Fireworks in the fog

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 1 January 2017

No automatic alt text available.

Fireworks in the fog.

As we stood on Schlossberg overlooking the city this morning many things sprang to mind.
Another year survived.
Considering the grimness of 2016, to be still standing at its end feels like an accomplishment in itself.

The best barometer of a person’s alcohol consumption seems to be measurable by the frequency and volume of their repeated use of the words “woo hoo”.

Every year the frequency of ambulances seems to be matched by the decreasing age of those using fireworks.

New Year’s Eve is also a night of fear…not because climbing the side of a mountain or navigating dark streets shrouded in fog makes the heart be faster…but for animals the sounds of fireworks terrifies and hurts their sensitive hearing and for the survivors of war these sounds are frighteningly similiar to battle and attack.

The fog also seems prophetic.

2017 is uncertain and worrisome.

But we remember to be grateful for our lives.

Count our blessings such as they are.

Hope illogical for fate being kinder in future and that we learned something from times past.

Istanbul, Turkey

At 01:15 this morning (or 22:15 Greenwich Standard Time) a gunman opened fire, using an AK-47 rifle, in the Reina nightclub in Orataköy, a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey, killing at least 39 people, (including 15 foreigners – one of whom was a fellow Canadian), injuring at least 69 people.

map and satellite shot

It shouldn´t have happened.

First aid officers carry an injured woman at the site of an armed attack on Sunday in Istanbul. At least 35 people were killed in an armed attack at a nightclub where people were celebrating the New Year.

There was heightened security throughout the city, with 17,000 police officers on duty.


According to the Reina´s owner, security measures at the nightclub had been increased over the previous 10 days after American intelligence officials warned about an attack over the holidays.

Staff of the Reina nightclub in Istanbul nightclub pose for a picture (file photo)

The US Embassy later denied this.

At the time of the attack, about 700 people were at the Reina to celebrate the New Year.

Reina restaurant Istanbul.JPG

Last year, on 28 June an attack at Atatürk Airport killed 48 people.

On 10 December 2016 a bombing at a stadium outside of Istanbul killed 44 people.

Happy “New” Year.

It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Why bother?

Every once in a while a discouraged little voice inside my head whispers this question.

One reads the headlines….

Death to the left of me, corruption to my right, here I am stuck in the middle of nowhere…

So, why bother?

Countries collectively acting against their best interests…

Madmen thinking murder and violence will somehow ease their pain, speed their cause or intimidate princes and powers and principalities who care little for the people they claim to represent…

Folks we carefully choose to trust who after gained that trust show us up to be the gullible fools they knew we were…

Why bother changing the lights on the Eiffel Tower or the World Trade Center?

Will coloured lights and prayers to a God whose existence can’t be proven or who has decided that Mankind must continue to pay for choosing free will actually help?

Will this take away the sorrow of families whose loved ones have lost their lives senselessly?

Will voting change anything, especially in America?

Why bother expressing thoughts that no one reads?

Crying tears that no one dries?

Reading the news that the average person feels powerless to change?

Why bother?

For the same reason that Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 keeps a journal that no one will read.

Because we exist.
We pray, we love, we express our thoughts, we show our humanity…
To ourselves, for ourselves…
And if in this expression we find we are not alone this confirmation bolsters us.
But even if no one reads these words the act of expression is needed to remind ourselves of the importance of thoughts and feelings.
No matter how much they take from us…our possessions, our loved ones, our very lives…while we live, it is this expression that makes us feel alive…

Don’t go into eternity quietly.

Feel and express it loudly.

They may kill the dancers, but never the music.

Shadows on the stadium

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 August 2016

In less than a week the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics will be a thing of the past and to no one’s surprise the United States leads the medal standing, with 28 gold, 28 silver and 28 bronze, with swimming being the leading sport that the Americans are excelling at.

A green, gold and blue coloured design, featuring three people joining hands in a circular formation, sits above the words "Rio 2016", written in a stylistic font. The Olympic rings are placed underneath.

American swimmer Michael Phelps has single-handedly won the most Olympic medals so far: 5 gold and 1 silver, while US swimmer Katie Lededy is in second place with 4 gold and 1 silver.

Michael Phelps 2012.jpg

My homeland of Canada has won 2 gold, 2 silver and 0 bronze, excelling in swimming and gymnastics.

My country of residence Switzerland has won 2 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze, excelling in cycling and rowing.

But let’s look at how many athletes each country sent…

America dominates the Olympics having sent 554 athletes, as compared to Canada’s 314 and Switzerland’s 104.

Now if I were a gambling man it would seem logical to place my bets on the team with the most players in the game.

I wonder what the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, would have said about the unequal distribution of athletes.

I wonder if he would even recognize the Games he envisioned as being present today in Rio.

On a positive note, the Olympic Games, every two years with its media exposure, provide unknown athletes with the chance to attain national and international fame.

Olympic Rings

Over 13,000 athletes from more than 200 nations compete at the Summer and Winter Olympics in 33 different sports and nearly 400 events.

The Games offer an opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world.

