Canada Slim and the Lakeside Pilgrimage

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 April 2018

For quite some time in this, what has become my travel blog, I have written about my adventures and discoveries retracing the paths and the life story of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwengli (between accounts of travels in London, Italy and Serbia).

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

Using Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhuas nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch as a guide to what routes I should follow to retrace Zwengli´s steps, I have, of this date of writing already completed the itinerary they suggest.

I have already written about my walks from Wildhaus (where Zwingli was born) to Strichboden, Arvenbüel, Weesen (where he went to school), Glarus (his first posting as a priest), Einsiedeln (his second post) to Wadenswil on the Lake of Zürich.

(See Canada Slim and…. the Privileged Place, the Monks of the Dark Forest, the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul, the Thundering Hollows, the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I also included descriptions of former visits to Basel and Vienna (where Zwingli did his University studies).

(See Canada Slim and….the Vienna Waltz and the Basel Butterfly Effect of this blog.)

What remains to be told, and I hope you will enjoy the telling of the walks that follow as much as I enjoyed the walks, are the accounts of my walk along the shores of the Zürichsee from Wädenswil to Zürich (where Zwingli did his third and final posting as a priest and church reformer) and from Zürich to Kappel am Albis (where Zwingli was killed in battle).

I will also include, in a future post, a visit to Geneva, home to the International Red Cross Museum and the International Museum of the Reformation, both crucial to an understanding of the life and times of Zwingli and the effects he, and those who followed his example, had on both Switzerland and the world.

To those gentle readers new to my blog seeking to understand both why I did these walks and why I feel it important to write about these walks and the life of Zwingli….

I walk because I believe that walking remains the superior way to discover a place.

I write about where I travel, including not just what is but also what was, to extend (I hope) the horizons of my readers and cause them to appreciate what a rich, diverse and wonderful world we share and the hard lessons learnt and still being learnt that have led and continue to lead us towards a better tomorrow.

Lofty goals for a humble blogger, eh?

 

Wädenswil to Kilchberg, 27 November 2017

The basin in which Lake Zürich is found was formed 12,000 years ago by the Linth glacier.

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(It was a Tuesday.)

The rugged Romans, the adventurous Alemanni and the hearty Hapsburgs all valued this picturesque, fruitful legacy of ice equally and fought to keep the independently minded Swiss from rightfully claiming it as their own.

Today it is one of the world´s most privileged, coveted and envied residential areas.

There is a walking path system that encircles the Lake.

The 124-kilometre Lake Zürich Trail (Zürichsee Rundweg / Swiss Trail 84) is divided into 10 sections, but only on Section 3 (Horgen – Richterswil) does the Trail leave glimpsing the Lake from above and afar and actually skirt the lakeshore itself.

It is certainly possible that Zwingli may have followed the shoreline himself as he made his way from Einsiedeln to Zürich, but there is little to remind the wanderer of the Reformation until the City of Zürich itself.

That being said, there is much of interest to see and do for the informed visitor, for though the Steiners´ 20-kilometre itinerary from Wädenswil to Zürich is not intensely Zwingli/Reformation-connected, the region offers plenty of enjoyment and surprising contrasts.

After three train rides from Landschlacht (via Romanshorn and Zürich), I began to walk from Wädenswil harbour beside the SBB Station heading north to Zürich.

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Wädenswil is the kind of place that doesn´t immediately spring to mind when one thinks “excitement“.

Rather the harbour inspired within the jukebox of my mind the song “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay“.

But a little research picked up some interesting tidbits about the town´s tumultuous past.

 

The new Wädenswil chateau, once the seat of the powerful Wädenswil Council, was razed by the French on 24 March 1804 as part of the Bockenkrieg (Bocken War), a farmer/peasant revolt against the French occupation of the Swiss Confederation (1803 – 1815).

The ruins of the old Wädenswil Castle give scant reminder of the powerful Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem who once resided here.

The house Abendstern (evening star) is the main setting of Der Gehülfe (The Assistant) of Swiss writer Robert Walser.

(For more on Robert Walser, please see Canada Slim and the Last Walk of Robert Walser of this blog.)

(An excellent book though I have yet to find it in a English translation.)

 

Hoffnungsweg 7 (Hope Way) was the birthplace of Swiss poet Karl Stamm (1890 – 1919).

Above:  Karl Stamm (2nd from left), on his right, the future painter Eduard Gubler

The 7th of nine children, Karl lost both his favourite brother and his mother during his childhood.

These deaths marked his psychology and his later creative work.

After attending a teachers´ seminary in Küsnacht, Karl taught primary school in the village of Lipperschwandi (1910 – 1914) and Zürich (1914, 1919).

During the First World War, Karl served on active duty on the Swiss border against possible German or Austrian invasion.

He, like millions worldwide, died of influenza (the Spanish flu), in Zürich in 1919.

(For more on the 1919 influenza pandemic, please see Downtime: Pandemic of my other blog Building Everest.)

The poetry he produced in his short lifetime was powerful and patriotic.

Sadly he is mostly forgotten by the Swiss he so passionately defended in lyrics and is an unknown to the world beyond the Swiss borders he so fervently guarded with his life.

 

I continue to hug the shoreline of Lake Zürich.

It is a very pleasant springlike day as I embrace the beauty of the Lake close and personable.

Being midweek I meet few people along the pathways and the ducks bobbing about seem relaxed and undisturbed by the lone hiker strolling by.

I skirt old factories and new developments that seem relentlessly determined to connect themselves to the urban sprawl that is Zürich, the New York City of Switzerland.

Happily the Zürich building craze has yet to reach the Au Peninsula, five kilometres “up” the Lake from Wädenswil.

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On the west side of the Peninsula is a chateau with a romantic park along the Lake.

Further back there are vineyards, beech woods and a pond of undisturbed reeds.

Au was one of numerous sites of prehistoric pile dwellings found around the Zürichsee.

The half-square kilometre large Peninsula is first mentioned in 1316 and was once owned by the Knights Hospitalier.

It was sold by the Knights in 1550 and was later acquired by the Swiss military officer Hans Rudolf Wertmüller (1614 – 1677) who a century later built the villa-style Au Chateau as a country home.

Above: Hans Rudolf Wertmüller (1614 – 1677)

The German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803) spent eight months in this region in 1750 and would nine years later immortalize Au in his “Ode to the Lake of Zürich“.

Above: Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803)

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898), Swiss poet and historical novelist, would revive the memory of both Au and Wertmüller in his novel Der Schuß von der Kanzel (The Shot from the Pulpit) in 1878.

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Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

(More about Meyer later….)

 

Au would again receive frequent praise from another famous resident, the German social worker/Communist/writer Luise “Mentona” Moser (1874 – 1971).

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Above: Mentona Moser (1874 – 1971)

Mentona was born in Badenwiler to the Baroness Fanny Louise von Sulzer-Wart of Winterthur and Swiss watchmaker/industrialist Heinrich Moser of Schaffhausen.

When Fanny and Heinrich married in 1870, the union created scandal as she was 23 and he was 65, despite both of them being from the upper echelons of society.

Heinrich had five children by his first wife who died 20 years before he married Fanny.

The children of Heinrich´s first wife did not accept Fanny, and when Heinrich died four days after Mentona was born, Fanny was accused of killing him, as his death made her one of the wealthiest women in Europe.

Though two autopsies showed no foul play in Heinrich´s death, suspicion continued.

Fanny had a mental breakdown and was one of the five women included in Sigmund Freud´s Studies on Hysteria, which launched his career.

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Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

In 1887, Fanny bought Au Chateau and entertained lavishly, putting the care of her children in the hands of a nursemaid.

The relationship between Fanny and Mentona was strained as Mentona felt that her mother preferred her older sister also named Fanny.

Mentona lived in an imaginary world in which her father became the object of near hero worship.

As was typical for people in her class, Mentona was taught both English and French by governesses.

During 1888 and 1889, Mentona, with her family, travelled to various spa towns across Europe and wintered on the Adriatic coast, while the Chateau was being renovated and her mother was being treated by Freud.

Mentona found the frivolous lifestyle tedious and became convinced that her mother´s problems were caused by her lack of social service.

She studied zoology in Zürich and Wimbledon.

While in England she was struck by the conditions of the poor of Southwark and became involved with social work.

She spent time in workhouses and later worked in a cottage hospital as a nurse, but found the work overtaxing.

In 1903, Mentona decided to return to Switzerland.

That same year, Mentona´s sister Fanny married Jaroslav Hoppe.

Feeling her presence at Au was barely tolerated, Mentona moved into a student apartment in Zürich and began giving lectures on public welfare.

She began publishing such works as Contributions to the Charity and Social Assistance in their Practical Application.

