Canada Slim and the Lemon Mutants

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Saturday 14 March 2020

From Brescia Today, Friday 6 March 2020

There are 268 cases of corona virus infections confirmed in Italy’s Brescia Province, while deaths there have risen to 18.

Fifteen new municipalities have been added to the epidemic network, which previously had not presented any infection: Acquafredda, Borgosatollo, Castenedolo, Darfo Boario Terme, Gambara, Gottolengo, Isorella, Ospitaletto, Paratico, Pompiano, Provaglio d’Iseo, Roncadelle, San Gervasio Bresciano and Seniga.

 

Map highlighting the location of the province of Brescia in Italy

Above: Province of Brescia (in red), Italy

 

As of 13 March, over 145,000 cases have been confirmed in around 140 countries and territories, with major outbreaks in mainland China, Italy, South Korea and Iran.

More than 5,400 people have died from the disease and over 72,000 have recovered.

 

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Above: Electron microscope view of the corona virus

 

The virus primarily spreads between people in a way similar to influenza, via respiratory droplets from coughing.

The time between exposure and symptom onset is typically five days, but may range from two to fourteen days.

Symptoms are most often fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath.

Complications may include pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

There is currently no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment, but research is ongoing.

Efforts are aimed at managing symptoms and supportive therapy.

Recommended preventive measures include handwashing, maintaining distance from other people (particularly those who are unwell), and monitoring and self-isolation for fourteen days for people who suspect they are infected.

Public health responses around the world have included travel restrictions, quarantines, curfews, event cancellations, and facility closures.

 

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Above: Map of the COVID-19 outbreak as of 12 March 2020.

Be aware that since this is a rapidly evolving situation, new cases may not be immediately represented visually. 

The darker the country, the more cases of the corona virus there are therein.

Countries with cases of the corona virus:

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Austria 
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Belarus 
  • Belgium 
  • Bhutan
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Brazil 
  • Brunei
  • Bulgaria
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cambodia 
  • Canada
  • Chile 
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia 
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic 
  • Denmark
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt 
  • Estonia 
  • Finland 
  • France 
  • Georgia
  • Germany 
  • Greece 
  • Hungary
  • Iceland 
  • India 
  • Indonesia 
  • Iran 
  • Iraq 
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy 
  • Japan 
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kuwait
  • Latvia 
  • Lebanon
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg   
  • Malaysia
  • Maldives
  • Malta
  • Mexico 
  • Moldova
  • Monaco 
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal 
  • the Netherlands 
  • New Zealand 
  • Nigeria 
  • North Macedonia 
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Palestine
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • the Philippines 
  • Poland
  • Portugal 
  • Qatar
  • Romania 
  • Russia 
  • San Marino 
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Senegal
  • Serbia
  • Singapore 
  • Slovakia 
  • Slovenia
  • South Africa 
  • South Korea 
  • Spain 
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sweden 
  • Switzerland 
  • Taiwan 
  • Thailand 
  • Togo
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey 
  • Ukraine 
  • the United Arab Emirates 
  • the United Kingdom 
  • the United States 
  • Vietnam 

 

These include the nationwide quarantine of Italy.

 

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Above: (in red) Corona virus outbreak cases in Italy

 

On 9 March 2020, the government of Italy under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine, restricting the movement of the population except for necessity, work, and health circumstances, in response to the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

 

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Above: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

 

Additional lockdown restrictions mandated the temporary closure of non-essential shops and businesses.

 

GP: Coronavirus: Venice Italy

 

This followed an earlier restriction announced on the previous day which affected 16 million people and included the region of Lombardy and fourteen provinces in Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Piedmont and Marche, and further back a smaller-scale lockdown of 11 municipalities in the province of Lodi that had begun in late February.

 

GP: Coronavirus Rome Italy

 

The first lockdowns began around 21 February 2020, covering 11 municipalities of the province of Lodi and affecting around 50,000 people.

 

Piazza della Vittoria

 

Above: Piazza Duomo, Lodi

 

The epicentre was the town of Codogno (pop. 16,000), with police cars blocking roads leading to the quarantined areas and barriers erected on the roads.

The old Soave Hospital in Codogno.

Above: Ospedale Soave, Codogno

 

The quarantined “red zone” (zona rossa) was initially enforced by police and carabinieri, and by 27 February it was reported that 400 policemen were enforcing it with 35 checkpoints.

The lockdown was initially meant to last until 6 March.

While residents were permitted to leave their homes and supplies such as food and medicine were allowed to enter, they were not to go to school or their workplaces, and public gatherings were prohibited.

Train services also bypassed the region.

 

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Above: The front page of Italian newspaper La Repubblica, reading “Tutti in casa” (“Everybody stay at home“), hung in a Bologna street on 10 March 2020, the first day of the nationwide lockdown in Italy

 

Early on Sunday, 8 March 2020, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the expansion of the quarantine zone to cover much of Northern Italy, affecting over 16 million people, restricting travel from, to or within the affected areas, banning funerals and cultural events, and requiring people to keep at least one metre of distance from one another in public locations such as restaurants, churches and supermarkets.

Conte later clarified in a press conference that the decree was not an “absolute ban“, and that people would still be able to use trains and planes to and from the region for “proven work needs, emergencies, or health reasons“.

Additionally, tourists from outside were still permitted to leave the area.

 

Above: Areas quarantined on 8 March 2020

 

Restaurants and cafes were permitted to open, but operations were limited to between 06:00 and 18:00, while many other public locations such as gyms, nightclubs, museums and swimming pools were closed altogether.

Businesses were ordered to implement “smart working processes” to permit their employees to work from home.

 

GP: Coronavirus Rome Italy shutdown Precautions against coronavirus in Italy

 

The decree, in effect until 3 April, additionally cancelled any leave for medical workers, and allowed the government to impose fines or up to three months’ jail for people caught leaving or entering the affected zone without permission.

The decree also implemented restrictions on public gatherings elsewhere across Italy.

With this decree, the initial “Red Zone” was also abolished (though the municipalities were still within the quarantined area).

The lockdown measures implemented by Italy was considered the most radical measure implemented against the outbreak, outside of the lockdown measures implemented in China.

At the time of the decree, over 5,800 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in Italy, with 233 dead.

 

GP: Coronavirus: Italy Venice Plague Doctors Procession

 

A draft of the decree had been leaked to the media late on Saturday night before it went into effect and was published by Corriere della Sera, resulting in panic within the to-be-quarantined areas and prompting reactions from politicians in the region.

 

Corriere della Sera.svg

 

La Repubblica reported that hundreds of people in Milan rushed out to leave the city on the last trains on Saturday night, as a part of a rush in general to leave the red zone.

 

La Repubblica.svg

 

However, within hours of the decree being signed, media outlets reported that relatively little had changed, with trains and planes still operating to and from the region, and restaurants and cafes operating normally.

The BBC reported that some flights to Milan continued on 8 March, though several were cancelled.

New guidelines for the corona virus had assigned the responsibility of deciding whether to suspend flights to local judiciaries.

 

GP: Italy's Tourism Sector Predicted To Lose Billions From COVID-19 Impact 201003 EU

 

On the evening of 9 March, the quarantine measures were expanded to the entire country, coming into effect the next day.

In a televised address, Conte explained that the moves would restrict travel to that necessary for work and family emergencies, and all sporting events would be cancelled.

Italy was the first country to implement a national quarantine as a result of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak.

 

Flag of Italy

Above: Flag of Italy

 

On 11 March, Conte announced the lockdown would be tightened, with all commercial and retail businesses, except those providing essential services, like grocery stores and pharmacies, closed down.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio has said that the lockdown has been necessary for Italy.

 

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Above: Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Malo

 

The Italian authorities established sanctions for those who do not obey the orders, even those who, having symptoms of the virus, expose themselves in public places, being considered a threat of intentional contagion.

 

GP: Coronavirus Rome Piazza Navona ITALY-HEALTH-VIRUS

 

Responding to the thousands of people who evacuated from Lombardy just before the 8 March quarantine was put in place, police officers and medics met passengers from Lombardy in Salerno, Campania, and the passengers were required to self-quarantine.

 

GS - Italy Faces The Coronavirus

 

Michele Emiliano, President of Apulia, required all arrivals from northern Italy to self-quarantine.

 

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Above: Michele Emiliano

 

Similarly, Jole Santelli, President of Calabria, called for Calabrians living in northern Italy not to return home during the outbreak, and for the government to “block an exodus to Calabria“.

 

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Above: Jole Santelli

 

Conte, alongside other leaders, called for Italians not to engage in “furbizia“—i.e. craftiness to circumvent rules and bureaucracy—when it comes to the lockdown.

Conte also told la Repubblica that Italy was facing its “darkest hour“.

In the initial quarantine, a special radio station (Radio Zona Rossa, or “Radio Red Zone“) was set up for residents of the Codogno quarantine area, broadcasting updates on the quarantine situation, interviews with authorities, and government information.

 

Pino Pagani, left, says elderly listeners who feel even more alone under the quarantine find the radio station comforting [Michele Lori/Al Jazeera]

 

Catholic sermons were also broadcast through the radio.

 

Following the quarantine’s expansion, the hashtag #IoRestoACasa (“I stay at home“) was shared by thousands of social media users.

 

 

In compliance with regulations on keeping one metre of distance between each other in public locations, bars and restaurants placed duct tape on floors for their customers to follow.

Rushes to supermarkets in cities such as Roma and Palermo were reported as residents engaged in panic buying following the nationwide quarantine announcement.

 

Toilet paper, canned food: What explains coronavirus panic buying

 

After the national lockdown was announced, the Vatican closed the Vatican Museums and suspended Mass liturgies.

While St. Peter’s Basilica remained open, its catacombs were closed and visitors were required to follow the Italian regulations on the one-metre separation.

Catholic Mass in Rome and the Vatican were also suspended until 3 April, and Pope Francis opted to instead live stream daily Mass.

 

GP: Coronavirus: Italy Vatican

 

Dismayed by the Vicar General’s complete closure of all churches in the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis partially reversed the closures, but tourists are still barred from visiting the churches.

 

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Above: Pope Francis

 

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, praised Italy’s decision to implement the lockdown, stating that the Italian people and government were “making genuine sacrifices” with these “bold, courageous steps“.

 

Adhanom smiling in a suit

Above: WHO Director General Tedros Adhamon

 

Among Brescian municipalities, Limone sul Garda is not listed among those with corona virus cases.

For now.

Though the virus is on Limone’s doorstep – in Gardone Riviera, Lonata del Garda and Moniga del Garda – one case in each town – it has yet to make its dark appearance felt within Limone itself.

Perhaps, miraculously, Covina-19 will avoid Limone, for Limone is a place of miracles….

 

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Limone sul Garda, Italy, Tuesday 6 August 2018

Imagine a place where majestic mountains act as a backdrop for the infinite blue of Lake Garda.

Forget the impatience of the world for a moment and serenely choose a moment of tranquillity, to share with your loved ones.

The blue has never been as beautiful as it is now, in this natural backdrop of colours, tastes and perfumes.

 

Limone sul Garda

 

Olives, lemons, oleanders, palms and bougainvilleas flourish in an enchanting inlet, where the mountains suddenly open up, mirrored in the intense blue of the water, like in a dream.

Limone, once a small fishing village, is today one of the most highly appreciated tourist centres, with a splendid lakeside promenade and camping grounds, hotels and modern residences, equipped with every comfort.

It has well-equipped beaches, street swarming with shops, bars and restaurants for every taste.

Limone, the home of tranquillity and courtesy, is the ideal place for a vacation on the Lake, year round.

 

Limone sul Garda – Veduta

 

The vestiges of the past are splendidly blended into the backdrop, conferring even greater harmony.

Thus, we can see the pillars of the ancient lemon houses rising from the shores exposed to the sun, which sweetly slope down towards the Lake.

In the surrounding area, the silvery foliage of centuries old olive trees ripple in the wind.

The old part of the village, set between the earth and water, opens up to reveal an infinite number of characteristic, peaceful corners.

The deep ties with the territory are still alive in the daily life that marches on: simplicity, hospitality and untiring work are the peculiarities of Limone entrepreneurs who make every effort, every day, to ensure that guests feel at home.

Nature alone generously offers considerable opportunities to enjoy leisure time, even for the less sporty: the Lake and its beaches, the itineraries that wind their way up to the ancient citrus fruit gardens, in the shade of the houses, the trails that branch out around the village, climbing up to the summits of the mountains that surround the village, providing uniquely beautiful views – an ideal habitat for mountain lovers and experts.

The multifunctional sports centre, the sports complex and the many tennis courts complete the array of proposals capable of meeting the requirements of both professional and amateur sportsmen.

 

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Despite the presence of famous cultivations of lemons (the meaning of the city’s name in Italian), the town’s name is probably derived from the ancient lemos (elm) or limes (Latin: boundary, referring to the communes of Brescia and the Bishopric of Trento).

From 1863 to 1905 the denomination was Limone San Giovanni.

 

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The first settlements found in the surrounding area of Benaco (the ancient name of the Lake) date back to the Neolithic period.

In fact, in the nearby Valley of Ledro you can visit a museum dedicated to the pile work houses from the Bronze Age found in that area.

 

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In 600 BC, the Celtic tribes that inhabited the area were conquered by the Romans.

After this, the Lake’s historical development follows that of the rest of northern Italy: from the Longobards, to the arrival of Charlemagne, the Venetian Republic, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Italian Renaissance, the World Wars, up to the birth of the present Italian Republic.

 

Benacus creino.jpg

 

However, the most important period of the social, economic and cultural development of Limone was the domination of the Venetian Republic or “Serenissima” (the Splendid) as it was called during the first half of the 15th century.

Due to the administration of the Serenissima, Limone developed from a typical rural village based on fishing and the growing of olives to the most northerly centre for the cultivation of citrus fruits, such as lemons, oranges and citrons.

 

Flag of Venice

Above: Flag of the Republic of Venice

 

They built the world famous lemon groves called Limonaia with high walls to protect the trees from the cold northeastern winds.

The huge columns in these groves were used to support wooden rafters which during winter covered the grove transforming it into a greenhouse.

 

Image result for Limonaia images

 

However, things were not as easy as they may have seemed.

Soil had to be imported for the lemon trees from the southern part of the Lake, because the original soil was very poor as it consisted only of gravel.

The water supply for the lemon groves was a masterpiece of an irrigation system.

 

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At the beginning of September 1786, when the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had just turned 37, he “slipped away“, in his words, from his duties as Privy Councillor in the Duchy of Weimar, from a long platonic affair with a court lady, and from his immense fame as the author of the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther and the stormy play Götz von Berlichingen, and took what became a licensed leave of absence.

By May 1788, he had travelled to Italy via Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass and visited Lake Garda, Verona, Vicenza, Venezia, Bologna, Roma, the Alban Hills, Napoli and Sicily.

He wrote many letters to a number of friends in Germany, which he later used as the basis for Italian Journey.

 

Goethe in 1828, by Joseph Karl Stieler

Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

 

Italian Journey initially takes the form of a diary, with events and descriptions written up apparently quite soon after they were experienced.

The impression is in one sense true, since Goethe was clearly working from journals and letters he composed at the time — and by the end of the book he is openly distinguishing between his old correspondence and what he calls reporting.

But there is also a strong and indeed elegant sense of fiction about the whole, a sort of composed immediacy.

Goethe said in a letter that the work was “both entirely truthful and a graceful fairy tale“.

It had to be something of a fairy tale, since it was written between 30 and more than 40 years after the journey, from 1816 to 1828-29.

 

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein - Goethe in the Roman Campagna - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s Goethe in the Roman Campagna

 

The work begins with a famous Latin tag, Et in Arcadia ego.

This Latin phrase is usually imagined as spoken by Death — this is its sense, for example, in W. H. Auden’s poem called “Et in Arcadia ego” — suggesting that every paradise is afflicted by mortality.

 

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Above: Wystan Hugh Auden (1907 – 1973)

 

What Goethe says is “Even I managed to get to Paradise“, with the implication that we could all get there if we chose.

If death is universal, the possibility of paradise might be universal too.

This possibility wouldn’t preclude its loss, and might even require it, or at least require that some of us should lose it.

The book ends with a quotation from Ovid’s Tristia, regretting his expulsion from Rome.

Statue (1887) by Ettore Ferrari commemorating Ovid's exile in Tomis (present-day Constanța, Romania)

Above: Statue of Publius Ovidius Naso (aka Ovid) (43 BC – AD 18) commemorating his exile in Tomis (present-day Constanța, Romania)

 

Cum repeto noctem, Goethe writes in the middle of his own German, as well as citing a whole passage:

When I remember the night…

He is already storing up not only plentiful nostalgia and regret, but also a more complicated treasure:

The certainty that he didn’t merely imagine the land where others live happily ever after.

 

 

We are all pilgrims who seek Italy“, Goethe wrote in a poem two years after his return to Germany from his almost two-year spell in the land he had long dreamed of.

For Goethe, Italy was the warm passionate south as opposed to the dank cautious North.

The place where the classical past was still alive, although in ruins.

A sequence of landscapes, colours, trees, manners, cities, monuments he had so far seen only in his writing.

He described himself as “the mortal enemy of mere words” or what he also called “empty names“.

He needed to fill the names with meaning and, as he rather strangely put it, “to discover myself in the objects I see“, literally “to learn to know myself by or through the objects“.

He also writes of his old habit of “clinging to the objects“, which pays off in the new location.

He wanted to know that what he thought might be Paradise actually existed, even if it wasn’t entirely Paradise, and even if he didn’t in the end want to stay there.

Some journeys – Goethe’s was one – really are quests.

Italian Journey is not only a description of places, persons and things, but also a psychological document of the first importance.

— W. H. Auden, Epigraph on Italian Journey
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On 13 September 1786, Goethe passed by the village of Limone by boat and described with this words its lemon gardens:

The morning was magnificent: a bit cloudy, but calm as the sun rose.

We passed Limone, the mountain-gardens of which, laid out terrace-fashion, and planted with citron-trees, have a neat and rich appearance.

The whole garden consists of rows of square white pillars placed at some distance from each other, and rising up the mountain in steps.

On these pillars strong beams are laid, that the trees planted between them may be sheltered in the winter.

The view of these pleasant objects was favored by a slow passage, and we had already passed Malcesine when the wind suddenly changed, took the direction usual in the day-time, and blew towards the north.

(Italian Journey, Johann Wolfgang Goethe)

 

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Apart from the cultivation of citrus fruits in the 19th century during the reign of the Habsburg family, Limone also offered other products such as magnesium, paper, quicklime and silkworms due to the mild climate.

Unfortunately, during World War I all these prosperous businesses came to a sudden end because of the geopolitical and strategic location of Limone.

The whole area, which was situated on the immediate border with Austria and which was in the active combat zone between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italian Reign was completely evacuated.

When people returned to their homes after the war there was nothing left from the former activities and they had to start again by fishing and growing olives.

Throughout this whole period the only way to reach Limone was by water or through difficult mountain paths.

Until the 1940s the city was reachable only by lake or through the mountains, with the road to Riva del Garda being built only 1932, but today Limone is one of the most renowned tourist resorts in the area.

 

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Limone’s hotel tradition has developed simultaneously with realization of the most important traffic artery of the Lake: the Gardesana Road.

Activities related to fishing and agriculture were gradually abandoned over the years, while increasing numbers of accommodation and commercial facilities have been created.

In the Seventies, many camping grounds grounds were transformed into hotels in order to meet the changing demands of the market and allowing entrepreneurs to extend the tourist season.

The expansion of the tourist season continued in the Eighties as well, as the village developed an accommodation capacity very similiar to the present day situation.

Over the last decade, collective efforts have privileged development of the quality of the offer:

This has led to important public and private works to requalify many areas, making Limone one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the European market.

 

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In order to document the socio-economic changes in Limone after the opening of the Gardesana Road the local council established a Museum of Tourism.

It was set up in the former local council building and inaugurated in 2011.

Inside the exhibition spaces display posters, calendars, holiday guides, souvenirs, etc.

 

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A large area has also been dedicated to Limone’s citizen St. Daniele Comboni and the discovery of apoli protein A1, a good gene that helps to minimize the hardening of arteries and reduce heart disease.

 

Daniele Comboni, the founder of the Institutes for Comboni Missionaries, was born in Limone.

In the neighbourhood quarter Tesöl, Comboni’s life and work can be understood at the Tesöl Centre of the Comboni Missionaries.

Comboni (1831 – 1881) was an Italian Roman Catholic bishop who served in the missions in Africa and was the founder of both the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Comboni Missionary Sisters.

 

Daniele Comboni.jpg

 

Comboni was born on 15 March 1831 at Limone sul Garda in Brescia to the poor gardeners (working for a local proprietor) Luigi Comboni and Domenica Pace as the fourth of eight children.

He was the sole child to survive into adulthood.

At that time Limone was under the jurisdiction of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

 

Austria-Hungary on the eve of World War I

Above: Austrian-Hungarian Empire before World War I

 

At the age of twelve, he was sent to school in Verona on 20 February 1843 at the Religious Institute of Verona, founded by Nicola Mazza.

It was there that he completed his studies in medicine and languages (he learnt French, English and Arabic) and prepared to become a priest.

 

A collage of Verona, clockwise from top left to right: View of Piazza Bra from Verona Arena, House of Juliet, Verona Arena, Ponte Pietra at sunset, Statue of Madonna Verona's fountain in Piazza Erbe, view of Piazza Erbe from Lamberti Tower

Above: Images of Verona

 

On 6 January 1849 he vowed that he would join the African missions, a desire he had held since 1846 after reading about the Japanese martyrs.

 

(The Martyrs of Japan were Christian missionaries and followers who were persecuted and executed, mostly during the Tokugawa shogunate period in the 17th century.

More than 400 martyrs of Japan have been recognized with beatification by the Catholic Church, and 42 have been canonized as saints.

Martyrs of Japan can be seen within the context of Christian colonialism and Christianization.)

 

Above: The 26 Martyrs of Japan at Nagasaki. (1628 engraving)

 

On 31 December 1854 in Trento he received his ordination to the priesthood from the Bishop of Trent Johann Nepomuk von Tschiderer zu Gleifheim.

 

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Above: Bishop of Trent Johann Nepomuk von Tschiderer zu Gleifheim (1777- 1860)

 

Comboni made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 29 September to 14 October 1855.

 

(The Holy Land (Hebrew: אֶרֶץ הַקּוֹדֶשׁ Eretz HaKodesh, Latin: Terra Sancta; Arabic: الأرض المقدسة Al-Arḍ Al-Muqaddasah or الديار المقدسة Ad-Diyar Al-Muqaddasah) is an area roughly located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that also includes the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River.

Traditionally, it is synonymous both with the biblical Land of Israel and with the region of Palestine.

The term “Holy Land” usually refers to a territory roughly corresponding to the modern State of Israel, the Palestinian territories, western Jordan, and parts of southern Lebanon and of southwestern Syria.

Jews, Christians and Muslims all regard it as holy.

Part of the significance of the land stems from the religious significance of Jerusalem (the holiest city to Judaism), as the historical region of Jesus’ ministry, and as the site of the Isra and Mi’raj event of 621 in Islam.

The holiness of the land as a destination of Christian pilgrimage contributed to launching the Crusades, as European Christians sought to win back the Holy Land from the Muslims, who had conquered it from the Christian Eastern Roman Empire in the 630s.

In the 19th century, the Holy Land became the subject of diplomatic wrangling as the Holy Places played a role in the Eastern Question which led to the Crimean War in the 1850s.

Many sites in the Holy Land have long been pilgrimage destinations for adherents of the Abrahamic religions, including Jews, Christians, Muslims and Bahá’ís.

Pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, to confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and to connect personally to the Holy Land.)

 

The map of the Holy Land by Marino Sanudo (drawn in 1320).jpg

Above: The map of the Holy Land by Marino Sanudo (drawn in 1320)

Map orientation: north pointing left.

 

In 1857 – with the blessing of his mother – Comboni left for Africa along with five other missionaries, also former students of Mazza.

His mother gave him her blessing and said to him:

Go, Daniele, and may the Lord bless you“.

 

Comboni departed on 8 September 1857 with Giovanni Beltrame, Alessandro dal Bosco, Francesco Oliboni, Angelo Melotto and Isidoro Zilli who hailed from Udine.

 

Piazza San Giacomo

Above: Piazza San Giacomo, Udine

 

Four months later, on 8 January 1858, Comboni reached Khartoum in Sudan.

His assignment was the liberation of enslaved boys and girls.

There were difficulties including an unbearable climate and sickness as well as the deaths of several of his fellow missionaries.

This, added with the poor and derelict conditions that the population faced, made the situation all the more difficult.

 

Khartoum downtown

Above: Modern Khartoum

 

Comboni had written to his parents of the conditions and the difficulties that the group faced but remained resolved.

He witnessed the death of one of his companions and instead of deterring him he remained determined to continue and wrote:

O Nigrizia o morte!” (translation: “Either Africa or death“)

 

Africa (orthographic projection).svg

 

By the end of 1859 three of the five had died and two were in Cairo as Comboni himself grew ill.

 

Above: Modern Cairo

 

Comboni was in his new surroundings from 1858 until 15 January 1859 when he was forced to return to Verona due to a bout of malaria.

He taught at Mazza’s institute from 1861 until 1864.

He soon worked out fresh strategies for the missions while back in his native land in 1864.

 

Don Mazza.jpg

Above: Portrait of Nicola Mazza (1790 – 1865)

 

He visited St Peter’s Tomb in Rome on 15 September 1864 and it was while reflecting before the Tomb that he came upon the idea of a “Plan for the Rebirth of Africa” which was a project with the slogan “Save Africa through Africa“.

 

Above: St. Peter’s Tomb

 

Four days later, on 19 September, he met with Pope Pius IX to discuss his project.

 

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Above: Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878)

 

Comboni wanted the European continent and the Universal Church to be more concerned with the African continent.

He carried out appeals throughout Europe from December 1864 to June 1865 for spiritual and material aid for the African missions from people including monarchical families as well as bishops and nobles.

Travelling under an Austrian consular visa, he went to France and Spain before heading north to England and then setting off to Germany and Austria.

The humanitarian “Society of Cologne” became a main supporter of his work.

It was around this time that he launched a magazine – the first in his homeland to delve into the missions for it was designed to be an exclusive magazine for those in the missions.

 

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Above: Cologne Cathedral (Köln Dom)

 

He established a male institute on 1 June 1867 and one for women in 1872 both in Verona: the Istituto delle Missioni per la Nigrizia (since 1894 the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus) and the Istituto delle Pie Madri (later the Comboni Missionary Sisters) on 1 January 1872.

On 7 May 1867, he had an audience with Pope Pius IX and brought with him twelve African girls to meet the Pope.

In late 1867 Comboni opened two branches of the order in Cairo.

 

Comboni was the first to bring women into this form of work in Africa and he founded new missions in El Obeid and Delen amongst other Sudanese cities.

Comboni was well-versed in the Arabic language and also spoke in several African dialects (Dinka, Bari and Nubia) as well as six European languages.

 

Camels in El-Obeid (early 1960s)

 

On 2 April 1868, he was decorated with the Order of the Knight of Italy but he refused this in fidelity to Pius IX.

On 7 July 1968, he left for France where he visited the shrine of La Salette on 26 July before heading to Germany and Austria.

 

Above: La Salette

 

On 20 February 1869 he left Marseilles for Cairo where he opened a third house on 15 March.

 

Among Comboni’s early companions during his early years in Africa was Catarina Zenab, a Dinka who would go on to serve as a missionary in Khartoum later in her life.

 

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Above: Catarina Zenab (1848–1921)

 

On 9 March 1870, he left Cairo for Rome and arrived there on 15 March, where he took part in the First Vatican Council as the theologian of the Bishop of Verona Luigi di Canossa.

He formulated the “Postulatum pro Nigris Africæ Centralis” on 24 June which was a petition for the evangelization of Africa.

This received the signature of 70 bishops.

The First Vatican Council was terminated due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and the dissolution of the Papal States before the document could be discussed.

 

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Above: First Vatican Council (1869 – 1870)

 

In mid-1877 he was named as the Vicar Apostolic of Central Africa and received his episcopal consecration as a bishop on 12 August 1877 from Cardinal Alessandro Franchi (1819 – 1878).

 

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Comboni’s episcopal appointment was seen as a confirmation that his ideas and his activities – which some deemed to be foolish – were recognised as an effective means for the proclamation of the Gospel.

 

Above: St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Khartoum

 

In 1877, and again in 1878, there was a drought in the region of the mission while mass starvation ensued soon after.

The local population was halved and the religious personnel and their activities reduced almost to nothing.

 

 

On 27 November 1880, Comboni traveled to the missions in Sudan from Napoli (Naples) for the eighth and final time to act against the slave trade and, though ill, he managed to arrive in Khartoum on 9 August in summer and made a trip to the Nubia mountains.

 

Top: Panorama view of Mergellina Port, Mergellina, Chiaia area, over view of Mount Vesuvius, Second left: Naples Directional Center (Centro Direzionale di Napoli) and Spaccanapoli Street, Second right: Via Toledo Street, Third left: Naples Media Center, Third right: Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino), Bottom: View of Centro direzionale di Napoli, from Naples Railroad Station

Above: Images of Napoli

 

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Above: The Nuba Mountains

 

On 10 October 1881, he died in Khartoum during the cholera epidemic at 10:00 pm in the evening.

He had suffered a high fever since 5 October.

His final words were reported to be:

I am dying, but my work will not die.

 

Pope Leo XIII mourned the loss of the bishop as a “great loss“.

 

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Above: Pope Leo XIII (1810 – 1903)

 

Bishop Antonio Maria Roveggio (1850–1902) served as the order’s superior sometime after Comboni died.

 

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Above: Bishop Antonio Maria Roveggio

 

The male order received the papal decree of praise on 7 June 1895 and full papal approval from Pope Pius X on 19 February 1910.

 

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Above: Pope Pius X (1835 – 1914)

 

As of 2018, the men’s order operates in about 28 countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines.

The female order received the decree of praise on 22 February 1897 and papal approval on 10 June 1912, while in 2008 there were 1,529 religious in 192 houses.

That order operates in Europe – in countries such as the United Kingdom, in Africa – in nations such as Cameroon and Mozambique, in the Americas – in countries such as Costa Rica and Ecuador, and in Asia – in countries such as Israel and Jordan.

 

Above: Countries where the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus are active.

 

Above: St. Daniel Comboni Kindergarten in Eritrea

 

On 26 March 1994 the confirmation of Comboni’s life of heroic virtue enabled Pope John Paul II to title him as Venerable.

 

John Paul II in 1985

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

The miracle required for Comboni to be beatified was investigated on a diocesan level in São Mateus from 10 December 1990 until 29 June 1992 before it received validation on 30 April 1993.

The miracle was the 25 December 1970 healing of the Afro-Brazilian child Maria Giuseppa Oliveira Paixão who underwent a stomach surgical procedure for an infection that grew worse over time.

But their attention turned to Comboni’s intercession and she was healed the next morning in a case that surprised the doctor.

The seven medical experts approved that science could not explain this cure on 9 June 1994, while six theologians agreed likewise on 22 November 1994, as did the C.C.S. members on 24 January 1995.

 

View of São Mateus

Above: Sao Mateus, Brazil

 

Pope John Paul II confirmed on 6 April 1995 that this healing was indeed a miracle and beatified Comboni in Saint Peter’s Basilica on 17 March 1996.

John Paul II confirmed this miracle on 20 December 2002 and scheduled the date for Comboni’s canonization in a papal consistory held on 20 February 2003.

The pope canonized Comboni in Saint Peter’s Square on 5 October 2003.

 

Above: St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

 

The miracle in question was the healing of the Muslim mother Lubana Abdel Aziz (b. 1965) who – on 11 November 1997 – was admitted into a Khartoum hospital for a caesarean section.

The hospital was one that the Comboni Missionary Sisters managed.

The infant was born but the mother suffered from repeated bleeding and other serious problems and was on the point of death despite a blood transfusion.

The doctors were pessimistic about her chances but the nuns began a novena to Comboni.

The woman healed, despite the odds, on 13 November and was discharged from the hospital on 18 November.

 

Above: Panorama of Khartoum

 

At the Tesöl Centre in Limone, you can visit Comboni’s birth house, the Chapel (which was later built under the birth house) and the small but interesting Museum of Curiosities.

If you want to deepen your knowledge of Comboni, there is the possibility of visiting the multimedia exhibition and a thematic exhibition.

Or you can simply relax in the special and calm atmosphere present in the park that surrounds the Centre with a marvelous view over Limone and Lake Garda.

 

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Above: Centro Comboniano Il Tesöl

 

In 1979, researchers discovered that people in Limone possess a mutant form of apolipo protein (called Apo A-1 Milano) in their blood, that induced a healthy form of high-density cholesterol, which resulted in a lowered risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.

The protein appears to have given residents of the village extreme longevity – a dozen of those living here are over the age of 100 (for c. 1,000 total inhabitants).

The origin of the mutation has been traced back to a couple who lived in Limone in the 17th century.

Research has been ongoing to develop pharmaceutical treatments against heart disease based on mimicking the beneficial effects of the Apolipo A-1 mutation.

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Above: Cartoon representation of the molecular structure of protein registered with 1nfn Code.

 

Apolipo proteins are proteins that bind lipids (oil-soluble substances, such as fat and cholesterol) to form lipoproteins.

They transport lipids (and fat soluble vitamins) in blood, cerebrospinal fluid and lymph.

The lipid components of lipoproteins are insoluble in water.

However, because of their detergent-like (amphipathic) properties, apolipo proteins and other amphipathic molecules (such as phospholipids) can surround the lipids, creating a lipoprotein particle that is itself water-soluble, and can thus be carried through water-based circulation (i.e., blood, lymph).

In addition to stabilizing lipoprotein structure and solubilizing the lipid component, apolipo proteins interact with lipoprotein receptors and lipid transport proteins, thereby participating in lipoprotein uptake and clearance.

They also serve as enzyme cofactors for specific enzymes involved in the metabolism of lipoproteins.

Apolipo proteins are also exploited by hepatitis C virus (HCV) to enable virus entry, assembly, and transmission.

They play a role in viral pathogenesis and viral evasion from neutralizing antibodies.

 

Apolipo protein A-1 Milano (also ETC-216 or MDCO-216) is a naturally occurring mutated variant of the apolipo protein A1 found in human HDL, the lipoprotein particle that carries cholesterol from tissues to the liver and is associated with protection against cardiovascular disease.

Apo A1 Milano was first identified by Dr. Cesare Sirtori in Milano (Milan), who also demonstrated that its presence significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, even though it caused a reduction in HDL levels and an increase in triglyceride levels.

 

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Above: Logo of the University of Milano

 

The Apo A-1 Milano mutation was found by University of Milan researchers after their 1974 investigation of a low HDL / high triglyceride phenotype exhibited by Valerio Dagnoli of Limone.

Limone had only 1,000 inhabitants at the time and when blood tests were run on the entire population of the village, the mutation was found to be present in about 3.5% of the local population.

The mutation was traced to one man, Giovanni Pomarelli, who was born in the village in 1780 and passed it on to his offspring.

 

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Above: Cartoon representation of Apo A-1

 

In the 1990s, researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center showed that injection of a synthetic version of the mutant Apo A-1 into rabbits and mice could reverse vascular plaque buildup.

 

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Above: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

 

Apo A-I Milano has been shown to reduce atherosclerosis in animal models and in a small phase 2 human trial.

Recombinant adeno-associated virus 8 (AAV8) mediated Apo A-I Milano gene therapy in combination with low-cholesterol diet induces rapid and significant regression of atherosclerosis in mice.

 

The first examination of using the mutant Apo A-1 in humans was conducted through a three way collaboration between the University of Milan and the companies Pharmacia and Upjohn in 1996, focusing on treatment of atherosclerosis.

 

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The Apo A-1 Milano Trial, published in JAMA in 2003, was the first published placebo-controlled, two-dose level trial in humans.

This was a secondary prevention trial in that those included were individuals who presented to a participating hospital with unstable angina and agreed to consent to a rigorous trial, well beyond usual clinical practice testing and treatment, testing whether this HDL protein variant, which was so effective in animals, would also work in humans.

This trial was initiated by Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic after prompting by Roger Newton of Esperion to examine the effects of the mutant protein using intravascular ultrasound imaging.

 

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Esperion provided the protein, code named ETC-216, for the duration of the trial.

 

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Due to its potential efficacy, it was speculated that development of synthetic ApoA-1 Milano might be a key factor in eradicating coronary heart disease.

Esperion Therapeutics, a high tech venture capital start-up, demonstrated efficacy in both animals and humans, spending many millions of dollars over several years to conduct a single human trial which showed impressive and rapid efficacy by IVUS of coronary arteries.

However, over the course of the project they produced only enough Apo A-1 Milano to partially treat 30 out of the 45 people in the randomized trial, giving them one weekly dose each for five weeks.

The results of the trial were published in JAMA (5 November 2003).

 

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Hoping to develop a more effective treatment than their current product Lipitor, Pfizer purchased and internalized Esperion shortly before JAMA published the results of the Apo A-1 Milano trial.

Currently, no drugs based on Apo A-1 Milano are commercially available.

 

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Rights to Apo A-1 Milano were acquired in 2003 by Pfizer.

Clinically known as ETC-216, Pfizer did not move trials forward, probably because the complex protein is very expensive to produce and must be administered intravenously, limiting its application compared to oral medications.

 

Pfizer, after the CETP agent torcetrapib failed in a large human safety trial, decided to exit the cardiovascular market in 2008, though they continue to market Lipitor aggressively.

Esperion, divested by Pfizer in 2008, is back in business and continue to work on HDL mimetic therapies.

The company established an agreement with Trans Gen Rx as a protein source.

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Calgary-based SemBioSys Genetics Inc. was a biotechnology company that was using safflower to develop commercial quantities of Apo A-1 Milano.

On 11 October 2011, SemBioSys Genetics signed a multi-product commercialization and platform collaboration agreement with Tasly Pharmaceuticals of Tianjin (China).

In May 2012, SemBioSys terminated its operations and announced that Tasly had terminated their agreement.

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On 22 December 2009, the Medicines Company announced it had entered into an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with Pfizer Inc. for Apo A-I Milano which it then renamed MDCO-216.

On 12 July 2010, the Medicines Company signed a pharmaceutical development and manufacturing contract with OctoPlus (a Netherlands-based drug delivery and drug development company) to perform process development and clinical manufacturing of MDCO-216.

After a trial study failed to produce significant enough results compared to other drugs being tested, in 2016 the Medicines Company discontinued development of MDCO-216.

 

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Cardigant Medical is a Los Angeles-based biotech company currently working to commercialize Apo A-1 Milano to treat various vascular diseases.

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Above: Logo of Cardigant Medical

 

One man of Limone (Daniele Comboni) spread the word of God to the continent of Africa.

Another man of Limone (Giovanni Pomarelli) left a heritage of health for the entire world to benefit from.

 

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Never underestimate the power of one person to make a difference in the world.

 

The wife and I were on vacation.

She was Bond, James Bond.

 

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Above: Ian Fleming’s original sketch impression of James Bond

 

I felt as helpless as Mr. White, though not tossed into the boot (trunk) of an Aston Martin I was a front seat passenger in a Capri careening through the tunnels of the Strada della Forra, the prisoner of a wife driven by purpose, bound for Limone sul Garda.

 

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Above: Jesper Christensen as Mr. White

 

Quantum of Solace is a 2008 spy film and the 22nd in the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions.

 

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Directed by Marc Forster and written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, it is a direct sequel to Casino Royale, and the 2nd film to star Daniel Craig as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond.

 

The poster shows Daniel Craig as James Bond, wearing a business suit with a loose tie and holding a gun. Behind him is a silhouette of a woman showing a building with a sign reading "Casino Royale" and a dark grey Aston Martin DBS below the building. At the bottom left of the image is the title "Casino Royale" – both "O"s stand above each other, and below them is a 7 with a trigger and gun barrel, forming Bond's codename: "Agent 007" – and the credits.

 

Moments after the end of Casino Royale, James Bond is driving from Lake Como to Siena, Italy, with the captured Mr. White in the boot of his Aston Martin DBS V12.

 

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Quantum of Solace was shot in six countries.

Malcesine, Limone sul Garda and Tremosine in Italy during March 2008.

Four weeks were scheduled for filming the car chase at Lake Garda and Carrara.

 

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On 19 April, an Aston Martin employee driving a DBS to the set crashed into the lake.

He survived, and was fined £400 for reckless driving.

 

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Another accident occurred on 21 April, and two days later, two stuntmen were seriously injured, with one, Greek stuntman Aris Comninos, having to be put in intensive care.

Filming of the scenes was temporarily halted so that Italian police could investigate the causes of the accidents.

 

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Above: Aris Comninos

 

Stunt co-ordinator Gary Powell said the accidents were a testament to the realism of the action.

Rumours of a “curse” spread among tabloid media, something which deeply offended Craig, who disliked that they compared Comninos’ accident to something like his minor finger injury later on the shoot (also part of the “curse“).

Comninos recovered safely from his injury.

 

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Above: Gary Powell

 

Considering the speed with which my wife likes to drive I wondered whether I would recover from mine.

 

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Where Goethe headed south from Limone to start a new life, we headed north from Limone to soon resume our old lives.

It was summer and it was hot, unbearably hot.

But on this day everything changed.

 

We arrived during a storm.

Though the winds were violent and the sky threatened I was jubliant.

I had found the days insufferable and the nights intolerable.

Being August and high season, everywhere seemed overflowing with everyone.

Even though Limone is a popular tourist destination there were fewer tourists on the streets and in the shops on this day.

 

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In a sense, the present lockdown of Limone (and the rest of Italy) is somewhat reflected in my memories of the town.

Folks huddled indoors, afraid to face the current situation.

 

 

We shopped and ate outside during breaks in the weather.

 

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Our feet found the way to the Museum of Tourism and the Castèl Lemon Grove.

 

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My memory sees white tiles in the pavement and cobblestone leading to the white pillars and walls of the limonaie facing the sun so as to catch life-sustaining, life-affirming rays of the distant star.

 

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The lemon groves stand proudly above the lake shore.

There may have been no more than 100 citrus plants lovingly assembled between stone pillars and beneath wooden frame roofs that could be covered during a storm and left bare during days of sunshine and warmth, but the visitor feels dwarfed and insignificant in an orchard that feels larger than its reality.

 

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I have no memory of whether we visited the town’s fishing museum or olive oil exhibition.

Where the former contains a typical boat with the tools used everyday for fishing by Limone’s forefathers, the latter holds an olive grove with silver leaves upon timeless trees and an ancient mill that coldly presses olives that produce an oil of very high quality.

 

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Our path following led us to the Parish Church of the Holy Benedict built in 1691 on the ruins of a former Roman basilica mentioned in Pope Urbano III’s Papal Bull in 1186.

In the past it was the duty of the church to keep records up to date and so the parish church contains the oldest known record of Limone’s social events.

Holy Services are held daily “where the three men I admire the most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost” smile upon this citrus coast amongst masterpieces of ecclesiastical art dating back to the 16th century.

It was here that Carboni was baptized as a boy.

We light a candle in memory of my wife’s beloved grandfather, a prayer for his eternal salvation.

 

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Above: The Parish Church of St. Benedict

 

We stumble upon the Church of St. Peter, the oldest church in Limone, dating back to the 9th century.

On the road to Tremosine on via San Pietro among olive trees, St. Peter is a simple church with a single nave and a white marble stoop.

The eyes and the spirit are drawn to the Church’s beautiful frescoes of the Last Supper and portraits of Saints Peter, Lucia and Zeno.

The simplicity of this small church evokes the essential inspiration of a community once deeply inspired by deep religious sentiment.

Until post-war years the population of Limone used St. Peter’s for penitentiary processions to implore the success of sowing and harvesting their crops, as well as to occasionally beseech immunity from natural disasters, illnesses and epidemics.

I wonder if the present lockdown allows the faithful of Limone to beseech God for deliverance from Covina-19.

The outside of the Church is powerful in its simplicity.

A small portico is inscribed with phrases bearing witness to important events that affected the town deeply, such as the plague of 1630, the defeat of Napoleon, bad olive harvests and seasons of sorrow.

Until the First World War, the portico was attached to a bell tower which was intentionally demolished because it was considered a dangerous landmark for the nearby artillery installations in Crocette.

What remains of this miniature House of God is therefore extremely precious.

St. Peter’s is an artistic, historical and religious relic, bearing truth to the town’s legacy of longevity, that Limone will endure while that which tests the resolve of the town will eventually pass.

 

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Above: The Church of St. Peter

 

Another church, the Church of St. Rocco, situated at the northern end of the town centre, was built during the 16th century by those who survived the Plague and is dedicated to the patron saint believed to have saved the settlement from extinction.

Sadly time has not been gentle to St. Rocco as the Church’s frescoes and tiny tower were seriously damaged during World War I.

Stone steps lead up to the Chapel where faith has not faltered though the Church crumbles.

 

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Above: The Church of San Rocco

 

In the historical town centre stands the former Chapel of St. Charles, built in 1905 by a Limone citizen in memory of her husband.

During WWI, the Chapel was used as a food stuffs cache for the town’s troops.

In 1930, the Chapel’s alter and sacred furnishings were removed and the premises used for civil events.

During the Second World War, the Chapel was again requisitioned for military use.

It now sits in silence, neither sacred or sublime, neither religious or secular.

 

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Above: the former Chapel of San Carlo

 

Limone believes in miracles, in the divine.

In addition to churches and chapels, frescoes and crucifixes, niches, commonly referred to as “capitèi“, testify to the profound faith that endures.

Symbols of faith, icons of hope, images of gratitude, are triumphiantly displayed upon the facades of houses, at crossroads, along the road that connects the village to the countryside and on the paths that climb up towards the mountains that scratch the heavens.

Via Capitelli is typical of this ecclesiastical expression as the population was particularly devoted to the capitèi of the Madonna del Bis on this road, St. Louis on Via Fasse, St. Marcus on Nanzéi and St. John Nepomuceno on the bridge of Via Tamas.

 

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Limone was a town in which I wish we had lingered longer, for days rather than hours.

We strolled between stalls selling nuts and candy, handbags and backpacks, lemons the size of melons on display amongst bottles of limoncello, packages of pasta and flasks of olive oil.

Our kitchen still contains a butter dish, a brightly painted memento of Limone sul Garda.

Temptations were many: caffes and gelaterias and ristorantes offering cucina italiana.

 

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From here the world feels small and I wonder, as I often do, what it would be like to be in Limone walking the early morning streets in an off-season month.

 

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When I consider Limone I think of a place that abides.

A place that awaits my return.

I only need to believe that the virus that despoils Italy will pass.

I only need to believe in miracles.

 

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Italy / Rough Guide Italy / http://www.visitlimonesulgarda.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Humanitarian Adventure

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 10 December 2019

There are things in Switzerland (and in our existence) that we simply take for granted:

And the thing about Swiss stereotypes is that some of them are true.

Diplomatic?

Yes.

Efficient?

Absolutely.

Boring?

Only at first glance.

Despite being one of the most visited countries in Europe, Switzerland remains one of the least understood.

It is more than simply the well-ordered land of cheese, chocolate, banks and watches.

It is more than a warm summer mountain holiday upon a cobalt blue lake, more than skiing down the slopes of some vertiginous Alp, more than postcard pristine beauty.

It is easy for the tourist to remain blissfully unaware of Swiss community spirit, that it speaks four official languages, that it possesses stark regional differences from canton to canton, that it has exubrant carnivals, culinary traditions and sophisticated urban centres.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

With its beautiful lakeside setting, Geneva (Genève) is a cosmopolitan city whose modest size belies its wealth and importance on the world stage.

French-speaking and Calvinistic it is a dynamic centre of business with an outward-looking character tempered by a certain reserve.

Geneva’s major sights are split by the Rhône River that flows into Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) and through the city’s several distinct neighbourhoods.

On the south bank (rive gauche), mainstream shopping districts Rive and Eaux-Vives climb from the water’s edge to Plainpalais and Vieille Ville, while the north bank (rive droite) holds grungy bars and hot clubbing Pâquis, the train station area and some world organizations.

 

A view over Geneva and the lake

 

A little over 1 km north of the train station is the international area, home to dozens of international organizations that are based in Geneva –  everything from the World Council of Churches to Eurovision.

Trains and buses roll up to the Place des Nations.

Gates on the Place des Nations open to the Palais des Nations, now occupied by UNOG, the United Nations Office at Geneva, the European headquarters of the United Nations, accessible only to visitors who sign up for a tour.

The huge monolith just off the square to the west, that looks like a bent playing card on its edge, is WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization), the highrise to the south is ITU (the International Telecommunications Union), just to the east is UNHCR (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and so on, and so on, and so on, an infinite combination of letters of the alphabet in an infinite variety of abbreviations and acronyms.

The giant Broken Chair which looms over the square was installed in 1997 for the international conference in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) banning the use of land mines, a graphic symbol of the victims of such weapons.

 

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Geneva is also the birthplace of the International Red Cross / Crescent / Crystal Movement.

And it was the latter, along with the International Museum of the Reformation, that compelled me to visit Geneva.

 

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(For details about the Musée Internationale de la Réforme, please see Canada Slim and the Third Man in my other blog, The Chronicles of Canada Slim.)

 

Genevè, Suisse, mardi le 23 janvier 2018

Housed within the HQ of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Musée International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant Rouge chronicles the history of modern conflict and the role the Red Cross has played in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in war and natural disasters.

Enter through a trench in the hillside opposite the public entrance of UNOG and emerge into an enclosed glass courtyard beside a group of bound and blindfolded stone figures.

The stone gathering represents the continual worldwide violation of human rights.

 

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Inside, above the ticket desk, is a quotation in French from Dostoevsky:

Everyone is responsible to everyone else for everything.

 

Portrait by Vasili Perov, 1872

Above: Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881)

 

A free audioguide takes you through the Museum.

 

Twenty-five years ago, Laurent Marti, a former ICRC delegate, had the idea of creating the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

 

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Above: Laurent Marti

 

Marti won the wives of US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Gorbachev over to his cause in a bid to obtain the support of their respective countries, together with that of local and international societies and personages and of various multinational companies representing a full range of human activities.

 

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Above: Nancy Reagan (née Davis) (1921 – 2016)

 

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Above: Raisa Gorbacheva (née Titarenko) (1932 – 1999)

 

The goal of the Museum is to emanate a very powerful atmosphere where no one leaves without having been shaken and deeply moved by what they had seen.

Suffering, death, wounds and mutiliations can be followed by a time of healing, restoration, reunification and an opportunity to be happy again, a right that seemed to have been withdrawn.

Of course, the scars remain deep within the human soul, but the hope of restoration and of a return to normalcy is the message of the Museum.

 

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The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is dedicated to preventing and alleviating human suffering in warfare and in emergencies, such as earthquakes, epidemics and floods.

The Movement is composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the 188 individual national societies.

Each has its own legal identity and role, but they are all united by seven fundamental principles:

  •  humanity
  •  impartiality
  •  neutrality
  •  independence
  •  voluntary service
  •  unity
  •  universality

The interactive chronology covers one and a half centuries of history, starting with the creation of the Red Cross.

For each year, the events listed include:

  •  armed conflicts which caused the death of more than 10,000 people and/or affected more than one million people
  •  epidemics and disasters that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people and/or affected more than one million people
  •  significant events in the history of the Movement
  •  cultural and scientific milestones

 

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In 1859 Henri Dunant was travelling on business through northern Italy.

 

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

 

He found himself close to the Solferino battlefield just after the fighting.

The battle of Solferino was a key episode in the Italian Wars.

 

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With the support of France under Napoleon III, Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, King of Piedmont, endeavoured to unite the different Italian states.

In spring 1859 the Piedmont forces clashed with the Austrian Empire, which had control over Lombardy and Venetia.

On 24 June 1859, the Franco-Piedmontese troops defeated the Austrians at Solferino, in a battle that left more than 40,000 dead and wounded.

Overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of wounded soldiers left without medical care, Dunant organized basic relief with the assistance of the local people.

 

 

On that memorable 24th of June 1859, more than 300,000 men stood facing each other.

The fighting continued for more than 15 hours.

No quarter is given.

It is a sheer butchery, a struggle between savage beasts.

The poor wounded men that were picked up all day long were ghastly pale and exhausted.

Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupified look.

How many brave soldiers, undettered by their first wounds, kept pressing on until a fresh shot brought them to earth.

Men of all nations lay side by side on the flagstone floors of the churches of Castiglione.

The shortage of assistants, orderlies and helpers was cruelly felt.

I sought to organize as best I could relief.

The women of Castiglione, seeing that I made no distinction between nationalities, followed my example.

Siamo tutti fratelli” (we are all brothers), they repeated feelingly.

 

Above: Ossuary of Solferino

 

But why have I told of all these scenes of pain and distress?

Is it not a matter of urgency to press forward to prevent or at least alleviate the horrors of war?

Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies given to the wounded in wartime?

Societies of this kind, once formed and their permanent existence assured, would be always organized and ready for the possibility of war.

Would it not be desirable to formulate some international principle, sanctioned by a Convention inviolate in character, which, once agreed upon and ratified, might constitute the basis for societies for the relief of the wounded?

 

Above: Ossuary of Solferino

 

Back home in Geneva, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino.

The book was published in 1862 and was an immediate success.

 

 

In it, Dunant made two proposals:

  • the formation of relief societies which would care for wounded soldiers
  • the establishment of an international convention to guarantee their safety

Those ideas led, the following year, to the foundation of the Red Cross, and ten months later to the first Geneva Convention.

 

 

In 1863, in response to Dunant’s appeal, Gustave Moynier persuaded the Geneva Public Welfare Society to consider the possibility of training groups of volunteer nurses to provide relief for the wounded.

A committee was set up, the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, the future ICRC, was born.

 

Above: Gustave Moynier (1826 – 1910)

 

The need to defend human dignity has been a constant concern throughout history.

From the Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC) to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), texts from all periods and cultures exist to testify to that.

Those texts were frequently written in response to incidents in which human dignity was shown no consideration – slavery, chemical weapons, civilian bombing, concentration camps, atomic bombing, sexual violence, landmines, child soldiers, prisoners with no legal status.

Throughout time mankind has determined:

  • that the strong should not suppress the weak (Code of Hammurabi – Mwaopotamia 1750 BC)

Above: Stele of the Code of Hammurabi

 

  • that peace is possible between warring nations (Treaty of Kadesh, the oldest peace treaty known to man and the first written international treaty –  Egypt 1279 BC)

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Above: Treaty of Kadesh

 

  • that we should be free to practice our own religions (Cyrus Cylinder – Persia 539 BC)

Front view of a barrel-shaped clay cylinder resting on a stand. The cylinder is covered with lines of cuneiform text

Above: Cyrus Cylinder

 

  • that we should not do unto others what we don’t wish done to ourselves (The Analects of Confucius – China 480 BC)

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Above: The Analects

  • that we should live lives of non-violence with respect towards all (The Edicts of Ashoka – India 260 BC)

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Above: The Edicts of Ashoka

 

  • that power should not be used arbitrarily nor imprisonment without just cause (The Magna Carta – England 1215)

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Above: Magna Carta

 

  • that all persons are free and that no one is a slave to another (The Manden Charter – Mali 1222)

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Above: The Manden Charter

 

  • that women and children and the insane have dignity and rights that must be respected (The Viqayet – Muslim Spain 1280)

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  • that mankind has natural and inalienable rights (freedom, equality, justice, community) (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – France 1789)

 

  • that the wounded need to be treated regardless of nationality, that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and in rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights – United Nations 1948)

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The original title of the initial Geneva Convention was the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.

It had only ten articles and one sole objective:

To limit the suffering caused by war.

Article 7 provided for the creation of the protective emblem of the red cross.

This document laid the foundations of international humanitarian law, marks the start of the humanitarian adventure.

By 2013, 194 nations are party to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.

(See http://www.icrc.org for the complete list.)

 

The Museum explains how the Geneva Conventions developed from one man’s battlefield encounter.

After Dunant’s publication of A Memory of Solferino in November 1862, Gustave Moynier (1826 – 1910), chairman of the Geneva Public Welfare Society, in response to Dunant’s appeal, persuaded Society members the following February to consider the possibility of training groups of volunteer nurses to provide relief for the war wounded.

An ad hoc committee was set up – the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded.

The future ICRC was born.

 

Above: ICRC Headquarters, Geneva

 

Ambulances and military hospitals shall be recognized as neutral and as such protected and respected by the belligerants as long as they accommodate wounded and sick.” (Article 1)

Inhabitants of the country who bring help to the wounded shall be respected and shall remain free.” (Article 5)

Wounded or sick combatants, to whatever nation they may belong, shall be collected and cared for.” (Article 6)

A distinctive and uniform flag shall be adopted for hospitals, ambulances and evacuation parties.” (Article 7)

A red cross on a white background was adopted in 1863, followed by a red crescent, a red lion and red sun (1929) and a red crystal (2005).

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To protect the victims of conflict, the ICRC has at its disposal several instruments defined by international humanitarian law.

“At all times, parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick.”

“The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.”

“The parties to the conflict shall endeavour to conclude local agreements for the passage of medical personnel and medical equipment.”

“Civilian hospitals may in no circumstances be the object of attack.”

“It is prohibited to commit any acts of hostility directed against historic monuments, works of art or places of worship.”

“Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear stations shall not be made the object of attack.”

“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensible to the survival of the civilian population.”

 

Above: The Red Cross in action, 1864

 

The Second World War (1939 – 1945) involved 61 countries in war and caused the death of around 60 million people, more than half of whom were civilians.

In 1945 more than 20 million people had been displaced.

In 1995 the ICRC publicly described its attitude to the Second World War Holocaust as a “moral failure“.

 

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Above: Images of World War II (1939 – 1945)

 

The persecution of the Jews by the Nazis began shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933 and subsequently continued to intensify, culminating in systematic extermination from 1942 onwards.

 

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Above: Auschwitz, Poland, May 1944

 

At the time, the ICRC had no legal instrument to protect civilians.

The 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War applied only to members of the armed forces.

The organization thus considered itself powerless in the face of the anti-Semitic fury of the Nazi dictatorship.

 

Flag of Germany

 

Thus in October 1942 the Committee refused, in particular, to launch a public appeal on behalf of civilians affected by the conflict.

Although the International Red Cross endeavoured to provide aid for Jewish civilians, it erred on the side of caution.

 

Above: Jewish women, occupied Paris, June 1942

 

It was not until the spring of 1944 that a change of strategy took shape.

As Germany’s war efforts collapsed, ICRC delegates belatedly managed to enter some concentration camps, becoming voluntary hostages in order to prevent the further massacre or forced evacution of the prisoners.

 

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Above: Auschwitz, May 1944

 

The harsh lesson of the Second World War had been learned.

In 1949 the Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted:

It provides protection for civilians during armed conflict.

It was complemented in 1977 by additional protocols which reinforce the protection given to victims of armed conflicts, international or domestic.

In particular, the additional protocols established the distinction between civilians and combatants.

 

In an armed conflict, the ICRC’s mandate is to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions.

When the ICRC observes serious violations of the Conventions, it points them out to the countries concerned in confidential reports.

However, on occasion, that information has been published in the press:

  • Le Monde during the Algerian War

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Above: Images of the Algerian War (1954 – 1962)

 

  • The Wall Street Journal about Abu Ghraib Prison

Above: Lynndie England with “Gus“, Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq

 

  • The New York Review of Books / Wikileaks about Guantanamo Prison

Above: Guantanamo “Gitmo” Prison, Cuba

 

Such leaks put the ICRC in a difficult position as discretion is a necessary part of its work and its discussions with the authorities.

Its confidentialiy policy actually facilitates access to detainees, wounded people and groups of civilians.

When humanitarian diplomacy fails, the ICRC then resorts to a more open form of communication.

It then issues press releases publicly condemning serious violations of the Conventions.

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In the 1980s the United Nations Security Council set up ad hoc tribunals to judge the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.

In 1998 the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established.

It was a permanent institution with the power to open investigations, to prosecute and to try people accused of committing war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

The ICC began its work in 2005 by opening three investigations into crimes:

  • in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • in Uganda
  • in the Sudan

The existence of a permanent international court gives the world the means of determining facts and of punishing those responsible for the crimes.

It gives victims an opportunity to have their voice heard.

 

Official logo of International Criminal Court Cour pénale internationale  (French)

Above: Logo of the International Criminal Court

 

Poverty, migration, urban violence….

All of them are present-day threats to human dignity.

All over the world, large sections of the population are living in extremely precarious hygenic conditions.

 

Economic changes are forcing more and more people to emigrate.

Those migrants, who frequently have no identity documents, are exploited and ostracized.

In some megacities, whole districts are at the mercy of armed groups which terrorize the inhabitants.

Each of those situations presents a challenge to which a response must be found.

 

Above: Syrian refugees, Ramtha, Jordan, August 2013

 

Since the First World War, the ICRC has had the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian detainees during an international armed conflict.

In other situations, the right to meet prisoners must be negotiated with the authorities.

Visiting prisons, talking to the detainees and making lists of their names are ways of preventing disappearances and ill treatment.

After each prison visit, ICRC delegates write a report.

They must have access to all places of detention and be allowed to repeat their visits as often as necessary.

The visits always follow the same procedure.

Following a meeting with those in charge of the prison, the delegates inspect the premises: cells, dormitories, toilets, the exercise yard, the kitchen and any workshops.

They draw up a list of prisoners and interview them in private without witnesses.

At the end of the visit, the delegates inform those in charge of the prison of their observations.

They then prepare a confidential report for the authorities.

 

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The visitor sees many photographs of prison visits, including those to a German POW camp in Morocco, to French POWs in a German Stalag, political detainees in Chile, detainees in Djibouti….

But it is items from these visits given by prisoners to the ICRC delegates that tell far more emotional stories.

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Some examples:

  • a model village showing ICRC activities in Rwanda
  • a doll figure of a female delegate made in an Argentinian prison
  • a pearl snake made by Ottoman prisoners
  • a necklace with a Red Cross pendant made by a lady prisoner in Lebanon
  • a ciborium (a container for Catholic mass hosts – symbols of the body of Christ) made of bread by Polish prisoners of conscience
  • a bar of soap carved into the shape of a detainee in a cell made by a Burmese artist imprisoned for suspected ties to the opposition party

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An installation in the Museum that followed seemed somewhat incongruous….

Therein the visitor can change and produce large flows of different colours by touching a wall.

The idea is that the larger the number of visitors, the richer the flow of colours, so as to provide an interactive experience that appeals to people’s senses, emotions and feelings, thus all visitors become part of a colourful celebration of human dignity.

Honestly….

This felt more like a gimmick to capture children’s hyperactive attention than an exhibit that strengthens human unity, designed more to entertain than educate.

 

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Human beings are social beings who are defined by their links with others.

When those links are broken, we lose part of our identity and our bearings.

Of the many activities the ICRC performs, the giving and receiving of news and finding one’s loved ones again are understood to be elements of stability that are critical during crisis situations.

 

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This Museum has, like the Reformation Museum in this city, as other museums in other cities and countries I have visited, its own Chamber of Witnesses – video testimonials whose lifelike likenesses are meant to invoke within the voyeur a sense of how we are not unlike those speaking with us electronically.

We see Toshihiko Suzuki, a dentist and specialist in craniofacial anatomy, tell us how he identified victims of the 2011 tsunami.

We learn of the experience of Sami El Haj, an Al Jazeera journalist held in Guantanamo from 2002 to 2008.

We consider the life of Liliose Iraguha, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

We marvel at the resilience of human beings by listening to Boris Cyrulnik, a French neuropsychiatrist and ethologist.

 

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During a conflict or a natural disaster, many people are cut off from their families – by capitivity, separation or disappearance.

Tracing one’s loved ones and passing on one’s news become basic needs.

 

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Originally intended for victims of war, the ICRC tracing services subsequently expanded to include persecuted civilians.

More recently, tracing activities have been extended to families who have become separated as a result of natural disasters or migration.

The International Prisoners of War Agency (1914 – 1923) was established by the ICRC, shortly after the start of the First World War – which involved 44 states and their colonies and caused the death of more than 8 million people, 20 million wounded and in the immediate post-war period of epidemics, famine and destitution another 30 million deaths.

Organised in national sections, its archives contain six million index cards that document what happened to two million people: prisoners of war, civilian internees and missing civilians from occupied areas.

The cards contain information about individual detainees. when they were taken captive, where they were held and, if relevant, when they died.

People who were without news of a loved one could present a request to the Agency, which would then send them what information it had.

Today the Agency’s documents are still used to reply to requests from families as well as to enquiries from historians.

And, as far as I could tell, the Agency is now in the Museum.

It contains:

  • 5,119 boxes with 6 million index cards
  • 2,413 files containing information provided by the belligerents
  • 600,000 pages filling 20 linear metres of general files

This location is fitting for it was in the Rath Museum in Geneva where the Agency once was.

In all, more than 3,000 volunteers, most of them women, worked there during the conflict.

During the War, the Agency dispatched 20 million messages between detainees and their families and forwarded nearly 2 million individual parcels as well as several tonnes of collective relief.

The Agency’s role was also to obtain the repatriation of prisoners who had been taken captive in breach of the Geneva Conventions: doctors, nurses, stretcher bearers and military chaplains.

It helped to ensure that the wounded were returned home or interned in neutral countries.

 

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The pacifist writer Romain Rolland was one of the Agency’s first volunteers:

Its peaceful work, its impartial knowledge of the actual facts in the belligerent countries, contribute to modify the hatred which wild stories have exasperated and to reveal what remains of humanity in the most envenomed enemy.

 

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Above: Romain Rolland (1866 – 1944)

 

It was not until the end of the Second World War that Europe realized the extent of the tragedy affecting civilians.

The International Tracing Service (ITS) was then established.

The ITS has files on more than 17 million people: civilians persecuted by the Nazis, displaced persons, children under the age of 18 who had become separated from their families, forced labourers and people held in concentration camps or labour camps.

The ITS was set up in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and has helped millions of people to trace their loved ones.

 

Above: International Tracing Services, Bad Arolsen, Germany

 

Nowadays, the need to trace missing people also extends to the victims of natural disasters and to migrants, using not only index cards, but photo tracing (used to find nearly 20,000 children missing during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda), distributions of name lists (for example, the Angola Gazette – a list of people who went missing during the Angolan Civil War from 1975 to 2002) and the Internet (for example, http://www.familylinks.icrc.org).

 

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Despite all tracing efforts, sometimes missing people do not get found, do not go home.

In that case, receiving confirmation of death puts an end to uncertainty and enables families to begin the process of mourning and to start to rebuild their lives.

The erection of memorials is one way of honouring the dead and of giving them a place of dignity in the collective memory.

 

 

For example, in 1995 the city of Srebrenica was attacked by forces under the command of General Radko Mladic.

 

 

Mladic had the women and children of this refuge of hounded Muslim civilians separated from the men and forced to leave Srebrenica.

The men were hunted down and killed.

More than 8,000 people went missing.

By 2010 only 4,500 victims had been identified and buried.

 

 

When faced with a collective tragedy and without a dead body, families are completely at a loss.

A memorial is sometimes their only means of paying tribute to the dead, of giving them a place in the collective consciousness and of recalling the events that led to those disappearances.

Examples include victims from:

  • the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima

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Above: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbuko Dome)

 

  • the deportation of Jews from France

 

  • the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia

 

  • the Soviet gulags

Solovetsky Stone

 

  • the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine

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  • the civil war in Peru

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  • the earthquake in Sichuan, China

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  • the 9/11 attack in New York City

 

Communication is often disrupted during a conflict or a natural disaster.

In circumstances like that, receiving news from one’s family is a source of joy and relief.

There are different ways of sending news:

  • Red Cross messages (in use for more than a century)
  • Radio messages
  • Videoconferencing
  • Satellite telephones

 

A Red Cross message is a short personal missive that was first used in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871).

It is still in use today.

Each year, thousands of messages are distributed in more than 65 countries with the help of the ICRC.

To make sure that they reach the addressees, messengers sometimes travel long distances to extremely remote areas.

The messages themselves are generally very simple.

The main thing is to enable people to pass brief news on to their loved ones – their state of health, their place of shelter or detention.

 

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For example, the Museum shows messages:

  • sent by a French POW to his godmother in Switzerland
  • exchanged by a French POW in Morocco and Algeria and his family in France
  • written by aircraft passengers taken hostage in Jordan in 1970
  • illustrated by children during the Yugoslav conflict in 1994
  • by a Sudanese detainee in Guantanamo
  • from a Greek child refugee following the Cyprus conflict of 1974
  • from a mother to her son in Liberia
  • from a little girl writing to her parents in the Congo
  • written by a woman to her brother in prison in Kirghizstan

 

In Columbia, the radio programme Las voces del secuestro broadcasts family messages to people held hostage in the jungle, enabling more than 18,000 people to send news to their loved ones.

 

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In Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, no family visits are allowed, so in 2008 the ICRC and the American authorities developed a videoconferencing system to enable the detainees to communicate with their loved ones.

In the space of just a few months, 70% of the detainees were able to contact their families.

 

Above: Parwan Detention Facility, Bagram, Afghanistan

 

And finally the Restoring Family Links exhibition concludes with works by Congolese artist Chuck Ledy and Benin artist Romuald Hazouma.

 

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Humanity has progressed by refusing to accept the inevitability of the phenomena that endanger it.

In the face of natural disasters and epidemics, communities take action to prevent the worst, to save lives and to preserve resources.

Another Chamber of Witnesses:

  • Benter Aoko Odhiambo, the head of a Kenyan orphanage and the initiator of a market gardening programme
  • Abul Hasnat, a Bangladeshi school teacher and a Red Crescent volunteer
  • Madeleen Helmer, the Dutch head of the ICRC Climate Centre
  • Jiaqi Kang, a Chinese student in Switzerland

 

After all, prevention concerns us all.

Blast Theory, a group of British artists, designed the game Hurricane to test the effectiveness of natural disaster preparedness activities.

Planting mangroves, constructing high-level shelters, building up reserve stocks of food and organizing evacuation exercises are all part of the game and involve actors such as ICRC delegates, village leaders, experts and volunteers.

As the hurricane strikes, the players have to evacuate the villagers.

At the end of the game tells us how many lives were saved.

 

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Posters are key communication instruments in prevention initiatives.

The link between pictures and text makes the messages easy for everyone to understand.

The Museum’s collection of some 12,000 posters from more than 120 countries tells of the many different activities developed by the ICRC.

Nowadays, as the impact of global warming becomes clearer, the ICRC is increasingly involved in natural disaster preparedness.

 

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The ICRC was very quick to perceive the role that the cinema could play in promoting its activities.

Some films focused on prevention – hygiene, epidemics and accidents.

Others on training volunteers in first aid or life saving.

While preventing illnesses and accidents is ancient history, the management of risks associated with natural disasters is a more recent development.

A workshop at the Haute école d’art et de design (Gèneve) was given a free hand to create new montages using more than 1,000 films from the Museum’s collection.

 

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Above: Haute école d’art et de design, Genève

 

Prevention is first and foremost about saving lives.

A number of different measures can be taken to provide protection: building shelters, installing early warning systems, carrying out evacuation exercises and providing hygiene education.

All these activities mobilize the local communities and the humanitarian organizations.

They sometimes call for substantial investment.

It is easy to raise funds during disasters when emotions are running high.

It is more difficult to raise funds for longer-term work.

Nonetheless, one dollar invested in prevention is two to ten dollars saved in emergency relief and reconstruction work.

 

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All of this is brought into sharp focus by the three “théâtres optiques” (Cyclone, Tsunami and Latrines), created for the Museum by the French artist Pierrick Sorin.

 

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Above: Pierrick Sorin

 

Let’s take, for example, Bangladesh.

 

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Above: Flag of Bangladesh

 

In 1970, Cyclone Bhola caused one of the worst natural disasters in history.

A 10-metre high wave and winds of 220 km/hour caused the death of 500,000 people here.

A cyclone preparedness programme was then launched, which included an early warning system, the construction of shelters and the training of evacuation volunteers.

 

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In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr, one of the most powerful ever recorded, hit parts of Bengal and Bangladesh, affecting nearly 9 million people and causing vast economic damage.

1.5 million people were evacuated before the Cyclone struck.

Although 3,500 people died, this number of deaths was far below the 1970 disaster.

 

 

Or let’s consider Brazil.

 

Flag of Brazil

Above: Flag of Brazil

 

Infectious diarrhoea can affect people throughout the world.

It is most frequently caused by water that has been contaminated by faeces.

Around 2 million people die from diarrhoea every year, most of them children in developing countries.

In 2008 more than 2 billion individuals were without suitable latrines.

Almost half of them defecated in the open air.

In 1997, the authorities in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil launched a water purification programme in the city.

A university team monitored 2,000 children under the age of 3, most of whome were living in impoverished urban districts.

The results showed that water purification had a direct impact on health:

The overall number of cases of diarrhoea fell by 22% in the city and by 43% in the poorest areas.

 

From the top, clockwise: Pelourinho with the Church of the Third Order of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People; view of the Lacerda Elevator from the Comércio neighborhood; Barra Lighthouse; the Historic Center seen from the Bay of All Saints; monument to the heroes of the battles of Independence of Bahia and panorama of Ponta de Santo Antônio and the district of Barra.

Above: Images of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

 

The Museum was never designed with the intention of casting blame or lavishing praise upon particular countries or particular individuals, but rather it shows the situations, both general and particular, in which the ICRC functions and to further a better understanding of what they do.

The ICRC aids victims, not on account of their particular nationality or their particular cause, but purely and simply because they are human beings who are suffering and are in need of help.

It strives to assuage all human distress which has no hope of effective aid from other sources.

The ICRC desires to relieve above all that suffering which is brought about by man, brought about by man’s inhumanity to man, and is more painful on that account and more difficult to relieve.

 

The most terrible form of man’s inhumanity to man is war and that is why the idea of the Red Cross was born in the field of battle.

The Red Cross is a third front above and across two belligerent fronts, a third front directed against neither of them but for the benefit of both.

The combatants in this third front are interested only in the suffering of the defenceless human being, irrespective of his nationality, his convictions or his past.

The ICRC fights wherever they can against all inhumanity, against every degradation of the human personality, against all injustice directed against the defenceless.

These neutrals on this humanitarian front are free of the prejudice and hostility which is so natural to men engaged in warfare.

The dominant idea and the essence of the Geneva Convention is equality of treatment for all sick and wounded persons whether they are friends or enemies.

 

It is the fulfilment of the cry of Solferine:

Siamo tutti fratelli.

We are all brothers.

 

 

The Museum is a living embodiment of that humanitarian adventure.

It is an edifice of humanity working for humanity.

And it is good.

 

John Lennon

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Switzerland / Rough Guide to Switzerland / Red Cross Museum, The Humanitarian Adventure / The International Committee of the Red Cross, Basic Rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols / Dr. Marcel Junod, Warrior without Weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Elastic Novice

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 17 September 2019

Damn that man!

One man’s writings has had and continue to have a major effect on my life and this has been reflected in my travels and I have already spoken of the man previously in this blog.

 

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens, New York, 1867

 

(Please see Canada Slim and the Dickensian Moment – first published as “Goodbye, Charles” on 9 June 2015.)

 

(As one of the shortest and woefully inadequate posts I have ever written, expect to see an updated version of “Goodbye, Charles” as soon as possible and the addition of another post that continues the chronicle of my first travels in Europe last described in Canada Slim and the Promised Land – first published as “That which survives 3: The promised land“.)

 

It was he who made me decide to first enter Britain via Broadstairs.

 

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Above: Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs

 

It was he who compelled me to convince my good friends Samantha and Iain to visit his birthplace in Portsmouth.

 

Above: Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, Portsmouth

 

It was he who inspired me to first find the courage to write.

 

It was he whose footsteps I was determined to trace during my visit to London in the last week of October 2017.

 

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My wife had purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, on the Tube, and on trains.

She strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the time when she was attending her medical conference.

 

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26 October was the first day that I would have a chance to view London on my own.

I had, following the Passbook alphabetically, already visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir that morning, so my next goal was the Charles Dickens Museum in the Bloomsbury district.

 

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Above: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

 

(For previous posts on London, please see….

Canada Slim….

  • and the Paddington Arrival
  • and the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • and the Outcast
  • and the Wonders on the Wall
  • and the Calculated Cathedral
  • and the Right Man
  • and the Queen’s Horsemen
  • and the Royal Peculiar
  • and the Lamp Ladies
  • and the Uncertainty Principle
  • and the Museum of Many
  • and the Breviary of Bartholew
  • and the Body Snatchers
  • and the Freudian Slippers
  • and the Mandir of Nose Hill )

 

 

London, England, 26 October 2017

Few cities are as closely associated with one writer as London is with Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870).

The recurrent motifs in his novels have become the clichés of Victorian London (though Dickens was active and successful before Queen Victoria came to the throne) – the fog, the slums and alleys, the prisons and workhouses and the stinking river.

Drawing on his own personal experience, Dickens was able to describe  the workings of the law and the conditions of the poor with an unrivalled accuracy.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

Born in Portsmouth (Please see Canada Slim and the Dickensian Moment.), Dickens was the second of eight children.

His father, John Dickens, was a clerk who worked for the Navy and had set up home in Portsmouth with his wife Elizabeth.

 

A view of Old Portsmouth taken from the viewing deck of the Spinnaker Tower. Old buildings, cobbled streets and a small island can be seen in the frame.

Above: Old Portsmouth

 

In 1817 John was posted to the dockyard in Chatham.

John and his family took a full part in the life of the community.

They were friendly with neighbours and with the family of a local landlord.

 

Charles and his sister Fanny were frequently set up by their father atop a table in the Mitre Inn to entertain the tavern with songs and ballads of the day.

It was in Chatham that Charles began his education.

 

Above: Chatham Dockyard

 

His widowed aunt Mary Allen married for a second time while the Dickens family were in Chatham.

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Above: 2 Ordnance Terrace, Chatham (Dickens’ home: 1817 – 1821)

 

This was to a widowed doctor, Matthew Lambert, who had a son Matthew, a little older than Charles and became a great influence upon this early part of Charles’ life, for it was Matthew who introduced Charles to the wonders of the theatre.

This was the beginning of a lifelong passion.

I tried to recollect whether I had ever been in any theatre in my life from which I had not brought away some pleasant association, however poor the theatre, and I protest, I could not remember even one.

In fact, Charles always had a great relish for bad theatre.

 

Allow me to introduce myself—first negatively.

No landlord is my friend and brother.

No chambermaid loves me.

No waiter worships me.

No boots admires and envies me. 

No round of beef or tongue or ham is expressly cooked for me.

No pigeon pie is especially made for me.

No hotel advertisement is personally addressed to me.

No hotel room tapestried with great coats and railway wrappers is set apart for me.

No house of public entertainment in the United Kingdom greatly cares for my opinion of its brandy or sherry. 

When I go upon my journeys, I am not usually rated at a low figure in the bill.

When I come home from my journeys, I never get any commission. 

I know nothing about prices, and should have no idea, if I were put to it, how to wheedle a man into ordering something he doesn’t want. 

As a town traveller, I am never to be seen driving a vehicle externally like a young and volatile pianoforte van, and internally like an oven in which a number of flat boxes are baking in layers. 

As a country traveller, I am rarely to be found in a gig, and am never to be encountered by a pleasure train, waiting on the platform of a branch station, quite a Druid in the midst of a light Stonehenge of samples.

And yet—proceeding now, to introduce myself positively—I am both a town traveller and a country traveller, and am always on the road. 

Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great house of Human Interest Brothers, and have rather a large connection in the fancy goods way. 

Literally speaking, I am always wandering here and there from my rooms in Covent Garden, London—now about the city streets: now, about the country by-roads—seeing many little things, and some great things, which, because they interest me, I think may interest others.

These are my chief credentials as the Uncommercial Traveller.

 

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In The Uncommercial Traveller, he revisited Rochester where he enjoyed the somewhat shaky productions he saw there.

He does not spare the company:

Many wondrous secrets of Nature had I come to the knowledge of in that sanctuary:

Of which not the least terrific were, that the witches in Macbeth bore an awful resemblance to the Thanes and other proper inhabitants of Scotland, and that the good King Duncan could not rest in his grave, but was constantly coming out of it and calling himself somebody else.

 

Above: High Street, Rochester

 

John Dickens’ job entitled him and his family to regard themselves as middle class, but the middle classes had little money behind them if things went wrong or if they couldn’t support their large families in seizing the opportunities they had anticipated.

Prosperity could unravel very quickly.

By the time John was recalled to London in 1822, the debts were considerable and his new post meant a drop in salary.

 

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Above: John Dickens (1785 – 1851)

 

Such was the family situation in 1823 that the young Charles, age 11, had to go out to work, finding employment in a boot-blacking factory, Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, on the north bank of the Thames, near the site of the modern Charing Cross Station.

Charles and his colleagues had to cover pots of boot polish (blacking) and paste on to them paper labels.

He was paid six shillings a week.

Great numbers of children in early 19th century England would have done similar work – and many, much, much worse.

 

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It was a crazy, tumbledown old house, abutting, of course, on the river, and literally overrun with rats.

Its wainscotted rooms and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and the decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again.

The counting house was on the first floor, looking over the coal barges and the river.

There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work.

 

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This episode affected Charles profoundly.

He thought his parents had given up on him.

It is amazing to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.

It is amazing to me, that, even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion enough for me … to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been, to place me at any common school ….

No one made any sign.

My father and mother were quite satisfied.

They could hardly have been more so, if I had been 20 years of age, distinguished at a Grammar School and going to Cambridge.”

 

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Above: Cambridge University coat-of-arms

 

On 20 February 1824 John Dickens was arrested and imprisoned in Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison.

 

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Above: Marshalsea Prison Gate

 

Charles was deeply ashamed of his family’s circumstances and hurt further when his mother forced him to keep his blacking job even after his father’s release.

 

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Above: Elizabeth Dickens (1789 – 1863)

 

This influenced Dickens’s view that a father should rule the family, and a mother find her proper sphere inside the home:

I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back.

His mother’s requesting his return was a factor in his dissatisfied attitude towards women.

 

Righteous indignation stemming from his own situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works, and it was this unhappy period in his youth to which he alluded in his favourite, and most autobiographical, novel, David Copperfield:

I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to Heaven!

 

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In the end, a number of circumstances brought an opportunity for change.

John inherited some money, began receiving a pension from the Navy and started working as a journalist, thus enabling the family to dispense with the few shillings Charles was adding to the family income.

 

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Dickens got to school eventually.

He spent two years at Wellington House, which he remembered with little affection.

He did not consider it to be a good school:

Much of the haphazard, desultory teaching, poor discipline punctuated by the headmaster’s sadistic brutality, the seedy ushers and general run-down atmosphere, are embodied in Mr Creakle’s Establishment in David Copperfield.

 

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When he left, at age 15, he was ready for work.

An acquaintance of the family found Charles work as a lawyer’s clerk with the firm of Ellis and Blackmore, which lasted 18 months.

Dickens worked at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore, attorneys, of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn, as a junior clerk from May 1827 to November 1828.

 

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Above: Gray’s Inn Square, London

 

Charles was a gifted mimic and impersonated those around him: clients, lawyers, and clerks.

He went to theatres obsessively—he claimed that for at least three years he went to the theatre every single day.

His favourite actor was Charles Mathews and Dickens learnt his monopolylogues (farces in which Mathews played every character) by heart.

 

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Above: Charles Matthews (1776 – 1835)

 

Then, having learned Gurney’s system of shorthand in his spare time, he left to become a freelance reporter.

 

Above: Example of Thomas Gurney (1705 – 1770) shorthand

 

A distant relative, Thomas Charlton, was a freelance reporter at Doctors’ Commons and Dickens was able to share his box there to report the legal proceedings for nearly four years.

 

Above: Doctors’ Commons in the early 19th century

 

This education was to inform works such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, and especially Bleak House—whose vivid portrayal of the machinations and bureaucracy of the legal system did much to enlighten the general public and served as a vehicle for dissemination of Dickens’s own views regarding, particularly, the heavy burden on the poor who were forced by circumstances to “go to law“.

 

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Charles had family in journalism.

His father wrote occasional pieces, but Charles also had a maternal uncle, John Henry Barrow, who in 1828 launched The Mirror of Parliament.

It was not long before Charles was part of Barrow’s parliamentary reporting team and was soon striking out writing for other publications, including the radical newspaper The True Sun.

 

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Sometime before 1830, Dickens fell in love with a young woman called Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker.

The relationship between them flashed on and off for around four years, despite hostility from her parents, interference from friends and Maria’s own capricious nature.

The letters that survive show how thoroughly Dickens was absorbed in pursuing her.

Maria’s parents disapproved of the courtship and ended the relationship by sending her to school in Paris.

When the end finally came, he wrote to her, claiming:

I have never loved and I can never love any human creature breathing but yourself.

 

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Above: Maria Beadnell (1810 – 1886)

 

She is thought to be the model for the character Dora in David Copperfield.

 

Above: David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow

 

Many years later, Dickens got a letter from Maria out of the blue and a short correspondence between them began in which he proclaimed the intensity of his original feelings for her.

The tone of these letters soon changed after he arranged to see her and she turned out to be “toothless, fat, old and ugly” (her words).

 

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Above: Miriam Margoyles as Maria Beadnell Winter

 

The Maria romance is interesting because of the marked contrast it makes with Dickens’ engagement and marriage.

Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of his boss at the Evening Chronicle, could hardly have been a more different young woman.

At least Dickens looked at her in a completely different way.

His letters to her are affectionate but occasionally overbearing, as if he was asserting himself to ensure that no more nonsense got in the way of his own ambition.

He was particularly careful to outline the primacy of his work and its demands.

His commitments at this time were extremely heavy.

Catherine and Charles married on 2 April 1836 and went for a week’s honeymoon to Chalk in Kent (during which, true to form, Dickens was busy with The Pickwick Papers).

 

Above: Catherine Hogarth Dickens (1816 – 1879)

 

In August 1834 Charles was given a permanent position on The Morning Chronicle, a liberal paper, to report on all parliamentary matters.

This included elections (there were two in 1835) and political meetings – all around the country, before there were railroads.

Deadlines were nevertheless overwhelmingly important and Dickens experienced many freezing, wet stagecoach journeys, bouncing about, writing on his knees, racing back to London to get his account in before the rival reporters on The Times.

 

 

Dickens’ first published piece of creative work appeared in the Monthly Magazine in 1833.

It was called “A Dinner at Poplar Walk“.

The publication had a circulation of 600 and the young author wasn’t paid, but he knew what it all meant.

 

Above: Monthly Magazine (1796 – 1843) issue, 1 February 1810

 

In the preface of the cheap edition of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens tells us that he practically smuggled the piece into the magazine’s offices:

It was dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street.”

The piece’s emergence into print was an occasion of some emotion:

I walked down to Westminster Hall and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street and were not fit to be seen there.

 

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More pieces for the Monthly Magazine followed.

These were comic stories, which owed a lot to the theatrical farces so common on the London stage.

It was at the end of one of these pieces, published in May 1834, that he signed his name as “Boz“, the nom de plume by which he first began to establish his reputation and indeed his brand.

Boz being a family nickname he employed as a pseudonym for some years.

Dickens apparently adopted it from the nickname “Moses“, which he had given to his youngest brother Augustus Dickens, after a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield.

 

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Above: Augustus Dickens (1827 – 1866)

 

When pronounced by anyone with a head cold, “Moses” became “Boses“—later shortened to Boz.

As “Boz“, Dickens began to collect readers.

He was given further opportunities to please them.

 

Dickens began to write occasional pieces for the Morning Chronicle in addition to his reporting.

These were his “sketches” – informal surveys of parts of London, London themes or observations of London people, held together by a conversational tone rather than a narrative: a Londoner talking to Londoners.

When an evening sister paper to the Morning Chronicle was launched, Dickens obtained a salary to continue his writing explorations in the same vein.

 

Above: London, 1886

 

The increasing exposure brought Dickens to the attention of Harrison Ainsworth, a writer not much read today, but a real star of the literary scene at this time.

Ainsworth admired Boz‘s work and introduced Dickens to his own publisher John Macrone.

 

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Above: William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882)

 

Soon a collected volume of the newspaper and magazine pieces with drawings of George Cruikshank, the leading illustrator of the day, was published in February 1836.

Sketches by Boz sold so well that a second edition was needed that year and two more in 1837.

 

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As the first edition of Sketches by Boz emerged in 1836, Dickens was approached by the publishers Chapman and Hall.

They came with an idea that had been proposed to them in turn by a well-known illustrator, Robert Seymour.

The plan went like this:

Seymour would produce a series of engravings depicting the amusing mishaps attending a club of Cockney sportsmen – men from the new middle classes, with money to spend on the aristocratic pursuits of previous generations: hunting, shooting and fishing.

These illustrations would be published as a monthly serial.

Would Dickens care to write some text to help string the images together?

Fourteen pounds a month might be possible.

No one really knows what or how much Dickens saw in this offer at the time.

He liked the money.

He was told that serials were a “low, cheap form of publication” that would ruin him.

The fact that he kept all his other irons in the fire suggests that he did not count too much on the new venture establishing his reputation.

But that is exactly what it did.

He claims, in the preface to The Pickwick Papers, that he recognized that the idea wouldn’t do:

I objected, on consideration, that although born and partly bred in the country I was no great sportsman, that the idea was not novel, and had already been much used, that it would infinitely better for the plates to arise naturally out of the text, and that I should like to take my own way….

At first sales were disappointing, but by the end of its run in November 1837,  The Pickwick Papers was selling 40,000 copies per month, it had been adapted for the stage many times over and the words of its characters  seemed to be on everyone’s lips – as was the name of its young author.

 

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After their 1836 wedding, Charles took Catherine to a set of chambers he was renting in Furnival’s Inn, one of the inns of court, the traditional home of English law practice and accommodation for many non-lawyers too.

 

 

As The Pickwick Papers started bringing in a more secure income, Charles set his sights on more substantial living quarters.

These turned out to be at 48 Doughty Street, into which Catherine and Charles moved with their son Charley in March 1837.

 

Above: 48 Doughty Street, London

 

They took in Catherine’s younger sister Mary Hogarth, who had supported Catherine during her first pregnancy.

It was not unusual for a woman’s unwed sister to live with and help a married couple.

Dickens became very attached to Mary.

She inspired characters in many of his books.

Mary is seen as the inspiration for Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist.

She is also seen as the inspiration for Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Nell had many traits that Dickens associated to Howarth, including describing Nell as “young, beautiful and good“.

Other characters believed to have been inspired by Mary include:

  • Kate Nickleby, the 17-year-old sister of the hero of the novel Nicholas Nickleby
  • Agnes Wickfield, the heroine in David Copperfield
  • Ruth Pinch from Martin Chuzzlewit
  • Lilian, the child who appears in Trotty Veck’s visions in The Chimes
  • Dot Peerybingle, the sister in The Cricket on the Hearth.

 

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Above: Mary Hogarth (1819 – 1837)

 

Unlike Mary, Dickens’ wife Catherine does not appear to have been the inspiration for any of his characters.

 

Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London, famed as a fashionable residential area and as the home of numerous prestigious cultural, intellectual and educational institutions.

It is bounded by Fitzrovia to the west, Covent Garden to the south, Regent’s Park and St. Pancras to the north, and Clerkenwell to the east.

Bloomsbury is home of the British Museum, the largest museum in the United Kingdom, and numerous educational institutions, including the University College London, the University of London, the New College of the Humanities, the University of Law, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and many others.

 

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Above: The British Museum, London

 

Bloomsbury is an intellectual and literary hub for London, as home of world-known Bloomsbury Publishing, publishers of the Harry Potter series, and namesake of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of famous British intellectuals, including author Virginia Woolf and economist John Maynard Keynes, among others.

 

Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford

Above: Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

 

Bloomsbury began to be developed in the 17th century under the Earls of Southampton, but it was primarily in the 19th century, under the Duke of Bedford, which the district was planned and built as an affluent Regency era residential area by famed developer James Burton.

The district is known for its numerous garden squares, including Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square and Tavistock Square, among others.

Notable residents of Bloomsbury have included J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Ricky Gervais, Vladimir Lenin, Bob Marley, Catherine Tate (Donna Noble, Doctor Who) and William Butler Yeats.

 

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Above: Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)

 

Despite a plethora of blue plaques, Bloomsbury boasts just one literary museum, the Charles Dickens Museum, the only one of the writer’s fifteen London addresses to survive intact.

 

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Doughty Street was a well-to-do gated Georgian street when Dickens – flush with the success of his first two published works – moved here in 1837.

The family lived in this light and airy house for two years, during which he completed Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby and worked on Barnaby Rudge.

Catherine gave birth to two children in the bedroom here.

 

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On Saturday, 6 May 1837, Charles took Catherine and Mary to the theatre.

They returned home in good spirits, enjoyed some supper and a drink together and went to bed at one in the morning.

A few moments later Charles heard a cry from Mary’s bedroom and hurried in to find her still in her day clothes and visibly ill.

Catherine came to see what was wrong.

Charles said afterwards that they had no idea there was anything seriously the matter with Mary, but that they sent for medical assistance to be on the safe side.

Whatever Dr. Pickthorn did had no effect, yet still there seemed no cause for alarm.

Mary was, after all, only 17 years old and until then had been in perfect health.

Fourteen hours went by before Mary sank under the attack and died – died in such a calm and gentle sleep, that although Charles had held her in his arms for some time before, when she was certainly living (for she swallowed a little brandy from his hand) Charles continued to support her lifeless form, long after her soul had fled to Heaven.

This was about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

Thank God she died in my arms and the very last words she whispered were of me.“, Charles told fellow reporter and friend Tom Beard.

Before Charles laid Mary’s body down he was able to remove a ring from her finger and put it on one of his own.

And there it stayed for the rest of his life.

 

Above: Mary’s bedroom, Charles Dickens Museum

 

Mary’s death is fictionalized as the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

 

 

The building at 48 Doughty Street was threatened with demolition in 1923, but was saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, who raised the mortgage and bought the property.

The house was renovated and the Dickens House Museum was opened in 1925, under the direction of an independent trust, now a registered charity.

 

Above: Study, Charles Dickens Museum

 

48 Doughty Street is presented as far as possible in its inhabited state, the idea being to give the impression that the Dickens family is still resident.

Much of the house’s furniture belonged, at one time or another, to Dickens, and the house also owns the earliest known portrait of the writer (a miniature painted by his aunt Mary Allen in 1830).

 

Above: Charles Dickens

 

Perhaps the best-known exhibit is the portrait of Dickens known as Dickens’s Dream by R. W. Buss, an original illustrator of The Pickwick Papers.

This unfinished portrait shows Dickens in his study at Gads Hill Place surrounded by many of the characters he had created.

The painting was begun in 1870 after Dickens’s death.

 

Above: Dickens’ Dream, Robert William Buss

 

(Gads Hill Place in Higham, Kent, sometimes spelt Gadshill Place and Gad’s Hill Place, was the country home of Charles Dickens.

Today the building is the independent Gad’s Hill School.

The house was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester, Thomas Stephens, opposite the present Sir John Falstaff Public House.

Gad’s Hill is where Falstaff commits the robbery that begins Shakespeare’s Henriad trilogy (Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2 and Henry V). )

 

Above: Gad’s Hill Place, Rochester

 

Other notable artefacts in the Museum include numerous first editions and original manuscripts as well as original letters by Dickens, and many personal items owned by Dickens and his family.

 

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The only known item of clothing worn by Dickens still in existence is also displayed at the Museum.

This is his Court suit and sword, worn when Dickens was presented to the Prince of Wales in 1870.

 

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The Charles Dickens Museum also owns the adjacent house, #49, where they stage special exhibitions, house the bookshop and have a lovely café with free Wifi.

 

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There runs within both London and Rochester (where Charles spent the last years of his life) a Dickens Trail.

On London’s Dickens Trail, there is:

  • the Old Curiosity Shop (currently a shoe shop) on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the inspiration of Dickens’ novel of the same name
  • the atmospheric Inns of Court (once the headquarters of the Knights Templar) which feature in several Dickens novels
  • Nancy’s Steps, where Nancy tells Rose Maylie Oliver’s story in Oliver Twist
  • the evocative dockland area east of Shad Thames where Bill Sykes (also of Oliver Twist) had his hide-out.

 

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(This dockland area, known as China Wharf – today very photogenic with its stack of semicircular windows picked out in red – was once dubbed “the very capital of cholera“.

In 1849, the Morning Chronicle described it thus:

Jostling with unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children, and the very raff and refuse of the river, the visitor makes his way with difficulty along, assailed by offensive sights and sounds from the narrow alleys which branch off.

This was the location of Dickens’ fictional Jacob’s Island, a place with “every imaginable sign of desolation and neglect“, where Bill Sykes met his end in Oliver Twist.)

 

Above: China Wharf, London

 

Charles John Huffam Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic.

He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius.

His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education and other social reforms.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1842

 

Dickens’s literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers.

Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society.

His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication.

Cliffhanger endings in his serial publications kept readers in suspense.

The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback.

For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens improved the character with positive features.

His plots were carefully constructed and he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

Masses of the illiterate poor chipped in ha’pennies to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.

His 1843 novella A Christmas Carol remains especially popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre.

 

Brown book cover bearing the words "A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens" in gold.

 

Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London.

 

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His 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities (set in London and Paris) is his best-known work of historical fiction.

 

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The most famous celebrity of his era, public demand saw him undertake a series of public reading tours in the later part of his career.

 

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Dickens has been praised by many of his fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell, G. K. Chesterton and Tom Wolfe—for his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations and social criticism.

However, Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing and a vein of sentimentalism.

 

Above: Dickens’ chair, Charles Dickens Museum

 

The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

 

There is much in Charles Dickens’ life before and up to his residency at 48 Doughty Street that I can relate with.

Charles came from a large family, as did I, but like the titular hero of Oliver Twist it was not until later in my life did I come to realize that I was neither an orphan (nor an only child) as far as my biological heritage went.

 

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My first work during my school years was labour intensive like Charles’ was.

While his was labouring in a blacking factory, mine was summer employment as a farmhand.

(A position I occasionally returned to when financing my travels.)

 

 

Like Charles, I spent much of the early years of my life outdoors when I wasn’t reading voraciously.

The boy Charles read Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding and The Arabian Nights.

I read Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stephenson and the adventures of the Hardy Boys.

 

 

Charles was separated from his family by mounting debts and living beyond one’s means.

It is said that these were the cause of my biological parents’ break-up and it was the prevention of these to my foster parents that led to my being taken in for the provincial support the government provided for my care.

 

Canadian Provinces and Territories

 

Unlike Charles, I was never small for my age and I would by the age of 14 surpass Charles’ adult height of 5’9″ to reach my current height of 6’4″, but, like Charles, I had felt that I was a “not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy“.

 

After my secondary and post-secondary studies, I, like Charles, worked as a clerk, but what for him would be a brief two years would be for me always a position to return to between my travels.

I have worked as a clerk for a customs broker, federal government departments and for a registered charity.

 

 

More akin to George Orwell, I would later work as a teacher and a restaurant worker, but in a Dickensian vein, I have written (sometimes for money, sometimes for exposure) for local newspapers and school publications.

 

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I have never achieved great fame, but then neither have I greatly sought it to the extent that Dickens did.

 

What I have always admired about Dickens and his works are:

  • his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society.
  • his carefully constructed plots wherein he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives.
  • his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations and social criticism.
  • his walking which led to his descriptions of the neglected and forgotten corners of London.

 

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Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night.“, wrote the poet Rupert Brooke.

London’s own Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, William Blake and Thomas De Quincey were all night time perambulators, but of those who walk the streets at night the supreme nightwalker was Charles Dickens.

 

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In Great Expectations (1861), Pip at one point visits Miss Haversham in her home in Kent in order to inform her and her ward Estella, with whom he is still madly in love, that he has finally discovered the identity of his benefactor, the convict Magwitch.

Pip confirms that, because he knows Miss Haversham was not responsible for his transformation into a gentleman, he realizes that she and Estella have all along treated him not as their protegé but “as a kind of servant, to gratify a want or whim“.

It is on this occasion, too, that Estella admits she is to be married, as Pip feared, to the odious and oafish aristocrat Bentley Drummle.

Thus discarded, and in a deeply disconsolate state of mind, Pip escapes from Satis House and, as the afternoon light thickens, hides himself for a time “among some lanes and bypaths“.

Then, in a moment of decision, he strikes off “to walk all the way to London“.

I could do nothing half so good for myself as tire myself out.”, he decides.

It is “past midnight” when he eventually crosses London Bridge.

 

 

Four years later, Dickens made roughly the same journey on foot, in reverse.

 

One night in October 1857, when he was in his mid-forties, Dickens retired to bed in the family home in Bloomsbury, but found himself completely unable to get to sleep.

He had suffered from intermittent insomnia throughout his adult life, but on this occasion he felt particularly agitated.

He did not feel at home at home.

So at 0200 Dickens climbed out of bed, dressed in warm clothes and set off through the gaslit streets of the city.

 

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Dickens had written more than two decades earlier:

The streets of London, to be beheld in the very height of their glory, should be seen on a dark, dull, murky winter’s night.

When the heavy, lazy mist, which hangs over every object, makes the gas lamps look brighter.

 

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In the damp silence of the autumn night, beneath the scuffing sound of his boots on the stone pavements, Dickens would have heard the gas whispering its secrets in the softly rasping pipes.

Heading south in the direction of the Thames, Dickens walked through London directly to Gad’s Hill Place, his country residence in Kent.

Like Pip’s journey through the night, it was a distance of some 30 miles.

 

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Catherine and Charles had been….prolific – ten children – “the largest family ever known with the smallest disposition to do anything for themselves” as Dickens later described them – and 15 novels, each published in monthly (or weekly) installments, which were awaited with baited breath by the public.

Then in 1857, at the peak of his career, Dickens fell in love with the actress, Ellen Ternan.

Charles was 45, Ellen just 18.

 

Above: Ellen Ternan (1839 – 1914)

 

On the evening of his nightwalk, Catherine and Charles quarrelled.

They were becoming inrcreasingly estranged, partly because of his relationship with Ellen.

For this reason, Charles visited Tavistock House, their home at this time, only rarely.

 

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Above: Tavistock House, London

 

Charles spent most of the autumn of 1857 at Gad’s Hill Place.

When he needed to be in central London, he tended to stay in a bachelor flat at the offices of his periodical, Household Words.

It was shortly after Charles insisted on partitioning the bedroom he shared with Catherine so that they could sleep separately.

 

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The nighttime journey on foot to Gad’s Hill Place, driven by an acute sense of anguish and guilt, took Dickens little more than seven hours.

(According to present day Google Maps, the same journey normally takes 9.5 hours.)

 

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Above: Google Maps logo

 

Dickens was a fast walker, who took pride in the fact that he could sustain a pace of at least four miles an hour across long distances.

(In my walking days my average pace was 3 mph and on a descent 5 mph.)

 

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Above: Canada Slim, The Dutton Advance, 6 March 1991

 

His friends frequently complained of the speed and impatience with which he walked.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

Edward Johnson, one of his biographers, wrote:

Sometimes his perspiring companions gave way to blisters and breathlessness.

 

Charles himself was boastful of his feats as a pedestrian.

He professed in 1860:

So much of my travelling is done on foot that if I cherished betting propensities, I should probably be found registered in sporting newspapers as the Elastic Novice, challenging all 11-stone mankind to competition in walking.

 

No doubt he secretly harboured dreams of bettering Captain Barclay, a celebrated athlete who, in 1809, when pedestrianism first became a sporting activity, walked a thousand miles in a thousand hours for a thousand guineas.

 

Above: Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce (1779 – 1854), the celebrated pedestrian

 

In the late 1850s, Dickens remained a fit man precisely because he insisted on walking, both in London and in the countryside, whenever he could find the opportunity.

Even so, he was increasingly afflicted with ill health at this time.

His symptoms included neuralgic and rheumatic pains.

His feet also troubled him.

 

According to biographer Claire Tomalin:

First his left foot, and then his right, took to swelling intermittedly, becoming so painful that during each attack he became unable to take himself on the great walks that were essential part and pleasure of his life.

 

Dickens had gout, though he was reluctant to accept the idea, claiming instead that he contracted the pain because he had incautiously walked in snowy conditions.

This did not deter him from walking in all conditions, clement or inclement.

 

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G.K. Chesterton, identifiying a “streak of sickness” in Dickens, which he detected in the novelist’s “fervid” intelligence, nonetheless confirmed that “he suffered from no formidable malady and could always through life endure a great deal of exertion, even if it was only the exertion of walking violently all night.

 

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Above: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

 

For John Hollingshead, who had been apprenticed to Dickens on Household Words, and who therefore saw a good deal of him in the 1850s, this proclivity for “violent walking” was itself a malady.

Hollingshead recalled in retrospect that “when Dickens lived in Tavistock House he developed a mania for walking long distances, which almost assumed the form of a disease.”

When he was restless, his brain excited by struggling with incidents or characters in the novel he was writing, he would frequently get up and walk through the night over Waterloo Bridge, along the London, New Kent and Old Kent Roads, past all the towns on the old Dover High Road, until he came to his roadside dwelling (Gad’s Hill Place).

His dogs barked when they heard his key in the wicket-gate. 

His behaviour must have seemed madness to the ghost of Sir John Falstaff.

(Gad’s Hill Place stood opposite the Falstaff Inn, formerly a notorious haunt of robbers and highwaymen.)

 

Above: John Hollingshead (1827 – 1904)

 

It is likely, then, that Dickens conducted his 30-mile nightwalk to Kent on more than one occasion.

But Dickens’ celebrated feat on that night in October 1857 was less about overcoming physical afflictions than capitulating to his psychological ones.

This was a flight both from his everyday life and from his self.

 

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From an early age Charles had been running away from something, or walking “fast and far” from something.

Going astray“, he called it.

In an article entitled “Going Astray“, printed in Household Words in 1853, Dickens described how he had “got lost one day in the City of London” as an 8-year-old child and roamed and strayed and strolled through London’s precincts all day and into the night, until he found a watchman.

I have gone astray since, many times, and farther afield.“, Dickens concludes with a certain sad pride.

 

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Chesterton argued that Dicken’s originality and genius resided in the fact that he possessed, “in the most sacred and serious sense of the term, the key of the street.

Few of us understand the street.

Even we step into it, as into a house or a room of strangers.

Few of us see through the shining riddle of the street, the strange folk that belong to the street only – the street-walker or the street Arab, the nomads, who generation after generation, have kept their ancient secrets in the full blaze of the sun.

Of the street at night many of us know even less.

The street at night is a great house locked up.

But Dickens had, if ever man had, the key of the street.

His stars were the lamps of the street.

His hero was the man in the street.

He could open the inmost door of his house – the door that leads into that secret passage which is lined with houses and roofed with stars.”

 

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Night Walks, first published in All the Year Round in 1860 and then reprinted in The Uncommercial Traveller in 1861, was Dickens’ finest, most haunting piece of non-fictional prose.

At once impressionistic and replete with intensely related detail, it relates his experiences on the streets of the capital between half past midnight (0030) and the moment when “the conscious gas begins to grow pale with the knowledge that daylight is coming.”

A sense of solitude echoes through his sentences, empty and hollow as the midnight streets through which he walks.

 

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When a church clock strikes, on homeless ears in the dead of the night, it may be at first be mistaken for company, but as the spreading circles of vibration echo out into eternal space, the mistake is rectified and the sense of loneliness is profounder.

Dickens confesses to have discovered a lonely sense of community in the cold depths of the London night, among men defined by “a tendency to lurk and lounge, to be at street corners without intelligible reason“.

My principal object being to get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every night of the year.

 

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These are the everyday casualities of life in the capitalist metropolis – the victims of unemployment, addiction and other symptoms of social and spiritual alienation.

The homeless must conquer time and defend themselves against its blank emptiness, from minute to minute, moment by moment, the shame, desertion, wretchedness and exposure of the great capital, the wet, the cold, the slow hours and the swift clouds of the dismal night.

For the police, the proof of a home, a legal nocturnal place to stay, is the precondition for the recognition of existence.

So the situation of homelessness, roaming the night without aim, without rest, represents exclusion from society.

It is a form of non-existence, non-being, the outer limits of society’s psychological and sociological borderland, the hinterland of humanity, the dark hollow interior of human nature.

 

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London is a city where 55% of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40% were born abroad, and 5% are living illegally in the shadows.

Every week 2,000 migrants unload at Victoria Coach Station, tens of thousands of migrants arriving here every year.

But who can trust statistics?

 

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You will never understand what it means to be a beggar until you have slept on the streets.

They sleep in front of the glare of shop windows, for the light lends a sense of safety.

Crackheads and Roma, street life, disorientation, a jumble of faces, an eternal rumble of traffic, where working girls sell their bodies and throw in their souls for free, the rhythm of the streets, a never sated drumbeat.

 

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Ute (my wife) and I on London evenings are one of many after-dinner couples strolling along.

I hear others with their contempt and disgust regard the beggars who congregate upon the concrete like lost church mice, like mangy parasites, cosmopolitan cockroaches, best belittled than assisted.

 

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They are the invisible, because we choose to ignore them.

They are painful reminders of our privileged life that they cannot imagine having or, if once had, reacquiring.

They are the old and the prematurely aged, shuffling and stumbling, snuffling and sniffing, pleading for pennies from those whose hearts are void of compassion.

Washed-up soiled souls marooned, listless and almost lifeless, easy prey to those who would use them for cruel sport, they lie beneath walls smeared in blood and feces upon flattened cardboard boxes that soften the sidewalk.

Human rubbish amidst human refuse, they are gaunt faces with sunken eyes, needing to beg to survive, to live, to exist, but to beg is to break the law.

What is earned is confiscated.

Law and order trumps love and outreach.

They see the beggar as an offense not as a fellow human being.

Those without homes are an invisible city deliberately unseen by the lucky with lodgings.

 

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Charles Dickens’ home is remembered as I hold my wife’s hand tightly to lend ourselves courage to encounter what we do not comprehend.

Charles feared poverty, was obsessed with money, felt that unease that only those who have raised themselves out from poverty can truly understand.

But his talent, hard work, perseverance and good fortune never required a return to a hand-to-mouth, payment-to-payment survival.

He encountered the homeless and destitute during his night walks but was never reduced to joining their ranks.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

My wife and I have London lodgings during our sojourn here and a warm comfortable flat awaiting our return to Switzerland.

 

Coat of arms of Switzerland

 

I too have known a poverty of sorts, though my begging was limited to government assistance and hitching rides and seeking emergency overnight shelter in the places where rides left me.

In my long-distance walking days I slept wherever I could and rarely needed the tent I carried upon my backpack.

 

Like those migrants of London for whom hope remains despite their desperate circumstances, I worked where and when I could, sometimes in the safety of the law, sometimes not.

Though I have never been much of an evening perambulator I have nonetheless encountered the homeless in more than a few cities I have visited.

I see it regularly amongst the Roma in Konstanz and I give as prudently as I can when I encounter the beggar Bruno in St. Gallen.

I remember the helpless and hapless of London and Paris, Seoul and Istanbul, Naples and New York.

 

Above: The Old Beggar of Bordeaux, Louis Dewis, 1916

 

I think of Oliver Twist.

Advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

 

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Above: Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, Oliver!, 1968

 

Everyone’s hungry for something.

 

Sources: The Rough Guide to London / Matthew Beaumont, Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London / Jeremy Clarke, The Charles Dickens Miscellany / Charles Dickens, Night Walks / Ben Judah, This Is London / Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

 

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Canada Slim and the Mandir of Nose Hill

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 21 May 2019

This Sunday in Switzerland some folks will attend services in either a Reformed Church or a Roman Catholic Church and both groups will call themselves Christian.

 

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And as the Earth spins around the Sun, from the Dark Continent of Africa to the Canadian tundra, Christians will kneel on this day to receive the elements of their own version of the eternal Eucharist as written in the Bible that speaks of how God sent His Son whose sacrifice somehow saved our wretched souls and whose resurrection conquered death for all of us, despite death being our destiny.

 

 

In Jerusalem and parts of the planet where the Great Diaspora has led them over centuries, others, wrapped in the prayer shawls that their ancestors wore in the desert, recite the Torah, as their Rabbi lovingly guides a wand across sacred text that Yahweh spoke to His Chosen People.

 

 

And within the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and anywhere where the Qu’ran reigns the mind, five times a day, the faithful prostrate themselves towards Mecca, towards Mohammed’s holy city, and show their devotion to Allah, who also remains God the Father of Christianity and Yahweh of the Jews and yet is unrecognizable as the same God of Abraham said to be the originator of all three great religions.

 

 

Same deity, different names, different practices, same intolerance too often seen by those who claim this deity as their own.

 

 

In a tiny house by the Ganges River at the foot of the Himalayas, a Hindu Swami will not speak today, but will continue his devotional silence that, with the exception of three days each year, he has kept for years.

 

 

In Yangon, the monks of Shwedagon sit alone and together with the eternal in the tranquil silence and privacy of their Buddhist shrine, as do the Zen monks in Kyoto, spending most of the day sitting immovable in the lotus position, as they seek to plumb with absolute absorption the Buddha-nature that lies at the centre of their being.

 

 

What a freaky fellowship, an odd misplaced madness, this is, this seeking of something divine that defies description or definition, voices raised in desperate disparate ways, sacrificing precious life to a God of life that cannot be proven not to exist.

Such strange ethereal harmony, each faith claiming superiority over every other belief, no individual religion understanding the others, and yet united in lifting their voices to the heavens in the hopes that what binds the universe will spare a moment for those who are naught more than carbonated stardust.

 

Are the faithful foolish or the unbelieving unredeemable?

 

We cannot know.

 

All we can do is try and listen carefully, with full attention to each voice as it in its turn addresses the divine that lies within and without us.

 

Religions wrap the globe in their comfort, with histories stretching back into the forgotten mists of time, that still motivates more people today than ever before.

Nothing unites us more nor divides us more than religion does.

 

 

Who should we follow?

What should we believe?

 

Should Christians worship in ornate cathedrals bedecked with icons or consider even steeples divine desecrations?

How should Muslims decide between Sunni and Shi’ite or feel about Sufism?

Must a Jew be orthodox to call himself a true Jew?

And let us wonder as Buddhists ponder different traditions of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana philosophies.

 

Millions live by a faith.

More than three quarters of the world’s population consider that they belong to a religion, however little or much they do about it.

Communities of people who share practices and beliefs gather in special buildings for worship or meditation and seek to live lives in special ways in the world.

Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, religion has been the resource and inspiration for virtually all the most enduring art, architecture, music, drama, dance and poetry that the world has known, in search and expression of that which endures when all else passes away.

 

 

We must decide if faith has relevance in these digital days, our modern minds, our computerized lives.

 

As every religion mixes universal truths with local peculiarities we must lift out the former from the latter and embrace that which speaks to what  is generically human in us all.

 

This is not easy for the irreverent, for religion is rich in rites and laden in legends.

This is not simple for those whose lives are reigned by rationalism, for the claim that the universal principles of faith are more important than rites and rituals is like contending that the trunk of a tree is more important than the branches, leaves or roots of that tree.

I know that when I seek to understand the religious impulse, that I myself lack, this is akin to trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

 

The mind that is mine struggles to grasp how Hindu’s holy Kali Temple in Calcutta revers two million cows to the point of nuisance while fakirs offer their bodies to bedbugs as sacrifice.

 

 

I find myself conflicted between the stillness of Bethlehem and department stores blaring “Silent Night” from stereos above plastic reindeer and overweight Santas.

 

 

I seek to define the divine amidst images of crucified Christs and chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

 

 

I wallow in a mire of confusion as to how Crusades can be Christian or Jihads holy, or how a God of love co-exists with witch slaughter in Salem, monkey trials in Tennessee and Grand Inquisitions in Spain.

 

 

I, like billions before me and aeons after me, seek the meaning to my existence in the hope that my short span of life has worth.

 

I am reminded of a Faustian fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and seized hold of the Truth.

Satan, suspecting sedition from this mortal upstart, directed a demon to tail the determined seeker.

When the demon reported with alarm the man’s success, Satan was not in the least bothered by the bulletin.

Don’t worry.“, Satan yawned.

I will tempt him to institutionalize the Truth.

 

 

The empowering theological and metaphysical truth of faith is inspirational, but the religious institutions built around this truth are often not.

Religion is constituted of people with their inbuilt frailities, vices and virtues.

When the vices get compounded by masses, the results are horrifying to the point where one might suggest that faith should be left outside the hands of humanity.

But faith without the faithful would have left no mark upon humanity’s history, for better or for worse.

Had faith remained as only aloof disembodied insight and had not embraced institutions and rituals, then faith could not have established traction on history or upon men’s souls.

What is important is to not get lost in the smoke and ceremony of rite and ritual, but instead we need to sift religion for the truths they try to preserve, the wisdom that maintains our world.

 

 

As T.S. Eliot so wisely phrased it:

Where is the knowledge that is lost in information?

Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?

 

Eliot in 1934 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

 

I categorically reject the premise that one religion is superior to another, for it is this comparison that is the most odious aspect of all institutions, for, as Arnold Toynbee observed:

There is no one alive today who knows enough to say with confidence whether one religion has been greater than all others.

 

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Above: Arnold Toynbee (1852 – 1883)

 

It must be admitted that though I seek to embrace the world, I am incorrigibly myself and I know that the tale I am about to tell might be quite differently written had I been a Burmese Buddhist, a Turkish Muslim, a Nepalese Hindu, a Serbian Orthodox, a Swiss Catholic or a Polish Jew instead of a Canadian humanist with delusions of fluency.

 

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

 

We live in a world of wonders.

Lands across the planet are our neighbours, China is around the corner, the Middle East is our backyard, my younger colleagues and close companions with backpacks go everywhere, while I – who often remain at home in this wee hamlet of Landschlacht – have access to an endless parade of books and videos and visitors from abroad.

It isn’t so much that East meets West as it is humanity is being flung at one another, hurled across distances at jet speed, information invading our impatient intelligence within the breath between atoms.

 

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

 

Diogenes, twenty-five hundred years ago, exclaimed:

I am not an Athenian or a Greek but a citizen of the world.

 

Above: Diogenes (412 – 323 BC)

 

Today we have the possibility to not only think of ourselves by the nations we found ourselves born in, but rather we have the opportunity to judge our heartbeat by the pulse of the planet.

We need to understand the faiths of others if we are to meet them as allies or antagonists, so that we can avoid military engagement through diplomacy.

We need to understand one another through our faiths so we can enjoy the world vision it offers us.

 

 

Or put another way….

What do they know of England, who only England know?

 

Location of England (dark green) – in Europe (green & dark grey) – in the United Kingdom (green)

 

How can we truly understand our beliefs if we never question them by comparison with others?

How truly enriching our lives become when we truly understand what belonging means to the Japanese, to sense with a Burmese grandmother what passes in life and what endures, to comprehend with the Hindu that our personalities mask the Infinite within, to follow the paradox of a Zen monk who assures you that everything is sacred but refrains from acts that are unholy, to feel the comfort that confession offers the devout Catholic….

For as language opens the mind to understanding other people, faith enlarges the heart to compassion and love for humanity.

 

True faith, not a dull habit but a living passion, confronts the individual with the momentous wisdom that life can offer.

Faith calls a soul to the highest adventure, a journey across the landscape of the human spirit.

It is the siren call to confront reality as it is, to master the self.

It is a lonely journey, a personal quest….

 

A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse,

A difficult path is this – the poets declare!

(Alfred Toynbee, Civilization on Trial)

 

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, 16 July 1945

Today is the day that the chain reaction of scientific discoveries that began at the University of Chicago and focused here at Site Y has reached the final culmination.

 

 

No one has been more instrumental in this project’s achievement than the director of the Los Alamos Project, Robert Oppenheimer.

All eyes are upon him closely this morning.

 

Head and shoulders portrait

Above: Robert Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967)

 

He grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off.

He scarcely breathed.

He held on to a post to steady himself.

When the announcer shouted “Now!”, there came this tremendous burst of light, followed by the deep-growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed in an expression of tremendous relief.”

The first atomic bomb is a success.

 

 

What flashed through Oppenheimer’s mind during those moments were two lines from the Bhagavad-Gita in which the speaker is God:

I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds;

Waiting that hour that ripens to their doom.

 

Photograph of a bronze chariot. The discourse of Krishna and Arjuna in Kurukshetra is the Bhagavad Gita.

(The Bhagavad Gita is a discourse between Krishna and Arjuna set in a chariot at the start of the Mahabharata War.)

 

Thus began an age in which violence and peace continue to confront each other more fatefully than ever before.

 

In India, Gandhi’s name became, in the middle of the 20th century, the counterpoint to those of Stalin and Hitler, but not just for the British withdrawl from the Subcontinent in peace, but, more importantly, for his lowering a barrier even more formidable than that of race in America.

Gandhi renamed India’s untouchables harijan – God’s people – and raised them to human stature.

In doing so, Gandhi provided the non-violent strategy and the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement in the United States.

Gandhi’s inspiration was revealed in his autobiography:

Such power as I possess for working in the political field has derived from my experiments in the spiritual field.

Truth is the sovereign principle and the Bhagavad-Gita is the book par excellence for the knowledge of truth.

 

Studio photograph of Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, 1931.

Above: “Mahatma“(“the Venerable“) Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

 

On a grey day in October 2017, a stone’s throw from the grim North Circular, that drab ring road that encircles London’s northern suburbs of Neasden, I would follow my curiosity and thirst for truth eternal to a Hindu temple.

A temple both alien and appropriate in the homeland of English, in the heart of an empire that once dominated my own birth country of Canada and whose sovereign remains our head of state, from a religion with roots in the land of India – that living coalition of religions and languages where one billion congregate and of which 80% call themselves Hindu – with 30 million adherants dispersed throughout the world.

On that day I would visit the largest traditional Hindu temple outside India (as recognized by Guinness World Records), Neasden’s 8th Wonder of the World, the Crown Jewel of Hinduism, one of Reader’s Digest‘s 70 Wonders of the Modern World, Time Out London‘s Seven Wonders….

The BAPS Shri Swamirayan Mandir Hindu temple.

It would not make me a Hindu nor make me feel any more knowledgeable about Hinduism than I felt before, but, nevertheless, my morning visit left impressions with me that still remain….

 

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London, England, 26 October 2017

Shri Swaminarayan was not my first visit to a Hindu temple (and I have a feeling that it won’t be my last), for on a visit to Singapore in the spring of 2014, en route to the Perth wedding of friends in Western Australia, I visited Sri Mariamman Temple, paradoxically located in the Lion City’s Chinatown district.

Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and I still remember the temple’s incredible, brightly coloured gopuram (tower) above the entrance, covered in kitsch plaster images of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and (Oppenheimer’s) Shiva the Destroyer, as sacred cow sculptures graze the boundary walls.

 

 

I had a three-day stopover in Singapore and in the process of trying to cram so much into my consciousness in a very short time Sri Mariammen is a blurred memory amongst many that I saw during my short sojourn in the city-state.

I recall also seeing the Peranakan Museum, the Raffles Hotel, the Chinatown Heritage Centre, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, the Taoist Temple of Heavenly Happiness (Thian Hock Temp), Little India, Changi Prison, the Night Safari, Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin.

I remember Little India, not for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with images of Kali, wearing a garland of skulls and ripping out the insides of her victims, but rather for the Bismallah Biryani Restaurant’s mutton kebab.

Hindu temples in Singapore were, for me at the time of my visit, only part of a tightly squeezed adventure and a list of must-sees rather than research for right or righteous religion.

 

 

(Thinking of Singapore and Perth I see future posts about them….)

 

I might not have bothered with London’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir at all had not my wife purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, tubes and trains, and strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the days of the medical conference she would attend that week.

Today would be the first day that I would view London unaccompanied by my spouse during the week.

 

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It was not my first visit to London….

 

 

(I had spent a couple of days on my own in 1995, mostly walking along the Thames rather than doing much exploring as a lack of money dogged my days then.

I spent a day and an evening in 2010 with my good friend Iain and his beautiful companion – now his spouse since the aforementioned Perth wedding – Samantha, visiting Greenwich Observatory and seeing the show Avenue Q in the Theatre District, with time to enjoy life walking well and dining fine.)

 

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But this was the first time I would attempt to deliberately explore London on my own without having to worry excessively about money.

I approached the Project alphabetically from the pages of the London Pass Guide.

As the ArcelorMittal Orbit (London’s tallest sculpture), the All Hallows by the Tower Church (where William Penn was baptized, John Quincy Adams was married and Archbishop William Laud was buried), Apsley House (with the oldest surviving grand piano in the UK) and the Arsenal Stadium Tour & Museum – (Football was never so crucial a sport to me as Canadian ice hockey or American baseball.)(Iain, an Everton fan, would never have forgiven me such a sacrilege.) – didn’t strike me as “must-see-before-I-die” / bucket list attractions, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir seemed the place to start.

 

 

And I must admit the attraction was attractively described:

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a masterpiece of traditional Hindu design and exquisite Indian workmanship in the heart of London. 

Using 5,000 tonnes of Italian and Indian marble and the finest Bulgarian limestone, it was hand-carved in India before being assembled in London in just 2.5 years. 

Since it opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over 400,000 visitors every year. 

Come and marvel at the intricate carvings, experience a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony, or learn about the world’s oldest living faith.

 

 

I took the Tube from our hotel’s neighbourhood way out to Stonebridge Park Station and wandered lost for an hour until I reached Neasden in the London Borough of Brent.

 

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It may seem at first thought that Neasden is an unusual spot for a Hindu temple, but then Neasden has always been an unusual spot in its own right.

Neasden’s name meant “nose hill” and referred to the small promontory at the western end of the Dollis Hill Ridge upon which the hamlet sat.

The countryside hamlet land was once owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and consisted of only several small buildings around a green near the site of the present Neasden roundabout until the mid-19th century.

In 1823 Neasden was no more than a “retired hamlet” with six cottages, four large farms, a pub and a smithy gathered around the green.

 

The Brent Reservoir (aka the Welsh Harp Reservoir from the name of the aforementioned pub) between Henden and Wembley Park, that straddles the boundary between the Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, was completed in 1835 and was breached in 1841.

The breaking of the dam on the River Brent resulted in folks dying and many fields and meadows under water.

Today the Brent Reservoir is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to the great crested grebe, the gadwall, the shoveler, the common pochard, the tufted duck and the common tern, as well as eight species of warbler – a total of 253 species of bird life.

As well the Reservoir possesses 31 species of butterfly, 15 species of dragonflies and is also the residence of grey squirrels, red foxes and bats.

In 1960 the Reservoir hosted the Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Today the Welsh Harp Open Space surely sees not only rowboats and sailboats but those of the Hindu faith enjoying the magic of this unglamourous corner of suburban tranquillity.

 

 

(Not fishermen though, as fishing is strictly forbidden.)

 

In 1873 Neasden had a populace of 110 and the horse was the main form of transport.

As London grew, the demand for horses in the capital soared, so in the second half of the 19th century Neasden farms focused on rearing and providing horses for the City.

Town work was exhausting and unhealthy for the horses….

 

Two Nokota horses standing in open grassland with rolling hills and trees visible in the background.

 

(It ain’t so wonderful for humans either.)

 

In 1886 the RSPCA formed a committee to set up the Home of Rest for Horses with grounds in Neasden, where, for a small fee, town horses were allowed to graze in the open for a few weeks.

 

The urbanization of Neasden began with the arrival of the railway.

The first railway running through Neasden was opened for goods traffic in 1868 with passenger services following soon after.

 

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In the 1890s change led to a conscious effort to create a village atmosphere.

At this time, the Spotted Dog became a social centre for local people.

By 1891 Neasden had a population of 930, half of whom lived in the village.

Despite the presence of the village in the west, it was the London end that grew fastest.

 

In 1893 the Great Central Railway got permission to join up its main line from Nottingham with the Metropolitan.

The Great Central set up a depot south of the line at Neasden and built houses for its workers.

 

 

The Great Central village was a “singularly isolated and self-contained community” with its own school and single shop, Branch No. 1 of the North West London Co-operative Society.

It is now part of a conservation area.

There was considerable sporting rivalry between the two railway estates and a football match was played every Good Friday.

By the 1930s the two railways employed over 1,000 men.

 

 

Neasden Hospital was built in 1894 and closed in 1986.

 

Apart from the railways, Neasden was dominated by agriculture until just before the First World War.

In 1911, Neasden’s population had swelled to 2,074.

By 1913, light industry at Church End had spread up Neasden Lane as far as the station.

 

In the 1920s, the building of the North Circular Road, a main arterial route round London, brought another wave of development.

It opened in 1923.

 

 

The 1924 British Empire Exhibition led to road improvements and the introduction of new bus services.

Together with the North Circular Road, it paved the way for a new residential suburb at Neasden.

The last farm in Neasden was built over in 1935.

The Ritz Cinema opened in 1935, and Neasden Shopping Parade was opened in 1936, considered then to be the most up-to-date in the area.

All of Neasden’s older houses were demolished during this period, except for The Grange.

The Spotted Dog was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style.

Industries sprung up in the south of the area, and by 1949, Neasden’s population was over 13,000.

 

The Post Office Research Station was located nearby in Dollis Hill.

 

 

There the Colossus computers, among the world’s first, were built in 1943-1944, and underneath them the Paddock Wartime Cabinet Rooms had been constructed in 1939.

 

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Neasden Power Station, which was built to provide power for the Metropolitan Railway, was closed and demolished in 1968.

 

The post-war history of Neasden is one of steady decline.

Local traffic congestion problems necessitated the building of an underpass on the North Circular Road that effectively cut Neasden in half and had a disastrous effect on the shopping centre by making pedestrian access to it difficult.

The decline in industry through the 1970s also contributed to the area’s decline.

 

But nonetheless Neasden has somehow survived, largely due to a succession of vibrant immigrant communities keeping the local economy afloat.

 

Neasden Depot continues to be the main storage and maintenance depot for the London Underground’s Metropolitan line (and is also used by trains of the Jubilee line).

It is London Underground’s largest depot and as such it is a major local employer.

The Grange Tavern (previously called The Old Spotted Dog) on Neasden Lane was closed in the 1990s and demolished to make way for a block of flats, bringing to an end the inn that had stood there for around two centuries.

Another old pub, The Pantiles, which stood on the North Circular Road was converted into a McDonald’s restaurant.

 

The Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA opened its second UK outlet in Neasden in 1988.

 

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On 14 July 1993, in an MI5 anti-terrorist operation, a Provisional IRA man was arrested in his car on Crest Road carrying a 20 lb bomb.

It came just over a year after the Staples Corner bombing just over 500 yards away, which devastated the junction.

 

 

In 1995, Neasden became the unlikely home of the biggest Hindu temple outside India: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, known locally as the Neasden Temple.

 

In 2004, the shopping centre area was partially redeveloped by the Council in an effort to reverse its fortunes.

The Grange, which had housed a museum about the people of Brent, was closed by the Council in 2005.

The 2004 redevelopment proved to be unpopular with local businesses, as it changed the layouts of parking, thus forcing customers and local trade to pass by due to the parking restrictions of the redevelopment.

Neasden was once nicknamed “the loneliest village in London” and “God’s own borough“.

Neasden has achieved considerable notoriety thanks to the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Since early in its history (when the magazine was actually printed in Neasden) the magazine has used Neasden as an exemplar of the suburban environment in pieces parodying current events, personalities, and social mores (for example, the University of Neasden).

Spoof sports reports in the magazine usually feature the perennially unsuccessful football team, Neasden F.C. with their manager, “ashen-faced” Ron Knee and their only two supporters, Sid and Doris Bonkers.

 

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Neasden was one of the locations in the TV documentary Metro-land.

In it, Sir John Betjeman described Neasden as “home of the gnome and the average citizen” (the former a reference to the preponderance of gnome statuettes in suburban front gardens, but possibly also a nod in the direction of the Eye’s fictional proprietor, Lord Gnome).

Background music was provided by William Rushton’s recording of Neasden (1972):

(“Neasden

You won’t be sorry that you breezed in.“)

 

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In a celebrated spoof of the Early Music phenomenon which grew enormously in the late 1960s, Neasden was selected by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer David Cain as the home of a fictional ensemble dedicated to historically-informed performances on authentic musical instruments from an indeterminate number of centuries ago.

It was thus that in 1968, listeners to BBC Radio 3 were given a recital by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis whose members performed on the equally fictional Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clackett.

 

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Athletico Neasden was an amateur football team of mostly Jewish players, which played in the Maccabi (Southern) Football League in the 1970s and 1980s and were named after the place, though they didn’t actually play in the area.

The team eventually merged with North West Warriors to form North West Neasden.

 

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David Sutherland’s children’s novel A Black Hole in Neasden reveals a gateway to another planet in a Neasden back garden.

 

Diana Evans’s 2006 novel 26a details the experiences of twin girls of Nigerian and British descent growing up in Neasden.

Willie Hamilton reported in ‘My Queen and I‘ that the Victorian Order medals were made on a production line in Neasden from used railway lines.

 

A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached

 

A pirate radio station, Dread Broadcasting Corporation, credited as Britain’s first black music radio station, was broadcast from a Neasden garden between 1981 – 1984.

 

In the Dangermouse episode “Planet of the Machines“, Dangermouse and Penfold arrive back in Neasden from the planet in the Baron’s space time machine.

 

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Konnie Huq and Matt Cooke from BBC TV present the Your News programme from Neasden.

 

So all of this begs the question:

 

What in the name of Krishna is a Hindu temple doing here?

 

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Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in the old Hindu proverb:

The lotus blooms in splendour, but its roots lie in the dirt.

 

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Let me be frank.

Neasden is a glum place, especially after the glamour of the City has been seen, thus the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir seems to rise majestically above the dismal, between-the-world-wars housing like a welcome oasis of sight.

So sudden and grandiose does the Mandir appear that the viewer wonders whether it is a mirage, a shimmering dream, conjured up by one’s overactive imagination.

Here in London’s loneliest village is an experience of India’s glorious tradition and faith, a legacy that seems to have evolved over millennia rather than appearing miraculously on the landscape in a mere 30 months.

 

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Since the Mandir opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over half a million visitors a year.

The inventory of visitors, including your humble blogger, has incorporated prime ministers and presidents, royalty and religious leaders, artists and industrialists, school children and journalists, the devout and the merely curious.

 

It is impossible to catalogue all the appelations, emotions, inspirations and experiences that this Mandir has evoked.

On a personal profound level, the Mandir is a pavilion of peace and promise, a dissolver of disquiet, a messenger dispelling misunderstanding, a statement of hope and faith for the future.

 

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I am fascinated by the power of belief and teamwork and the spirit of volunteerism that made the Mandir possible.

In June 1970, the first BAPS Mandir in Britain opened in a converted disused church in Islington, North London, by Yogji Maharaj.

In 1982, having outgrown the Islington temple, the congregation moved to a small former warehouse in Neasden.

The present Mandir was designed by Pramukh Swami, a 92-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man) and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors.

 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, 2010

Above: Pramukh Swami (1921 – 2016)

 

It was built and funded entirely by the Hindu community.

The entire project took five years, although the Neasden construction itself was completed in a mere 30 months.

 

In November 1992, the temple recorded the largest concrete pour in the United Kingdom, when 4,500 tons were put down in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 1.8 metres / 6 feet thick.

The first stone was laid in June 1993.

Two years later, the Mandir was complete.

 

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Designed according to the Shilpa-Shastras, a Vedic text that develops Hindu architecture to metaphorically represent the different attributes of God, it was constructed almost entirely from Indian marble, Italian marble, Sardinian granite and Bulgarian limestone.

No iron or steel was used in the construction, a unique feature for a modern building in the UK.

From the conceptual design and vision of Pramukh Swami, the architect C. B. Sompura and his team created the Mandir entirely from stone.

 

It is a shikharbaddha (or pinnacled) mandir:

Seven-tiered pinnacles topped by golden spires crowd the roofline, complemented by five ribbed domes.

The temple is noted for its profusely carved cantilevered central dome.

Inside, serpentine ribbons of stone link the columns into arches, creating a sense of levitation.

Light cream Vartza limestone from Bulgaria was chosen for the exterior, and for the interior, Italian Carrara marble supplemented by Indian Ambaji marble.

The Bulgarian and Italian stone were shipped to the port of Kandla in Gujarat, where most of the carving was eventually completed, by over 1,500 craftsmen in a workshop specially set up for the project.

More than 26,300 individually numbered stones pieces were shipped back to London and the building was assembled like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw.

 

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The Mandir was inaugurated on 20 August 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS – the organisation behind the temple.

The entire Mandir complex represents an act of faith and collective effort.

Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, more than 1,000 volunteers worked on the building, and many more contributed and solicited donations, or organised sponsored walks and other activities.

Children raised money by collecting aluminium cans and foil for recycling – the biggest can collection in English history – 7 million cans collected by 1,500 children.

 

The Mandir serves as the centre of worship.

Directly beneath each of the seven pinnacles seen from the outside is a shrine.

Each of these seven shrines houses murtis (sacred images) within altars.

Each murti is revered like God in person and devoutly attended to each day by the sadhus (monks) who live in the temple ashram.

 

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Beneath the Mandir is the permanent exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism‘.

Through 3-D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork, it provides an insight into the wisdom and values of Hinduism.

Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs and contribution of Hindu seers, and how this ancient religion is being practised today through traditions, such as the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampraday.

 

The Mandir is open to people of all faiths and none.

Entrance is free, except to the ‘Understanding Hinduism‘ exhibition where there is a £2 fee, which was covered by the London Pass.

 

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(A note about BAPS….

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) (Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā) is a Hindu religious and social organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

BAPS was established on 5 June 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj after leaving the Vadtal Gadi of the Swaminarayan Sampraday.

It was formed on the founder’s interpretation that Swaminarayan was to remain present on Earth through a lineage of Gunatit Gurus (or Akshar) dating all the way back to Gunatitanand Swami – one of Swaminarayan’s prominent devotees.

Gunatitanand Swami was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.

Due to the organizational emphasis on the Akshar Purushottam doctrine, it essentially forms the organization’s middle name.

The fundamental beliefs of BAPS include the spiritual guidance through the living Akshar (or Guru) who is believed to have attained oneness with Swaminarayan.

Mahant Swami Maharaj is the current Guru and the president of the organization.

As a global, well-established Hindu organization, BAPS actively engages in a range of endeavors aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare.

The activities span religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains.

Through these activities, it aims to preserve Indian culture, ideals of Hindu faith, family unity, selfless service, interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.

55,000 volunteers and 3,300 temples serve 3,300 communities around the world.

As of August 2018, BAPS has approximately 1,560 saints (or sadhus), among the most saints in one sanstha in Hinduism.

As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS also engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable endeavors, by which its volunteers serve neighbors and communities.

With total assets of 17.5 billion USD, BAPS is able to contribute to a lot of welfare and public service works.

Through BAPS Charities, a non-profit aid organization, BAPS has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes and community-building campaigns.)

 

BAPS Logo with the symbol of Akshar Deri

 

For the Hindu community, the Mandir is a unifying force that installs pride and dignity with a zeal to serve society.

Every week, hundreds of faithful devotees, young and old alike, gather for prayers and services.

The annual Diwali and New Year’s festivals are witnessed by thousands of devotees and well-wishers.

Diwali is a spectacular celebration that falls in the month of November, a festival of lights and fireworks that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

Every year 35,000 children visit the Mandir.

 

 

What exactly is a Mandir, you ask?

A Mandir is a Hindu place of worship, literally a place where the mind becomes still and the soul floats freely to seek the source of life, bliss and meaning, a place to pause for a moment to pray, reflect and absorb the peaceful ambiance.

 

 

The problem is that the Mandir is a place that takes religion seriously, and though it is listed as a tourist attraction, the Mandir is anything but one.

Here, there is no pandering to curiosity seekers.

It is not a place to go rifling through the Hindu faith to light on what has shock value, for the focus on what is bizarre and outside one’s experience is the crudest kind of vulgarization of faith.

Behind the ceremony and ritual, we seek what is of deepest concern to ourselves, that search for the essential similarity in human nature.

Hinduism is, like true faith, like other religions, not a dull habit but a raging fever, a pounding pulse that gives its adherants all that is startling about life itself.

 

The Mandir in the suburbs of Neasden is as unbelievable to the eyes as a garden in the Sahara.

This spectacular edifice, this the largest Hindu temple outside India, includes seven spires (shikhars), six domes, 193 pillars and 55 different ceiling designs.

The Mandir‘s visual splendour and tranquil atmosphere have spontaneously generated poetic expressions and sentiments.

The media have dubbed the Mandir as “hallucinogenic” and described the profuse carvings as “frothy milk on a cappuccino“.

Deities and motifs representing the Hindu faith spring from the ceilings, walls and windows.

The impressive monument is supported by a 1,070-foot long pageant of extraordinary stone elephants and a 610-foot long ornately carved outer wall.

The Narayan Sarovar, a water body that embraces the monument on three sides, gives the Mandir an aura of a traditional place of pilgrimage.

The Mandir is entered through the richly carved portico of the Grand Haveli (cultural complex), welcoming you into a majestic wooden courtyard with soaring teak columns and oak panels.

Elegant peacocks, delicate lotus flowers and royal elephants beckon in greeting, with the carpet designed to compliment the motifs.

 

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Wood for the Haveli was sourced from sustainable forests, and for each tree felled, ten saplings were planted.

The Haveli Prayer Hall is a pillar-less assembly area that measures 2,750 square metres and seats over 2,500 worshippers.

The Hall incorporates environment-friendly features such as light wells, energy-saving lighting and a heat exchanger which uses thermal energy dissipated by the congregation to heat other parts of the complex.

Here is the venue for weekly assemblies and regular festivals.

 

 

The heart of the Mandir is its murtis (the sacred images of the deities who are revered as living gods), ritually infused with the presence of the divine.

Hindus worship murtis to express and enhance their loving relationship with that which is holy.

Murtis are the soul of the Mandir, making it a sacred place of worhsip wherein God resides – the home of God.

 

 

The shrine’s foundations are His feet, the pillars His knees, the inner sanctum His stomach, the throne His heart, the murti His soul, the shikhars His shoulders, the bell His tongue, the lamp His breath, the lion His nose, the windows His ears, the ringed stone on the shikhar His neck, the golden pot His head and the flags His hair.

The entire Mandir is revered as a divine manifestation.

In total, there are 11 shrines with 17 murtis, including Ganesh, Hanuman and Swaminarayan – this last to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

 

The murtis are ritually served by dedicated sadhus (monks) who live in the Mandir.

Before sunrise, the murtis are awakened by the sadhus and the shrine doors opened for the first of five daily artis (prayers), the Mangala Arti.

 

 

An arti is a ritual wherein a specific prayer is recited to a poetic format with music while the sadhus wave a lighted lamp in front of the murtis.

The sadhus recite some shlokas (prayers), serve the murtis, offer them food and bathe them and close the shrine doors.

Feeding and bathing of the murtis continues throughout the day.

 

The shrines are opened again for the second aarti, the Shangar Arti, and remain open from 0900 to approximately 1100, when the shrines are closed and offered thal (hymns).

At 1145, the shrines are opened for the midday arti, the Rajbhog Arti, and the thal is recited before the murtis.

The shrines are closed after this to allow the murtis to rest during the afternoon.

The shrines reopen at 1600 until 1830 for darshan.

 

 

The Sandhya Arti (sunset arti) follows at 1900.

Thereafter, a selection of prayers are recited by the devotees including dhun (where the names of God are chanted and verses of praise are sung).

The shrines are closed again for approximately one hour so they can be offered their final meal by the sadhus.

The murtis are then prepared for the night and adorned in their evening attire by the sadhus.

The shrines are opened a final time for the Shayan Arti (night-time arti) with the lights dimmed and music lowered.

The devotees recite a few hymns, gently sending the murtis to sleep, before the shrines are finally closed for the night.

 

The elaborately carved pillars, friezes, ornate ceilings and the magnificent dome provide an aesthetic and elevating atmosphere to the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir.

 

 

The murtis of the Mandir – Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Guru Parampara, the avatars of Sanatan Dharma, Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj, Shri Radha-Krishna, Shri Sita-Ram, Shri Shiv-Parvati, Shri Ganeshji and Shri Hanumanji – exude a heavenly calm and beauty.

 

Don’t despair if you can’t decipher who is who and what is what, for, to understand all of this, one needs to be steeped in Hindu history and Indian heritage.

 

 

Here prayers are whispered, songs of praise are heightened and the soul rejoices beyond the frontiers of mundane existence to experience the divine peace of God.

It is a nucleus of socio-spiritual activities for the benefit and elevation of individuals, families and society.

It inspires a society free from violence, crime and addiction.

It infuses people with a spirit of selfless service, to live in tune with God and in harmony with humanity.

 

Or at least these are the Mandir’s intentions.

 

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An hour of lost and bewildered walking finally led me to a procession of French teenagers who were scrutinized carefully by the burly security that met us.

 

Here at 105 Brentfield Road, as in most places that devote time and attention to unearthly divinity, apparently God has a strict dress code that must be adhered to before you will be allowed to worship Him.

Clothing must be respectable, respectful.

Shorts and skirts must be below knee-length and footwear removed upon entering the Mandir complex.

No one smokes on the premises.

Video and photography are forbidden upon entry.

Mobile phones must be turned off and no food or beverages are allowed on the premises.

 

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By the time I reach the security shed where backpacks are stored upon long shelves and make my way into the Mandir I am immediately summoned by personnel into the Prayer Hall where row upon row of folding chairs support a large collection of English senior citizens let loose here on this most unusual excursion.

The film is agonizingly long and as I am not officially a part of this senior set, despite the balding pate and silver mane that is mine, I extrude myself as quietly as I can and find myself lining up to enter the Inner Sanctum with the aforementioned French and some Indian devotees.

 

Hindu worship (puja) involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).

The simplest yantra is a circle within a square within a rectangle, with four gates to represent the four directions of the universe.

Hindu temples are based on this design, although still open to endless additions and variations in decoration.

Central to worship is the icon, or sacred image, which together with the temple, is believed to both house and represent a manifestation of God.

An icon can be worshipped at home or in a temple.

Most Hindu worship at home more often and the majority of Hindu homes have a shrine, where at certain times different members of the family make offerings and say prayers.

Most Hindus worship individually, not in a communal service.

Worship involves mantras (vibrating sounds that summon the murti) and prasad (the offering of gifts).

While many prayers and offerings are made for the fulfillment of wishes, the ultimate objective is the offering of the self to become one with God.

Central to this worship is darshan (seeing and being in the presence of the central murti).

 

 

The best time to visit the Mandir is just before 1145, when the rajbhog arti ceremony is performed.

Lit candles are waved in front of the embodiments of the murtis, accompanied by a musical prayer performed by drums, bells, gongs and a conch shell.

 

It is truly a haunting and uplifting experience.

 

Abhishek is the ancient Hindu practice of pouring water over the sacred image of God to honour Him and to attain His blessings.

In this Mandir, abhishek of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (or Bhagwan Swaminarayan) is performed daily to the chanting of Vedic verses, including the ancient prayer of peace (the Shanti Paath) and the recital of the 108 auspicious and liberating names of Varni (the Janmangal Namavali), in a ceremony that lasts 15 minutes.

The abhishek is done by devotees on days of special significance to them or to seek blessings for personal reasons.

 

 

The Abhishek Mandap is a marble chamber on the lower floor of the Mandir, housing the sacred image of Shri Nilkanth Varni, the teenage form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

The chamber is clad in Brazilian and Italian marble and embellished with intricate traditional designs.

At the chamber’s heart lies the murti of Varni in gilded brass.

He is depicted in mid-step, emaciated, yet looking calm and resolute.

With matted hair and a small gutko (handwritten manuscript of excerpts from sacred texts) wrapped in a kerchief around his neck, Varni is wearing nothing but his loincloth tied at the waist by a jute cord.

In his left hand, Varni carries a dand (a wooden staff) and a kamandalu (a drinking pot made from dry gourd), both common marks of Hindu ascetism.

 

 

Who was Varni?

After renouncing his home at the tender age of 11, Bhagwan Swaminarayan embarked upon an epic journey of spiritual awakening that took him around India, into Nepal and Tibet, and through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

During this time, he became to be known as Nilkanth Varni.

Barefoot and alone, Nilkanth walked almost 8,000 miles over seven years, blessing the land and liberating numerous spiritual aspirants along the way.

Carrying no maps, no food and no money, Varni crossed raging rivers, faced ferocious animals and survived the freezing heights of the Himalayas.

His solitary journey is a story of courage, kindness and enlightenment, and the inspiration for the naming of the Mandir.

 

Mount Everest as seen from Drukair2 PLW edit.jpg

 

But can the non-believer understand Hinduism?

I have tried and what I have concluded is the following….

 

Hinduism is the world’s oldest ongoing living religion, practised as early as 6500 BC.

It has, unlike Christianity or Islam, no one single founder, but is rather a collective of experiences of ancient seers over the centuries.

According to Hinduism’s adherents, Hinduism teaches one to see the presence of God in everything and thus honour the whole of creation.

You can find God in the world of everyday affairs as readily as anywhere else.

 

Shiva

 

With this perspective, there are no heathens nor enemies.

Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a divine man, while believing that there have been many as such, including Rama, Krishna and the Buddha.

 

Everyone, even Canada Slim your humble blogger, has the right to evolve spiritually and will, at some time, realise the truth.

 

Hindus believe that souls are not limited to one life – many lives offer many chances for spiritual elevation.

 

 

Like many religions, this faith has rigorous rules.

People are responsible for every action they perform, through the Law of Karma.

 

Hindus believe in one supreme, all-powerful God, the Creator, who has a divine form, is immanent (eternal), transcedent and the grantor of spiritual liberation (moksha).

Jews, Christians and Muslims view the worship of God in the form of one chosen ideal.

Hindus view and represent God in innumerable forms.

 

Brahma sarawati.jpg

 

Each form (avatar) is but a symbol that points to something beyond.

No one form can truly encapsulate God’s actual nature, so an entire array is needed to complete the picture of God’s aspects and manifestations.

Each representation’s vocation is to introduce the human heart to what it represents but what it itself is not.

Though each representation points equally to God, the Hindu devotee tends to form a lifetime attachment to one, the ishta, the form of the divine the devotee wishes to adopt.

This worship of sacred images of God is called murti puja.

After all, love assumes different nuances according to the relationship involved.

 

Hindus believe in Karma that the soul reaps fruit – good or bad – which is experienced either in this life or in future lives.

They believe in reincarnation (punar-janma), that the soul is immortal, repeatedly born and reborn in one of millions of lifeforms until it attains spiritual liberation (moksha).

Moksha is the release of the soul from this perpetual cycle of births and deaths, remaining eternally in the blissful presence of God.

 

 

Dharma is how we choose to live our lives according to divine law, which values service, sacrifice, humility, duty, devotion, purpose, fidelity, respect and integrity among other positive practices and virtues.

This divine law is believed to be revealed by the authority of the Vedic scriptures, the four Vedas – the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishad.

And in a model of efficiency these are encapsulated in the Shikshapatri, a book of moral conduct in 212 succinct Sanskrit verses.

 

 

In a nutshell of simplicity:

  • Do not steal.
  • Do not eat meat.
  • Do not consume alcohol or other intoxicants.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Maintain purity of conduct.

 

Hindus claim a proud heritage:

  • the world’s first university (700 BC), Takshashila, India
  • the invention of the Zero, which makes the binary system and computers possible
  • the invention of the decimal system
  • the invention of geometry and trigonometry
  • the value of pi – the ratio of the circumference and diameter of a circle
  • the prior formulation of the Pythagorean Theorem (which says that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the two sides)  (For me, mathematics is as arcane and mysterious as faith.)
  • a theory of the revolution of the Earth 1,000 years before Copernicus
  • a formulation of the law of gravity 1,200 years before Newton
  • an idea of the smallest and largest measures of time from a kratl (34,000th of a second) to a kalpa (4.32 billion years)
  • the practice of surgery 2,600 years ago with 125 types of surgical instruments for 300 different operations

BhirMound.JPG

 

I did not leave the Mandir of London as a convert to Hinduism, but what my visit showed me was worth the effort.

 

Image result for baps shri swaminarayan mandir london photos

 

Life holds more than what one is experiencing now.

People need to live for something which makes life worthwhile, a quest for meaning and value beyond oneself.

Life holds other possibilities beyond our own experience.

 

Hinduism holds that underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss.

Hinduism sees the mind’s hidden continents as stretching to infinity, infinite in being, infinite in awareness, infinite in joy.

Hindus believe that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for a distinctive mode of travel, each starting from the kind of person one is.

 

Lakshmi

 

We all play the roles our personalities dictate, cast in this moment in the greatest of all tragi-comedies, the drama of life itself in which we are all simultaneously co-authors and actors, powered less by reason than by emotion.

To find meaning in this drama, in the mystery of existence, is life’s final and fascinating challenge.

Life is a training ground for the human spirit.

The world is the soul’s gymnasium, both a school and a training field.

 

Hindus believe that the world is lila, God’s plan, that the goal of life is life itself.

 

The various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal to find meaning to our lives beyond ourselves.

The various religions are but different languages through which God, should God exist, speaks to the human heart.

 

Truth is one.

Sages call truth by different names.

 

Differences in culture, history, geography and temperament all make for diverse starting points.

Is life not more interesting as a result of its infinite variety in endless combinations?

 

I may not always understand that which is out of my experience, but the benefits of trying to go beyond my experience are boundless.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Understanding Hinduism Exhibition Guidebook, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir / John Bowker, World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored and Explained / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Huston Smith, The World’s Religions / The Bhagavad-Gita

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Chocolate Factory of Unhappiness

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 January 2019

This is not India, but nonetheless there are a few sacred cows in Switzerland one would be wise to not offend.

Image result for sacred cows in india images

 

First, one should never question Switzerland’s superiority….

In anything.

Just as the laws of physics decree that the bumblebee cannot possibly fly, so the laws of economics similarly decree that Switzerland should not be doing so sickeningly well.

Bumblebee October 2007-3a.jpg

It is land-locked, has a home market smaller than London, speaks four languages, has no natural resources other than hydroelectric power, a little salt and few fish, no colonies nor membership in any major trading block, Switzerland should have faded from existence centuries ago.

Instead the Swiss are the only nation to make the Germans appear inefficient, the French undiplomatic and Texans poor.

Thus their mountains are higher, their tunnels longer, their watches superior, their cheese holey, their chocolate legendary and their gold real.

Flag of Switzerland

Second, appearances are deceiving.

Switzerland is not really a nation but rather a collection of 26 nations (or cantons) which finance themselves, raise their own taxes and spend them as they want.

Or one could also easily argue that it is not a collection of 26 cantons but rather an assemblage of 3,000 totally independent communities each making their own decisions about welfare, gas, electricity, water, roads and public holidays.

Image result for cantonal map of switzerland images

They are successful and proud of what they have accomplished yet simultaneously refuse to believe they are doing well and are convinced that tomorrow they will lose everything they have worked for.

They are officially quadlingual polyglots.

Yet not only have I never heard of anyone who can speak all four (French, German, Italian and Rumanisch) languages, I have rarely encountered outside of Freiburg/Freibourg and Biel/Bienne anyone who is bilingual in even two of the four.

In the Bundeshaus in Bern (the national/federal parliament in the capital) one sees a minor miracle of one member speaking in one language while the other member responds in a different one with no loss of comprehension or pause in conversation.

But beyond Bern, when the Swiss have to communicate in an official language not their own, then in all likelihood the French speaker will address his German counterpart in English and vice versa.

 

The Swiss Army doesn’t actually use the Swiss Army knives the tourists buy.

Swiss cheese is not called Swiss but Emmentaler.

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Swiss fondue is simply (cheese) fondue while a meat fondue is inexplicably called a Chinese fondue.

Swiss fondue.jpg

Two Swiss national heroes are also problematic puzzlers.

 

Heidi, everyone’s favourite Swiss Miss, though created by a Swiss writer, was actually a German girl who moved to Switzerland to live with her Swiss grandfather in Frau Johanna Spyri’s books.

William Tell (or Wilhelm) is a proud Swiss symbol of independence but whether he actually existed or whether he was invented by those who were not Swiss (Germans Goethe and Friedrich Schiller / Italy’s Rossini) is debatable.

The cuckoo clock is not Swiss.

It is German from the Black Forest, despite what Orson Wells would have us believe.

 

Trains are not as punctual as the legend suggests that folks could use their stopwatches to predict a train’s exact arrival.

The S8 connecting Schaffhausen with St. Gallen is, in my personal experience of using it on an almost daily basis, more often tardy rather than timely.

SBB-CFF-FFS.svg

 

The Swiss are world class diploments who make the world believe that they want the world to love them, but they have a problem with not loving the world in return but not liking other Swiss as well.

 

They are famous for their neutrality yet armed to the teeth.

 

And much like my fellow Canadians, they are proud of their homeland yet would be hard-pressed to say what exactly that identity is of which they are proud.

 

They are conservative to the extreme, yet Switzerland has harboured radicals of every political ideology imaginable (including Mussolini and Lenin), has surprised with artistic movements (like Dadaism and Bauhaus) and has sheltered movie and music legends who revolutionized the world with their creativity and talent (like Freddy Mercury, Charlie Chaplin and Tina Turner).

Switzerland is dull and uninspiring.

Even though Mary Shelley was English her Frankenstein‘s Monster was as Swiss as the Matterhorn.

 

James Bond is the product of a Swiss mother and a Scottish father and much of Bond lore (movies and literature) has taken place within Switzerland.

 

A land of contradictions with an identity as firmly guarded as a bank vault.

 

Let us consider Swiss chocolate.

The world over, chocolate is the foodstuff most readily identifiable with Switzerland.

Chocolate is everywhere.

It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction.

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The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac and Emperor Montezuma would gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts as a type of non-prescription Viagra.

 

The solid, moldable chocolate “bar” was developed by the Bristol confectioner Joseph Fry in 1847.

But many early pioneers of chocolate-making were Swis:

  • Francois-Louis Cailler, who started production of what was then largely sold as a restorative tonic at Vevey in 1819.

  • He was soon followed by Philippe Suchard in Neuchâtel.

  • Until 1875, all chocolate was dark and bitter, but in that year Vevey-based Daniel Peter, a candlemaker who married Cailler’s daughter, became involved in chocolate-making, invented milk chocolate, aided by his neighbour Henri Nestlé.

  • Nestlé started his firm (now one of the world’s largest food multinationals) by manufacturing condensed milk, which Peter used in chocolate manufacture in preference to the too-watery ordinary milk, creating a concoction that was not only more palatable than previously available but less expensive as well.

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  • In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt of Bern invented “conching“, a process which creates the smooth melting chocolate familiar today.

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  • Jean Tobler, also of Bern, was another pioneer and today every one of the seven billion triangles of Toblerone eaten annually are still produced in that city.

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Today, more chocolate is sold in Switzerland per head of population than any other country.

 

The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavor.

After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted.

The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form.

Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor.

The liquor also may be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Baking chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugar.

Powdered baking cocoa, which contains more fiber than it contains cocoa butter, can be processed with alkali to produce Dutch cocoa.

Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or added vegetable oils, and sugar.

Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk.

White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.

Matadecacao.jpg

Chocolate is one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world, and many foodstuffs involving chocolate exist, particularly desserts, including cakes, pudding, mousse, chocolate brownies, and chocolate chip cookies.

Many candies are filled with or coated with sweetened chocolate, and bars of solid chocolate and candy bars coated in chocolate are eaten as snacks.

Gifts of chocolate molded into different shapes (such as eggs, hearts, coins) are traditional on certain Western holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Hanukkah.

Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages, such as chocolate milk and hot chocolate, and in some alcoholic drinks, such as creme de cacao.

 

Chocolate is big business.

In 2005 the global market was approximately $100 billion.

Each year, the world consumes close to three million tons of chocolate and other cocoa products.

One Swiss firm alone, Lindt & Sprüngli had a revenue of CHF 4.088 billion in 2017.

Logo

 

It was my discovery that Lindt has their headquarters and outlet shop in Kilchberg (near Zürich) and a separate visit to Maestrani’s Chocolarium outside the town of Flawil (near St. Gallen) that made me curious about the actual production of chocolate….

Image result for lindt chocolate factory kilchberg images

 

Bern, Switzerland, 12 March 2013:

Lindt produces the Gold Bunny, a hollow milk chocolate rabbit in a variety of sizes available every Easter since 1952.

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Each bunny wears a small coloured ribbon bow around its neck identifying the type of chocolate contained within.

The milk chocolate bunny wears a red ribbon, the dark chocolate bunny wears a dark brown ribbon, the hazelnut bunny wears a green ribbon, and the white chocolate bunny wears a white ribbon.

Other chocolates are wrapped to look like carrots, chicks, or lambs.

The lambs are packaged with four white lambs and one black lamb.

During the Christmas season, Lindt produces a variety of items, including chocolate reindeer (which somewhat resemble the classic bunny), Santa, snowmen figures of various sizes, bears, bells, advent calendars and chocolate ornaments.

Various tins and boxes are available in the Lindt stores, the most popular colour schemes being the red and blue.

Other seasonal items include Lindt chocolate novelty golf balls.

Image result for lindt golf balls

 

For Valentine’s Day, Lindt sells a boxed version of the Gold Bunny, which comes as a set of two kissing bunnies.

Other Valentine’s Day seasonal items include a selection of heart-shaped boxes of Lindor chocolate truffles.

 

They are the symbol of Easter in Switzerland, but the golden Lindt bunnies aren’t Swiss.

As revelations go, this one is up there with Heidi was German and Switzerland isn’t neutral in terms of shock value.

How can those cute little gold-wrapped bunnies not be Swiss?

They are made by Lindt & Sprüngli, one of the oldest and most famous chocolate makers in Switzerland.

Except they are made by Lindt & Sprüngli in Germany.

Flag of Germany

 

 

Diccon Bewes discovered this thanks to a friend from Helvetica LA who bought a Lindt bunny in Los Angeles only to find it was made in Germany.

Fair enough, Bewes thought, as America is an export market.

But surely the ones in Switzerland would be made here?

Wrong.

All the ones in the supermarkets in Bern are made in Germany, although you have to have good eyesight to discover that.

On the back of the bunny the ingredients are listed in German, French and Dutch but down at the bottom are the words:

Fabriqué par / Geproduceerd door: Lindt & Sprüngli GmbH (Allemagne/Deutschland) D-52072 Aachen.

Oddly this isn’t written in German given that they are sold in Germany.

Obviously they don’t want to have that anywhere for fear of scaring away canny Swiss consumers – even though most of them can understand the French anyway!

To reassure anyone who does cotton on to the fact that the bunny isn’t Swiss, there are the words:

Garantie de Qualité Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli Kilchberg/Suisse.

In other words, Lindt in Switzerland is the distributor for the German Lindt products.

At a time when “Swissness” is being debated in the Federal Parliament, it is interesting to see that this Swiss icon is not Swiss at all.

Bewes checked the shelves and Lindt very carefully marks their chocolate bars with SWISS MADE where it applies (so the bunny does not get that stamp of approval).

There was a proposal that foodstuffs get the SWISS MADE stamp only if 80% of their ingredients are Swiss, unless they include things that cannot possibly be Swiss because they are not grown here….

Diccon Bewes Logo

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 January 2019

But here’s the thing.

Not only is much of Swiss chocolate production reliant on imported sugar, but cocoa, the raw material of chocolate, itself isn’t grown in Switzerland.

Although cocoa originated in the Americas, West African countries, particularly Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, are the leading producers of cocoa in the 21st century, accounting for some 60% of the world cocoa supply.

Thousands of miles away from the American and European homes, where the majority of the world’s chocolate is devoured – Europe accounts for 45% of the world’s chocolate revenue – lies the denuded landscape of West Africa’s Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa.

As the nation’s name suggests, elephants once abundantly roamed the rain forests of the Côte d’Ivoire.

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Today’s reality is much different.

Only 200 – 400 elephants remain from an original population of hundreds of thousands.

Much of the country’s national parks and conservation lands have been cleared of their forests to make way for cocoa operators to feed demand from large chocolate companies like Nestlé, Cadbury and Mars.

 

Washington DC, 15 September 2017

NGO Mighty Earth released the results of an in-depth global investigation into the cocoa cartel that produces the raw material for chocolate.

The chocolate companies purchase the cocoa for their chocolate production from large agribusiness companies like Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut, who together control half the monopoly of global cocoa trade.

Most strikingly, the investigation found that for years the world’s major chocolate companies have been buying cocoa grown through the illegal deforestation of national parks and other protected forests, in addition to driving extensive deforestation outside of protected areas.

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In the world’s two largest cocoa producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the market created by the chocolate industry has been the primary driver behind the destruction of forests.

Much of Côte d’Ivoire’s national parks and protected areas have been entirely or almost entirely cleared of forest and replaced with cocoa growing operations.

Côte d'Ivoire (orthographic projection).svg

In the developed world, chocolate is seen as an affordable luxury that gives ordinary people a taste of sensuous delight at a modest cost.

But in West Africa, chocolate is rare and unaffordable to the majority of the population.

Most Ivorian cocoa farmers have never even tried chocolate.

Image result for cocoa farming in cote d'ivoire images

Much of Côte d’Ivoire was densely covered by forests when it achieved independence in 1960, making it prime habitat for forest elephants and chimpanzees.

Elephants are on the verge of total disappearance.

A female African bush elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

13 of 23 Ivorian protected areas have lost their entire primate populations.

Chimpanzees are now considered an endangered species.

Pan troglodytes (male).jpg

 

Côte d’Ivoire once boasted one of the highest rates of biodiversity in Africa, with thousands of endemic species.

Pygmy hippos, flying squirrels, pangolins, leopards and crocodiles are rapidly losing their last habitats.

Today less than 12% of the country remains forested and less than 4% remains densely forested.

Image result for deforestation in côte d'ivoire images

 

 

The cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire has not been content with landscapes it was able to clear legally.

In recent years, it has pushed large-scale growing operations into the country’s national parks and other protected areas.

Needless to say, clearing forest to produce cocoa within protected areas violates Ivorian law.

Flag of Ivory Coast

Above: Flag of Côte d’Ivoire

 

A study conducted by Ohio State University and several Ivorian academic institutions examined 23 protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire and found that seven of them had been entirely converted to cocoa.

More than 90% of the land mass of these protected areas was estimated to be covered by cocoa.

Related image

Mighty Earth investigated Goin Débé Forest, Scio Forest, Mt. Péko National Park, Mt. Sassandra Forest, Tia Forest and Marahoué National Park.

Three of the world’s largest cocoa traders – Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut – buy cocoa grown illegally in protected areas.

They sell this cocoa to the world’s largest chocolate companies like Mars, Hershey, Mondelez, Ferrero, Lindt and others.

Other traders engage in similar practices.

Illegal deforestation for cocoa is an open secret throughout the entire chocolate supply chain.

 

Between five and six million people, largely small landholders, grow cocoa around the world.

In Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa farmers, who produce 43% of the world’s cocoa, earn around US 50 cents per day, 6.6% of the value of a chocolate bar.

By comparison, 35% goes to chocolate companies and 44% goes to retailers.

 

Additionally, the chocolate industry is notorious for labour rights abuses including slave labour and child labour.

Image result for child labour côte d'ivoire images

 

According to the US Department of Labor:

21% more children are illegally laboring on cocoa farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast than five years ago.

Seal of the United States Department of Labor.svg

 

An estimated 2.1 million West African children are still engaged in dangerous, physically taxing cocoa harvesting.

Rather than eliminate the problem, the industry has merely pledged to reduce child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 70% by 2020.

 

The investigation implicates almost every major chocolate brand and retailer, including Lindt & Sprüngli and my employer Starbucks.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

 

Mighty Earth shared the findings with 70 chocolate companies.

 

None denied sourcing cocoa from protected areas.

None disputed any of the facts presented.

 

Kilchberg, Switzerland, 12 August 2018

Kilchberg - Albis-Uetliberg - ZSG Pfannenstiel 2013-09-09 14-34-19.JPG

This bedroom community of Zürich has only 8,470 people, but it is a significant place for three reasons:

  • It was the final home and resting place for Nobel Prize German author Thomas Mann as well as his wife and most of his children.

Mann in 1929

Above: Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955)

(See Canada Slim and the Family of Mann of this blog.)

  • It was also the final home and resting place of Swiss author Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, in whose honour Kilchberg has a Museum.

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.gif

Above: Conrad Meyer (1825 – 1898)

(See Canada Slim and the Anachronistic Man of this blog.)

  • It was the final home and resting place of Swiss chocolatier David Sprüngli-Schwartz and his son Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann, and it remains the headquarters location of the company they founded, today’s Lindt & Sprüngli.

In 1836 David and Rudolf bought a small confectionery in the old town of Zürich, producing chocolates under the name David Sprüngli & Son.

Two years later, a small factory was added that produced chocolate in solid form.

With the retirement of Rudolf in 1892, the business was divided between his two sons.

The younger brother David received two confectionery stores that became known under the name Confiserie Sprüngli.

The elder brother Johann received the chocolate factory.

To raise the necessary finances for his expansion plans, Johann converted his private company into publicly traded Chocolat Sprüngli AG in 1899.

That same year, Johann acquired the chocolate factory of Rodolphe Lindt in Bern and the company changed its name to Aktiengesellschaft (AG) Vereingte Berner und Züricher Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli (the United Bern and Zürich Lindt and Sprüngli Chocolate Factories Ltd.).

In 1994, Lindt & Sprüngli acquired the Austrian chocolatier Hofbauer Österreich and integrated it, along with its Küfferle brand, into the company.

In 1997 and 1998, respectively, the company acquired the Italian chocolatier Caffarel and the American chocolatier Ghirardelli, and integrated both of them into the company as wholly owned subsidiaries.

Since then, Lindt & Sprüngli has expanded the once-regional Ghirardelli to the international market.

On 17 March 2009, Lindt announced the closure of 50 of its 80 retail boutiques in the United States because of weaker demand in the wake of the late-2000s recession.

On 14 July 2014, Lindt bought Russell Stover Candies, maker of Whitman’s Chocolate, for about $1 billion, the company’s largest acquisition to date.

In November 2018, Lindt opened its first American travel retail store in JFK Airport’s Terminal 1 and its flagship Canadian shop in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto.

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Above: Lindt Yorkdale

 

Lindt & Sprüngli has twelve factories: Kilchberg, Switzerland; Aachen, Germany; Oloron-Sainte-Marie, France; Induno Olona, Italy; Gloggnitz, Austria; and Stratham, New Hampshire, in the United States.

The factory in Gloggnitz, Austria, manufactures products under the Hofbauer & Küfferle brand in addition to the Lindt brand.

Image result for Hofbauer & Küfferle

Caffarel’s factory is located in Luserna San Giovanni, Italy, and Ghirardelli’s factory is located in San Leandro, California, in the United States.

Furthermore, there are four more factories of Russell Stover in the United States.

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Lindt has opened over 410 chocolate cafés and shops all over the world.

The cafés’ menu offers mostly focuses on chocolate and desserts.

They also sell handmade chocolates, macaroons, cakes, and ice cream.

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Above: “The Little Wash House“, Lindt Café, Zürich

 

Originally, Lindor was introduced as a bar in 1949 and later in 1967 in form of a ball.

Lindor is a type of chocolate produced by Lindt, which is now characterized by a hard chocolate shell and a smooth chocolate filling.

It comes in both a ball and a bar variety, as well as in a variety of flavours.

Each flavour has its own wrapper colour.

Most of the US Lindor truffles are manufactured in Stratham, New Hampshire.

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Lindt sells at least 29 varieties of chocolate bars.

 

Lindt’s “Petits Desserts” range embodies famous European desserts in a small cube of chocolate.

Flavours include: Tarte au Chocolat, Crème Brulée, Tiramisu, Creme Caramel, Tarte Citron, Meringue, and Noir Orange.

 

Lindt makes a “Creation” range of chocolate-filled cubes: Milk Mousse, Dark Milk Mousse, White Milk Mousse, Chocolate Mousse, Orange Mousse, Pistachio and Cherry/Chili.

 

Bâtons Kirsch are Lindt Kirsch liqueur-filled, chocolate-enclosed tubes dusted in cocoa powder.

 

In Australia, Lindt manufactures ice cream in various flavours:

  • 70% Dark Chocolate
  • White Chocolate Framboise
  • Sable Cookies and Cream
  • Chocolate Chip Hazelnut
  • White Chocolate and Vanilla Bean

Image result for lindt ice cream australia

 

The curious visitor and chocolate lover can have a guided tour of the Lindt production facilities by contacting Zürich Tourism in the Zürich Main Station.

Tours take place from May to September, Monday to Saturday and last 40 minutes for individuals or groups up to 16 people.

(http://www.lindt-experience.ch)

The factory outlet shop outside the factory is open from Monday to Friday 1000 – 1900, and Saturday 1000 – 1700.

The shop is seductive, the chocolate sinful.

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In 2009, Swiss tennis star Roger Federer was named as Lindt’s “global brand ambassador” and began appearing in a series of commercials endorsing Lindor.

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Roger Federer has huge popularity in the world of sport, to the point that he has been called a living legend in his own time.

Given his achievements, many players and analysts have considered Federer to be the greatest tennis player of all time.

No other male tennis player has won 20 major singles titles in the Open Era and he has been in 30 major finals, including 10 in a row.

He has held the world No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for longer than any other male player.

He was also ranked No. 1 at the age of 36.

Federer has won a record eight Wimbledon titles and a joint-record six Australian Open titles.

He also won five consecutive US Open titles, which is the best in the Open Era.

He has been voted by his peers to receive the tour Sportsmanship Award a record thirteen times and voted by tennis fans to receive the ATP Fans’ Favorite award for fifteen consecutive years.

Federer has been named the Swiss Sports Personality of the Year a record seven times.

He has been named the ATP Player of the Year and ITF World Champion five times and he has won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award a record five times, including four consecutive awards from 2005 to 2008.

He is also the only individual to have won the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award four times.

Federer helped to lead a revival in tennis known by many as the Golden Age.

This led to increased interest in the sport, which in turn led to higher revenues for many venues across tennis.

During this period rising revenues led to exploding prize money.

When Federer first won the Australian Open in 2004 he earned $985,000, compared to when he won in 2018 and the prize had increased to AUD 4 million.

Upon winning the 2009 French Open and completing the career Grand Slam, Federer became the first individual male tennis player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated since Andre Agassi in 1999.

He was also the first non-American player to appear on the cover of the magazine since Stefan Edberg in 1992.

Federer again made the cover of Sports Illustrated following his record breaking 8th Wimbledon title and second Grand Slam of 2017, becoming the first male tennis player to be featured on the cover since himself in 2009.

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Federer is one of the highest-earning athletes in the world.

He is listed at No. 1 on the ForbesWorld’s Highest Paid Athletes” list.

He is endorsed by Japanese clothing company Uniqlo and Swiss companies Nationale Suisse, Credit Suisse, Rolex, Lindt, Sunrise, and Jura Elektroapparate.

In 2010, his endorsement by Mercedes-Benz China was extended into a global partnership deal.

His other sponsors include Gillette, Wilson, Barilla, and Moët & Chandon.

Previously, he was an ambassador for Nike, NetJets, Emmi AG and Maurice Lacroix.

In 2003, he established the Roger Federer Foundation to help disadvantaged children and to promote their access to education and sports.

Since May 2004, citing his close ties with South Africa, including that this was where his mother had been raised, he began supporting the South Africa-Swiss charity IMBEWU, which helps children better connect to sports as well as social and health awareness.

Later, in 2005, Federer visited South Africa to meet the children that had benefited from his support.

Also in 2005, he auctioned his racquet from his US Open championship to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.

At the 2005 Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Federer arranged an exhibition involving several top players from the ATP and WTA tour called Rally for Relief.

The proceeds went to the victims of the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

In December 2006, he visited Tamil Nadu, one of the areas in India most affected by the tsunami.

 

He was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF in April 2006 and has appeared in UNICEF public messages to raise public awareness of AIDS.

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In response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Federer arranged a collaboration with fellow top tennis players for a special charity event during the 2010 Australian Open called ‘Hit for Haiti‘, in which proceeds went to Haiti earthquake victims.

He participated in a follow-up charity exhibition during the 2010 Indian Wells Masters, which raised $1 million.

The Nadal vs. Federer “Match for Africa” in 2010 in Zürich and Madrid raised more than $4 million for the Roger Federer Foundation and Fundación Rafa Nadal.

In January 2011, Federer took part in an exhibition, Rally for Relief, to raise money for the victims of the Queensland floods.

In 2014, the “Match for Africa 2” between Federer and Stan Wawrinka, again in Zurich, raised £850,000 for education projects in Southern Africa.

 

On 24 November 2017, Federer received an honorary doctorate awarded to him by his home university, the University of Basel.

He received the title in recognition for his role in increasing the international reputation of Basel and Switzerland and also his engagement for children in Africa through his charitable foundation.

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But is he aware of the damage that Lindt’s demand for cocoa is doing to West Africa in regards to the destruction of both human lives and the environment?

Or, if he is aware, is he like many things Swiss – deceptive in appearance?

 

Flawil, Switzerland, 16 January 2018

As you pull into St. Gallen train station, you can’t miss the huge Chocolat Maestrani sign suspended above the tracks.

The local firm in nearby Flawil and the chocolate factory is within easy reach west of St. Gallen.

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The name Maestrani has stood for exquisite chocolate creations since 1852.

At Maestrani’s Chocolarium – the Chocolate Factory of Happiness – the history of chocolate is brought alive in a fascinating Experience World for young and old alike.

Whether independently or on a guided tour, guests can explore the interactive zone and discover where chocolate comes from and how it is produced.

They also have the chance to view chocolate being produced live.

What’s more, sampling is actively encouraged!

At the end of the tour, for a small surcharge, a show confiseur will mold a fresh bar of chocolate, which guests can decorate as they wish.

Besides a movie theater, a cafe and chocolate molding courses, during which guests can make their own chocolate creations, sweet-toothed visitors can purchase their favorite chocolate products from the factory shop.

He who sees the world through the eyes of a chocolate lover will find true beauty and happiness.” Aquilino Maestrani, founder and chocolate pioneer, (1814-1880)

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The Chocolarium at Toggenburgerstrasse 41, Flawil, is open Monday to Friday 0900 – 1800, Saturday 0900 – 1700, Sunday 1000 – 1700, the last tour is one hour before closing.

The tour includes a gallery above the factory floor to watch the production lines.

To get there, take a train to Flawil from St. Gallen (12 minutes) then switch to a bus for the five-minute ride to “Flawil Maestrani” bus stop.

(http://www.maestrani.ch)

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Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, 30 January 2019

It is a stunner, shingled with starfish-studded sands, palm tree forests and roads so orange they resemble strips of bronzing powder.

This is a true tropical paradise.

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Above: Azuretti Beach, Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire

 

In the south, the Parc National de Tai hides secrets, species and nut-cracking chimps under the tree boughs.

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Above: Parc National de Tai, Côte d’Ivoire

 

The peaks and valleys of Man offer a highland climate, fresh air and fantastic hiking opportunities through tropical forests.

Above: Dent de Man, Côte d’Ivoire

 

The beach resorts of Assinie and Grand Bassam are made for weekend retreats from Abidjan, capital in all but name, where lagoons wind their way between skyscrapers and cathedral spires pierce the heavens.

Collection of views of Abidjan, featuring St. Paul's Cathedral, the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium, the Republic square, the beach of Vridi and the CBD named Le Plateau.

Above: Images of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

 

Assinie and Dagbego have surf beaches.

In Yamoussoukro, the capital’s basilica floats on the landscape like a mirage.

Above: Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire

 

Sacred crocodiles guard the Presidential Palace.

Tourists gather as they are fed in the afternoon.

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Above: Lac aux Crocodiles, Presidential Palace, Yamoussoukro

 

This is a culture rich with festivals and some of the most stunning artwork in Africa.

This is what the tourist sees.

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The process of deforestation starts with settlers who invade parks and other forested areas.

They progressively cut down or burn existing trees.

Trunks are denuded of their crowns and are left as ghostly reminders of the great forests that once reigned.

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With the forests gone, the settlers plant cocoa trees, which take years before they are ready to harvest.

Each cocoa tree bears two harvests of cocoa pods per year.

Farmers hack off the ripe cocoa pods from the trees with machetes.

They split open the pods to remove the cocoa beans, which are sorted and placed into piles.

The beans are left in the sun to ferment and dry and turn brown.

 

It is at this point that a first level of middlemen called “pisteurs” buy the cocoa beans from the settlers, transport it to villages and towns across the cocoa-growing region and sell them onto another set of middlemen, known as cooperatives.

The cooperatives then either directly or through a third set of middlemen bring the cocoa to the coastal ports of San Pedro and Abidjan, where it is sold to cocoa traders Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut, who ship the cocoa companies in Europe and North America.

Illegal towns and villages called “campements” have sprung up inside Côte d’Ivoire’s national parks and protected forests.

Some campements boast tens of thousands of residents, along with public schools, official health centres, mosques, churches, stores and cell phone towers in plain sight of government authorities.

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There is an excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides that is killing the country’s biodiversity.

Deforestation and exposure to the fullness of the sun makes the environment suspectible to disease.

Over two million children are victims of the worst forms of child labour.

This is a land of child workers, slaves and low wages.

Low pay foments food insecurity and low school enrollment and attendance rates.

Inadequate prices paid for the coffee means farmers live under the poverty line.

Chemicals pollute the waterways, killing wildlife and harming communities.

This is a true tropical hell.

 

And what of the future?

 

Demand for chocolate continues to rise by 5% every year.

The chocolate industry has aggressively expanded to other rainforest nations around the world – Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peru – exporting the same bad practices that are contributing to the destruction of West Africa’s forests and the creation of a living hell for its people.

Deforestation for cocoa has a significant impact on climate.

Tropical rainforests have among the highest carbon storage of any ecosystem on the planet.

When they are cleared, they release enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

A single dark chocolate bar made with cocoa from deforestation produces the same amount of carbon pollution as driving 4.9 miles in a car.

 

In Switzerland, life is rich and sweet.

In Côte d’Ivoire, life is poor and sour.

 

In Canada, a remembered jingle asks:

When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?

Do you suck them very slowly or crunch them very fast?

It’s candy and milk chocolate, so tell me when I ask:

When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?

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An important question for these dark and bitter times, eh?

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / The Rough Guide to Switzerland / Lonely Planet The World / Lonely Planet Africa on a Shoestring / Etelie Higonnet, Marisa Bellantonio and Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth, Chocolate’s Dark Secret: How the Cocoa Industry Destroys National Parks / http://www.dicconbewes.ch / http://www.lindt-experience.ch / http://www.maestrani.ch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Body Snatchers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2018

I should be dead.

In fact, for at least a quarter of a century.

Back in Canada, I tried to chop a log.

The axe bounced off the log and sliced into my foot.

A mile in the bush limp, a drive home, a quick dash to the local hospital and an ambulance ride from there to the metropolis of Montréal, followed by surgery, hospitalization and convalescence….

And I am alive to tell the tale.

This injury, sadly, was the first of many unfortunate accidents I have had, transforming my body from a wonderland into a battlefield.

In earlier days, blood loss or infection might have ended my life, but I live, as many others live, longer and healthier.

We live in an age where the human anatomy has been mapped, where an abundance of drugs are available, where antiseptic conditions are par for the course in all medical institutions, where medical professionals are highly trained and qualified, where the deliverance of babies is no longer such a danger for infant or mother.

A time of liver and lung, uterus and penis, skull and scalp, arm and hand, face and heart, eye and hip replacements, appendectomies and mastectomies….

A time of virtual and remote, robot-assisted and laser-aided, plastic and emergency surgery….

Days of disinfectant, inoculation, anesthesia, x-rays, MRIs and ultrasound….

 

I take my survival for granted, confident in the advances available to me in case of injury or illness.

 

Sometimes it is good to visit places that remind one of how and why mankind has been able to survive the rigours and ravages inflicted upon the body.

Such a place is in London at a venue of body snatchers and “the fastest knife in the West End“.

The tale begins last fall and travels back in time.

Welcome….

25 October 2017

We spend 80% of our adult lives working, but, on average, 80% of workers often confess that they dislike the work that they do.

My wife is among the happy minority of those who do what they love and love what they do.

My wife is a doctor.

When we travel together it is not uncommon to find us visiting, among many, tourist attractions that are medically themed.

During our week in London we would visit at least three attractions of this nature.

 

(For other London attractions not medically themed, please see: Canada Slim and….

  • the Danger Zone
  • the Paddington Arrival
  • the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • the Outcast
  • the Wonders on the Wall
  • the Calculated Cathedral
  • the Right Man
  • the Queen’s Horsemen
  • the Royal Peculiar
  • the Uncertainty Principle
  • the Museum of Many

For medically themed London attractions, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Lamp Ladies
  • the Breviary of Bartholomew)

 

London has its fair share of quirkiness:

Near Wimbledon there is an authentic Buddhist temple that feels like it was discretely teleported directly from Thailand. (Buddhapadipa Temple)

One can climb a castle as if it were the rock face of Mount Everest or the Matterhorn. (Castle Climbing Centre)

Or visit a house lacking electricity and modern plumbing on a Monday night, Silent Night, candlelight tour. (Dennis Severs’ House)

Or tread softly in the necropolis that is Highgate Cemetery.

Come and watch people swing from the gallows. (London Dungeon)

Listen to Anne Boleyn plead her case just before her head is deftly separated from her soft narrow shoulders. (London Dungeon)

Walk by moonlight the Whitechapel backstreets as Jack the Ripper knew them. (London Dungeon)

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We did none of these things, but this is not to suggest that our time was devoid of quirkiness….

 

Time is often not our friend when we travel, so we took the Tube to London Bridge Station instead of walking across the Thames River upon the London Bridge.

We would later sail underneath it but we denied ourselves the tactile experience of trodding upon it.

The River Thames is the longest river in England and the second longest in Britain (after the Severn) and is crossed by over 200 bridges, 27 tunnels, six public ferries, a cable car and a ford.

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Prior to the commencement of my relationship with my wife, I followed on foot the Thames from its source near Cirencester to Oxford.

I would, on visits to London, also spend time by its banks.

 

There has been a London Bridge spanning the Thames since AD 50 and it could be argued that without a London Bridge there might never have been a London.

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The first London Bridge was built by the Romans (“What have they ever done for us?“) as part of their road-building programme, to help consolidate their conquest.

This Bridge, and those London Bridge constructions that followed until 1209, was built of wood.

These timber crossings would fall into disrepair, be rebuilt and destroyed by both Saxons and Danes, be destroyed by the London tornado of 1091 and the fire of 1136.

The nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is connected to the Bridge’s historic collapses.

 

After the murder of friend/foe Thomas à Becket, the penitent King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge with a chapel in the centre dedicated to Becket as martyr.

Begun in 1176, London Bridge was completed in 1209 during the reign of King John.

The Old London Bridge (1209 – 1831) was 26 feet / 8 metres wide, 900 feet / 270 metres long, supported by 19 irregularly spaced arches.

It had a drawbridge to allow for the passage of tall ships and defensive gatehouses on both ends.

By 1358 it was already crowded with 138 shops.

The buildings on London Bridge were a major fire hazard and the increased load on the arches required their reconstruction over the centuries.

In 1212, fire broke out on both sides of the Bridge simultaneously trapping many people in the middle.

Houses on the Bridge were destroyed during Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt (1381) and Jack Cade’s Rebellion (1450).

By the time of the Tudors there were over 200 buildings on the Bridge, some seven stories high, some overhanging the river by seven feet, others overhanging the road forming a dark tunnel through which traffic had to pass.

Yet this did not prevent the addition, in 1577, of the palatial Nonsuch House to the buildings that crowded the span.

The available roadway was just 12 feet / 4 metres wide , divided into two lanes, so that in each direction, carts, wagons, coaches and pedestrians shared a single file lane 6 feet / 2 metres wide.

 

The bridge’s southern gatehouse became the scene of one of London’s most gruesome sights – a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes, dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements.

The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate in 1305, starting a tradition that was to continue for another 355 years.

 

(Keep this morbid tradition in mind while remembering that before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.)

 

Other famous heads on London Bridge pikes included Jack Cade (1450), Thomas More (1535), Bishop John Fisher (1535) and Thomas Cromwell (1540).

In 1598, a German visitor to London, Paul Hentzner, counted over 30 heads on the Bridge.

John Evelyn’s Diary noted that the practice stopped in 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II, but heads were reported at the site as late as 1772.

By 1722 congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the Bridge, and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the Bridge.”

This has been suggested as one possible origin for the practice of traffic in Britain driving on the left.

By 1762, all houses and shops on the Bridge had been demolished through an Act of Parliament.

Even so, the Bridge was narrow, decrepit and long past its useful life.

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The New London Bridge (1831 – 1967) was completed in 1831, and was 928 feet / 283 metres long and 49 feet / 15 metres wide.

By 1896 the Bridge was the busiest point in London and one of its most congested: 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour.

This Bridge is a prominent landmark in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland“, wherein he compares the shuffling commuters across London Bridge to the hellbound souls of Limbo, the first circle of Hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

Subsequent surveys showed that the Bridge was sinking an inch / 2.5 cm every eight years.

By 1924 the east side of the Bridge had sunk 4 inches / 9 cm lower than the west side.

The Bridge would have to be removed and replaced.

In 1967 the City of London placed the Bridge on the market.

 

On 18 April 1868, the Bridge was purchased by Missouri oil entrepreneur Robert McCullough for US $2,460,000.

As the Bridge was dismantled, each piece was meticulously numbered, then shipped via the Panama Canal to California and then trucked from Long Beach to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

This Bridge was rebuilt across the Bridgewater Channel canal and opened on 10 October 1971.

Gary Nunn’s song “London Homesick Blues” includes the lyrics:

Even London Bridge has fallen down and moved to Arizona.

Now I know why.

The modern, current London Bridge was opened on 17 March 1973, with a length of 928 feet / 283 metres.

 

Emerging from the London Bridge Tube Station I recall John Davidson’s poem “London Bridge” and think to myself that clearly Heathrow Airport hadn’t been built when he wrote it:

Inside the Station, everything’s so old,

So inconvenient, of such manifold

Perplexity, and, as a mole might see

So strictly what a Station shouldn’t be,

That no idea minifies the crude

And yet elaborate ineptitude.

The main line station is the oldest railway station in London fare zone 1 and one of the oldest in the world having opened on 14 December 1836.

It is one of two main line termini in London to the south of the River Thames (the other being Waterloo) and is the fourth-busiest station in London, handling over 50 million customers a year.

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In Tudor and Stuart London, the chief reason for crossing the Thames, to what is now Southwark, was to visit the disreputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear-baiting pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, Londoners have rediscovered the habit of heading to Southwark, thanks to the traffic-free riverside path and a wealth of top attractions, with the charge led by the mighty Tate Modern.

Of these attractions, the most educational and strangest is the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, at 9a St. Thomas Street.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum, St. Thomas St. - geograph.org.uk - 1073353.jpg

The operating theatre and garret (1822 – 1862) were originally part of St. Thomas Hospital, itself part of the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary Overie, founded in 1106.

The Priory, which stood on the present site of Southwark Cathedral, provided care for the poor and gave board and lodgings to pilgrims.

The “spital” of St. Mary Overie was named St. Thomas in 1173 in tribute to Thomas à Becket, the Christian martyr murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

When the Priory and the Hospital were destroyed by fire in 1212, the Bishop of Winchester, Pierre des Roches, paid for them to be rebuilt.

The new Hospital, independent of the Priory, was opened in 1215.

It continued to be staffed by monks and nuns, but surgical work was carried out by barbers since the Council of Tours (1163) had ordained that the shedding of blood was incompatible with holy office.

St. Thomas still provided hospitality for pilgrims.

 

Funds for the Hospital were largely provided by donations from individuals who believed giving to the poor would speed their spiritual journey to heaven.

One donation came from Alice de Bregerake who gifted her property in return for a yearly rent of one single rose.

 

(“There’s a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.“)

 

During the early 1500s, Southwark was a thriving community and St. Thomas was at its heart.

Within St. Thomas was the Southwark School of Glaziers, where the stained glass windows for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge were made.

In 1537, the first complete edition of the Holy Bible in English was completed here.

In January 1540 the Priory was dissolved by King Henry VIII, as part of his reforms of the church in England, and the Hospital closed.

In 1551 the Hospital was purchased and repaired by the City of London and two years later Henry’s son Edward VI awarded it a Royal Charter alongside four other London hospitals.

In 1681 fire led to the loss of 24 Hospital buildings.

By 1702 the main Hospital consisted of three grand classical courtyards.

 

In 1703, Dr. Richard Mead (1673 – 1754), one of London’s most famous physicians, was appointed to the Hospital staff.

At the time one of the most common ailments of St. Thomas in-patients, who were treated in the foul wards at the rear of the Hospital, was venereal disease.

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Above: Richard Mead

 

(Remember the aforementioned brothels?)

 

Mead’s recommended cure, aqua limacum (snail water), was included in the Pharmacopoeia Pauperum (a directory of medical treatments to be used in London hospitals) in 1718:

Take garden snails, cleansed and bruised, 6 gallons; earthworms, washed and bruised, 3 gallons; common wormwood, ground ivy and carduus, each one pound and half penny royal; juniper berries, fennel seeds, aniseeds, each half a pound; cloves and cubebs bruised, each 3 ounces; spirit of wine and spring water, of each 8 gallons.

Digest them together for the space of 24 hours and then draw it off in a common alembick.

This is admirably well contrived both for cheapness and efficacy.

It is as good a snail water as can be made….

Mostly given in consumption contracted for viscous practices and venereal contagions, this is the constant drink of those who are under the weakness and decays….

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Improvements to the facilities continued throughout the following 150 years.

 

St. Thomas’ Grand Committee Minutes of 21 October 1821 record that the women’s operating theatre be moved from the west end of one of the women’s wards and that “the herb garret over the church be fitted up and in future used as a theatre for such operations instead of the present theatre.

The new operating theatre opened in 1822.

 

John Flint South (1797 – 1882), the son of a Southwark druggist, began his medical training at St. Thomas in 1814.

He was appointed Conservator of the Hospital’s anatomy Museum in 1820 and was made Joint Lecturer in Anatomy in 1823.

In 1841 he was appointed surgeon at St. Thomas, a post he held until 1863.

He was also appointed surgeon to the Female Orphan Asylum in 1843.

South’s Career at St. Thomas spans the entire period of the Old Operating Theatre’s history and as such his memoir, John Flint South Memorials, published 20 years after his death, provides a remarkable insight into how the operating theatre functioned.

Above: John Flint South

 

The Murder Act of 1752 decreed that only executed murderers could be used for dissection, but this did not provide enough subjects for the medical and anatomical schools.

By the 19th century only about 56 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year, but with the expansion of medical schools as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually.

Body snatching – the secret removal of corpses from burial sites to sell them to medical schools – became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial and then keep watch after burial to stop it being violated.

Interfering with a grave was a misdemeanour, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than exile or execution.

The body snatching trade was a sufficiently lucrative business to run the risk of detection, particularly as the authorities ignored what they considered a necessary evil.

In Edinburgh, during 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare brought a new dimension to the trade of selling corpses “to the doctors” by murdering rather than grave robbing and supplying their victims’ fresh corpses for medical dissection.

The murders raised public awareness of the need for bodies for medical research and contributed to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy and required the licensing of anatomy teachers, effectively ending the body snatching trade.

 

When pioneering health reformer, Florence Nightingale, returned to London from the Crimean War in 1856 she set up a fund “to establish and control an institute for the training, sustenance and protection of nurses paid and unpaid.

The specialist training of nurses was not universally supported and many doctors viewed it as a threat to their authority.

The work left for nurses, it was believed, required little more than “on-the-job” training.

There were prejudices too against “delicate“, educated women undertaking manual work or having contact with the coarse realities of the hospital wards.

However, Nightingale was an influential and convincing advocate for reform.

The Nightingale Fund raised almost 50,000 pounds.

She chose to establish her School of Nursing at St. Thomas.

The two main deciding factors were Nightingale’s admiration for Sarah Wardroper, St. Thomas Matron and Superintendent of Nurses, and the fact that the Hospital would soon move to a new site where the School could be built to the latest, Nightingale-inspired plan.

The School of Nursing opened at the St. Thomas Southwark site on 24 June 1860 with 15 students.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

 

In June 1862, the Hospital moved to make way for a railway line to Charing Cross.

 

With the move, the operating theatre, situated in the attic of St. Thomas Church, was sealed up and lay in darkness for nearly a century.

After the Hospital closed the only access to the roof space of the Church was through an opening, 20 metres above floor level, in the north wall of the first floor chamber of the bell tower.

 

In 1956, Raymond Russell (1922 – 1964), while researching the history of St. Thomas decided to investigate the attic.

He found the garret in darkness, the skylight above the operating theatre had been replaced by slates and the other windows were black with a century of dirt.

Russell’s find was extraordinary:

No other early 19th century operating theatre in Europe has survived.

Image showing operating table and viewing galleries in the operating theatre

It is likely that the use of the garret of St. Thomas as a Hospital apothecary dates back to the present Church’s construction in 1703.

Hooks, ropes and nail holes in the roof and dried opium poppy heads discovered under the floorboards in the 1970s are all evidence of the garret’s former use.

Herbs have been used as medicine since ancient times and before the development of the chemical industry, medicinal compounds were made from natural materials, mostly plants.

Even today, the majority of medicines originate from plant sources.

At St. Thomas, quantities of herbs were purchased from a visiting “herb woman” and the Hospital had its own botanical garden and apothecary’s shop within its grounds.

The apothecary was the chief resident medical officer of the Hospital and was responsible for prescriptions for surgical cases and, in the absence of the physician, for dispensing medicine to all the Hospital’s patients.

In 1822 part of the Herb Garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre.

The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care if they could afford it.

Rich patients were treated and operated on at home, probably on the kitchen table, rather than in hospital.

The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women.

 

A description of the students packing the theatre to witness an operation has been left by Dr. South:

The operating theatre was of utterly inadequate size for the numbers of pupils who congregated….

The general arrangement of all the theatres was the same: a semicircular floor and rows of semicircular standings, rising above one another to the large skylight which lit the theatre.

On the floor the surgeon operating, with his dressers, other surgeons and apprentices and the visitors stood about the table, upon which the patient lay, so placed that the best possible view of what was going on was given to all present.

The floor was separated by a partition from the rising stand-places, the first two rows were occupied by the other dressers.

Behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a Barrel, but not so quiet, as those behind them were continually pressing on those before and were continually struggling to relieve themselves of it, and had not infrequently to be got out exhausted.

There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed.

I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate till it had been partially cleared.”

 

Patients put up with the audience in their distress because they received medical treatment from some of the best surgeons in the land, which they otherwise they could not afford.

The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to do internal operations.

The risk of death at the hands of a surgeon was likely, as there was a lack of understanding of the causes of infection.

Beneath the table was a sawdust box for collecting blood.

The death rate was further heightened by the shock of the operation and because operations took place as a last resort, patients tended to have few reserves of strength.

Until 1847, surgeons had no recourse to anaesthetics and depended on swift technique, the mental preparation of the patient, and alcohol or opiates to dull the patient’s senses.

 

(Dr. Robert Liston (1794 – 1847) was described as “the fastest knife in the West End. 

He could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes.

Indeed he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient.)

Portrait of Robert Liston painted in 1847 by Samuel John Stump

Above: Robert Liston

 

After 1847, ether or choloroform was used.

 

The small room at the side of the Theatre was used to spare the patient the sudden alarm of being brought straight into the Theatre full of students, with the operating table and instruments on view.

Soon after….another female was brought in blindfolded and placed on to the table for the purpose of undergoing an operation for the removal of the leg below the knee.

(The Lancet, October 1829)

 

These were the days before antisepsis (eliminating possible infection in the wound after the operation) or asepsis (avoiding any contamination from the start).

Unsterilized clothes were blood and pus stained while undisinfected hands used undisinfected instruments and sponges from previous operations.

In those days, “surgeons operated in blood-stiffened frock coats – the stiffer the coat, the prouder the busy surgeon“. (Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes)

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Above: American Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 – 1894)

 

There was no object in being clean.

Indeed cleanliness was out of place.

It was considered to be finicky and affected.

An executioner might as well manicure his nails before chopping off a head.” (Sir Frederick Treves)

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Above: Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923)

 

No one wore a face mask or rubber gloves.

There were no blood transfusions nor vaccines.

Neurosurgery, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery, transplant surgery, Caesarian sections and hip replacements were either unknown or too dangerous to attempt.

 

Charles Bell (1774 – 1842), in his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery (1821), describes the five most complex operations undertaken during the time of the Old Operating Theatre.

Below is a description of what the visitor would expect to see:

To one side a table with instruments, covered with a cloth to preserve the edges of the cutting instruments.

On it we expect to see:

  1. A large cushion with tenacula (sharp hooks), needles, pins and forceps.
  2. Ligatures (binding materials) of every variety, well arranged.
  3. Adhesive straps, well made and not requiring heating, but if they should, let chafing dishes be at hand.
  4. Lint, compresses, flannel and calico bandages, double and single headed rollers, tow, cereate spread on lint.  Let there be no want of sponges, so that when the surgeon calls for a sponge, you have not to seek it among the patient’s clothes.  When a sponge falls among the sand, let it be not necessary to touch the wound with it.
  5. Wine and water and hartshorn (ammonia solution used as smelling salts).
  6. A kettle of hot water, a stoup (flagon) of cold water, basins, bucket, plenty of towels, apron and sleeves.”

Photograph of Sir Charles Bell

Above: Scottish Dr. Charles Bell (1774 – 1842)

 

On the wall are two inscriptions:

 

Miseratione non Mercede (Latin for “For compassion, not for gain“)

 

The other sets out the Regulations for the Theatre as approved by the Hospital’s surgeons:

Apprentices and the dressers of the surgeon who operates are to stand around the table.

The dressers of the other surgeons are to occupy the three front rows.

The surgeon’s pupils are to take their places in the rows above.

Visitors are admitted by permission of the surgeon who operates.

 

The blackboard is a reminder of the Theatre’s use for lectures as a report in The Lancet of November 1923 records:

25 November 1923:  At half past one this day, the following clinical remarks were delivered by Mr. Travers, in the female operating theatre, in reference more particularly to the case of compound fracture….

 

The operating table is made of Scots pine, has four stout legs, and at 60 cm high is low by modern standards.

It has an inclined headboard and a long wooden slide extension at the foot end.

The table stands with the foot end towards the audience.

Beneath the table is the aforementioned wooden box of sawdust.

Distinguished visitors (generally foreign professors) were given seats on chairs, stools or a bench at the foot of the table.

The two small side tables held instruments and equipment.

The cupboard contained the instruments, dressing materials and lotions.

There is a wash stand, also of Scots pine, holding a small basin and ewer of blue and white china.

Above this is a tiny looking glass and a row of pegs from which hang the purple frock coats with grocer’s bib and apron.

A low sturdy wooden chair is used by the surgeon chiefly for cases of piles (hemorrhoids) and leg amputations.

 

The Museum also contains a collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science, including instruments for cupping (skin sunction), bloodletting, trepanning (drilling a circular hole in the skull) and childbirth.

There are also displays on monastic health care, the history of St. Thomas’s, Florence Nightingale and nursing, medical and herbal medicine.

 

Once upon a time body snatchers stole corpses so doctors could practice their skills and students learn anatomy.

Once upon a time doctors created more corpses and snatched lives from bodies than surviving patients.

Now doctors snatch many bodies from the jaws of death and generally make them whole.

 

Without Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Islamic medicine….

Without the trials and errors of dissection and pathological examinations….

Without the development of cell and neuron and molecular theory….

We would not have evolved to the discoveries and understanding of the body that we as a civilization now possess.

Without an understanding of blood circulation, the evolution of dealing with mental illness, the discovery of germs and the dangers of insects, the founding of the talking cures of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the study of hormones and immunology, the genetic revelation of genes and genomes, could we have a fighting chance in understanding health and disease in the manner that we do.

Without the stethoscope, the microscope, the hypodermic syringe, the thermometer, x-rays and radiotherapy, the sphygmomanometer (blood pressure measurement), the defibrillator, lasers, the endoscope, ultrasound and CT (computerized tomographic) scanning, MRI (magnetic resonance Imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), the incubator and medical robots, we would lack the tools that doctors need to heal us and prolong our lives.

Mankind has survived the plague, typhus, cholera, puerperal fever, tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, polio, cancer and AIDS, and thanks to great discoveries in medicine, though the battle against these scourges remains inconclusive, we still have a greater opportunity to overcome than prior generations had.

Opium provides pleasure and pain relief, quinine treats malaria, digitalis is a tonic for the heart, penicillin cures syphilis and gangrene, the birth control pill offers a woman freedom, drugs for the mind ease mental suffering, ventolin helps us breathe easier, Insulin aids the diabetic, dialysis cleans the kidney, statins lower our cholesterol and vitamins compensate for whatever our diets may lack.

Wounds are properly dressed, anaesthesia makes surgery painless, operations are clean, blood is transfused, exploration of the brain is possible, eyesight can be restored, mothers are less likely to die giving birth, hearts can be healed, organs transplanted, hips replaced and scars reduced by less invasive keyhole methods.

 

Truly, compared to the past, we live in an age of miracles.

 

Sometimes we take modern medicine for granted.

Stand in the middle of the Old Operating Theatre and be reminded how lucky we are to live in this day and age and how far we have travelled to get here.

Above: The Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and Medicine

Sources: Wikipedia / William and Helen Bynum, Great Discoveries in Medicine / The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret Museum Guide / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / http://www.thegarret.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Battlefield Brotherhood

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday, 8 July 2018

Sometimes it is difficult not to believe in fate.

It strikes me as curious how my life, without planning it at times, seems to lend my writing its directions.

My wife and I live only a stone´s throw away from Arenenberg (a chateau famous for being the final domicile of Hortense de Beauharnais (1783 – 1837), the mother of French Emperor Napoléon III, 1808 – 1873) to the west of Landschlacht and the village of Heiden (final residence of Red Cross founder Jean-Henri Dunant) to the southeast.

Above: Arenenberg

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Above: Henri Dunant Museum, Heiden

For my research on the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli I travelled to Geneva to visit the Museum of the Reformation, and while I was there I visited the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) Museum in that same city.

Above: The ICRC Museum, Geneva

(Future posts on Zwingli and Dunant´s legacies are coming soon to you, my gentle readers, God willing.)

 

Last year´s summer vacation in northern Italy, without planning, found itself leading us to a place where the Swiss locales of Arenenberg and Heiden and Geneva all intersect: the village of Solferino.

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Above: Solferino

 

Lake Garda, Italy, Sunday, 6 August 2017

A glorious summer vacation found the wife and I travelling by car from Landschlacht in northeastern Switzerland to the Italian towns of Como, Bergamo and Sirmione since the last day of July.

We spent Friday and Saturday in Sirmione at the southern end of the Lago di Garda and were now driving to the northern end of the lake to the town of Riva del Garda for a further two nights.

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Above: Lago di Garda from space

(From there we would travel to Trento and Tirano and spend a night in Sils Maria back in Switzerland before returning home.)

(For an account of the adventures from Landschlacht to Sirmione, please see Canada Slim and the….

  • Land of Confusion
  • Island of Anywhere
  • Lady of Lovere
  • Dance Macabre
  • Company Town
  • City of the Thousand
  • Unremarkable Town
  • Voyageur´s Album
  • Holiday Chronicles
  • Borders
  • Smarter Woman
  • Distant Bench
  • Life Electric
  • Inappropriate Statues
  • Isle of Silence
  • Injured Queen
  • Quest for George Clooney
  • Road into the Open
  • Apostle of Violence
  • Evil Road
  • Lure of Italian Journeys

….of this blog.)

 

Lake Garda is a unique romance between the Mediterranean and the alpine, between nature and history.

Carlo Cattaneo described this corner of Paradise in 1844, a description still fitting 134 years later:

“Amazement would take the traveller to a place where the interference of man has been respectful of nature, the environmental beauty reaches levels it would be difficult to surpass.”

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Above: Carlo Cattaneo (1801 – 1869)

 

Six miles south of the lakeshore of Garda from whence the Peninsula of Sirmione stretches outwards is the small town (2,700 residents) of Solferino.

Like nearby San Martino, Solferino belongs to the history of Italy because of the Battle of Solferino and San Martino on 24 June 1859 between the allied French Army under Emperor Napoléon III and the Piedmont-Sardinia Army under King Victor Emmanuel II (together known as the Franco-Sardinian Alliance) against the Austrian Army under the Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830 – 1916).

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Above: Adolphe Yvon´s La Bataille de Solférino

 

It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under personal command of their monarchs.

 

Perhaps 300,000 soldiers fought in the important battle, the largest since the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

 

There were about 130,000 Austrian troops and a combined total of 140,000 French and allied Piedmontese troops.

Above: The Piedmontese camp, 23 June 1859

After the battle, the Austrian Emperor refrained from further direct command of the army.

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Above: Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria

The Battle of Solferino was a decisive engagement in the Second Italian War of Independence, a crucial step in the Italian Risorgimento.

The war’s geopolitical context was the nationalist struggle to unify Italy, which had long been divided among France, Austria, Spain and numerous independent Italian states.

Above:  Major battle sites of the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859

 

The battle took place near the villages of Solferino and San Martino, Italy, south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.

The confrontation was between the Austrians, on one side, and the French and Piedmontese forces, who opposed their advance.

Above:  Sardinian troops charge at San Martino (by Luigi Norfini)

In the morning of 23 June, after the arrival of emperor Franz Joseph, the Austrian army changed direction to counterattack along the river Chiese.

At the same time, Napoléon III ordered his troops to advance, causing the battle to occur in an unpredicted location.

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Above: Napoléon III, le Bataille de Solférino, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier

While the Piedmontese fought the Austrian right wing near San Martino, the French battled to the south of them near Solferino against the main Austrian corps.

Above: The battle of San Martino

Above:  French infantry advances (by Carlo Bossoli)

The battle was a particularly gruelling one, lasting over nine hours and resulting in over 2,386 Austrian troops killed with 10,807 wounded and 8,638 missing or captured.

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The Allied armies also suffered a total of 2,492 killed, 12,512 wounded and 2,922 captured or missing.

Reports of wounded and dying soldiers being shot or bayonetted on both sides added to the horror.

In the end, the Austrian forces were forced to yield their positions.

The allied French-Piedmontese armies won a tactical, but costly, victory.

 

Napoléon III was moved by the losses, and for reasons including the Prussian threat and domestic protests by the Roman Catholics, he decided to put an end to the war with the Armistice of Villafranca on 11 July 1859.

The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861.

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Above: The flag of Italy

 

Henri Dunant already knew as a boy growing up in Geneva the value of social work, as his father worked in a prison and an orphanage helping parolees and orphans, while his mother worked with the sick and poor.

Dunant grew up during the period of religious awakening known as the Réveil and at age 18 he joined the Geneva Society for Almsgiving.

In 1847, together with friends, Dunant founded the Thursday Association, a loose band of young men that met to study the Bible and help the poor.

He spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work.

On 30 November 1852, Dunant founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA, and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of the YMCA´s international organization.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

In 1849, at age 21, Dunant was forced to leave the College Calvin due to poor grades and began an apprenticeship with the money-changing firm Lullin et Sautter.

After the apprenticeship was successfully concluded, Dunant remained as an employee of the bank.

 

In 1853, Dunant visited Algeria, Tunisia and Sicily on assignment.

Despite having little experience, Dunant was successful.

 

Inspired by his success, Dunant, in 1856, created a corn-growing and trading company called the Société financiere et industrielle des Moulins des Mons-Djémila on a land concession in French-occupied Algeria.

However, the land and water rights were not clearly assigned and the colonial authorities were not especially cooperative.

As a result, Dunant decided to appeal directly to the French Emperor Napoléon III, who was with his army in Lombardy at the time, his headquarters in the town of Solferino.

Dunant wrote a flattering book full of praise for Napoléon III with the intention of presenting it to the Emperor in return for the assignation of the land and water rights he needed in Algeria….

 

“I was a mere tourist with no part whatever in this great conflict, but it was my rare privilege, through an unusual train of circumstances, to witness the moving scenes that I have resolved to describe.

In these pages I give only my personal impressions…”

(Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino)

Above: Henri Dunant at the Battle of Solferino

Horrified by the suffering of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield, Dunant completely abandoned the original intent of his trip and for several days he devoted himself to helping with the treatment and care for the wounded.

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Dunant succeeded in organizing an overwhelming level of relief assistance by motivating the local villagers to aid without discrimination.

 

“Here is a hand-to-hand struggle in all its horror and frightfulness.

Austrians and Allies trampling each other under foot, killing one another on piles of bleeding corpses, felling their enemies with their rifle butts, crushing skulls, ripping bellies open with sabre and bayonet.

No quarter is given.

It is a sheer butchery, a struggle between savage beasts, maddened with blood and fury.

Even the wounded fight to the last gasp.

When they have no weapon left, they seize their enemies by the throat and tear them with their teeth….

 

The guns crash over the dead and wounded, strewn pell-mell on the ground.

Brains spurt under the wheels, limbs are broken and torn, bodies mutilated past recognition.

The soil is literally puddled with blood and the plain littered with human remains.

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From the midst of all this fighting, which went on and on all over the battlefield, arose the oaths and curses of men of all the different nations engaged – men, of whom many had been made into murderers at the age of twenty!….

 

The Army, in its retreat, picked up all the wounded men it could carry in military wagons and requisitioned carts, how many unfortunate men were left behind, lying helpless on the naked ground in their own blood!

Toward the end of the day, when the shades of night began to cover this immense field of slaughter, many a French officer and soldier went searching high and low for a comrade, a countryman or a friend.

If he came across someone he knew, he would kneel at his side trying to bring him back to life, press his hand, staunch the bleeding, or bind the broken limb with a hankerchief.

But there was no water to be had for the poor sufferer.

How many silent tears were shed that miserable night when all false pride, all human decency even, were forgotten.

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During a battle, a black flag floating from a high place is the usual means of showing the location of first-aid posts or field ambulances, and it is tacitly agreed that no one shall fire in their direction.

But sometimes shells reach them nevertheless, and their quartermaster and ambulance men are no more spared than are the wagons loaded with bread, wine and meat to make soup for the wounded.

 

Wounded soldiers who can still walk come by themselves to these ambulances, but in many cases they are so weakened by loss of blood and exposure that they have to be carried on stretchers or litters….

The poor wounded men that were picked up all day long were ghastly pale and exhausted.

Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupified look as though they could not grasp what was said to them.

They stared at one out of haggard eyes, but their apparent prostration did not prevent them from feeling their pain.

Some, who had gaping wounds already beginning to show infection, were almost crazed with suffering.

They begged to be put out of their misery and writhed with faces distorted in the grip of the death struggle….

 

Anyone crossing the vast theatre of the previous day´s fighting could see at every step, in the midst of chaotic disorder, despair unspeakable and misery of every kind….

 

They fought all day long, pushing further and further ahead and finally spent the night near Cavriana.

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Above: Modern Cavriana

 

Next morning at daybreak they went back for their knapsacks, only to find them empty.

Everything had been stolen in the night.

The loss was a cruel one for those poor soldiers.

Their underclothes and uniforms were dirty and stained, worn and torn, and now they found all their clothing gone, perhaps all their small savings with it, besides things of sentimental value that made them think of home or of their families – things given them by their mothers or sisters or sweethearts.

Looters stole even from the dead and did not always care if their poor wounded victims were still alive….

 

Some of the soldiers who lay dead had a calm expression, those who had been killed outright.

But many were disfigured by the torments of the death-struggle, their limbs stiffened, their bodies blotched with ghastly spots, their hands clawing at the ground, their eyes staring widely, their moustaches bristling above clenched teeth that were bared in a sinister convulsive grin.

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It took three days and three nights to bury the dead on the battlefield, but in such a wide area many bodies lay hidden in ditches, in trenchesm or concealed under bushes or mounds of earth, were found much later.

They and the dead horses gave forth a fearful stench.

In the French Army a certain number of soldiers were detailed from each company to identify and bury the dead….

Unhappily, in their haste to finish their work, and because of the carelessness and gross negligence….

There is every reason to believe that more than one live man was buried with the dead.

 

A son idolized by his parents, brought up and cherished for years by a loving mother who trembled with alarm over his slightest ailment….

A brilliant officer, beloved by his family, with a wife and children at home….

A young soldier who had left sweetheart or mother, sisters or old father, to go to war….

All lie stretched in the mud and dust, drenched in their own blood.

 

The handsome manly face is beyond recognition, for sword or shot has done its disfiguring work.

The wounded man agonizes, dies, and his dear body, blackened, swollen and hideous, will soon be thrown just as it is into a half-dug grave, with only a few shovelfuls of lime and earth over it.

The birds of prey will have no pity for those hands and feet when they protrude as the wet earth dries from the mound of dirt that is his tomb….

 

Bodies lay in thousands on hills and earthworks, on the tops of mounds, strewn in groves and woods, or over the fields and plains….

Over the torn cloth jackets, the muddy grey great coats or once white tunics, now dyed red with blood, swarmed masses of greedy flies and birds of prey hovered above the putrefying corpses, hoping for a feast.

The bodies were piled by the hundreds in great common graves….

 

The crowding in Castiglione della Stivere became something unspeakable.

Above: Modern Castiglione della Stivere

The town was completely transformed into a vast improvised hospital….

….all filled with wounded men, piled on one another and with nothing but straw to lie on….

Men of all nations lay side by side on the flagstone floors of the churches of Castiglione….

They no longer had the strength to move or if they had there was no room for them to do so.

 

“Oh, Sir, I´m in such pain!”, several of these poor fellows said to me.

“They desert us, leave us to die miserably and yet we fought so hard!”

They could get no rest, although they were tired out and had not slept for nights.

They called out in their distress for a doctor and writhed in desperate convulsions that ended in tetanus and death….

With faces black with the flies that swarmed about their wounds, men gazed around them, wild-eyed and helpless.

Others were no more than a worm-ridden, inextricable compound of coat and shirt and flesh and blood….

 

There was one poor man, completely disfigured, with a broken jaw and his swollen tongue hanging out of his mouth.

He was tossing and trying to get up….

Another wretched man had had a part of face – nose, lips and chin – taken off by a sabre cut.

He could not speak, and lay, half-blind, making heart-rending signs with his hands and uttering guttural sounds to attract attention….

A third, with his skull gaping wide open, was dying, spitting out his brains on the stone floor.

His companions in suffering kicked him out of the way, as he blocked the passage….

 

Every house had become an infirmary….

It was not a matter of amputations or operations of any kind, but food, and above all drink, had to be taken around to men dying of hunger and thirst.

Then their wounds could be dressed and their bleeding, muddy, vermin-covered bodies washed.

All this in a scorching, filthy atmosphere in the midst of vile, nauseating odours, with lamentations and cries of anguish all around….

 

“Don´t let me die!”, some of these poor fellows would exclaim – and then, suddenly seizing my hand with extraordinary vigour, they felt their access of strength leave them, and died.

 

“I don´t want to die.  I don´t want to die.”, shouted a Grenadier of the Guard fiercely.

This man who, three days earlier, had been a picture of health and strength, was now wounded to death.

He fully realized that his hours were inexorably counted and strove and struggled against that grim certainty.

I spoke to him and he listened.

He allowed himself to be soothed, comforted and consoled, to die at last with the straightforward simplicity of a child….

 

The women of Castiglione, seeing that I made no distinction between nationalities, followed my example, showing the same kindness to all these men whose origins were so different and all of whom were foreigners to them.

“Tutti fratelli” – (all are brothers) – they repeated feelingly….

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The feeling one has of one´s own utter inadequancy in such extraordinary and solemn circumstances is unspeakable….

The moral sense of the importance of human life, the humane desire to lighten a little the torments of all these poor wretches or restore their shattered courage, the furious and relentless activity which a man summons up at such moments: all these combine to create a kind of energy which gives one a positive craving to relieve as many as one can….

But then you feel sometimes that your heart is suddenly breaking – it is as if you were stricken all at once with a sense of bitter and irresistable sadness, because of some simple incident, some isolated happening, some small unexpected detail which strikes closer to the soul, seizing on our sympathies and shaking all the most sensitive fibres of our being….

 

You cannot imagine how the men are stirred when they see the Post Corporal appear to hand out letters….

He brings us….news of home, news of our families and friends.

The men are all eyes and ears as they stretch out their hands greedily towards him.

The lucky ones – those for whom there is a letter – open it in hot haste and devour the contents.

The disappointed move away with heavy hearts and go off by themselves to think of those they have left behind.

Now and then a name is called and there is no reply.

Men look at each other, question each other, and wait.

Then a low voice says “Dead”, and the Post Corporal puts aside this letter, which will return with the seals unbroken to the senders….

 

On 24 June 1859, the total of killed and wounded Austrians and Franco-Sardinians numbered three Field Marshals, nine Generals, 1,566 officers of all ranks and some 40,000 non-commissioned officers and men.

Two months later, these figures (for the three armies together) had to be increased by 40,000, dead or in hospitals from sickness or Fever, either as the result of the excessive fatigues undergone on 24 June and the days immediately preceding or following, or else owing to the pernicious effects of the summer climate and the tropical heat in the Lombardy plain – or, in some instances, owing to the accidents due to the soldiers´ own carelessness.

Leaving all questions of strategy and glory aside, this battle of Solferino was thus, in the view of any neutral and impartial person, really a European catastrophe.”

(Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino)

 

Back in his home in Geneva, Dunant would write….

“As it was more than three years before I decided to put together these painful recollections, which I had never meant to print….

But if these pages could bring up the question (or lead to its being developed and its urgency realized) of the help to be given to wounded soldiers in wartime, or of the first aid to be afforded them after an engagement – if they could attract the attention of the humane and philanthropically inclined – in a word, if the consideration and study of this infinitely important subject could, by bringing about some small progress, lead to improvement in a condition of things in which advance and improvement can never be too great, even in the best-organized armies, I shall have fully attained my goal.”

 

Dunant set about a process that led to the Geneva Conventions and the establishment of the International Committee of the Red Cross by writing A Memory of Solferino, which he published with his own money in 1862, thus initiating the process.

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From 23 to 28 June 2009, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle, a series of events gathering thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers from all over the world took place in Solferino.

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Today, the area contains a number of memorials to the events surrounding the battles of Solferino and San Marino.

There is a circular tower, the Tower of San Martino della Battaglia, dominating the skyline, a memorial to King Victor Emmanuel II.

Built in 1893, it stretches 70 metres high above the battlefield.

In the town of San Martino is a museum with uniforms and weapons of the time and an ossuary chapel.

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In Solferino is also a museum, displaying arms and mementos of the time and an ossuary containing the bones of thousands of victims.

In nearby Castiglione delle Stiviere, where many of the wounded were taken after the battle, is the site of the Museum of the International Red Cross, focusing on the events that led to the formation of that organization.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning´s (1806 – 1861) poem “The Forced Recruit at Solferino” commemorates this battle.

Jospeh Roth´s (1894 – 1939) Radetzky March opens at the Battle of Solferino.

The battle was depicted in the 2006 drama Henri Dunant: Du Rouge sur la croix (English: Henry Dunant: Red on the Cross), which tells the story of the signing of the Geneva Convention and the founding of the Red Cross.

 

The weather is warm, owing to the pernicious effects of the summer climate and the tropical heat in the Lombardy plain, but the visitor instead feels cold.

The feeling one has of one´s own utter inadequancy in such extraordinary and solemn circumstances is unspeakable….

The moral sense of the importance of human life….

You feel that your heart is suddenly breaking – as if you were stricken all at once with a sense of bitter and irresistable sadness.

Leaving all questions of strategy and glory aside, this Battle of Solferino is a catastrophe.

Without the suffering we would not have the Red Cross nor understand why the cross is red.

“That moves you? Nay, grudge not to show it,

While digging a grave for him here:

The others who died, says your poet,

Have glory – Let him have a tear.”

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Stanza XI, “A Forced Recruit at Solferino”)

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Sources:  Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Last Poems / Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino / Francesco Martello, Lake Garda: Civilization, Art and HistoryWikipedia

Canada Slim and the Privileged Place

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 January 2018

This morning I feel somewhat like Punxsawtawney Phil, the groundhog of the film Groundhog Day, chattering away furiously, while Bill Murray holds me firmly as he drives a car over a cliff sardonically telling me:

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Don´t drive angry.

Perhaps this might be extended to encompass writing as well.

Don´t write angry.

But recent events in world politics and memories of walking through one of the richest areas in Switzerland are making it difficult to write and keep my composure at the same time.

 

I mean I shouldn´t have been shocked by what Trump said.

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The man will literally say or do anything.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, during the 2006 presidential campaign, carefully reviewed Trump´s race-related history, and found – including the 1,021 pages of legal documents from racial discrimination suits against him – a consistent, 40-year pattern of insults and discrimination.

It seems there is no one to save us from his racism.

But he sunk to a new xenophobic, racist low on 12 January, when on the eve of the 8th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, “President” Trump, in the Oval Office, wondered aloud why America should allow immigration from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.

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Above: Flag of Haiti

Sadly, the “President” is not alone in thinking so poorly about the poor.

An America that created a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr remains burdened by bigotry, racism and discrimination by a minority who dominate the majority.

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Above: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

Where is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are and not by how they look or where they come from?

Did the dream die with Dr. King?

Has Trump shown the true colours of too many people who having lived privileged lives have a jaundiced opinion of those who haven´t?

This week, Switzerland will host this colossal jackass at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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For the first time in my life I have considered joining in a protest.

I probably won´t, because Trump´s presence in Davos coincides with my work schedule in St. Gallen, but the temptation nonetheless exists.

Being an event happening in Switzerland I am fairly certain that there will be Swiss people in attendance at this event – other than the ones providing services to the high and mighty – who they themselves are rich and powerful.

And it would not surprise me to find that some of these rich and powerful Swiss attendees come from Schindellegi, Canton Schwyz, which I visited, as part of my Zwingli Project, on 23 November 2017.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

 

Einsiedeln to Richterswil, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The day started as planned: early out the door, train to St. Gallen, another to Ziegelbrücke and a final to Glarus.

On the train to Ziegelbrücke I met Vadym of the Ukraine, a recently acquired friend who I knew as a regular Starbucks St. Gallen customer, on his way to work at his new job in Schindellegi.

Above: Canada Slim and Vadym, Restaurant Adler, Schindellegi

 

He is a pastry chef at the Restaurant Adler in Schindellegi.

We spoke of mutual acquaintances in St. Gallen and Poland, and by the time he left the train at Uznach I had told him of my intentions to follow the suggested walks found in Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch which would find me eventually walking through the town of Schindellegi from the monastery town of Einsiedeln to the Lake of Zürich.

He suggested that whenever I am in Schindellegi that I should visit him at the Adler.

Neither one of us expected me to take up the invitation that same day.

As mentioned in Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest of this blog, the walks suggested from Glarus to Einsiedeln could not be accomplished this day because of both a lack of transportation from Glarus and the valid concern that snowfall might have obscured the intended footpaths through the mountains.

Above: Glarus

So two trains and two hours later after leaving Glarus disappointed, I found myself in Einsiedeln from where – after a quick visit to the Abbey – I began walking in earnest towards the Lake of Zürich.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

The 20 km walk (approximately) suggested by the Steiners has the walker climb 200 metres from the town of Einsiedeln to Katzenstrick Summit, and then, with the exception of a 50-metre ascent from Biberbrugg Station, the trail is one continuous descent towards the Zürichsee.

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Above: Katzenstrick/Chatzenstrick Pass

At almost the halfway point the walker arrives at Biberbrugg, an eternal village whose only claim to fame seems to be that it is a midpoint with a bridge crossing the Biber River.

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In 1877, a train station of the railway line Wädenswil – Einsiedeln was built.

Fourteen years later, the Südostbahn (SOB) established the line St. Gallen – Schwyz and Biberbrugg became a transport hub yet never more than a hamlet.

Today, Biberbrugg is also a point on the famous Voralpen Express between St. Gallen and Luzern and of the motorway between St. Gallen and Schwyz.

The village´s railway station is also a stop of the Zürich S-Bahn on line S13 to Wädenswil and S40 to Rapperswil.

The sole reason to stop in Biberbrugg is to have a meal at the Restaurant Post on the hill above the Station.

Lunch consumed, I walked another three kilometres to Schindellegi, the Mecca of Switzerland´s super rich.

The municipality of Feusisberg, of which Schindellegi is a part of, has a population of nearly 5,300.

Most are well-educated good Roman Catholics who live in Paradise.

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Above: St. Anna Church, Schindellegi

Paradise that is when one speaks of taxes as this municipality has the lowest taxes in the entirety of the nation.

Here the anonymous super rich have addresses in this municipality, including Sergio Marchionne (CEO of Fiat), Jörg Wolle (CEO of DKSH – Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner – deeply rooted in communities all across Asia Pacific – 780 locations in 36 countries), Andreas Rihs (CEO of Sonova, which specializes in hearing care solutions, like hearing aids, ear implants and wireless communication), Boris Collardi (CEO of the Bank Julius Bär – a most private bank) and Katharina Liebherr (co-owner of the Southampton Football Club).

Their wealth has an amazing amount of zeros, which has financed athletes like tennis star Martina Hingis and skijumper Simon Amman.

The ability to live in this municipality and become almost invisible verges on the magical that local magician/illusionist Peter Marvey would appreciate.

Above: Peter Marvey, the Magician without Limits

(Check out his Magic House when you are here.)

But this quiet money was revealed, at least to the rest of Switzerland, when Austrian resident in Schindellegi Hans Thomas Gross, selfmade millionaire and the 276th richest man in the world (estimated value CHF 175,000,000) began dating the “famous for being famous” American celebrity Paris Hilton.

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Above: Hans Thomas Gross

(See Remembering Marilyn / Plastered by Paris of this blog.)

Gross, who made his fortune by marketing a drink distribution system for aircraft, owner/part-owner in the companies HTG Ventures, SkyTender, Preciflex, Tetral and Tetrapak and a 56-metre yacht dubbed Galaxy, dated Paris Hilton for about a year.

(For a discussion of Swiss packaging, please see Wolves in sheep packaging of this blog.)

Paris was said to be a big fan of grocery shopping in the Coop store in nearby Richterswil.

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Paris is, for all the criticism that is hurled at her for being famous despite lacking talent, first and foremost a businesswoman.

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Above: Paris Hilton

So even though she is better known for being a socialite, a TV and media personality, model (Trump Model Management), actress, singer and DJ, this great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, is as clever a businessperson as Hans Gross.

Perhaps cleverer.

Her fragrances have earned $1.5 billion.

There are currently three Paris Hilton apartment complexes and 44 Paris Hilton stores worldwide.

Paris earns over $10 million a year from product sales.

As a celebrity, she is paid about $300,000 for appearances in clubs and events.

(Which makes it hard to picture her buying frozen vegetables at the local grocery store.)

(And it is the former presence of Paris in Schindellegi and the upcoming presence in Davos of her former employer and father of her friend Ivana, Donald Trump, that leads me to consider the lifestyles of the rich and famous.)

Don´t forget that Schindellegi is small and had no one told you that it was a taxation mecca for the super rich, it would be an easy place to ignore, for outside of the Magic House (for large groups only) only the town´s Church of St. Anna is worth a glance.

Schindellegi has the lowest taxes in Switzerland and in Switzerland anonymity is the watchword.

Above: Schindellegi

But a hint that the super rich call Schindellegi home is the Restaurant Adler.

At first glance, the Adler seems no different than any other Swiss restaurant in any other Swiss town, but the attention to detail and the need to have a qualified pastry chef beyond the normal kitchen staff found in a typical gastronomic village establishment suggests that the Adler is no stranger to the wealthy restauranteur.

Vadym (Remember Vadym?) creates such tasty delights that the tongue reminds the body why it is great to be alive.

I surprised Vadym by my visit, but I assured him it was not my intention to disturb him at work for more than a few minutes.

Despite my protestations, he insisted I have a Coke and a piece of his palate-pleasing pastry before proceeding on my path.

The Sri Lankan owner-operator of the Adler could probably have rattled off a list of the Who´s Who that have visited the Restaurant, but I sensed it was best not to linger too long.

Being just past normal lunch hours the staff were eating their own midday meal and I felt that they deserved to eat undisturbed by outside visitors.

My entire stay was probably no more than a half-hour at the most.

Schindellegi midday midweek was quiet.

Few cars on the streets, few pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I followed yellow diamond signposts that lead hikers through streets, fields and forests, valleys and mountains, across Switzerland.

My path from Schindellegi to the Lake of Zürich leads me from the railway to apartment blocks and pastures descending to Richterswil where one of the first tax revolts, one of a series of peasant revolts across Switzerland, occurred.

Richterswiler Weibel Rudolf Goldschmid was executed in Zürich following the failure of the revolt.

During the 1st War of Villmergen (5 January to 7 March 1656) when Protestant Zürich and Bern fought Catholic central Switzerland, Richterswil was invaded by an army from Schwyz.

During the 2nd War of Villmergen (also known as the Toggenburg War or the Swiss Civil War of 1712)(12 April to 11 August 1712) when Catholic cantons (including St. Gallen) fought against Protestant Bern and Zürich and Toggenburg, Richterswil was again invaded by Catholic forces.

But unlike 1656, the newly built fortifications above the town meant the siege of Richterswil was unsuccessful.

Under the French-established Helvetic Republic (1793 – 1803), Richterswil was made part of the district of Horgen and thus had a higher tax rate than surrounding villages, and as part of this higher tax it was forced to house French troops during the War of the Second Coalition (1799).

Following an unsuccessful uprising in 1804´s Bockenkrieg against Zürich, Richterswil was severely punished.

Things have calmed down since then.

Richterswil enjoys its position on the Lake of Zürich and is accessible by the A3 motorway, the Lake Zürich Left Bank railway line, the Zürich S-Bahn Services S2 and S8 and the Wädenswil-Einsiedeln line.

Above: Richterswil

The Zimmerberg busline connects the Zimmerberg Region and parts of the Sihl valley to Richterswil.

American painter John Caspar Wild (1804 – 1846) was born in Richterswil.

Above: Wild´s final resting place, Davenport, Iowa

In this town I see clear traces of someone´s love for Canada: a carved totem pole and maple leaf flags adorn the backyard of a Richterswil household.

I see the Coop store that Paris Hilton shopped at as I make my way to the Station, feet aching but smile upon my face.

I don´t have CHF 175 million in my bank account.

Nor do I have a 56-metre yacht to impress American hotel heiresses.

What I do have are walking boots and a willingness to use them.

What I do have is curiosity and enthusiasm.

As I suspected, Switzerland won´t always have Paris Hilton, but I have had the tiniest glimpse of wealth, have seen the exclusive stores of Dusseldorf, Cortina and St. Moritz, have witnessed gamblers unafraid to risk fortunes on gambling tables in Baden Baden and all I see is a golden shell empty of spirit.

What I don´t have I don´t miss, so I don´t envy those who do have what I don´t.

Over 80% of the superwealthy in the world inherited their fortune, despite claims to the contrary of hard work and sacrifice.

The poor have never lacked motivation, only opportunity.

What Paris never understood, what Donald doesn´t get, is that wealth may make the acquisition of material goods easier but it will never earn the true satisfaction of simply enjoying the world in all its quiet splendour.

Did Hans take Paris hiking?

Did he pick wildflowers for her from the fields outside Schindellegi?

Had a more sophisticated place to shop existed for Paris in Schindellegi or Richterwil, would she have shopped there?

Or did she make secret excursions to Zürich for shopping to maintain her lavish lifestyle?

I don´t hate the rich nor do I love them.

Their arrogance is accidental, their ignorance of lives other than their own is sublime.

I will return to Schindellegi for more of Vadym´s pastry.

I might walk into Richterwil´s Coop and wonder what Paris might have bought.

I will, on occasion, buy a lottery ticket in the hopes that a win might ease our financial insecurities.

How Hans made his fortune may have been legit….

Paris may actually work to maintain hers….

I wish them well.

Our worlds will never meet.

I am OK with that.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / http://www.swissinfo.com

 

 

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.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

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

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

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

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

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum / http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk