer over older customs.

Foreigners come to taste la dolce vita, to play on solitary beaches, to sit in secluded caves and woods, to eat simple food with their hands, consort with vendors and workmen, living close to nature and in harmony with the vagaries and caprices of human instinct.

Italy is the world´s earthly paradise, where sin is unkown, man is still a divine animal and all loves are pure.

Italy is the right milieu for legal and illegal, natural, seminatural or unnatural honeymoons, affairs, liasons and escapades.

We long for things that have kept their natural flavour, those simple flavours threatened by industrial civilisation.

We like the guileless wines, the local cheeses which are unknown a few miles away, freshly-picked fruit warmed by the sun, fish still dripping sea water and eaten with lemon juice, home-baked bread….all combined with the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people themselves.”

(Luigi Barzini, The Italians)

“In this beautiful country one must only make love.

Other pleasures of the soul are cramped here.

Love here is delicious.

Anywhere else is only a bad copy.” (Stendhal)

Is this why German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer regularly took his holiday in Cadenabbia?

Villa La Collina - Pool

Above: The Villa la Collina, built in 1899, where Adenauer used to stay, and since 1977, used as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Institute

Konrad Adenauer was a German statesman who served as the first post-WW2 Chancellor of West Germany, leading his country from ruin to a productive and prosperous nation.

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Above: Konrad Adenauer (1876 – 1967), Chancellor (1949 – 1963)

During his years in power West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity.

He was the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) political party that under his leadership became, and remains, one of the most influential parties in Germany.

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Adenauer, who was Chancellor until age 87, was dubbed “the old man”, as he was the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office, masking his age by his intense work habits and his uncanny political instinct.

He found relaxation and great enjoyment in the Italian game of bocce and spent a great deal of his post political career playing this game.

His favourite place to do this was in Cadenabbia.

His rented Villa has since been acquired as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), associated with the CDU, as the think tank of the European People´s Party (EPP).

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(The KAS´s aim is the “promotion of freedom and liberty, peace and justice through furthering European unification, improving transatlantic relations and deepening development cooperation” through the research and analysis of current political trends.

The KAS offers more than 2,500 conferences and events each year worldwide, and actively supports the political involvement and education of universally gifted youth through a prestigious scholarship program as well as an ongoing comprehensive seminar program.)

Perhaps this old man who believed so strongly in openness between nations was attracted to Italy by the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people.

Italians have emotions and are unashamed of them and seldom try to hide them.

This tense, dramatic quality, this shameless directness about the Italians, is refreshing to foreigners accustomed to nordic self-control and frigidity of feeling.

Italians seek that combination of love, sensuality and sincerity to define their lives.

Music lives only in Italy.

Is this what continually draws the wife and me to Italy?

This trip is our 6th visit.

Perhaps we as nordic dwellers unconsciously follow the advice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

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Above: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

“For strange effects and extraordinary combinations, we must go to Life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

Cadenabbia, Saturday 1 August 1840

“The snow is gone from the mountain tops.

Warm, really warm, weather has commenced, and we begin to enjoy one of the most delicious pleasures of Life, in its way.

The repose necessitated by heat during the day, the revival in the evening, the enjoyment of the cooler hours, the enchantment of the nights – to stroll beside or linger upon the divine lake, to see the sun´s declining rays gild the mountain peaks, to watch the stars gather bright over the craggy summits, to view the vast shadows darken the waters, and hear the soft tinkling bells, put by the fishermen to mark the spot where the nets are set, come with softened sound across the water….

This has been our lot each evening.”

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

Life is both moonlit strolls and traffic troubles.

I long for the former and tire of the latter.

I pray we reach the city of Como soon and escape from the heat and the noise and the stress.

In Como, we will park our car and refuse to move it for the next few days.

We will stroll along the lake in the cool of the evening and lounge on the shore in the heat of the afternoon, and drink from the joyful cup of Life in days happy and ethereal.

And who knows?

Maybe we will learn to play bocce.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Red-Headed League”, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes / http://www.cadenabbia.it / http://www.kas.de

Canada Slim and the Dawn of a Revolution

20 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

Let´s be blunt.

Things are truly horrible in many countries on the planet these days.

Especially in America.

Flag of the United States

And there are some folks who suggest that a second US Civil War is coming.

Which raises two important questions….

Could it happen?

Should it happen?

In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the duty of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests and/or threatens the safety of the people without probable cause.

Above: A replica of the Magna Carta on Display in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.  The Magna Carta, the first constitutional charter of England, marks one of the earliest attempts to limit a sovereign´s authority.

Stated throughout history in one form or another, the belief in this right has been used to justify various revolutions, including the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

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Above: The storming of the Bastille prison, 14 July 1789, has come to symbolise the French Revolution, where a people rose up to exercise their right of Revolution.

By definition, a revolution is a fundamental change in political power or organisational structures that takes place in a relatively short time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.

Could Americans become so dissatisfied that they would choose to take up arms against Washington DC and the Trump Administration?

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Above: Donald John Trump (born 1947), 45th President of the United States (2017 – )

If it became clear that Trump and his posse was acting against Americans´ common interests (denial of universal health care, unequal taxation favouring the rich, etc) or was threatening the safety of the people without probable cause (threats to North Korea, denying conservation efforts, denying climate change, etc) then it could be argued that Trump and his gang of misfits should be removed from power.

But for a revolution to be effective, disgruntled Democrats and liberals cannot possibly win without greater support.

Without the overall consent of Congress against Trump -presently dominated by the Republicans…..

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Above: The United States Capitol building, Washington DC

Without the support of the military willing to refrain from answering their call of duty to the government and instead standing up to be counted as supporters of a different way than that being practiced today….

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Without the wealthy financially supporting the removal of the President….

Without the huge population of average workers that dominate the country statistically convinced that a change in the status quo will lead to a brighter and better tomorrow….

A revolution in America could not possibly succeed as things stand today.

Founding Fathers listen to the draft of the Declaration of Independence

Above: The presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

As much as private individuals feel like taking force against their rulers because of malice or because they have been injured by the rulers, they cannot succeed without support from the body of the people – a broad consensus involving all ranks of society.

Private individuals are socially forbidden to take force against their rulers until the body of the people feels concerned about the necessity of revolution.

Impeachment of President Trump may be desirable by many people, but only possible if both houses of the American government – the elected officials in Washington – decide that they can no longer tolerate Trump as the helm.

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For now, the Republicans, of whom Trump leads, are more concerned with keeping their privileged positions rather than actually serving their country´s best interests.

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Above: The logo of the US Republican Party

The Democrats, at present, lack cohesion.

Above: The donkey, a recognised symbol of the US Democratic Party, though not an official logo

Despite the popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democrats continue to marginalise anyone too progressive or too anti-Establishment among their ranks.

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Above: US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

In this year 2017, a year where great change is desired but denied by circumstances, this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I think it might be interesting for those dissatisfied with the status quo to observe how within the span of a single week how a nation went from being an autocracy to becoming a republic.

The February Revolution was the first of two Russian revolutions in 1917.

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Above: Attacking the Tsar´s police during the first days of the February Revolution (23 February to 3 March 1917)

The Revolution centred on Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg), then the Russian capital, where longstanding discontent with the monarchy erupted spontaneously into mass protests against food rationing, and armed clashes with police and military.