She founded an association for the blind and the first social welface office to assist patients with tuberculosis.

By 1904, Mentona had moved into an apartment with Dr. Clara Willdenow and her friend Pauline Bindschedler at Kreuzstrasse 44.

Mentona and Clara became lovers.

Mentona submitted plans to the city council for labour settlements in Zürich.

In 1907, she developed plans for a School for Social Work.

She also developed playgrounds, working with Zürich´s construction manager, Dr. Hermann Balsiger.

Mentona joined the Socialist Party and travelled to party meetings in other countries to study worker cooperatives.

At a party meeting in Davos, Mentona began developing a relationship with Hermann, which eventually led to her breakup with Clara.

In January 1909, Mentona and Hermann married and had their first child, a daughter named Amrey, on Christmas Eve that year.

Two years later, she gave birth to their son Edouard.

Though initially enamored of her grandchildren, Mentona´s mother quickly lost interest.

As part of Fanny´s estate was lost in a relationship with a much younger man and convinced she was now a pauper, Fanny cut off all financial support to her daughter.

The austerity of World War I and the need to take Edouard for spinal treatments in various spas began to distance Mentona and Hermann from one another.

Hermann became a judge while Mentona moved farther left towards Communism.

They divorced in 1917.

To earn income, Mentona took a job at Pro Juventute, managing maternal and infant care for the next five years.

In 1921 she co-founded the Communist Party of Switzerland and began speaking and writing about Communist activities.

She became an advocate for women´s suffrage and opened a clinic for contraception in Zürich.

Concerned by increasing conflict with fellow Swiss Communists and her political radicalism putting her Pro Juventute position at risk, Mentona left Zürich for Berlin in 1924.

She is buried in Berlin and is recognized today as one of the founders of social work in Switzerland.

Her homeland and her years in Au were fondly recalled in her autobiography, Ich habe gelebt (I have lived).

 

At the foot of the Peninsula, in a converted barn on the perimeter of a vineyard cultivated by the Zürich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), is the Weinbaumuseum am Zürichsee.

This winemaking museum contains a valuable collection of all the varied items needed for wine production.

A showpiece of the collection is a 13-meter long / 120-year old wine press.

Bildergebnis für weinbaumuseum am zürichsee

I wander about the Peninsula wondering if I will meet Adolf Hitler.

For somewhere on the half-island, German actor Bruno Ganz (b. 1941) has his summer home here (as well as residences in Venice and Berlin).

Bruno, who has acted in both English and German languages, has achieved fame through his roles in Wings of Desire, The Boys from Brazil, Ripley´s Game, Faust, The Reader and Downfall (as the Führer).

Bruno´s Hitlerian rants have swept the Internet as memes.

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Bruno remained invisible and distant to me during my Au visit and I lacked the courage to ask the locals where his retreat could be found.

Besides, the point of a retreat is to be away from others.

I stroll away from Au and later have lunch at the Restaurant Imperial just south of the town of Horgen.

 

Horgen (population: 20,000) is one of the largest towns on the shores of Lake Zürich and is memorable for a number of reasons for both the tourist and the amateur historian.

The Bergbaumuseum (coal mining museum), in the former coal storage depot, informs visitors about the centuries old history of coal mining in Horgen-Käpfnach.

Films, panels and numerous exhibits give the visitor an understanding of the formation and mining of coal.

A ride on the old railway into the depths of the mine is an adventure for adults and children alike.

Following Horgen´s 1000-year jubilee in 1952, great efforts were made to create a town museum.

In 1957 a museum was set up in the Sust (harbour warehouse).

The Wohn- und Porzellanmuseum (home and porcelain museum) has on display more than 120 sculptured statuettes and more than 300 examples of Zürich porcelain from the 18th century.

There are also paintings and miniatures from the 15th to the 19th centuries as well as graphics, drawings and landscapes from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

The remaining rooms in the house display furniture from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

The Protestant Reformed Church, built from 1780 to 1782 by Johann Jakob Haltiner, has an unusual oval nave (main axis) and is the major landmark of the town as the church´s elegant tower is 70.5 meters high and can be seen far and wide.

Horgen has a history of celebrities.

Adele Duttweiler (1892 – 1990), the wife of, the Swiss supermarket chain Migros and the Alliance of Independents (LdU) political party founder, Gottlieb Duttweiler, was born in Horgen.

Adele Duttweiler in der 'Klubschule' - Strohhaus-Ausstellung 'Park im Grüene' 2015-06-17 17-51-08.JPG

Above: Adele Duttweiler (1892 – 1990)

As was Ernst Sieber (b. 1927), pastor and founder of Sozialwerke Pfauer Sieber, an organization for disadvantaged people to help alleviate the hardships around addiction, disease, violence and homelessness.

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Above: Ernst Sieber

Luigi Taveri (1929 – 2018), three-time Grand Prix motorcycle racing world Champion, was also born in Horgen.

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Above: Luigi Taveri (1929 – 2018)

Steve Lee, lead singer of the Swiss hard rock band Gotthard, was also born here in 1963.

He died in 2010 on Interstate 15 ten miles south of Mesquite, Nevada, when a semi struck a parked motorcycle that slammed into Lee.

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Above: Steve Lee (1963 – 2010)

Swiss by birth in Horgen, the son of Dutch parents and longtime Swedish resident, Hoyte van Hoytema (b. 1971) is famous for directing the films Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk, the James Bond film Spectre and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

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Above: Hoyte van Hoytema (far right)

It surprised me that both the Steiners´ itinerary and the Lake Zürich Trail abandon the shoreline and head upwards towards the hills that range the Sihl River.

But the shoreside walk from Horgen to Zürich quickly proved the wisdom of this breakaway decision, for much of the Lake beyond Horgen is obscured by residential and industrial real estate, and the hiker becomes a pedestrian tramping beside busy streets and racous railways.

Despite the headache-inducing traffic noises and concrete under my feet, I persevere.

I walk through unremarkable Oberrieden….

Above: Oberrieden

And come to the birthplace of a man I am not sure I like:

 

Urs Ernest Schwarzenbach, a UK-based Swiss financier whose estimated net worth at 1.0 million pounds.

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The son of a print shop owner, Urs was born in Thalwil in 1948 and raised in Küsnacht.

Above: Thalwil

Schwarzenbach set up Interexchange, the largest foreign exchange dealership in Switzerland.

Through its success, he has bought:

  • Well over 300 million pounds of property in the UK: Culham Court and Fawley Court near Henley-on-Thames, a 10,000-acre sporting estate in Scotland and the largest country estate on the Isle of Wight
  • 123,000 acres (500 square km) of farmland in New South Wales, Australia
  • Part of the Layadi Palace in Marrakech, Morocco
  • 17 million pounds of assets in the aviation field
  • The five-star Grand Hotel Dolder in Zürich, which cost him CHF 440 million

Above: The Grand Hotel Dolder

 

But can he be trusted?

 

In 2013/14 Schwarzenbach was investigated by the Federal Customs Administration (FCA) for alleged VAT (value-added tax) fraud totalling CHF 10 million and art trafficking.

Under Swiss law, owners of artworks do not have to pay import charges until works of art are formally brought into the country, i.e. they come out of storage and are officially transferred.

On Tuesday 16 April 2013, Schwarzenbach´s Hotel Dolder and nearby Galerie Gmurzynska were raided by Swiss customs officials, on the suspicion that artworks (valuing CHF 75 million) were imported without paying duty.

Zurich

The Swiss authorities seized a large number of documents during their raid.

In October 2016 the Swiss Customs Directorate finalised the case that Schwarzenbach had exported artefacts (value: CHF 130 million) and smuggled them back into Switzerland.

Schwarzenbach eventually admitted the charge but still objects to paying a fine of CHF 4 million.

Urs now lives at Culham Court and sponsored the rowing gallery of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, which is named after him.

His wife, Francesca Schwarzenbach-Mulhall is a former Miss Australia from Sydney.

They have two children and four grandchildren.

Their daughter is married and lives in St. Moritz and London.

 

There is something unsettling about that kind of wealth.

 

Zwingli´s God has been replaced by Money….

 

If Thalwil is the Temple of Money then, up the Lake towards Zürich, Rüschlikon is the Temple of Science.

Above: Rüschlikon

For it is in Rüschlikon that IBM has had its European research laboratory since 1956.

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IBM Research Zürich lab is staffed by a multicultural and interdisciplinary team of a few hundred permanent research staff members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, representing about 45 nationalities.

