Canada Slim and the Queen´s Horsemen

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 December 2017

There are moments in life – and isn´t travel truly a microcosm of life? – when a person realizes that his internal indecisiveness on certain issues will always remain.

“Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself. 

I am large. 

I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”, Leaves of Grass

A black-on-white engraving of Whitman standing with his arm at his side

Above: Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

I find myself particularly contradictory when I visit places that remain ruled as monarchies, duchies or principalities.

Do people actually need a monarchy?

To maintain the life and lifestyle of someone such as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and the British Commonwealth is horrendously expensive.

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpg

Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (born 1926, reigning since 1952)

For example, a seven-day visit to Canada by Her Majesty will cost both British and Canadian taxpayers undisclosed millions of British pounds and Canadian dollars to ensure that Her Person is protected, that strict protocols are followed and that She will appear regal and majestic wherever She goes.

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

To the average Joe like me, all that is seen seems to be naught but pomp and ceremony, and if hard pressed to define exactly what it is a monarch, especially one in a constitutional democracy, actually does with his/her working day I would be at a loss to explain it.

As Head of State, we are told that Her Majesty is meant to be the last bastion of sober second thought before a bill can be approved as law.

As Head of State, the Queen´s very presence commands reverance and respect as it is presumed that She has spent Her entire life preparing Herself for Her role, while Prime Ministers generally only learn how to do their jobs once they have acquired them.

As an English Canadian I have often defended the Queen as a sign of tradition, if for no other reason than to annoy French Canadians who lean more towards France´s republican system of government simply because they are French.

Flag of Quebec

I dare say that Her Majesty may brave a cold Ottawa winter´s day, but She would be most foolish to attempt a warm summer´s night in Chicoutimi, Québec!

If the mosquitoes didn´t get Her, the mobs of disgruntled Francophones would!

In my lifetime, Her Majesty has visited Canada at least ten times.

Since 2000, members of the Royal Family other than Her Majesty have visited Canada at least 50 times.

Somehow I never seem to get an invitation to these events.

And the only correspondence I might expect from the House of Windsor might be a card of congratulations for reaching my 100th birthday if I am resident in a Commonwealth country at the time.

Member states of the Commonwealth

Above: Member states of the British Commonwealth (green)

My wife, my own personal Queen, She Who Must Be Obeyed, remains extremely unsupportive as to my chances.

I have resigned myself to never meeting Her Majesty for I lack, and – short of events I cannot foresee – will continue to lack, both fame and power meriting time with Her Majesty.

I am a commoner.

My eating habits find wild animals gathering to watch the spectacle.

My clothing choices would hurt the eyes of the blind.

My education enables me to tie my shoes without consulting a manual.

My salary and bank account are envied only by the homeless.

My voice would stop traffic and I have a face perfect for radio.

Still I am sure that the invitations simply got lost in the mail.

Yet there´s a part of me that would be absolutely thrilled if I ever did have a chance to spend time with royalty, for though I know rationally that their consumption of Ricola cough drops would cause them to fart as they cause me to do, and that they are mortals such as I am, they exist in a stratosphere far elevated and far removed from my own.

Sometimes I think that Americans are so obsessed with their movie and music stars to the degree that they are, because in their heart of hearts there remains a regret that the Revolution cost them the right to have regents.

Flag of the United States

Say what you will about this collection of interbreeding overprivileged misfits, the Royal Family captures our hearts and imagination simply because they are the Royal Family.

Yet the socialist within, the wee anarchist beneath, wonders how truly deserving they are of such attention and admiration.

This conflict, this whirling dervish of devilish contradiction, was quite strong during our London visit….

London, England, 24 October 2017

To visit London is to be bombarded and blitzed by reminders royal.

From the National Portrait Gallery – a sort of two dimensional, high browed Madame Tussaud´s – with propaganda pictures of kings and Queens since Tudor and Stuart times, to the parade of palaces that seem to be found everywhere one goes, London is a royal place.

London NPG.JPG

Palaces, though I will visit them out of obligation to seeing them where I happen to be, generally leave me cold, for I simply cannot imagine living in such decadent luxury while there exists so many others less fortunate.

I did not visit Buckingham Palace.

Above: Buckingham Palace

I did not join the throngs of tourists watching one of the two Changing of the Guard ceremonies outside this Palace.

To be fair, I had seen the Changing of the Guard both in Quebec City´s Citadel and on Ottawa´s Parliament Hill, so I honestly don´t expect there to be any significant differences between these and London´s.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centennial Flame / Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Avoiding things royal in London actually takes a concerted effort.

We started the day with good intentions.

We began our tourist day, after breakfast at our Paddington B & B and the Tube to Charing Cross, by walking from Trafalgar Square to St. James´s Park and the Churchill War Rooms (which I highly recommend).

(For more on the Churchill War Rooms, please see Canada Slim and the Right Man of this blog.)

Trafalgar Square is London´s finest architectural set piece and one of the easiest parts of London to reach most of London´s major sights within a half-mile of each other.

Trafalgar Square, London 2 - Jun 2009.jpg

Above: Trafalgar Square

So, yes, this is a well-trodden tourist centre.

As one of the few large public squares in London, Trafalgar Square has not only been a tourist attraction but as well it has often been the focus for political demonstrations for over a century and a half.

The Square has seen Bloody Sunday (13 November 1887) when hundreds of demonstrators were injured, and three killed, by police.

It has seen anti-apartheid demonstrations and Poll Tax riots, but on this day the only mob is that of tourists seeking to see Nelson´s Column, which commemorates the one-armed, one-eyed Admiral who defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 but paid for it with his life.

Joseph Mallord William Turner 027.jpg

Above: Battle of Trafalgar

Even though his sandstone statue atop the Column is three times lifesize, it appears miniscule when compared to the massive height (151 feet) of the Column itself.

Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London.JPG

Above: Nelson´s Column, Trafalgar Square

Above: Nelson´s statue atop his Column

Everyone knows the four bronze lions that guard the base of Nelson´s Column, but few people realise that the lions appeared 25 years after the Column was built.

The Column itself was completed in 1843 and William Railton´s design included four lions to set it off, but a lack of funds and arguments over the choice of sculptor delayed the project.

The Board of Works in charge of the whole monument finally chose Sir Edwin Landseer – a controversial choice.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.jpg

Above: Sir Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873)

Even though Landseer was Queen Victoria´s favourite painter with an unrivalled reputation for painting animals, he had never sculpted anything.

The project was further delayed by Landseer´s health problems so that four years after accepting the commission he was still drafting sketches.

He asked to be supplied with copies of casts of a real lion made by the Art Academy in Turin.

He spent hours studying lions in the London Zoo.

Finally he asked the Zoo for a dead lion as a studio model, but had to wait two years for one to die.

Unfortunately the lion started to rot before Landseer could finish the work, so he had to improvise, using a domestic cat as a model for the paws and a dog for the tongue.

These hybrid lions were finally installed in 1868.

On the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is Britain´s smallest police station, unseen by the hordes of tourists posing before Nelson´s Column, a one-man sentry box fashioned from a hollowed-out granite lamp post.

Bildergebnis für trafalgar square police station

The secret police box was installed by Scotland Yard in 1926 so that the cops could keep an eye on the demonstrators and agitators who routinely gathered in the Square.

With narrow slits for windows and claustrophobic proportions, this human CCTV camera was equipped with a telephone with a direct line to Canon Row Police Station in case things got out of hand.

Originally installed in 1826, the ornamental light on the top would flash whenever the police officer trapped inside picked up the telephone, alerting his fellow officers in the vicinity to come to his rescue.

Today, the lookout post is used to store street cleaning equipment.

The only clue that links this post to the police is a faded list of bylaws hanging outside.

For the record, offences in Trafalgar Square included feeding the birds, camping, parking a caravan, public speaking, playing music, washing or drying clothes, exercising, bathing, boating or canoeing in the fountains, flying a kite or using any foot-propelled device – unless you have written permission from the Mayor.

(The devil in me would love that challenge!)

(As previously mentioned Trafalgar Square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar when 33 English ships defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet of 41 ships.)

We followed The Mall – London´s nearest equivalent to a Parisian boulevard – through the Admirality Arch….

(The Admirality Arch, once the official residence of the First Sea Lord overseeing all maritime operations, then an extension building of the Cabinet Office (2000 – 2002), and finally Prime Minister Tony Blair´s Strategy Unit (2002 – 2010), is now a property of real estate developer Rafael Serrano who is presently converting the building into a luxury Hotel slated to open in 2020.

Arco del Almirantazgo, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 186.JPG

The Arch has often been used for ceremonial affairs such as royal weddings and coronations, state funerals and Olympic Games processions.)

….to the Victoria Memorial – King Edward VII´s 2,300 ton marble tribute to his Mama, at 25 metres/82 feet the tallest monument to a monarch in England….

Victoria Memorial, The Mall, London.jpg

Above: The Victoria Memorial, London

…..to St. James´s Park.

The 23 hectare / 57 acre St. James´s Park is the oldest of London´s parks, having been puchased by Henry VIII in 1532, and drained and turned into a deer park by James I in 1603.

Above: St. James´ Park Lake, looking toward Buckingham Palace

It was redesigned and opened to the public by Charles II, who used to stroll through the grounds with his mistresses and courtiers, feed the ducks and even take a dip in the canal.

By the 18th century, when some 6,500 people had access to night keys for the gates, the Park had become a byword for robbery and prostitution.

Diarist James Boswell was among those who went there specifically to be solicited “by several ladies of the town”.

James Boswell of Auchinleck.jpg

Above: James Boswell (1740 – 1795)

From the diary of James Boswell:

25 March 1763: 

As I was coming home this night, I felt carnal inclinations raging through my Frame.  I determined to gratify them.  I went to St. James´s Park and like a brute I picked up a whore.  For the first time did I engage in Amour which I found but a dull satisfaction.  She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young Shropshire girl, very good-looking.

The Park was a busy place in the 18th century.

Travelling condom salesmen did a roaring trade.

The condoms were made of animal gut, intended to protect men from venereal disease rather than to prevent pregnancy.

Giacomo Casanova frequented the Park in the same year as Boswell.

Casanova ritratto.jpg

Above: Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798)

Casanova went to the Park “to watch the great beauties parading”, but was disconcerted to see People defecating in the bushes instead.

Today the banks of the tree-lined lake are a favourite picnic spot for the civil servants of Whitehall and an inner-city reserve for wildfowl, which flock to West Island and Duck Island.

St James's Park Lake – East from the Blue Bridge - 2012-10-06.jpg

James I´s two crocodiles left no descendants, but the pelicans (which have resided here since a pair was presented to Charles II by the Russian ambassador in 1664) can still be seen at the eastern end of the lake.

Here there are exotic ducks of every variation imaginable.

Just in time for the twelve days of Christmas (26 December – 6 January), the visitor can find many more than two calling birds, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming, but, alas, no turtledoves, no pear trees for partridges, and no French hens, as far as fowl and feathered life goes in the Park.

The Canadian in me was thrilled to see Canada geese in the Park.

Surprisingly some writers have seen fit to use the Park as the setting for battles:

In Charlie Higson´s post apocalptic young adult horror novel The Enemy, two groups of children battle for control of the Park after a worldwide sickness has infected adults and turned them into zombies.

Theenemy.jpg

In Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett´s Good Omens, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crawley frequent the Park and feed the ducks.

Goodomenscover.jpg

Our walk led us to the abovementioned Churchill War Rooms, but after leaving this excellent Museum we quickly became disoriented – fresh air smells funny! – and somehow found ourselves at the Household Cavalry Museum.

Bildergebnis für household cavalry museum

Above: The Household Cavalry Regiment building

Thus my internal conflict regarding the Monarchy began….

During the day two mounted sentries and two horseless colleagues are posted at the Horse Guards Building.