Above: Modern St. Petersburg.

(Clockwise from top left: Peter and Paul Fortress, Smolny Cathedral, Senate Square, the Winter Palace, Trinity Cathedral, and the General Staff Building)

Change should have begun within the Duma, the Russian Parliament.

Above: Tauride Palace, meeting place of the Duma and later the Russian Provisional Government

On 14 February 1917, after an extended Christmas break, the Duma assembled for another year.

At a time of mounting popular disturbance, and with several of its members engaged in covert plots to oust the Tsar, the session should have been a lively one.

Instead the deputies seemed to be wandering about “like emaciated flies.

No one believes anything.

All feel and know their powerlessness.

The silence is hopeless.” (A. I. Savenko)

The mood was sluggish and the speeches dull.

Outside the pompous meeting hall, the mood was no more positive among the leaders of the revolutionary underground.

“Not one party was preparing for the great upheaval.

Everyone was dreaming, ruminating, full of foreboding, feeling his way.” (Nikolai Sukhanov)

Across the water where the workers lived, the atmosphere was different.

The food crisis was now acute.

The wealthy could still have their fresh white bread in any restaurant, but families in the factory districts had begun to starve.

It was not just a question of inflation, although the price of everything from kerosene to eggs had multiplied beyond the reach of the hard-pressed.

The real problem in Petrograd, exacerbated by an overstretched railroad network in the provinces, was a shortage of grain.

The city´s wheat and flour stocks, already depleted, had fallen by more than 30% in January, leaving many without bread at all.

“Resentment is worse in large families, where children are starving and no words are heard except: peace, immediate peace, peace at any cost.” (Okhrana – Tsarist secret police – agent report, February 1917)

Even in 1917, Russia still produced enough food to feed itself.

The difficulty was to distribute it to the swollen population of the towns in Russia´s northern industrial regions and to the huge army concentrated in the Empire´s western borderlands.

The railway network had been geared in peacetime to moving grain surpluses from southern Ukraine and Russia´s southern steppe region not northward but to southern export outlets on the Black Sea.

As well there were problems with conflicts between the army, a number of civilian agencies and the local government bodies over how best to price and procure grain.

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The big estates, which marketed all their grain, were hardhit by labour shortages, with 15 million men called up into the armed forces.

Meanwhile, industry could notsimultaneously supply the army and produce consumer goods at a price and quantity that would persuade peasants to sell their grain.

Part of the problem as regards food supply was that the Russian government had a weak presence in the villages where food was grown and most Russians lived.

The First World War required the unprecedented mobilisation of society behind the war effort.

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Above: Scenes from World War I

This depended on a civil society with tentacles stretching down to every family and on a state closely allied to this society and capable of coordinating and co-opting its efforts.

To do this effectively, the state needed a high degree of legitimacy and the many groups and classes in society needed to have common values, confidence and commitments.

The Russian Empire entered the War deficient in all these respects.

The railways were a major problem with very serious consequences for military movements, food supply and  industrial production.

Neither the railway network nor the rolling stock were adequate for the colossal demands of war.

In addition industry was diverted overwhelmingly to military production, with repairs to locomotives, rolling stock and railway lines suffering as a consequence.

Inflation took its toll on morale and discipline among railway men, as it did across the entire workforce.

The war – World War I (1914 – 1918) – was not going well for Russia.

Nearly six million casualities – dead, wounded and missing – had accumulated by January 1917.

Mutinies sprang up often, morale was low and the officers and commanders were very incompetent.

Like all major armies, Russia´s armed forces had inadequate supply.

The desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month.

In the summer of 1915, in an attempt to boost morale and repair his reputation as a leader, Tsar Nicholas II announced that he would take personal command of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary.

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

The result was disastrous.

The monarchy became associated with the unpopular war.

The monarchy´s legitimacy sank with every difficulty or failure in the war effort.

Nicholas proved to be a poor leader of men on the front, often irritating his own commanders with his intereference.

Being at the front meant he was not available to govern in Petrograd.

If Nicholas had departed for the front leaving behind a competent and authoritative Prime Minister to whom he had delegated full powers, this risk would have been worth taking.

He left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, who proved to be an ineffective ruler, announcing a rapid succession of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma.

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

“In the 17 months of the Tsarina´s rule, from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had 4 Prime Ministers, 5 Ministers of the Interior, 3 Foreign Ministers, 3 War Ministers, 3 Ministers of Transport and 4 Ministers of Agriculture.

This ministerial leapfrog not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganised the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilites.” (Orlando Figes, A People´s Tragedy)

The Duma President Mikhail Rodzianko, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan joined calls for Alexandra to be removed from influence, but Nicholas refused.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzianko (1859 – 1924), Duma Chairman (1911 – 1917)

The Duma warned the Tsar of the impeding danger and advised him to form a new constitutional government.

Nicholas ignored their advice.

Nicholas saw concessions to pressure as both a confession of weakness and a surrender of power to parliamentary government, which in his opinion was certain to lead to the disintegration of authority and lead to social and national revolution.

By stubbornly refusing to reach any working agreement with the Duma, Nicholas undermined the loyalty of even those closest to the throne and opened up an unbridgeable gap between himself and public opinion.

The Tsar no longer had the support of the military, the nobility, the Duma or the Russian people.

By 1917, the majority of Russians had lost faith in the Tsarist regime.

Government corruption was unrestrained.

The inevitable result was revolution.

Meanwhile, refugees from German-occupied Russia came in their millions.

The Russian economy was blocked from the Continent´s markets by the War.

Though industry did not collapse, it was considerably strained and when inflation soared, wages could not keep up.

To help conserve scarce flour stocks, the Commissioner of Food Supply prohibited the baking and sale of cake, buns, pies and biscuits.

There were also new restrictions on the provision of flour to factory kitchens and workers´ canteens.

The move had little impact on the bread supply, but working people greeted it with rage.

Because few people even had a vote, the only thing they could do was join a protest or a strike.

There was comfort in the thought that the most obvious discontent was economic.

“Such strikes as might occur would be primarily on account of the shortage of food supplies, but it is not considered likely that any serious disorders would take place.” (Sir George Buchanan)

Above: Sir George Buchanan (1854 – 1924), British Ambassador to Russia (1910 – 1918)

But what Buchanan failed to understand was that bread itself was political.

In factories and engine sheds, in shipyards and workers´ barracks, socialist activists were using hunger as a means to start a conversation with the people.

Leaflets, speeches and slogans connected the food shortage to the War and the autocracy.

Bread might have been their immediate grievance, but once the people joined a protest they were swept on by rousing songs and revolutionary catchphrases.

On 9 January 1917, the 12th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905, the protests were explicitly political.

Above: “Bloody” Sunday 22 January 1905 protest, led by Father Gapon, near Narva Gate, St. Petersburg

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead for more details about the Revolt of 1905.)

When the Duma convened on 14 February, the Mezhraionka (the Socialist Inter-District Committee) and its allies called the workers out again, this time with slogans about peace, democracy and even a republic.

There had been large scale protests before, but these were new, and called for more from government than cake and buns.

Even an outsider could pick up the change of mood.