The Zürich lab is world-renowned for its scientific achievements:

  • Nobel Prizes in Physics (1986, 1987)
  • A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.
  • The invention of the scanning tunneling microscope
  • The discovery of high-temperature superconductivity
  • Trellis Modulation, which revolutionized data transmission over telephone lines
  • Token Ring, a standard for local area networks (LANs)
  • The Secure Electronic Transaction (SET), used for highly secure payments
  • The Java Card Open Platform (JCOP), a smart card operating system
  • SuperMUC, a super computer that is cooled using hot water
  • DOME, a super computer that is developing an IT Roadmap for the Square Kilometer Array

The lab focuses on future chip technologies: nanotechnology, fibre optics,supercomputing, data storage, security and privacy, risk and compliance, business optimization and transformation, server systems…

The lab is involved in many joint projects with universities throughout Europe, in research programs established by the European Union and the Swiss government and in cooperation agreements with research institutes of industrial partners.

Research projects are organized into three scientific and technical departments:

  • Science & Technology
  • Cloud and Computing Infrastructure
  • Cognitive Computing and Industry Solutions

 

The God of Zwingli has been replaced by Science….

 

And what lies onwards up the Lake?

The traveller, ever Zürich-bound, comes across Kilchberg….

(To be continued….)

Sources:  Wikipedia / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege

 

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Canada Slim and the Land of Long Life

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 15 April 2018

So much has gone on and is going on in my life that it is difficult for my writing to keep up the pace.

New events and new ideas crop up before I have completed writing about already started descriptions of older material.

I am much like a man walking down the street with an old girlfriend, finding himself attracted to a new girl that has suddenly crossed their path.

 

Followers of this blog may have noticed two phenomena happening:

First, I have devoted much time to my other blog Building Everest to the neglect of this one since the start of 2018.

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Second, this all-purpose, general-opinion blog has evolved into becoming a travel blog whose themes have followed the sequence of writing about Italy, London and Switzerland.

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Today I add to the sequence, inserted in alphabetical order, Serbia, where I recently spent an interesting week (4 – 9 April 2018) as a guest of my Starbucks co-worker Nesha of Belgrade.

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Six days and five nights isn´t much time to see a city, let alone an entire country.

To further complicate my explorations I was in Serbia during Orthodox Easter Week, meaning that normal visiting days Friday and Sunday found many attractions closed for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Nonetheless I spent four days and three nights in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and two days and one evening in the southen city of Nis in a most delightful and entertaining fashion.

What I discovered about Nesha´s amazing homeland has planted within me a desire to return to Serbia and a motivation to share with others the magic I discovered in the hopes that they can share this pleasure with me.

Landschlacht, Switzerland to Belgrade, Serbia, 4 April 2018

Since moving to Landschlacht eight years ago mostly every single solo journey I have taken has started at the Landschlacht Train Station, though “Train Station” might be too generous a description for the single track, small glass shelter, stop-only-on-request, train halt labelled “Landschlacht“.

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Ideally I would have preferred to walk to Serbia, but neither time nor finances permitted such a project.

I also would have preferred taking a train or bus between Switzerland and Serbia.

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But the aforementioned time issue plus the economical advantage of flying on a budget airline as compared to the costs of international train or bus travel found me this day following an itinerary of a train ride to Appenzell Ausserrhoden´s cantonal capital Herisau, riding with Nesha by car through Austria to the Munich West airport of Memmingen (Germany) and flying with Wizz Air (an English-owned, Hungarian registered budget airline) to Belgrade.

The day began as all days on the cusp of a great adventure should begin: with spring sunshine and clear views of the distant Alps.

The Thurbo (the SBB´s Thurgau branch) journey to Herisau was neither pleasant nor unpleasant in its unremarkableness.

Caramel macchiato at the Herisau café Panetarium was quickly consumed as Nesha arrived at the station as punctually as he had promised.

We drove from Herisau to the town of Rheineck where Nesha filled the car with fuel and bought a windshield sticker needed to travel Austrian roads.

Flag of Austria

Above: Flag of Austria

Bought but for some unfathomable reason not affixed to the windshield as it should have been we drove through a tiny section of Austria before following an Autobahn through the Allgäu Region to Memmingen Airport.

 

On the drive to the airport Nesha takes his role as my self-appointed guide to his homeland seriously.

He speaks of the past, desperate to salvage Serbia´s reputation from the bad press the media has given his country since the breakup of former Yugoslavia.

Above: Map of Yugoslavia (1946 – 1990)

Nesha wants me to see his homeland as more than just conflict and turmoil.

He reminds me of world-famous music festivals and top-class athletes, of rich cuisine and unusual landscapes, of friendly people and stunning scenery, of numerous nightclubs and a multitude of monasteries.

Nesha is proud and passionate about his country of ancient sites and architectural riches.

He is as independent as his fellow Serbians, who are proud to have survived and thrived as a landlocked country positioned at the crossroads of central and southeastern Europe, a major link between East and West, between capitalism and communism, between Christianity and Islam.

Flag of Serbia

Above: The flag of Serbia

Serbia has always had to fight for its survival and they have seen the rise and fall of empires around them: Rome, the Ottoman Turks, the Hapsburg Empire, the Third Reich and the Soviets.

Serbia was the dominant power in the former Yugoslavia and under Tito´s rule Yugoslavia steered an independent course, separate from both Western capitalism and Soviet communism.

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Above: Josip Broz Tito (1892 – 1980)

After Tito´s death in 1980 the multinational state disintegrated amid bitter conflict.

The last of these conflicts – the war over the secession of Kosovo – saw Serbia bombed by NATO forces for two and a half months.

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Above: The flag of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

This devastation, combined with international isolation, caused the Serbs to rise up against their leaders in the 5 October 2000 Bulldozer Revolution – a campaign of civil resistance that brought about democratic government in Serbia.

Above: Newspaper headlines of 6 October 2000

 

Nesha is proud of his surname Obrenovic, for his is a heritage of proud royal resistance.

The Obrenovic dynasty (1815 – 1903) ruled over Serbia first as princes and later kings.

They came to power through Milos Obrenovic (1780 – 1860) in the Second Serbian Uprising (1815 – 1817) against the ruling Ottoman Empire.

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Above: Prince Milos Obrenovic (1780 – 1860)

This Uprising would lead to the formation of the Principality of Serbia (1815 – 1882) and later the Kingdom of Serbia (1882 – 1918).

The Obrenovics were traditionally allied with the Austro-Hungarian Empire versus the Russian-supported Karadordevic dynasty (1804 – 1813 / 1842 – 1858 / 1903 – 1945) which would supplant and eliminate them.

The Obrenovic dynasty ended in the May Coup (10 – 11 June 1903) when the military faction known as the Black Hand stormed the Royal Palace and murdered King Alexander I (1876 – 1903) who died without an heir.

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Above: King Alexander I of Serbia (1876 – 1903)

The National Assembly of Serbia chose Petar Karadordevic (1844 – 1921) as Alexander´s successor.

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Above: King Peter I of Serbia (1844 – 1921)

Of the five Obrenovics (four, officially) who ruled Serbia, Nesha most admires Mihailo Obrenovic (1823 – 1868) who is considered to be the most enlightened ruler of modern Serbia (1839 – 1842 / 1860 – 1868) and one of the first advocates of a Balkan federation to combat the Ottoman Empire.

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Above: Prince Mihailo Obrenovic (1823 – 1868)

The ironic coincidence of Mihailo (44) dying on 10 June 1868, Alexander (26) dying on 10 June 1903 and Nesha turning 45 on 10 June 2018 is not lost on my Serbian host.

When speaking about Serbian history and heritage Nesha sighs and tells me that the only permanence Serbia has ever had is beauty.

Above: Tara National Park, western Serbia

His surname and love of country made Nesha the ideal person to lecture me on the history of Serbia throughout the drive to Allgäu Airport and to reassure me on that which worried me about our journey.

 

Listen to me, Adami!

(Adami is his term of affection for me)

Don´t worry so much!

Anything is possible in Serbia!”

 

Memmingen/Allgäu Airport (identified as FMM on my luggage tags) is an international airport outside the village of Memmingerberg near the town of Memmingen in the Swabia region of the German State of Bavaria.

Above: Memmingen/Allgäu Airport

It is the smallest of the three commercial airports in Bavaria and has the highest altitude (633 metres / 2,077 feet) of any commercial airport in Germany.

Allgäu Airport, a former USAF training base, is located 3.8 km / 2.4 miles from the centre of Memmingen and 110 km / 68 miles from the city centre of Munich (München).

(Which begs the question how this airport so distant from Munich is also known as München West.)

It has been in operation for civilian air traffic since 2008.

We travelled to this airport rather than using the international airport in Zürich because it is a hub for low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air.

It mostly features flights to European leisure and metropolitan destinations and handled over one million passengers in 2017.