But much has changed since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

The world now has Winter Olympics, Paralympic Games and Youth Olympics.

The Games have had to adapt to changes in economics, politics and technology.

Games that were once restricted to amateur athletes now allow the participation of professional athletes, allowing athletes like Usain Bolt to dominate the sporting events they participate in.

The growing importance of mass media has created issues of corporate sponsorship and vast commercialisation of the Games.

Someone profits from these Games.

World wars led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games.

Boycotts have limited athletic participation in the 1980 and 1984 Games.

And the Olympics deals with challenges and controversies of the type that Coubertin could never have imagined: doping, bribery and terrorism.

So, let’s look at Rio 2016.

Cristo Redentor - Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.jpg

The 31st Olympiad is the first Olympics in South America, the first Olympics in a Portuguese-speaking country, the first Summer Olympics to be held in winter.

This is the first Olympics to include golf and rugby.

This is the first Olympics in which Kosovo and South Sudan are eligible to compete.

Due to the European migrant crisis and other reasons, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) now allows athletes to compete as independent Olympians under the Olympic flag, because they otherwise would be unable to compete due to their inability to represent their home National Olympic Committees.(NOCs)

Bulgarian and Russian weightlifters are banned from Rio for numerous anti-doping violations.

Kuwait is banned for the second time in five years over its government’s interference in Kuwait’s NOC.

At first glance, everything seems bleak.

The Brazilian federal government is unstable.

Operation Car Wash, a 2014 investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil, uncovered unprecedented money laundering and corruption in the state-controlled oil company Petrobras, while Brazil faces its worst economic recession since the 1990s.

In November 2015, Russia’s track and field team was suspended from all competitions by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) following a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report into a doping program in Russia, but the IOC decided against completely banning Russian participation and instead set stricter requirements for all Russian athletes entered into the Games.

Of the original list of Russian athletes, 278 out of 389 were cleared for competition.

On 12 May, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was stripped of her powers and duties for 180 days and is waiting to be impeached, so Vice President Michel Temer is President during the Games.

Official portrait of Dilma Rousseff

Yet Brazil’s infrastructure continues to crumble and corruption remains rampant, while the Rio state government is almost bankrupt and hospitals and schools are in complete chaos as schools strike and hospitals can’t afford to handle anything that isn’t an emergency.

There are health and safety concerns surrounding the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Mosquito 2007-2.jpg

Puddles of stagnant water, a common problem, allow mosquitoes to breed, while trash goes uncollected and lies rotting in the streets.

There is significant pollution in Rio’s Guanabara Bay.

Only 17% of Rio’s sewage is treated.

The rest of the raw sewage flows into the Bay.

Rio has always had crime problems, but these problems are now under an intense international spotlight.

Severe poverty in slums controlled by armed gangsters are only a short stroll away from luxurious beachside apartments.

There are more than 300 street robberies a day.

On 21 April 2016 – the day that the Olympic torch was lit – a 50 metre/164 foot section of the Tim Maia bike path was hit by a giant wave and collapsed causing the death of three pedestrians and injuring three more.

On 27 June, protesting police fly at a banner at the international airport that reads “WELCOME TO HELL” alongside a placard “49” – the number of Rio police killed this year.


The police patrol without paychecks.

On 21 July 2016, just two weeks before the Games started, Brazilian Federal Police broke up an Islamic jihadist terrorist ring.

The athlete’s village, the largest in history, was described as unliveable and unsafe, because of major plumbing and electrical hazards, like blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells and dirty floors.

Many economists are skeptical about the economic benefits of hosting the Olympic Games, emphasizing that the mega-event costs more than it benefits in the long run.

The Games also have significant negative effects on host communities, displacing more than two million people over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting disadvantaged groups.

In other words, the poor are driven from their homes.

The IOC itself has been accused of taking bribes in the bidding process for the hosting of Olympic Games.

Hosting an Olympic Games is a damnedly expensive endeavour.

The biggest threat to the future of the Olympics is that very few cities want to host them.

To be fair, Rio is not unique in modern Olympic history in having many problems to overcome.

Antwerp 1920 had still not cleaned up all its rubble from the devastation that had been World War I.

Plakat der Spiele

Mexico City 1968 was marred by a massacre of protestors just before the Games began and is still remembered for the Black Power salute given by two American medal winners.

Logo der Olympischen Sommerspiele 1968

Munich 1972 is remembered for the Palestinian attack on the Israeli complex resulting in 11 deaths.

Ap munich905 t.jpg

Montreal 1976 is a Olympics famous for its huge debt that took three decades to pay, East German doping, a 20 African nation boycott and the perfect performance of Romanian gymnist Nadia Comaneci.

1976 Summer Olympics logo.svg

Atlanta 1996 was marred by the collapse of a steel lightning tower killing spectators and the Centennial Olympic Park bombing resulting in two dead and more than 100 people injured and an investigation that took seven years to find the bomber responsible.

A fire, emitting many different-colored stars, burns from a cauldron represented by the gold-colored Olympic rings and the number "100" acting as the cauldron's stand. The words "Atlanta 1996", also written in gold, are placed underneath. The image is situated on a dark green background, with a gold border.