“I was struck by the sinister expression on the faces of the poor folk who had lined up in a queue, most of whom had spent the whole night there.” (French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue, Diary entry of 21 February 1917)

Above: Maurice Paléologue (1859 – 1944), French Ambassador to Russia (1914 – 1917)

The peace of Petrograd was depended on its civil governor, Major General A. P. Balk, on the police (a force of 3,500 in a city of two and a half million) and on the governor of the military district, Major General S. S. Khabalov.

In charge of the coordination of them all was Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov, whose team was divided by mistrust.

Alexander Protopopov

Above: Alexander Protopopov (1866 – 1918), Russian Minister of the Interior (1916 – 1917)

Balk declared Khabalov to be “incapable of leading his own subordinates”.

No one trusted the police chief, A. T. Vasilev, whose promotion was entirely due to his friendship with Protopopov, and the best that anyone could say for Balk was that he was good at his paperwork.

Incompetents were nothing new in Russian government.

None of this might have mattered if the troops Khabalov commanded had been the right men for their job.

There were about 200,000 garrison soldiers in Petrograd, quartered in barracks all around the city centre.

Most lived in terrible conditions.

“The only troops in the capital were the depot battalions of the Guard and some depot Units of the line, most of whom had never been to the front.

They were officered by men who had been wounded at the front and who regarded their duty as a sort of convalescent leave from the trenches, or by youths fresh from the military schools.” (British military attaché Colonel Alfred Knox)

“In my opinion, this man (a disaffected Russian general) had confided in November 1916, the troops guarding the capital ought to have been weeded out long ago.

If God does not spare us a revolution, it will be started not by the people but by the army.”

The General was wrong.

The army played a crucial role, but only when the people had already kindled a revolt.

The February Revolution started with a celebration.

The festival of International Women´s Day had been created just before the War by German socialist Clara Zetkin.

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Above: Clara Zetkin, German Marxist Feminist (1857 – 1933)

The event was planned in Petrograd for 23 February, but the comrades in the Russian empire were reluctant to make a special effort over Zetkin´s festival, disputing its propaganda value.

A march was planned, but it risked being small as well as mostly female.

“We need to teach the working class to take to the streets, but we have not had time.” (Alexander Shlyapnikov, letter to Lenin)

Back in December 1916, the Bolsheviks of Petrograd, the Petersburg Committee (they refused to adopt the Tsarist, more anti-German name of Petrograd) were raided by the Tsar´s secret police, the Okhrana, who not only arrested some of the Committee´s members but had captured its precious, costly and strategically vital printing press.

Without their precious printing press, the Bolsheviks could lead no one without a manifesto and a pile of pamphlets.

But other factions viewed the festival as a propaganda opportunity.

A leaflet from the Mezhraionka was crystal clear:

“The government is guilty.

It started the War and it cannot end it.

It is destroying the country and your starving is its fault.

Enough!

Down with the criminal government and the gang of thieves and murders!

Long live peace!”

Thursday 23 February 1916, Petrograd, Russia

If the weather had remained inhibitingly cold….

If Petrograd had received an adequate supply of flour….

If the workplace toilets had been heated to unfreeze the pipes….

The protests might have not been so large.

It was International Women´s Day and the embattled working women of Petrograd intended that their voices should be heard.

Hundreds of them – peasants, factory workers, students, nurses, teachers, wives whose husbands were at the front, and even a few upper class ladies – came out into the streets.

Although some carried banners with traditional suffrage slogans, most bore improvished placards referring to the food crisis.

“There is no bread.  Our husbands have no work.”, they shouted.

As columns of women converged on Nevsky and Litieiny Prospekts, more militant women in the Vyborg (the industrial section of Petrograd) cotton mills were in no mood for compromise.

Since mid-January hunger had been worse by the continuing subzero temperatures affecting the supply of fuel into the city by rail.

Rowing boats on the Neva River were chopped up for firewood and, in the dead of night, people slunk into cemeteries “to fill whole sacks with the wooden crosses from the graves of poor folks and take them home for their fires”.

Throughout Petrograd strikes and protests had become so commonplace that the Okhrana were taking no chances.

On Protopopov´s orders, machine guns had been secretly mounted on the roofs of all the city´s major buildings, particularly around Petrograd´s main square, the Nevsky.

“The Cossacks are again patrolling the city on account of threatened strikes – for the women are beginning to rebel at standing in bread lines from 5 am for shops that open at 10 am in weather 25° below zero.”

(J. Butler Wright, Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright)

Their Women´s Day meetings resulted in a mass walk-out.

As they headed for the Neva, the ladies called on other workers to march with them, including the men of the New Lessner and Erikson factories, the major metalworks and munitions factories.

A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners

By noon, about 50,000 people had joined the protest on Vyborg´s main street, Sampsonievsky Prospect.

“I was extremely indignant at the behaviour of the strikers.

They were blatantly ignoring the instructions of the party district committees.

Yet suddenly here was a strike.

There seemed to be no purpose in it and no reason for it.”

(Bolshevik party representative  and Erikson plant employee Kayurov)

They marched to the Liteiny Bridge to cross over to Nevsky Prospekt only to encounter police cordons on the Bridge barring their way.

The trams “stuffed full of workers” were surrounded by police when they reached the Liteiny Bridge.

Barging aboard, they checked every passenger to weed out those whose hands and clothes looked work-worn.

The idea was keep the poor where they belonged and make sure that their wretched protest could not interfere with decent life. (Alexander Shlyapnikov)

The more determined among them scrambled down onto the frozen river and made their way across the ice instead.

Others managed to get through the police block at the Troitsky Bridge only to be forced back by the police when they crossed the Neva.

On the Field of Mars, men and women were raised on the shoulders of others, shouting: “Let´s stop talking and act.”

A few women began singing the Marseillaise.

As the crowd moved off, heading for Nevsky Prospekt, a tram came swinging around the corner.

The marchers forced it to stop, took the control handle and threw it away into a snowbank.

The same happened to a second, third and fourth tram until the blocked cars extended all the way along the Sadovya to the Nevsky Prospekt.

Florence Harper – the first American female journalist in Petrograd – and her companion, photographer Donald Thompson from Topeka, Kansas, found themselves carried along with the tide of protesters.

Every policeman they passed tried to stop the marchers, but the women just kept on forging ahead, shouting, laughing and singing.

Walking at the head of the column, Thompson saw a man next to him tie a red flag onto a cane and start waving it in the air.

He decided that such a conspicuous position at the head of the marchers was “no place for an innocent boy from Kansas.”

“Bullets had a way of hitting innocent bystanders,” he told Harper, “so let´s beat it, while the going is good.”

That day, in response to increasing tension in the city, Khabalov had posters pasted on walls at every street corner, reassuring the public that “There should be no shortage in bread for sale.”

If stocks were low in some bakeries, this was because people were buying more than they needed and hoarding it.

“There is sufficient rye flour in Petrograd,” the proclamation insisted.

“The delivery of this flour continues without interruption.”

It was clear that the government had run out of excuses for the bread crisis – lack of fuel, heavy snow, rollling stock commandeered for military purposes, shortage of labour….

The people would not be fobbed off any longer.

Hunger was rife, fierce and unrelenting in half a million empty bellies across the working class factory districts.

“Here was a patent confession of laxity.

Whom was it expected to satisfy?