 

Due to our booking our flights to and from Belgrade at different times Nesha and I don´t fly together and happily my seat over the wing of the planes gives me isolation from dealing with strangers at my elbow.

I follow a Gothic-clad teenager with luggage labelled “Irina” and sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Weird/Common” from the terminal to the plane.

I am disturbed only once by a lady passenger who, in trying to win a debate with her partner over whether Americans can pronounce her surname correctly, asks me how I would say “Cirovic´“.

(Somehow she fails to see me sporting a bright red Roots sweater with the word “Canada” splashed across my chest in brilliant white lettering.)

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

Apparently Canadians are no different than Americans in this regard.

I failed miserably in echoing the correct Serbian pronunciation.

 

Belgrade´s Nikola Tesla Airport (Aerodom Nikola Tesla) (BEG on my luggage tags) serves over 5 million passengers per year and 36 airlines at two terminals.

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Located near the town of Surcin (15 km / 9 miles from Belgrade city centre), Nicola Tesla is the 5th airport to serve Belgrade since air travel began.

At both Memmingen Allgäu Airport and Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport customs and luggage handling are painless.

With rare exception I find most airports to be unremarkably similar.

An airport is an airport is an airport.

We are happy that departure from one and arrival at the other passed quickly.

 

We are met by Nesha´s mother Jagoda (“strawberry” in Serbian) who is clearly a woman with very set ideas and opinions.

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In discussing where to have lunch (normally at 3 pm in Serbia) my glutenfree diet gets mentioned.

In broken English, Jagoda informs me that all Americans have gluten allergies, including her American son-in-law Mitch.

She drives us to Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) across the Suva River from the Serbian capital.

I am given a tour of Nesha´s childhood home.

 

Listen to me, Adami.

Here is where I slept as a child.

Here are pictures of my family.

This is my sister (She is a lawyer.) and her husband Mitch in San Diego.

Here is where Papa died last year.

God rest his soul.

 

We drink glasses of sljivovica, a rakija plum brandy, and toast one another with Ziveli! (Cheers! / Long life!) and declare life to be dobar dobar (good good).

Nothing of any real importance in Serbia is done without rakija.

Birth is celebrated with rakija.

Without rakija one does not go to war, join the army, enter a church, visit friends or hit the road.

Rakija is the drink of kings and peasants, doctors and policemen, judges and lumberjacks, politicians and priests.

Rakija cures everything.

For example, a sore throat can be cured by putting a cloth soaked in rakija on your neck, and, as always, take a shot, take two, of rajika for good measure and additional insurance.

Death itself is not without rakija.

Leave a bottle of rakija on the grave of the deceased, for even the dead drink.

Sprinkle rakija around during the funeral and the wake, not only for the delight of the dead but for the solace of the living.

 

All foreigners visiting Serbia are obliged to be registered with the police within 24 hours.

This registration is normally done automatically by hotels on checking in, but I am not staying at a hotel in Belgrade but with Nesha in his apartment.

So Jagoda drives us to the nearest police station.

Within an hour of landing in Serbia I already have a police record.

Coat of arms of Serbia

I am taken by Nesha and Mama Strawberry to a restaurant whose name translates as “Our House of Meat“.

There was pljeskavica (meat patties of pork, beef and lamb sprinkled with spices and served with onions), raznjici (shish kebabs of pork and veal), cevapcici (spiced minced meat kebabs), leskovacki cevapcici (kebabs with peppers), mesano meso (mixed grill) and many more selections too numerous to list here.

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Serbs enjoy eating meat in as many ways as there are to cook meat.

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This is not a country for the vegetarian or the health conscious.

Serbian food, while tasty and wholesome, is also heavy and greasy.

 

Listen to me, Adami.

You know that surely this cannot be found elsewhere.

 

Nesha and his mama sincerely believe that there is no place except Serbia that serves such sumptious food.

Thank the gods that you, poor stranger, found Serbia in time and have just barely escaped hunger.

But now you´ll see the originality of Serbian cuisine.

 

So the informed foreigner says nothing, for at first glance it seems there isn´t in fact such a thing as Serbian cuisine.

 

The grill comes from Arab countries.

Cevapcici, the Serbian cylindrical-shaped piece of grilled meat, comes from Turkey via Persia.

Njeguska smoked ham is a close relative of Parma ham, but in Serbia it is never eaten with melons.

Lamb is roasted on a spit, but it might be better in Greece.

Barbecued young pork meat is not a Serbian speciality.

That honour belongs to Spain and Italy.

Beans came to Serbia from Peru.

 

But wait, oh, ye cynic!

 

There is kajmak, an amazing food stuff that I have never tasted anywhere else.

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Kajmak, a salty cream cheese, is skimmed from freshly boiled milk and bears absolutely no resemblance to young cheeses, despite its appearance, such as mozzarella or sour cream.

No one knows why Serbs invented it nor why only the Serbs invented it.

It is a secret.

 

According to Belgrade writer Momo Kapor (1937 – 2010), there is an international kajmak smuggling ring conducted by Serbs who risk everything to bring this delicious dairy product to their countrymen around the world.

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Above: Momo Kapor (1937 – 2010)

The irresistible longing for kajmak is so intense that friends and relatives are beseeched to bring it to the most distant cities of the world, whether it is to the remote regions of Georgia, the Caucasus, Tibet or New York City.

I cannot in mere words describe the exquisite taste of kajmak except to say that the delightful shock that the tongue experiences when tasting kajmak for the first time has the soul hoping that Heaven has kajmak waiting for it.

Kajmak is as close to mystique and magic as any mere mortal will ever enjoy.

Ask any Serbian.

 

There is an old Serbian legend about how it was customary in medieval times for Serbians to eat with golden forks, while Western nobles of that period ate meat with their bare hands.

Until the 17th century it was deemed a transgression of relgious regulation to pierce meat with a fork.

The papal injunction against the fork was explained by the view that only fingers should be used on God´s creatures, and never forks.

The use of a fork could bring years of punishment in a dungeon or even a horrendous death.

In the 11th century Ostia Cardinal Bishop Peter Damian recited terrifying sermons against the fork in Venice, threatening Hell to those who dared use it.

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Above: Bust of Peter Damian (1007 – 1073)

When a Byzantine princess who had married into the French court was found using her small fork, she was burnt at the stake as a witch.

The Serbs, who were at the time under the political sphere of Byzantium, refused to acknowledge the papal prohibition and very much enjoyed their cutlery.

 

Serbians, if the mighty Momo can be trusted, believe milk is fundamentally incompatible with tea.

Serbs drink milk only when they are being breast-fed and tea only when they are ill.

Such perverts the English are!

 

Regarding the chicken, there are only two circumstances when it is to be eaten: either when the chicken is sick or when you are.

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In Belgrade one can find almost anything you would find in Barcelona, Beijing or Boston.

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Above: Aerial view of Belgrade

One may find all kinds of coffeehouses, cafés and restaurants in Belgrade that serve whisky, vodka, tequila and cognac.

In contrast to the Islamic world, Serbian religion allows husbands to drink as much as they wish.

Sadly their wives won´t allow for such foolishness, so perhaps Serbian husbands might as well be Muslim.

 

And no meal is complete without the cancerous contribution of a cigarette, for here not only do most Serbians smoke but smoking signs here actively encourage and proudly proclaim “Smoke here, please.”

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Serbia is the #1 country in the world for per capita cigarette consumption.

My friend Nesha has been smoking since he was a teenager and many of his friends do.

Perhaps Jagoda is now convinced that as all Americans have gluten allergies so are all Canadians non-smokers.

 

I can´t help wonder what kind of a toll this combination of rich, greasy cuisine and continuous cigarette consumption must have on the Serbian health system or on Serbian longevity.

As Serbians celebrate life with libations of liquor, cartons of cigarettes and feasts of meat, while kissing one another (as well as every icon that can be found in every religious establishment) reminders of death can be seen everywhere.

Walk down any street and read the obituaries, for notices of death, certificates of demise, are posted around every town.

Paper proofs of death (umrlica) are posted on walls, doors, poles and trees.

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The wise Serbian knows that it is not the fat nor the grease nor cigarettes that kill.

There are three things that guarantee death in Serbia:

  • Wet hair, even minor dampness, is life-threatening, if you foolishly set foot outside.
  • Draft (promaja) from cracked doors and windows – beware!
  • No socks – don´t even think about it!

 

Perhaps it is no wonder that Serbians say Ziveli! so often.

With war visiting Serbia, or so it seems, once in every generation….

With feasts of fat and gobs of grease eaten from mountains of meat….

With cancer consumed more copiously than oxygen….

With the helplessly hopeless walking the streets with wet hair….

With demented foreigners leaving drafty windows open everywhere….