Athens 2004 struggled with a bomb blast and a lack of ticket sales.

2004 Summer Olympics logo.svg

Beijing 2008 is remembered for extreme air pollution conditions as well as the threat of Islamic jihadist terrorism.

The official logo for the 2008 Summer Olympics, featuring a depiction of the Chinese pictogram "Jing", representing a dancing human figure. Below are the words "Beijing 2008" in stylised print, and the Olympic rings.

Vancouver 2010 began sadly with the death of a luge athlete during a training run, a lack of snow and criticism of its homelessness situation in its urban centre.

2010 Winter Olympics logo.svg

Sochi 2014 was a truly unpleasant moment in Olympic history as Russia massacred its stray dogs, banned all public discussion of gay rights and exercised extreme security measures after a suicide bomber struck in Volgograd.

2014 Winter Olympics logo.svg

Since Berlin 1936 some countries have chosen to boycott a celebration of the Games for various reasons.

Greece, Australia, France, Britain and Switzerland are the only countries to be represented at every Olympic Games since their inception in 1896.

Even Canada has boycotted, refusing to send its athletes to Moscow 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Olympic Games has been used as a platform to promote political ideologies, the most famous example being Berlin 1936.

1936 berlin logo.jpg

The National Socialist Party (Nazis) wanted to portray themselves as peaceful and benevolent yet simultaneously showing the world Aryan superiority.

Though Germany was the most successful nation at the Games, the victories of black American Jesse Owens and Jewish Hungarian Ibolya Csak denied the complete success of their Aryan supremist message.

As early as 1904, many Olympic athletes began using drugs to improve their athletic abilities, with even one death as a result in Rome 1960.

Canadians still weep when we remember Seoul 1988 when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson (who won the 100-metre dash) tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug stanozol.

Logo der Olympischen Sommerspiele 1988

Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and it was awarded to the American runner-up Carl Lewis, who arrogantly proclaimed American superiority and condemnation of doping while he himself had tested positive for banned substances prior to the Olympics.

Canadians felt that insult had been added to injury.

And the policies and practices of Olympic host countries continue behind the scenes: the theft of land expropriated for Games use and the neglect and intensification of poor social conditions for indigenous peoples.

Canada and America still have much work to do to resolve the injustices done to the natives that have lived there long before the Europeans arrived and continue to do so.

Yet in spite of politics, in spite of scandals, in spite of fears of disease or terrorism, the Games go on.

For the focus is not on the problems of nations but on sport’s greatest athletes with their superhuman feats.

Fans don’t let morality ruin their fun.

We watch gymnists flip and propel themselves into the air turning backflips and somersaults that leave us breathless.

We wonder if merpeople really do exist as we watch Michael Phelps seek to redeem himself from his arrest for drunk driving and resulting stint in rehab in 2014.

We gaze in amazement at the sprinters, who despite careers of strained hamstrings, still deliver speeds that dominate our imaginations.

And judo throws are thrown, badminton birds struck, bullets shot, soccer balls kicked, basketballs bounced, boats rowed and sailboats sailed, pools dove into, rugby balls thrown, swords drawn, hurdles hurdled and poles vaulted, tennis courts beckon, boxers spar, weights are lifted, water polo and golf attract but not so beautifully as volleyball on the beach…

The show must go on.

Are we having fun yet?

Riding the Rails

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 May 2016

The problem with travelling is that you begin to compare things.

For example, the way things are done at home as compared to the way things are done in the other place(s).

Of course, with most of us, home things are considered superior to foreign things as we know and understand, for the most part, things from home more than foreign things.

Take, for example, trains.

With rare exception, every nation on the planet has a railroad, regardless of whether they need them or use them.

Fourteen African countries don´t.

Some nations have many railway companies, depending upon the nation´s size, system of government and wealth.

So you can find nations like Zaire, Ghana and Togo with railroads mostly abandoned because of neglect or war.

Israel has the world´s smallest subway system.

China has the most railroads…

Vatican City, the least.

Now I am no trainspotter nor a Paul Theroux, but I do confess to having a certain feeling of attachment to travelling by train.

Trains are more comfortable than buses, feel less scarier than airplanes, less stressful and more environmentally friendly than automobiles, tickets are cheaper than horses, less dangerous than bicycles, and faster than walking.

Of course, critics of train travel argue that trains are usually more expensive than buses, slower than airplanes, less flexible than automobiles, less fun than horses or bicycles, and less rewarding visually and emotionally than walking.

For me, a lover of history, trains are fascinating.

The oldest, man-hauled railways date back to the 6th century BC, with Periander, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, credited with its invention.

It was a 6 km / 3.7 mi. wagonway which transported boats across the Corinth isthmus.

Grooves in limestone were its tracks, its wagons were pushed by slaves.

The Diolkos wagonway operated for over 600 years.

The earliest known record of a railway in Europe is a stained glass window in the cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau, circa 1350.