The Socialists who had already made up their minds for revolution, or the dissatisfied man in the street who did not want revolution, but pined for relief from an incapable government?” (Times correspondent Robert Wilton)

As the day went on, the rank of women marchers in and around the Nevsky swelled to around 90,000.

“The singing by this time had become a deep roar, terrifying, but at the same time fascinating….fearful excitement everywhere.” (Donald Thompson)

Once more the Cossacks appeared as if by magic, their long lances gleaming in the sunshine.

Time and again they attempted to scatter the columns of marching women by charging them at a gallop, brandishing their short whips, but the women merely regrouped, cheering the Cossacks wildly each time they charged.

When one woman stumbled and fell in front of them, they jumped their horses right over her.

People were surprised.

These Cossacks weren´t the fierce guardsmen of Tsardom whom the crowds had seen at work in 1905, when hundreds of protesters had been killed in the Bloody Sunday protest.

This time they were quite amiable, playful even.

They seemed eager to capitulate to the mood of the people, and took their hats off and waved them close to the crowd as they moved them on.

So long as they only asked for bread, the Cossacks told the marchers, they would not be on the receiving end of gunfire.

And so it went on, until six in the evening.

As the mob surged to the constant drumbeat calls for bread, the Cossacks charged and scattered people in all directions, but there was no real trouble.

Police rounded up anyone who attempted to stop and give speeches, but protestors otherwise walked the streets with their red flags all day long and had not been fired upon.

It was left to the tsarist police to finally disperse the crowds, who had largely gone home by 7 pm as the cold of the evening drew in.

Across the river, in the industrial quarters, acts of sporadic violence had erupted throughout the day.

Bakeries were broken into and raided.

Grocery stores had their windows smashed.

Later that evening, Major-General Alfred Knox met with the Duma industrialist Alexander Guchkov who described the food shortage as the worst catastrophe his government had faced to date, more crippling and more dangerous than any battlefield defeat.

Alexander Guchkov

Above: Alexander Guchkov (1862 – 1936), 4th Duma Chairman (1910 – 1911), Russian War Minister (1917)

Guchkov could already sense that trouble lay ahead.

“Questioned regarding the attitude of workmen in the towns towards the War, Guchkov conceeded that from 10% to 20% would welcome defeat as likely to strengthen their hands to overthrow the government.” (Alfred Knox)

Throughout the night strike committees in Petrograd and Vyborg were plotting to seize the moment.

A great many troops patrolled the city, for that day a disorganised and elemental force had finally been let loose on Petrograd.

The flame of Revolution had been lit among the hungry marchers on the Nevsky and the strikers across the river.

Revolution – so long talked of, dreaded, fought against, planned for, longed for, died for – had come at last, like a thief in the night, none expecting it, none recognizing it.

One week later Tsar Nicholas II would abdicate, ending the Romanov Dynasty, ending the Russian Empire, ending the chaos that had ensued in the days that followed the Women`s Day march.

Above: Nicholas II (seated) abdicating the Russian throne on 2 March 1917

A dynasty that had ruled for 300 years would depart within a week, with a whimper rather than a bang, because few Russians were willing to defend it.

Eight months later, the second Revolution in Russia in 1917, the October or Bolshevik Revolution would occur when the Bolsheviks led by Lenin – returned from exile in Switzerland – would seize control of the government established after Nicholas´ abdication and transform the liberated-from-autocracy democratic republic into a totalitarian regime.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1936)

But Russia had, for the briefest of moments, a chance for democracy.

Creating a peasant-based democracy almost from scratch in a country as enormous as Russia was a daunting task.

A democracy begun spontaneously by a group of women tired of long bread lines, tired of hunger, tired of frozen toilets, tired of their men away on the front, tired of casualities.

Brave enough to face certain death by men armed to the teeth.

Maybe that is how change might come to America.

Spontaneously.

When enough Americans become tired of the way things are and brave enough to stand up to the powers that have abused them for far too long.

Perhaps things have to get even worse before spontaneous and united dissatisfaction can occur.

Perhaps darkness must fall before dawn can arise.

Before a true unity – undivided by religion, race, income or partisan politics, but united by a desire for equality of opportunity and respect – can arise.

All things change.

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Above: Cover of “Power to the People” single (1971), John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 September 2017

“History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

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Above: Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

“I believe that are monsters born in the world to human parents.

Some you can see.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born?

The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree.

As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience.” (John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

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Above: John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)

History is a chronicle of the most evil characters and wicked crimes: six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the murdered millions of the Congo, Rwanda, the Armenians, the Hereros of Namibia, the East Timorese, and many many others.

In naming and chronicling their murderers, we defy the wishes of the killers who hoped that posterity would forget their crimes.

“Who now remembers the Armenians?”, mused Hitler, ordering the Final Solution.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

His comment shows why history matters, because Hitler found encouragement and solace in the forgotten Armenian massacres.

Past and present are closely linked.

“No one remembers the boyars killed by Ivan the Terrible”, said Stalin, ordering the Great Terror.

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Above: Joseph Vissariorovich Stalin (1878 – 1953)

In the colassally audacious, incredible scale of these crimes, these monsters found a diabolical sanctuary from comprehension and judgement.

“One death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic.”, said Stalin.

The most disgusting of these crimes were committed in the 20th century when the corrosive all-embracing utopianism of insane ideologies dovetailed with modern technology and pervasive state power to make killing easier, quicker and possible on a gargantuan scale.

(Simon Sebag Montefiore, Monsters: History´s Most Evil Men and Women)

On my summer vacation with my wife, on our very first day of the vacation, we encountered the memory of such a monster.

Lake Como / Lago Como, Italy / Italia, 31 July 2017

Perhaps the problems of contemporary Italy are too disturbing and too difficult to understand.

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Local political events have always seemed mysterious and negligible to the foreign visitor or resident expatriate.

Tourists don´t want to be reminded of a place´s dark heart or imperfect history.

The Italy for foreigners is mainly an imaginary country, for we often don´t really pay attention to or see clearly the Italy that Italians see.

We know too few natives and those we see are seen through a sunny haze too bright to understand Italians and their problems.

We meet hotel concierges, waiters, shopkeepers,  and tourist information providers, but we may never know the great mass of the Italians for we are as ignorant as children in these matters.

But no matter where you go, where humans are, one can find the desperate struggles for money and power if one takes the time and looks beyond the surface impressions.

This universal struggle demands its daily sacrifices, its regular victims.

Even when violent death is not lurking in the shadows, when things look pleasant and peaceful and life seems secure, prosperous and easy, competition at every level and in every field is intense, ruthless and without pause.

Fortune is notoriously fickle and history restless.

The day had begun well.

We drove across the Swiss border into Italy and were immediately charmed by the Italian province of Lombardy, for though Italy is about as large as California the inhabitants are incredibly numerous – over 50 million of them – one does not get the feeling of crowdedness in the Italian town first encountered over the Passo Spluga: Montespluga.

Part of Montespluga´s isolation is of course related to the Splügen Pass being closed in winter months and generally avoided throughout the year by those craving speed who take the San Bernardino road tunnel, opened since 1967, to the west.

There is not much about Montespluga to warrant the praises of most guidebooks.

After all the village consists of only three main streets (Via Dogana, Via Ferre, Via Val Longa), some small shops, a couple of hotels and restaurants.