With barefoot barbarians bounding across Belgrade….

The formality of wishing one another long life is not only polite.

It is necessary.

Sources: The Brandt Guide to Serbia / Emma Fick, Snippets of Serbia / Culture Smart Serbia / Momo Kapor, A Guide to the Serbian Mentality

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

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

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

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

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

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

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

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Above: Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

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

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Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

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

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

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

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

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

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

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

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

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

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

Above: The Floating Piers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

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

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Siviano

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

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

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

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

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

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

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

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

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

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

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

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

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

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

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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I hope not.

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

As good a place as anywhere.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy / http://www.comune.monteisola.it

 

 

Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 January 2018

The Common Era year 2017 ended a week ago, which means the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation also ended.

1 January 2018 was the 534th anniversary of the birth of Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss German-speaking Reformer, whose life I have been retracing on foot through the advice of Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch since 10 October 2018.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

(Please see Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows, Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect, Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz, and Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul of this blog for an account of the life of Zwingli in Wildhaus, Weesen, Basel, Vienna and Glarus and an account of my own experiences with these places.)

So, by all accounts, you, gentle Reader, should now be spared any more mention of Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland, but both Zwingli´s life and my adventures following his life did not end in Glarus.

The abovementioned book of the Steiners divides the on foot exploration of Zwingli´s life into nine stages, four of which I have walked and written about.

What follows in today´s blog is a description of my attempts to follow Zwingli from Glarus to Zürich.

There will still remain the final stage of both the book and Zwingli´s life to be followed from Zürich to his final destination of Kappel am Albis, which will be written about in a future blogpost.

I ask for the reader´s patience in retracing Zwingli´s and my footsteps, for what it is discovered en route should make for interesting reading.

(I hope.)

 

Glarus, Switzerland, 23 November 2017 (American Thanksgiving)

A man must accept his limitations or those limitations placed upon him.

Flag of Switzerland

My limitations are time (I live and work in Switzerland and obligations of my domestic life and my professional life as barista and teacher must be taken into account.), money (As much as my wife is supportive of my little pet projects she doesn´t like to see money spent too “frivolously” on overnight accommodation if a return home the same day of a hike can be arranged.) and season (Much of Switzerland´s infrastructure closed down once winter has begun and a decrease of daylight were factors that had to be considered.).

As previously mentioned in former blogposts, the Steiners don´t claim that the walking routes they recommend were actually walked by Zwingli himself, just that they lead to places where he once resided.

The Steiners recommended, in a two-stage, two-day walk, that the historic walker could walk from Glarus to Einsiedeln via the Klontalersee and the Saaspass.

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Above: Klon Valley Lake, Canton Glarus

I was keen to do so, but uncertainty as to whether these routes would be passable and visible or if they were blocked by snow, and the inability to return from the Klon Valley Lake by bus back to Glarus before darkness set in, made me reconsider the wisdom of walking to Einsiedeln in winter without the proper gear.

Arriving in Glarus and learning that buses between the Lake and Glarus were not running until April, I returned to the train station and instead decided to make the journey by train.

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Above: Glarus Railway Station

Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The small village of Einsiedeln in the hills of northern Schwyz Canton has been Switzerland´s most important site of pilgrimage for a thousand years and still draws a quarter of a million devout believers every year.

The village itself is unremarkable, but the mighty Benedictine monastery which dominates it is exceptional, and worth a detour whether you are drawn by faith or curiosity.

Einsiedeln means hermitage and is named for St. Meinrad the Hermit, a monk from the monastery of Reichenau, who withdrew to what was then wilderness known as the Dark Forest in 828 AD.

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Meinrad was born circa 800, somewhere between the German towns of Tübingen and Rottenburg.

His parents sent him to the world-famous monastic school at Reichenau, where he later entered the monastery.

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Above: Reichenau Coat of Arms

However, his true vocation was for the life of a hermit.

He withdrew into the solitude of the Dark Forest.

The spot where the Lady Chapel stands today is where Meinrad built his hermit´s cell and oratory in 835.

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He built a small chapel and living quarters and remained there 26 years until the day of his death.

And it was where he was murdered by two thieves on 21 January 861 after a life of self-denial and prayer.

They found nothing of value, because he had taken a vow of poverty and had always given away everything he received.

Two ravens that lived with Meinrad pursued the murderers and brought their crime to light.

The murderers were arrested and burnt at the stake for their crime

In commemoration of this the Abbey of Einsiedeln has since the 13th century borne two ravens on its coat of arms.

Meinrad´s body was retrieved by the monks from Reichenau and returned to their monastery, where he was reverently laid to rest.

(His body was sometime later returned to Einsiedeln where it is considered the Abbey´s most precious relic.

Meinrad´s head reposes in a silver case in the high altar of the Church.

Meinrad´s skull has got a fissure from the blow of a club.)

Following Meinrad´s death, his hermitage remained deserted for more than 40 years.

Eventually Benno, a priest from Strasbourg, settled there with a number of followers, cleared the forest and rebuilt the chapel.

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Benno and his followers built cells in the neighbourhood, living as hermits in an informal brotherly union.

In September 934, a relation of Benno named Eberhard of Nellenburg came to the Meinradzelle with a larger following and considerable financial resources and founded a Benedictine community, becoming the monastery´s first abbott.

Emperor Otto I (912 – 973) was in the process of building up a powerful empire like his great predecessor Charlemagne.

To do this he needed the support of the Church against the over-mighty princes and nobles of his realm.

Otto made bishops and abbots into worldly leaders and conferred upon them far-reaching powers and extensive landholdings.

The young monastery “in the depths of the forest” was no exception.

In the year 934 Otto signed the Document for Immediacy, making the monastery directly answerable to himself.

Abbott Eberhard invited the Bishop of Konstanz to perform the consecration of a new church on the site on 14 September 948.

The Bishop was about to do so, when a voice was heard ringing through the church, insisting three times over that God Himself had already consecrated the church.

“Desist.

God Himself has consecrated this building.”

(This Miraculous Consecration was a real time saver)

The Pope declared this to be a miracle and issued a papal bull blessing the pilgrimage to Einsiedeln.

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Above: John XI, Pope (931 – 935)

From then on, the monastery enjoyed special privilege, with large royal grants and positions of honour for the abbots.

Duchess Regenlind of Swabia and the Ottonian emperors provided the monastery with generous endowments, as the young religious community typified the monastic ideal.

This is attested by the works produced in the Abbey´s scriptorium.

This secular protection became a permanent bone of contention.

When the arch enemies of the Swiss, the Habsburgs took over the protectorship of the monastery in 1283, the conflict came to a head.

On the night of Epiphany 1314, the Swiss attacked the monastery, plundered it and held the monks captive for weeks.

The Habsburgs now had an excuse for the punitive expedition they had long planned against the Swiss.

However, this ended in a defeat for the Habsburgs at Morgarten, and after the Battle of Sempach, the Swiss forced the Habsburgs to return the protectorship of the monastery to them.

In the 13th century admission to the novitiate in Einsiedeln became restricted to the nobility, so by the late Middle Ages the Abbey´s membership had fallen sharply.

By 1286 the Chapel of Our Lady, built over the remains of Meinrad´s cell, was already a focal point.

It was adorned after a destructive fire in 1468 with a statuette of Mary with the infant Christ, carved in wood some time before 1440.

It is this figure which became the focus of pilgrimage as the Black Madonna.

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Monza, Italy, 8 – 13 September 1515

Zwingli had marched as armed chaplain for the Glarner battalion six days from the Septimer Pass to Milan and Monza.

On Saturday 8 September, Zwingli preached a sermon from the Loggia of the Palazzo del Arengario to the assembled representatives of the fighting strength, Swiss Confederation troops and additional fighting partners.

In his sermon Zwingli warned them of defeat against the French due to disagreement within the Confederation.

Above: Basilica di San Giovanni, Melegnano (formerly Marignano)

On Sunday the Pope and the leaders of the Holy League held a Council of War here.

The attack on Marignano took place on the following Thursday 13 September due to pressure from Cardinal Schiner resulting in disastrous defeat.

Above: Battle of Marignano, 13 – 14 September 1515

Zwingli experienced, at close range, the power and political decisions of the Pope´s regency and the fatal dependence of the Confederation on mercenary warfare.

He became increasingly more doubtful of the mercenary situation.

The decisive defeat of the Swiss in the Battle of Marignano caused a shift in mood at Glarus in favour of the French rather than the Pope.

Zwingli, the papal partisan, found himself in rather a difficult position and decided to retreat to Einsiedeln.

By this time, Zwingli had become convinced that mercenary service was immoral and that Swiss unity was indispensable for any future achievements.

Some of his earliest writing, such as The Ox (1510) and The Labyrinth (1516) attacked the mercenary system using allegory and satire.

His countrymen were presented as virtuous people caught within a French, imperial and papal triangle.

Zwingli stayed in Einsiedeln for two years during which he withdrew completely from politics in favour of ecclesiastical activities and personal studies and contemplation.

Later Zwingli would write:

“I started to preach the Christian Gospel in 1516.”

His Bible studies and practical experience during his decade in Glarus were decisive contributing factors.

On the eve of the Reformation, there were only two monks left in the monastery, one who occupied the office of abbott and the other of administrator.

All pastoral duties were carried out by chaplains, amongst them Huldrych Zwingli.

As people´s priest in Einsiedeln, Zwingli took the time to consider the whole.

His humanistic competence, contacts and studies for a reliable Interpretation of the Bible absorbed him.

He came to the conclusion in Einsiedeln that essential revision was necessary within the Church and the Confederation.

The guiding principle and compass for that revision had to be the message exclusively from the Bible.

“You are God´s tools.

He requires your service, not your inactivity.”

His time in Glarus and Einsiedeln was characterised by inner growth and development.

Zwingli perfected his Greek and took up the study of Hebrew.

His personal library contained over three hundred volumes from which he was able to draw upon classical and scholastic works.

He exchanged correspondence with a circle of Swiss humanists and began to study the works of Erasmus.

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Above: Desiderus Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536)

Zwingli took the opportunity to meet Erasmus when the Dutchman was in Basel between August 1514 and May 1516.

Zwingli´s turn to relative pacifism and his focus on preaching can be traced to the influence of Erasmus.

 

Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

At the beginning of the 16th century the monastery was headed towards total disintegration.

The Schwyzians, the patrons of the monastery, stepped in and turned to St. Gallen for a new abbott.

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Above: Coat of Arms of Canton Schwyz

He saved the monastery by opening up the novitiate to commoners.

The monastery complex was rebuilt from 1704 to 1726 in the most lavish of late-Baroque styles, the handiwork of monk Kaspar Moosbrugger.

The baroque Abbey was still new when the French occupied Switzerland after the Revolution.

On 3 May 1798, 6000 soldiers under General Schauenburg invaded the area, confiscated the Abbey and expelled the Abbot and monks.

On their flight to St. Gerold in Austria, they were able to take only their most valuable possessions.

Above: Benedictine monastery, Sankt Gerold, Austria

Schauenburg allowed his soldiers to plunder the Abbey and in the two weeks that followed they removed everything they could carry away.

The officers made one another presents to the magnificent horses from the Abbey stables, the library was completely sacked and the Church desecrated.

The miraculous statue of the Black Madonna was dispatched to Paris where it proved to be an imitation.

The monks had replaced the original before the arrival of the French and smuggled it to Austria.

To put a stop to pilgrimages for all time, the French then destroyed the Lady Chapel.

Three years later, after Napoleon had seized power in France, the Abbott and monks were able to return  – to a picture of devastation.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the monastery´s sphere of activities entered a period of marked growth.

In 1854 it founded the Archabbey of St. Meinrad in Indiana, and in 1925 worked to establish an agricultural school in Pfäffikon on the Lake of Zürich.

Above: St. Meinrad Archabbey Church, Indiana

In 1948 the Abbey founded the Priory of Los Toldos in Argentina.

Above: Monasterio Benedictino Santa Maria, Los Toldos, Argentina

The former small abbey school was expanded into a grammar/high school which is frequented by 300 boys and girls.

In 2008 the convent numbered 80 monks.

Einsiedeln´s train station and post office are in the town centre opposite Dorfplatz.

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Above: Einsiedeln Train Station

I headed through this square and turned left onto Hauptstrasse, following other obvious tourists flowing towards this edifice at the end of the street overlooking Klosterplatz – a ten-minute walk.

As you emerge from the cluster of the village centre, the vast Klosterplatz opens out in front.

The rather plain sandstone front of the Church, with its twin towers rising from an immense 140 metre long facade, is framed by unusual semicircular sunken arcades.

The ornate Well of Our Lady in the square taps the waters of Meginrat´s spring – pilgrims traditionally drink from each of the fourteen spouts in turn on their approach to the Church.

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The interior is breathtaking.

The nave is decorated with detailed frescoes by Cosmas Damian Asam.

Every part of the lofty white interior is detailed in lavish gold.

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An intricate wrought-iron choir screen gives into the stunning pink Rococo choir with a ceiling bedecked with animated sculptures of angels.

However the focus of all the pilgrims´ attention is the black marble Chapel of Our Lady, positioned in a huge octagonal bay just inside the main portal.

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The Black Madonna, a little over one metre tall and usually dressed in a jewelled and tasselled golden dress donated by Canton Uri in 1734, stands illuminated within.

Every day, the monks of Einsiedeln sing the anthem “Salve Regina” (“Hail to thee, oh Queen, Mother of Mercy”) in the chapel of the Black Madonna.

The Salve has been sung since 1547.

In his book Poetry and Truth, Goethe described the Chapel:

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“The little chapel in the church, the hermit´s cell inhabited by the saint, is encrusted with marble and as far as possible transformed into a decent chapel.

It was something new to me, something I had never seen before, this tiny compartment, surrounded and enclosed by pillars and domes.

It led me to think that a single spark of piety and morality had ignited an eternally burning flame to which crowds of pilgrims were to undertake their arduous journey in order to light their own candles at the holy flame.

Be that as it may, it indicates a deep longing on the part of humanity for the same light, the same warmth, such as the first hermit Meinrad drew from his deepest inner conviction.”

Pilgrims often ask:

“Why is the Madonna black?”

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There is one obvious explanation: the soot from candles, incense and oil lamps has darkened the original colour gradually through the ages.

The flight from the French did the Madonna no good either, and she suffered greatly from damp weather.

Before the Madonna returned from Austria, an artist restored the statue returning the face and hands of the Virgin and the skin of the Christ Child the colour of flesh.

Then the monks in exile set the image up for a few days for public viewing in front of the church in Bludenz.

Above: The Priory of St. Peter, Bludenz, Austria

The appearance of a black Madonna had become so popular and the disappointment so great that the artist repainted the skin black.

It would never change.

Einsiedeln remains a fully functioning monastic community of 80 priests and 20 brothers.

Mass is celebrated several times a day.

Of the many annual pilgrimage festivals, the most colourful is the Feast of the Miraculous Consecration on 14 September, which culminates in a candlelit procession around the square.

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Let me blunt.

My first gut reaction to Einsiedeln was, and mostly remains, here is yet another big fancy church.

I remember walking Jakobsweg (St. James Way) from Rapperswil to Einsiedeln.

(“Europe was created on St. James Way.”, Goethe once wrote.

He was not wrong, for the history of the St. James Way is deeply connected with the history of Europe and was therefore deemed a part of the world´s cultural heritage in 1987.

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St. James Way consists of a wide net of routes which spread across Europe like many loose threads that intertwine as they head toward Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the supposed remains of St. James were found by a hermit in a neighbouring field.)

I remember visiting Einsiedeln with my wife in the first summer we lived in Switzerland (2010) and feeling overwhelmed by the thousands of tourists that seemed to be visiting the Abbey that same day.

But I know that Einsiedeln Abbey and the town itself deserved a second look.

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Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 4 January 2018

(For more on this day, please see …and the ravens cried “Nevermore” of my other blog Building Everest.)

To the non-follower of Catholicism, the cult of Marianism (the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being divine because God decided to choose her to bear His Son, thus making her the instrument through which we can get intercession from God) seems quite strange and somewhat smacking of idolatry.

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Yet this veneration of Mary encompasses prayer, acts of piety, visual arts, poetry and music.

Popes encourage it, but are always cautioning Catholics not to confuse respect for her duty with any actual divinity said duty may have given her.

Let there be no doubt.

Einsiedeln Abbey is most definitely a Marian pilgrimage site.

In 1996, the working group Shrines of Europe was founded with the purpose of uniting Europe´s principal Marian pilgrimage sites, which now are listed as Fatima, Portugal; Altötting, Germany; Loreto, Italy; Czestochowa, Poland; Lourdes, France; Einsiedeln, Switzerland; and Mariazell, Austria.

Shrines of Europe

“At all these holy places, pilgrims hope to gain a new sense of the message given to them by their belief.

The strain and occurences which they experience on their way there give them more insight.

Their experiences at the holy place itself provide many people with new strength and energy – for the story they hear of the shrine, the rituals which are held, and the praying people all create an atmosphere in which the soul can open and find peace.”

A wet and stormy day finds me back in Einsiedeln on this my first day off after two days working.

I revisit the Abbey Church and remain impressed by the frescoes and stucco works and the gorgeous Baroque architecture.

I wonder at the devotion of the half-dozen worshippers praying by the Lady Chapel´s Black Madonna.

I will miss hearing the Gregorian Vesper at 1630 and the Salve Regina singing that will follow, but console myself with the thought of buying an audiovisual record of them in the Cloister Shop.

I view the Great Hall, the audience chamber of the monastery and can well imagine a concert filling the place with magnificent music.

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I long to visit the Abbey Library with rare manuscripts and books Dating back to the foundation of the monastery in the 10th century, but am told that the Library can only be visited as part of a large guided German-language tour.

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I risk life and limb walking treacherous ice to visit the stables behind the monastery to find lady grooms unwelcoming and horses indifferent.

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The monastery´s stables are considered to be the oldest stud farm in Europe still in operation.

The baroque stables were built between 1764 and 1767.

Einsiedeln Abbey horses were highly admired all over Europe.

In Italy they were known as the Cavalli della Madonna (the Madonna´s cavalry).

Yet there is more to Einsiedeln than just the Abbey, for it is a place not only of pilgrimage but as well culture.

See the Jerusalem Panorama that shows the Crucifixion from Good Friday until All Saints´ Day.

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See the Bethlehem Diorama illustrating the Christmas story complete with announcement-receiving shepherds, the Nativity Scene (minus a little drummer boy), the arrival of the Three Kings (no, not George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, but instead Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) and the Holy Family´s escape to Egypt, from All Saints´ Day to Epiphany.

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Cross the Devil´s Bridge, a stone bridge covered by a wooden roof on St. James Way, constructed in 1699 to transport the stones needed to construct the monastery from the quarry on the Etzel River to Einsiedeln.

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In the middle of the bridge is a statue of St. John of Nepomuk.

The famous physician Paracelsus was born close to the bridge in 1493.

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Above: Theophrastus von Hohenheim aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)

I will never again make a gingerbread latté without thinking of the Goldapfel Gingerbread Bakery Museum with its old baking utensils and wooden forms, and the sale of Schaffböcke, or pilgrim biscuits, made from flour, water, honey and spices or the brown and white filled Kräpfli or speciality gingerbread.

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In the cellar of the Bethlehem Diorama is the Museum of Minerals, a collection of over 1,000 minerals from all over the world – from Alpine quartz to colourful crystals from China and South America.

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A special feature is the flourescent cabin where inconspicuous stones reveal an unexpected blaze of colours under ultaviolet light.

The Fram Museum is an historical museum about Einsiedeln, dedicated to the most important events during the town´s long history, including the Benzinger Publishing Company and the famous physician/alchemist Paracelsus.

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And there are activities to enjoy besides museums and buildings of holy intent:

You can swim off Roblosen Beach on Lake Sihl, or in the Hallenbad indoor swimming pool or at the Alpamare water park.

Cruising on Switzerland´s largest reservoir, Lake Sihl, is an unforgettable natural experience.

Catch a movie in the cinema, play minigolf, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, enjoy a ride aboard the Blatten Garden steam train, take a tandem hang glide, indulge yourself with a luxury tour on an original Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, visit the largest and newest indoor beach volleyball complex in Switzerland or play on one of three outdoor volleyball courts.

There are bike paths and hiking trails, rope parks and rope slides, an 18-hole golf course and windsurfing on the lake.

There is a cable car, Europe´s longest hanging footbridge, a summer toboggan run, a bouncy castle and playgrounds for the kids in nearby Sattel.

Not far away in Gossau, you can visit the Landscape and Animal Park – 34 hectares that is home to more than 100 different native and European species living in almost wild conditions.

Feed the deer, see the bears, howl with the wolves.

The military buff amongst the group will be delighted to find that the Canton of Schwyz has the Reduit Defence Line, a series of more than 400 interconnected fortifications, restored and refurbished with original Equipment including Fort Grynau, antitank defences, artillery casemates, a control centre and a fire control post.

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Between Einsiedeln and the Lake of Zürich in Schindellegi, you can experience the most modern ski jumps in Switzerland and the training ground of four-time Olympic gold medal winner Simon Ammann up close and personal.

A resurrected Meinrad the Hermit probably would no longer recognize what Einsiedeln has become, but I have the distinct impression he might not be displeased at what he would see.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Monika Hanna, Der Schweizer Jakobsweg: Vom Bodensee zum Vierwaldstättersee / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Einsiedeln Tourismus / Kloster Einsiedeln

 

Canada Slim and the Lady of Lovere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 January 2018

As another New Year begins the question turns to New Year´s resolutions, to make them or avoid them, and if made what those resolutions should be.

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Above: New Year´s Eve, Sydney, Australia

For example, some of us resolve to become fitter in the following twelve months, but those that know us know better than us that the sacrifice of time, effort and money required to do so isn´t truly who we are or really want to be.

Sometimes a person can be too close to a situation to properly see it for what it is.

Two women in my life recently caused themselves and others great friction, because they never accepted that their behaviour is harmful and refused to change their behaviour, despite being warned of consequences.

In fairness to them, it is often difficult to see beyond our own perspectives, regardless of what is said to us or what happens around us.

For example, I never truly appreciated how much I am liked by some of my regular customers when two evenings ago one of them spontaneously entered the Café and gave me a hug wishing me “Happy Holidays”.

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It wasn´t until I have reflected upon this several hours later that I realised that my response might not have been as warm and welcoming to him as it should have been.

Visiting him at his place of business bearing gifts of apology and remorse for my unintended coldheartedness is the first of my New Year´s resolutions.

For every person there are also situations that trigger a kind of blindness that makes it difficult to see anything besides the emotions the situations generate.

For example, nothing makes me see red more than bullies.

So, as a result, I have the most difficult time seeing American, Turkish or Filipino politics open-mindedly, for Trump, Erdogan and Duterte strike me as being the epitome of bullies in their behaviour.

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Above: Donald Trump, 45th US President since 20 January 2017

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Above: Recep Erdogan, 12th President of Turkey since 2014, 25th Prime Minister of Turkey (2003 – 2014)

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Above: Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines since 2016

These leaders and their followers can´t see, won´t see, what they are doing is wrong and truly believe that they are doing what is best and can´t comprehend, won´t comprehend, why others don´t see things as they do.

I was reminded of this last summer when we visited Lovere…..

Lovere, Italy, 4 August 2017

The Rough Guide to Italy doesn´t love Lovere very much.

“Lago d´Iseo raises your expectations:

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Descending from Clusone, the road passes through steep gorges, thick forests and stark angular mountains, at the foot of which lies the Lake.

(For a description of Clusone, please see Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre of this blog.)

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As Iseo is the 5th largest of the northern lakes and the least known outside Italy, you would imagine it to be more undiscovered than the others but the apartment blocks, harbourside boutiques, ice cream parlours and heavy industry of Lovere put paid to any notions that Lago Iseo might have escaped either tourist exploitation or industrialization.”

Lonely Planet Italy isn´t complimentary either.

“Lago d´Iseo is the least known and least attractive of the lakes.

Shut in by mountains, Iseo is scarred by industry and a string of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere, although driving through the blasted rock face at the water´s edge can be enjoyable.” 

And herein lies the problem.

Because so many English-speaking readers trust and faithfully follow the advice given by these two popular travel guides, they fail to discover that there might be more to Heaven and Earth than is expounded by these two guidebooks´ philosophies.

Automobiles are quick, efficient and quite liberating from the quirks of predetermined routes and set schedules, but much is missed if the destination is deemed superior to the possible discoveries that can be made if one stops and explores along the journey.

My wife and I, like many other automobile travellers, were restricted by time and money to how often we could leisurely stop and explore.

And that is a shame.

For had we taken the train from Bergamo to the harbour town of Iseo then a ferry from there to Lovere, we might have discovered a town far more deserving of compliments than the aforementioned guidebooks give it credit.

Lovere is much like Lecco in that it is considered far more unremarkable than it truly is.

(For Lecco, see Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town of this blog.)

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At first glance of Lovere a person might be forgiven for thinking that somehow the road had led the traveller somehow back to Switzerland, for the houses in this town (of 5,000 residents) have overhanging wooden roofs, typical of Switzerland, yet united with the heavy stone arcades of Italy.

Lovere faces the Lago Iseo and is held in the warm embrace of a semi-circle of mountains behind.

The Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani includes Lovere as one of the I Borghi piu belli d´Italia, one of the small Italian towns of artistic and historical interest and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

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Being part of the crossroads of culture and conflict that this region has been for centuries, Lovere has seen different peoples struggle to possess it: the Celts, Romans, Lombards, Franks, the monks of the Marmoutier Abbey (Tours, France), the Bishops of Bergamo, the Republic of Venice, the Napoleonic French, the Austrians and finally Italians.

There are a few sights in town worthy of a look and a linger of a few hours: the Church of Santa Maria in Valvendra with works by Cavagna, Carpinoni and Marone; the Palazzo Tadini which is both historic palace and art gallery, with many beautiful paintings and magnificent marble sculptures, along with terracotta, porcelain, antique armaments, furniture and zoological collections; the Church of San Giorgio with Cavagana´s Last Supper and Palma the Younger´s Trinity with the Virgin; the Clarissan monastery of Santa Chiara; the frescoes of the Oratorio San Martino; the ancient fortifications of Il Castelliere Gallico.

Above: Basilica Santa Maria in Valvendia, Lovere

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Above: Palazzo Tadini, Lovere

Above: Church of San Giorgio, Lovere

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Above: Convent of Santa Chiara, Lovere

Above: Church of San Martino, Lovere

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Above: Fortifications of Castelliere Gallico, Lovere

This town is truly deserving of mention and preservation.

Yes, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, there is industry here in Lovere, for the town possesses a metallurgic plant, Lucchini, which employs about 1,300 people and specializes in the manufacture of railroad wheels and axles.

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But this town is more than industry and churches and it has produced or adopted a few folks worthy of mention:

The English aristocrat, letter writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) resided in Lovere for ten years.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu (1689 – 1762)

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient Camillo Golgi studied in Lovere´s Liceo Classico.

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Above: Camillo Golgi (1843 – 1926)

(Golgi was known for his work on the central nervous system and his discovery of a staining technique called black reaction or Golgi´s method, used to visualize nerve tissue under light microscopes.)

The all-time leader in victories in motorcycle Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini was born in Lovere in 1942.

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Above: Giacomo Agostini

Leading cinema critic and author Enrico Ghezzi was born in Lovere in 1952.

Above: Enrico Ghezzi

And while these abovementioned four have world recognition (at least in their day), Italians and the locals of Lovere also won´t forget that the town has also produced Santa Vincenza Gerosa, Santa Bartolomea Capitanio, acrobatic pilot Mario Stoppani, as well as Italian liberators, athletes and politicians.

Of the more famous four the person that captures my imagination the most is the Lady Montagu.

The Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) is today chiefly remembered for her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire as wife to the British Ambassador, which have been described as “the very fine example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is known for introducing and advocating for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey.

Her writings address and challenge the hindering contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.

Mary began her education in her father´s home and to supplement the instruction of a despised governess, Mary used the library in Thoresbury Hall to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin, a language reserved for men at the time.

By 1705, at the age of 14, Mary had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents), and a romance modelled after Aphra Behn´s Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684).

By 1710, Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu (1678 – 1761) and Clotworthy Skeffington.

May corresponded with Edward, but Mary´s father rejected Edward as a prospect pressuring her to marry Skeffington.

In order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712.

The early years of Mary´s married life were spent in the countryside.

She had a son, Edward Jr., on 16 May 1713.

On 1 July 1713, Mary´s brother died of smallpox, leaving behind two small children for Mary and Edward Sr. to raise.

On 13 October 1714, Edward Sr. accepted the post of Junior Commissioner of the Treasury.

When Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court.

Her famous beauty was marred by a bout with smallpox in 1715.

In 1716, Edward Sr. was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul, where they remained until 1718.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Montagus set sail for England via the Mediterranean, finally reaching London on 2 October 1718.

The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in her Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions.

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Above: Flag of Turkey

Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travellers/writers.

During her visit Mary was sincerely charmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Ottoman women she encountered and she recorded her experiences in a Turkish bath.

She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women at a bath in Sofia, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for they tied up their wives in little boxes, for the shape of their bodies”.

Mary wrote about misconceptions previous travellers, specifically male travellers, had recorded about the religion, traditions and the treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire.

Mary´s gender and class status provided her with access to female spaces that were closed off to males.

Her personal interactions wth Ottoman women enabled her to provide, in her view, a more accurate account of Turkish women, their dress, habits, traditions, limitations and liberties, at times irrefutably more a critique of the West than a praise of the East.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu in Turkish dress

Mary returned to the West with knowledge of the Ottoman practice of inoculation against smallpox.

In the Ottoman Empire, Mary visited the women in their segregated zenanas, making friends and learning about Turkish customs.

There she witnessed the practice of inoculation and eager to spare her children, she had Edward Jr. vaccinated.

On her return to London, Mary enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because vaccination was an Eastern custom.

In April 1721, when a smallpox epidemic struck England, Mary had her daughter inoculated and published the event.

She persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment.

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Above: Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737), Queen of England (1727 – 1737)

In August 1721, seven prisoners at Newgate Prison awaiting execution were offered the chance to undergo vaccination instead of execution.

All seven survived and were released.

After returning to England, Mary took less interest in court compared to her earlier days.

Instead she was more focused on the upbringing of her children, reading, writing and editing her travel letters – which she then chose not to publish.

In 1736, Mary met and fell in love with Count Francesco Algarotti.

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Above: Francesco Algarotti (1712 – 1764)

She wrote many letters to Algarotti in English and French after his departure in September 1736.

In July 1739, Mary departed England “for health reasons” declaring her intentions to winter in the south of France.

In reality, Mary left to visit and live with Algarotti in Venice.

Their relationship ended in 1741, but Mary stayed abroad and travelled extensively.

She would finally settle in Avignon and then later Lovere.

After August 1756, she resided in Venice and resumed her relationship with Algarotti.

Mary received news of her husband Edward´s death in 1761 and left Venice for England.

En route to London, she handed her Letters from Turkey to Benjamin Sowden of Rotterdam, for safekeeping “to be disposed of as he thinks proper”.

Mary´s Letters from Turkey was only one set of memoirs written by Europeans who had been to the Ottoman Empire:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 – 1592) was a diplomat in the Holy Roman Empire sent to the Ottoman Empire to discuss the disputed territory of Transylvania.

Above: Ogier de Busbecq

Upon returning to his country Busbecq published the letters he had written to his colleague Nicholas Michault under the title Turkish Epistles.

Busbecq is also known for his introduction of the tulip from Turkey to Europe.

Above: Tulip cultivation, Netherlands

Kelemen Mikes (1690 – 1761) was a Hungarian essayist, noted for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg Monarchy.

Above: Kelemen Mikes

Although backed by the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian rebels were defeated and Mikes had to choose a life in exile.

After 1715, Mikes spent the rest of his life in Tekirdag (near Istanbul).

His work is known as Letters from Turkey.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 – 1891) was an officer in the Prussian army.

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Above: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

He spent four years in the Ottoman Empire as a military advisor between 1835 and 1839.

Upon returning to Germany, Moltke published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey (1835 – 1839).

As I ponder my visit to Lovere and think of how necessary and important the Lady Montagu observations about Turkey were, I am left with two distinct impressions:

First, Lady Mary saw what others did not see.

She viewed Turkey through her own perspective, inspiring generations of writers and travellers to express themselves in their own unique fashion.

Second, Lady Mary saw something about Lovere, a town possibly as ignored in her day as it is ignored in these modern times, that inspired her to remain until the siren call of love compelled her return to Venice and an old flame.

All of which reminds me that I, in my own humble way, have my own unique perspective on places that guidebooks ignore and that people might be inspired to visit.

And, as well, perhaps my observations about places and politics that are often misunderstood or ignored might encourage others to advocate positive changes to both our perspectives on these places and a rallying call to empathise with people rather than judging them for the inadequate governments that suppress them.

So, if I have any New Year´s resolutions, it would be to continue reading, travelling and writing about places both near and far.

Who knows what ripples my wee pebbles can cause?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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

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

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

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

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

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

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

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

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

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

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

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

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

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

Come one, come all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Tate Britain

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

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

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

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

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

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

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

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

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

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

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

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

She died three days later.

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

She died the next morning.

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

Above: Louise Harvey

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

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.

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Both women died in agony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

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

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

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

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

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

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

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

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

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

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

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

Above: Embley Park

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

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

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

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

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

Florence received several marriage proposals.

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

Her parents were aghast.

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

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

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

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

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

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

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

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

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

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

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

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

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Above: The Parthenon

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

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

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

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

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

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

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

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

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

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

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

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

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

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

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

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

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

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

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

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

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

“It is of appalling horror!

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

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

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

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

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

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a team effort.

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

Her work went beyond nursing care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The men worshipped her.

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

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

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs and poems were written about her.

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

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

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

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

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

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

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum / http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

 

Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

Flag of the United States

Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

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Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

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Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

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It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

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Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

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Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

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Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.

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A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.

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Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy