Canada Slim and the Elastic Novice

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 17 September 2019

Damn that man!

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

 

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens, New York, 1867

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Above: Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs

 

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

 

Above: Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, Portsmouth

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Above: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

 

(For previous posts on London, please see….

Canada Slim….

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

 

 

London, England, 26 October 2017

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

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

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

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

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

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

 

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

Above: Old Portsmouth

 

In 1817 John was posted to the dockyard in Chatham.

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

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

 

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

It was in Chatham that Charles began his education.

 

Above: Chatham Dockyard

 

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

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

 

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

This was the beginning of a lifelong passion.

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

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

 

Allow me to introduce myself—first negatively.

No landlord is my friend and brother.

No chambermaid loves me.

No waiter worships me.

No boots admires and envies me. 

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

No pigeon pie is especially made for me.

No hotel advertisement is personally addressed to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are my chief credentials as the Uncommercial Traveller.

 

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

He does not spare the company:

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

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

 

Above: High Street, Rochester

 

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

Prosperity could unravel very quickly.

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

 

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Above: John Dickens (1785 – 1851)

 

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

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

He was paid six shillings a week.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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This episode affected Charles profoundly.

He thought his parents had given up on him.

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

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

No one made any sign.

My father and mother were quite satisfied.

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

 

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Above: Cambridge University coat-of-arms

 

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

 

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Above: Marshalsea Prison Gate

 

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

 

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Above: Elizabeth Dickens (1789 – 1863)

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Dickens got to school eventually.

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

He did not consider it to be a good school:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Above: Gray’s Inn Square, London

 

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

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

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

 

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Above: Charles Matthews (1776 – 1835)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Above: Doctors’ Commons in the early 19th century

 

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

 

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Charles had family in journalism.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Above: Maria Beadnell (1810 – 1886)

 

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

 

Above: David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow

 

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

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

 

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Above: Miriam Margoyles as Maria Beadnell Winter

 

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

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

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

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

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

His commitments at this time were extremely heavy.

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

 

Above: Catherine Hogarth Dickens (1816 – 1879)

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

It was called “A Dinner at Poplar Walk“.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Pickwickclub serial.jpg

 

More pieces for the Monthly Magazine followed.

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

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

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

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

 

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Above: Augustus Dickens (1827 – 1866)

 

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

As “Boz“, Dickens began to collect readers.

He was given further opportunities to please them.

 

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

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

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

 

Above: London, 1886

 

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

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

 

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Above: William Harrison Ainsworth (1805 – 1882)

 

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

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

 

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

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

The plan went like this:

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

These illustrations would be published as a monthly serial.

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

Fourteen pounds a month might be possible.

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

He liked the money.

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

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

But that is exactly what it did.

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Above: 48 Doughty Street, London

 

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

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

Dickens became very attached to Mary.

She inspired characters in many of his books.

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

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

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

Other characters believed to have been inspired by Mary include:

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

 

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Above: Mary Hogarth (1819 – 1837)

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Above: The British Museum, London

 

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

 

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

Above: Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

 

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

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

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

 

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Above: Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)

 

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

 

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

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

Catherine gave birth to two children in the bedroom here.

 

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

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

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

Catherine came to see what was wrong.

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

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

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

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

This was about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

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

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

And there it stayed for the rest of his life.

 

Above: Mary’s bedroom, Charles Dickens Museum

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Above: Study, Charles Dickens Museum

 

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

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

 

Above: Charles Dickens

 

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

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

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

 

Above: Dickens’ Dream, Robert William Buss

 

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

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

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

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

 

Above: Gad’s Hill Place, Rochester

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

On London’s Dickens Trail, there is:

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

 

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

In 1849, the Morning Chronicle described it thus:

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

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

 

Above: China Wharf, London

 

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

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

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

His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

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

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1842

 

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

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

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

Cliffhanger endings in his serial publications kept readers in suspense.

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

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

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

 

Above: Charles Dickens, 1850

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Above: Dickens’ chair, Charles Dickens Museum

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Canadian Provinces and Territories

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

He did not feel at home at home.

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

 

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Dickens had written more than two decades earlier:

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

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

 

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

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

Like Pip’s journey through the night, it was a distance of some 30 miles.

 

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Catherine and Charles had been….prolific – ten children – “the largest family ever known with the smallest disposition to do anything for themselves” as Dickens later described them – and 15 novels, each published in monthly (or weekly) installments, which were awaited with baited breath by the public.

Then in 1857, at the peak of his career, Dickens fell in love with the actress, Ellen Ternan.

Charles was 45, Ellen just 18.

 

Above: Ellen Ternan (1839 – 1914)

 

On the evening of his nightwalk, Catherine and Charles quarrelled.

They were becoming inrcreasingly estranged, partly because of his relationship with Ellen.

For this reason, Charles visited Tavistock House, their home at this time, only rarely.

 

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Above: Tavistock House, London

 

Charles spent most of the autumn of 1857 at Gad’s Hill Place.

When he needed to be in central London, he tended to stay in a bachelor flat at the offices of his periodical, Household Words.

It was shortly after Charles insisted on partitioning the bedroom he shared with Catherine so that they could sleep separately.

 

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The nighttime journey on foot to Gad’s Hill Place, driven by an acute sense of anguish and guilt, took Dickens little more than seven hours.

(According to present day Google Maps, the same journey normally takes 9.5 hours.)

 

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Above: Google Maps logo

 

Dickens was a fast walker, who took pride in the fact that he could sustain a pace of at least four miles an hour across long distances.

(In my walking days my average pace was 3 mph and on a descent 5 mph.)

 

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Above: Canada Slim, The Dutton Advance, 6 March 1991

 

His friends frequently complained of the speed and impatience with which he walked.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

Edward Johnson, one of his biographers, wrote:

Sometimes his perspiring companions gave way to blisters and breathlessness.

 

Charles himself was boastful of his feats as a pedestrian.

He professed in 1860:

So much of my travelling is done on foot that if I cherished betting propensities, I should probably be found registered in sporting newspapers as the Elastic Novice, challenging all 11-stone mankind to competition in walking.

 

No doubt he secretly harboured dreams of bettering Captain Barclay, a celebrated athlete who, in 1809, when pedestrianism first became a sporting activity, walked a thousand miles in a thousand hours for a thousand guineas.

 

Above: Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce (1779 – 1854), the celebrated pedestrian

 

In the late 1850s, Dickens remained a fit man precisely because he insisted on walking, both in London and in the countryside, whenever he could find the opportunity.

Even so, he was increasingly afflicted with ill health at this time.

His symptoms included neuralgic and rheumatic pains.

His feet also troubled him.

 

According to biographer Claire Tomalin:

First his left foot, and then his right, took to swelling intermittedly, becoming so painful that during each attack he became unable to take himself on the great walks that were essential part and pleasure of his life.

 

Dickens had gout, though he was reluctant to accept the idea, claiming instead that he contracted the pain because he had incautiously walked in snowy conditions.

This did not deter him from walking in all conditions, clement or inclement.

 

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G.K. Chesterton, identifiying a “streak of sickness” in Dickens, which he detected in the novelist’s “fervid” intelligence, nonetheless confirmed that “he suffered from no formidable malady and could always through life endure a great deal of exertion, even if it was only the exertion of walking violently all night.

 

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Above: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

 

For John Hollingshead, who had been apprenticed to Dickens on Household Words, and who therefore saw a good deal of him in the 1850s, this proclivity for “violent walking” was itself a malady.

Hollingshead recalled in retrospect that “when Dickens lived in Tavistock House he developed a mania for walking long distances, which almost assumed the form of a disease.”

When he was restless, his brain excited by struggling with incidents or characters in the novel he was writing, he would frequently get up and walk through the night over Waterloo Bridge, along the London, New Kent and Old Kent Roads, past all the towns on the old Dover High Road, until he came to his roadside dwelling (Gad’s Hill Place).

His dogs barked when they heard his key in the wicket-gate. 

His behaviour must have seemed madness to the ghost of Sir John Falstaff.

(Gad’s Hill Place stood opposite the Falstaff Inn, formerly a notorious haunt of robbers and highwaymen.)

 

Above: John Hollingshead (1827 – 1904)

 

It is likely, then, that Dickens conducted his 30-mile nightwalk to Kent on more than one occasion.

But Dickens’ celebrated feat on that night in October 1857 was less about overcoming physical afflictions than capitulating to his psychological ones.

This was a flight both from his everyday life and from his self.

 

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From an early age Charles had been running away from something, or walking “fast and far” from something.

Going astray“, he called it.

In an article entitled “Going Astray“, printed in Household Words in 1853, Dickens described how he had “got lost one day in the City of London” as an 8-year-old child and roamed and strayed and strolled through London’s precincts all day and into the night, until he found a watchman.

I have gone astray since, many times, and farther afield.“, Dickens concludes with a certain sad pride.

 

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Chesterton argued that Dicken’s originality and genius resided in the fact that he possessed, “in the most sacred and serious sense of the term, the key of the street.

Few of us understand the street.

Even we step into it, as into a house or a room of strangers.

Few of us see through the shining riddle of the street, the strange folk that belong to the street only – the street-walker or the street Arab, the nomads, who generation after generation, have kept their ancient secrets in the full blaze of the sun.

Of the street at night many of us know even less.

The street at night is a great house locked up.

But Dickens had, if ever man had, the key of the street.

His stars were the lamps of the street.

His hero was the man in the street.

He could open the inmost door of his house – the door that leads into that secret passage which is lined with houses and roofed with stars.”

 

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Night Walks, first published in All the Year Round in 1860 and then reprinted in The Uncommercial Traveller in 1861, was Dickens’ finest, most haunting piece of non-fictional prose.

At once impressionistic and replete with intensely related detail, it relates his experiences on the streets of the capital between half past midnight (0030) and the moment when “the conscious gas begins to grow pale with the knowledge that daylight is coming.”

A sense of solitude echoes through his sentences, empty and hollow as the midnight streets through which he walks.

 

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When a church clock strikes, on homeless ears in the dead of the night, it may be at first be mistaken for company, but as the spreading circles of vibration echo out into eternal space, the mistake is rectified and the sense of loneliness is profounder.

Dickens confesses to have discovered a lonely sense of community in the cold depths of the London night, among men defined by “a tendency to lurk and lounge, to be at street corners without intelligible reason“.

My principal object being to get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every night of the year.

 

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These are the everyday casualities of life in the capitalist metropolis – the victims of unemployment, addiction and other symptoms of social and spiritual alienation.

The homeless must conquer time and defend themselves against its blank emptiness, from minute to minute, moment by moment, the shame, desertion, wretchedness and exposure of the great capital, the wet, the cold, the slow hours and the swift clouds of the dismal night.

For the police, the proof of a home, a legal nocturnal place to stay, is the precondition for the recognition of existence.

So the situation of homelessness, roaming the night without aim, without rest, represents exclusion from society.

It is a form of non-existence, non-being, the outer limits of society’s psychological and sociological borderland, the hinterland of humanity, the dark hollow interior of human nature.

 

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London is a city where 55% of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40% were born abroad, and 5% are living illegally in the shadows.

Every week 2,000 migrants unload at Victoria Coach Station, tens of thousands of migrants arriving here every year.

But who can trust statistics?

 

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You will never understand what it means to be a beggar until you have slept on the streets.

They sleep in front of the glare of shop windows, for the light lends a sense of safety.

Crackheads and Roma, street life, disorientation, a jumble of faces, an eternal rumble of traffic, where working girls sell their bodies and throw in their souls for free, the rhythm of the streets, a never sated drumbeat.

 

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Ute (my wife) and I on London evenings are one of many after-dinner couples strolling along.

I hear others with their contempt and disgust regard the beggars who congregate upon the concrete like lost church mice, like mangy parasites, cosmopolitan cockroaches, best belittled than assisted.

 

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They are the invisible, because we choose to ignore them.

They are painful reminders of our privileged life that they cannot imagine having or, if once had, reacquiring.

They are the old and the prematurely aged, shuffling and stumbling, snuffling and sniffing, pleading for pennies from those whose hearts are void of compassion.

Washed-up soiled souls marooned, listless and almost lifeless, easy prey to those who would use them for cruel sport, they lie beneath walls smeared in blood and feces upon flattened cardboard boxes that soften the sidewalk.

Human rubbish amidst human refuse, they are gaunt faces with sunken eyes, needing to beg to survive, to live, to exist, but to beg is to break the law.

What is earned is confiscated.

Law and order trumps love and outreach.

They see the beggar as an offense not as a fellow human being.

Those without homes are an invisible city deliberately unseen by the lucky with lodgings.

 

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Charles Dickens’ home is remembered as I hold my wife’s hand tightly to lend ourselves courage to encounter what we do not comprehend.

Charles feared poverty, was obsessed with money, felt that unease that only those who have raised themselves out from poverty can truly understand.

But his talent, hard work, perseverance and good fortune never required a return to a hand-to-mouth, payment-to-payment survival.

He encountered the homeless and destitute during his night walks but was never reduced to joining their ranks.

 

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Above: Charles Dickens

 

My wife and I have London lodgings during our sojourn here and a warm comfortable flat awaiting our return to Switzerland.

 

Coat of arms of Switzerland

 

I too have known a poverty of sorts, though my begging was limited to government assistance and hitching rides and seeking emergency overnight shelter in the places where rides left me.

In my long-distance walking days I slept wherever I could and rarely needed the tent I carried upon my backpack.

 

Like those migrants of London for whom hope remains despite their desperate circumstances, I worked where and when I could, sometimes in the safety of the law, sometimes not.

Though I have never been much of an evening perambulator I have nonetheless encountered the homeless in more than a few cities I have visited.

I see it regularly amongst the Roma in Konstanz and I give as prudently as I can when I encounter the beggar Bruno in St. Gallen.

I remember the helpless and hapless of London and Paris, Seoul and Istanbul, Naples and New York.

 

Above: The Old Beggar of Bordeaux, Louis Dewis, 1916

 

I think of Oliver Twist.

Advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

 

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Above: Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, Oliver!, 1968

 

Everyone’s hungry for something.

 

Sources: The Rough Guide to London / Matthew Beaumont, Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London / Jeremy Clarke, The Charles Dickens Miscellany / Charles Dickens, Night Walks / Ben Judah, This Is London / Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

 

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Canada Slim and the Road to Utopia

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 27 August 2019

Sometimes a place defines a person.

Sometimes a person defines a place.

 

 

Take the eminent Canarian author Alberto Vásquez-Figueroa as an example of the first.

 

Álberto Vázquez-Figueroa in Barcelona in 2009

 

Alberto’s grandfather was an architect.

Alberto’s father was born in Guadalajara while Alberto’s grandmother was there.

Alberto’s mother, the daughter of a local farmer, was born on Isla de Lobos, one of the Canary Islands.

 

 

Alberto himself was born on 11 October 1936 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, although he had not yet reached one year old when his family was exiled for political reasons to Spanish Africa, since his father was a Socialist Republican during the Spanish Civil War.

There Alberto spent his childhood.

His father was released, but he was admitted to hospital for several years because of tuberculosis.

While Alberto was in Africa, his mother died.

 

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Alberto’s care was picked up by his uncle, the civil administrator of the military fort in the Spanish Sahara where they lived.

His uncle provided Alberto books to read, especially beloved adventure novels, by authors such as Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days), which would later become Alberto’s preferred genre.

Since his youth, Alberto visited the Sahara and would later describe the culture of the desert region in his writing.

 

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At 16 Alberto returned to Tenerife to study, working as a scuba instructor in the Cruz del Sur Diving School, along with Jacques Cousteau, where he would remain for two years.

Alberto worked on the rescue of bodies in Lake Sanabria after the Vega de Tera Dam burst, destroying the town of Ribadelago.

 

Monumento a las víctimas de la catástrofe de Ribadelago.

Above: Monument to the victims of Ribadelago

 

He attended the studios of the Escuela Oficial de Periodismo de Madrid in a 1962 and worked in the Destino specials.

He was a war correspondent in La Vanguardia, for TVE (Televisión Española) and for the program A toda plana with de la Cuadra Salcedo and Silva.

As a correspondent, he documented revolutionary wars in countries such as Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

 

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He later wrote his first novel, Arena y viento (Sand and Wind) and in 1975, he published as many as 14 to 15 novellas such as Ébano.

His other works include Tuareg and El perro as well as the sagas Cienfuegos, Bora Bora, Manaos and Piratas.

 

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Ébano was cinematized in 1979 by director Richard Fleischer and renamed Ashanti.

Ashanti (also called Ashanti, Land of No Mercy) is a 1979 action adventure film.

Despite its impressive cast and setting (on location in the Sahara and in Kenya, Israel and Sicily), it was widely panned by critics upon release.

Michael Caine was reportedly very disappointed with the project and claims it was his third worst film.

Ashanti is an action adventure film, set against the background of modern-day slave trading, with a man who determinedly takes on a perilous journey in order to find his beautiful wife, who has been kidnapped by brutal slave traders.

David and Anansa Linderby (Caine and supermodel Beverley Johnson respectively) are doctors with the World Health Organization (WHO).

On a medical mission carrying out an inoculation programme, they visit a West African village.

While David takes photographs of tribal dancers, Anansa goes swimming alone.

She is attacked and abducted by slave traders led by Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), who mistake her for an Ashanti tribeswoman.

The police can do nothing to find her and David has almost given up hope when he hears rumours that Anansa has been kidnapped by Suleiman to be sold to Arab Prince Hassan (Omar Sharif).

The African authorities deny that the slave trade even exists.

So David must find help in a shadowy world where the rescuers of slaves are just as ruthless as the traders themselves.

As David tracks her across Africa and the Sahara desert, he is helped by a member of the Anti-Slavery League (Rex Harrison), a mercenary helicopter pilot (William Holden) and Malik (Kabir Bedi) a tribesman who is seeking revenge on Suleiman.

 

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Alberto’s novel Tuareg was cinematized in 1984 by director Enzo G. Castellari.

Tuareg is a thriller novel that was his most critically and commercially successful, with global sales in excess of 5,000,000 copies.

It was adapted into a 1984 movie starring Mark Harmon, Tuareg – The Desert Warrior.

This is the first book in the Tuareg trilogy, followed by Los Ojos del Tuareg and El Último Tuareg.

 

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One day, two old men and a boy appear in Gacel Shayah’s camp in the Sahara.

He, a noble inmouchar observing the millennial tradition of the desert, shelters travelers.

But he fails to protect them.

People in dusty military uniforms violate the ancient hospitality law.

They kill the boy and take one old man away.

Gasel Shayah remembers the great commandment of the Tuareg people:

Your guest is under your protection.

Therefore, he must seek vengeance.

 

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Alberto’s novel Iguana was cinematized in 1988 by Monte Hellman.

Iguana is a 1988 American adventure drama/thriller film starring Everett McGill in the main role.

The movie is based on the life of a real Irish sailor called Patrick Watkins.

The movie was mainly shot on location in Lanzarote.

 

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The film takes place at the beginning of the 19th century.

Oberlus (Everett McGill), a harpooner on a whaling ship, is regularly subjected to ridicule and abuse by other sailors.

The right half of his face is bizarrely disfigured and covered with hummocky outgrowths, which leads him to being nicknamed Iguana.

One night, after a brutal beating, Oberlus escapes to the uninhabited Hood Island.

He is soon discovered by a team led by Captain Gamboa (Fabio Testi).

Gamboa brutally tortures Oberlus and ties him up for further punishment, but Iguana manages to escape and hides himself in a cave.

The ship leaves the island and Gamboa orders that sailor Sebastian (Michael Madsen) be tied to a post on the coast as punishment for letting Iguana escape.

Oberlus finds Sebastian and proclaims himself “King of Hood Island” and Sebastian his first slave, forcing him to cook his food.

Declaring revenge upon the world, Oberlus enslaves two other sailors thrown ashore after the shipwreck.

He keeps his captives in a cave with a disguised entrance.

After some time, a ship holding Carmen (Maru Valdivieso) and her fiancé Diego (Fernando De Huang), is moored near the island.

Oberlus takes them prisoner.

Oberlus kills Diego and makes Carmen his concubine.

The captain of the ship, assuming Carmen and Diego to have died in the storm, does not look for them, but sails away.

One day, Oberlus notices the arrival of his former whaling ship.

At night, he climbs on board, kills two sailors on the deck, takes Gamboa prisoner, and sets the ship alight, having previously locked the hull.

Gamboa fights Oberlus, but is killed by him.

Resigned to her fate, Carmen tells Oberlus that she is pregnant with his child.

Months later, the captain of the ship Carmen and Diego arrived on, returns with a group of armed sailors.

They begin their search and Oberlus has to flee to the other end of the island with pregnant Carmen and his surviving prisoners.

Oberlus plans to sail away with Carmen on the boat.

Carmen gives birth, but Oberlus takes the child, claiming that he will allow him to suffer.

With the child in his arms, he enters the sea, intending to drown himself and the child.

 

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Alberto’s novel Garoé (the name of a sacred tree in the Canary Islands) won the 2010 Historical Novel Prize Alfonso X El Sabio, valued at €100,000.

He has also published an autobiography entitled Anaconda.

He is also a screenwriter and film director and has made such films as Oro rojo (Red Gold).

 

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Alberto currently resides between an attic apartment in the Madrid neighbourhood of Argüelles and a home on Lanzarote.

I am not sure if that home is in the village of Haría in the north of the island of Lanzarote, but I suspect it might be, for Alberto once described Haría as the most beautiful village in the world.

Although this description is a tad exaggerated, Haría really does have a pretty bucolic setting, in a palm-filled valley punctuated by splashes of brilliant colour from bougainvillea and poinsetta plants.

 

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But we were not searching for Alberto and had we passed him on the streets we would not have recognized him.

Instead we were looking for a local legend, Lanzarote’s favourite son, César Manrique.

My wife and I spent our mini-vacation tracking down buildings across the Island of Lanzarote that César designed.

We hoped to understand why this place and this man remain inseparably intertwined in the hearts and minds of those who come here and those who knew him.

César Manrique defined Lanzarote.

To understand César Manrique is to understand Lanzarote.

We came to learn.

We began in Haría where his story ends.

 

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Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain,  Monday 2 December 2018

Much like César, our first discovery of Lanzarote was Arrecife.

For us it was the international airport north of Arrecife the day previously.

 

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On this day we drove our rented car, from our hotel in Costa Teguise (See Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.), past an aquapark and golf grounds, through the town of Tahiche (more on this town in a future post), through Nazaret and Teguise (See Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise of this blog.), through Los Valles and past a windpark to arrive at Haría.

 

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(Los Valles, a quiet agricultural hamlet between Teguise and Haría, is situated in a valley at the foot of the Famara Massif.

Los Valles was founded by refugees from the village of Santa Catalina, which has been destroyed during the eruptions of 1730 – 1736 of Mount Timanfaya.

 

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The pretty, white village church of Ermita de Santa Cantalina stands at the bottom of the valley on the side of the highway.

 

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Immediately after you pass the restored Casa de los Perazas, one of the oldest buildings on Lanzarote.

 

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The road begins to climb steeply passing the Mirador Los Valles.)

 

César Manrique Cabrera was born in Arrecife on 24 April 1919, the son of Francisca and Gumersindo Manrique.

César’s father was a food merchant and his grandfather a notary public.

César preceded his twin sister Ampara by just a few minutes.

He had another sister and a brother.

Gumersindo came from Fuerteventura and emigrated to Lanzarote.

The Manriques were a typical middle class family, without financial burdens.

In 1934, Gumersindo bought property in Caleta de Famara and built a house next to the ocean.

This house left a visible impression on César that lasted his lifetime.

 

 

Ute and I on our first day spent a few hours on Famara Beach and like César did we remember it with joy:

My greatest happiness is to recall a happy childhood, five-month summer vacations in Caleta and Famara Beach with its eight kilometres of clean and fine sand framed by cliffs of more than 400 metres high that reflected on the beach like a mirror.

That image has been engraved in my soul as something of extraordinary beauty that I will never forget in all of my life.

 

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César would fight in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer on dictator Franco’s side.

His experience of the War was atrocious and he refused to talk about it.

In the summer of 1939, once the War was over, César returned to Arrecife, still wearing his military uniform.

After greeting his family, he went up on the flat roof, took off his clothes, angrily stepped over them, sprayed them with petroleum and burned them.

 

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César attended the University of La Laguna to study technical architecture, which he would abandon after two years.

In 1945 he moved to Madrid and studied art at the Academia de Bellas Artas de San Fernando where he graduated as a teacher of art.

 

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In 1953, César began painting abstracts, which in Franco’s Spain was tantamount to treason, and one year later he exhibited his works alongside those of his friends Manuel Manpaso and Luis Féito.

By the late fifties César had made a name for himself in Madrid.

There followed exhibitions in major cities of Europe, Japan and America, which gave him international renown.

 

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In the fall of 1964, following the advice of his cousin Manuel Manrique, a New York psychoanalyst and writer, César lived in New York City until 1966.

He was the guest of Waldo Diaz-Balart, a Cuban painter, who lived in the Lower East Side, at a time when this was a neighbourhood of artists, journalists and bohemians.

Through César’s cousin Manuel’s friendship with the Director of the Institute of International Education, which was sponsored by Nelson Rockefeller, a generous grant allowed César to rent his own studio and produce a number of paintings which he exhibited with success in the prestigious New York gallery of Catherine Viviano.

 

Clockwise, from top: Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, the Unisphere, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center, Central Park, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Statue of Liberty

 

While in New York, he wrote his friend Pepe Dámaso:

More than ever I feel true nostalgia for the real meaning of things.

For the pureness of the people.

For the bareness of my landscape and for my friends.

My last conclusion is that Man in New York is like a rat.

Man was not created for this artificiality.

There is an imperative need to go back to the soil.

Feel it.

Smell it.

That’s what I feel.”

 

 

In his unpublished diary, César wrote of his homesickness for Lanzarote.

At the time he was still undecided as to where to set up his permanent studio.

In 1968, César travelled straight from New York City to Lanzarote, which he found exactly as he had left it in 1945.

He felt Lanzarote needed him.

He made himself the Island’s champion.

 

 

When I returned from New York, I came with the intention of turning my native island into one of the most beautiful places on the planet, due to the endless possibilities that Lanzarote had to offer.

 

 

The Canarian Island was then just beginning to develop a tourism industry, but César promoted a model of sustainability in an attempt to protect Lanzarote’s natural and cultural heritage.

This Manrique model was a determining factor in Lanzarote being declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

 

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In parallel with his commitment to the Island, César opened his creative work up to other forms of artistic expression.

He developed a new aesthetic ideology, dominated by art-nature / nature-art.

He began a dialogue of respect for the natural surroundings in which  values of local traditions blended harmoniously with modern designs.

Well versed in many forms of creative expression, a very real desire for integration with the surrounding natural landscape underlies César’s body of artistic work as a whole.

 

 

One of the fundamental preoccupations which has guided my artistic work has been to try to achieve harmonious integration of the forms and ideas of painting, sculpture and spaces into nature.

I believe that this way, of integrating the greatest possible number of artistic elements – colour, texture, dimension, ambience, proportion – leads to a greater aesthetic enjoyment and quality of life.

It is necessary to create and act in freedom, to break with formulae and extend the concept of art to everyday human life, to create non-hostile spaces modelled on the integration of art into nature and nature into art.

 

 

That César’s ideas were carried out on Lanzarote is all thanks to the man’s tireless energy, persistence, immense abilities and international fame.

Without César Manrique, Lanzarote would scarcely be what it is today.

It is his influence and his work that have shaped the Island.

César shaped planning policy on the whole island and his influence can be seen everywhere.

He began with a campaign to preserve traditional building methods and a ban on roadside hoardings.

He convinced the authorities to impose a universal ban on advertising and ensure that telephone and high voltage cables were laid underground.

A multifaceted artist, César turned his flair and vision to a broad range of projects, with the whole of Lanzarote becoming his canvas.

César was a painter, sculptor, architect, ecologist, monument preserver, construction advisor, urban development planner, landscape and garden designer.

 

 

César’s work is full of vitality, colour and light.

There is nothing gloomy in either his paintings or sculptures or in the buildings he designed.

 

 

Together with his friend from his youth, José Ramirez Cerdá, who was president of the Cabildo Insular (island government), César skillfully put his architectural projects into operation.

Luis Morales, an employee of the Cabildo, was a sympathetic partner in all this.

As a practical builder, Morales had the skills to execute Manrique’s plans.

 

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Above: Flag of Lanzarote

 

César encouraged the traditional cubic form of architecture.

A house is capable of growth.

The Lanzarotenos start with one or two rooms.

As a family grows, they add cubes of one or two storeys, arranged around a central courtyard and the water tank.

 

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César’s idea was harmony with nature and the continuation of natural processes.

He wanted to preserve Lanzarote tradition and achieve a landscape-related architecture in proportion to the natural surroundings.

He believed in a humane architecture where nature should be spared and not choked with buildings.

Tourism threatened to sweep away everything before it, but César’s ceaseless opposition to such unchecked urban sprawl touched a nerve with Lanzarote locals and led to the creation of an environmental group known as El Guincho, which has had some success in revealing – and at times reversing – abuses by developers.

 

 

As we drove through villages across the Island, we could see how traditional stylistic features still remain.

The standard whitewashed houses are adorned with green-painted doors, window shutters and strange onion-shaped chimney pots.

The entire Island is a testimony to César’s influence and ever-enduring spirit.

 

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The awareness of the miracle of life and its brevity have made me see clearly that we are impoverished by the tragic sentiment of our existence.

The only important reality is the great mystery of life and of man with his inexhaustible imagination and his infinite ways of acting.

We must observe and learn from the energies of life.

 

 

Those who knew César only superficially ignored the streak of puritanism that ruled his conduct.

He was a frugal man.

He didn’t drink or smoke or allow others to smoke next to him.

He regularly went to bed very early and got up at dawn and began work in his studio very early.

 

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In all César carried out seven major projects on the Island and numerous others elsewhere in the archipelago and beyond.

At the time of his death, he had several more in the works.

It was the buildings that my wife and I were determined to visit on our five-day sojourn on Lanzarote.

We wanted to see how César’s life-affirming architecture relates to the Lanzarote landscape.

We were confused by descriptions that suggested that César’s buildings were generous but at the same time deeply modest.

Guidebooks wrote that César, with great aesthetic powers and unerring taste, had created places for the muses, of contemplation, of meditation, which radiate joy and tranquillity, places endowed with humanity.

It was written that César had striven to discover the beautiful and make it visible to everyone, but not simply beauty for beauty’s sake, but a unity of truth and intrinsic originality.

We wanted to see this for ourselves.

 

180° panorama photo taken from Mirador del Río showing La Graciosa

 

To speak of harmony with nature we need to speak of the landscape of Lanzarote.

On arriving in Lanzarote one feels transported in time, whisked back to the beginnings of the world, a fresh, clean world, in which the Traveller himself is the hero of discovery.

Here are seas of lava, enchanted grottos, columns of steam seeping from the bowels of the planet, magnificent multicoloured stone walls, threatening volcanoes, waves that furiously smash upon tortured cliffs that loom like giants frozen for all time in their march to the sea and eternally punished for such audacity, lurking lagoons that appear suddenly among the rocks, pockets scooped from deadly lava where livelihood-sustaining vines thrive to produce unsurpassable wine, golden beaches of skin-caressing sands, transparent blue waters….

Another world, another time, a unique place.

Here are peaceful, flower-bedecked whitewashed villages and a heritage of hardy people who overcame, will always overcome, the desolation that civilization commits and the fury of nature defied.

From lava and ash, drops of dew defiantly defended have been clawed from nature’s clutches and cultivated.

Yet these sturdy island warriors are kind, hospitable people who shelter guests in comfort and compassion.

Civilization’s constants are also found on Lanzarote, but they blend rather than blind the visitor to the natural delights of the Island.

 

 

By far the most beautiful place in the archipelago, Haíra lies within a sea of palm trees and has the charm of a small sheltered oasis.

Haría is a place to relax, a Utopia where the locals set the tone.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, locals traditionally planted a palm tree to celebrate a birth (two for a boy, one for a girl), thus resulting in today’s tourist viewing a palm-filled valley upon a barren Island.

 

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Haría has many positive qualities: magnificent flora, an abundance of trees.

The mind can manage this place so peaceful, so tranquil, as the body sits comfortably under wide spreading canopies of leaves.

No one, except children in haste, runs in Haría.

One strolls here.

The soul quietly smiles at the serenity.

 

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The central pedestrian avenue, Plaza León y Castillo, is shaded by lush leafy laurel and eucalyptus trees and cast-iron lanterns above benches where children play and seniors meet watching tourists gorge themselves at the Plaza’s open-air restaurant.

This is also the site of a superb Satuday morning craft and produce market.

 

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From the town hall up the street about 100 metres, the Traveller comes to the municipal arts and crafts centre, the Taller de Artesania Municipal.

Handicrafts are available throughout the week at the Taller de Artesania Reinaldo Dorta Déniz (to give its full name) on Calle Barranco de Tenesia, a town hall-backed craft workshop where local artists produce macramé, silverware, ceramics, dollmaking, embroidery and some charming pieces made of palm leaves and reeds, where one can watch the crafters at work before buying.

It is open Tuesday to Sunday 1000 – 1330 and 1600 – 1900, Monday only 1000 to 1330.

 

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The Mercado Municipal de Abastos, adjacent to the arts and crafts centre, is a small market here with a health-conscious attitude, with fruit, vegetable, meat and fish counters.

There is also a food stall here where the locals are tempted with tapas.

It is open Monday to Saturday 0900 – 1400.

 

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Haría does not boast any monuments of particular historical or architectural importance, for the history of this municipality is of little relevance.

Theirs is a past marked by poverty, foreign invasions and mass emigrations.

A 1587 account of the neighbourhood mentions a fountain and 100 people, a time when it was the only village on the Island besides the capital of Teguise.

In 1590, there were no more than 1,000 people on the Island, of which 250 were military, as well as 40 horses.

Population scarcity was due to three raids carried out for 16 years by Moorish and Turkish pirates.

One of the most devasting pirate attacks was that of the troops of Morato Arráez, who, in August 1586, burned down all the palm trees.

Fortunately they grew back again.

 

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What is immediately outstanding is the good taste of the town’s buildings and the way they blend into the landscape.

Some stately Andalusian-style houses date back to the 19th century when Haría at times played an important role in island politics.

 

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At the far end of the Plaza Leon y Castillo stands the modern parish church of Our Lady of the Incarnation.

The church was built in 1619 although it has suffered numerous setbacks over time.

The most significant was the storm of 1956, which left only the tower standing.

Inside the church five fine lovingly-carved arches support the ceiling.

 

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In front of the church is the La Tegala Cultural Centre, a more than 100-year-old house which has already served as a barracks, a shop and a workshop.

 

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A visit to the Diocese of the Canaries’ Museum of Popular Sacred Art in Plaza León y Castillo is recommended for the abundance of wonderful works springing from the imagination of the people of Lanzarote.

 

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At the Plaza de la Constitución, the small square next to the Plaza Leon y Castillo, stands the classical town hall also containing the local police station.

 

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Around the corner is the beautiful city library with its rich selection of Canarian historical and cultural materials.

 

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On the square there is a small rest area with benches, above the large cistern Aljibe which has been converted into a meeting and exhibition hall.

 

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Since the advent of tourism in the early 1980s Haría has flourished, but the tourists come not  only for the celebrated beauty of the town or for the Sacred Art Museum or for the handicraft workshops, but they come to see the Casa Museo César Manrique on Calle Elvira Sanchez.

 

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But before we remember the dead, let us honour the living while we can.

 

Behind the Museum one can, if lucky, witness an artist at work in a garage.

That craftsman is Don Eulogio Concepción Perdomo, signposted as “Cesteria“.

This man, the only and last basket weaver on the Island, is now over 80.

In patient manual labour Perdomo makes, from the strong fronds of Canarian date palms, stable baskets of various sizes and the famous Lanzarote conical-shaped hats.

We witness him making a small fruit basket, which takes more than an hour to produce, costs about €20.

I call his name and shake his hand.

Does he know of his fame?

Does he understand just how important he is?

 

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A palm-fringed property was the final home of Lanzarote’s favourite son and has been opened as a shrine to his memory.

This is a house frozen in time, complete with César’s clothes in the closet and personal art collection adorning the walls.

It is an intimate and personal view of César in his domestic surroundings.

It is a strikingly beautiful home situated in a lush palm grove in a charming village that is itself a showcase of Lanzarote’s traditional lifestyle.

This relatively new attraction of Haría, César’s last home, was opened in the summer of 2013.

 

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Surrounded by date palms and tucked away and back from the street, César’s home is a pleasure to stroll through.

The entrance fee is steep but the Museum is well laid out.

Rarely does one experience such harmonious living space with such a feel-good factor.

Within this spacious property, within the context of the comfortable and tasteful decor are many personal items, including painting items and incomplete works.

 

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The living room with a large fireplace and heavy wooden ceiling, the light-flooded dining room, the bedroom with high panelled ceiling, and, as always with César, an extravagant bathroom that opens with glass fronts to the outside, César designed his home with much love, a house that was far from completion when he died.

The Casa Museo César Manrique is open every day from 1030 to 1800 (last entry 1730).

 

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It is in Haría where César was lain to rest, when at the age of 73, still in good health and full of vitality and the joy of living, he was killed in an automobile accident on 25 September 1992, next to the present site of his Fundacion.

The irony of fate that he would meet his death in a car accident is rich as he loathed the massive amount of vehicles.

 

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Above: Painted BMW from 1990 Art Basel exhibition, Casa Museo César Manrique, Haría, Lanzarote

 

César’s final resting place in Haría’s cemetery is located at the exit to Arrieta atop a low hill.

His simple grave is located on the left in front of the small chapel.

César’s differs fundamentally from the other graves which are made of stone slabs and crosses.

His is a flat oval bordered by lava stones under a palm tree and adorned with succulents and cacti.

The carving “C. Manrique 1919 – 92” testifies that here lies Lanzarote’s loyal son.

From the forecourt of the cemetery there is a beautiful view of the valley below.

 

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In retracing his life in reverse chronology, I am reminded of a text he wrote to describe himself and his view of life:

I have never followed the signs indicating the road to Utopia.

Utopia, I do presently believe, is an inner path.

My enthusiasm, in any case, is the sole force that can guide me approximately.

 

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Starting from César’s endpoint is appropriate.

For it is in Haría we view not the celebrity César, not the artist César, but the man César, a man as common as we all are, mortal and preoccupied with all the minutae that comprise a life lived daily.

 

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To fully appreciate César’s impact on the Island one must journey out of Haría, away from a traditional Lanzarote, to a Lanzarote of the future built upon five volcanic bubbles of a lava flow 6km north of Arrecife, César’s birthplace.

The Taro de Tahíche is a dormant remnant of the 1730 eruption of the volcano Timanfaya on the northwest corner of the Island, and it is upon this that the Fundación César Manrique sits.

 

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From the Fundación and the overview of all that César Manrique was and did, the Traveller is encouraged to explore Lanzarote through César’s eyes and creations:

  • the Jameos del Agua

  • the Monumento al Campesino

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  • the Restaurante El Diablo

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  • the Mirador del Río

  • the Castillo San José

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  • the Jardín de Cactus

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It is at the Fundación and at the aforementioned half-dozen Manrique creations that the Traveller senses how César’s life-affirming architecture relates to the Lanzarote landscape:

Generous and yet deeply modest.

With great aesthic imagination and impeccable taste César created monuments for muses, cathedrals of contemplation, monoliths of meditation, jubilees of joy, temples of tranquillity, havens of humanity.

He sought what was beautiful and brought to this beauty his strength of purpose and crystalline originality.

In Lanzarote posts to come his creations and the Island that inspired them will be patiently revealed.

I hope that you will enjoy learning of them as I shall enjoy the experience of sharing them with you.

 

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Above: Undiscovered Planets, César Manrique

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Fernando Gómez Aguilera, César Manrique in His Own Words / Wolfgang Borsich, Lanzarote and César Manrique: Seven Buildings / Lucy Corne and Josephine Quintero, Lonely Planet Canary Islands / Jorge Echenique and Andrés Murillo, Lanzarote / Eberhard Fohrer, Müller Lanzarote / Raimundo Rodriguez, Lanzarote

 

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Canada Slim and the City at the Crossroads

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Saturday 6 July 2019

In previous posts in both my blogs I have written about the quiet majesty and remarkable beauty of the French region known as Alsace.

 

Location of Alsace

 

As evidenced by the post you are reading, I continue to wax poetically about this region, simply because I find myself consistently drawn to exploring it every opportunity I have, even though I no longer live as close to the French border as I once did in the days when I lived in Freiburg im Briesgau, in southwestern Germany’s Black Forest, with my wife.

The easiest, and perhaps inevitable, introduction to Alsace is to first begin your explorations with the departmental capital, Strasbourg, for it is here that not only does the explorer develop a sense of what it means to be Alsatian, French and European, but as well it is here where the visitor finds a sense of what it means to be human, for better and for worse.

This particular travel description will differ from others in that I will not be prefacing it with datelines as I usually have done with other places I have visited, because I have visited Strasbourg on so many occasions that my actual moments stand out less significantly than the overall impression that the city has given me.

This city is one of those places where each visitor must discover and claim Strasbourg as their own in their own personal way.

I have visited Strasbourg on my own without any financial resources.

I have visited Strasbourg alone, with friends, and with my wife, flush with funding.

Each experience was entirely unique and original in itself.

I doubt there will ever be a time when I will ever say that I know Strasbourg, for Strasbourg is like the nearby Rhine….

You can never step into it the same way twice, for that what was of yesterday is a world alien to that of today and what will be tomorrow is unimaginable today.

 

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Strasbourg is situated at the eastern border of France with Germany.

This border is formed by the Rhine, which also forms the eastern border of the modern city, facing across the river to the German town Kehl.

The historic core of Strasbourg however lies on the Grande Île in the river Ill, which here flows parallel to, and roughly 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) from, the Rhine.

The natural courses of the two rivers eventually join some distance downstream of Strasbourg, although several artificial waterways now connect them within the city.

 

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Above: Gare de Strasbourg (rail station)

 

The city lies in the Upper Rhine Plain, at between 132 metres (433 ft) and 151 metres (495 ft) above sea level, with the upland areas of the Vosges Mountains some 20 km (12 mi) to the west and the Black Forest 25 km (16 mi) to the east.

This section of the Rhine valley is a major axis of north–south travel, with river traffic on the Rhine itself, and major roads and railways paralleling it on both banks.

 

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Above: Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

 

The city is some 397 kilometres (247 mi) east of Paris.

The mouth of the Rhine lies approximately 450 kilometres (280 mi) to the north, or 650 kilometres (400 mi) as the river flows, whilst the head of navigation in Basel, Switzerland, is some 100 kilometres (62 mi) to the south, or 150 kilometres (93 mi) by river.

 

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The city has warm, relatively sunny summers and cool, overcast winters.

Precipitation is elevated from mid-spring to the end of summer, but remains largely constant throughout the year, totaling 631.4 mm (24.9 in) annually.

On average, snow falls 30 days per year.

 

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Above: Palais Rohan, Strasbourg

 

The 2nd highest temperature ever recorded was 38.5 °C (101.3 °F) in August 2003, during the 2003 European heat wave.

This record was recently broken, on 30 June 2019, when it was registered 38.8 °C (101.8 °F).

The lowest temperature ever recorded was −23.4 °C (−10.1 °F) in December 1938.

 

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Strasbourg’s location in the Rhine valley, sheltered from the dominant winds by the Vosges and Black Forest mountains, results in poor natural ventilation, making Strasbourg one of the most atmospherically polluted cities of France.

Nonetheless, the progressive disappearance of heavy industry on both banks of the Rhine, as well as effective measures of traffic regulation in and around the city have reduced air pollution.

 

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Above: Palais du Rhin, Strasbourg

 

Strasbourg is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France and is the official seat of the European Parliament.

Located at the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin department.

Strasbourg is the 9th largest metro area in France and home to 13% of the Grand Est region’s inhabitants.

 

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Strasbourg is the seat of over twenty international institutions, most famously of the Council of Europe and of the European Parliament, of which it is the official seat.

Strasbourg is considered the legislative and democratic capital of the European Union, while Brussels is considered the executive and administrative capital and Luxembourg the judiciary and financial capital.

 

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

 

Strasbourg is the seat of the following organisations, among others:

  • Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (since 1920)
  • Council of Europe, with all the bodies and organisations affiliated to this institution (since 1949)
  • European Parliament (since 1952)
  • European Ombudsman
  • Eurocorps headquarters,
  • Franco-German television channel Arte
  • European Science Foundation
  • International Institute of Human Rights
  • Human Frontier Science Program
  • International Commission on Civil Status
  • Assembly of European Regions
  • Centre for European Studies (French: Centre d’études européennes de Strasbourg)
  • Sakharov Prize

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Above: Hemisphere, European Parliament, Strasbourg

 

It is the second city in France in terms of international congress and symposia, after Paris.

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Success did not come at the head of a city that had passed almost without transition from a quiet regional capital to a European city.

It has not frantically thrown itself into the hands of promoters for a 21st century concrete facelift, even if its new status as a metropolis in a wider region is now pushing it to develop new neighborhoods, along the Rhine or at the gates of the old city.

It is no coincidence that its historic center, a real big island restored to life by a well-studied traffic plan, from which the car was largely driven out, was the first urban center in France in to be listed by UNESCO as World Heritage.

The former imperial German district Neustadt is also UNESCO-honoured since July 2017.

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Strasbourg is immersed in Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a cultural bridge between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the University of Strasbourg, currently the second largest in France, and the co-existence of Catholic and Protestant culture.

It is also home to the largest Islamic place of worship in France, the Strasbourg Grand Mosque.

 

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Above: Strasbourg Grand Mosque

 

But do not believe, discovering the impressive number of monuments and neighborhoods waiting for your visit, that it is a city frozen in history that welcomes you.

Strasbourg, which has managed to put at its head women of character as well as skilled men, sailing skillfully between right and left, is a city that has also demonstrated its industrial and commercial dynamism.

Strasbourg proved that it knew how to win:

  • The TGV Est Europe is there, putting Paris at 1h50 from the Alsatian capital
  • The tram has reorganized the entire city center and brought some places to life:

All old Strasbourg is largely pedestrian now, and cyclists reign there as masters.

In short, in addition to its rich architectural heritage, you will discover a city with exceptional quality of life, which has found a rare commodity: silence and singing birds!

And if the sacrosanct winstubs, believed to be eternal, have disappeared for the most part after the retirement of those who made their reputation (they have kept their name but have become tourist restaurants essentially), tea rooms, terraces, trendy places, and even today’s trendy winstubs are opening up neighborhoods that have not been seen before.

 

 

Economically, Strasbourg is an important centre of manufacturing and engineering, as well as a hub of road, rail, and river transportation.

The port of Strasbourg is the 2nd largest on the Rhine after Duisburg in Germany, and the 4th largest river port in France after Nantes, Rouen and Bordeaux.

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Above: The port of Strasbourg

 

Yet despite all of this, Strasbourg rarely receives the admiration and attention that greater-sized metropolises do, especially in popular culture.

 

Musically, Strasbourg is a sidenote.

 

Several compositions have specifically been dedicated to Strasbourg Cathedral by church componists Franz Xaver Richter, Ignaz Pleyel and John Tavener.

 

Above: Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

 

Strasbourg pie, a dish containing foie gras, is mentioned in the finale of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats.

 

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On their 1974 album Hamburger Concerto, Dutch progressive band Focus included a track called “La Cathédrale de Strasbourg“, which included chimes from a cathedral bell.

 

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British punk band The Rakes had a minor hit in 2005 with their song “Strasbourg”, featuring witty lyrics with themes of espionage and vodka and a cleverly inserted count of “eins, zwei, drei, vier” even though Strasbourg’s spoken language is French.

 

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Havergal Brian’s Symphony #7 was inspired by passages in Goethe’s memoirs recalling his time at Strasbourg University.

Brian’s work ends with an orchestral bell sounding the note E, the strike note of the bell of Strasbourg Cathedral.

 

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called his 3rd Violin Concerto (1775) the Straßburger Konzert because one of its most prominent motives, is based on a Strasbourg minuet dance that had already appeared as a tune in a symphony by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf.

 

Above: Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 – 1799)

 

In literature, Strasbourg is a footnote.

 

A sole chapter, albeit a long one, of Laurence Sterne’s 1767 novel Tristram Shandy, “Slawkenbergius’ Tale” takes place in Strasbourg.

 

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Above: Laurence Sterne (1713 – 1768)

 

(Hafen Slawkenbergius is a fictional writer referenced in Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy.

Slawkenbergius was “distinguished by the length of his nose, and a great authority on the subject of noses“.

Sterne gives few biographical details relating to Slawkenbergius, but states that he was German and that he had died over 90 years prior to the writing and publication (in 1761) of the books of Tristram Shandy in which he appears — i.e., circa 1670, although Slawkenbergius’ tale includes a reference to the French annexation of Strasbourg in 1681.

Slawkenbergius is primarily known for his scholarly writings in Neo-Latin, particularly his lengthy monograph De Nasis (“On Noses“), purporting to explain different types of noses and their corresponding significance to human character.

The second book of De Nasis is said to be filled with a large number of short stories illustrative of Slawkenbergius’ characterizations of noses.

Only one of these stories is reproduced in Tristram Shandy.

Slawkenbergius is first referred to in Volume III, Chapter XXXV.

Volume IV opens with the relatively lengthy “Slawkenbergius’s Tale.”

This tale recounts the journey of a courteous gentleman, Diego, who was endowed with a massive nose.

Diego attempts to pass inconspicuously through Strasbourg on his way from the “Promontory of Noses“, but the sight of his giant nose sends the Strassburgers, especially the nuns, into a restless frenzy.

The tale relays the results of the upset in Strassburg and the travels of Diego to his admirer Julia.)

 

 

A solitary episode of Matthew Gregory Lewis’ 1796 novel The Monk takes place in the forests that once surrounded Strasbourg.

 

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(Baptiste is a robber living outside of Strasbourg.

He lets travellers stay in his house so that he may rob and murder them.

His two sons by a previous wife, Jacques and Robert, assist him to this end.

He then forced Marguerite to marry him.

Marguerite, however, is disgusted by his life of crime.

Marguerite is first introduced as a short and unwilling hostess and wife of Baptiste.

Her first husband dies after receiving wounds from an English traveller.

The group of banditti do not trust Marguerite to keep their secret and she becomes the property of Baptiste.

She has two sons, Theodore and a younger unnamed boy.

She saves Don Raymond’s life by revealing Baptiste’s true intentions through mysterious bloody sheets and significant glances.

She stabs and kills Baptiste as Don Raymond tries to strangle him, allowing them both to escape.

Don Raymond is the son of the Marquis and is also known as Alphonso d’Alvarada.

He takes the name Alphonso when his friend, the Duke of Villa Hermosa, advises him that taking a new name will allow him to be known for his merits rather than his rank.

He travels to Paris, but finds the Parisians “frivolous, unfeeling and insincereand sets out for Germany.

Near Strasbourg he is forced to seek accommodations in a cottage after his chaise supposedly breaks down.

He is the target of the robber Baptiste but with help from Marguerite, he is able to save himself and the Baroness Lindenberg.

Grateful, the Baroness invites Don Raymond to stay with her and her husband at their castle in Bavaria.)

 

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Above: The Monk (2011 French film)

 

Sadly, these are books rarely read today by our generation of techno tots.

 

In film, Strasbourg is merely backdrop.

 

The opening scences of the 1977 Ridley Scott film The Duellists take place in Strasbourg in 1800.

 

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(Fervent Bonapartist and obsessive duellist Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) of the French 7th Hussars, nearly kills the nephew of the city’s mayor in a sword duel.

Under pressure from the mayor, Brigadier-General Treillard (Robert Stephens) sends a member of his staff, Lieutenant Armand d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) of the 3rd Hussars, to put Feraud under house arrest.

As the arrest takes place in the house of Madame de Lionne (Jenny Runacre), a prominent local lady, Feraud takes it as a personal insult from d’Hubert.

Matters are made worse when Feraud asks d’Hubert if he would “let them spit on Napoleon” and d’Hubert doesn’t immediately reply.

Upon reaching his quarters, Feraud challenges d’Hubert to a duel.

The duel is inconclusive.

d’Hubert slashes Feraud’s forearm but is unable to finish him off, because he is attacked by Feraud’s mistress.

As a result of his part in the duel, d’Hubert is dismissed from the General’s staff and returned to active duty with his unit.

The war interrupts the men’s quarrel and they do not meet again until six months later in Augsburg in 1801.)

 

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The 2007 Spanish film In the City of Sylvia is set in Strasbourg.

 

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(In the City of Sylvia (Spanish: En la Ciudad de Sylvia) is a 2007 film directed by José Luis Guerín.

The film follows a young man credited only as ‘Él‘ (English:’Him‘) as he wanders central Strasbourg in search of Sylvia, a woman he asked for directions in a bar six years earlier.

 

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Guerín, born in Barcelona, is a prolific and original documentary filmmaker who has made only a handful of fiction features, averaging one per decade.

He is often characterized as “inquisitive”, is never seen without a flat cap tucked over his forehead, and is fascinated with silent film, meta-fictional conceits, journals, and the relationship between person, place, and memory.

 

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Sylvia may represent a real person from Guerín’s past (like his experimental companion piece, Some Photos In The City Of Sylvia) or she could be someone he made up, a purely rhetorical figure.

She is the girl with the white parasol remembered by Bernstein in Citizen Kane, a movie that’s all about the way fleeting moments stick like splinters in memory.

(“Rosebud”)

 

Poster showing two women in the bottom left of the picture looking up towards a man in a white suit in the top right of the picture. "Everybody's talking about it. It's terrific!" appears in the top right of the picture. "Orson Welles" appears in block letters between the women and the man in the white suit. "Citizen Kane" appears in red and yellow block letters tipped 60° to the right. The remaining credits are listed in fine print in the bottom right.

 

Or she is Madeleine, Vertigo’s woman that never was.

 

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José Luis Guerín’s 2007 film In The City Of Sylvia doesn’t have much plot beyond what’s implied in the title.

An unnamed young man (French actor Xavier Lafitte) is visiting Strasbourg, a picturesque city just off the border between France and Germany.

He remembers a woman named Sylvia or Sylvie, whom he met very briefly at a bar called Les Aviateurs while visiting Strasbourg six years earlier.

She drew him a map on a beer coaster.

Perhaps he hopes to run into her again.

The movie is broken up into chapters (identified as “1st night“, “2nd night” and so on), which presumably correspond to the length of the young man’s stay in Strasbourg, during which he doesn’t appear to do anything except look, draw, and – in a series of scenes that takes up a third of the film – follow a woman that he may think is Sylvia or Sylvie.

It’s something of a masterpiece, filled with beguiling intangibles and apparent contradictions.

Part of what makes the film so elemental is the way it uses elementary techniques, be it close-ups, reverse angles or natural light.

There is nothing fancy about it, but, as is often the case, the simplest steps lead to the most sophisticated results, building to the crescendo of the final sequence, in which glimpses of strangers at a Strasbourg tram stop – alone or in groups – suggest a world of mystery, possibility and unacknowledged beauty.

Guérin romanticizes looking, by taking something completely mundane and, by breaking it down on film, makes it seem extraordinary.)

 

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The opening scene of the 2011 movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows covers an assassination bombing inside Strasbourg Cathedral.

 

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(“The year was 1891.

Storm clouds were brewing over Europe.

France and Germany were at each other’s throats, the result of a series of bombings.

Some said it was nationalists, others the anarchists, but as usual my friend Sherlock Holmes had a different theory altogether.

Strasbourg bombing.  Read all about it.  Anarchists suspected in Strasbourg bombing.”)

 

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Before the 5th century, the city was known as the Roman camp of Argantorati, first mentioned in 12 BC.

That Gaulish name is a compound of -rati, the Gaulish word for fortified enclosures, and arganto(n)-  the Gaulish word for silver, but also any precious metal, particularly gold, suggesting either a fortified enclosure located by a river gold mining site, or hoarding gold mined in the nearby rivers.

 

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After the 5th century, the city became known by a completely different name Gallicized as Strasbourg (Lower Alsatian: Strossburi; German: Straßburg).

That name is of Germanic origin and means “town at the crossing of roads“.

Gregory of Tours was the first to mention the name change:

In the 10th book of his History of the Franks, written shortly after 590, he said that Egidius, Bishop of Reims, accused of plotting against King Childebert II of Austrasia in favor of his uncle King Chilperic I of Neustria, was tried by a synod of Austrasian bishops in Metz in November 590, found guilty and removed from the priesthood, then taken “ad Argentoratensem urbem, quam nunc Strateburgum vocant” (“to the city of Argentoratum, which they now call Strateburgus“), where he was exiled.

 

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Above: Statue of Gregory of Tours (538 – 594), Louvre Museum, Paris

 

Strasbourg celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988.

 

Between 362 and 1262, Strasbourg was governed by the bishops of Strasbourg.

Their rule was reinforced in 873 and then more in 982.

In 1262, the citizens violently rebelled against the bishop’s rule (Battle of Hausbergen) and Strasbourg became a free imperial city.

 

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Above: Battle of Hausbergen, 8 March 1262

 

It became a French city in 1681, after the conquest of Alsace by the armies of Louis XIV.

 

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Above: King Louis XIV of France (1638 – 1715)

 

(Marguerite LePaistour was born in 1720 in Cancale.

Hated by her stepmother, she rebels against her family, runs away, and to go unnoticed, dresses as a man.

Under the name of Henri, she became a servant, soldier, and executioner in Strasbourg and Lyon.

Unmasked, she ends up behind bars, gets married on leaving prison.

And everything returns to normal!)

 

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In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, the city became German again, until 1918 (end of World War I), when it reverted to France.

After the defeat of France in 1940 (World War II), Strasbourg came under German control again.

Since the end of 1944, it is again a French city.

In 2016, Strasbourg was promoted from capital of Alsace to capital of Grand Est.

 

 

Strasbourg played an important part in Protestant Reformation, but also in other aspects of Christianity, such as German mysticism, Pietism, and Reverence for Life.

Delegates from the city took part in the Protestation at Speyer.

 

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Above: Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses that sparked the Reformation

 

It was also one of the first centres of the printing industry.

 

 

(Johannes Gutenberg, fleeing Mainz for political reasons, took refuge in Strasbourg and there developed his brilliant invention, but in developing the printing press, he went bankrupt.

And yet it was the most important invention of the time.

It must be said that Bibles of 1,200 pages were complex to manufacture and complicated to sell.

And yet, today, they are worth more than $30 million each!

He must be spinning in his grave.)

 

Above: Place Gutenberg, Strasbourg

 

Among the darkest periods in the city’s long history were the years 1349 (Strasbourg massacre), 1793 (Reign of Terror), 1870 (Siege of Strasbourg) and the years 1940–1944 with the Nazi occupation (atrocities such as the Jewish skeleton collection) and the British and American bombing raids.

 

Above: The Strasbourg Massacre

 

The Strasbourg massacre occurred on 14 February 1349, when several hundred Jews were publicly burnt to death, and the rest of them expelled from the city as part of the Black Death persecutions.

It was one of the first and worst pogroms in pre-modern history.

 

 

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror (French: la Terreur), refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.

Several historians consider the “reign of terror” to have begun in 1793, placing the starting date at either 5 September, June or March (birth of the Revolutionary Tribunal), while some consider it to have begun in September 1792 (September Massacres), or even July 1789 (when the first lynchings took place), but there is a consensus that it ended with the fall of Maximilien Robespierre in July 1794.

Between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, there were 16,594 official death sentences in France, of which 2,639 were in Paris.

 

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Above: Siege of Strasbourg (14 August to 28 September 1870), Franco-Prussian War

 

(During the siege of Strasbourg in 1870, the Prussian authorities allowed the wounded to communicate with their family, provided that the writings were readable by censorship, therefore without envelope.

Thus, no military secret could be disclosed.

The postcard was born.)

 

Above: Bombardment of Notre Dame, Siege of Strasbourg

 

Above: Plaque in memorium of the 86 victims of the Jewish Skeleton Collection, Université de Strasbourg

 

Some other notable dates were the years 357 (Battle of Argentoratum), 842 (Oaths of Strasbourg), 1538 (establishment of the university), 1605 (world’s first newspaper), 1792 (La Marseillaise), and 1889 (the discovery of the pancreatic origin of diabetes).

 

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Above: The Oaths of Strasbourg

 

Above: The world’s first newspaper, Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenkwürdigen Historien (Account of all distinguished and commendable news), published by Johann Carolus (1575 – 1634), Strasbourg

 

Above: Rouget de Lisle sings “La Marseillaise” for the first time at the home of Strasbourg Mayor Philippe-Frédéric de Dietrich, 25 April 1792

 

(It is said that Rouget de Lisle imagined the national anthem in a single night in Strasbourg.

Not so complicated, when we see strange similarities with “Esther“, an oratorio of a certain Grisons, composer in Saint Omer.

Note for note.

To listen on the Internet is edifying.

It must be said that Rouget de Lisle was captain of the garrison at Saint Omer.

Well, well.

No wonder he composed “La Marseillaise” in one night!)

 

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Above: Marseillaise volunteers, Arc de Triomphe, Paris

 


Strasbourg was also the home of a bizarre epidemic, the Dancing Plague of 1518, where hundreds of citizens danced for several days, some even dying of exhaustion.

 

Above: The Dancing Plague of 1518

 

The dancing plague (or dance epidemic) of 1518 was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg in July 1518.

Around 400 people took to dancing for days without rest and, over the period of about one month, some of those affected collapsed or even died of heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion.

 

Strasbourg has been the seat of European institutions since 1949: first of the International Commission on Civil Status and of the Council of Europe, later of the European Parliament, of the European Science Foundation, of Eurocorps, and others as well.

 

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Those are the facts.

They speak little of beguiling intangibles and apparent contradictions.

They do not offer glimpses of this strange world of mystery, possibility and unacknowledged beauty.

They offer no romance and no hint of the extraordinary connection between people, places and memories.

 

City with many faces – the often strained phrase really hits the spot here.

In the center of the Alsatian capital, the majestic Gothic cathedral towers like a memorial of permanence in the sky, surrounded by medieval romantic slices, and not far away, ultramodern glass palaces testify to the spirit of the 21st century.

In the vibrant economic center with a cozy Winstub flair – a bit of a metropolis, a bit of a small town – enjoyable Alsatian ways of life complement well with cosmopolitan European government institutions and German neatness with French esprit.

If you walk through the streets of the old town, it seems hard to imagine that in the Greater Strasbourg area live about 470,000 people.

 

 

In addition, there are numerous guests, such as the MEPs, who come to town once a month, like locusts, and disappear just as quickly after a week.

During the parliamentary sessions, many hotels are fully booked, taxis are constantly on the move, and there is hardly any free space in the better restaurants.

The presence of these institutions, rich with well-off elected officials and their collaborators who are not less, represents a sacred manna for the city.

In some sectors, real estate prices rival those of the beautiful Parisian or Nicois neighborhoods.

The economic difficulties that the new Europe is experiencing daily have brought the city to more humility in recent years.

Even if it is more than difficult to stay here during the parliamentary sessions (it is then necessary to push up to Kochersberg), one can find accommodation at reasonable prices, especially if one knows how to play specials at certain periods.

 

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Above: Logo of the European Parliament

 

As a long-term guest one can designate the overwhelming majority of nearly 50,000 students enrolled at the various colleges of the city.

In the cafés and pubs they prefer, there is the typical atmosphere of a university town.

 

 

Important guests for Strasbourg are, of course, the tourists who visit the city in large numbers – far more than four million a year.

To seduce a public who, more and more numerous, come here for a weekend in love or a few days with family, Strasbourg has no shortage of assets, winter and summer, by the way.

From traditional markets to the ever-popular Christmas market through the Musica festival, Strasbourg knows how to charm you.

And they are offered something truly extraordinary:

The picturesque Old Town island enclosed by the Ill, a unique district of Wilhelmine monumental buildings, the European Mile, a large number of important museums, just to name a few worth mentioning.

All sights are comparatively close to each other and are within walking distance.

In addition, there are some other ways of exploring the city by boat, a ticket, even by taxi or – very sporty – by bike.

And of course you can take a pleasant break: romantic on the banks of the Ill, in beautiful squares, in lively street cafes, quaint Winstubs or fine gourmet restaurants.

They are places of rest welcome between two visits of museums or churches, a walk on the quays or in the parks.

Strasbourg can be visited, it will never be said enough, first on foot, nose in the air, at one’s own pace.

Even in the evening, there is no boredom.

Various theaters, the opera, bars full of variety, music bars and discos provide entertainment.

 

 

Strasbourg also includes tens of thousands of people from the former French colonies in Africa.

Only a few of them are guests, most of them now own a French passport, their descendants have already been born in Strasbourg.

The visitor will usually encounter only a few of them as dealers near the tourist attractions.

Most live in run-down suburban neighborhoods, e.g. in Neuhof or in Elsau, where the social problems have led to more violence for years – this too is one of the many facets of the Alsatian capital.

 

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Strasbourg is a unique destination filled with special eccentricities.

Take the Cathedral for example.

Unique in France, the building became Protestant in 1529, and was so until 1681, when Louis XIV took Strasbourg.

Even today, ecumenical services are held regularly in the Saint-Laurent Chapel (entrance, left side).

On this occasion, Protestants and Catholics pray together.

 

Above: Rose window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

 

There is so much to see and do in Strasbourg that one blogpost will not suffice.

Among the variety are:

  • Strasbourg Cathedral
  • Notre Dame Museum
  • Pharmacie du Cerf
  • Kammerzell House
  • Place du Marché aux Cochons de Lait
  • Chateau Rohan
  • Museum of Decorative Arts
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Place de l’Homme de Fer
  • Place Kléber
  • Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
  • Place Gutenberg
  • St. Thomas Church
  • Petite France
  • Rhine Palace
  • St. Paul’s Church
  • The Council of Europe
  • Human Rights Building
  • Palais de l’Europe
  • Parliamentary Assembly
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Museum of Engraving and Drawing
  • Tomi Ungerer International Centre of Illustration
  • Le Vaisseau Science and Technology Centre
  • The Rhine Navigation Museum
  • The Strasbourg Bar Association Museum
  • The Zoological Museum
  • The Gypsothéque / Adolf Michaelis Museum
  • Museum of Seismology and Magnetism
  • Pasteur Museum of Medical Curiosities
  • Mineralogy Museum
  • Egyptology Museum
  • The Star Crypt
  • The Museum of Chocolate Secrets
  • The Pixel Museum

 

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Above: Strasbourg Observatory

 

Europe’s Crossroads lies at the very heart of western Europe, closer to Frankfurt, Zürich and Milan than it is to Paris.

Strasbourg is the seat of internationally renowned institutions of music and drama.

 

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It also has a long history of excellence in higher education at the crossroads of French and German intellectual traditions.

The University has attracted eminent students such as Goethe, Metternich and Montgelas.

Its people have been awarded 19 Nobel prizes, thus making Strasbourg University the most eminent French university outside Paris.

The Université de Strasbourg includes:

  • The IEP (Institut d’études politiques de Strasbourg), the University of Strasbourg’s political science & international studies center.
  • The EMS (École de management Strasbourg), the University of Strasbourg’s Business School.
  • The INSA (Institut national des sciences appliquées), the University of Strasbourg’s Engineering School.
  • The ENA (École nationale d’administration). ENA trains most of the nation’s high-ranking civil servants. The relocation to Strasbourg was meant to give a European vocation to the school and to implement the French government’s “décentralisation” plan.
  • The ESAD (École supérieure des arts décoratifs) is an art school of European reputation.
  • The ISEG Group (Institut supérieur européen de gestion group).
  • The ISU (International Space University) is located in the south of Strasbourg (Illkirch-Graffenstaden).
  • The ECPM (École européenne de chimie, polymères et matériaux).
  • The EPITA (École pour l’informatique et les techniques avancées).
  • The EPITECH (École pour l’informatique et les nouvelles technologies).
  • The INET (Institut national des études territoriales).
  • The IIEF (Institut international d’études françaises).
  • The ENGEES (École nationale du génie de l’eau et de l’environnement de Strasbourg).
  • The CUEJ (Centre universitaire d’enseignement du journalisme).
  • TÉLÉCOM Physique Strasbourg,(École nationale supérieure de physique de Strasbourg), Institute of Technology, located in the south of Strasbourg (Illkirch-Graffenstaden).

 

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The Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire (BNU) is, with its collection of more than 3,000,000 titles, the 2nd largest library in France after the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

It was founded by the German administration after the complete destruction of the previous municipal library in 1871 and holds the unique status of being simultaneously both a student and a national library.

 

Above: The BNU, Strasbourg

 

The municipal library Bibliothèque municipale de Strasbourg (BMS) administrates a network of ten medium-sized librairies in different areas of the town.

A six stories high “Grande bibliothèque“, the Médiathèque André Malraux, was inaugurated on 19 September 2008 and is considered the largest in Eastern France.

 

 

As one of the earliest centers of book-printing in Europe, Strasbourg for a long time held a large number of incunabula – documents printed before 1500 – in its library as one of its most precious heritages.

After the total destruction of this institution in 1870, however, a new collection had to be reassembled from scratch.

 

Above: The Nuremburg Chronicle incunabula, 1493

 

Today, Strasbourg’s different public and institutional libraries again display a sizable total number of incunabula, distributed as follows:

  • Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire
  • Médiathèque de la ville et de la communauté urbaine de Strasbourg
  • Bibliothèque du Grand Séminaire
  • Médiathèque protestante
  • Bibliothèque alsatique du Crédit Mutuel
There is a great longing within me to have you, gentle readers, discover this city for yourselves.
I want you to feel as I have felt and understand as I have understood why Strasbourg once experienced compels a person to want to return.
There are places to explore and tales to be told.
We shall return…..
Sources: 
- Wikipedia
- Google
- The Rough Guide to France 
- Antje and Gunther Schwab, Elsass 
- Le Routard Alsace (Grand-Est) 
- Marie-Christine Périllon, Alsace 
- Michèle-Caroline Heck, The Golden Book of Alsace 
- Patrick Schwertz, Alsace: 100 lieux pour les curieux
- Ignatiy Vishevetsky, "An overlooked masterpiece about looking", The AV Club, 22 March 2016

 

Canada Slim and the Third Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Wednesday 26 June 2019

To understand something alien to one’s self it becomes necessary to make time and effort to learn and study that which one does not already know.

I have often considered it a sign of wisdom and maturity when one does not only admit when one does not know something but as well makes no pretense that he does.

For the past year I have been following, as literally as possible, in the footsteps of Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, from his birthplace in Wildhaus to the site of his death in Kappel am Albis, using Yvonne and Marcel Steiner’s excellent guidebook, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis: Ein Wander- und Lesebuch.

 

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(Please see:

Canada Slim and….

  • the Road to Reformation
  • the Wild Child of Toggenburg
  • the Thundering Hollows
  • the Basel Butterfly Effect
  • the Vienna Waltz
  • the Battle for Switzerland’s Soul
  • the Monks of the Dark Forest
  • the Privileged Place
  • the Lakeside Pilgrimage
  • the Family of Mann
  • the Anachronic Man
  • the Chocolate Factory of Unhappiness

….of this blog for an account of these adventures and discoveries.)

 

(Zwingli and Zürich are also mentioned in:

Canada Slim and….

  • the Rush for Reformation
  • the City of Spirits)

 

I have written of Zwingli’s life and my retracing of that life from Wildhaus to Kilchberg.

 

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

 

In Canada Slim and the Rush for Reformation, I described a tour through Reformation-time Zürich that takes the reader to the most important places in Zwingli’s life and in those of his successors, starting at the Wasserkirche (Water Church) where the Zwingli Monument stands to the Rathaus (City Hall) where the political decisions of the Reformation were decided, for the Reformation was not only a transformation of church government but as well as civic government.

 

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I visited and described my visit to the Wasserkirche and the Grossmünster with its Cloister where the Prophesy took place, the Zwingli Portal depicting 16 scenes from Zwingli’s life and Zwingli’s successor Heinrich Bullinger’s statue.

 

 

I visited the Haus zur Sel where Zwingli once lived and the Froschau Fountain named after Christoph Froschau, who had a major impact on the Reformation in Zürich.

 

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I visited the Preacher’s Church, a former Dominician convent abolished in the Reformation that was first converted into a bread line for the poor and a hospital and then later the parish church of the neighhourhood of Niederdorf.

 

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I saw the Schipfe where the first Anabaptist was martyred and St. Peter’s with Europe’s largest church tower clock.

 

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I visited the Fraumünster and its amazing stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall.

 

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I also visited the City Hall where religion and civic government met.

 

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I came to the realization on 23 January 2018 that I could not make Zwingli’s actions, most significantly in Zürich, understandable, if I couldn’t explain why the Reformation actually matters, then and now.

So I went to Geneva (Genève) to finally see two Museums I had not as yet seen but had always wanted to see:

  • The International Museum of the Reformation
  • The International Red Cross Museum

 

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Above: Musée Internationale de la Reforme, Geneva

 

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Above: International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva

 

(The latter will appear in a future blog post.)

 

Genève, Suisse, Mardi le 23 Janvier 2018

The airy Musée International de la Reforme is housed in the handsome 18th century Maison Mallet, which backs onto the Cathedral.

The Museum explores the ideas behind 500 years of Protestantism, from early theological debates to the influential charismatic preachers who today lead many churches around the world.

State-of-the-art exhibits and audiovisuals bring to life everything from the earliest printed Bibles to the emergence of Geneva as “Protestant Rome” in the 16th century, from John Calvin all the way to the 21st century.

 

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The causes that led to the break between Roman Catholicism and what came to be known as Protestantism are complex and are still in dispute.

Political economy, nationalism, Renaissance individualism, and a rising concern over ecclesiastical abuses all played their part.

They do not, however, camouflage the fact that the basic cause was theological, a difference in Christian perspective between Rome and those that did not share her views.

 

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Above: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

 

This is what I learned from my tour of the Museum….

 

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Above: The Calvin Room, International Museum of the Reformation

 

View the 16th century, when most of the events we now call the Reformation took place, as a vast tunnel.

The Western Church entered that tunnel whole and emerged from it in several sections, or movements of churches.

 

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The two great enduring themes which split the Western Church apart were justification by faith and the principle of idolatry.

 

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Faith, in the Protestant conception, is not simply a matter of belief – an acceptance of knowledge held with certainty to be true yet not based on evidence.

Faith is a response of the total self – a totality act of the whole personality.

As such it is not only a conviction of God’s limitless, omnipresent creative power, but as well it is a movement of the affections in love and trust and a decision of the will in a desire to be an instrument of God’s redeeming love.

When Protestants say that human beings are justified by faith, they are saying that faith requires a movement of the total self, in mind, will and affections.

It is a mark of the strength of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century that Roman Catholic theologians, including the present Pope Francis, now increasingly understand faith in the same way.

 

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Above: Jorge Mario Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis)

 

Thus defined, faith is a personal phenomenon.

Right beliefs” or “sound doctrine” can be accepted secondhand and largely by rote, but service and love cannot.

Faith is the response by which God becomes God for me, my God.

This is what Martin Luther meant when he said:

Everyone must do his own believing as he will have to do his own dying.

 

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Above: Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

 

To feel the force of the Protestant emphasis on faith as the response of the entire self, we need to see it as a passionate repudiation of religious perfunctoriness, the unthinking repetition of routine.

Luther’s protest against indulgences – a kind of “she’s buying a stairway to Heaven” – which were thought to help reduce the buyer’s time in Purgatory – is only a symbol of this wider protest.

 

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No number of religious observances, no record of good deeds, no roster of doctrines believed, could guarantee that an individual would reach their desired state.

Though such things are not irrelevant to the Christian life, unless they help to transform the believer’s heart (his attitudes and response to life), these things were inadequate.

This is the meaning of the Protestant rallying cry:

Justification by faith alone.”

It does not mean that creeds or sacraments are unimportant, but unless they are accompanied by the experience of God’s love and a returning love for God, they are insufficient.

The same goes for good works.

 

Creeds, sacraments and good works are the consequences of faith, not the prerequisites.

 

If one really has faith, good works will flow from it naturally.

The reverse cannot be assumed.

Good works do not necessarily lead to faith.

 

To a large extent both Paul and Luther had been driven to their emphasis on faith precisely because a respectable string of good works, doggedly performed, had not succeeded in transforming their hearts.

 

Above: Paul the Apostle, Rembrandt

 

The other controlling perspective in Protestantism, often called the Protestant Principle, comes to its conclusions in the following fashion:

Human allegiance belongs to God – this all religions will affirm.

God, however, is beyond nature and history.

While God is not removed from nature and history, the divine cannot be equated with either or any of these parts, for while the world is finite, God is infinite.

With these truths all the great religions agree.

But these truths are very hard to keep in mind.

So hard, in fact, that people continually let them slip and proceed to equate God with something they can see or touch or at least conceptualize more precisely than the infinite.

Early on mankind equated God with statues, until prophets (protesters on this score) rose up to denounce these substitutions.

Though much of mankind would stop deifying wood and Stone images, the secular world proceeded to absolutize the state or the self or human intellect, while Christians fell to absolutizing dogmas, the Sacraments, the Church, the Bible or personal religious experience.

Protestants don’t devalue these, but it does insist that none of them are God.

All, being involved in history, contain something of the human.

Since the human is always imperfect, then these instruments are also to some degree imperfect.

Therefore any human claim to absolute truth or finality must be rejected.

So, for example, Protestants cannot accept the dogma of papal infallibility because this would remove from criticism forever opinions that, having been channeled through human minds, can never wholly escape the risk of limitation and partial error.

Creeds and pronouncements can be believed, but to place them beyond the cleansing crossfire of challenge and criticism is to absolutize something finite to the position that should be reserved for God alone.

Protestants believe that God speaks to people through the Bible, but to elevate the Bible to a point beyond criticism is to insist that every word and letter was dictated directly by God and so can contain no historical, scientific or other inaccuracies, is to forget that in entering the world, God’s word must speak through human minds.

 

 

The problem with Protestantism is that this concept of the word of God speaking to each individual soul directly is that it creates two dangers:

First, there is the danger of misconstruing God’s word, for if all things human are imperfect, than each individual’s vision of God is limited and sometimes erroneous.

Second, each person derives a different individual truth, which explains why Protestantism has split into more than 900 different denominations in the United States alone.

 

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To be fair, 85% of all Protestants belong to 12 denominations and considering the freedom of belief Protestantism affirms, the wonder is not the diversity that exists but the extent to which Protestants have managed to stay together at all.

The divisions that do exist in Protestantism are more a reflection of differing national origins or differing social groups rather than differing theologies.

 

And one could argue whether diversity is actually such a bad thing.

People and their historical circumstances create life-affecting differences that must be taken seriously.

New occasions teach new duties.

Protestants believe that life and history are too fluid to allow God’s redeeming word to be enclosed in a single form, whether it is doctrinal or institutional.

Though they take steps to mend differences that are no longer meaningful, they do not believe that people should congregate together just for comfort.

Protestants prefer precarious freedom to the security of doctrines or institutions that remain fallible.

It is their faith that, in the end, bolsters them.

Asked where he would stand if the Church excommunicated him, Luther replied:

Under the sky.”

 

Luther's rose

Above: Luther’s rose standard

 

Although the Reformation began during the 16th century, the need for reform within the Western Church had been felt already.

Several attempts for reform took place, especially during the 15th century, such as the one led by Jan Hus in Bohemia, which ended with his burning at the stake during the Council of Constance in 1415.

 

Above: Execution of Jan Hus, 1415

 

(Please see Canada Slim and the City of Broken Promises of this blog for the story of Jan Hus and the Council of Constance.)

 

Other Councils of this period tried to limit the abuses plaguing the Church, which seemed more concerned with its own temporal power than with the salvation of the faithful, but these measures did little more than the skim the surface.

Although ecclesiastic institutions were established in an effort to reform the clergy, such measures did little to satisfy the spiritual craving of late medieval Christians.

The Reformation took place not only because the Church was living badly, but because it was also believing badly.

It had allowed the message of the Gospel to become distorted.

 

The purpose of the reformers was to reconnect with the original message of Christianity – the Gospel – as preached by Jesus Christ and his apostles in the first years of the Christian era.

As they saw it, over the centuries the Church had obscured this message.

Thus, in an era that was haunted by the fear of Hell and sustained by the hope of salvation, these men turned to the Bible, where they found that God was revealed not as a judge who pursued men with His wrath, but as a Father who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to offer salvation.

They found the Gospel offered greater comfort against the terror of damnation than did the purchase of indulgences.

Reformers argued that Heaven could neither be bought or sold.

Christ, who had died and then risen, graciously allowed anyone who believed in Him to enter.

Reformers were rediscovering the true sense of Paul’s message – that one is saved through belief in Christ rather than by attracting God’s grace with good works.

Faith, not works, justified salvation.

 

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

 

As reformers returned to their original sources of their faith, they naturally began questioning the legitimacy of the Church.

They accused the Church of hijacking salvation.

 

From this point on, the battle lines were drawn.

On one side, the Church which saw itself as the sole guardian of the gates of Heaven.

On the other, reformers who called for believers to return to the Bible – the word of God that announced free salvation in Christ.

The Reformation thus took place in a climate of controversy.

Humanist scholar Erasmus warned Luther that attacking the “bellies of the monks” would earn him no end of trouble.

 

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Above: Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536)

 

The Reformation was not born in Paris or Rome, the great cities where fashionable ideas usually originated, but in Wittenberg, a small university town in Saxony where a well-known doctor of theology named Martin Luther taught.

Luther launched the Reformation with the publication, in November 1517, of a treatise arguing that divine grace was a more effective means of securing salvation than the purchase of indulgences.

This was a direct attack on the authority of the Pope.

Luther’s ideas were soon debated far and wide.

 

A single page printing of the Ninety-Five Theses in two columns

Above: Luther’s Ninety-five Theses

 

Young humanist intellectuals were inspired by Luther.

He also had a following in convents and monasteries, many of which emptied after reading his works.

Above all, Luther’s ideas answered the aspirations of a population preoccupied with the existential question of their final destiny.

The sudden success of his movement was due in part to the appearance of a new media that disseminated information without distorting it, namely, the printing press.

 

 

Several princes sympathetic to Luther encouraged the dissemination of his ideas by creating national churches that opposed or even replaced the Roman Catholic Church.

Their support was a decisive factor in establishing the Reformation.

The face of the Reformation changed from a spontaneous popular movement to a contest between princes and city-states.

 

 

A complex figure, Huldrych Zwingli was active and influential in many related areas, all of which are important for our understanding of the man: a self-taught humanist, a religious thinker and reformer, he is also considered to be a patriot and Swiss national hero.

Zwingli was a humanist and a scholar with many devoted friends and disciples.

He communicated as easily with the ordinary people of his congregation as with rulers such as Philip of Hesse.

His reputation as a stern, stolid reformer is counterbalanced by the fact that he had an excellent sense of humour and used satiric fables, spoofing, and puns in his writings.

He was more conscious of social obligations than Luther and he genuinely believed that the masses would accept a government guided by God’s word.

He tirelessly promoted assistance to the poor, who he believed should be cared for by a truly Christian community.

Zwingli’s life and the history of Switzerland are closely linked.

Outside of Switzerland, no church counts Zwingli as its founder.

Scholars speculate as to why Zwinglianism has not diffused more widely,even though Zwingli’s theology is considered the first expression of Reformed theology.

Although his name is not widely recognised, Zwingli’s legacy lives on in the basic confessions of the Reformed churches of today.

He is often called, after Martin Luther and John Calvin, the “Third Man of the Reformation“.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

In 1516, Zwingli adopted Erasmus’s view of Christ as the source of every good and the idea that God calls Christians to master their passions.

As soon as he arrived in 1519 to assume his position as preacher and minister of Zürich Cathedral, Zwingli attempted to reform the city in the spirit of Erasmus without breaking with the Church as Luther had done.

 

Above: Grossmünster, Zürich

 

Nonetheless, Zwingli’s criticism of the Church and his ideas on justification by faith betray the influence of the monk of Wittenberg.

In 1522, Zwingli openly affirmed the primacy of the Gospel as the only basis for the doctrine and the life of the Church.

He rejected both doctrine and worship of anything that seemed to be a human addition.

 

 

That same year, he defended several friends (primarily book printer Christoph Froschauer) who had broken the Lent fast by eating sausages – the Church banned the consumption of meat during Lent – by preaching about a Christian’s freedom to choose one’s own diet.

The Council of Zürich organized a disputation (discussion) of Zwingli’s teachings and, being convinced completely changed the laws on fasting.

 

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In July 1522, Zwingli questioned the celibacy of priests, which he himself had previously broken by secretly marrying Anna Reinhart the previous spring.

 

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Above: Anna Reinhart-Zwingli (1484 – 1538)

 

He addressed a petition on behalf of himself and eleven other priests to the Bishop of Constance requesting the right for priests to marry.

The Bishop in turn wrote to the Zürich city authorities, demanding that they take action against these “disorders“.

 

Above: Konstanz (Constance) Cathedral

 

The following year, on 29 January 1523, the first Dispute of Zürich took place at the request of the city council.

The Bishop’s delegate dismissed the authority of the Council, but attended nevertheless.

Completely outmatched, he witnessed the strength of the ideas of Zwingli and his allies.

Zwingli presented a list of 67 theses as a basis for discussion.

His doctrine was derived principally from the Epistles of Paul and claimed that faith was granted by the Holy Spirit.

Zwingli asserted the equality of all Christians and added that civilian authorities, provided they were Christian, should take charge of church affairs, but could also be disposed if they failed to follow the teachings of Christ.

He called for the Reformation to take place in an orderly fashion with the support of the magistrates, but some of his followers rushed matters and destroyed images and statues in churches.

 

 

A second Dispute focusing exclusively on the Mass and images was organized in October 1523 to resolve the issue.

Images were finally abolished in 1524 after a third Dispute.

 

Relations between the Bishop of Constance and the city of Zürich broke off at the end of the summer of 1524.

Convents were secularized and their possessions sold to endow the poorhouses.

A school of Biblical education, The Prophesy, opened in 1525 with the mission of presenting its findings to the people, in German, during five weekly lectures.

Students and scholars met in the Choir of the Grossmünster Cathedral to translate the Bible and preach to the people.

 

 

Theirs was the first complete German translation of the scriptures, called the Froschauer Bible after the sausage-eating bookbinder who printed it.

It was the first school of its kind and a model for Reformed academies everywhere.

The Prophesy would become a school of theology which in turn would lead to the establishment of the University of Zürich.

 

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Above: Logo of the University of Zürich

 

That same year, the Council abolished Mass, replacing it by a a very sparse service without music, distinct from the Communion service, which was celebrated only four times a year.

Communion was understood as a communal meal in memory of Christ’s death, through which the faithful expressed their desire to belong to Him.

 

St Michael the Archangel, Findlay, OH - bread and wine crop 1.jpg

 

Meanwhile, the establishment of a matrimonial court extended the spirit of the Reformation to the area of public morality.

 

 

Some of Zwingli’s followers demanded a more radical Reformation.

The common features of this community was the rejection of child baptism as a sign of entry into the Christian faith (for which they were labelled “Anabaptists“), as well as the refusal to conduct the oath of allegiance to local government authorities and the law.

Under the influence of Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, they accused Zwingli of subordinating church reform to the approval of the political authorities.

Zwingli tried to win them over to his views through several pamphlets and debates, but was unsuccessful.

The Council feared that the Anabaptist movement could eventually lead to a general revolution.

Felix Manz was sentenced to death and drowned in the Limmat River for “rebellion against the Christian bourgeosie, destruction of the Christian community and perjury“.

 

 

Five more Anabaptist executions would take place before 1532.

The worldwide Anabaptist-Mennonite movement considers Zürich one of its prime places of origin, though the executions rang the death knoll of Anabaptism in Zürich itself.

 

 

Zwingli’s other great adversary was Martin Luther, for although Zwingli admired the German reformer, he could not endorse Luther’s position on the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine during Communion.

For Zwingli the presence of Christ was purely symbolic.

The two theologians met at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529, but could not agree.

 

 

Meanwhile, the onslaught of the Reformation split Switzerland in two.

On one side, the Cantons that remained faithful to Roman Catholicism – Luzern, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwald and Zug.

On the other, those that followed the new ideas – Zürich, Basel, Bern and St. Gallen.

In 1524, the Catholic Cantons came together to form the Beckenried Alliance and began to present a real threat to Zürich.

Zwingli tried to appease the tensions, but in 1526 the Alliance decided to resolve the religious questions in a Diet.

They organized a Dispute in Baden that lasted four weeks from late May to early July 1526.

 

 

Johann Eck, an opponent of Luther, was invited to defend the Catholic faith and very skillfully sowed discord amid the Reformed camp by exposing the disagreement between Luther and Zwingli over Communion.

 

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Above: Johann Maier von Eck (1486 – 1543)

 

The Catholics won.

Zwingli was excommunicated.

Yet the Zürich authorities refused to give up their Reformer, despite the threats of exclusion of Zürich from the Swiss Confederation.

Zürich obtained the support of Basel, Bern and Schaffhausen.

War was coming.

 

 

Meanwhile the Reformation had been slow to establish itself in Geneva.

Introduced in 1526 by German merchants, the Reformation did not reach an impact on Geneva until 1533 with the preaching of Guillaume Farel and was not officially adopted until 21 May 1536.

 

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Above: Guillaume Farel (1489 – 1565)

 

John Calvin would not arrive in Geneva until later that summer.

 

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Above: Jehan Calvin (1509 – 1564)

 

Too late to assist Zürich and her allies.

Too late to save Zwingli.

 

Understanding the background made me understand the events that would lead to Zwingli’s death at Kappel am Albis.

 

 

And that final chapter of the Zwengli Trail Chronicles will follow soon in an upcoming post….

 

Of course, there is much more that could be said and much more was learned in the Museum about the Reformation and its many players and events that shaped the world: Théodore de Bèze, the Edict of Nantes, Frederick the Wise, Philip Melanchton, Martin Bucer, Johannes Hussgen, Pierre Viret, Moise Amyraut, Francois Turrettini, Bénédict Pictet, Jean Le Clerc, Jean-Alphonse Turrettini and Karl Barth, and so on.

And we all know the names of famous Protestants who inherited the struggle the aforementioned Reformers passed on to them: George Bush and George W., Desmond Tutu and Queen Elizabeth II, Albert Schweitzer, Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange, to name a few.

Some more faithful in name than in practice.

 

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But this is a story of two men: your faithful blogger and Huldrych Zwingli, the man whose footsteps I followed based on a guidebook that intrigued me.

 

 

(Of course, as my travels coincide with some of the aforementioned people and events not as yet detailed, they shall be mentioned.)

 

Earlier I mentioned that there is much I don’t know, much I don’t understand.

But there is one thing I am sure of….

 

It is not enough for me to see.

I want to understand what I am seeing.

 

I hope you share that same impulse.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Huston Smith, The World’s Religions / International Museum of the Reformation, Understanding the Reformation / Yvonne and Marcel Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis: Ein Wander- und Lesebuch

Canada Slim and the Writer’s Apartment 1: Learning

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 13 June 2019

In everyone’s life there are marker moments that separate who you were from who you are, as significant to the individual as BC and AD are to the Western calendar.

I have had my share of such moments in my own life.

Some are as obvious as scar tissue from accidents and operations.

Others are so subtle, so intimate, that they are as soft as a lover’s whisper in the night, and are no less important, nay, sometimes are far more important, than moments that clearly marked and marred you in the eyes of others.

Who we were, who we are and who we will become are often determined by what happens where we happen to be.

 

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Certainly there are those who argue that we make our own destiny, that we create our own karma, but it is usually those who have known little hardship who wax poetically upon how they would have acted differently had they been in situations alien to their experience and understanding.

Their songs of self-praise usually play to the tune of “had I been there I would have….“.

“If I had been living in Germany during the Second World War I would have sheltered Jews.”

“If my country suffered a famine I would not remain.”

“If I lived in North Korea I would rise in revolt against the Kim dynasty.”

 

Flag of North Korea

 

Truth be told, we may have the potential to freely make such brave decisions, but in the harsh chill of grim reality whether we would actually possess the needed courage and have the opportunity to successfully act is highly debatable.

If the consequence of helping others might lead to your death and the death of your loved ones, would you really risk everything to shelter those whom your government deems enemies of the state?

Would you be able to abandon your family to famine to save yourself?

Would you really defy your entire country’s military might to speak truth to power and say that what is being done in the name of nationalism is wrong for the nation?

 

Flag of the United States

 

It is easy to condemn the Germans of the National Socialist nightmare, the starving masses in Africa and India, the North Koreans under the Kims, and suggest that they were weak to allow themselves to be dominated by circumstances.

The self-righteous will argue with such platitudes like “Evil can only triumph when the good stay silent.“, but martyrdom’s recklessness is not easily embraced by everyone.

 

Flag of Germany

 

I was born in an age and have lived in places where I have never personally experienced the ravages of war firsthand.

I have known hunger and thirst but have never been hungry or thirsty to the brink of my own demise.

I have been fortunate to live in places where democracy, though imperfectly applied at times, dominated society rather than being sacrificed for security.

As a Canadian born in the 60s, who has never been in a military conflict, it is not easy for me to fully appreciate the difficulties of others that I myself have never experienced.

 

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

 

I count former refugees among my circle of friends, but I cannot claim to fully comprehend what they have endured or what they continue to quietly endure.

I have known those who chose not to be part of a military machine, despite the accusation of treason and disloyalty to their nation this suggests, because they chose not to act in the name of a nation that does not respect a person’s rights to choose not to kill their fellow human beings.

 

 

I love my homeland of Canada but I have never been called to defend her, have never had to choose between patriotism and humanity.

Canada’s leaders I have known may not have been great statesmen, but neither have they been as reprehensible as the leadership of other nations.

Can it be easy to be a true believer in Turkey under a tyrant like Erdogan?

 

Flag of Turkey

 

Can it be easy to be a patriotic American with an amateur like Trump?

Can it be easy to call yourself a native of a nation whose government does things that disgust the conscience and stain the soil?

 

 

I grew up in Québec as an Anglophone Canadian and fortunately I have never been forced to choose between the province and the nation.

 

Flag of Quebec

 

I now live in a nation that certainly isn’t a paradise for everyone within its boundaries, but its nationalism has not tested my resolve nor has it required the surrender of my conscience.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

Oh, what a lucky man I have been!

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

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I have visited places that have reminded me of my good fortune because of their contrast to that good fortune.

I have seen the ruins of the Berlin Wall and the grim reality of Cyprus’s Green Wall.

 

Berlinermauer.jpg

 

I have stood inside an underground tunnel between the two nations of South and North Korea, where two soldiers stand back-to-back 100 meters apart, and though they share the same language and the same culture, they are ordered to kill the other should the other speak.

 

Korea DMZ.svg

 

I have seen cemeteries of fallen soldiers and the ravaged ruins that wars past have left behind.

 

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

 

I have seen the settings of holocaust and have witnessed racism firsthand.

I have heard the condemnation of others for the crime of being different.

 

 

How dare they love who they choose!

How dare they believe differently than we!

How dare they look not as we do!

How dare they exist!

 

Some places are scar marks on the conscience, wounds on the world.

Some places whisper the intimate injury of injustice and barely breathe the breeze of silent bravery against insurmountable obstacles.

I have not lived in a nation torn against itself where bully bastards hide their cruelty behind an ideological -ism that is a thinly disguised mask for their sadism.

 

 

What follows is the tale of one man who did, a man who lived in Belgrade, Serbia’s eternal city, and gave the world an image of the place’s perpetuity, the mirage of immortality….

A man’s whose life has made me consider my own….

 

Above: Belgrade

 

Some folk tales have such universal appeal that we forget when and where we heard or read them, and they live on in our minds as memories of our personal experiences.

Such is, for example, the story of a young man who, wandering the Earth in pursuit of happiness, strayed onto a dangerous road, which led into an unknown direction.

To avoid losing his way, the young man marked the trees along the road with his hatchet, to help him find his way home.

That young man is the personification of general, eternal human destiny on one hand, there is a dangerous and uncertain road, and on the other, a great human need to not lose one’s way, to survive and to leave behind a legacy.

The signs we leave behind us might not avoid the fate of everything that is human: transience and oblivion.

Perhaps they will be passed by completely unnoticed?

Perhaps nobody will understand them?

And yet, they are necessary, just as it is natural and necessary for us humans to convey and reveal our thoughts to one another.

Even if those brief and unclear signs fail to spare us all wandering and temptation, they can alleviate them and, at least, be of help by convincing us that we are not alone in anything we experience, nor are we the first and only ones who have ever been in that position.

(Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside)

 

Image result for dawson creek signs

 

Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, 5 April 2018

The weather was worsening but my spirits were high.

I was on a mini-vacation, a separate holiday without my spouse, in a nation completely alien to me.

My good friend Nesha had graciously offered me the use of his apartment while he was away on business in Tara National Park, and so I was at liberty to come and go as I pleased without any obligations to anyone else but myself.

 

Flag of Serbia

Above: Flag of Serbia

 

The day had started well.

I had visited Saint Sava Cathedral, the Nikola Tesla Museum and had serendipitiously stumbled upon a second-hand music store that sold Serbian music that my guidebooks had recommended I discover.

 

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

Above: Saint Sava Cathedral

 

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum

 

(For details of these, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Land of Long Life
  • the Holy Field of Sparrows
  • the Visionary
  • the Current War
  • the Man Who Invented the Future)

 

I was happy and so I would remain in the glorious week I spent in Belgrade and Nis.

I was learning so much!

(I still am.)

This journey I was making reminded me once again of just how ignorant I was (and am) of the world beyond my experience.

 

 

Before I began travelling the existence of life outside my senses remained naught more than rumours.

For example, I remember distinctly reading of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but it was far removed from my life until I moved to Germany and later visited Berlin before I began to understand why this had been a significant event, a big deal.

 

 

I partially blame my ignorance on the circumstances of my life in Canada.

Canadian news dominates Canadian media, which isn’t surprising as we are more interested in that which is closest to our experience.

English-language literature remains more accessible in Anglophone parts of Canada than other languages and so that is mostly what we know.

Too few Canadians speak more than their native tongues of either English or French.

Only 10% of Canadians are truly bilingual and not necessarily in the other official Canadian language.

How sad it is that so many North Americans know so little of the outside world unless there is a military conflict or diplomatic gesture in which they are involved.

Send a Canadian soldier or the Canadian Prime Minister to Serbia then a few Canadians might make a curious effort to find Serbia on a world map.

 

A map of Canada showing its 13 provinces and territories

 

Part of the problem and the reason why world peace and true unity eludes humanity is nationalism.

Why care about those who are not us?

If “us” is defined and limited by our national boundaries then how can we include “them” in our vision of fellow human beings?

Only the truly exceptional of that which is foreign grabs our momentary attention.

How can we understand one another if that which has shaped us is unknown by others and that which has shaped them is alien to us?

 

Flag of the United Nations

 

Can a Serbian truly understand a Canadian without knowing of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky, Robert W. Service and Margaret Atwood, Just for Laughs and Stephan Leacock, the Stanley Cup and the CBC, Sergeant Renfrew and Constable Benton Fraser?

 

Statue of Fox running set on a plinth engraved with "Somewhere the hurting must stop..."

 

Can a Canadian truly understand a Serbian without knowing of Novak Djokovic and Nemanja Vidic, the Turija sausage fest and the Novi Sad Exit, the Drina Regatta and the Nisville Jazz Festival, Emir Kusturica and Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac and Ivo Andric?

 

Frontal view of a bespectacled man

Above: Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975)

 

Possibly not.

 

I often think that it would be a good idea for the young to not only read what is / was written in their own tongue but as well to read Nobel Prize winning books translated from other languages.

It might even be a step towards world unity.

In my school years I was exposed to the writing of Nobel Prize winners Kipling, O’Neill, Buck, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Bellow.

I had to travel to discover other Nobel laureates like Pamuk, Jelinek, Saramango, Neruda, Sartre, Camus, Marquez, Solzhenitsyn, Gidé, Mann and Andric by accident.

How much we miss when we stick to only our own!

How can we possibly have world peace when we are so ignorant of the world’s music, art and literature?

 

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.

 

The street that runs beside Belgrade’s New Palace, now the seat of the President of Serbia, is named Andrićev venac (Andrić’s Crescent) in his honour.

It includes a life-sized statue of the writer.

 

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The flat in which Andrić spent his final years has been turned into a museum.

 

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Several of Serbia’s other major cities, such as Novi Sad and Kragujevac, have streets named after Andrić.

Streets in a number of cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Višegrad, also carry his name.

 

 

Andrić remains the only writer from the former Yugoslavia to have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Given his use of the Ekavian dialect, and the fact that most of his novels and short stories were written in Belgrade, his works have become associated almost exclusively with Serbian literature.

 

(I asked my good friend Nesha whether Serbians can communicate with Bosnians and Croatians in a similar language, whether there was a Slavic tongue that unites the three.

He responded that it is all one Serbo-Croatian language with a difference in dialects that changes from region to region and divided by three different accents: Ekavica, Jekavic and Ijekavica

Even though Slovenians and Macedonians speak a little differently, they all understand and speak a Serbian-type speech.)

 

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The Slavonic studies professor Bojan Aleksov characterizes Andrić as one of Serbian literature’s two central pillars, the other being Njegoš.

The plasticity of his narrative,” Moravcevich writes, “the depth of his psychological insight, and the universality of his symbolism remain unsurpassed in all of Serbian literature.

 

 

Though it has been said that the Serbian novel did not begin with Ivo Andric – (that honour lies with Borisav Stankovic (1867 – 1927) who explored the contradictions of man’s spiritual and sensory life in his 1910 work Bad Blood, the first Serbian novel to receive praise in its foreign translations) – it was Andric who took Serbian literature’s oral traditions and epic poetry and developed and perfected its narrative form.

 

Image result for Borislav Stankovic the tainted blood

 

To this day, Andric remains probably the most famous writer from former Yugoslavia.

And, sadly, I had never heard of him prior to this day.

A visit to the Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric (to give its official title) this day helped correct this imbalance….

 

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By a decision of the Belgrade City Assembly, the property of Ivo Andric was heritage-listed and entrusted to the Belgrade City Museum immediately following Andric’s death on 13 March 1975.

It was an act meant to express the city’s deep respect for Andric as a writer and as a person.

In accordance with the practice common all over the world, Belgrade wished to preserve the original appearance of the writer’s apartment, surrounded by the Belgrade Old and New Courts and Pionirski Park, in its picturesque environment, to honour its famous citizen.

The establishment of this Memorial Museum also throws light on a very remarkable period in history encompassing the two world wars, as well as the post-war years, on which Andric left a strong personal and creative impact.

The holdings of Ivo Andric’s legacy chiefly consist of items found and inventoried at his apartment after his death – the underlying idea being to reflect the spirit and atmosphere of privacy and nobility surrounding him.

Andric’s personal library contains 3,373 items, along with archival materials, manuscripts, works of fine and applied arts, diplomas and decorations, 1,070 personal belongings and 803 photographs.

The apartment covers an area of 144 square metres (somewhat larger than my own apartment) and is divided into three units:

  • the authentic interior, encompassing an entrance hall, a drawing room and Andric’s study
  • the exhibition rooms, created by the adaptation of two bedrooms
  • the curators’ and guides offices and the museum storerooms, occupying the former kitchen, the maid’s room, the bathroom and the lobby

It is both an unusual and a subtle combination of ambiguously private and unabasedly public, presenting an overview of Andric’s private life while depicting his vivid diplomatic, national, cultural and educational activities.

Ivo Andric was an unusual man who lived in unusual times, a life captured by a small apartment museum that like Andric himself is deceptively normal in appearance….

 

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The original appearance and the function of the entrance hall have been preserved to a great extent.

The showcase with publications and souvenirs of the Belgrade City Museum is the only sign indicating that a visitor, though in residential premises, is actually in a Museum.

Already at the entrance to the Museum, an open bookshelf populated with thick volumes of Serbo-Croatian and foreign language dictionaries and encyclopedias and literary works in French, German and English, symbolizes Andric’s communication with European and world literature, history and philosophy as well as his own creative endeavours.

This is where the story of the writer begins to unfold….

 

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Ivan Andrić was born in the village of Dolac, near Travnik, on 10 October 1892, while his mother, Katarina (née Pejić), was in the town visiting relatives.

 

Above: The house in which Andric was born, now a museum

 

(Travnik has a strong culture, mostly dating back to its time as the center of local government in the Ottoman Empire.

Travnik has a popular old town district however, which dates back to the period of Bosnian independence during the first half of the 15th century.

Numerous mosques and churches exist in the region, as do tombs of important historical figures and excellent examples of Ottoman architecture.

The city museum, built in 1950, is one of the more impressive cultural institutions in the region.

Travnik became famous by important persons who were born or lived in the city.

The most important of which are Ivo Andrić, Miroslav Ćiro Blažević (football coach of the Croatian national team, won third place 1998 in France), Josip Pejaković (actor), Seid Memić (pop singer) and Davor Džalto (artist and art historian, the youngest PhD in Germany and in the South-East European region).

 

Skyline of Travnik

Above: Images of Travnik

 

One of the main works of Ivo Andrić is the Bosnian Chronicle, depicting life in Travnik during the Napoleonic Wars and written during World War II.

In this work Travnik and its people – with their variety of ethnic and religious communities – are described with a mixture of affection and exasperation.

 

Ivo Andriac, Ivo Andric - Bosnian Chronicle

 

The Bosnian Tornjak, one of Bosnia’s two major dog breeds and national symbol, originated in the area, found around Mount Vlašić.)

 

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Andrić’s parents were both Catholic Croats.

He was his parents’ only child.

(I too was raised as an only child.)

 

His father, Antun, was a struggling silversmith who resorted to working as a school janitor in Sarajevo, where he lived with his wife and infant son.

(The Museum disagrees with Wikipedia, describing Antun as a court attendant.)

 

At the age of 32, Antun died of tuberculosis, like most of his siblings.

Andrić was only two years old at the time.

(My mother died, of cancer, when I was three.)

 

Widowed and penniless, Andrić’s mother took him to Višegrad and placed him in the care of her sister-in-law Ana and brother-in-law Ivan Matković, a police officer at the border military police station.

The couple were financially stable but childless, so they agreed to look after the infant and brought him up as their own in their house on the bank of the Drina River.

Meanwhile, Andrić’s mother returned to Sarajevo seeking employment.

Andrić was raised in a country that had changed little since the Ottoman period despite being mandated to Austria-Hungary at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Eastern and Western culture intermingled in Bosnia to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the Balkan peninsula.

Having lived there from an early age, Andrić came to cherish Višegrad, calling it “my real home“.

Though it was a small provincial town (or kasaba), Višegrad proved to be an enduring source of inspiration.

It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional town, the predominant groups being Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

 

Višegrad

Above: Images of Visegrad

 

(Like Andric, I was born elsewhere than the place I think of as home, though to Andric’s credit he lovingly wrote about his birthplace in The Travnik Chronicle.

I could imagine writing about St. Philippe, my childhood hometown, but I feel no intimate connection to St. Eustache, my birthplace, whatsoever, despite the latter having a larger claim to fame than the “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” village of my youth.)

 

Above: St. Eustache City Hall

 

(My imagination plays with the notion of St. Philippe as “St. Jerusalem” and St. Eustache described during the Rebellion of 1837.)

 

Saint-Eustache-Patriotes.jpg

Above: The Battle of St. Eustache, 14 December 1837

 

From an early age, Andrić closely observed the customs of the local people.

These customs, and the particularities of life in eastern Bosnia, would later be detailed in his works.

Andrić made his first friends in Višegrad, playing with them along the Drina River and the town’s famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge.

 

Visegrad bridge by Klackalica.jpg

 

(The area was part of the medieval Serbian state of the Nemanjić dynasty.

It was part of the Grand Principality of Serbia under Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96).

In the Middle Ages, Dobrun was a place within the border area with Bosnia, on the road towards Višegrad.

After the death of Emperor Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55), the region came under the rule of magnate Vojislav Vojinović, and then his nephew, župan (count) Nikola Altomanović.

The Dobrun Monastery was founded by župan Pribil and his family, some time before the 1370s.

 

Above: Dobrun Monastery

 

The area then came under the rule of the Kingdom of Bosnia, part of the estate of the Pavlović noble family.

The settlement of Višegrad is mentioned in 1407, but is starting to be more often mentioned after 1427.

In the period of 1433–37, a relatively short period, caravans crossed the settlement many times.

Many people from Višegrad worked for the Republic of Ragusa.

Srebrenica and Višegrad and its surroundings were again in Serbian hands in 1448 after Despot Đurađ Branković defeated Bosnian forces.

 

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Above: Durad Brankovic (1377 – 1456)

 

According to Turkish sources, in 1454, Višegrad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire led by Osman Pasha.

It remained under the Ottoman rule until the Berlin Congress (1878), when Austria-Hungary took control of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge was built by the Ottoman architect and engineer Mimar Sinan for Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.

Construction of the bridge took place between 1571 and 1577.

It still stands, and it is now a tourist attraction, after being inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

 

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

The Bosnian Eastern Railway from Sarajevo to Uvac and Vardište was built through Višegrad during the Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Construction of the line started in 1903.

It was completed in 1906, using the 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in) track gauge.

With the cost of 75 million gold crowns, which approximately translates to 450 thousand gold crowns per kilometer, it was one of the most expensive railways in the world built by that time.

This part of the line was eventually extended to Belgrade in 1928.

Višegrad is today part of the narrow-gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight.

 

The area was a site of Partisan–German battles during World War II.

Višegrad is one of several towns along the River Drina in close proximity to the Serbian border.

The town was strategically important during the Bosnian War conflict.

A nearby hydroelectric dam provided electricity and also controlled the level of the River Drina, preventing flooding downstream areas.

The town is situated on the main road connecting Belgrade and Užice in Serbia with Goražde and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a vital link for the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) with the Uzamnica camp as well as other strategic locations implicated in the conflict.

 

 

On 6 April 1992, JNA artillery bombarded the town, in particular Bosniak-inhabited neighbourhoods and nearby villages.

Murat Šabanović and a group of Bosniak men took several local Serbs hostage and seized control of the hydroelectric dam, threatening to blow it up.

Water was released from the dam causing flooding to some houses and streets.

Eventually on 12 April, JNA commandos seized the dam.

 

Бањска стена - Тешке боје.jpg

 

The next day the JNA’s Užice Corps took control of Višegrad, positioning tanks and heavy artillery around the town.

The population that had fled the town during the crisis returned and the climate in the town remained relatively calm and stable during the later part of April and the first two weeks of May.

On 19 May 1992 the Užice Corps officially withdrew from the town and local Serb leaders established control over Višegrad and all municipal government offices.

 

Soon after, local Serbs, police and paramilitaries began one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the conflict.

There was widespread looting and destruction of houses, and terrorizing of Bosniak civilians, with instances of rape, with a large number of Bosniaks killed in the town, with many bodies were dumped in the River Drina.

Men were detained at the barracks at Uzamnica, the Vilina Vlas Hotel and other sites in the area.

Vilina Vlas also served as a “brothel“, in which Bosniak women and girls (some not yet 14 years old), were brought to by police officers and paramilitary members (White Eagles and Arkan’s Tigers).

 

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Above: Vilina Vlas Hotel today

 

Bosniaks detained at Uzamnica were subjected to inhumane conditions, including regular beatings, torture and strenuous forced labour.

Both of the town’s mosques were razed.

According to victims’ reports some 3,000 Bosniaks were murdered in Višegrad and its surroundings, including some 600 women and 119 children.

According to the Research and Documentation Center, at least 1,661 Bosniaks were killed/missing in Višegrad.

 

With the Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, the latter which Višegrad became part of.

 

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Above: Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Before the war, 63% of the town residents were Bosniak.

In 2009, only a handful of survivors had returned to what is now a predominantly Serb town.

On 5 August 2001, survivors of the massacre returned to Višegrad for the burial of 180 bodies exhumed from mass graves.

The exhumation lasted for two years and the bodies were found in 19 different mass graves.

The charges of mass rape were unapproved as the prosecutors failed to request them in time.

Cousins Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić were convicted on 20 July 2009, to life in prison and 30 years, respectively, for a 1992 killing spree of Muslims.

 

LUKIC Milan copy.jpg

Above: Milan Lukic

 

The Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge was popularized by Andric in his novel The Bridge on the Drina.

A tourist site called Andricgrad (Andric Town) dedicated to Andric, is located near the Bridge.

Construction of Andrićgrad, also known as Kamengrad (Каменград, “Stonetown“) started on 28 June 2011, and was officially opened on 28 June 2014, on Vidovdan.)

 

Above: Main Street, Andricgrad

 

Throughout his life Andric was tied to Visegrad by pleasant reminiscences and bright memories of childhood.

 

The Bridge on the Drina.jpg

Above: First edition of The Bridge on the Drina (Serbian)

 

At the age of ten, he received a three-year scholarship from a Croat cultural group called Napredak (Progress) to study in Sarajevo.

In the autumn of 1902, he was registered at the Great Sarajevo Gymnasium (Serbo-Croatian: Velika Sarajevska gimnazija), the oldest secondary school in Bosnia.

While in Sarajevo, Andrić lived with his mother, who worked in a rug factory as a weaver.

 

 

(Today Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 275,524 in its administrative limits.

The Sarajevo metropolitan area,  is home to 555,210 inhabitants.

Nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of the Balkans.

Sarajevo is the political, financial, social and cultural center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a prominent center of culture in the Balkans, with its region-wide influence in entertainment, media, fashion, and the arts.

Due to its long and rich history of religious and cultural diversity, Sarajevo is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europeor “Jerusalem of the Balkans“.

It is one of only a few major European cities which have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood.

A regional center in education, the city is home to the Balkans first institution of tertiary education in the form of an Islamic polytechnic called the Saraybosna Osmanlı Medrese, today part of the University of Sarajevo.

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century.

Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history.

In 1885, Sarajevo was the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time electric tram network running through the city, following San Francisco….)

 

 

At the time, the city was overflowing with civil servants from all parts of Austria-Hungary, and thus many languages could be heard in its restaurants, cafés and on its streets.

Culturally, the city boasted a strong Germanic element, and the curriculum in educational institutions was designed to reflect this.

From a total of 83 teachers that worked at Andrić’s school over a twenty-year period, only three were natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The teaching program,” biographer Celia Hawkesworth notes, “was devoted to producing dedicated supporters of the Habsburg Monarchy.”

Andrić disapproved.

All that came at secondary school and university,” he wrote, “was rough, crude, automatic, without concern, faith, humanity, warmth or love.

 

Andrić experienced difficulty in his studies, finding mathematics particularly challenging, and had to repeat the sixth grade.

For a time, he lost his scholarship due to poor grades.

Hawkesworth attributes Andrić’s initial lack of academic success at least partly to his alienation from most of his teachers.

Nonetheless, he excelled in languages, particularly Latin, Greek and German.

Although he initially showed substantial interest in natural sciences, he later began focusing on literature, likely under the influence of his two Croat instructors, writer and politician Đuro Šurmin and poet Tugomir Alaupović.

Of all his teachers in Sarajevo, Andrić liked Alaupović best and the two became lifelong friends.

 

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Above: Tugomir Alaupovic (1870 – 1958)

 

Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer.

He began writing in secondary school, but received little encouragement from his mother.

He recalled that when he showed her one of his first works, she replied:

“Did you write this? What did you do that for?”

Andrić published his first poem “U sumrak” (At dusk)  in 1911 in a journal called Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy), which promoted Serbo-Croat unity.

At the time, he was still a secondary school student.

His poems, essays, reviews, and translations appeared in journals such as Vihor (Whirlwind), Savremenik (The Contemporary), Hrvatski pokret (The Croatian Movement), and Književne novine (Literary News).

One of Andrić’s favorite literary forms was lyrical reflective prose, and many of his essays and shorter pieces are prose poems.

The historian Wayne S. Vucinich describes Andrić’s poetry from this period as “subjective and mostly melancholic“.

Andrić’s translations of August Strindberg’s novel Black Flag, Walt Whitman, and a number of Slovene authors also appeared around this time.

 

August Strindberg

Above: Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)

 

In 1908, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the chagrin of South Slav nationalists like Andrić.

In late 1911, Andrić was elected the first president of the Serbo-Croat Progressive Movement (Serbo-Croatian: Srpsko-Hrvatska Napredna Organizacija; SHNO), a Sarajevo-based secret society that promoted unity and friendship between Serb and Croat youth and opposed the Austro-Hungarian occupation.

Its members were vehemently criticized by both Serb and Croat nationalists, who dismissed them as “traitors to their nations“.

Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians.

On 28 February 1912, he spoke before a crowd of 100 student protesters at Sarajevo’s railway station, urging them to continue their demonstrations.

The Austro-Hungarian police later began harassing and prosecuting SHNO members.

Ten were expelled from their schools or penalized in some other way, though Andrić himself escaped punishment.

Andrić also joined the South Slav student movement known as Young Bosnia, becoming one of its most prominent members.

 

 

In 1912, Andrić registered at the University of Zagreb, having received a scholarship from an educational foundation in Sarajevo.

He enrolled in the department of mathematics and natural sciences because these were the only fields for which scholarships were offered, but was able to take some courses in Croatian literature.

 

University of Zagreb logo.svg

 

(Today Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia.

It is located in the northwest of the country, along the Sava River, at the southern slopes of Mount Medvednica.

 

 

The climate of Zagreb is classified as an oceanic climate, but with significant continental influences and very closely bordering on a humid Continental climate as well as a humid subtropical climate.

Zagreb has four separate seasons.

Summers are warm, at the end of May the temperatures start rising and it is often pleasant with occasional thunderstorms.

Heatwaves can occur but are short-lived.

Temperatures rise above 30 °C (86 °F) on an average 14.6 days each summer.

Rainfall is abundant in the summertime and it continues to be in autumn as well.

Zagreb is Europe’s 9th wettest capital, behind Luxembourg and ahead of Brussels, Belgium.

Autumn in its early stages is mild with an increase of rainy days and precipitation as well as a steady temperature fall towards its end.

Morning fog is common from mid-October to January with northern city districts at the foothills of the Medvednica mountain as well as those along the Sava river being more prone to all-day fog accumulation.

Winters are cold with a precipitation decrease pattern.

Even though there is no discernible dry season, February is the driest month with 39 mm of precipitation.

On average there are 29 days with snowfall with first snow falling in early November.

Springs are generally mild and pleasant with frequent weather changes and are windier than other seasons.

Sometimes cold spells can occur, mostly in its early stages.

The average daily mean temperature in the winter is around 1 °C (34 °F) (from December to February) and the average temperature in the summer is 22.0 °C (71.6 °F).

 

 

Zagreb is a city with a rich history dating from the Roman times to the present day.

The oldest settlement located in the vicinity of the city was the Roman Andautonia, in today’s Ščitarjevo.

The name “Zagreb” is recorded in 1134, in reference to the foundation of the settlement at Kaptol in 1094.

Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851 Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today.

 

 

Zagreb still occasionally experiences earthquakes, due to the proximity of Žumberak-Medvednica fault zone.

It’s classified as an area of high seismic activity.

The area around Medvednica was the epicentre of the 1880 Zagreb earthquake (magnitude 6.3), and the area is known for occasional landslide threatening houses in the area.

The proximity of strong seismic sources presents a real danger of strong earthquakes.

Croatian Chief of Office of Emergency Management Pavle Kalinić stated Zagreb experiences around 400 earthquakes a year, most of them being imperceptible.

However, in case of a strong earthquake, it’s expected that 3,000 people would die and up to 15,000 would be wounded.

 

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Above: Damage done to Zagreb Cathedral, 9 November 1880

 

The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891.

The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterised by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities.

This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas.

An electric power plant was built in 1907.

 

Since 1 January 1877, the Grič cannon is fired daily from the Lotrščak Tower on Grič to mark midday.

 

 

The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable expansion of Zagreb.

Before World War I, the city expanded and neighbourhoods like Stara Peščenica in the east and Črnomerec in the west were created.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie its leading economic position in Croatia.

Zagreb is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries.

Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the centre of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia.

It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting and entertainment events.

Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

 

 

Zagreb is an important tourist centre, not only in terms of passengers travelling from the rest of Europe to the Adriatic Sea, but also as a travel destination itself.

It attracts close to a million visitors annually, mainly from Austria, Germany and Italy, and in recent years many tourists from the Far East (South Korea, Japan, China and India).

It has become an important tourist destination, not only in Croatia, but considering the whole region of southeastern Europe.

There are many interesting sights and happenings for tourists to attend in Zagreb, for example, the two statues of Saint George, one at the Republic of Croatia Square, the other at Kamenita vrata, where the image of Virgin Mary is said to be only thing that hasn’t burned in the 17th-century fire.

Also, there is an art installation starting in Bogovićeva street, called Nine Views.

Most people don’t know what the statue “Prizemljeno Sunce” (The Grounded Sun) is for, and just scrawl graffiti or signatures on it, but it’s actually the Sun scaled down, with many planets situated all over Zagreb in scale with the Sun.

There are also many festivals and events throughout the year, making Zagreb a year-round tourist destination.

The historical part of the city to the north of Ban Jelačić Square is composed of the Gornji Grad and Kaptol, a medieval urban complex of churches, palaces, museums, galleries and government buildings that are popular with tourists on sightseeing tours.

The historic district can be reached on foot, starting from Jelačić Square, the centre of Zagreb, or by a funicular on nearby Tomićeva Street.

Each Saturday, (April – September), on St. Mark’s Square in the Upper town, tourists can meet members of the Order of The Silver Dragon (Red Srebrnog Zmaja), who reenact famous historical conflicts between Gradec and Kaptol.

It’s a great opportunity for all visitors to take photographs of authentic and fully functional historical replicas of medieval armour.

 

 

Numerous shops, boutiques, store houses and shopping centres offer a variety of quality clothing.

There are about fourteen big shopping centres in Zagreb.

Zagreb’s offerings include crystal, china and ceramics, wicker or straw baskets, and top-quality Croatian wines and gastronomic products.

Notable Zagreb souvenirs are the tie or cravat, an accessory named after Croats who wore characteristic scarves around their necks in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and the ball-point pen, a tool developed from the inventions by Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, an inventor and a citizen of Zagreb.

Many Zagreb restaurants offer various specialties of national and international cuisine.

Domestic products which deserve to be tasted include turkey, duck or goose with mlinci (a kind of pasta), štrukli (cottage cheese strudel), sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese with cream), kremšnite (custard slices in flaky pastry) and orehnjača (traditional walnut roll). )

 

 

Andrić was well received by South Slav nationalists in Zagreb and regularly participated in on-campus demonstrations.

This led to his being reprimanded by the university.

In 1913, after completing two semesters in Zagreb, Andrić transferred to the University of Vienna, where he resumed his studies.

 

Uni-Vienna-seal.png

 

(Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria.

Vienna is Austria’s principal city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic and political centre.

It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants.

Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin.

Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC.

The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

These regions work together in a European Centrope border region.

Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants.

In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

The city’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.

The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstraße lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life.

In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities.

Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne.

In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot.

For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

Monocle’s 2015 “Quality of Life Survey” ranked Vienna second on a list of the top 25 cities in the world “to make a base within.”

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013.

The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets.

Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions.

It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.)

 

From top, left to right: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna City Hall, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, and Austrian Parliament Building

Above: Images of Vienna (Wien)

 

While in Vienna, Andric joined South Slav students in promoting the cause of Yugoslav unity and worked closely with two Yugoslav student societies, the Serbian cultural society Zora (Dawn) and the Croatian student club Zvonimir, which shared his views on “integral Yugoslavism” (the eventual assimilation of all South Slav cultures into one).

Andric became acquainted with Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either / Or, which would have a lasting influence on him.

 

A head-and-shoulders portrait sketch of a young man in his twenties that emphasizes his face, full hair, open and forward-looking eyes and a hint of a smile. He wears a formal necktie and lapel.

Above: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

 

Despite finding like-minded students in Vienna, the city’s climate took a toll on Andrić’s health.

He contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill, then asked to leave Vienna on medical grounds and continue his studies elsewhere, though Hawkesworth believes he may actually have been taking part in a protest of South Slav students that were boycotting German-speaking universities and transferring to Slavic ones.

 

For a time, Andrić had considered transferring to a school in Russia but ultimately decided to complete his fourth semester at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

 

POL Jagiellonian University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Jagiellonian University

 

(Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.

Situated on the Vistula River, the city dates back to the 7th century.

Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life.

Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city.

It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading centre of Central Europe in 965.

With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre.

The city has a population of about 770,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.

 

 

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government.

The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.

 

Krakow Ghetto Gate 73170.jpg

 

In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

 

John Paul II on 12 August 1993 in Denver, Colorado

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Kraków’s Historic Centre.

Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of high sufficiency by GaWC.

Its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula, the St. Mary’s Basilica, Saints Peter and Paul Church and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny.

Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.

In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.

In 2013 Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.)

 

 

Throughout his life Andric would feel that he owed much to the Polish excursion.

Andric met and mingled with painters Jovan Bijelic, Roman Petrovic and Peter Tijesic.

He transferred in early 1914 and continued to publish translations, poems and reviews.

Six poems written by Andric were included in the anthology Hrvatska Mlada Linka (Young Christian Lyricists).

In the words of literary critics:

As unhappy as any artist.  Ambitious.  Sensitive.  Briefly speaking, he has a future.

 

Flag of Poland

Above: Flag of Poland

 

(This perspective has always made me wonder….

Must a man suffer before he can call himself an artist?)

 

A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is wearing a winter hat, his ear is bandaged and he has no beard.

 

Certainly, Andric lost his father and was separated from his mother in his childhood and the domination of his homeland by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire clearly bothered him, nonetheless Andric had had the distinct privilege of living and studying in four of the most beautiful and cultural cities that Eastern Europe offers.

Certainly, Andric would be plagued with ill health often during the course of his lifetime, but it would not be until the outbreak of war in 1914 that his, and Europe’s, suffering would truly begin….

(To be continued….)

Image result for ivo andric museum belgrade images

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Eastern Europe / Belgrade City Museum, Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric Guide / Komshe Travel Guides, Serbia in Your Hands / Top Travel Guides, Belgrade / Bradt Guides, Serbia / Aleksandar Diklic, Belgrade: The Eternal City / Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina / Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside

Canada Slim and the Voices without Echo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Monday 2 June 2019

Thursday was Ascension Day, a holiday commemorated in both Thurgau Canton (where my wife works) and in St. Gallen Canton (where I work), and, to our mutual surprise, we found ourselves both free from the obligations of employment simultaneously.

A miracle almost as spectacular as someone rising to Heaven in a cloud!

 

Obereschach Pfarrkirche Fresko Fugel Christi Himmelfahrt crop.jpg

 

We decided to visit the Hundertwasser Exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Lindau, Germany, by taking a train to Romanshorn, then another to Rorschach Harbour and then finally a boat across the Lake of Constance to Bavaria’s only port.

This post is not that story, though it is this story that inspires this post.

 

Image result for hundertwasser lindau bilder

 

In thinking about how my wife and I interacted on yesterday’s day trip I invariably compare it to other times we have travelled together.

 

(For previous posts about Porto, please see Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges as well as Canada Slim and the Station Sanctuary of this blog.)

 

The wife and I have been together for 23 years – she IS tough – and we always somehow muddle through.

We forgive one another.

She forgives me for being wrong and I forgive her for pointing out how truly wrong I can be!

Sadly, the amnesia of our conflicts is sometimes not as permanent as it should be….

 

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Porto, Portugal, Wednesday 25 July 2018

It is a warm day in this the most western country of Continental Europe and happily we are in a city we both like.

Porto is more than a twee tourist trap of little more than pomp and ceremony, like Lisboa the Portuguese capital.

Porto is Portugal’s Chicago, a busy commercial centre, whose fascination lies in its riverside setting and day-to-day life.

Make no mistake there are sites in Porto worth seeing….

  • The riverside barrio of Ribeira with waterfront cafés and restuarants
  • The landmark Clérigos Tower
  • The Sé, Porto’s cathedral
  • The contemporary art gallery and park at the Fondacao de Serralves
  • The port wine lodges across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia
  • A Douro River cruise
  • The bridges that span the Douro: the Ponte Dom Luis I, the Ponte Infante, the Ponte María Pia
  • The Salào Árabe of the Palácio da Bosa

 

From the top left corner clockwise: Clérigos Tower; Palácio da Bolsa; Avenida dos Aliados; Church of São Francisco; Porto Cathedral; Porto City Hall; Ribeira

Above: Images of Porto

 

We had walked through the cathedral square the day previously, but this morning we were determined to explore all the sites that surrounded it.

But the morning began badly.

 

A wardrobe malfunction made us return back to our B & B bedroom.

Then we discovered the English language guidebook we were dependent upon had somehow gone missing.

 

Pocket Rough Guide Porto

 

We returned once again to the room, didn’t find it, so we were forced to find a bookshop and buy the book anew.

We made our way back to the Sé and then she discovered her German-language guidebook was not to be found with us.

She rushed back to the room and left me in the bright sunshine waiting her return.

 

Porto April 2019-19a.jpg

 

Set on a rocky outcrop, a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station, Porto’s Cathedral, the Sé, commands fine views over the rooftops.

I look up at the Sé’s North Tower, the one with the bell, and my eyes trace the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a reminder of the earlier days of Portugal’s maritime epic, when sailors inched nervously down the west Saharan coastline not knowing what dangers were ahead.

Perhaps my wife’s impatience with the morning was partially affected by our cathedral visit, for the Sé’s interior is a disquieting, disastrous doomsday design of Baroque blended with rough Romanesque and gargantuan Gothic architecture that has a spirit as gloomy as a bride and groom forced to wed whom they do not love.

The Sé is redeemed its ghastly first impressions once the senses escape into the cathedral cloisters, with walls lovingly draped with glowing azulejos and a grand staircase that ascends to the breathtaking chapterhouse for panoramic perspectives of the world from the windows.

The Sé is a holy seductress with a mask of beauty that barely conceals a darkness and depth that dares not expose itself to the light.

The Sé is not an intimate ingress of inspiration but rather a stern sorrow-laden scourge of sin and sacrifice designed to intimidate and threaten those unworthy of salvation.

The old dowager lacks teeth, her majesty missing, her glory gone, her gloom inescapable.

 

 

The wife returned to retrieve her German-language Müller Guide which I should have packed in my rucksack and didn’t.

Boys, or men who eternally and internally remain boys, are book-bearing beasts of burden meant to be present but unobtrusive, to be seen but not heard.

I sit in the sun with clear directives to accomplish as set by my bothered bride.

I must plan our progress for the rest of the day.

Planning is never a prospect I embrace, for invariably my plans falls short of her perception of what a perfect plan entails.

I soak the warmth of the sunbaked stone into my already weary bones and tired mind.

I am unmoving and unmoved, immensely immovable.

On the south side of the Sé stretches the grandiose facade of the Paco Episcopal, the medieval archbishop’s palace, where the first King of Portugal was crowned and spent his wedding night.

 

Image result for paço episcopal do porto

 

Like the Sé,  the Paco is a mishmash of architectural elements: a Rococo stairway lined with carved granite flowers, Neoclassical doorways with Baroque decor, priceless furniture of luxurious lifestyle exposed to penny-pinching voyeuristic peasants, a lodging financed by a love of God with 17th century Indonesian cabinets hewed from blood and sweat, toil and tears hatefully demanded by harsh Portuguese taskmasters, religious paintings ironically produced in the secular scene of the first Portuguese Republic (1911 – 1956).

The Palace does not intice nor excite me.

 

 

But the notion of politics and history does, as I read A.H. de Oliveira Marques’ A Very Short History of Portugal and I wonder, as I often do, at what compels a man to demand better from those who would rule him.

The reckless courage that is required to speak truth to power and demand justice from the unjust has always fascinated me.

 

I am a foreigner living in Switzerland and though my lot as a Canadian is far more fortunate than that of other nationalities exiled here, there does exist inequalities and injustices enforced by the Swiss upon those who were not born in the Helvetian Republic.

Just to name a few: taxation without any or only minor representation, difficulty to find employment matching the expat’s experience and the unnecessary requirement that rejects qualifications not obtained within Switzerland, the blatant racial and religious profiling done at border crossings by unsympathetic customs pitbull police, the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, xenophobia encouraged by the eternally re-elected party in power, the bureaucracy that is bathed with greed and complexity, the fortress mentality of a nation determined to remain neutral yet one that profits from the spoils of war, a people who confuse quality of life by quantity of franks in silent bank vaults and wonder why having it all isn’t so much fun….

I often want to climb the stairs to our apartment building’s roof and shout obscenities down upon the unsuspecting neighbourhood of Landschlacht.

But I lack the courage, for attention garnered may mean expulsion, and, for better or worse, Switzerland has been my home for nine years.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

I am a whisper on the Internet, a voice without echo, in a world blind to everything but the square screen of the preset mobile device upon their palms.

 

Image result for mobile phone addiction

 

I think about what we could tour next.

The house behind the Sé at Rua de Dom Hugo 32 was once the home of the poet and writer Guerra Junquiero whose works reflected the revolutionay turmoil of the Republican era.

Today the Casa Museu Guerra Junquiero exhibits the Iberian and Islamic art, the Seljuk pottery, glassware and glazed earthenwear that he had collected over his lifetime, in rooms that recapture the atmosphere of the poet’s last home.

My guidebooks speak of the Junquiero Museum but none lavishes praise upon it, primarily for the reason that all is written only in Portuguese.

 

Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro 88.JPG

 

Abílio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro (1850 – 1923) was a Portuguese top civil servant, a member of the Portuguese House of Representatives, a journalist, author and poet.

His work helped inspire the creation of the Portuguese First Republic.

Junqueiro wrote highly satirical poems criticizing conservatism, romanticism and the Church, leading up to the Portuguese Revolution of 1910.

He was one of Europe’s greatest poets.

 

 

Born in Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal to José António Junqueiro Júnior, a supply trader and farmer, and wife Ana Maria Guerra.

His mother died when he was only three years old.

He completed his secondary studies in Bragança and at sixteen, he enrolled at the University of Coimbra to study theology.

Guerra Junqueiro began his literary career in a promising way in Coimbra in the literary journal A Folha, directed by the poet João Penha, of which later he was editor.

 

Above: Bust of Joao Penha (1838 – 1919), Braga, Portugal

 

Here Junquiero created friendly relations with some of the best writers and poets of his time, a group generally known as the Generation of 70.

Guerra Junqueiro from a very young age began to manifest remarkable poetic talent, and already by 1867 his name was included among the most hopeful of the new generation of Portuguese poets.

In the same year, in the book entitled The Portuguese Aristarchus, appreciating the book  Vozes Sem Echo (Voices without Echo), published in Coimbra in 1867 by Guerra Junqueiro, an auspicious future was already foreseen for its author.

Image result for Vozes sem eco

 

In Porto, on the same date, another work appeared, Baptismo de Amor (Baptism of Love), accompanied by a preamble written by Camilo Castelo Branco.

 

Image result for Baptismo de amor junquiero

 

In Coimbra, Junqueiro published the Lira dos quatorze anos (The Book of Fourteen Years), a volume of poetry, and the poem Mysticae nuptiae.

 

Image result for Lira dos catorze anos junqueiro

 

In Porto, in 1870 the Vitória da Franca (Victory of France) was published, then later republished in Coimbra in 1873.

 

Related image

 

In 1873, when a republic was proclaimed in Spain, Junquiero wrote the vehement poem À Espanha livre (To free Spain).

 

Image result for À Espanha livre junqueiro

 

Junqueiro concluded his study of law also in 1873.

He became secretary of the governors of Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, and later of Viana do Castelo.

 

In 1874 his poem A morte de D. Joao (The death of D. João) achieved great success.

 

A Morte de D. João (Classic Reprint)

 

Camilo Castelo Branco dedicated an article to him in the Nights of Insomnia, and Oliveira Martins, in the magazine Arts and Letters.

 

Camilo Castelo Branco.jpg

Above: Camilo Castelo Branco (1825 – 1890)

 

In Lisbon, Junquiero was a contributor of prose and verse, for political and artistic journals, such as The Magic Lantern  and António Maria, with the collaboration of drawings by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.

In 1875 Junquiero wrote O Crime, a poem on the murder of Ensign Palma de Brito, the poem Aos Veteranos da Liberdade (To the Veterans of Freedom) and the volume of Contos para a infancía (Tales for Childhood).

 

Image result for crime guerra junqueiro

 

In Diário de Notícias (The Daily News) he also published the poem Fiel e Na Ferra da Ladra (Fiel and the Story of Feira da Ladra).

 

Image result for guerra junqueiro

 

In 1878 he published in Lisbon the poem Tragédia infantil.

 

Image result for tragédia infantil junqueiro

 

Junquiero collaborated to several periodical publications, namely: Atlantida (1915-1920), Branco e Negro (1896-1898), Brazil Portugal (1899-1914) (1884-1885), The Press, The Universal Illustration (1884-1885), The Portuguese Illustration (1885-1891), Sunday’s Newspaper (1881-1888), The Reading (1894-1896), Light and Life (1879), The West (1878-1915), Renaissance  (1878-1879), The Pantheon (1880-1881), The Portuguese Republic (1901-1911), Azulejos (1907-1909), in the Tourism magazine, begun in 1916 and in the newspaper O Azeitonense (1919-1920).

A great part of the poetic compositions of Guerra Junqueiro is reunited in the volume A Musa Em Férias (The Muse on Vacation), published in 1879.

 

Image result for a musa em férias guerra junqueiro

 

This year he also wrote the poem O Melro (O Blackbird), which was later included in A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father) of 1885.

 

Image result for o melro guerra junqueiro

 

Idílios e Sátrias (Idylls and Satires) was a translated and collected volume of short stories by Hans Christian Andersen and others.

 

Photograph taken by Thora Hallager, 1869

Above: Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875)

 

After a stay in Paris, apparently for treatment of digestive disease contracted during his stay in the Azores, Junquiero published in 1885, in Porto, A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father), a work that provoked bitter retorts by the clerical opinion, represented in the press, among others, by the canon José Joaquim de Sena Freitas.

 

Image result for José Joaquim de Sena Freitas

Above: José Joaquim de Sena Freitas (1840 – 1913)

 

Controversial with regard to religion, other writings of anticlerical nature by its author have been found in periodical publications like The Lucta and The Light (1919 -1921).

 

When the conflict with England over the “pink map“, which culminated in the British Ultimatum of 11 January 1890, Guerra Junqueiro became deeply interested in this national crisis and wrote Finis Patriae (The end of country) and A Cancao do Ódio (The Song of Hate), to which Miguel Ângelo Pereira wrote the music.

 

Finis Patriae (Classic Reprint)

 

(The 1890 British Ultimatum was an ultimatum by the British government delivered on 11 January 1890 to Portugal.

The ultimatum forced the retreat of Portuguese military forces from areas which had been claimed by Portugal on the basis of historical discovery and recent exploration, but which the United Kingdom claimed on the basis of effective occupation.

Portugal had attempted to claim a large area of land between its colonies of Mozambique and Angola including most of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia and a large part of Malawi, which had been included in Portugal’s “Rose-coloured Map“.

 

 

It has sometimes been claimed that the British government’s objections arose because the Portuguese claims clashed with its aspirations to create a Cape to Cairo Railway, linking its colonies from the south of Africa to those in the north.

 

Above: British colonies (pink), Portuguese colonies (purple)

 

This seems unlikely, as in 1890 Germany already controlled German East Africa, now Tanzania, and Sudan was independent under Muhammad Ahmad.

Rather, the British government was pressed into taking action by Cecil Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company was founded in 1888 south of the Zambezi and the African Lakes Company and British missionaries to the north.

 

Cecil Rhodes ww.jpg

Above: Cecil Rhodes (1853 – 1902)

 

When Portugal acquiesced to British demands, it was considered as a breach of the Treaty of Windsor (1386) and seen as a national humiliation by republicans in Portugal, who denounced the government and the King as responsible for it.

On 14 January, the progressive government fell and the leader of the Regenerador Party, António de Serpa Pimentel, was chosen to form the new government.

 

Serpa Pimentel.jpg

Above: António de Serpa Pimental (1825 – 1900)

 

The progressivists then began to attack the King, voting for republican candidates in the March election of that year, questioning the colonial agreement then signed with the British.

Feeding an atmosphere of near insurrection, on 23 March 1890, António José de Almeida, at the time a student in the University of Coimbra and, later on, President of the Republic, published an article entitled Bragança, o último, considered slanderous against the King and led to Almeida’s imprisonment.

 

Antonio Jose de Almeida (official).jpg

Above: António José de Almeida (1866 – 1929)

 

On 1 April 1890, the explorer Silva Porto (1817 – 1890) immolated himself (set himself on fire), wrapped in a Portuguese flag in Kuito, Angola, after failed negotiations with the locals,  attributed to the Ultimatum.

The death of the well-known explorer of the African continent generated a wave of national sentiment and his funeral was followed by a crowd in Porto.

 

 

On 11 April, Guerra Junqueiro’s poetic work Finis Patriae, a satire criticising the King, went on sale.

 

In the city of Porto, on 31 January 1891, a military uprising against the monarchy took place, constituted mainly by sergeants and enlisted ranks.

The rebels, who used the nationalist anthem A Portuguesa as their marching song, took the Paços do Concelho, from whose balcony, the republican journalist and politician Augusto Manuel Alves da Veiga proclaimed the establishment of the republic in Portugal and hoisted a red and green flag belonging to the Federal Democratic Centre.

The movement was, shortly afterwards, suppressed by a military detachment of the municipal guard that remained loyal to the government, resulting in 40 injured and 12 casualties.

The captured rebels were judged. 250 received sentences of between 18 months and 15 years of exile in Africa.

A Portuguesa was forbidden.

Despite its failure, the rebellion of 31 January 1891 was the first large threat felt by the monarchic regime and a sign of what would come almost two decades later.

 

 

The British Ultimatum was considered by Portuguese historians and politicians at that time to be the most outrageous and infamous action of the UK against its oldest ally.

The 1890 ultimatum was said to be one of the main causes for the Republican Revolution, which ended the monarchy in Portugal 20 years later (5 October 1910) and the Lisbon assassinations of the Portuguese king (Carlos I of Portugal) and the crown prince on 1 February 1908.

 

 

After the British Ultimatum and the political crisis associated, he was involved in the political debate in 1891, writing some best sellers that had huge impact on public opinion, contributing to the discredit of the Portuguese monarchy and the success of the Portuguese Republican Party in the 1910 Portuguese Revolution.

The 5 October 1910 revolution was the overthrow of the centuries-old Portuguese monarchy and its replacement by the Portuguese Republic.

It was the result of a coup d’état organized by the Portuguese Republican Party.

By 1910, the Kingdom of Portugal was in deep crisis: British pressure on Portugal’s colonies, the royal family’s expenses, the assassination of the King and his heir in 1908, changing religious and social views, instability of the two political parties (Progressive and Regenerador), the dictatorship of João Franco and the regime’s apparent inability to adapt to modern times all led to widespread resentment against the Monarchy.

The proponents of the republic, particularly the Republican Party, found ways to take advantage of the situation.

The Republican Party presented itself as the only one that had a programme that was capable of returning to the country its lost status and place Portugal on the way of progress.

 

Estremoz13.jpg

 

(Why does this sound so familiar?)

(Make Portugal great again?)

 

 

After a reluctance of the military to combat the nearly two thousand soldiers and sailors that rebelled between 3 and 4 October 1910, the Republic was proclaimed at 9 o’clock of the next day from the balcony of the Paços do Concelho in Lisbon.

 

 

After the revolution, a provisional government led by Teófilo Braga directed the fate of the country until the approval of the Constitution in 1911 that marked the beginning of the First Republic.

 

Teófilo Braga (ChFl).jpg

Above: Joaquim Teofilo Fernandes Braga (1843 – 1924)

 

Among other things, with the establishment of the republic, national symbols were changed: the national anthem and the flag.

 

Flag of Portugal

 

The revolution produced some civil and religious liberties, although there were no advances in women’s rights  and in workers’ rights, unlike what had happened in other European countries.

The First Portuguese Republic (Portuguese: Primeira República Portuguesa; officially: República Portuguesa, Portuguese Republic) spans a complex 16-year period in the history of Portugal, between the end of the period of constitutional monarchy marked by the 5 October 1910 revolution and the 28 May 1926 coup d’état.

The sixteen years of the First Republic saw nine presidents and 44 ministries and has been described as consisting of “continual anarchy, government corruption, rioting and pillage, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and religious persecution“.

The latter movement instituted a military dictatorship known as Ditadura Nacional (national dictatorship) that would be followed by the corporatist Estado Novo (new state) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.

 

Antonio Salazar-1.jpg

Above: António de Oliveria Salazar (1889 – 1970)

 

Kidnapped and driven off into darkness after Salazar snatched power in 1928, Portugal was absent from the Second World War and through most of the 20th century was economically isolated and politically smothered.

 

Portugal is rich with potential and a certain backwardness adds to the charm.

It is easy to fall in love with this fair land on this final edge of the world, though it could use a bit more self-confidence and a lot more marketing of itself and its heritage.)

 

Junquiero married Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves on 10 February 1880.

The couple had two children: Maria Isabel Guerra Junqueiro on 11 November 1880 and Júlia Guerra Junqueiro in 1881.

He died in Lisbon at the age of 72.

In 1940 Junqueiro’s daughter donated his estate in Porto that became the Guerra Junqueiro Museum.

 

 

Chronology of Guerra Junquiero:

1850:  Born in Ligares, Freixo de Espada a Cinta
1864:  The Book of Fourteen Years
1866:  Studies theology at the University of Coimbra;
1867:  Voices Without Echo
1868:  Baptism of Love. Enrolls in the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra.
1873:  Free Spain. Collaboration to The Leaf of João Penha. He earns a bachelor’s degree in law.
1874: The Death of D. João
1875: First issue of The Magic Lantern to which he collaborates
1878: He is appointed Secretary General of the Civil Government in Angra do Heroísmo.
1879:  The Muse on Vacation and The Blackbird.  Joins the Progressive Party. He is transferred from Angra do Heroísmo to Viana do Castelo and elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
1880: Married on 10 February to Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves. 11  November, their daughter Maria Isabel is born.
1881: Daughter Julia is born. Diagnosed with dementia, hospitalized in Porto.
1885:  The Old Age of the Eternal Father. Creation of the “New Life” movement of which Junqueiro is a sympathizer.
1887: Second trip to Paris
1888: The group “Losers of Life” is formed. The Legitimate.
1889: His wife, Filomena Augusta Neves, dies whom he will mourn until the end of his days.
1890:  Finis Patriae. Guerra Junqueiro is elected deputy by the Quelimane circle.
1895:  Sells most of the artistic collections he had accumulated;
1896:  The Fatherland. Departs for Paris.

1902:  Prayer for Bread
1903:  Lives in Vila do Conde.
1904:  Prayer to the Light
1905:  A visit to the Polytechnic Academy of Porto prompts him to settle in this city.
1908:  He is candidate of the Republican Party for Porto.
1910:   He is appointed Extraordinary Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Portuguese Republic to the Swiss Confederation in Berne
1914:  Exonerated from the functions of Minister Plenipotentiary
1920:  Sparse Prose
1923:  He died on 7 July in Lisbon.
1966: His body is solemnly transferred from the Jerónimos Monastery where it had been interred to the National Pantheon of the Church of Santa Engrácia, Lisbon, in a ceremony held to honor other illustrious Portuguese figures.

 

 

Those are the facts as drily given by Wikipedia and Google, but who was the man?

How should we categorize him?

Should we?

Can we?

Was he a mere bureaucratic drone who dabbled in poetry?

Or a poet who dabbled in government work?

Did his writing incite a revolution or did it merely capture the spirit of the times?

 

 

As I sit in the sun my mind should be planning our travel itinerary for the day so to placate my wife upon her return.

But instead I think of Junqueiro and his Museum I won’t mention to the wife, already unhappy with the start of our first full day in Porto.

 

 

I think instead of the power of the printed word and of the impossibility, even through the written expression of a writer’s thoughts, of truly knowing another person.

Though it may be acknowledged that it is surely difficult for us to know a Portuguese poet long dead from nearly a century ago, it must also be acknowledged that even those we presently love remain unsolved mysteries to us.

 

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.

And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.”  (Michel de Montaigne, Essais)

 

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne, circa unknown.jpg

Above: Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

 

Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves.

So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them.

In the vast colony of our being, there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.”  (Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego)

 

Portrait of Pessoa, 1914.

Above: Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935)

 

I think of the mix of contradictory emotions that fill me anticipating my wife’s return, both eagerly awaiting and decidedly dreading her return.

 

I think of how each of us carries around inside ourselves whole worlds.

 

I am more than a sweaty balding head.

I am also a tear-softened soul.

 

I think of how much life I might still have before me, how open my future might be, how much could still happen, how much there might still be experienced.

 

 

Can anyone see beneath my mask that I am a mix of modesty and immodesty, of conformity and eccentricity, that within me lies a silent rage aimed at a pompous world, an unbending defiance against the world of show-offs whose only real accomplishment is their accidental connectivity to realms of power and prestige denied the average man?

 

I sit in the sun, uncertain of what to suggest next, unwilling to face my wife’s disapproval at what she will perceive to be laziness instead of confusion.

 

Perhaps we travel not to experience another world, but to flee from our own experience, simultaneously running to and from life.

 

 

Portugal is a land always in the shadows, a land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests.

It is a land of mournful fado wailing and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

 

 

Critics, most of them Portuguese, call Portugal the graveyard of ambition, the kingdom of mediocrity, where the national pastime is complaining and the ambitious leave.

As late as 2005, Portugal still had 13% of women who couldn’t read, less than 50% of children who made it to high school and was the lowest earner of the EU.

 

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

 

Porto, historically the country’s wine distribution centre, is said to be the hardest working part of Portugal:

Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays.

 

I want to visit the archbishop’s palace and the poet’s place, for I take great comfort from the calm of everything past.

 

So often I am alone with my thoughts, even when surrounded by a cacophony of chaotic conversations convulsing from a crowd.

My mind is sealed and my tongue falters in failing to express the vaulted thought.

My wife speaks and my ears hear and my heart listens, but my mind is my own, adrift on its own adventure, lost in its own odyssey.

 

I am reminded of my reading on the flight the day before, of the writing of Amadeu Prado, as invented by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier in his book Night Train to Lisbon:

 

Night Train to Lisbon.jpg

 

Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one experience at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves.

Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its colour and its melody.

Then, when we turn to these treasures, as archaeologists of the soul, we discover how confusing they are.

The object of contemplation refuses to stand still, the words bounce off the experience and in the end, pure contradictions stand on the paper.

 

What benefit is there in being the archaeologist of one’s self, to dig for buried experience?

 

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpg

 

Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?

 

The Wikipedia photo of Junquiero shows a man of intelligence and self-confidence and boldness.

Or is what I perceive only an observation of qualities I wish I possessed beneath the mask I wear?

 

 

Yet the contradiction that is a man’s character sometimes wonders could something be made different from my life, that there may be more to me than anyone knows.

 

In the centre of the city, in the centre of my life, I sit in the sun in the square of the cathedral.

I reflect how we live in an age rushing through a timeless universe only appreciated when contemplated quietly and calmly.

 

 

I think of the life of a man I never knew, a poet whose words I never read, who wrote in a language I never spoke.

Is Junqueiro only identifiable by what he did and the words he wrote?

Was there more to the man than anyone besides himself could ever possibly know?

 

Related image

 

Is there a mystery under the surfaces of human action?

Or are human beings utterly what their obvious acts indicate?

 

The words that Junquiero wrote, the words I have never read, are they expressions of eternally, essentially, the same things others have said before?

 

Words are so horribly frayed and threadbare, worn out by being used millions of times.

Do they still have any meaning?

Naturally, the exchange of words functions.

People act on them.

They laugh and cry.

They go left or right.

The waiter brings the coffee or tea.

But that’s not what I want to ask.

The question is:

Are they still an expression of thoughts?

Or only effective sounds that drive people here and there because the worn grooves of babble incessantly flash?

 

Perhaps I should follow the advice of Marcus Aurelius when he writes in his Meditations:

Do wrong to thyself.

Do wrong to thyself, my soul, but later thou wilt no longer have the opportunity of respecting and honouring thyself.

For every man has but one life….

Those who do not observe the impulses of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

 

Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius. This masterful portrait captures the pensive temperament of the philosopher-emperor and author of the celebrated 'Meditations', reflections on life and the ways of the gods. The smooth, softly modeled carving of the flesh contrasts markedly with the mass of thick, curling hair. The drooping eyelids and detached gaze suggest his contemplative nature.

Above: Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180)

 

She returns to me still sitting in the sun, with little progress on the planning made.

I imagine her thinking:

What is the point of having a husband if he does not do what he is told?

I imagine that she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders having a man about who is so completely useless at times.

I smile foolishly and say pointless words to defend my pointlessness.

 

 

I don’t mention Junquiero’s house and she never asks.

I also know I would be frustrated being in a museum whose signage I couldn’t read, despite the unfair expectation that a Portuguese museum have any other language besides Portuguese for a poet unknown outside of Portugal.

 

With a heavy sigh, she plans for us.

The morning has been shot to hell, so lunch across the Douro River in Gaia might inspire us.

Like the animal I am, I respond greedily to the prospect of food.

I know there is no excuse for my behaviour and no words to justify it, so I don’t bother trying.

 

Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Above: Vila Nova de Gaia

 

As I rise to my feet, carefully – I am just recovering from an accident where I broke both my arms – I think of Prado who never existed and Junquiero who no longer exists, then I focus on matters at hand.

The universe may be timeless but our vacation time is not.

 

But reading Mercier’s novel and learning of Junquiero’s life has inspired me.

I will ask when I can at random bookshops for the poems of Junquiero available in English translation.

 

Above: Livraria Lello, Porto

 

I know that the rhythm and subtlity of his poetry will be inadequately conveyed in translation, but I also know the painfully slow process of translating the original Portuguese into English I understand will somehow destroy the passion with which I started to read.

Nonetheless there is too little poetry in my life and even the muse of love has her limits and I must make amends for this deficiency.

 

I will return from the vacation and do the things I must do.

Work where and when I can.

Meet my obligations to others as best as I can.

I will seek no evil to see, no evil to hear, no evil to speak.

I remain a true husband, a good friend and loyal employee.

But my mind is my own and my words, as imprecise as they can be, will seek to speak my mind.

Perhaps through reading poetry I shall find the means to express myself.

I am my own archaeologist of my own self.

 

So much generated from simply sitting in the sun.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Portugal / Rough Guide Portugal / Pocket Rough Guide Porto / Matthew Hancock, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese / A.H. de Oliveira Marques, A Very Short History of Portugal / Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon / Pedro Rodrigues, Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories / Melissa Rossi, The Armchair Diplomat on Europe / Jürgen Strohmeier, Nordportugal

Canada Slim and the Mandir of Nose Hill

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 21 May 2019

This Sunday in Switzerland some folks will attend services in either a Reformed Church or a Roman Catholic Church and both groups will call themselves Christian.

 

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And as the Earth spins around the Sun, from the Dark Continent of Africa to the Canadian tundra, Christians will kneel on this day to receive the elements of their own version of the eternal Eucharist as written in the Bible that speaks of how God sent His Son whose sacrifice somehow saved our wretched souls and whose resurrection conquered death for all of us, despite death being our destiny.

 

 

In Jerusalem and parts of the planet where the Great Diaspora has led them over centuries, others, wrapped in the prayer shawls that their ancestors wore in the desert, recite the Torah, as their Rabbi lovingly guides a wand across sacred text that Yahweh spoke to His Chosen People.

 

 

And within the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and anywhere where the Qu’ran reigns the mind, five times a day, the faithful prostrate themselves towards Mecca, towards Mohammed’s holy city, and show their devotion to Allah, who also remains God the Father of Christianity and Yahweh of the Jews and yet is unrecognizable as the same God of Abraham said to be the originator of all three great religions.

 

 

Same deity, different names, different practices, same intolerance too often seen by those who claim this deity as their own.

 

 

In a tiny house by the Ganges River at the foot of the Himalayas, a Hindu Swami will not speak today, but will continue his devotional silence that, with the exception of three days each year, he has kept for years.

 

 

In Yangon, the monks of Shwedagon sit alone and together with the eternal in the tranquil silence and privacy of their Buddhist shrine, as do the Zen monks in Kyoto, spending most of the day sitting immovable in the lotus position, as they seek to plumb with absolute absorption the Buddha-nature that lies at the centre of their being.

 

 

What a freaky fellowship, an odd misplaced madness, this is, this seeking of something divine that defies description or definition, voices raised in desperate disparate ways, sacrificing precious life to a God of life that cannot be proven not to exist.

Such strange ethereal harmony, each faith claiming superiority over every other belief, no individual religion understanding the others, and yet united in lifting their voices to the heavens in the hopes that what binds the universe will spare a moment for those who are naught more than carbonated stardust.

 

Are the faithful foolish or the unbelieving unredeemable?

 

We cannot know.

 

All we can do is try and listen carefully, with full attention to each voice as it in its turn addresses the divine that lies within and without us.

 

Religions wrap the globe in their comfort, with histories stretching back into the forgotten mists of time, that still motivates more people today than ever before.

Nothing unites us more nor divides us more than religion does.

 

 

Who should we follow?

What should we believe?

 

Should Christians worship in ornate cathedrals bedecked with icons or consider even steeples divine desecrations?

How should Muslims decide between Sunni and Shi’ite or feel about Sufism?

Must a Jew be orthodox to call himself a true Jew?

And let us wonder as Buddhists ponder different traditions of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana philosophies.

 

Millions live by a faith.

More than three quarters of the world’s population consider that they belong to a religion, however little or much they do about it.

Communities of people who share practices and beliefs gather in special buildings for worship or meditation and seek to live lives in special ways in the world.

Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, religion has been the resource and inspiration for virtually all the most enduring art, architecture, music, drama, dance and poetry that the world has known, in search and expression of that which endures when all else passes away.

 

 

We must decide if faith has relevance in these digital days, our modern minds, our computerized lives.

 

As every religion mixes universal truths with local peculiarities we must lift out the former from the latter and embrace that which speaks to what  is generically human in us all.

 

This is not easy for the irreverent, for religion is rich in rites and laden in legends.

This is not simple for those whose lives are reigned by rationalism, for the claim that the universal principles of faith are more important than rites and rituals is like contending that the trunk of a tree is more important than the branches, leaves or roots of that tree.

I know that when I seek to understand the religious impulse, that I myself lack, this is akin to trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

 

The mind that is mine struggles to grasp how Hindu’s holy Kali Temple in Calcutta revers two million cows to the point of nuisance while fakirs offer their bodies to bedbugs as sacrifice.

 

 

I find myself conflicted between the stillness of Bethlehem and department stores blaring “Silent Night” from stereos above plastic reindeer and overweight Santas.

 

 

I seek to define the divine amidst images of crucified Christs and chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

 

 

I wallow in a mire of confusion as to how Crusades can be Christian or Jihads holy, or how a God of love co-exists with witch slaughter in Salem, monkey trials in Tennessee and Grand Inquisitions in Spain.

 

 

I, like billions before me and aeons after me, seek the meaning to my existence in the hope that my short span of life has worth.

 

I am reminded of a Faustian fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and seized hold of the Truth.

Satan, suspecting sedition from this mortal upstart, directed a demon to tail the determined seeker.

When the demon reported with alarm the man’s success, Satan was not in the least bothered by the bulletin.

Don’t worry.“, Satan yawned.

I will tempt him to institutionalize the Truth.

 

 

The empowering theological and metaphysical truth of faith is inspirational, but the religious institutions built around this truth are often not.

Religion is constituted of people with their inbuilt frailities, vices and virtues.

When the vices get compounded by masses, the results are horrifying to the point where one might suggest that faith should be left outside the hands of humanity.

But faith without the faithful would have left no mark upon humanity’s history, for better or for worse.

Had faith remained as only aloof disembodied insight and had not embraced institutions and rituals, then faith could not have established traction on history or upon men’s souls.

What is important is to not get lost in the smoke and ceremony of rite and ritual, but instead we need to sift religion for the truths they try to preserve, the wisdom that maintains our world.

 

 

As T.S. Eliot so wisely phrased it:

Where is the knowledge that is lost in information?

Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?

 

Eliot in 1934 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

 

I categorically reject the premise that one religion is superior to another, for it is this comparison that is the most odious aspect of all institutions, for, as Arnold Toynbee observed:

There is no one alive today who knows enough to say with confidence whether one religion has been greater than all others.

 

Arnold Toynbee.jpg

Above: Arnold Toynbee (1852 – 1883)

 

It must be admitted that though I seek to embrace the world, I am incorrigibly myself and I know that the tale I am about to tell might be quite differently written had I been a Burmese Buddhist, a Turkish Muslim, a Nepalese Hindu, a Serbian Orthodox, a Swiss Catholic or a Polish Jew instead of a Canadian humanist with delusions of fluency.

 

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

 

We live in a world of wonders.

Lands across the planet are our neighbours, China is around the corner, the Middle East is our backyard, my younger colleagues and close companions with backpacks go everywhere, while I – who often remain at home in this wee hamlet of Landschlacht – have access to an endless parade of books and videos and visitors from abroad.

It isn’t so much that East meets West as it is humanity is being flung at one another, hurled across distances at jet speed, information invading our impatient intelligence within the breath between atoms.

 

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

 

Diogenes, twenty-five hundred years ago, exclaimed:

I am not an Athenian or a Greek but a citizen of the world.

 

Above: Diogenes (412 – 323 BC)

 

Today we have the possibility to not only think of ourselves by the nations we found ourselves born in, but rather we have the opportunity to judge our heartbeat by the pulse of the planet.

We need to understand the faiths of others if we are to meet them as allies or antagonists, so that we can avoid military engagement through diplomacy.

We need to understand one another through our faiths so we can enjoy the world vision it offers us.

 

 

Or put another way….

What do they know of England, who only England know?

 

Location of England (dark green) – in Europe (green & dark grey) – in the United Kingdom (green)

 

How can we truly understand our beliefs if we never question them by comparison with others?

How truly enriching our lives become when we truly understand what belonging means to the Japanese, to sense with a Burmese grandmother what passes in life and what endures, to comprehend with the Hindu that our personalities mask the Infinite within, to follow the paradox of a Zen monk who assures you that everything is sacred but refrains from acts that are unholy, to feel the comfort that confession offers the devout Catholic….

For as language opens the mind to understanding other people, faith enlarges the heart to compassion and love for humanity.

 

True faith, not a dull habit but a living passion, confronts the individual with the momentous wisdom that life can offer.

Faith calls a soul to the highest adventure, a journey across the landscape of the human spirit.

It is the siren call to confront reality as it is, to master the self.

It is a lonely journey, a personal quest….

 

A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse,

A difficult path is this – the poets declare!

(Alfred Toynbee, Civilization on Trial)

 

Razors edge 84.jpg

 

Los Alamos, New Mexico, 16 July 1945

Today is the day that the chain reaction of scientific discoveries that began at the University of Chicago and focused here at Site Y has reached the final culmination.

 

 

No one has been more instrumental in this project’s achievement than the director of the Los Alamos Project, Robert Oppenheimer.

All eyes are upon him closely this morning.

 

Head and shoulders portrait

Above: Robert Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967)

 

He grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off.

He scarcely breathed.

He held on to a post to steady himself.

When the announcer shouted “Now!”, there came this tremendous burst of light, followed by the deep-growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed in an expression of tremendous relief.”

The first atomic bomb is a success.

 

 

What flashed through Oppenheimer’s mind during those moments were two lines from the Bhagavad-Gita in which the speaker is God:

I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds;

Waiting that hour that ripens to their doom.

 

Photograph of a bronze chariot. The discourse of Krishna and Arjuna in Kurukshetra is the Bhagavad Gita.

(The Bhagavad Gita is a discourse between Krishna and Arjuna set in a chariot at the start of the Mahabharata War.)

 

Thus began an age in which violence and peace continue to confront each other more fatefully than ever before.

 

In India, Gandhi’s name became, in the middle of the 20th century, the counterpoint to those of Stalin and Hitler, but not just for the British withdrawl from the Subcontinent in peace, but, more importantly, for his lowering a barrier even more formidable than that of race in America.

Gandhi renamed India’s untouchables harijan – God’s people – and raised them to human stature.

In doing so, Gandhi provided the non-violent strategy and the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement in the United States.

Gandhi’s inspiration was revealed in his autobiography:

Such power as I possess for working in the political field has derived from my experiments in the spiritual field.

Truth is the sovereign principle and the Bhagavad-Gita is the book par excellence for the knowledge of truth.

 

Studio photograph of Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, 1931.

Above: “Mahatma“(“the Venerable“) Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

 

On a grey day in October 2017, a stone’s throw from the grim North Circular, that drab ring road that encircles London’s northern suburbs of Neasden, I would follow my curiosity and thirst for truth eternal to a Hindu temple.

A temple both alien and appropriate in the homeland of English, in the heart of an empire that once dominated my own birth country of Canada and whose sovereign remains our head of state, from a religion with roots in the land of India – that living coalition of religions and languages where one billion congregate and of which 80% call themselves Hindu – with 30 million adherants dispersed throughout the world.

On that day I would visit the largest traditional Hindu temple outside India (as recognized by Guinness World Records), Neasden’s 8th Wonder of the World, the Crown Jewel of Hinduism, one of Reader’s Digest‘s 70 Wonders of the Modern World, Time Out London‘s Seven Wonders….

The BAPS Shri Swamirayan Mandir Hindu temple.

It would not make me a Hindu nor make me feel any more knowledgeable about Hinduism than I felt before, but, nevertheless, my morning visit left impressions with me that still remain….

 

London Temple.jpg

 

London, England, 26 October 2017

Shri Swaminarayan was not my first visit to a Hindu temple (and I have a feeling that it won’t be my last), for on a visit to Singapore in the spring of 2014, en route to the Perth wedding of friends in Western Australia, I visited Sri Mariamman Temple, paradoxically located in the Lion City’s Chinatown district.

Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and I still remember the temple’s incredible, brightly coloured gopuram (tower) above the entrance, covered in kitsch plaster images of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and (Oppenheimer’s) Shiva the Destroyer, as sacred cow sculptures graze the boundary walls.

 

 

I had a three-day stopover in Singapore and in the process of trying to cram so much into my consciousness in a very short time Sri Mariammen is a blurred memory amongst many that I saw during my short sojourn in the city-state.

I recall also seeing the Peranakan Museum, the Raffles Hotel, the Chinatown Heritage Centre, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, the Taoist Temple of Heavenly Happiness (Thian Hock Temp), Little India, Changi Prison, the Night Safari, Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin.

I remember Little India, not for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with images of Kali, wearing a garland of skulls and ripping out the insides of her victims, but rather for the Bismallah Biryani Restaurant’s mutton kebab.

Hindu temples in Singapore were, for me at the time of my visit, only part of a tightly squeezed adventure and a list of must-sees rather than research for right or righteous religion.

 

 

(Thinking of Singapore and Perth I see future posts about them….)

 

I might not have bothered with London’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir at all had not my wife purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, tubes and trains, and strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the days of the medical conference she would attend that week.

Today would be the first day that I would view London unaccompanied by my spouse during the week.

 

Image result for london pass images

 

It was not my first visit to London….

 

 

(I had spent a couple of days on my own in 1995, mostly walking along the Thames rather than doing much exploring as a lack of money dogged my days then.

I spent a day and an evening in 2010 with my good friend Iain and his beautiful companion – now his spouse since the aforementioned Perth wedding – Samantha, visiting Greenwich Observatory and seeing the show Avenue Q in the Theatre District, with time to enjoy life walking well and dining fine.)

 

Royal observatory greenwich.jpg

 

But this was the first time I would attempt to deliberately explore London on my own without having to worry excessively about money.

I approached the Project alphabetically from the pages of the London Pass Guide.

As the ArcelorMittal Orbit (London’s tallest sculpture), the All Hallows by the Tower Church (where William Penn was baptized, John Quincy Adams was married and Archbishop William Laud was buried), Apsley House (with the oldest surviving grand piano in the UK) and the Arsenal Stadium Tour & Museum – (Football was never so crucial a sport to me as Canadian ice hockey or American baseball.)(Iain, an Everton fan, would never have forgiven me such a sacrilege.) – didn’t strike me as “must-see-before-I-die” / bucket list attractions, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir seemed the place to start.

 

 

And I must admit the attraction was attractively described:

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a masterpiece of traditional Hindu design and exquisite Indian workmanship in the heart of London. 

Using 5,000 tonnes of Italian and Indian marble and the finest Bulgarian limestone, it was hand-carved in India before being assembled in London in just 2.5 years. 

Since it opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over 400,000 visitors every year. 

Come and marvel at the intricate carvings, experience a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony, or learn about the world’s oldest living faith.

 

 

I took the Tube from our hotel’s neighbourhood way out to Stonebridge Park Station and wandered lost for an hour until I reached Neasden in the London Borough of Brent.

 

Stonebridge Park station, London Transport - geograph.org.uk - 879904.jpg

 

It may seem at first thought that Neasden is an unusual spot for a Hindu temple, but then Neasden has always been an unusual spot in its own right.

Neasden’s name meant “nose hill” and referred to the small promontory at the western end of the Dollis Hill Ridge upon which the hamlet sat.

The countryside hamlet land was once owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and consisted of only several small buildings around a green near the site of the present Neasden roundabout until the mid-19th century.

In 1823 Neasden was no more than a “retired hamlet” with six cottages, four large farms, a pub and a smithy gathered around the green.

 

The Brent Reservoir (aka the Welsh Harp Reservoir from the name of the aforementioned pub) between Henden and Wembley Park, that straddles the boundary between the Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, was completed in 1835 and was breached in 1841.

The breaking of the dam on the River Brent resulted in folks dying and many fields and meadows under water.

Today the Brent Reservoir is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to the great crested grebe, the gadwall, the shoveler, the common pochard, the tufted duck and the common tern, as well as eight species of warbler – a total of 253 species of bird life.

As well the Reservoir possesses 31 species of butterfly, 15 species of dragonflies and is also the residence of grey squirrels, red foxes and bats.

In 1960 the Reservoir hosted the Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Today the Welsh Harp Open Space surely sees not only rowboats and sailboats but those of the Hindu faith enjoying the magic of this unglamourous corner of suburban tranquillity.

 

 

(Not fishermen though, as fishing is strictly forbidden.)

 

In 1873 Neasden had a populace of 110 and the horse was the main form of transport.

As London grew, the demand for horses in the capital soared, so in the second half of the 19th century Neasden farms focused on rearing and providing horses for the City.

Town work was exhausting and unhealthy for the horses….

 

Two Nokota horses standing in open grassland with rolling hills and trees visible in the background.

 

(It ain’t so wonderful for humans either.)

 

In 1886 the RSPCA formed a committee to set up the Home of Rest for Horses with grounds in Neasden, where, for a small fee, town horses were allowed to graze in the open for a few weeks.

 

The urbanization of Neasden began with the arrival of the railway.

The first railway running through Neasden was opened for goods traffic in 1868 with passenger services following soon after.

 

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In the 1890s change led to a conscious effort to create a village atmosphere.

At this time, the Spotted Dog became a social centre for local people.

By 1891 Neasden had a population of 930, half of whom lived in the village.

Despite the presence of the village in the west, it was the London end that grew fastest.

 

In 1893 the Great Central Railway got permission to join up its main line from Nottingham with the Metropolitan.

The Great Central set up a depot south of the line at Neasden and built houses for its workers.

 

 

The Great Central village was a “singularly isolated and self-contained community” with its own school and single shop, Branch No. 1 of the North West London Co-operative Society.

It is now part of a conservation area.

There was considerable sporting rivalry between the two railway estates and a football match was played every Good Friday.

By the 1930s the two railways employed over 1,000 men.

 

 

Neasden Hospital was built in 1894 and closed in 1986.

 

Apart from the railways, Neasden was dominated by agriculture until just before the First World War.

In 1911, Neasden’s population had swelled to 2,074.

By 1913, light industry at Church End had spread up Neasden Lane as far as the station.

 

In the 1920s, the building of the North Circular Road, a main arterial route round London, brought another wave of development.

It opened in 1923.

 

 

The 1924 British Empire Exhibition led to road improvements and the introduction of new bus services.

Together with the North Circular Road, it paved the way for a new residential suburb at Neasden.

The last farm in Neasden was built over in 1935.

The Ritz Cinema opened in 1935, and Neasden Shopping Parade was opened in 1936, considered then to be the most up-to-date in the area.

All of Neasden’s older houses were demolished during this period, except for The Grange.

The Spotted Dog was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style.

Industries sprung up in the south of the area, and by 1949, Neasden’s population was over 13,000.

 

The Post Office Research Station was located nearby in Dollis Hill.

 

 

There the Colossus computers, among the world’s first, were built in 1943-1944, and underneath them the Paddock Wartime Cabinet Rooms had been constructed in 1939.

 

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Neasden Power Station, which was built to provide power for the Metropolitan Railway, was closed and demolished in 1968.

 

The post-war history of Neasden is one of steady decline.

Local traffic congestion problems necessitated the building of an underpass on the North Circular Road that effectively cut Neasden in half and had a disastrous effect on the shopping centre by making pedestrian access to it difficult.

The decline in industry through the 1970s also contributed to the area’s decline.

 

But nonetheless Neasden has somehow survived, largely due to a succession of vibrant immigrant communities keeping the local economy afloat.

 

Neasden Depot continues to be the main storage and maintenance depot for the London Underground’s Metropolitan line (and is also used by trains of the Jubilee line).

It is London Underground’s largest depot and as such it is a major local employer.

The Grange Tavern (previously called The Old Spotted Dog) on Neasden Lane was closed in the 1990s and demolished to make way for a block of flats, bringing to an end the inn that had stood there for around two centuries.

Another old pub, The Pantiles, which stood on the North Circular Road was converted into a McDonald’s restaurant.

 

The Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA opened its second UK outlet in Neasden in 1988.

 

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On 14 July 1993, in an MI5 anti-terrorist operation, a Provisional IRA man was arrested in his car on Crest Road carrying a 20 lb bomb.

It came just over a year after the Staples Corner bombing just over 500 yards away, which devastated the junction.

 

 

In 1995, Neasden became the unlikely home of the biggest Hindu temple outside India: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, known locally as the Neasden Temple.

 

In 2004, the shopping centre area was partially redeveloped by the Council in an effort to reverse its fortunes.

The Grange, which had housed a museum about the people of Brent, was closed by the Council in 2005.

The 2004 redevelopment proved to be unpopular with local businesses, as it changed the layouts of parking, thus forcing customers and local trade to pass by due to the parking restrictions of the redevelopment.

Neasden was once nicknamed “the loneliest village in London” and “God’s own borough“.

Neasden has achieved considerable notoriety thanks to the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Since early in its history (when the magazine was actually printed in Neasden) the magazine has used Neasden as an exemplar of the suburban environment in pieces parodying current events, personalities, and social mores (for example, the University of Neasden).

Spoof sports reports in the magazine usually feature the perennially unsuccessful football team, Neasden F.C. with their manager, “ashen-faced” Ron Knee and their only two supporters, Sid and Doris Bonkers.

 

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Neasden was one of the locations in the TV documentary Metro-land.

In it, Sir John Betjeman described Neasden as “home of the gnome and the average citizen” (the former a reference to the preponderance of gnome statuettes in suburban front gardens, but possibly also a nod in the direction of the Eye’s fictional proprietor, Lord Gnome).

Background music was provided by William Rushton’s recording of Neasden (1972):

(“Neasden

You won’t be sorry that you breezed in.“)

 

Title card with the title "Metro-land with John Betjeman" in mock Edwardian script - yellow on a deep red background.

 

In a celebrated spoof of the Early Music phenomenon which grew enormously in the late 1960s, Neasden was selected by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer David Cain as the home of a fictional ensemble dedicated to historically-informed performances on authentic musical instruments from an indeterminate number of centuries ago.

It was thus that in 1968, listeners to BBC Radio 3 were given a recital by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis whose members performed on the equally fictional Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clackett.

 

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Athletico Neasden was an amateur football team of mostly Jewish players, which played in the Maccabi (Southern) Football League in the 1970s and 1980s and were named after the place, though they didn’t actually play in the area.

The team eventually merged with North West Warriors to form North West Neasden.

 

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David Sutherland’s children’s novel A Black Hole in Neasden reveals a gateway to another planet in a Neasden back garden.

 

Diana Evans’s 2006 novel 26a details the experiences of twin girls of Nigerian and British descent growing up in Neasden.

Willie Hamilton reported in ‘My Queen and I‘ that the Victorian Order medals were made on a production line in Neasden from used railway lines.

 

A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached

 

A pirate radio station, Dread Broadcasting Corporation, credited as Britain’s first black music radio station, was broadcast from a Neasden garden between 1981 – 1984.

 

In the Dangermouse episode “Planet of the Machines“, Dangermouse and Penfold arrive back in Neasden from the planet in the Baron’s space time machine.

 

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Konnie Huq and Matt Cooke from BBC TV present the Your News programme from Neasden.

 

So all of this begs the question:

 

What in the name of Krishna is a Hindu temple doing here?

 

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Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in the old Hindu proverb:

The lotus blooms in splendour, but its roots lie in the dirt.

 

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Let me be frank.

Neasden is a glum place, especially after the glamour of the City has been seen, thus the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir seems to rise majestically above the dismal, between-the-world-wars housing like a welcome oasis of sight.

So sudden and grandiose does the Mandir appear that the viewer wonders whether it is a mirage, a shimmering dream, conjured up by one’s overactive imagination.

Here in London’s loneliest village is an experience of India’s glorious tradition and faith, a legacy that seems to have evolved over millennia rather than appearing miraculously on the landscape in a mere 30 months.

 

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Since the Mandir opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over half a million visitors a year.

The inventory of visitors, including your humble blogger, has incorporated prime ministers and presidents, royalty and religious leaders, artists and industrialists, school children and journalists, the devout and the merely curious.

 

It is impossible to catalogue all the appelations, emotions, inspirations and experiences that this Mandir has evoked.

On a personal profound level, the Mandir is a pavilion of peace and promise, a dissolver of disquiet, a messenger dispelling misunderstanding, a statement of hope and faith for the future.

 

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I am fascinated by the power of belief and teamwork and the spirit of volunteerism that made the Mandir possible.

In June 1970, the first BAPS Mandir in Britain opened in a converted disused church in Islington, North London, by Yogji Maharaj.

In 1982, having outgrown the Islington temple, the congregation moved to a small former warehouse in Neasden.

The present Mandir was designed by Pramukh Swami, a 92-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man) and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors.

 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, 2010

Above: Pramukh Swami (1921 – 2016)

 

It was built and funded entirely by the Hindu community.

The entire project took five years, although the Neasden construction itself was completed in a mere 30 months.

 

In November 1992, the temple recorded the largest concrete pour in the United Kingdom, when 4,500 tons were put down in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 1.8 metres / 6 feet thick.

The first stone was laid in June 1993.

Two years later, the Mandir was complete.

 

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Designed according to the Shilpa-Shastras, a Vedic text that develops Hindu architecture to metaphorically represent the different attributes of God, it was constructed almost entirely from Indian marble, Italian marble, Sardinian granite and Bulgarian limestone.

No iron or steel was used in the construction, a unique feature for a modern building in the UK.

From the conceptual design and vision of Pramukh Swami, the architect C. B. Sompura and his team created the Mandir entirely from stone.

 

It is a shikharbaddha (or pinnacled) mandir:

Seven-tiered pinnacles topped by golden spires crowd the roofline, complemented by five ribbed domes.

The temple is noted for its profusely carved cantilevered central dome.

Inside, serpentine ribbons of stone link the columns into arches, creating a sense of levitation.

Light cream Vartza limestone from Bulgaria was chosen for the exterior, and for the interior, Italian Carrara marble supplemented by Indian Ambaji marble.

The Bulgarian and Italian stone were shipped to the port of Kandla in Gujarat, where most of the carving was eventually completed, by over 1,500 craftsmen in a workshop specially set up for the project.

More than 26,300 individually numbered stones pieces were shipped back to London and the building was assembled like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw.

 

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The Mandir was inaugurated on 20 August 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS – the organisation behind the temple.

The entire Mandir complex represents an act of faith and collective effort.

Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, more than 1,000 volunteers worked on the building, and many more contributed and solicited donations, or organised sponsored walks and other activities.

Children raised money by collecting aluminium cans and foil for recycling – the biggest can collection in English history – 7 million cans collected by 1,500 children.

 

The Mandir serves as the centre of worship.

Directly beneath each of the seven pinnacles seen from the outside is a shrine.

Each of these seven shrines houses murtis (sacred images) within altars.

Each murti is revered like God in person and devoutly attended to each day by the sadhus (monks) who live in the temple ashram.

 

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Beneath the Mandir is the permanent exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism‘.

Through 3-D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork, it provides an insight into the wisdom and values of Hinduism.

Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs and contribution of Hindu seers, and how this ancient religion is being practised today through traditions, such as the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampraday.

 

The Mandir is open to people of all faiths and none.

Entrance is free, except to the ‘Understanding Hinduism‘ exhibition where there is a £2 fee, which was covered by the London Pass.

 

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(A note about BAPS….

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) (Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā) is a Hindu religious and social organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

BAPS was established on 5 June 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj after leaving the Vadtal Gadi of the Swaminarayan Sampraday.

It was formed on the founder’s interpretation that Swaminarayan was to remain present on Earth through a lineage of Gunatit Gurus (or Akshar) dating all the way back to Gunatitanand Swami – one of Swaminarayan’s prominent devotees.

Gunatitanand Swami was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.

Due to the organizational emphasis on the Akshar Purushottam doctrine, it essentially forms the organization’s middle name.

The fundamental beliefs of BAPS include the spiritual guidance through the living Akshar (or Guru) who is believed to have attained oneness with Swaminarayan.

Mahant Swami Maharaj is the current Guru and the president of the organization.

As a global, well-established Hindu organization, BAPS actively engages in a range of endeavors aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare.

The activities span religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains.

Through these activities, it aims to preserve Indian culture, ideals of Hindu faith, family unity, selfless service, interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.

55,000 volunteers and 3,300 temples serve 3,300 communities around the world.

As of August 2018, BAPS has approximately 1,560 saints (or sadhus), among the most saints in one sanstha in Hinduism.

As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS also engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable endeavors, by which its volunteers serve neighbors and communities.

With total assets of 17.5 billion USD, BAPS is able to contribute to a lot of welfare and public service works.

Through BAPS Charities, a non-profit aid organization, BAPS has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes and community-building campaigns.)

 

BAPS Logo with the symbol of Akshar Deri

 

For the Hindu community, the Mandir is a unifying force that installs pride and dignity with a zeal to serve society.

Every week, hundreds of faithful devotees, young and old alike, gather for prayers and services.

The annual Diwali and New Year’s festivals are witnessed by thousands of devotees and well-wishers.

Diwali is a spectacular celebration that falls in the month of November, a festival of lights and fireworks that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

Every year 35,000 children visit the Mandir.

 

 

What exactly is a Mandir, you ask?

A Mandir is a Hindu place of worship, literally a place where the mind becomes still and the soul floats freely to seek the source of life, bliss and meaning, a place to pause for a moment to pray, reflect and absorb the peaceful ambiance.

 

 

The problem is that the Mandir is a place that takes religion seriously, and though it is listed as a tourist attraction, the Mandir is anything but one.

Here, there is no pandering to curiosity seekers.

It is not a place to go rifling through the Hindu faith to light on what has shock value, for the focus on what is bizarre and outside one’s experience is the crudest kind of vulgarization of faith.

Behind the ceremony and ritual, we seek what is of deepest concern to ourselves, that search for the essential similarity in human nature.

Hinduism is, like true faith, like other religions, not a dull habit but a raging fever, a pounding pulse that gives its adherants all that is startling about life itself.

 

The Mandir in the suburbs of Neasden is as unbelievable to the eyes as a garden in the Sahara.

This spectacular edifice, this the largest Hindu temple outside India, includes seven spires (shikhars), six domes, 193 pillars and 55 different ceiling designs.

The Mandir‘s visual splendour and tranquil atmosphere have spontaneously generated poetic expressions and sentiments.

The media have dubbed the Mandir as “hallucinogenic” and described the profuse carvings as “frothy milk on a cappuccino“.

Deities and motifs representing the Hindu faith spring from the ceilings, walls and windows.

The impressive monument is supported by a 1,070-foot long pageant of extraordinary stone elephants and a 610-foot long ornately carved outer wall.

The Narayan Sarovar, a water body that embraces the monument on three sides, gives the Mandir an aura of a traditional place of pilgrimage.

The Mandir is entered through the richly carved portico of the Grand Haveli (cultural complex), welcoming you into a majestic wooden courtyard with soaring teak columns and oak panels.

Elegant peacocks, delicate lotus flowers and royal elephants beckon in greeting, with the carpet designed to compliment the motifs.

 

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Wood for the Haveli was sourced from sustainable forests, and for each tree felled, ten saplings were planted.

The Haveli Prayer Hall is a pillar-less assembly area that measures 2,750 square metres and seats over 2,500 worshippers.

The Hall incorporates environment-friendly features such as light wells, energy-saving lighting and a heat exchanger which uses thermal energy dissipated by the congregation to heat other parts of the complex.

Here is the venue for weekly assemblies and regular festivals.

 

 

The heart of the Mandir is its murtis (the sacred images of the deities who are revered as living gods), ritually infused with the presence of the divine.

Hindus worship murtis to express and enhance their loving relationship with that which is holy.

Murtis are the soul of the Mandir, making it a sacred place of worhsip wherein God resides – the home of God.

 

 

The shrine’s foundations are His feet, the pillars His knees, the inner sanctum His stomach, the throne His heart, the murti His soul, the shikhars His shoulders, the bell His tongue, the lamp His breath, the lion His nose, the windows His ears, the ringed stone on the shikhar His neck, the golden pot His head and the flags His hair.

The entire Mandir is revered as a divine manifestation.

In total, there are 11 shrines with 17 murtis, including Ganesh, Hanuman and Swaminarayan – this last to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

 

The murtis are ritually served by dedicated sadhus (monks) who live in the Mandir.

Before sunrise, the murtis are awakened by the sadhus and the shrine doors opened for the first of five daily artis (prayers), the Mangala Arti.

 

 

An arti is a ritual wherein a specific prayer is recited to a poetic format with music while the sadhus wave a lighted lamp in front of the murtis.

The sadhus recite some shlokas (prayers), serve the murtis, offer them food and bathe them and close the shrine doors.

Feeding and bathing of the murtis continues throughout the day.

 

The shrines are opened again for the second aarti, the Shangar Arti, and remain open from 0900 to approximately 1100, when the shrines are closed and offered thal (hymns).

At 1145, the shrines are opened for the midday arti, the Rajbhog Arti, and the thal is recited before the murtis.

The shrines are closed after this to allow the murtis to rest during the afternoon.

The shrines reopen at 1600 until 1830 for darshan.

 

 

The Sandhya Arti (sunset arti) follows at 1900.

Thereafter, a selection of prayers are recited by the devotees including dhun (where the names of God are chanted and verses of praise are sung).

The shrines are closed again for approximately one hour so they can be offered their final meal by the sadhus.

The murtis are then prepared for the night and adorned in their evening attire by the sadhus.

The shrines are opened a final time for the Shayan Arti (night-time arti) with the lights dimmed and music lowered.

The devotees recite a few hymns, gently sending the murtis to sleep, before the shrines are finally closed for the night.

 

The elaborately carved pillars, friezes, ornate ceilings and the magnificent dome provide an aesthetic and elevating atmosphere to the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir.

 

 

The murtis of the Mandir – Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Guru Parampara, the avatars of Sanatan Dharma, Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj, Shri Radha-Krishna, Shri Sita-Ram, Shri Shiv-Parvati, Shri Ganeshji and Shri Hanumanji – exude a heavenly calm and beauty.

 

Don’t despair if you can’t decipher who is who and what is what, for, to understand all of this, one needs to be steeped in Hindu history and Indian heritage.

 

 

Here prayers are whispered, songs of praise are heightened and the soul rejoices beyond the frontiers of mundane existence to experience the divine peace of God.

It is a nucleus of socio-spiritual activities for the benefit and elevation of individuals, families and society.

It inspires a society free from violence, crime and addiction.

It infuses people with a spirit of selfless service, to live in tune with God and in harmony with humanity.

 

Or at least these are the Mandir’s intentions.

 

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An hour of lost and bewildered walking finally led me to a procession of French teenagers who were scrutinized carefully by the burly security that met us.

 

Here at 105 Brentfield Road, as in most places that devote time and attention to unearthly divinity, apparently God has a strict dress code that must be adhered to before you will be allowed to worship Him.

Clothing must be respectable, respectful.

Shorts and skirts must be below knee-length and footwear removed upon entering the Mandir complex.

No one smokes on the premises.

Video and photography are forbidden upon entry.

Mobile phones must be turned off and no food or beverages are allowed on the premises.

 

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By the time I reach the security shed where backpacks are stored upon long shelves and make my way into the Mandir I am immediately summoned by personnel into the Prayer Hall where row upon row of folding chairs support a large collection of English senior citizens let loose here on this most unusual excursion.

The film is agonizingly long and as I am not officially a part of this senior set, despite the balding pate and silver mane that is mine, I extrude myself as quietly as I can and find myself lining up to enter the Inner Sanctum with the aforementioned French and some Indian devotees.

 

Hindu worship (puja) involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).

The simplest yantra is a circle within a square within a rectangle, with four gates to represent the four directions of the universe.

Hindu temples are based on this design, although still open to endless additions and variations in decoration.

Central to worship is the icon, or sacred image, which together with the temple, is believed to both house and represent a manifestation of God.

An icon can be worshipped at home or in a temple.

Most Hindu worship at home more often and the majority of Hindu homes have a shrine, where at certain times different members of the family make offerings and say prayers.

Most Hindus worship individually, not in a communal service.

Worship involves mantras (vibrating sounds that summon the murti) and prasad (the offering of gifts).

While many prayers and offerings are made for the fulfillment of wishes, the ultimate objective is the offering of the self to become one with God.

Central to this worship is darshan (seeing and being in the presence of the central murti).

 

 

The best time to visit the Mandir is just before 1145, when the rajbhog arti ceremony is performed.

Lit candles are waved in front of the embodiments of the murtis, accompanied by a musical prayer performed by drums, bells, gongs and a conch shell.

 

It is truly a haunting and uplifting experience.

 

Abhishek is the ancient Hindu practice of pouring water over the sacred image of God to honour Him and to attain His blessings.

In this Mandir, abhishek of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (or Bhagwan Swaminarayan) is performed daily to the chanting of Vedic verses, including the ancient prayer of peace (the Shanti Paath) and the recital of the 108 auspicious and liberating names of Varni (the Janmangal Namavali), in a ceremony that lasts 15 minutes.

The abhishek is done by devotees on days of special significance to them or to seek blessings for personal reasons.

 

 

The Abhishek Mandap is a marble chamber on the lower floor of the Mandir, housing the sacred image of Shri Nilkanth Varni, the teenage form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

The chamber is clad in Brazilian and Italian marble and embellished with intricate traditional designs.

At the chamber’s heart lies the murti of Varni in gilded brass.

He is depicted in mid-step, emaciated, yet looking calm and resolute.

With matted hair and a small gutko (handwritten manuscript of excerpts from sacred texts) wrapped in a kerchief around his neck, Varni is wearing nothing but his loincloth tied at the waist by a jute cord.

In his left hand, Varni carries a dand (a wooden staff) and a kamandalu (a drinking pot made from dry gourd), both common marks of Hindu ascetism.

 

 

Who was Varni?

After renouncing his home at the tender age of 11, Bhagwan Swaminarayan embarked upon an epic journey of spiritual awakening that took him around India, into Nepal and Tibet, and through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

During this time, he became to be known as Nilkanth Varni.

Barefoot and alone, Nilkanth walked almost 8,000 miles over seven years, blessing the land and liberating numerous spiritual aspirants along the way.

Carrying no maps, no food and no money, Varni crossed raging rivers, faced ferocious animals and survived the freezing heights of the Himalayas.

His solitary journey is a story of courage, kindness and enlightenment, and the inspiration for the naming of the Mandir.

 

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But can the non-believer understand Hinduism?

I have tried and what I have concluded is the following….

 

Hinduism is the world’s oldest ongoing living religion, practised as early as 6500 BC.

It has, unlike Christianity or Islam, no one single founder, but is rather a collective of experiences of ancient seers over the centuries.

According to Hinduism’s adherents, Hinduism teaches one to see the presence of God in everything and thus honour the whole of creation.

You can find God in the world of everyday affairs as readily as anywhere else.

 

Shiva

 

With this perspective, there are no heathens nor enemies.

Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a divine man, while believing that there have been many as such, including Rama, Krishna and the Buddha.

 

Everyone, even Canada Slim your humble blogger, has the right to evolve spiritually and will, at some time, realise the truth.

 

Hindus believe that souls are not limited to one life – many lives offer many chances for spiritual elevation.

 

 

Like many religions, this faith has rigorous rules.

People are responsible for every action they perform, through the Law of Karma.

 

Hindus believe in one supreme, all-powerful God, the Creator, who has a divine form, is immanent (eternal), transcedent and the grantor of spiritual liberation (moksha).

Jews, Christians and Muslims view the worship of God in the form of one chosen ideal.

Hindus view and represent God in innumerable forms.

 

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Each form (avatar) is but a symbol that points to something beyond.

No one form can truly encapsulate God’s actual nature, so an entire array is needed to complete the picture of God’s aspects and manifestations.

Each representation’s vocation is to introduce the human heart to what it represents but what it itself is not.

Though each representation points equally to God, the Hindu devotee tends to form a lifetime attachment to one, the ishta, the form of the divine the devotee wishes to adopt.

This worship of sacred images of God is called murti puja.

After all, love assumes different nuances according to the relationship involved.

 

Hindus believe in Karma that the soul reaps fruit – good or bad – which is experienced either in this life or in future lives.

They believe in reincarnation (punar-janma), that the soul is immortal, repeatedly born and reborn in one of millions of lifeforms until it attains spiritual liberation (moksha).

Moksha is the release of the soul from this perpetual cycle of births and deaths, remaining eternally in the blissful presence of God.

 

 

Dharma is how we choose to live our lives according to divine law, which values service, sacrifice, humility, duty, devotion, purpose, fidelity, respect and integrity among other positive practices and virtues.

This divine law is believed to be revealed by the authority of the Vedic scriptures, the four Vedas – the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishad.

And in a model of efficiency these are encapsulated in the Shikshapatri, a book of moral conduct in 212 succinct Sanskrit verses.

 

 

In a nutshell of simplicity:

  • Do not steal.
  • Do not eat meat.
  • Do not consume alcohol or other intoxicants.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Maintain purity of conduct.

 

Hindus claim a proud heritage:

  • the world’s first university (700 BC), Takshashila, India
  • the invention of the Zero, which makes the binary system and computers possible
  • the invention of the decimal system
  • the invention of geometry and trigonometry
  • the value of pi – the ratio of the circumference and diameter of a circle
  • the prior formulation of the Pythagorean Theorem (which says that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the two sides)  (For me, mathematics is as arcane and mysterious as faith.)
  • a theory of the revolution of the Earth 1,000 years before Copernicus
  • a formulation of the law of gravity 1,200 years before Newton
  • an idea of the smallest and largest measures of time from a kratl (34,000th of a second) to a kalpa (4.32 billion years)
  • the practice of surgery 2,600 years ago with 125 types of surgical instruments for 300 different operations

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I did not leave the Mandir of London as a convert to Hinduism, but what my visit showed me was worth the effort.

 

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Life holds more than what one is experiencing now.

People need to live for something which makes life worthwhile, a quest for meaning and value beyond oneself.

Life holds other possibilities beyond our own experience.

 

Hinduism holds that underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss.

Hinduism sees the mind’s hidden continents as stretching to infinity, infinite in being, infinite in awareness, infinite in joy.

Hindus believe that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for a distinctive mode of travel, each starting from the kind of person one is.

 

Lakshmi

 

We all play the roles our personalities dictate, cast in this moment in the greatest of all tragi-comedies, the drama of life itself in which we are all simultaneously co-authors and actors, powered less by reason than by emotion.

To find meaning in this drama, in the mystery of existence, is life’s final and fascinating challenge.

Life is a training ground for the human spirit.

The world is the soul’s gymnasium, both a school and a training field.

 

Hindus believe that the world is lila, God’s plan, that the goal of life is life itself.

 

The various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal to find meaning to our lives beyond ourselves.

The various religions are but different languages through which God, should God exist, speaks to the human heart.

 

Truth is one.

Sages call truth by different names.

 

Differences in culture, history, geography and temperament all make for diverse starting points.

Is life not more interesting as a result of its infinite variety in endless combinations?

 

I may not always understand that which is out of my experience, but the benefits of trying to go beyond my experience are boundless.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Understanding Hinduism Exhibition Guidebook, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir / John Bowker, World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored and Explained / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Huston Smith, The World’s Religions / The Bhagavad-Gita