But the plus side of this isolation lends both a warm welcome to the traveller determined to visit and an amazingly beautiful and tranquil landscape.

Here wild ponies graze in the fields, just outside the pizzaria windows, calm but vigilant when humans venture the paths that bisect their  territory.

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Through here the fit and adventureous hiker can follow the 65-kilometre Via Spluga from Thusis, Switzerland to Chiavenna, Italy, totally immersed in the splendour of nature, with some of the path the remnants of old Roman roads.

After a hardy lunch and a stroll in the pasture of ponies, we drove along the Reservoir, the Lago di Montespluga, through the town of Campodolcino (home to the poet Giosue Carducci and writer/journalist Don Abramo Levi, and a centre for winter skiing) and the village of San Giacomo e Filippo to the town of Chivenna.

Chiavenna, picturesquely on the right bank of the river Mera, 16 km north of Lago Como, formerly the Roman town Clavenna, is crowned by a ruined castle.

Townscape on the Mera

It was in this castle in October 1154 that the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122 – 1190) met with his cousin Henry “the Lion” (1129 – 1195) and fell on his knees begging Henry´s aid against the cities of the Lombard League.

After all Frederick only wanted to impress the Pope and the Italians with his power, to plunder and raze city-states, to reward friends and allies and destroy enemies.

Isn´t that what rulers are supposed to do?

In the town is a statue of Peter de Salis (1738 – 1807), an Anglo-Swiss who resisted Napoleon, and was an extremely popular governor of the commune (1771 – 1773 / 1781 – 1783).

We did not linger in Chiavenna for my wife´s guidebook recommended a side trip to the Cascata dell´ Acquafraggia waterfalls, first recorded by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495 in his Codex Atlanticus.

Acquafraggia

This stream which flows from the Pizzo del Lago near the Swiss border then joins the Mera River at Borgonuovo, 5 km east of Chiavenna, imposingly descends into a series of waterfalls 170 metres high.

But the Cascata don´t feel like a tourist attraction as much as the local family picnic area and playground.

Somehow the waterfalls reminded me of the kind of setting that the original series of Star Trek might have used to film an alien paradise world.

Russian Poet Apollon Nicolayevich Maykov once wrote enthusiatically:  “Under that fiery sun, in the roar of a waterfall, inebriated you said to me: Here we can die together, the two of us.”

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Above: Apollon Nicolayevich Maykov (1821 – 1897)

We lingered bathing our feet in the stream that collected below the cascade.

We lingered too long.

Beautiful scenery, the stage setting for a peaceful dream, is suddenly cluttered by thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, Vespas and noxious automobiles, bright lights and intense noise, construction, constriction and complication.

For the western shore of Lago Como from Sorico all the way down to Como was crowded, traffic insane, a rush hour when commuters were unable to rush, bumper to bumper with no relief.

And it was in this spirit of impatience and annoyance that we discovered a monster.

Between the towns of Gravedona and Musso, 40 km/25 miles northeast of the city of Como, one can find the Comune Dongo, with its two main sights: the Palazzo del Vescovo (Bishop´s Palace) – home to the International Piano Academy where seven pianists, chosen annually from a worldwide field of over 1,000 applicants, including many prizewinners, have the opportunity of studying for a week with piano virtusos – and the Palazzo Manzi – the town administrative centre and the Museo della Fine della Guerra (Museum of the End of the War) with displays of partisan activity in Dongo and the north Lake Como area from the time of the Italian armistice in September 1943 up to the end of the Second World War in 1945.

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Above: The Palazzo Manzi

Why is this museum in this town?

Because it was in Dongo, on 27 April 1945, that Il Duce, Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), Prime Minister of Italy (1922 – 1925), Dictator of Italy (1925 – 1943), Dictator of the Italian Social Republic (1943 – 1945) and the founder of fascism, was, along with other fascists, fleeing from Milano towards the Swiss border, captured by Urbano Lazzaro and other partisans and held prisoner within the walls of the Palazzo Manzi for most of the night before  his last day alive.

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Ruthlessly suppressing any form of dissent in Italy, Mussolini, a greedy colonialist with delusions of creating a post-modern new Roman Empire, was directly responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 Ethiopians in his infamous Abyssinian campaign, as well as being complicit, through his alliance with Adolf Hitler, in the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883 in Dovia di Predappio, as the son of a blacksmith and a schoolteacher, a profession he tried in 1901 but swiftly abandoned.

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Above: Birthplace of Mussolini, now a museum

In 1902 Mussolini fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription.

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In Lausanne, Mussolini tried, once or twice, actually to become a member of the working class by getting a job as a labourer but discovered he didn´t like hard work.

He much preferred revolutionary literature and talking.

Mussolini preached indiscriminate violence to his Italian countrymen who were so impressed they elected him secretary of the bricklayers trade union.

Mussolini sought the company of other revolutionaries who were at the time mostly Russians who called him Benitushka.

Mussolini called himself an “apostle of violence”.

He never washed, seldom shaved and lived where he could.

The Swiss police watched him and arrested him several times for vagrancy.

Mussolini watched himself playing the great role he was inventing as he went along, hammering at it with gusto.

No earnest revolutionary in Switzerland at the time was as visibly frightening as he was.

Certainly not Lenin who resembled a little professor.

Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

In his twenties, following in the footsteps of his father, Mussolini became a committed socialist, editing a newspaper called La Lotta di Classe (the class struggle), before, in 1910, becoming secretary of the local socialist Party in Forli, where he edited the paper Avanti! (forward!).

Mussolini also wrote an unsuccessful novel called The Cardinal´s Mistress.

Increasingly known to the authorities for inciting disorder, Mussolini was imprisoned in 1911 for producing pacifist propaganda after Italy declared war on Turkey.

Mussolini initially opposed Italy´s entry in the First World War, but, believing a major conflict would overthrow capitalism, he changed his mind, which saw him expelled from the Socialist Party.

Mussolini became fascinated with militarism, founding a new paper, Il Popolo d’Italia, as well as the pro-war group Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (the Revolutionary Fascist Party).

His own military service was cut short in 1917 following injuries sustained in a grenade explosion in training.

Mussolini was now a confirmed anti-socialist, convinced that only authoritarian government could overcome the economic and social problems endemic in postwar Italy, as violent street gangs (including his own Fascisti) battled for supremacy.

In March 1919, the first Fascist movement in Europe cristallised under his leadership.

His black-shirted supporters, in stark contrast to the flailing liberal governments of the time, successfully broke up industrial strikes and dispersed socialists from the streets.

Though Mussolini was defeated in the 1919 elections, he was elected to Parliament in 1921, along with 34 other fascists.

In October 1922, after hostility between left wing and right wing Groups had escalated into near anarchy, Mussolini – with thousands of his Blackshirts – staged the March on Rome, presenting himself as the only man who could restore order.

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Above: The March on Rome, 28 October 1922

In desperation, King Vittorio Emanuele III asked Mussolini to form a government.

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Above: Vittorio Emanuele III (1869 – 1947), King of Italy

Mussolini’s regime was built on fear.

By 1926, Mussolini had dismantled parliamentary democracy and stamped his personal authority on every aspect of government.

By 1928, Italy had become a one-party police state.

In 1935, seeking to make his dreams of Mediterranean domination and a North African empire, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia.

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Above: Italian artillery, Tembien, Ethiopia, 1936

His use of mustard gas there (300 to 500 tonnes), followed by the vicious suppression of a rebellion against Italian rule, lead the League of Nations (the precursor to today´s United Nations) to impose sanctions on Italy.

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Above: Flag of the League of Nations, HQ in Geneva (1920 – 1945)

Increasingly isolated, Mussolini left the League and allied himself with Hitler in 1937, emulating the Führer in pushing through a series of anti-Semitic laws.

It soon became clear, however, that Mussolini was the minor partner in the relationship, Hitler failing to consult him on almost all military decisions.

After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Mussolini ordered the Invasion (7 – 12 April 1939) of neighbouring Albania, his troops easily brushing aside the tiny army of King Zog.

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Above: Italian troops in Albania

In May 1939, Hitler and Mussolini declared a Pact of Steel, pledging to support the other in the event of war.

Italy did not enter the Second World War until the fall of France in June 1940, when it looked like Germany was on course for a quick victory, but the Italian war was a total disaster.

For all the puffed-up militarism of his regime, Mussolini´s army was disastrously unprepared for war on this scale.

Following the Allied arrival on the shores of Sicily in June 1943, Mussolini´s fascist followers abandoned him and had him arrested, only for German commandos to rescue him from imprisonment and place him at the head of a puppet protectorate, the Italian Social Republic based at the town of Salo near Lago Garda in the north of Italy.

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Above: Flag of the Italian Social Republic (1943 – 1945)

By 1944, the Salo Republic was threatened not only by the Allies advancing from the south bit also internally by Italian anti-fascist partisans in a brutal conflict that was to become known as the Italian Civil War.

Slowly fighting their way up the Italian peninsula, the Allies took Roma and Firenze in the summer of 1944 and later that year began advancing into northern Italy.

With the final collapse of the German army´s Gothic Line in April 1945, total defeat for the Salo Republic was imminent.

From mid-April 1945, Mussolini based himself in Milano, taking up residence in the city´s Prefecture.

At the end of the month, the partisan leadership, the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CLNAI) declared a general uprising in the main northern cities as the German forces retreated.

With the CLNAI´s assumption of control in Milano and the German army about to surrender, Mussolini fled the city on 25 April and attempted to escape north to Switzerland.

Above: Mussolini abandoning the Prefecture in Milan, 25 April 1945. This photo is believed the last photo of Mussolini alive.

On the same day as Mussolini left Milano, the CNLAI declared:

“The members of the fascist government and those fascist leaders who are guilty of having suppressed constitutional guarantee, destroyed the people´s freedoms, created the fascist regime, compromised and betrayed the country, bringing it to the current catastrophe are to be punished with the penalty of death.”

(CLNAI Decree, 25 April 1945)

On 27 April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci, together with other fascist leaders, were travelling in a German convoy near the village of Dongo.

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Above: Claretta Petacci (1912 – 1945)

A group of local communist Partisans led by Pier Luigi Bellini delle Stelle and Urbano Lazzaro attacked the convoy and forced it to halt.

The Partisans recognised one Italian fascist leader in the convoy, but not Mussolini at this stage, and made the Germans hand over all the Italians in Exchange for allowing the Germans to proceed.

Eventually Mussolini was discovered slumped in one of the convoy vehicles.

Lazzaro later said:

“His face was like wax and his stare glassy, but somehow blind.

I read utter exhaustion, but not fear.

Mussolini seemed completely lacking in will, spiritually dead.”

The partisans arrested Mussolini and took him to Dongo, where he spent part of the night in the local barracks in the Palazzo Manzi.

In all, over 50 Fascist leaders and their families were found in the convoy and arrested by the partisans.

Aside from Mussolini and Petacci, 16 of the most prominent of them would be summarily shot in Dongo the following day and a further 10 would be killed over two successive nights.

Fighting was still going on in the area around Dongo.

Fearing that Mussolini and Petacci would be rescued by fascist supporters, the partisans drove them, in the middle of the night, to a nearby farm of a peasant family named De Maria.

They believed this would be a safe place to hold them.

Mussolini and Petacci spent the rest of the night and most of the following day there.

On the evening of Mussolini´s capture, Sandro Pertini, the socialist partisan leader in northern Italy, announced on Radio Milano:

“The head of this association of delinquents, Mussolini, while yellow with rancour and fear and trying to cross the Swiss frontier, has been arrested.

He must be handed over to a tribunal of the people so it can judge him quickly.

We want this, even though we think an executive platoon is too much of an honour for this man.

He would deserve to be killed like a mangy dog.”

“Everyone dies the death that corresponds to his character.”

(Benito Mussolini, 1932)

Luigi Longo, a senior communist in Milano, instructed a communist partisan of the General Command, Walter Audisio, to go immediately to Dongo…

Above: Walter Audisio (1909 – 1973)

Go and shoot him (Mussolini)”.

Longo asked another partisan, Aldo Lampredi, to go as well because Longo thought Audisio was “impudent, too inflexible and rash”.

Audisio and Lampredi left Milano for Dongo early on the morning of 28 April to carry out Longo´s orders.

On arrival in Dongo, they met Bellini delle Stelle, the local partisan commander, to arrange for Mussolini to be handed over to them.

In the afternoon, Audisio, with other partisans, drove to the De Maria farmhouse to collect Mussolini and Petacci.

After they were picked up, they drove a short distance to the village of Giulino de Mezzegra.

So did we 72 years and 64 days later.

At the entrance of the Villa Belmonte on the narrow road XXIV maggio, Mussolini and Petacci were told to get out and stand by the Villa´s wall.

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Audisio then shot them at 1610 hours, with a submachine gun.

Above: The French-made MAS-38 submachine gun, used by Walter Audisio to shoot Benito Mussolini, National Historical Museum, Tirane, Albania

My wife was tired and impatiently wanting to get to Como and our B & B.

I took photos of the execution site.

We drove on.

In the evening of 28 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and the other executed fascists were loaded onto a van and trucked south to Milano.

On arriving in the city in the early hours of 29 April, the bodies were dumped on the ground in the Piazzale Loreto, a suburban square near the main railway station.

The choice of location was deliberate.

Fifteen partisans had been shot there in August 1944 in retaliation for partisan attacks and Allied bombing raids.

Their bodies had then been left for public display.

The fascist bodies were left in a heap and by 2100 hours a considerable crowd had gathered.

The corpses were pelted with vegetables, spat at, urinated on, shot at and kicked.

Mussolini´s face was disfigured by beatings.

An American eyewitness described the crowd as “sinister, depraved, out of control.”

After a while, the bodies were hoisted up onto the metal girder framework of a half-built Standard Oil service station, and hung upside down on meat hooks to protect the bodies from the mob.

Above: Piazza Loreto, Milano, 29 April 1945. Mussolini (second from left), Petacci (middle)

At about 1400 hours, the American Military authorities, who had arrived in Milano, ordered the bodies be taken down and delivered to the city morgue for autopsies to be carried out.

On 30 April, an autopsy was carried out on Mussolini at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Milano.

Mussolini had been shot with nine bullets.

His body now rests at his place of birth in Dovia di Predappio.

A monster long dead, an apostle of violence long removed, the undignified deaths of Mussolini (age 62) and Petacci (age 33) linger in bad memory.

We hoped Como would find our smiles for us again….

Sources: Wikipedia / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Simon Sebag Montefiore, Monsters: History´s Most Evil Men and Women

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Forces of Darkness

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 September 2017

Sometimes you have to borrow from the best, to raise yourself up from the shoulders of the great.

Being the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, with much focus paid on this event and Swiss connections to it, I have found too much too interesting to ignore.

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What follows is a paraphrasing, meant in the spirit of plagirism as a form of flattery, of a part of Catherine Merridale`s great history, Lenin on the Train.

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As this blog does not generate money and as I only wish to whet people´s appetites for Merridale´s amazing writing I hope I can be forgiven for borrowing heavily from this book, often in her own words.

There is almost as much instability across the planet today as there once was in Lenin´s day.

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The great powers are still working hard to ensure they stay on top.

One technique still being used, since direct military engagement is often too expensive, is to help and finance local rebels, some of whom are on the ground, some of them who must be dropped in like Lenin in April 1917.

Think of South America in the 1980s.

Think of the dirty wars in Central Asia.

Think of the current conflicts in the Islamic world.

The history of the intrigue of getting Lenin to Russia to lead a revolution is not unique.

Great powers always plan and scheme and manipulate.

Great powers are often wrong.

As said in previous posts (See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead and Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement of this blog.), I spoke of how Lenin ended up in exile in Switzerland and how he began to grab attention and notoriety amongst both socialists and non-socialists.

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Above: Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Finally, now let us look at how Germany plotted to destroy the Tzar.

World War One, then called The Great War, or The War to End All Wars, was a global conflict that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918, and involved over 70 million military personnel, including 60 million European soldiers.

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By war´s end, over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians would be killed, including mass executions of entire groups of people (Armenians: 1.5 million, Assyrians:750,000, Greeks: 900,000, and Maronite Christians: 200,000).

What marked this war significantly different from previous wars was the increased sophistication in industrial and military technology and the use of bloody trench warfare.

Map of Europe focusing on Austria-Hungary and marking central location of ethnic groups in it including Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles.

The War began with a conflict between two trios of states: the Triple Alliance of the German Empire and Austria – Hungary versus the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

By war´s end, the Alliance would include the Ottoman Empire and other satellite states, while the Entente would expand to include Commonwealth nations (like Canada, Australia and New Zealand), Italy, Japan and the United States, along with Slavic allies of Russia.

When war first broke out, both sides were convinced it would be a short, decisive battle.

No one had anticipated a war of attrition.

By the start of 1917, the relative equality of the armies meant that neither side could score a decisive victory.

No one dreamed it would become a war that would draw in all the major powers of the world and cause death on an unimaginable scale.

All countries suffered in the War, of course, but Russia seemed to suffer most.

By the end of 1916, the Russian army had sustained more than 5 million casualities – killed, missing or wounded.

Long queues outside food shops were common.

Everyone had to make do.

Nothing was working as it should, from transport to the army General Staff, from the Russian police to the delivery of coal supplies.

The political machinery had completely stalled.

There was no directing will, no plan, no system, and there could not be any.

Russia was heading for disaster like a car speeding towards a cliff.

Since he had taken personal command of the Russian army in August 1915, spending more and more time at his headquarters near the front, Tsar Nicholas II had lost whatever knack he ever had for leadership.

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Above: Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

He ignored the Duma (Russia´s Parliament) while stuffing his council of ministers with people so talentless that they were almost comical.

The capital, Petrograd, was gripped by the fear of what were called “dark forces”.

It was whispered that the Germans had a foothold at Court, their goal to persuade Russia to withdraw from the War.

Germany had to fight the War on two fronts: on the Western Front against France and the UK; on the Eastern Front against Russia.

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Above: Flag of the German Empire (1871 – 1918)

If Russia withdrew, Berlin could focus all its troops along a single front, crushing the French and the British like gnats.

Withdrawing from the War was enticing….

“The conditions of life have become so intolerable, the Russian casualities so heavy, the ages and classes subject to military service so widely extended, the disorganisation and untrustworthiness of the government so notorious that it is not a matter of surprise if the majority of ordinary people reach at any peace straw.

Personally, I am convinced that Russia will never fight through another winter.” (British Secret Intelligence Service´s Sir Samuel Hoare, cable to London, 26 December 1916)

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Above: Samuel Hoare (1880 – 1959)

The mass of the Russian population was struggling.

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Above: Flag of the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917)

Russia was critically short of the commodities that people need in times of war, especially pharmaceutical products and dressings, thermometers and contraceptives.

The winter of 1916 – 17 was hungrier than any since the War began.

Factory workers, forced to queue for basic goods and work in bitter cold, grew anxious and angry.

The bitter cold, at 38 degrees below, seemed to paralyse all life.

At this time of inflation, workers found their wages dwindling as the labour force was augmented with unskilled women from the villages, who had no concept of collective bargaining.

Although a striker could face deportation to the front or years of hard labour in penal camps, the number of strikes increased as prices rose.

243 strikes had been recorded in Russian cities in 1916, but the number exceeded a thousand in the first two months of 1917 alone.

The atmosphere was so poisonous that many officers, reluctant to shoot their own people, began asking to be sent to the front to avoid a posting in the Petrograd garrison.

“The outstanding feature, unique in the history of Russia, is that all sections of society are united against the small group – half Court, half bureaucracy – that is attempting to keep the complete control of government in its hands.” (Sir Samuel Hoare)

“A palace coup was openly spoken of, and at dinner at the (British) Embassy a Russian friend of mine declared that it was a mere question whether both the Emperor and Empress or only the latter would be killed.” (British Ambassador to Russia Sir George Buchanan)

Above: George Buchanan (1854 – 1924)

When the Duma´s new session opened on 1 November 1916, reformer Paul Miliukov listed the many misdeeds of the prior few months, pausing to ask, with theatrical repetition, whether the House considered it to be a case of “stupidity or treason”.

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Above: Paul Miliukov (1859 – 1943)

Miliukov´s answer was damning:

“The consequences are the same.”

Even the imperial secret police, the Okhrana, grudgingly reported that “the hero of the hour is Miliukov.”

Many Russians believed that the Empress Alexandra, born in Germany as Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, was a German agent, but Buchanan dismissed the idea:

“She is not a German working in Germany´s interests, but a reactionary who wishes to hand down the autocracy intact to her son.”

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Above: Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918)

Her interference in ministerial appointments, however, had turned her into “the unconscious tool of others, who really are German agents.” (Buchanan)

The Germans, indeed, had their own plans for Russia, but with the outbreak of the War when their diplomats had been expelled and their businessmen and engineers deported and their list of Russian contacts shrunk, they had almost no real friends at Court.

There had been moves to exploit the family loyalities of the Empress Alexandra by having her be reminded of the overwhelming force of German arms and of the needless suffering that Russian soldiers might so easily be spared.

But the Germans underestimated the extent of her loyalty to Russia.

Alexandra was genuinely sad about the bloodshed, but she made no move to stop the War.

And her patronage and admiration of the monk Rasputin, with his murder, on 30 December 1916, dealt a further blow to German interests, the doors to the Court were even more firmly closed against them.

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Above: Grigori Rasputin (1869 – 1916)

The chances of a German-inspired palace coup had never been particularly strong, however, and as they weighed the options for disrupting Russia`s military campaign, the experts in Berlin considered another alternative: fomenting social discontent.

Nationalist movements had been simmering on the fringes of the Russian Empire for decades.

There were plenty of secret clubs and underground societies from which to choose.

The problem was to avoid wasting scarce resources on romantic fools.

The uprising of 1905 had shown what havoc Russia´s working class could wreak.

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Strikes and rioting had forced the Tsar to end the Russo-Japanese War.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

Although fomenting revolution was a dangerous idea – Germany had socialists of its own. – the prospect of a bit of inconclusive civil chaos in Russia appealed.

Russia had a network of home-grown revolutionaries, known troublemakers who could do the job.

With the aid of local sympathisers and strategic double agents, officials in Berlin began to assemble a picture of the Russian revolutionary movement, and especially of its emigré wing, the exiles who had fled the tsarist Empire in the pre-War years.

The most promising was based in Switzerland.

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Above: The flag of Switzerland

Gisbert von Romberg, Berlin`s minister in Bern, had a long-standing interest in Russia and knew far more about the Russian revolutionary underground than his British or French counterparts.

Romberg knew most exiled socialists would be content to sit in Switzerland indefinitely, continuing their arguments about the character of bourgeois government and the moral value of religion.

He needed a hardline group that was more than just a gang of posturing thugs.

The Russians he needed were all marooned in western Europe.

If the idea was to exploit their hostility to tsarism, they could not be allowed to guess how much the Germans might be helping them.

An open acceptance of help from a government whose armies were slaughtering Russians was political suicide.

The first ray of hope came in January 1915….

The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin received a telegram from Ambassador Hans von Wangenheim in Constantinople (present day Istanbul).

Above: Baron Hans von Wangenheim (1859 – 1915)

A Belarussian businessman, Alexander Helphand, aka Parvus, had a plan for the destruction of the Tsar.

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Above: Alexander Parvus (1867 – 1924)

“The interests of the German government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries.” (Parvus)

Parvus believed that they should contaminate Russian troops with anti-tsarist propaganda before they were sent to the front and he proposed a congress of the Russian revolutionaries in exile to get them acting as a unified group.

“Parvus was unquestionably one of the most important of the Marxists at the turn of the century….fearless thinking….wide vision….and a virile muscular style.” (Leon Trotsky)

In March 1915, Parvus was summoned from Constantinople to Berlin to meet Kurt Riezler, the German Foreign Minister.

Parvus drafted a report, “Preparations for a political mass strike in Russia”, the blueprint for revolution.

It was magnificent, promising everything from separatist uprisings in Ukraine and Finland to a strike wave among Russian sailors to be launched from Constantinople.

The Russian mass strike, an epic undertaking that would paralyse the war effort, would be organised under the slogan “Freedom and Peace”.

The goal was nothing less than to “shatter the colossal political centralisation which is the embodiment of the tsarist empire and which will be a danger to world peace for as long as it is allowed to survive.” (Parvus)

Just days after war had been declared in 1914, Estonian Alexander Kesküla turned up at the German Legation in Bern.

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Above: Poster of the 1997 Estonian/Russian film where Alexander Kesküla is the main character

Like Parvus, Kesküla loathed the Russian Empire.

As a nationalist, Kesküla dreamed of putting Estonia on the European map.

Kesküla also had credentials as a revolutionary socialist, having joined the Bolsheviks in 1905.

Kesküla quickly built up a set of contacts in the underground and met Lenin for the first time in September 1914.

In the guise of a Marxist comrade, Kesküla hung around the fringes of the Russian exile colony.

Of its divisions, only one group, Kesküla reported back to Romberg in September 1915, was willing, ready and able to bring down Russian imperial rule.

“In Kesküla´s opinion, it is essential that we should spring to the help of Lenin´s movement in Russia at once. 

He will report on this matter in person in Berlin. 

According to his informants, the present moment should be favourable for overthrowing the government, but we should have to act quickly….” (Romberg to the Chancellor, 30 September 1915)

Pacifism had become a common response to the War among young people on the left, but Lenin was different.

Above: Bolshevik political cartoon poster, showing Lenin sweeping away monarchs, clergy and capitalists (1920)

“An oppressed class which does not strive to learn the use of weapons, to practice the use of weapons, to own weapons, deserves to be mistreated….

The demand for disarmament in the present day world is nothing but an expression of despair.

He is not a socialist who does not, in times of imperialist war, desire the defeat of his own country.” (Lenin)

Lenin predicted a revolution throughout the world, a series of coordinated, pitiless and violent campaigns that would annihilate both capitalism and imperialism forever.

The bourgeoise would have to die, the big country estates would burn, and everywhere the slave owners would face enslavement themselves.

“Lenin did not plan invasions from the outside, but from the inside.

Every revolutionist must work for the defeat of his own country.

The chief task was to coordinate all the moral, physical, geographical and tactical elements of the universal insurrection, to join together all the hatreds aroused by imperialism across the five continents.

Lenin wrote as though thousands awaited his command, as though a typesetter was standing outside the door.

This man would not content himself with peace talks or a plan for social ownership of factories.

His aim was to destroy the very system that created war.” (Valeriu Marcu)

Above: Valeriu Marcu, Romanian poet / Lenin´s first biographer (1899 – 1942)

“Lenin is the only man of whom revolution is the preoccupation 24 hours a day, who has no thoughts but of revolution, and who in his sleep dreams of nothing but revolution.” (Pavel Axelrod)

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Above: Pavel Axelrod, Russian Menshevik (1850 – 1942)

Valeriu Marcu wrote that, by 1916, “the whole Bolshevik Party consisted of a few friends who corresponded with Lenin from Stockholm, London, New York and Paris”.

But the Bolshevik picture inside Russia was not as bad as either Lenin or Marcu imagined.

Although the tsarist police, the Okrana, had battered at the Russian underground for years, most commentators on the spot believed the Bolsheviks to be the best organised and most determined of the surviving socialist factions, with a predominantly young and relatively educated membership that continued to recruit new members despite the ever-darkening political atmosphere.

But soon dramatic changes in Russia would propel the Germans to find a leader who could control and dominate these changes….

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In the historical comedy film All My Lenins, Kesküla sees his great historical chance and intends to use Lenin´s leftist radicals in forwarding the Russian Revolution.

He elaborates manic grandiose plans to exterminate Russia forever and build upon it the Empire of Great Estonia.

At first, Kesküla acts between Lenin and the German government to use German money to ignite revolutionary flames in Russia

Kesküla and the German Foreign Ministry make a deal to support Lenin financially: to pay for the brochures, leaflets and books of the Bolsheviks.

Lenin accepts German help.

The Germans place their superspy Müller as the coordinator of the project.

Kesküla and Müller educate five Russian men as Lenin´s doppelgängers.

They want to be sure they can replace the real Lenin any moment something happens to him.

Doppelgängers are funny but dangerous.

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They could replace you any moment that anyone notices you seem to be inconvenient.

Perhaps Russian interference isn´t limited to the 2016 US elections.

Perhaps they too have doppelgängers or clones of the Donald that could replace him when Trump becomes inconvenient to Russia.

I think I speak for many millions of people around the world when I say to Russia….

Send in the clones.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train