By 1550, narrow gauge railways with wooden rails were commonplace in mines in Europe.

The world´s oldest working railway, built in 1758, is the Middleton Railway in Leeds.

In 1804, using high-pressure steam, Richard Trevithick demonstrated the first locomotive hauled train at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway in northeast England, built in 1825, was the world´s first public steam railway, followed five years later by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first intercity train.

In North America, railroads were built on a far larger scale than those in Europe, in terms of both vast distances to be covered and the weight of the trains themselves and cargo carried.

For Canadians, it is a commonly-held belief that had there been no railroad there would be no Canada in the form that we know today.

Railroads and trains have come a long way since the days of steam, with the advent of electrification, dieselization and containerization, so that they have become essential to the infrastructure of nations, the facilitation of international trade and part of the lifestyle and culture of the planet´s peoples.

It is now possible, should one actually want to, to travel by train at speeds of 574 km/h (357 mph) in France and Japan, or to travel for many days on long-haul journeys such as the Trans-Siberian Express or traverse huge nations like Canada, the US or Australia at one´s leisure.

I have had the distinct privilege of teaching a software engineer executive responsible for the extensive train networks for Switzerland, Austria and Malaysia, which has only fuelled my love and respect for train travel even more.

Though I am no fan of the heavy-handedness of many of the practices I have experienced as a frequent traveller on Swiss National Railways, I still enjoy travelling by train when reaching my destinations quickly is paramount over the experience of a slower journey.

And the train has also woven itself into the fabric of my travel experience…

I have many distinct memories of trains…

America, the 80s and 90s:

I am in my 20s, footloose and fancy free, hitching rides around America and across Canada.

I would hitch my way from Montreal to St. John´s, Newfoundland and back, from Maine to Florida to California to Washington State, from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to Fairbanks, Alaska.

In Connecticut, a driver brings me to New Haven, generously giving me his copy of Paul Theroux´s The Old Patagonian Express and thus seeding within me a love of trains and train travel literature that continues to inspire.

Only twice in my hitching travels would I ride the rails, but not in the conventional way as paying passenger…

In Alabama and Arizona, drivers left me on the side of the road near rail lines.

Both times I spot trains at rest with open boxcars.

I ride the rails, “like a hobo from a broken home”, but unlike tales of the Great Depression, or scenes from the movie Water for Elephants, I rode these boxcars alone.

On the Maine – New Brunswick border heading home.

Night has fallen so I seek shelter.

A long abandoned string of boxcars suggests shelter but they are all sealed.

A vigilant paranoid young man bearing arms and itchy trigger finger threatens to shoot me despite my pleading with him that my only desire is temporary shelter until daybreak.

I cross into Canada despite the late hour and the local police arrange a room at a local inn for the night.

Milano, 1998:

It is a mere 24 hours before my open-jawed one year ticket to/from Paris back to Canada expires, but I am in Milan, broke.

I try to sleep on a bench in the main train station, but sleep does not come.

I have convinced the station police to write me a letter to present to the TGV conductors foregoing a ticket to be paid only upon a return to Canada.

Suddenly I am transported back in time as a steam locomotive and classic railway wagons are met by actors dressed in Victorian age attire.

I am witness to a movie being filmed.

It is a magical last night to end a year abroad.

Malaysia, 2000:

A mini-vacation from working in South Korea has found me flying to Kuala Lumpar, then taking the train to Kluang.

It was, and remains, easy to traverse Malaysia from north to south, from Thailand to Singapore, but travel from the Strait of Malaca coast to the South China Sea coast, west to east, cannot be done by train.

I speak no Malaysian but manage to convince a local to taxi me to Mersing to meet the next morning´s boat to Pulau Tioman (Tioman Island) where I would spend a delightful time swimming and hiking and enjoying an idle idyll far from work and all that I knew.

And though I would mourn the loss of a sweater my girlfriend (later my wife) had given me –  left behind on the train waking to find myself already arrived where I needed to disembark – that train and that curious combination of fear and excitement I felt finding myself suddenly adrift in an unknown place, not knowing how I would leave it…that feeling still lingers in my memory.

Waldstatt, Appenzell, Switzerland, 30 March 2016:

Years have passed and I am older.

Though the years would find me as a paying passenger on trains in various lands, I have traded adventure for security and stability and rarely regret this choice.

But within the wanderlust lingers.

I worked the early shift at Starbucks in St. Gallen and, unwilling to return home to an empty apartment just then, rode a postbus to Hundwil then walked for a while to Waldstatt.

I find myself at the train station and I see a map of the entire Appenzell Railway network.

There are so many places on the map I have yet to discover and night remains distant.

Time to ride the rails again…

Appenzeller Nostalgie-Express





Capital Be

Wappen von Bern

Bern: 11 February 2016 / Landschlacht: Easter 2016

A while back, before silence dominated and clouds hung heavy over my head, I began to tell a story about Bern and its people, but much like a cyclist making a sharp turn and crashing onto the ground as his bike slips out from under him on the icy cobblestones, sending things flying in all directions, so have been my thoughts of recent days.

But now I ask that you, gentle readers, follow me to a picturesque city on the River Aare and walk with me between fine buildings lining cobbled streets of one of Europe´s most beautiful and historic towns.

Luftaufnahme der Berner Innenstadt, Juni 2005

Soak in the atmosphere of this town, home to a university, the seat of the Federal Assembly and the headquarters of several international organisations.

The University of Bern

I have always liked Bern, for it values pedestrians and caters to them with pedestrian-only streets and good public transport.

There is much to see and do in this capital that it is hard to know where to begin.

One can shop in department stores or browse in the markets and buy all manner of things: chocolate, shoes and leather goods, music and books, watches and jewellery, crafts and souvenirs, art and antiques.

And let the town entertain you with puppet theatres and zoos, casinos and clubs, cultural centres and live theatre performances, cinemas and festivals.


Where does one begin?

You can choose from the Natural History Museum, the Swiss Rifle Museum, the Bern Historical Museum, the Museum of Communication, the Swiss Alpine Museum, the Kunsthalle (contemporary art gallery), the Albert Einstein Museum, the Bern Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Paul Klee Centre and the Swiss Theatre Museum.

The Paul Klee Centre

Lovers of nature can watch the bears in the Bear Pit, see animals amongst thick lush woods in the Bern Zoo, visit the nurseries and the monastery in Elfenau Park, and explore the acres and acres of greenhouses and greenery in the Botanical Gardens.

The Bear Pits

And, yes, I beg your pardon, Bern even promises you a Rose Garden, with over 223 types of roses, 200 types of irises and 28 different types of rhododendrons, as well as a pond where water lillies flourish.

Wander the streets and be moved by the majesty of magnificent structures to God, including the Holy Spirit Church, the Saints Peter and Paul Church, and St. Vincent´s Cathedral with the highest bell tower and largest bell in Switzerland.

Saints Peter and Paul Church

Stroll the avenue of the arches and see the many many fountains that grace the city.

And in the centre of the old city, the Zytglogge (the clock tower) is as much as the symbol of Bern as its bears.

The Zytglogge is the focal point of public transport and walking routes, the benchmark of official Bern time and the geographical point from which all distances in the Canton are measured.

The Zytlogge´s squat shape, its giant spired roof and its huge gilded clock face brand the image of this tower on your memory for time immemorial.

It is an intricate astronomical and astrological delight, displaying a 24-hour clock, the position of the sun in the zodiac, the day of the week, the date and the month, the phases of the moon and the elevation of the sun above the horizon.

But tourists couldn´t care less, for they gather to watch the display of mechanical movement that is set into motion four minutes before every hour on the clock´s east face.

A rooster crows.

Bears parade.

Chronos demonstrates his hourglass while a jester dances a jig.

Much like the real size of Brussels´ Manneken Pis or Paris´ Louvre exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci´s Mona Lisa, this spectacle of :56 to :00 is underwhelming in its actuality, but yet the throngs still congregate like faithful pilgrims to holy shrines of tourist lore to see the wee figures go through their ritualistic motions.

But step away from the tourist throngs and the shopping arcade and consider those who have chosen to call Bern “home”.

And I don´t mean those ministers and parliamentary folks who serve the Swiss in various governmental capacities but instead ponder the folk who take these cobblestones and fountains and towers for granted.

Artists and rebels have called Bern theirs as have scientists and all types of ordinary sorts.

As a tourist I have met those whose legacy continues to impress long after they themselves have shirk their mortal coils.

The artists: Niklaus Deutsch (1484 – 1530), the naturalist Albert Anker (1831 – 1910), the symbolist Ferdinand Hodler (1853 – 1918), brut artist Adolf Wölfi (1864 – 1930) and abstractionist Paul Klee (1879 – 1940).

The builders: Berthold V of Zähringen, the founder of Bern; Ludwig Zehender, who built an orphange that today serves as the main police station; Anna Seiler, who founded the city´s first hospital; Kaspar Brunner, who built the aforementioned Zytglogge; and Hans Gieng, who built many of the famous fountains that dot the urban landscape.

The rebels: reformers Niklaus Sprüngli and Lorenz Schmidt, anarchists Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakurin, radical leftist squatters of the AJZ Reitschule, and even Lenin himself lived here for a time.

The teachers: Albert Einstein and my old friend Monica Herrmann (who happily is not yet to be listed as deceased!).

All have left their mark on Bern and the world.

All were captivated and shaped by Bern.

It was good to see Monica again.

She had, for a few months, shared a flat with Ute (my wife) and I when we lived in Freiburg im Breisgau, in Germany´s Black Forest.

She amused me then and she amuses me now.

Then she followed a custom that I still see some Bern women do: shave off your eyebrows and paint them on again.

I didn´t understand this then and I still don´t now.

Like many women Monica can be vain.

She liked, and still likes, to display her feminine charms in low cut blouses and high heel shoes, making my wife constantly concerned as to my vulnerability!

But where my vulnerability lies in not in Monica´s sexuality but rather in her strength of character and clear intelligence – the very same attributes that drew me to my wife.

We talk shop (we are both teachers) and share memories and catch up with events that have transpired over the past decade.

It is with great love and affection she talks of her school and her students and her life here in the capital.

And I think to myself that this, right here, is the reason I left Canada to live abroad, why I left the comforts of home to explore the world in my own limited fashion.

Not to peer down a woman´s blouse or admire the posture heels lend a woman´s walk.

Not to cross off a “To do” list places seen and sites visited.

But rather to share a moment in time and space with another person who is so different from oneself.

To see the world not just from my own perspective but through the eyes of those who intimately live in places and know the place´s nuances in a way that would be lost to me otherwise.

For a place is not just its old buildings, its monuments to past glories, its tourist traps or its wonders natural or manufactured, a place is its people who shaped and continue to shape its destiny.

And I think this is something the average tourist, the backpacking bar-hopping type or the hotel/B&B crowd, doesn´t see.

How can they? – for they are restricted by not only limits of time and money but as well their experience and exposure has also been curtailed by their accommodation and choice of itineria.

Though I often suspect the couchsurfing movement to be more of a freeloaders´ thriftiness trend than it is an immersion into a place´s milieu, I still think that at least sleeping in a resident´s spare bed or on their sofa still exposes a traveller to the reality of a place far more than an anonymous hotel room ever can.

And who knows?

That resident file clerk, that mere dabbler in paint, that unknown scribe, that humble teacher of young people, might make a powerful impact on things in the future.

But even this doesn´t matter.

For it is in meeting other people that we affect one another.

And isn´t this, after all is said and done, the reason to walk outside our door?

Not just to see, but rather – to be.



The future: Older dog, newer tricks

Winterthur, Switzerland: 26 January 2016

Wirbeltiere aus aller Welt

Generally speaking I am not a fan of natural museums, for they often seem to me to be: well, unnatural.

“On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail, you’ll be sure to see
All Mother Nature’s favourite pets, all sitting rigidly.
They’re never hungry any more, their last meal left them stuffed.
Don’t worry, they won’t walk away if you try and pet their fluff.

And the dog goes…(silence)
And the cow goes…(silence)
And the bear goes…(silence)
And the pig goes…(silence)
And the crow goes caw! I guess it was alive.
You can see all this
On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail.

Arrogant Worms, “Mounted Animal Nature Trail”

Completely Canadian Compilation

To be fair, I will visit them along with whatever museums happen to be around a new place, but, more often than not, I find myself leaving depressed and disappointed rather than glad I stopped by.

I have visited natural museums in Ottawa, Freiburg im Briesgau, Zürich, Winterthur, etc., hoping against hope that these monoliths to nature will captivate me more than they do.

And there are brief moments when they do.

Ottawa impresses with the sheer size and age of its buildings.


Freiburg celebrates spring every year with live baby chicks and bunnies for the child in all of us to feel delight in.

The Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich has an impressive corner 3D mural inside its halls.

Adam Kerr's photo.


Adam Kerr's photo.

The rats are as big as bears…

Adam Kerr's photo.

You can almost feel the motion of the sea as you travel the oceans in search of natural wonders.

And in a quiet and powerful way one is reminded of two powerful ideas:

  1. In comparison to the actual age of the planet, man´s presence is barely registerable.
  2. And this too shall pass.  Who knows what/who will replace man in the millennia to come?

What would some future archaeologist make of our civilisation?

“I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
You can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.”

Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

In my typical fashion of overthinking, the fossilised Coca Cola bottle got me pondering…

How will I be remembered when I´m gone?

“I look around me,
But all I seem to see,
Is people going nowhere,
Expecting sympathy

It’s like we’re going through the motions,
Of a scripted destiny
Tell me where’s our inspiration,
If life won´t wait,
I guess it’s up to me.

Procrastination, running circles in my head
While you sit there contemplating,
You wound up left for dead (left for dead)
Life is what happens, while you’re busy making your excuses
Another day, another casualty
And that won’t happen to me.

Because every wasted day becomes a wasted chance
You’re gonna wake up feeling sorry,
Because life won’t wait,
I guess it’s up to you.

We’ll leave the past in the past,
Gonna find the future
If misery loves company well,
So long, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.

Simple Plan, “When I´m Gone”

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 29 January 2016

As the first month of this New Year draws to a close, I consider my own legacy.

Last year I wrote of some plans and ideas I had for this blog:

To those brave souls who have faithfully followed this blog since its genesis on 18 May 2015, and have loyally read all posts that came before, you will have noticed that I have tended to write in three directions:

– Opinion about world events and current affairs
– History (why things are and how they got that way)
– Personal thoughts about events and encounters in my daily life

For the Chronicles of Canada Slim, I will continue to do so, hoping that former readers as well as new followers will get the same pleasure and thoughtfulness in reading them as I put into writing them.

Look for my newest blogs soon:

The Forest of Shadows: “Sometimes evil doesn’t die” (My novel released in serial form)(Feedback and criticism most welcome)

The Anglo Guide to Switzerland: “Life, work and play in the Land of the Edelweiss” (Complimentary, not competitive with others’ existing blogs)

Making It Work: “English for Employment” (mit deutsch Wortschatz)(Perhaps later “avec vocabulaire francais”)”

(See Old Dog, New Tricks of this blog.)

What has happened since?

Well, as my wife would often complain…

I lack discipline and focus, but, hey, a man can begin to change, eh?

I have decided that the Anglo Guide and Making It Work are not really what motivates me, so I have, for now, abandoned these ideas, or at least these ideas will become a part of the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

As for the Forest of Shadows

Thanks to the wonderful couple, Natalie and Ricardo Utsumi who set up this blog for me, I now have a second blog, a blog I want to regularly contribute to as much as I have to this one.

Building Everest: The Writing of Canada Slim will be restricted to novels and short stories, including The Forest of Shadows, I am writing and one day hope to see published.

Check out, starting tomorrow!

In the sheer grand scale of the future unwritten and the universe to come, my words will probably be forgotten.

But one can dream, eh?

Where I am

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

Gary Portnoy, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” (the theme from TV sitcom “Cheers”)

Cheers intro logo.jpg

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany –

31 December 2015 to 2 January 2016:

I have mentioned this place before.

(See Victims of the Machine, Sign of the times, Borderline Obsessive, Saints and monsters, Dark discussions, Allegiance to the Queen, Jason: a phenomenon, Distant friends, Unforgettable of this blog.)

“I often felt as if I were travelling from nowhere to nowhere.

Moving through landscapes that once meant something, perhaps an awful lot,  these have been reduced to spaces of transit.

Everything is temporary.

Everyone is just passing through.

This gave me a sense of unease and a hunger for places that matter.

Over the past 100 years or so and across the world, we have become much better at destroying places than building them.

Aristotle thought place should “take precedence of all other things” because place gives order to the world.

In a hyper-mobile world, a love of place can easily be cast as passé, even reactionary.

When human fulfillment is measured out in air miles, communities increasingly find their common ground in cyberspace rather than terra firma.

Wanting to think about place can seem a little perverse.

Yet placelessness is neither intellectually nor emotionally satisfying.

Place is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human.

We are a place-making and place-loving species.

Place connects us together as a species and bonds us to the rest of nature.

When describing the village of Ishmael´s native ally and friend Queequeg in Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote:

“It is not down in any map.  True places never are.”

In a fully discovered world, exploration doesn´t stop.

It just has to be reinvented.”

(Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map)

Freiburg im Breisgau is my soulmate of cities, a city of flair, of cobblestone and half-timber, of stone and wine and forest, of friends closer to me than family.

It is a place where the welcomes are friendly and boredom is banished beyond its borders.

Above: Martin´s Gate (Martinstor)

It is here where I leave all my cares behind and enjoy the quiet buzz and tasty temptations of a life well-experienced.

It is simultaneously a post-modern university masterpiece and historic old town brimming with Old World charm and sophistication.

Above: one of the many buildings of the Albert Ludwigs University, where my wife studied to be a doctor

Above: the Town Hall where I got married

Quaint little gullies, the Bächle, line its tangle of narrow lanes as I stagger through town after cups overflowing with wine and stomach delighted by excellent cuisine.

Wander the streets with me and listen to the gurgling Bächle, this network of miniature streams once used to water livestock and extinguish fires.

“On the long walks through the traffic-free city centre one crosses a channel carelessly.

Suddenly a little boat made out of paper is floating by.

Children are playing in the water in the middle of the business center of a city.

Fresh water from the Black Forest is briskly flowing next to the streets, taking with it the dust and cleaning the air.

At least this is the argument when people from the north complain about the absurd and dangerous mantraps.

Of course one wants to respond with something that gives an illusion of practical use.

But I think, the Bächle are less for cleanliness than for the soul.”

(Ruth Merten, Wenn Freiburgs Blüten blüh’n)

They were never intended to be used for sewage, and even in the Middle Ages such use could lead to harsh penalties.

On the hottest of days dip your feet within its waters and seek welcome relief.

I experienced its legendary powers, for, as lore dictates, those that stumble into the Bächle will marry a Freiburger(in).

During his visit to Germany in September 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said:

Benedykt XVI (2010-10-17) 4.jpg

“I´m delighted to be here in Freiburg – illuminated and warmed by the sun.”

Above: the Münster (cathedral): a building of great dimensions matching the giant ambitions of its city, funded by the boots of cobblers and the pretzels of bakers, where a poor man´s Bible can be read in the glow of stained glass windows beneath huge arches supporting blood red sandstone – a house of God, devoted to Maria, rising 116 metres, reaching for the heavens, motivated by mysticism and a labour of love – a cathedral that took 400 years to build and is ever and forever being renovated.

It stands at the centre of the old city in Freiburg´s largest square, where a farmers´ market is held every day except Sundays.

Lazing fat at the foot of the Black Forest´s wooded slopes and vineyards, Freiburg is a sunny, cheerful kaleidoscope of gabled town houses, alleys of dark adventure and stimulating cafés.

Forget Manhattan, for it is here where the party is.

It is a city blessed.

With over 2,000 hours of annual sunshine and an atmosphere rare with clouds of white blossom, it takes a truly cold winter´s day to drive folks away from the canalside beer gardens.

Augustinerplatz is one of the central squares in the old city.

Formerly the location of an Augustinian monastery, that became the Augustiner Museum in 1921, it is now a popular social space for Freiburg’s younger residents.

It has a number of restaurants and bars, including the local brewery ‘Feierling’, which has a Biergarten.

On warm summer nights, hundreds of students gather here.

Here in Freiburg, evidence that this has been a tourist hub for centuries:

Above: Hotel Bären, the oldest hotel in Germany – the foundations of the hotel predate the founding of the town of Freiburg by the dukes of the House of Zähringen in 1120.

It was here that my wife was studying when we first met two decades ago.

(See How SHE came to be of this blog.)

It was here where we first shared an apartment, where I first lived and worked in Germany.

For a time, in my limited circle of academia, I was known as the hardest working teacher in Freiburg, working an insane schedule of 60 teaching hours per week, not including travel time, corrections and preparation.

We would, after some time, move down to the Swiss border to Lörrach, then up to Osnabrück in northern Germany near the Dutch border, and finally settle in Landschlacht on the Swiss side of the Lake of Constance near the German city of Konstanz.

With the exception of a small percentage of my worldly possessions still stored in my cousin´s closet in Canada, most of what I call my own is now with me here in this wee hamlet by the lake.

All, save two things.

My heart is back in Canada, for it was, and shall remain, my homeland.

My soul remains in Freiburg.

It is in Freiburg, where many of my closest of friends still remain, where this Canadian began to cherish what it means to be European, where I began to experience a life vibrant full of love and passion, so that forever this city in my memory lingers.

It is here I rediscover who I am, where I can simply be myself once again.

It is a city where I simply am me.

I make it a point to visit this city in the sun at least two or three times a year.

Since we moved away from Freiburg, it is still a rare New Year´s Eve that doesn´t see Ute and I, yet again, climb Castle Hill (Schlossberg) to, once more, see fireworks above the city.

So stroll with me, gentle reader, down the corridors of nostalgia and fond remembrance whenever Freiburg is mentioned.

May you too find a place that captivates you with its magic and vitality.

Once you find it, you may find yourself one day leaving it behind.

But, rest assured, you will take it with you when you go.



Landschlacht, The Ides of January 2016

“Ignorance is bliss.”

A commonly-used phrase which has its positive and its negative sides.

In the minus column, ignorance has led people to do violence against one´s fellow man or to commit acts of sheer stupidity.

In the plus column, not knowing sometimes can be a blessing.

For example, I wish I didn´t know that on New Year´s Eve as my wife and I were ringing in 2016 in Freiburg im Breisgau, in southwestern Germany´s Black Forest, singing legend Natalie Cole died, age 65.

Natalie Cole 2007.jpg

Her rendition of “Unforgettable” with her father, Nat King Cole, was a musical gift to my soul.

But had I known I might not have felt celebratory that night.

This past week, two more legends surrendered their fights against that most relentless and heartless of ailments, cancer.

Musical genius David Bowie is dead.

He was a man who not only recreated himself but reinvented music.

Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Is there life on Mars?

Acting star Alan Rickman is also gone.

On screen he portrayed his roles so convincingly that the man Alan was forgotten as he was Hans Gruber, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Severius Snape, to name only a few of his classic moments.

Eight months ago I turned 50.

Last month I was diagnosed with a non-fatal but life changing ailment of my own.

But my wife, the doctor, sees all the fatal potentialities to this condition and so has created for herself and, by involuntary extension, for me worries about my own demise.

I don´t like to think about death.

I selfishly want to be one of the uncommon folks who live 100 years, hopefully retaining enough of my mind and body to be somewhat self-sufficient.

But the odds are against me.

Living past my 70s, somehow avoiding both disease and accident, is unlikely if statistics regarding life expectancy are to be believed.

So what´s next?

Continue on with the status quo, living as I usually do, pretending that somehow I am immortal?

Live life in fear and paranoia, carefully avoiding anything that might harm my chances?

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow it may be too late?

Like many folks I too have my own private “bucket list” of things I wish to do and places I wish to visit.

But responsibilites and commitments to others mean I can´t just pack my bags and walk the world, as much as the wild man inside might want to.

So, all I can do is to keep on keeping on.

But maybe the dark cloud of knowledge that even legends can die has a silver lining.

Take nothing and no one for granted.

Make each moment count.

And when my clock stops, maybe, in some small way, amongst those rare persons who have come to be very precious parts of my existence, I too might, for a moment in time, be unforgettable too.

So, good-bye, Ziggy.

Yippie ki yay, Herr Gruber.

Sleep well, Nat.

May someone somewhere someday think of me too and hear “Unforgettable” in their heart as well.

“That´s why, darling, it´s incredible

That someone so unforgettable

Thinks that I am

Unforgettable too.”