Bildergebnis für household cavalry museum

The sentries are part of the Queen´s Life Guard, provided by the Household Cavalry Regiments, who are more than just the Changing the Guard´s ceremonies (for 350 years) but are actual fighting soldiers who have served and fought for England since the Restoration (1660), in the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) , the Glorious Revolution (1688), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years War (the world´s first global conflict)(1756-1763), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882), the Second Boer War (1899-1902), both world wars (1914-1918/1939-1945), the Falklands War (1982), the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), the Gulf War (1990-1991), the 2003 invasion of Iraq and various operations in Afghanistan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

The years after the English Civil War (1642-1651) saw King Charles I (1600-1649, King: 1625-1649) executed….

(The black dot over the number 2 on the Building´s clock face denotes the hour at which he was executed in 1649.)

….and Oliver Cromwell replace him as Lord Protector of a republican Commonwealth (1653-1659).

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg

Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Lord Protector: 1653-1658)

Upon Cromwell´s death, his Commonwealth failed and in 1660, King Charles II returned to England in triumph.

Seated man of thin build with chest-length curly black hair

Above: Charles II (1630-1685), King: 1660- 1685

Just before his Restoration, the King created a mounted bodyguard which would expand and incorporate other regiments to form what we recognise today as the Household Cavalry Guards.

Back in Charles II´s day, the King insisted that he be regularly accompanied by one of the Guards wherever he went.

While Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II remains as the Household Cavalry´s Colonel-in-Chief, I am not privy to whom guards Her security these days.

Back of the Horse Guards Building, which remains a military headquarters commanding army units in London, is the Household Cavalry Museum.

Bildergebnis für household cavalry museum

Here you can try a trooper´s elaborate uniform, complete a horse quiz and learn about the regiments´ history.

Bildergebnis für household cavalry museum

See swords and walking sticks, playing cards, paintings and uniforms, skulls and prosthetic legs, cuirasses and chocolate boxes, trophies and medals, trumpets and drums.

Learn of men of legendary status:

Colonel John Manners, the Marquess of Granby: He carried passionately about the welfare of his soldiers and was compulsively generous.  In 1760, in the Battle of Warburg, he led 8,000 men to victory over a French army three times larger.  His headress lost in the Battle, he saluted his commander bare headed, highly unusual at the time.  The Household Cavalry have the unique privilege in the British Army of saluting without headdress.

MarquessOfGranby.JPG

Above: John Manners (1721 – 1770)

Colonel John Shaw: At over 6 feet, 3 inches / 1.9 metres and weighing 95 kg / 210 lbs, he earned money as a prizefighter.  At the Battle of Waterloo, he smashed at the enemy´s faces using the hilt of his sword as English swords were shorter than the French´s.  Then he killed more of the enemy before his sword broke and valiantly fought on with only his helmet as a weapon until he fell in battle.  His skull is on display at the Museum.

Battle of Waterloo 1815.PNG

Above: The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

Colonel Fred Burnaby: An enormous and very strong man, he once carried two ponies down the stairs of the officers´ mess in Windsor, a pony under each arm.  He travelled to Khiva, deep in the Tsar´s troubled Asian territories, because the Russians had forbidden foreigners from going there. The book he wrote became a best seller.  He campaigned in Bulgaria, joined a revolt in Spain, crossed the English Channel by balloon, and was both a journalist and politician. Lionised by his soldiers, he was not meant to have been in the Sudan when he was killed at Abu Klea in January 1885.  He met his end in a manner in which he would have approved, facing overwhelming odds in hand to hand fighting.

Frederick Gustavus Burnaby by James Jacques Tissot.jpg

Above: Fred Burnaby (1842 – 1885)

Colonel David Smiley: He was parachuted behind enemy lines many times in eastern Europe and Asia.  It is suggested that both Ian Fleming´s James Bond and John le Carré´s George Smiley were modelled after the Colonel.

Colonel David Smiley has died aged 92

Above: David Smiley (centre)(1917 – 2009)

These stories are just a sampling of the courage, professionalism and distinction shown by soldiers in all military services in all nations, but of course this Museum focuses on the men (and women?) of the Household Cavalry.

Blues and Royals cap badge.jpg

Above: Logo of the Household Cavalry Regiment

With the stables immediately adjacent, it´s a sweet-smelling place(!) and you can see these beasts of burden in their stalls through a glass screen.

Bildergebnis für household cavalry museum

The horses are big: a minimum height of 5 feet, 4 inches / 1.65 metres high at the shoulder.

Bought as four or five year olds, most of them are black.

Only the trumpeters ride white steeds.

From arrival to taking part in ceremonial occasions, the training of a horse takes six months.

The horses are exercised each morning, compete in annual competitions and are given holidays (“sent out to grass”) twice a year.

Horses generally retire at around 18, though some serve into their 20s.

As fascinating as the history of the Cavalry is and as much as a spectacle of colour and pagentry that the Changing the Guard ceremony is, I could not stop thinking about the endless amount of money and effort that goes into maintaining the mounted tradition: 280 horses, an army of riding instructors, farriers (horseshoe blacksmiths), vets, saddlers, tailors, musicians (kettle drummers and trumpeters) and cavalry men.

I thought of the many countless hours of preparation that are needed for a Parade: the polishing of breastplates, helmets and swords; the scrubbing and whitening of buckskins, gauntlets, belts and slings; the cleaning and polishing of jackboots; the grooming of the horses; the polishing of saddles; then inspection of the troop with obsessive-compulsive attention to detail adhering to the highest possible standards of perfection.

The combined weight of the horse´s equipment and the mounted rider´s gear is 62 lbs / 28 kg, an unforgiving and punishing practice for both man and beast.

It makes me question the sanity of a man who chooses to join the Household Cavalry.

How cruel it is to have the sentry boxmen remain motionless and emotionless for an hour at a time!

Where is the logic, the sanity, the humanity in this activity?

All in the name of honour and tradition or simply base entertainment for tourists?

It makes me question the assumption of privilege and pomp of individuals whose only claim to honour and respect was the accident of being born into the right family.

How deserving is a person of a palace or crown, of the sacrifice of young persons´ lives and vitality to ensure that the royal is treated better than a commoner?

Are the lives of the common people improved by the gleam of metal spokes on royal carriages, the sheen of horse flesh, the precision of military movement and spectacle?

As much of a show that the mounted ceremonies offer the throngs of tourists, is it worth all the work and expense that these ceremonies cost?

I do understand and sympathise with the need for military forces.

I do understand the need to protect both heads of government and heads of state.

But I must admit I remain dissatisfied at the alarming discrepancy the royal lifestyle has when compared to the average commoner.

I can appreciate that royals are trained to serve, but excess displays of wealth and privilege make it seem that the world exists to serve them instead.

I can accept that there will always be people better than me, but by the same token there are some things I am better at than others.

I can learn from others and others can learn from me.

I can appreciate that the recognition of quality and talent should exist, but I rally against the idea that these fortunate few are thus somehow superior to everyone else, that we are somehow less worthy of our existence than they are of theirs.

As a Canadian I can appreciate when talented Canadians are recognised for their contributions to society, but singers, for example, insult their public admirers when they have ostentatious homes and weddings or act as if the laws and mores of society somehow do not apply to them, as in the case of Celine Dion or Justin Bieber.

I respect Her Majesty Elizabeth II and her wisdom in her role as the world´s longest serving monarch, but the price tag is too damn high.

I felt nothing but sadness for the sacrifice of the Household Cavalry – a sacrifice unceasing since 1660 and one ongoing unceasingly.

The horses are beautiful, the soldiers proud, the gestures meaningless.

I guess tourists shouldn´t think too much.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / http://www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Canada Slim and the Danger Zone

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 October 2017

Tomorrow, we fly to London.

British Airways Logo.svg

My wife is concerned.

2017 has been a bad year for London.

22 March: Attack on Westminster Bridge – 6 dead, 40 injured

3 June: Attack on London Bridge – 11 dead, 48 injured

19 June: Attack on Finsbury Park Mosque – 1 dead, 11 injured

North London Central Mosque, Finsbury Park - geograph.org.uk - 759870.jpg

Above: The North London Central Mosque, Finsbury Park

15 September: Attack on Parson´s Green Tube Station – 22 injured

ParsonsGreen1.jpg

Still these pale in comparison to the 7 July 2005 Tube attacks, resulting in 52 dead and 0ver 700 people injured.

Are we walking into a danger zone?

But these days is there truly any place that is completely safe?

In Switzerland, during our vacation in Italy, a crazy man stabbed to death an Indian student just outside our Starbucks store window in St. Gallen.

File:Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

Just the year prior, another disturbed individual attacked train passengers with fire and a knife near Salez-Salenstein, mid-distance between St. Gallen and Chur.

And this is Switzerland, a neutral, peaceful country.

Flag of Switzerland

Yet, despite these events, I still continue to work at the same location of the Starbucks incident and have a number of times ridden the train between St. Gallen and Chur passing Salez-Salenstein, and I remember.

These are times that test men´s souls and cause hearts to race with fear, but nonetheless we must keep on living.

Is London dangerous?

The City of London, seen from the south bank of the Thames in September 2015

Can a city that has existed for two millennia always be safe?

Yet today over 8.7 million people continue to survive and thrive in central London, over 13.8 million in the 33 Boroughs of the Greater London area, speaking over 300 languages.

They haven´t fled in panic despite the 7/7 attacks and it would take much more than this before Londoners would lose their nerve and abandon the place.

London remains the world´s largest financial centre, has the largest concentration of wealth in the world and is the leading investment destination, which means it will continue to be a target.

Yet despite all the anguish and fear that these events create in the world press, London remains the most visited city on the planet, with the world´s largest city airport system and the oldest underground railway network.

London Underground logo, known as the roundel, is made of a red circle with a horizontal blue bar.

I confess, despite having lived in Britain before, that my knowledge of London is sparse.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

During my time in Britain (England and Wales) when I lived in Oxford, Leicester, Nottingham and Cardiff, I did not visit London, for both the expense of the city as well as the immensity of the place intimidated me.

Only through the encouragement of my old friend Iain have I seen a wee bit of London: the Theatre District, the Greenwich Observatory, a section of the Thames Path (a 184 mile path that stretches from the Thames Barrier (where the Channel meets the River) to Kemble, just south of Cirencester) and a hodgepodge of meandering streets that confused me more than remained memories.

Royal observatory greenwich.jpg

Above: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

Now I will travel there with my wife, Ute, whom I met in Stratford-upon-Avon two decades ago.

Above: William Shakespeare´s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

She hasn´t been to London since, though we both visited Cornwall a few years ago.

Above: Land´s End, Cornwall

Tomorrow, two people who live in a village of a population under 800, who both grew up in towns not much bigger than Landschlacht, will try and explore the world´s most visited metropolis on the planet in a short seven-day period.

The true danger is not terrorist attack, but rather being overwhelmed by London´s expanse and expense.

We have tried to prepare ourselves.

The hotel and flights have been booked ages ago.

We will bring ten guidebooks with us: Top 10 London 2017, London Stories, This Is London, London for Lovers, Horrible Histories London, Secret London, Lonely Planet London, Baedeker London, Brandt/ English Heritage`s London: In the Footsteps of the Famous and the German language Müller guide to London.

And, if we remain true to our past experiences of travelling, we will curse the weight of carrying the damn books around with us, which we probably won´t read more than a few pages of, before passing out into exhausted slumber each night, because we walked around so much being lost.

There is simply too much to see and do in London: the British Museum (the world´s oldest public museum), the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye ferris wheel, the Tate Gallery, Westminister Abbey and Parliament Square, the Tower of London and St. Paul´s Cathedral.

Clock Tower - Palace of Westminster, London - May 2007.jpg

And these are the best known attractions in London.

We could try to see London through the eyes of famous folks who once lived here: Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chaplin, Dr. Samuel Johnson (who coined the phrase: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”), John Keats, Sigmund Freud, Georg Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Charles de Gaulle, Virginia Woolf, Mahatma Gandhi, Jimi Hendrix, Henry James, Samuel Pepys, Geoffrey Chauncer, Oscar Wilde, and, not forgetting, the British Monarchy, just to name a few.

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds.jpg

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

My wife´s Swabian tendencies and my ancestral Scottish blood will probably compel us to see what we can for free in London: the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Tate Modern Gallery, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Institution, Free London Walking Tours, opera recitals at the Royal Opera House, the Roman ruins at the Guildhall Art Gallery, the view from the Oxo Tower Wharf, the feeding of the pelicans at St. James Park, Parliamentary debates, evensong at Westminister or St. Paul´s, stand-up comedy at the Camden Head Pub, and loads more of free entertainment across the City.

Above: Buckingham Palace, London

For three of the seven days we are in London, we shall explore the magic and mystery of London together, maybe even discovering some sites recommended by London for Lovers.

Above: Flower Walk, Kensington Gardens, London

For the four remaining days, while she attends a medical conference, I will wander about the streets on my own.

So what shall I do?

There are a number of temptations.

Do I trace Ben Judah´s explorations as chronicled in his This Is London, hoping to see London in the eyes of its beggars and bankers, cops and gangsters, sex workers and witch doctors, locals and immigrants?

Do I systematically pick neighbourhoods to explore as London Walks´ London Stories suggests?

Do I try to follow from cover to cover the alternative guidebook to London, Secret London, which promises to show me monsters in Trafalgar Square, have me check into Bedlam, praise God, buy meatballs, have a sauna, visit the House of Dreams, join the secret society to which Prince Charles belongs, and discover the secret to instant weight loss?

Trafalgar Square, London 2 - Jun 2009.jpg

Above: Trafalgar Square, London

Or do I take the pedestrian approach and take a walk through London via the Southeast London Green Chain Walk, the London Outer Orbital Path, the Jubilee Walkway, the Lee Valley Walk, the Diana Memorial Walk or the Thames Path?

Above: OXO Tower, Thames Path on the riverside of building

Of course, there is, as well, the temptation of shopping.

I am a native English speaker resident in a country where English is not one of the official languages, who will be visiting England, the birthplace of English.

Flag of England

Above: The flag of England

To have unlimited access to an orgasmic cornucopia of endless variety of English language literature and music and movies….

Heaven!

I want to buy things like…. anime or foreign films that are only translated into German where I live, or music that is unknown in Switzerland, or BBC TV series that I would have to special order at high cost at a local Orell Füssli chain bookshop in St. Gallen or Zürich or at the English Bookshop across the German border in Konstanz.

Logo

Damn the weight restrictions that airlines impose!

Hilde Cook, the owner of the English Bookshop, suggested that I won´t want to return to Switzerland once I am away in London.

She may be right.

London is dangerously seductive.

But my home and my heart are in Switzerland so I must return.

But my wife is right, London is a danger zone.

The stress of trying to see and do so much in too short a time is dangerous indeed.

Sources: Wikipedia / Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 London 2017 / Ben Judah, This Is London / London Walks, London Stories / Sam Hodges & Sophie Vickers, London for Lovers / Bradt & English Heritage, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Ralf Nestmeyer, Michael Müller Verlag, London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / Baedeker´s, London / Rachel Howard & Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Terry Dreary, Horrible Histories London

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Evil Road

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

I am determined to not write myself into too predictable a rut.

There have been a number of themes running through the posts of this blog since I started it back on 18 May 2015.

I have written of many things: my travels in Switzerland and abroad, topics currently relevant at the time of writing, and occasional glimpses into the comedy that is everyday life.

I have started themes that have yet to be completed, like the Brontes and Brussels, my own solo travels prior to this blog, the crucial importance of Turkish politics and history, and, of course, the current political malaise that is the US Trump Administration.

After a long break from blog writing over the summer I have found two themes that interest me greatly: travelling in Italy, and the Russian Revolution and how it was shaped from Switzerland.

To keep both the reader´s attention and my creative juices flowing I have decided to alternate between these themes.

This is not to say that current events are not worthy of my attention….

They have it.

The monsoons in Bangladesh, the destructiveness of hurricanes in America, the reversal of DACA resulting in over 800,000 people forced to leave their homes in America and return to birthplaces they have never really known, the tragedy of Standing Rock and international indigenous peoples, the ongoing farce that is Brexit, the abyss of race relations in the US, world poverty, immigration and refugees, the relevance of the media in modern times, terrorism….

The list and the complexity of world events seems endless and daunting for a simple blogger such as myself to tackle.

But be patient, gentle readers, over time I shall try to weave these events and more into the ongoing saga that is the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

At present, I want to talk about a place that at first glance seems easy to ignore.

The Splügen Pass (Italian: Passo dello Spluga) is a 2,115-metre high mountain pass which marks the boundary between the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps, respectively dividing the Western Alps from the Eastern.

Splügenpass.jpg

The pass road connects the Swiss Hinterrhein valley and the hamlet of Splügen in Graubünden Canton with the Valle Spluga and the town of Chiavenna in the Italian province of Sondrio, the road continuing on to Lago Como.

The Pass is the water divide between the drainage basins of the Rhine, which flows into the North Sea, and the Po, which flows into the Adriatic.

On the Italian side of the Pass is the small three-street village of Montespluga, which is cut off from both Italy and Switzerland during the winter.

Above: Montespluga in summer

So the best time of year to travel this quiet pass is June to October.

The Pass was already in use in the Roman era.

The route follows historic mule trails and was recorded in the Roman Empire´s list of arterial roads as it followed an almost dead-straight link between southern Germany and Lombardy.

Path and road construction, transport services and trading traffic, spiritual exchange and creative artistic power have influenced the landscape and settlements as well as improving living standards and broadening horizons for local farmers.

The name Splügen/Spluga is possibly derived from the Latin specula (lookout).

From 1818 to 1823 the modern road was built at the request of Austrian authorities then ruling the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in the south.

In 1840, English author Mary Shelley (best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein) travelled through the Pass on the way to Lake Como with her son Percy Florence.

RothwellMaryShelley.jpg

Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

This was not her first trip to Italy and one might wonder why she would return to a country that had seen her suffer great sorrow.

The threat of debtor´s prison, combined with their ill health and fears of losing custody of their two children, her husband Percy Bysshe and Mary left England for Italy in 1818.

Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint.jpg

Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

They had no intention of returning to England.

The Shelleys then embarked on a roving existence, never settling in any one place for long.

They devoted their time to writing, reading, learning, sightseeing and socialising.

Their Italian adventure was blighted by the deaths of both their children:  Clara, in September 1818 in Venice; and William, in June 1819 in Rome.

These losses left Mary in a deep depression that isolated her from her husband.

For a time, Mary found comfort only in her writing.

The birth of her son Percy Florence, on 12 November 1819, lifted her spirits, though she nursed the memory of her lost children till the end of her life.

On 8 July 1822, her husband and Edward Williams set out on a return sailing journey from Livorno to Lerici with their 18-year-old boatsman Charles Vivian.

They never reached their destination.

Ten days after the storm that arose after they sailed from Livorno, their three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici.

Mary eventually returned to England to raise her son.

In 1840, mother Mary (age 43) and son Percy (21), along with three of his friends, travelled together on the Continent.

This journey and a subsequent journey together in 1842 would result in the travel narrative Rambles in Germany and Italy.

Map showing routes of Shelley's European trips. 1840 trip begins in Brighton, proceeds to Dover, crosses the Channel to Calais, proceeds south to Paris, east Metz, north to Coblenz, east to Frankfurt, south to Freiburg, south to Milan, west to Lyons, and north to Paris and Calais. 1842–43 trip begins in Southampton, proceeds to London, crosses the Channel to Antwerp, proceeds southeast to Frankfurt, northeast to Berlin, south to Prague, Salzburg, Padua, Rome, and Naples.

Although her husband and her two children had died there, Italy had become for Mary “a country which memory painted as Paradise”.

From their home in north London, they travelled to Paris and Metz.

From Metz, they went down the Moselle by boat to Koblenz and then up the Rhine to Mainz, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Baden Baden.

Feeling ill, Mary rested at a spa in Baden Baden.

Above: Baden-Baden

She had wracking pains in her head and convulsive shudders, symptoms of the meningioma that would eventually kill her.

(Meningioma is a tumor that attacks the brain and spinal cord.)

This forced stop dismayed Percy and his friends as it provided no entertainment for them, but because none of them spoke any German they were forced to remain together.

The group eventually travelled on to Freiburg im Breisgau, Schaffhausen, Zürich to arrive at the Splügen Pass.

She describes the Pass in her travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published in 1844:

Chiavenna, Italy, Monday 13 July 1840

“At five in the morning we were in the yard of the diligence (stagecoach) office (at Chur).

We were in high spirits – for that night we should sleep in Italy.

The diligence was a very comfortable one.

There were few other passengers and those were of a respectable class.

We still continued along the valley of the Rhine, and at length entered the pass of the Via Mala (the evil road), where we alighted to walk.

Via Mala.jpg

It is here that the giant wall of the Alps shuts out the Swiss from Italy.

Before the Alp itself (the Splügen) is reached, another huge mountain rises to divide the countries.

A few years ago, there was no path except across this mountain, which being very exposed , and difficult even to danger, the Splügen was only traversed by shepherds and travellers of the country on mules or on foot.

But now, a new and most marvellous road has been constructed.

The mountain in question is, to the extent of several miles, cleft from the summit to the base, and a sheer precipice of 4,000 feet rises on either side.

The Rhine, swift and strong, but in width a span, flows in the narrow depth below.

The road has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries.

It passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm.

The precipices, indeed, approach so near, in parts, that a fallen tree could not reach the river below, but lay wedged in midway.

It may be imagined how singular and sublime this pass is, in its naked simplicity.

After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame.

It is giddy work to look down over the parapet that protects the road, and mark the arrowy rushing of the imprisoned river.

Midway in the pass, the precipices approach so near that you might fancy a strong man could leap across.

This was the region visited by storm, flood and desolation in 1834.

The Rhine had risen several hundred feet, and, aided by torrents from the mountains, had torn up the road, swept away a bridge, and laid waste the whole region.

An English traveller, a Mr. Hayward, then on his road to Chiavenna, relates that he traversed the chasm on a rotten uneven plank, and found but a few inches remaining of the road overhanging the river.

It was an awful invasion of one element on another.

The whole road to Chiavenna was broken up, and the face of the mountain so changed that, when reconstructed, the direction of the route was in many places entirely altered.

The region of these changes was pointed out to us, but no discernible traces remained of where the road had been.

All here was devastation – the giant ruins of a primaeval world; and the puny remnants of Man´s handiwork were utterly obiliterated.

Puny, however, as our operations are, when Nature decrees by one effort that they should cease to exist, while She reposes they may be regarded proudly and commodiously traversed by the antlike insects that make it their path.

We dined at the village of Splügen.

Splügen01.JPG

Above: Splügen in summer

It was cold and we had a fire.

Here we dropped all our fellow travellers – some were going over the San Bernandino – and proceeded very comfortably alone.

It was a dreary-looking mountain that we had to cross, by zigzags, at first long, and diminishing as we ascended.

The day, too, was drear, and we were immersed in a snowstorm towards the summit.

Naked and sublime the mountain stretched out around, and dim mists, chilling blasts and driving snow added to its grandeur.

We reached the dogana (Italian customs) at the top and here our things were examined.

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature

Above: Spluga Pass, present day

The customs house officer was very civil – complained of his station, where it always rained – at that moment it was raining – and, having caused the lids of one or two trunks to be lifted, they were closed again and the ceremony was over.

More time, however, was consumed in signing passports and papers.

We then set off downhill, swiftly and merrily, with two horses – the leaders being unharnessed and trotting down gravely after us, without anyone to lead or drive them.

All Italian travellers know what it is, after toiling up the bleak, bare, northern, Swiss side of an Alp, to descend into ever vernal Italy.

The rhododendron, in thick bushes, in full bloom, first adorned the mountain sides, then pine forests, then chestnut groves.

Alpenroos.jpg

The mountain was cleft into woody ravines.

The waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody.

Flowery and green, and clothed in radiance and gifted with plenty, Italy opened upon us.

Thus – and be not shocked by the illustration, for it is all God´s creation – after dreary old age and the sickening pass of death, does the saint open his eyes on Paradise.” (Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

After Chiavenna, Mary and her travelling companions would spend two months at Lake Como and then go on to Milan.

In Milan, the young men left Mary to go back to their studies in England, while Mary slwoly made her way back home via Geneva and Paris.

Upon her return, she became depressed.

“In Italy I might live as once I lived: hoping, loving, aspiring, enjoying.

I am placid now and the days go by….and darkness creeps over my intellect.”

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

In 1843 the road was further expanded with a 312-metre/1,024-foot long avalanche gallery designed by Swiss engineer Richard La Nicca which today is out of use but largely preserved.

Above: Richard La Nicca (1794 – 1883)

Plans to build a railroad line across Splügen Pass were abandoned in favour of the Gotthard Railway opened in 1882.

The author Sir Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle as well as his beloved creation Sherlock Holmes, a creation that Doyle himself was not particularly fond of, are inextricably linked to Switzerland.

Arthur Conany Doyle by Walter Benington, 1914.png

Above: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, M.D. (1859 – 1930)

Doyle, who spent most of his childhood and youth in boarding schools, spent some time at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria.

On his journey back home to Edinburgh in 1876, Doyle had his first contact with Switzerland.

Many years later, 34-year-old Dr. Doyle came to Switzerland in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

Doyle was a sporty doctor.

He had seen skiing in Norway and imported one of the first pair of Norwegian skis to Davos.

Along with the Branger brothers, Doyle scaled the saddle of the Jacobshorn in the Albula range, now served by cable car and renowned for snowboarding.

They then tackled the 2,253-metre pass between Davos and Arosa, rising at 4 am, heading to Frauenkirch, crossing the Maienfelder Furka Pass and sliding down to Arosa.

Since 2008 this area has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, traversed by the Rhaetian Railway and by “lads leaping about on planks tied to their feet”. (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain)

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season”. (Conan Doyle, “An Alpine Pass on Ski”, The Strand, August 1894)

Time has proved him right.

Doyle would then travel on to Maloja and Caux with his wife.

On 6 November 1895, the Doyles left Caux for Italy.

Did he enter Italy through the Splügen Pass?

I have no information so far about his exact route.

After a few days in Rome, the family left Brindisi by ship to Egypt, where they would spend the winter in Cairo.

It remains a question of debate whether Doyle ever came back to Switzerland after his journey to Egypt and his subsequent return to his home in England.

Besides skiing, Doyle left his mark on Switzerland by setting the Holmes Story “The Final Problem” at Reichenbach Falls.

(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem of this blog.)

Splügen Pass is mentioned in Doyle`s “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, a Holmes story published in 1924.

“Both Holmes and I (Dr. Watson, the narrator) had a weakness for the Turkish bath….

On the upper floor of the Northumberland Avenue establishment, there is an isolated corner where two couches lie side by side, and it was on these that we lay upon 3 September 1902, the day when the narrative begins.

I had asked him whether anything was stirring, and for answer he had shot his long, thin, nervous arm out of the sheets which enveloped him and had drawn an envelope from the inside pocket of the coat which hung beside him….

…This is what I read:

“Sir James Damery presents his compliments to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and will call upon him at 4:30 tomorrow….”

Sir James comes to see Holmes and Watson about his illustrious client´s problem.

(The client´s identity is never revealed to the reader, although Watson finds out at the end of the story, it is heavily implied to be King Edward VII.)

Edward VII in coronation robes.jpg

Above: Edward VII, King of Great Britain (1901 – 1910), (1841 – 1910)

General de Merville`s young daughter Violet has fallen in love with the roguish and sadistic Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner….

Damery: “…for we are dealing on this occasion, Mr. Holmes, with a man to whom violence is familiar and who will, literally, stick at nothing.”

I should say that there is no more dangerous man in Europe.”

Holmes: “….May I ask his name?”

Damery: “Have you ever heard of Baron Gruner?”

Holmes: “You mean the Austrian murderer?”

Damery: “There is no getting past you, Mr. Holmes! Wonderful! So you have already sized him up as a murderer?”

Holmes: “It is my business to follow the details of Continental crime.  Who could possibly have read what happened at Prague and have any doubts as to the man´s guilt?  It was a purely technical legal point and the suspicious death of a witness that saved him!  I am as sure that he killed his wife when the so-called “accident” happened in the Splügen Pass as if I had seen him do it….”

The Granada TV series (1984 – 1994), with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, is faithful to the original story as penned by Doyle, though it takes some artistic licence regarding the Bruner wife murder.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.jpg

“The Illustrious Client” shows the fallen Baroness, to whom Gruner rushes to her side, accusing him with her dying breath of pushing her off the mountainside.

The viewer sees the scene is witnessed by a young boy, whom we are told by Holmes in his interview with Sir James that he suspected that Gruner had seduced his mother to poison the shepherd boy.

In “The View from Olympus”, the 18th episode of the 3rd season of the US modernised adaptation Elementary, with Holmes as a recovering drug addict who aids the New York City police accompanied by a female Dr. Joan Watson, Holmes mentions a previous case about a man who killed his wife on the Splügen Pass and tried to make her murder look like an accident.

Elementary intertitle.png

In this blog`s Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys, I wrote of how my wife (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) and I travelled from our home by the Lake of Constance in Landschlacht to Chur.

“We leave the Autobahn and enter a wild land – a land of deep, narrow valleys, ancient forests, mountain torrents and villages that have seen little excitement or change since Roman times.

Past Rhäzüns and its isolated chapel of Sogn Gieri/St. George to the town of Thusis loomed over by threatening mountains and mysterious forests, the road, the Evil Road / Via Mala plunges into a narrow ravine, with sheer rock walls rising over 500 metres from the bed of the foaming Hinterrhein River.”

Above: The Chapel of Sogn Gieri, Rhäzüns

Via Mala, that ancient and notorious section of an abomination of a path along the Hinterrhein River between Zillis and Thusis in Graubünden Canton….

Via Mala, that narrow gorge that blocks the approach to two mountain sorties that defiantly declares that the traveller shall not pass….

Via Mala, so beautifully maleviolent and enchanting that the German director Werner Herzog filmed his 1976 psychological drama Heart of Glass there….

Heart of Glass DVD.jpg

(Heart of Glass is the story of an 18th-century Bavarian town with a glassblowing factory that produces a brilliant red ruby glass.

When the master glass blower dies, the secret to producing the ruby glass is lost.

The local Baron and factory owner is obsessed with the ruby glass and believes it to have magical properties.

With the loss of the secret, he soon descends into madness along with the rest of the townspeople.

The main character is Hias, a seer from the hills, who predicts the destruction of the factory in a fire.

During shooting, almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis.

Every actor in every scene was hypnotized, with the exception of the character Hias and the professional glassblowers who appear in the film.

The hypnotized actors give very strange performances, which Herzog intended to suggest the trance-like state of the townspeople in the story.

Herzog provided the actors with most of their dialogue, memorised during hypnosis.

However, many of the hypnotised actors’ gestures and movements occurred spontaneously during filming.)

As I look into the gorge of the Via Mala, my heart grips tightly in fear….

As we navigate the climbing hairpin curves leading to the Paradise of Italy, my heart grips tightly in fear….

For my wife is driving.

She is mostly a fine driver but give her a challenging, cliff-hanging, narrow road and suddenly she becomes a Grand Prix Formula race car driver, a Maria Andretti or a Michaela Schumacher.

Of all the duties that are split between man and spouse, my wife has assumed the role of driver.

This has never bothered me, for I had never the urge to learn to drive and as a result I believe I am a great passenger.

Perhaps because ignorance is bliss, she could drive down a one-way pedestrian street knocking over a half dozen old ladies in the process and I would not react because I foolishly assume she knows what she is doing.

Now I have read statistics that say when partners are in a car together, the man is four times likely more to drive.

And perhaps I should feel more emasculated when she is driving, but she loves to drive and I make an excellent navigator (despite what the wife says).

But cliff hanging races and breakneck curves make me reassess my masculinity and I once again, especially on this trip, wonder if I will somehow survive my marriage (unlike Baron Gruner`s wife) or make it through the Evil Road of the shadow of Death to Italian Paradise (like Mary Shelley).

Sharing a car ride with my wife is a lot like being an unwilling participant in a hostage situation – you don´t know what´s going to happen and you hope you will survive the experience.

I am reminded once again of Canadian comedian Lorne Elliott´s comments on driving through the mountains:

Bildergebnis

“Not only can you fall down these mountain things, these mountain things can fall down on you!”

The climb up to Splügen reminds me of the lacing of a corset thrusting the hills into prominence.

Corsets?

How fear emasculates!

After 20 years together there are very few off-putting things we don´t know about one another, but I have learned, the hard way, that a little paranoia is a good thing in marriage.

Normally she does not want to kill her husband….

But my wife is driving.

I am not certain whether we will arrive in an Italy that resembles Paradise or in a Paradise that resembles Italy.

I will keep you posted….

Sources: Wikipedia / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes / Nicole Glücklich (Editor), The Adventures of Two British Gentlemen in Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes / Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

 

 

Behind the veil: Islam(ophobia) for dummies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 March 2017

There are moments when the well runs dry, the fire is out, the spirit extinguished.

Moments when I look at this blank screen and ask myself:

What should I write about?

Regular readers of my blog (both of them?!) patiently wait for some blog series to continue and/or conclude – That Which Survives (Brussels/Brontes), The sick man of Europe and the sons of Karbala (Turkish/Kurdish relations), The Underestimated (Switzerland) – but I seek to find opportunities when writing upon these themes seems appropo for the current time and events of the moment.

On a regular basis, I buy daily newspapers and weekly newsmagazines in the hopes that they will generate ideas of themes to discuss, but these media must somehow move me to react strongly to provoke words and thoughts out of me.

This morning I was uninspired.

Completely.

Though President Trump (two words I never thought I’d see together / two words that just seem wrong together) and his first speech to Congress yesterday seemed to be all anyone could talk about – what did he say? what did he not say? what did it all mean? – I honestly could not decide what I could say in this blog that hadn’t already been said by professionals more cleverer than I.

Coat of arms or logo

I had worked hard on my last blog post Bleeding Beautiful, trying to bring to the reader a semblance of connectiveness to the shooting of an Indian IT specialist in Kansas, a sense of place and time to the incident and a sensory sensitivity to help the reader relate his/her own life to the incident.

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; and Ian Grillot, also injured

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotia, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; Ian Grillot, also injured

So my mind felt it had to take a step back and meditate for a time before finding, yet again, the passion and the patience it takes to weave words into worthwhile reading.

Then a visit to Konstanz generated three sources of inspiration: We Are The Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama, a back-ordered copy of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions, and the latest edition of Foreign Affairs.

Then I knew what I wanted to share with you, my gentle readers…

America has become afraid.

Flag of the United States

9/11 was a wake-up call…

Americans could be attacked, not only in fields foreign or upon exotic embassies or military machines, but in US streets, in US fields, fury visited from the skies and visited from within.

Not even the Second World War, with its millions of lives destroyed, had shown Americans attacked on the soil of the continental United States, if one does not include war with neighbours or amongst brothers.

But the images of passenger jets striking the Twin Towers was so shocking, so powerful, that even Presidents on tour could only sit stunned with disbelief, trying to grasp the surrealness of such an unreal situation.

It has been established that credit has been taken by and blame leveled at al Qaeda, who killed 3,000 people on that day –  innocent men, women and children from the US and other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.

Flag of Jihad.svg

Above: Black standard of al Qaeda

al Qaeda chose to murder, claim credit for the bloodshed and state their determination to kill on a massive scale.

Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda, or Boko Borom, or ISIS/ISIL/Daesh to lay down their arms.

Many Muslims protest against and publicly condemn the twisted fantasies of extremists who commit acts of terrorism.

Others say that these types are not true Muslims.

“Those people have nothing to do with Islam.” is the refrain.

And no one seems to see the irony that, of all the non-Western religions, Islam stands closest to the West, both geographically and ideologically.

Despite Christian, Jew and Muslim all descending from the family of Abraham religiously and Greek thought philosophically, Islam remains the most difficult religion for the West to understand.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 March 2017

“No part of the world is more hopelessly and systematically and stubbornly misunderstood by us than that complex of religion, culture and geography known as Islam.”

(Meg Greenfield, Newsweek, 26 March 1979)

Proximity is no guarantee of concord, of harmony.

More homicides occur within families than anywhere else.

Common borders have given rise to border disputes.

Raids lead to counterraids and escalate into vendettas, blood feuds and war.

There have been times and places Christians, Muslims and Jews have all lived together harmoniously, but for a good part of the last fifteen hundred years, Islam and the West have been at war.

People seldom have, and often do not want, a fair picture of their enemies.

It is easier to misunderstand while remaining faithful to our deepest values, but we need to discover through dialogue, observation and thought that there doesn’t have to be conflict between Islam and the rest of the world.

“As a student of history, I know civilisation’s debt to Islam.

It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.

It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra, our magnetic compass and tools of navigation, our mastery of pens and printing, our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.

Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires, timeless poetry and cherished music, elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated, through words and deeds, the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

Islam has always been a part of America’s story.

The first nation to recognise the United States was Morocco.

Flag of Morocco

Above: The flag of Morocco

In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, President John Adams wrote:

Official Presidential portrait of John Adams (by John Trumbull, circa 1792).jpg

Above: John Adams (1735 – 1826)(2nd US President: 1735 – 1826)

“The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

And since America was founded, Muslims have enriched the United States…

partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.”

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

Barack Obama (born 1961)(44th US President: 2009 – 2017)

(Barack Obama, “A New Beginning”, Cairo, Egypt, 4 June 2009)

“Although I loathe what terrorists do, I realise that, according to the minimal entry requirements for Islam, they are Muslims.

Islam demands only that a believer affirm that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.

Violent jihadists certainly believe this.

That is why major religious institutions in the Islamic world have rightly refused to label them as non-Muslims, even while condemning their actions…

…Even if their readings of Islamic Scripture seem warped and out of date, they have gained traction…

…As the extremists’ ideas have spread, the circle of Muslims clinging to other conceptions of Islam has begun to shrink.

And as it has shrunk, it has become quieter and quieter, until only the extremists seem to speak and act in the name of Islam.”

Above: United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash (born 1971, Ambassador since 2009)(on the left) with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (on the right)

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“The very name of Islam means “the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God”.

This makes Islam – together with Buddhism, from budh (awakening) – one of the two religions that is named after the attribute it seeks to cultivate.

In Islam’s case, life’s total surrender to God.

Successfully surrendering one’s life to God requires an understanding of what it is God wants.

Until the 20th century, Islam was called Muhammadism by the West, which to Muslims is not only inaccurate but offensive.

It is inaccurate, Muslims say, because Muhammad didn’t create Islam.

God did.

Muhammad was merely God’s mouthpiece.

The title of Muhammadism is offensive, because it conveys the impression that Islam focuses on a man rather than on God.

To name Christianity after Christ is appropriate, for Christians believe that Christ was/is God.

To call Islam Muhammadism is like calling Christianity St. Paulism.

Islam begins not with Muhammad in 6th century Arabia, but with God.

In the beginning God…

Islam calls God Allah by joining the definite article al (the) with Ilah (God)- literally Allah means the God, not a god, for there is only one.

The blend of admiration, respect and affection that Muslims feel for Muhammad is impressive.

They see him as a man who experienced life in exceptional range – shepherd, merchant, hermit, exile, soldier, lawmaker, prophet, priest, king, mystic, husband, father, widower – but they never mistake Muhammad for the earthly centre of their faith.

That place is reserved for the scripture of Islam, the Koran.

The word al-qur’an in Arabic means the recitation.

As discomfitting as it is for Christians to contemplate, the Koran is perhaps the most recited, the most read, book in the world.

The Koran is the world’s most memorised book and possibly the book that exerts the most influence on those who read it.

Muslims tend to read the Koran literally.

In almost exactly the way Christians consider Jesus to have been the human incarnation of God, Muslims consider the Koran to be the human recitation of God.

If Christ is God incarnate, the Koran is God inlibriate.”

Huston Smith.jpg

Above: Huston Smith (1919 – 2016)

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

In my personal library here in Landschlacht I have a number of books on the topic of religion, including the scriptures of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

I have different versions of the Christian Bible and I also possess books that examine morality from secular and atheistic points of view.

But I am neither a practioner of, nor scholar of, religion.

Rather I seek to understand the power of religion upon so many people on this planet, in a humble quest to seek out a kernel of commonality and truth that might, in time, unite us in ways the conflict of faiths cannot.

The Koran, even in English translation, is not an easy read.

It is not the kind of book one can read in bed on a rainy day.

Nothing but a sense of duty could carry an agnostic Canadian through the Koran.

Flag of Canada

“The European will peruse with impatience its endless incoherant rhapsody of fable and precept and declamation, which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust and is sometimes lost in the clouds.”

Edward Emily Gibbon.jpg

Above: Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

(Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

“The language in which the Koran was proclaimed, Arabic, is the key.

Muhammed asked his people:

“Do you ask for a greater miracle than this, O unbelieving people, than to have your language chosen as the language of that incomparable Book, one piece of which puts all your golden poetry to shame?” “

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“No people in the world are so moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs.

Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such irresistable influence as Arabic.”

(Philip Hitti, The Arabs: A Short History)

“Crowds in Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad can be stirred to the highest emotional pitch by statements that, when translated, seem lifeless and banal.

The rhythm, the melody, the rhyme of Arabic produces a powerful hypnotic effect.

The power of the Koran lies not only in the literal meaning of its words, but in the sound of the language in which it is recited.

Translation cannot convey the emotion, the fervor, the mystery that the Koran holds in its original Arabic.

This is why, in sharp contrast to Christians, who have translated their Bible into every script known to man, Muslims prefer to teach others the language in which they believe Allah spoke finally with incomparable force and directness.

The language of Islam remains a matter of sharp controversy.

Orthodox Muslims feel that the ritual use of the Koran must be in Arabic, but there are many who believe that those who do not know Arabic should read the Koran in translation.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

Language is not the only barrier the Koran presents to outsiders, for its content is unlike other religious texts.

The Koran is not explicitly metaphysical like the Upanishads, not grounded in drama like the Hindu epics, nor historical narrative like Hebrew scriptures.

Unlike the Gospels of the New Testament or within the chapters of the Bhagavid-Gita, God is not revealed in human form within the Koran.

The overwhelming message of the Koran is to proclaim the unity, omnipotence, omniscience and mercy of God and the total dependence of human life upon God.

The Koran is essentially naked doctrine –  doctrine stripped of chronological order, doctrine stripped of epic character or drama, doctrine stripped of commentary and allusion.

In the Koran God speaks in the first person, describing Himself and making known His laws, directly to mankind through the words and the sounds of this holy book.”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“The Qur’an does not document what it is other than itself.

It is not about the truth.

It is the truth.”

(Kenneth Cragg, Readings in the Qur’an)

“Islam does not apologise for itself, try to explain itself or attempt to seduce others into its fold by altering its form.

And for the non-Islamic outsider, it is this nonconformity, this inflexibility, that makes compassion and comprehension of Islam so very difficult.

Certainly it seems that the message of the Koran proclaiming the unity, omnipotence, omniscience and glory of Allah is uncompromising, but outsiders miss and misinterpret that Islam is more than the recognition of the majesty of Allah, Islam is the mercy of Allah manifested as Peace.

The Koran, 4/5 of the length of the New Testament, divided into 114 chapters (surahs), cites Allah’s compassion and mercy 192 times and Allah’s wrath and vengence only 17 times.

Is this Koranic description of Allah as “the Holy, the Peaceful, the Faithful, the Guardian over His servants, the Shelterer of the orphan, the Guide of the erring, the Deliverer from every affliction, the Friend of the bereaved, the Consoler of the afflicted” anything else but loving?

“In His hand is good, and He is the generous Lord, the Gracious, the Hearer, the Near-at-Hand, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Very-forgiving, whose love for man is more tender than that of the mother bird for her young.” “

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

Is this the Allah of jihadists?

“We need to speak out, but it is not enough to declare in public that Islam is not violent or radical or angry, that Islam is a religion of peace.

We need to take responsibility for the Islam of peace.

We need to demonstrate how it is expressed in our lives and the lives of those in our community.”

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“The use of force is one aspect of Islam that is often misunderstood and maligned by non-Muslims.

The Koran does not counsel turning the other cheek or pacifism.

It teaches forgiveness and the return of good for evil when the circumstances warrant it.

Muhammad left many traditions regarding the decent conduct of war.

Agreements are to be honoured and treachery avoided.

The wounded are not to be mutilated, nor the dead disfigured.

Women, children and the old are to be spared, as are orchards, crops and sacred objects.

The important question is the definition of a righteous war.

According to the Koran, a righteous war must either be defensive or to right a wrong.

The agressive and unrelenting hostility of Islam’s enemies forced Muhammad to seize the sword in self-defence, or, together with his entire community and his faith, be wiped from the face of the Earth.

That other religious teachers succumbed under force and became martyrs was to Muhammad no reason that he should do the same.

Having seized the sword in self-defence Muhammad held onto it to the end.

This much Muslims acknowledge.

Above: The Umayyad Empire at its greatest extent

But Muslims insist that while Islam has at times spread by the sword, Islam has mostly spread by persuasion and example.

“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Koran, al-Baqarah 256)

“To everyone have we given a law and a way.

And if God had pleased, he would have made all mankind one people of one religion.

But He has done otherwise, that He might try you in that which He has severally given to you.

Therefore press forward in good works.

Unto God shall you return and He will tell you that concerning which you disagree.” (Koran, al-Ma’ida 48)

“Will you then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?” (Muhammed quoted by Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam)

How well Muslims have lived up to Muhammad’s principles of toleration is a question of history that is far too complex to admit of a simple, objective and definitive answer.

Objective historians are of one mind in their verdict that, to put the matter minimally, Islam’s record on the use of force is no darker than that of Christianity.

Every religion at some stages in its career has been used by its professed adherents to mask aggression.

Islam is no exception.

Muslims deny that Islam’s record of intolerance and agression is greater than that of the other major religions.

Muslims deny that Western histories are fair to Islam in their accounts of its use of force.

Muslims deny that the blots in their record should be charged against their religion whose presiding ideal Muslims affirm in their standard greeting:

As-salamu ‘alaykum. (Peace be upon you)”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 1 March 2017

“Two attacks on Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia last week have resulted in an outpouring of more than $136,000 in donations from thousands of Muslims and others, who have pledged to financially support Jewish institutions if there are further attacks.

636240774489231362-MS-030217-jewish-cemetery-A.jpg

Jewish organisations have reported a sharp increase in harassment.

The Jewish Community Center Association of North America, which represents Jewish community centres, said 21 Jewish institutions, including eight schools, had received bomb threats on Monday alone.

Jewish Community Center logo.png

Two Muslim activists, Linday Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, asked Muslims to donate $20,000 in a crowdfunding effort to repair hundreds of Jewish headstones that were toppled nead St. Louis last week.

That goal was reached in three hours.

El-Messidi said on Monday that the money raised would most likely be enough to repair the graves near St. Louis and in Philadelphia, where about 100 headstones were toppled on Sunday.

Any extra money will be held in a fund to help after attacks on Jewish institutions in the future, which could mean removing a spray-painted swastika or repairing the widespread damage seen in the graveyards.

About 1/3 of the donations have come from non-Muslims, but El-Messidi said it was especially important for Muslims to support Jews as they deal with anti-Semitic attacks.

“I hope our Muslim community, just as we did last week with St. Louis, will continue to stand with our Jewish cousins to fight this type of hatred and bigotry.”, El-Messidi said.

Barbara Perle, 66, of Los Angeles said on Monday that several of her family members were buried in the vandalised Chesel Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis.

In her eyes, an attack on one gravestone in a Jewish cemetery was an attack on them all.

Perle said she had reached out to thank El-Messidi and that she had “come to understand more about our shared humanity.”

"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.

(Daniel Victor, “Muslims pledge aid to Jewish institutions“, New York Times, 1 March 2017)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 March 2017

I am not saying that Muslims should accept blame for what terrorists do.

I am saying that we can take responsibility by demanding a different understanding of Islam.

We can make clear to Muslims and non-Muslims, that another reading of Islam is possible and necessary.

We need to act in ways that make clear how we understand Islam and its operation in our lives.

I believe we owe that to all the innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who have suffered at the hands of our coreligionists in their misguided extremism.

Taking that sort of responsibility is hard, especially when many people outside the Muslim world have become committed Islamophobes, fearing and hating Muslims, sometimes with the encouragement of political leaders.

When you feel unjustly singled out and attacked, it is not easy to look at your beliefs and think them through.”

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“For Muslims, life has basically two obligations.

The first is gratitude for the life that has been received.

The Arabic word “infidel” is closer in meaning towards “one who lacks thankfulness” than one who disbelieves.

The more gratitude one feels, the more natural it feels to let the blessings of life to flow through one’s life and on to others, for hoard these blessings to only ourselves is as unnatural as trying to dam a waterfall.

The second obligation lies within the name of the religion itself.

“Islam” means “surrender”, not in the sense of miltiary defeat, but rather in the context of a wholehearted giving of oneself – to a cause, to friendship, to love.

Islam is, in other words, commitment.

The five pillars of this commitment to the straight path are:

  1. Confession of faith: The affirmation “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet.” said correctly, slowly, thoughtfully, aloud, with full understanding and with heartfelt conviction.

2. Constant prayer:  To give thanks for life’s existence, to keep life in perspective, routinely done five times a day when possible, publicly when possible, kneeling and facing towards Mecca

Masjid al-Haram and the center of Mecca

3. Charity: Those who have much should help lift the burden of those who are less fortunate.

4.  The observance of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month:

Welcome Ramadhan.jpg

From the first moment of dawn to the setting of the sun, neither food nor drink nor smoke passes the Muslim’s lips.

After sundown, these may be consumed in moderation.

Why?

Fasting makes one think.

Fasting teaches self-discipline.

Fasting underscores one’s dependence on God, reminding one of a person’s fraility.

Fasting sensitizes compassion: Those who have fasted for 29 days tend to be more sympathetic to those who are hungry.

5. Pilgrimage: Once during his/her lifetime every Muslim who is physically and economically in a position to do so is expected to journey to Mecca.

The basic purpose of the pilgrimage is to heighten the pilgrim’s devotion to God.

The conditions of the pilgrimage are a reminder of human equality.

Upon reaching Mecca, pilgrims remove their normal attire, which carries marks of social status, and don two simple sheet-like garments.

Distinctions of rank and hierarchy are removed.

Prince and pauper stand before God in their undivided humanity.

A pilgrimage brings together people from various countries, demonstrating that they share a loyalty that transcends nations and ethnic groupings.

Pilgrims pick up information about other lands and peoples and return to their homes with better understanding of one another.”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“You will inevitably come across Muslims who shake their heads at the state of affairs in the Islamic world and mutter:

“If only people were proper Muslims, then none of this would be happening.”

Some Muslims will say this when criticising official corruption in Muslim countries and when pointing out the alleged spread of immorality.

Some Muslims say this when promoting various forms of Islamic rule.

“Islam is the solution.”

It’s a brilliant slogan.

Lots of people believe in it.

The slogan is a shorthand for the argument that all the most glorious achievements in Islamic history – the conquests, the empires, the knowledge production, the wealth – occurred under some system of religious rule.

Therefore, if we want to revive this past glory in the modern era, we must reimpose such a system.

This argument holds that if a little Islam is good, then more Islam must be even better.

And if more Islam is better, then complete Islam must be best.

The most influential proponent of that position today is ISIS, with its unbridled enthusiasm for an all-encompassing religious caliphate.

Black Standard[1]

Above: Black standard of ISIS

It can be difficult to argue against that position without seeming to dispute the nature of Islam’s origins: the Prophet Muhammad was not only a religious leader but a political leader as well.

And this argument rests on the inexorable logic of extreme faith:

If Muslims declare that they are acting in Allah’s name, and if Muslims impose the laws of Islam, and if Muslims ensure the correct mental state of the Muslim population living in a chosen territory, then Allah will intervene to solve all our problems.

The genius of this argument is that any difficulties or failures can be attributed to the people’s lack of faith and piety.

Leaders need not fault themselves or their policies.

Citizens need not question their values or customs.

But piety will take us only so far.

Relying entirely on God to provide for us, to solve our problems, to feed and educate and clothe our children, is to take God for granted.

The only way we can improve the lot of the Muslim world is by doing what people elsewhere have done, and what Muslims in earlier eras did, in order to succeed:

Educate ourselves and work hard and engage with life’s difficult questions rather than retreat into religious obscurantism (intentional obscurity and vagueness).

Today, some Muslims demand that all Muslims accept only ideas that are Muslim in origin – namely, ideas that appear in the Koran, the early dictionaries of the Arabic language, the sayings of the Prophet, and the biographies of the Prophet and his Companions.

Meanwhile, Muslims must reject foreign ideas such as democracy, they maintain.

Confronted with more liberal views, which present discussion, debate and consensus building as ancient Islamic traditions, they contend that democracy is a sin against Allah’s power, against His will and against His sovereignty.

Some extremists are even willing to kill in defense of that position.

But do such people even know what democracy is?

Another “foreign” practice that causes a great deal of concern to Muslims is the mixing of the sexes.

Some Muslim-majority countries mandate the separation of the sexes in schools, universities and the workplace.

Authorities in these countries present such rules as being “truly Islamic” and argue that they solve the problem of illicit relationships outside marriage.

Perhaps that’s true.

But research and study of such issues – which is often forbidden – might show that no such effect exists.

And even if rigorous sex separation has some benefits, what are the costs?

Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte: Schwimmlektionen sind obligatorisch

Above: Aziz Osmanoglu, father of two daughters with Sehabat Kocabas, recently lost a decision in Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights over whether sending his daughters to a mixed gender swimming pool was a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights respecting religious practices.

European Court of Human Rights logo.svg

(The court decided that in the interest of integration that his daughters were required to take swimming lessons in mixed gender groups, but they were permitted to wear burkinis (full body swimsuits).

Above: Islamic modest swimwear, known as a urqini or burkini

Basel Canton, the Islamic family’s residence, will fine parents CHF 1,400 should they not send their children to swimming pools for religious reasons.)

Could it be that rigorous sex separation leads to psychological confusion and turmoil for men and women alike?

Could it lead to an inability to understand members of the opposite sex when one is finally allowed to interact with thwm?

Governments in much of the Muslim world have no satisfactory answers to those questions, because they often don’t bother to ask.

Conservative readings of Islamic texts…the strict traditionalist view…presents women as fundamentally passive creatures whom men must protect from the ravages of the world.

That belief is sometimes self-fulfilling.

In many Muslim communities, men insist that women are unable to face the big, wild world, all the while depriving women of the basic rights and skills they would need in order to do so.

Other traditionalists base their position on women on a different argument:

If women were mobile and independent and working with men who were not family members, then they might develop illicit romantic or even sexual relationships.

Of course, that is a possibility.

But such relationships also develop when a woman lives in a home where she is given little love and self-respect.

The traditionalist position is based, ultimately, on a desire to control women.

But women do not need to be controlled.

They need to be trusted and respected.

Treating women as inferior is not a religious duty.

It is a practice of patriarchal societies.

Within the Islamic tradition, there are many models of how Muslim women can live and be true to their faith.

There is no hard-and-fast rule requiring women to wear the hijab (the traditional veil that covers the head and hair) or a burqa or a niqab which cover far more.

Woman wearing a niqab with baby

Islam calls on women to be modest in appearance, but veiling is actually a pre-Islamic tradition.

The limits placed on women in conservative Muslim societies (mandatory veiling, rules limiting their mobility, restrictions on work and education), have their roots not in Islamic doctrine but rather in men’s fear that they will not be able to control women – and their fear that women, if left uncontrolled, will overtake men by being more disciplined, more focused, more hard-working.

The Prophet spoke about the ummah – the Muslim community – but the concept of the ummah has allowed self-appointed religious authorites to speak in the name of all Muslims without ever asking the rest of Muslims what they think.

The idea of an ummah also makes it easier for extremists to depict Islam – and all of the world’s Muslims – as standing in opposition to the West, or to capitalism or to the cause de jour.

In that conception of the Muslim world, the individual’s voice comes second to the group’s voice.

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 March 2017

People have been trained over the years to put community ahead of individuality.

Dialogue and public debate about what it means to be an individual in the world would allow us to think more clearly about personal responsibility, ethical choices, and the respect and dignity that attaches to people rather than to families, tribes or sects.

Dialogue and public debate might lead us to stop insisting solely on our responsibilities to the group and start considering our responsibilities to ourselves and to others, whom we might come to see not as members of groups but rather as individuals regardless of our backgrounds.

We might begin to more deeply acknowledge the outrageous amount of people killed in the Muslim world in civil wars and in terrorist attacks carried out not by outsiders but by other Muslims.

We might memorialize these people not as a group but as individuals with names and faces and life stories – not to deify the dead but rather to recognize our responsibility to preserve their honour and dignity, and the honour and dignity of those who survive them.

The idea of the individual might help us improve how we discuss politics, economics and security.

If we start looking at ourselves as individuals first and foremost, perhaps we will build better societies.

Take hold of your fate and take hold of your life in the here and now, recognizing that there is no need to return to a glorious past in order to build a glorious future.

Our personal, individual interests might not align with those of the patriarch, the family, the tribe, the community or the state, but the embrace of each person’s individuality will lead to a rebalancing in the world in favour of more compassion, more understanding and more empathy.

If you accept the individual diversity of those inside your own faith, you are more likely to do the same for those of other faiths as well.

We can and should live in harmony with the diversity of humanity that exists outside of our faith, but we will struggle to do so until we truly embrace ourselves as individuals.

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

It is said that we fear what we do not understand.

To conquer fear, we must first try and understand that which we are afraid of.

Only then will peace be unto you.

That which survives 2c: Past Tents and Last Year´s Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 December 2016

Now, Belgians love a good celebration, but a big night in the Belgian boozers often leads to mornings of regret and grim reflection.

Being the chaste daughter of an English curate, nights in a bar were probably not part of Charlotte Bronte´s story, but her unrequited love for a married professor must have lead her to mornings of remorse and silent rage against the fates denying her heart´s desire.

CBRichmond.png

It has been suggested by many a Bronte biographer that during Charlotte´s second sojourn in Brussels that she was unhappy and homesick, but was she also lonely?

Chances are…probably yes.

For who had she to chum around with?

Her sister Emily, who had been with her in Brussels for the first nine months of 1842, had remained at Haworth.

Although we can be fairly certain that Charlotte maintained a regular amount of correspondence with Haworth and English friends, her biographers suggest that she had no peers to confide in, she had no great affection for the girls under her charge at the Héger boarding school, nor did she venture out into Bruxellois society, Charlotte being blessed with neither great beauty nor great wealth.

In 1843 Brussels, Charlotte would probably known of, but never have spoken to, the élite of the Belgian capital.

Leopold I (1790 – 1865), the first King of the Belgians, had been on the throne since 1831, though Belgian independence went unrecognised until 1839.

Leopold I of Belgium (2).jpg

Joachim Lelewel (1786 – 1861), Polish historian, biographer, polyglot and politician, was living in exile in Brussels (1833 – 1861) during the year Charlotte was teaching again in the Héger boarding school, but he earned a scanty livelihood by his writings.

Joachim Lelewel.JPG

There is no record showing that Charlotte and Joachim ever met.

And when not silently pining for Professor Héger or teaching young ladies English, Charlotte would have been distracted by problems back home in Haworth.

Charlotte´s father Patrick Bronte had lost his sight (restored in 1846), while her brother Branwell had fallen into a rapid decline of drama, drunkenness and opiate delirium.

Patrickbronte.jpg

One hundred and fifty three years later…

Of course many historic events had happened between Charlotte´s time in Brussels (January 1843 – January 1844) and my own time there (5 – 12 November 1996).

Many people had lived and died, come and gone in Brussels:

The aforementioned Leopold I and Joachim Lelewel were long dead, as were the entire Bronte family and the operators of the Héger boarding school.

Brussels has seen the likes of:

  • French politician/philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865), the world´s first self-declared anarchist, in exile here (1858 – 1862).
  • Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (aka Multatuli – Latin: I have suffered much.) completed his masterpiece Max Havelaar here in 1859.
  • French writer Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) completed Les Miserables here in 1851.
  • French poets Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896) and Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)
  • French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917)
  • French poets Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) and Louis Blanc (1811 – 1882)
  • French General Georges Boulanger (1837 – 1891) and Argentinian General / 1st Peruvian President José de San Martin (1824 – 1830)
  • French writer Alexandre Dumas Sr. (1802 -1870)
  • German philosophers Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) wrote The Communist Manifesto here.
  • Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
  • George Washington (1871 – 1946), the inventor and first commercial producer of instant coffee, grew up in Brussels.
  • Nobel Prize winners Jules Bordet (1870 – 1961)(Medicine, 1919), Ilye Prigogine (1917 – 2003)(Chemistry, 1977), Francois Englert (Physics, 2013) and Henri La Fontaine (1854 – 1943)(Peace, 1913)
  • Painters Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525 – 1569) and René Magritte (1898 – 1967)
  • Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536)
  • Graphic designer M.C. Escher (1898 – 1972)
  • Architects Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) and Jan van Ruysbroeck (aka Jan van der Berghe) would transform the Brussels urban landscape.
  • Novelist Emma Orczy (1865 – 1947) grew up here.
  • Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha (1908 – 1985) worked as a secretary at the Albanian consulate (1934 – 1936).
  • Rockers Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen), Plastic Bertrand, Brain Molko (Placebo) and Vini Reilly (The Duratti Column / Morrissey)
  • Régine Zylberberg, pioneer of the modern nightclub
  • Writer Hendrik Conscience (1812 – 1883)
  • Mathematician Jacques Tits (born 1930)
  • Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564), author of the first complete textbook on human anatomy, On the Workings of the Human Body
  • Actors Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 1960)(“the muscles from Brussels”)
  • Chansonnier Jacques Brel (1933 – 1978)
  • Just to name a few…these would “pitch their tents” within Brussels.

1993 was a dramatic year in respect to the Belgian monarchy:

The 5th King of the Belgians, Baudouin, died on 31 July.

Anefo 911-3016 Tweede dag (cropped).jpg

Within hours the Royal Palace gates and enclosure were covered with flowers that people brought spontaneously.

Baudouin had become King of the Belgians when his father Leopold III, surrounded by controversy, abdicated the throne in favour of his son.

Leopold III van België (1934).jpg

(Leopold III was unpopular because he married an English-born Belgian commoner after Baudoin´s mother had been killed in a car crash, and because he had surrendered Belgium to the Nazis when they invaded in 1940.

Many Belgians questioned Leopold´s loyalties and though he was exonerated of treason after WW2 it was felt by many that he no longer deserved the throne.)

The King and Queen had no children.

During Baudouin´s reign the Belgian Congo became independent.

At the last ceremonial inspection of the Force Publique, the royal sabre of the King was stolen during the parade.

The famous picture travelled the world newspapers.

The next day the King attended the official reception.

His speech received a blistering public response from the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

Anefo 910-9740 De Congolese2.jpg

This duality of humiliation of the King became the symbol of the independence of the Congo.

In 1990 Baudouin refused to sign into law a bill permitting abortion.

Due to his religious convictions…

(As well, all of the Queen´s five pregnancies had ended in premature miscarriages.)

…Baudouin asked the Belgian government to declare him temporarily unable to reign so that he could avoid signing the measure.

The Belgian government compiled with his request, because, according to the provisions of the Belgian constitution, in the event that the King is temporarily unable to reign, the government fulfills the role of the Head of State.

All members of the government signed the bill on 4 April 1990.

The next day the government declared that Badouin was capable of reigning again.

His successor Albert II assumed the throne on 9 August and would abdicate the throne in favour of his son Philippe in 2013.

Albert II of Belgium.jpg

Brussels, Belgium, 7 November 1996

“Zoé”, a former girlfriend (of the year previous) with whom I “pitched my tent” during my Brussels stay, had been one of the 500,000 people who came to pay their respects and to view Baudouin´s body lying in state at the Royal Palace, waiting in line for hours in sweltering heat to see their King one last time.

Bruxels April 2012-4.jpg

When I visited Brussels in November 1996, Belgium still felt like a country still in deep mourning.

The souvenir shops were still selling postcards of Baudoin as well as postcards of Albert II.

(Ironically I would see another spontaneous bringing of flowers in memorium when the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was announced while I was back in Brussels the following year.)

Zoé, like Charlotte Bronte, also lacked spectacular wealth and beauty.

So they also shared a loneliness they were both desperate to alleviate.

Your humble blogger too lacked great wealth or looks…

(That hasn´t changed!)

…but I had been accustomed to a life of solitude since I had begun travelling five years previously (hitching around North America, walking in Canada), so as much as I too had my moments of isolated loneliness this isolation no longer frightened me.

Image may contain: 1 person

Zoé was terrified of isolation.

Escaping from Zoé´s side was more difficult than accomplishing any one of the Twelve Labours of Heracles!

Zoé had to have noise always about her and listened to the radio or watched TV constantly.

At the time of her life I visited her, Zoé was very découragé with everything: her apartment, her job prospects, her family…

During our year apart I had changed.

I was no longer the last year´s man she had known.

Thursday 7 November was a dark and dismal rainy day in Brussels so we spent most of the day in her apartment.

The apartment, belonging to her father, was by no means a cure for the blues…

It was dirty, dingy, infested by slugs(!), peeling paint, clutter and unidentifiable powerfully unpleasant odours.

Zoé would have liked to live elsewhere but without employment she was dependent upon her father´s assistance.

I did not wish to add to her financial burdens once my savings ran out and finding employment as a teacher didn´t pan out.

I met her father that day and was shocked to see the contrast between them.

“Francois”, 65, was tall (by Belgian standards), stylish, debonair, cultured, and, though I never discovered what his source of income was, able to maintain two mistresses.

Zoé´s mother was never a topic of discussion.

I felt I was in a world alien to my experience.

What kind of morality or conscience guided Francois?

What kind of woman was attracted to someone like Francois?

Had he no compassion for these women, or was that limited to the chase rather than the capture?

Were these women as desperate and hungry for affection as Zoé was?

Could Francois´ womanizing have something to do with the woman Zoé was?

I was no psychologist nor an expert in women.

Zoé had heard of open invitations to become spectators for RTL TVI Station 15´s talk show “Balle Centrale”(?) that evening.

(Perhaps today´s “De quoi je me mêle”?)

The station originated in Luxembourg but is now based in Belgium.

Zoé drove us through the driving rain to the studios to watch journalists, sports figures, singers, actresses and comedians strut their stuff.

My rusty French and the programme´s Belgian accent and vocabulary left me feeling somewhat diminished, while a comedian enraged me with his comments that there was no difference between Canada and the US!!

Zoé had already introduced me to Belgian comedy:

I particularly enjoyed Les Snuls (1989 -1983).

Their humour was mostly inspired by self-mockery and nonsense, much like the British comedy troupe Monty Python or Canada´s Royal Canadian Air Farce, and hijacking national symbols of Belgium (moules-frites, Manneken Pis, Tintin, beer, chocolate, sprouts…).

This quintet of comedy amused me, but also made me consider the similarities between Canada and Belgium.

In the 15 August 1912 Revue de Belgique, Walloon socialist politician Jules Destrée wrote his famous and notorious “Letter to the King on the separation of Wallonia and Flanders”:

“In Belgium there are Walloons and Flemings.  There are no Belgians.”

There remain moments where I have wondered:

In Canada there are Anglophones and Francophones, English Canada and Québec.

Are there Canadians?

Flag of Canada

Perhaps had I not grown up Anglo in Québec I might be like 90% of Canadians who are strictly unilingual.

Flag of Quebec

Above: Flag of Québec

Perhaps I might feel either Anglo or Franco.

In the merging of two into one, can the separate identity of both be maintained?

Should it be?

And then I thought of my time with Zoé since we had been reunited.

So desperate to get me into her world and hold me within…

I had not come to Europe to lose my identity, but rather to discover it by comparison.

In thinking of my identity, both personal and national, I thought much on the music of Montréal Anglo Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen, 1988 01.jpg

Above: Leonard Cohen, 1988

As Zoé slumbered beside me, sleep denied its comfort and I listened to the whispering rain fall outside the window.

And in the jukebox of my mind, from his lonely wooden Tower of Song, Leonard quietly and mournfully reminded me that…

“The rain falls down on the works of last year´s man…”

Above: The flag of Belgium

 

Once upon a time, once upon an Alp

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 June 2016

“Once upon a time, high upon a Swiss Alp…

It is a placid existence, this Alpine life.

There are no neuroses, no anxiety, just flowers and sunshine.

Most people know that there are a lot of mountains in Switzerland.

In point of fact, there is at least one peak for each inhabitant of the country, with as many shapes and sizes as can be imagined.

This means that everyone can have his private mountain, just as people in other countries have their private islands.

Mountains are, of course, larger than people, so that they are able to accommodate more than one person at a time.

Consequently, one can choose almost any mountain – anywhere in the country – and proceed to sit on it, look at it, climb it or get inspired by it.

Since it is difficult to move mountains in the literal sense, they also offer a high degree of security to the harried city-dweller caught up in the complexities of modern living.

Because each mountain has its own distinct appearance – its own Alpine personality – it has been given its own special name – a name frequently inspired by the shape of the peak or by the emotions it produces….

I have never met anyone in all my years in Switzerland who wasn´t an expert on the country…

Everybody is an expert here…

That´s one of the risks of living in Switzerland.

Everybody expects us to know everything about the country – its history, its weather, its culture and philosophical thought, its train schedules, plane schedules, its voltage, boats and ski lifts.

We must know its museums and cinemas and restaurants….

We are constantly boning up on facts and figures about Switzerland in anticipation of an avalanche of tourists who will drop in on us both regularly and unexpectedly.” (Eugene Epstein, Once Upon An Alp)

“Switzerland is simply a large, humpy, solid rock with a thin skin of grass stretched over it…

…I was groping, without knowing it, toward an understanding of what the spell is which people find in the Alps…

…In no other mountains can that strange, deep, nameless influence, which once felt cannot be forgotten, once felt leaves behind it a restless longing to feel it again, a longing which is like homesickness – a grieving, haunting yearning that pleads, implores and persecutes till it has had its will.

…People, imaginative and unimaginative, cultivated and uncultivated, come from faraway countries and roam through the Swiss Alps year after year and can not explain why they do so.” (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad)

Ebenalp, Appenzellerland, Swizerland, 2 April 2016

We lowlanders, we the civilized and urbane, never seem to learn.

Nature has its own calendar, especially in regards to altitude.

We thought we knew what we were doing.

Spring had sprung.

Birds filled the sky by the Lake of Constance.

Green grass grew and flowers blossomed.

Surely what is down in the valley must be up in the mountains.

We are prepared, all geared up.

We drive our car along the Lake of Constance to the outskirts of the village of Buch where one must leave lakeside highway 13 to connect to the Autobahn leading towards Zürich and Chur.

The wife now remembers her hiking boots are still sitting in the living room of our apartment.

We drive all the way back.

An hour has been lost, but NOW we are prepared, but NOW we are all geared up.

We arrive early afternoon, park in the car in a gravel parking lot, change from casual urban to casual wanderers.

The Ebenalp, at 1,640 metres / 5, 390 feet, is the northernmost summit of the Appenzell Alps.

It is a popular hiking destination and has been accessible by cable car from the town of Wasseraun since 1955.

Ebenalp attracts up to 200,000 visitors each year.

From the high plateau (Eben) of the cable car station visitors have a panoramic view of the rolling hills of Appenzell.

Impressive trails start at the station and lead to a network of mountain huts, the holy mountain of Säntis, the mountain hut Aescher, the little wilderness chapel of Wildkirchli and the quiet remarkable Seealpsee Lake.

We disembark from the Wasseraun-Ebenalp cable car to find ourselves at the Berggasthaus where we enjoy a hot Appenzell lunch and buy some souvenirs.

NOW we are ready, NOW we are fully geared up.

Nothing´s going to stop us now, for how hard can it be?

Prehistoric man managed, for the Wildkirchli caves contain traces of Neanderthal habitation, at an altitude of 4, 770 feet, just below Ebenalp.

In the distance, Säntis tantalises us with the optical illusion of being simultaneously close yet far, beckoning us with its Swisscom radio and television tower.

We can almost touch it, yet would need crampons and a two hour upward trek to do so.

We walk nearly half an hour and remark how it is colder than we thought it would be.

And snow…

Where did all this snow come from?

It´s spring in the valley.

Why is there snow up here?

We reach an impasse.

Walking further means being up to our waists in snow and neither of us has gear appropriate for walking in snow.

We return to the Berggasthaus, feeling frustrated and grumpy.

But the wife will not be discouraged for she remembers seeing ski poles and snowshoes leaning against the lodge.

We attach the snowshoes to our hiking boots and grasp ski poles in our hands.

Signs suggest a short panoramic winter walk around the lodge.

A SHORT panoramic walk…

Now snowshoeing is an ancient sport that has been practiced by Canadian, Alaskan, Scandanavian and Russian Inuit peoples for centuries, so I, a prime example of modern man well-connected to information on how to do anything, should have no difficulty with this.

You strap odd looking things to your boots and simply walk, right?

And walking is one of those activities I have been doing for nearly half a century.

I have walked thousands of kilometres in my home and native land of Canada and as well in parts of Asia and Europe in all sorts of weather and all sorts of terrain.

So how hard can snowshoeing possible be?

I am at an age where I have done it all, seen it all, knew it all, but just can´t remember it all.

I had forgotten the only other time I had tried snowshoeing…

About 20 years ago, in the early years of my courtship with my wife (She Who Must Be Obeyed), I took her for a weekend getaway to Gatineau Park, in the lower Laurentian mountains, across the border from Canada´s capital of Ottawa (where I lived the lonesome life of a single man), on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, to a youth hostel where they offered snowshoes for their guests to try out during their stay.

Now I had done everything right that weekend…

Candlelit evenings at home, eating out in fancy restaurants, serenading her to sleep on the bus ride north…

But I had never made her laugh so hard that she wanted to pee herself…

Now I stand impressively graceful at a height of 194 cm / 6 foot 5.

So at first glance one might expect my movements to be strong manly strides as giants would demonstrate, akin to Gulliver in Lilliput, Goliath of Gath, Paul Bunyan of Minnesota, the CBC´s Friendly Giant, or even the Jolly Green Giant.

A stride of pride and purpose, of might and muscle, of competence and confidence…

But when it comes to sports, where my cousin (the Olympian) is fit, I am fat.

I wheeze like an overweight bear, walk ungainly like a constipated moose, and on snow and ice I am as uncoordinated as an elephant.

(How Carthaginian General Hannibal managed to cross the Alps with elephants still remains a miracle of history in my mind.)

Before Ebenalp I had blocked out the memory of my first experiment with snowshoeing in Gatineau Park – the falling down, the struggle up and down the tiniest of hills, wet feet and dampened spirits, and She laughing her ass off at my valiant hopeless attempts to impress her.

With snowshoes attached She and I begin to follow the signposts of the Ebenalp panoramic Rundweg (circle trail).

Mountain goats would have been impressed and Arctic seals would have clapped to see She striding impatiently, unhesitatingly onwards.

But as I begin to walk, all nature holds its breath.

Squirrels stop their foraging and birds halt midflight, for they know on the side of this Alp stands (and falls)… a Lowlander.

I glance upwards to the mountain restaurant balcony and see the local yokels watching us struggle below them, the glint of the sun upon their binoculars unsteadily shaking with laughter.

Lowlander.

This is better entertainment than cable TV, more amusing than Bambi on ice.

This is Survivor, the Alpine version, aka Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

I try to ascend and my shoes want to slide down the mountain like skis on a suicide mission.

I try to descend and stumble face forward into the snow, creating an impression in the snow similar to a plummeted parachutist whose chute failed to open from thousands of feet above.

I try to walk upon flatland, glorious non-threatening flatland similiar to Saskatchewan prairie, and I sink up to my waist in snow.

I thought the whole idea of snowshoes was to keep me atop of the snow, but my snowshoes are perversely against me.

Walk west?

My snowshoes respond.

Westwards, no.

Walk up and suddenly I am Po the Kung Fu panda, and I don´t do “Up”.

Walk down and fall down to avoid freefalling off the mountain.

And the prairie plateau promenade then finds me buried to my waist with head below and outstretched legs above craning out of the snow.

My wife captures all the glory and spectacle of my pilgrim´s progress through this snowy Slough of Despond with her mobile phone´s camera.

It takes many an argument to dissuade her from making me a viral video phenomenon on Twitter or Facebook.

I am soaked in sweat and snow has managed to find its way everywhere – down my shoes, into my socks, down the back of my shirt, down into my trousers into regions where snow was never meant to go.

I curse the Inuit and their foul invention of evil, the snowshoe, as soaken and shamed, seemingly centuries later, I ride the cable car with She back down the mountain.

My only consolation is the idea that today a legend was born here in Switzerland amongst tales of William Tell, Heidi and Roger Federer – the tale of the clumsy Canadian that began…

Once upon a time, once upon an Alp.

Rotsteinpass, Foto Roland Gerth

 

 

 

 

Walking with the President

“Dear Mr. President

Come take a walk with me.

Let´s pretend we´re just two people and

You´re no better than me.”

(Pink, “Dear Mr. President”)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2016

What if the unthinkable actually happened?

What if Donald “Duck!” Trump became the President of the United States?

Donald Duck.svg

New York City, New York, USA, 1 April 2017

Yo, Donald! Mr. Prez.

Nicky here.

You know one of the Americans you claim to represent?

Walk with me.

Don, I gotta give you credit where credit´s due.

No one, and I mean no one, just a couple of years ago would have imagined you would pull it off.

But between the choice of two evils – a woman no one trusted and a man no one liked – plus the largest lack of voter turnout in US history, Americans have chosen you to be the 45th President of the United States of America.

(Bernie gave a good fight right down to the wire, but at day´s end he struck Americans as too radical, despite some of his ideas ones America hungered for.)

(The Dems claim they would not have been defeated if you somehow hadn´t cheated, but whomever gets the most votes gets elected.

Isn´t that democracy in a nutshell?)

In your Inaugural Speech back in January, you said you would listen to Americans, that their ideas would help you to make America great again.

So, yo, Mr President, listen up!

In a few succinct words, Donald, you ain´t doin´what needs to be done.

Granted you put on one hell of a show.

Gold leaf in the Oval Office paid out of your own pocket?

Bling, baby, bling!

But as to the rest of it, you got folks mighty worried.

The new bill forcing protestors to obtain written permission from the police before they can protest?

You represent the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

What about freedom of assembly, freedom of expression?

Denied peaceful assembly, peaceful expression, people who you worried about being violent now feel that they´ve no other choice but be violent.

The Great Border Wall between us and the Mexicans?

Bad idea, bro.

No surprise that Mexico won´t pay despite your threats.

And this Wall comes out of American taxpayers´ wallets.

Not to mention the untold millions already being paid to increase the manpower needed to find and deport illegal immigrants already here.

And the media – they really don´t like you much, do they? – showing pictures of INS teams dragging parents away from their children to send them back to their birthplaces is doing nothing to improve your rep.

And the racial profiling that is happening at the borders and airports is not helping your image either.

And exactly what does a believer in Islam actually look like?

Islamic Center in Washington DC

Your daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married, but at first glance does she look Jewish?

For that matter, do Americans look Christian?

As to your dealings with other countries…

On some respects, it seems business as usual – we are still chummy with the Saudis and non-critical of Israel and China regardless of what they do.

As much as you are trying to show a strong image by sending our troops to the Middle East to tackle ISIS head on, I honestly don´t believe we can be very effective without allies to help us.

AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

Russia respects us as long as we live and let live and let them keep doing what they like in their Eurasian playground as long as they let us do as we will in our North and South American playground.

But I don´t think the Germans, French and much of the European Union like America very much, despite your reassurements of providing more troops to the NATO effort.

Hell, even Canada ain´t too wild about us for that matter!

And even though the British PM was glad to meet you, being snubbed by the Queen and denied a visit…

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

That had a nasty sting to both America´s and your pride.

From what I can see here from Queens we don´t seem to have many friends these days.

And having few friends can´t be good for the economy.

And money already is being spent like there is no tomorrow.

USDnotes.png

More police, more prisons, more militia, require more money.

And where will this money come from, Mr President?

Show me the money, Donald.

Show me the money.

One of my ancestors once wrote that it was better to be feared than loved.

I can´t say that people fear you, but they sure as hell don´t like you very much.

(Though those celebs that said they would move if you got elected –  they never left.)

It´s true that most of us were long ago fed up with the lack of progress that government seems to represent, but you can´t keep using executive power to ramrod every legislation you want passed.

Washington might be corrupt and often ineffectual, but it still represents the will of the American people.

US Capitol west side.JPG

Respect is a two-way street, Mr. President.

Now there are members of your party, Mr President, that suggest that America must effectively crush its opponents so as to earn great respect from everyone else, but if we destroy our reputation, which, to be blunt, is not so great as it is, who will trust us enough to want to do business with us?

And, sure, attacking those who oppose America will solve many problems right now, but what about the problems of the future?

My ancestor would have approved of how you never appear intimidated regardless of the situation, of how you are reluctant to have others make decisions you prefer to do yourself, and of how you make sure that Americans seek you out especially in times of need.

But my ancestor would remind you that the two most essential foundations for any state are sound laws and a strong military.

Laws cannot be passed without Congressional approval unless you plan to use executive power for everything.

America has a strong military but it is increasingly being spread too thin.

Walk with me, Mr. Prez.

Check out all the homeless here on most US cities or visit the poorer states.

Your party keeps telling everyone that our poverty is somehow our fault.

No, Don, it ain´t.

Being poor ain´t a choice or some kind of preferred lifestyle.

Being broke is a circumstance that can only be resolved if people are given opportunities to rise above their present station in their lives.

Poor folks are no different than you, Donald – they want to take pride in the things they do, but they need the opportunity.

But those who can´t afford an education find few opportunities and working two fulltime jobs like many Americans do and still remain in debt is not what one could call an inspirational American dream.

More folks are incarcerated in this country than many other countries combined.

I am no economic expert, but putting a man behind bars costs money.

If a man´s crime is not violent, wouldn´t time best be served and money better spent if that man were fined and made to contribute part of his salary instead?

A working man contributes more to the economy than an incarcerated man.

Never forget, Donald, that you were hired to make American lives better.

Give a man an opportunity to improve his life and the lives of his family and he will make America great again.

You want respect, Mr. President?

Then restore the dignity of your people by giving everyone the same opportunities.

Create jobs with salaries sufficient that people can afford to go shopping for the products our country produces.

Make health care accessible to everyone and not just for the wealthy.

An ill man cannot contribute to the economy.

A man in debt paying for hospital bills well beyond his wages cannot help the economy.

A man in debt is a desperate man and desperation leads to desperate acts.

You want to help this country then get out of your limo and your Trump hotels and walk among us in the style of King Arthur.

As the original peoples say, don´t judge a man until you have walked in his mocassins.

One of the hopeful,

Nick Machiavelli

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 31 May 2016

Wow, what a weird and vivid dream that was.

I really shouldn´t eat pizza before bedtime.