Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

This is a question I have often asked myself when considering both my life and the lives of the famous.

I ask myself this question recently as I am, once again, forced to remain at home in bed with, yet another cold that has made both barista work and teaching impractical as I have been reduced to a coughing, sneezing, aching, quivering jellyfish of a man unfit and undesirable for public encounters.

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My voice sounds tortured and hoarse as if it is painfully emerging from a long tunnel.

My appearance is akin to a homeless street person and our apartment reflects this.

The wife mocks the man cold, but hers is a gender that endures menstruation on a monthly basis and usually survives the incredible ordeal of child birth with little hesitation to repeat or memory of the event.

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Hers is a mind of multiplicity handling every moment and memory simultaneously, while my mind is a series of boxes which are opened only one at a time, so when illness strikes all my focus is upon how truly horrid I feel.

A woman with a cold is simply a woman with yet another complication in her life, for she will incorporate the cold as part of life´s burdens she must bear and will further complicate her life with tortured emotions about the selfishness of her having a cold keeping her from doing her other duties.

A man, though he is aware of the selfishness of having others assume his duties, will moan and groan impatiently focused on his recovery, even so his conscience is little disturbed about staying at home until he deems himself fit to tackle the world again.

I think about work, of course, and consider what my absence will mean to my students and colleagues.

I know that there are other teachers who could teach in my place and that a barista can be replaced.

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

For though I am far from being the most competent or qualified barista or teacher, I possess an entertaining and compassionate personality that I believe my students and colleagues value.

But short of historical accident thrusting me into greatness, I am self aware enough to realise that my eventual absence from existence will not impact history or much of humanity that significantly.

Though the life of my wife might have been greatly different without me in it, would she have been happier or sadder had we never met?

If I had not survived an accident with an axe during my teenage years, or if I had perished on the side of the mountain when I was stranded overnight three years ago, would the world have noticed my absence?

My social circle was and remains small.

I would have been missed by a few people, but I believe they would have found the strength to carry on without me.

I don´t believe I need an angel Clarence to show this George Bailey how It´s a Wonderful Life and how vastly different reality would be had I never existed.

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Above: Henry Travis as angel Clarence Oddbody (left) and James Stewart as George Bailey (right), from It´s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Certainly each man leaves his mark on the world by how his actions have affected others.

A man´s greatness could even be said to be measured by how many others his actions affected.

My mind often wonders how reality might be had certain great men never existed or didn´t exist at the time when they were most influential.

The recent resurgence of interest in Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) – with this year´s movies Darkest Hour (starring Gary Oldman) and Churchill (starring Brian Cox) and last year´s Churchill´s Secret (starring Michael Gambon) – have led me to wonder would the world of today be different had Churchill not been present at those moments of yesterday when he made the most impact?

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This hypothetical “What If?” exercise is not so far fetched….

On a holiday in Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days.

Churchill saw action as a soldier and war correspondent and risked his life in India, the Sudan and South Africa.

Above: Battle of Omdurman, Sudan (2 September 1898), where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge

It remains uncertain whether Churchill´s life was in any danger when he was present at the January 1911 Siege of Sidney Street when Latvian anarchists wanted for murder holed up in a house and resisted arrest.

Above: Winston Churchill (highlighted) at Sidney Street, 3 January 1911

And it is also unclear whether Home Secretary Churchill gave the police any operational orders during the Siege, though it has been suggested that when the house caught fire Churchill prevented the fire brigade from dousing the flames so that the anarchists burnt to death.

“I thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”

On 12 December 1931, during a lecture tour for his writing, Churchill, while crossing New York City´s Fifth Avenue, was knocked down by a car.

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

Had Churchill not survived these events to become Prime Minister (1940 – 1945 / 1951 – 1955), would Britain have remained resolute against Germany during the Second World War?

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

This question was certainly paramount in my mind when my wife and I visited the Churchill War Rooms six weeks ago….

Above: An external view of the New Public Offices building, the basements of which were chosen to house the Cabinet War Rooms

London, England, 24 October 2017

In 1938, in anticipation of Nazi air raids, the basement of the Treasury building on London´s King Charles Street was converted into “war rooms”, protected by a three-foot-thick concrete slab, reinforced with steel rails and tramlines.

It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed operations and held cabinet meetings for the duration of World War II.

By the end of the War, the six-acre site included a hospital, canteen and shooting range, as well as sleeping quarters.

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

It is rumoured there are also tunnels to Buckingham Palace itself, allowing the Royal Family a quick getaway to exile in Canada (via Charing Cross Station) in the event of a Nazi invasion.

Above: Buckingham Palace

Walking the corridors of the Churchill War Rooms and exploring its adjacent Churchill Museum are experiences that live long in the memory.

Every corner tells a story.

Today we take for granted the idea of an underground command centre.

How else can political and military leaders run a country and control armed forces, safe from enemy bombardment?

But the Second World War was the first time that Britain faced such a concentrated aerial threat.

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

Most of these questions began to be answered only in the final fraught months before Britain went to war.

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Many of them were still being answered during the War itself, even as bombs rained down over London and the threat of invasion loomed.

The story of the Churchill War Rooms is therefore one of improvisation in the face of deadly necessity.

After the First World War (1914 – 1918), the British government adopted a “ten-year rule”.

Until instructed otherwise, all departments should assume that the country would not go to war again for at least a decade.

Even so, some thought was given to how a future war might be fought.

In 1924, government experts predicted that London would be bombarded by up to 200 tons of bombs in the first 24 hours of a world conflict.

Casualities would be high and the country´s political and military command structure could be severely disabled.

Partly due to the ten-year rule, little was done to heed this warning until 1933 when a belligerent Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

It came as a complete shock when Hitler declared his intention to have Germany leave the League of Nations, the forerunner of today´s United Nations.

War within the next decade suddenly seemed much more possible and the question of national defence became a priority.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, adding to international tension.

General Hastings Ismay, Deputy Secretary of Britain´s Committee of Imperial Defence, immediately organised a search for an emergency working refuge to house the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff in case of a sudden attack.

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

Plans were still in a confused state in late May 1938, when the alarming news was received that German troops were massing on the Czechoslovakian border.

There might be war any day, but still no war room.

On 31 May 1938, the site was confirmed, a site conveniently close to both Downing Street (the Prime Minister´s residence) and Parliament.

It was thought that the steel structure of the Treasury building above the War Rooms would provide extra protection against bombs, but a direct hit on the site would have been catastrophic.

From June to August 1938, work on the War Rooms involved clearing rooms, sandbagging alcoves, replacing glass doors with teak, building brick partitions, installing telephone lines and estabishing a connection with the BBC.

As the site was situated below the level of the Thames River, flood doors had to be fitted and pumps installed.

By the end of August, the Map Room was manned and tested and plans were underway for airlocks and steel doors to defend against gas attack.

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

Hitler had sparked a new crisis on the Continent by threatening to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to defuse the situation by diplomatic means.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Above: Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940), British PM (1937 – 1940)

On 30 September, Hitler signed the Munich Agreement – heralded by Chamberlain as a guarantee of “peace for our time”, but the Central War Room was theoretically ready for use.

Above: Neville Chamberlain showing the Anglo-German Declaration, aka The Munich Agreement. guaranteeing “peace for our time”, Heston Air Force Base, England, 30 September 1938

It would have been desperately uncomfortable for anyone working there, as the ventilation system was poor, there were no overnight accommodations, no bedding, no kitchen, no food, no toilets or washing facilities.

Work continued on the War Rooms.

On 23 August, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Russia, leaving the way free for him to attack Poland.

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Above: Soviet Premier Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, after the signature of the (Vyacheslav) Molotov – Ribbentrop German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, 23 August 1939

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

Above: Adolf Hitler reviewing the troops on the march during the Polish campaign, September 1939

Two days later, Britain was at war.

The immediate bombardment of London that had been expected for so long failed to materialise in the first nine months of the War, though the War Rooms were operational.

A botched land campaign in Norway in April 1940 and Germany´s sudden attack on the Netherlands on 10 May caused Chamberlain to resign and Churchill to take his place.

A few days later, as British Forces were driven back towards the French coast, the new Prime Minister visited the Cabinet War Room and declared:

“This is the room from which I will direct the war.”

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Above: Cabinet War Room

In the summer of 1940, as the fall of France was followed by the Battle of Britain for aerial supremacy over southern England, Britain stood at risk of imminent invasion.

Above: German Heinkel HE 111 bombers over the English Channel, 1940

On 7 September 1940, Germany launched the Blitz – a sustained bombing campaign against British towns and cities, with London the chief target.

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

When the Blitz failed to secure victory over Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the east, launching an invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

When, on 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, the United States entered the War, changing the fortunes of Britain.

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Above: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, USA

The War Rooms began deception plans intended to divert enemy resources away from genuine Allied operations.

This would play a crucial role in the success of Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

The success of the D-Day landings helped to turn the tide of war against the Nazis, but they were not finished in attacking Britain.

On 13 June 1944, the first V1 flying bomb hit London, bringing a new threat to the capital.

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Above: A V1 guided missile

Over the winter of 1944 – 1945, the V1 flying bomb attacks were gradually superseded by the more destructive V2 flying bombs.

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Above: A V2 rocket

By the end of March 1945, most of the V2 production factories had been overrun by the unstoppable Allied advance towards Berlin.

Adolf Hitler spent the final weeks of the War sheltering in his bunker as  Berlin came under attack from Stalin´s armies.

After the fall of Berlin, the Allies declared victory in Europe on 8 May 1945.

By the time Japan surrendered on 15 August, Churchill was no longer Prime Minister having lost the General Election on 26 July.

On 16 August, after six years of continuous use, the War Rooms were simply and suddenly abandoned.

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

The preserved rooms were declared a national monument in 1948, with free guided tours given to people who had written to the Cabinet Office.

This practice continued until 1984 when the Imperial War Museum was asked to turn the site into a formal Museum.

Millions of visitors have since walked its corridors, tracing the steps of Churchill and the many men and women – both military and civilian – who helped run this underground complex.

The Churchill Museum was added to the Cabinet War Rooms in 2005 and this expanded Museum was later renamed the Churchill War Rooms.

It has to be said that the Churchill War Rooms is a fascinating place for it is filled with intimate details that bring home the immediacy of those times…

  • The sugar cubes hoarded by a Map Room officer
  • The noiseless typewriters that Churchill insisted be used by his staff
  • Accounts of what it was really like to eat, sleep and work below the streets of London as German bombs fell all around.
  • The coloured lights in the Cabinet War Room that signalled an air raid and the ashtrays positioned within easy reach around the table and the scratch marks on the arms of Churchill´s chair that show how strained the Cabinet Room could become
  • The multi-coloured phones where the men of the Map Room could follow every thrust and counterthrust of the War
  • The actual door that Churchill walked through at 10 Downing Street
  • The tiny Transatlantic Telephone Room where Churchill used to speak in secret to the US President
  • Churchill´s famous “siren suit”, a zip-up coverall that Churchill began wearing for comfort from the 1930s onwards
  • The Union Flag which was draped over Churchill´s coffin during his State Funeral which was broadcast around the world

Above: Grave of Winston Churchill, St. Martin´s Church, Bladon, England

(“I am ready to meet my Maker – but whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”)

  • The weather indicator in the main corridor that would read “Windy” when a heavy bombing raid was in progress
  • The story of how one of the women who worked at the War Rooms had a short relationship with James Bond author Ian Fleming and would be the inspiration for the character Miss Moneypenny
  • One of the Royal Marines guarding the entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms took up embroidery to pass the time.
  • To alleviate the health problems of working underground, staff were made to strip to their underwear and stand in front of portable sun lamps
  • Wartime graffiti on a map in the Cabinet Room showing Hitler fallen on his ass
  • A cat named Smoky that used to curl up on Churchill´s bed
  • A typist who learned that the ship carrying her boyfriend had perished with all lives lost

So, so much to see and learn and discover….

But what of the Great Man himself?

This man of contradictions, this man who took over as Prime Minister when Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, who is remembered for his trademark bowler hat and half-chewed Havana cigars, who is famous for his morale-inspiring speeches and clever wit….

“It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than an critic.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“….We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

“This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

“Everywhere I went in London, people admired Churchill´s energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose.  People said they didn´t know what Britain would do without him.  He was obviously respected, but no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the War.  He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time, the time being a desperate war with Britain´s enemies.”

Without this man´s uplifting spirit, would Britain have surrendered against the overwhelming odds of Hitler´s mighty war machine?

I am convinced that Churchill´s uniqueness of character means that its absence would have lead to Britain´s surrender.

Whether Britain´s surrender would mean Hitler wouldn´t ultimately still turn against Russia, or whether America wouldn´t come to Britain´s aid with or without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour remains a point of conjecture and the province of alternate history / science fiction writers.

But I think a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is well worth the while, because there are several lessons to be learned here under the streets of London.

We are where and who we are because of what came before.

We need to recall the wars that lead us to where we are today, not to glorify in our victories but rather to somberly recall our losses and learn from them so to avoid future war or at least prepare ourselves for another dark future of bloodshed and destruction.

We are a product of our time and place.

It is doubtful whether Churchill could have accomplished what he did had time and circumstances been different.

In examining Churchill´s past carefully, one can see that he was quite an imperfect man, at times rash, impulsive, egocentric and foolish, sometimes to the cost and risk of others.

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Alan Axelrod, Winston Churchill, CEO / Dominique Enright, editor, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill / Martin Gilbert, editor, Churchill: The Power of Words / Roy Jenkins, Churchill / Imperial War Museums, Churchill War Museum Guidebook

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Above: The Roaring Lion, Yousuf Karsh photo of Winston Churchill, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Canada, 30 December 1941

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Bimetallic Question

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 May 2017

In my last blogpost, Canada Slim and the Final Problem, I told of my visit to the Reichenbach Falls where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) ended the life of his detective hero.

Sherlock Holmes is dead.

So suggests the plaque marking the spot where Holmes and Professor Moriarty wrestled before plunging into the Reichenbach Falls.

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The plaque was erected in 1992 by The Bimetallic Question of Montréal and The Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland.

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(More about those responsible for this plaque follows…)

In the last story, The Adventure of the Final Problem, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes short story collection, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), Doyle consigned his hero to the watery depths of the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen, Switzerland.

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Despite the success of the collections, Doyle had grown bored with his creation and wanted to spend more time writing historical fiction.

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As well his wife Louise had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and his father Charles had just died in an asylum, so Doyle defended himself by saying that the demise of Sherlock Holmes…

“It was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defence, since if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.”

Doyle had long felt that Holmes was taking up too much of his life and churning out story after story to a deadline was a demanding task that took precious time away from more serious literary work.

The public response was instant and powerful.

Holmes was very much a product of his age, as Victorians had an intense and morbid fascination with crime, particularly murder, and the idea that a man of genius, through the relentless application of logic and science, could bring light and clarity to the darkest and most terrifying human secrets was intensely appealing.

Though the two novels in which Holmes first appeared – A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four – had been moderately popular, the short stories in the Strand propelled the detective to the giddy heights of fame.

The 24 stories with illustrations on every page and quick bursts of adventure and satisfying resolutions proved perfect for the monthly magazine.

Readers went crazy for Holmes and the Strand became Britain’s best-selling magazine.

When The Final Problem was published in the Strand Magazine, the public’s reaction was consternation, shock and outrage.

Fans reacted as if Doyle had killed a real person.

Letter after letter of protest arrived on the desks of the Strand and Doyle.

One woman famously began her note to Doyle with the words: “You, brute!”

In London, black armbands were worn and the circulation of the Strand dropped so substantially that it almost closed down.

Readers were so outraged that more than 20,000 of them cancelled their subscriptions and Doyle was frequently accosted in the street.

Holmes’ death was referred to as “the dreadful event”.

Ignoring the public howls of complaint about his murder of Holmes, Doyle concentrated on a wide range of other writing projects.

But without Holmes, Doyle found himself in need of further income, as he was planning to build a new home called “Undershaw”, so he decided to take Holmes to the stage and wrote a play.

Bringing Holmes to the stage was not an original idea of Doyle’s, for already other authors had produced Holmesian plays, Under the Clock (1893) and Sherlock Holmes (1894).

But Doyle was no playwright.

Doyle’s literary agent A. P. Watt noted that Doyle’s play needed a lot of work and sent the script to Charles Frohman.

Frohman suggested that the American William Gillette (1853 – 1937), actor, manager and playwright, would be best suited to create a successful adaptation of Doyle’s stories to the stage.

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Gillette was already well-known as being amongst the premier matinee idols of his day, for his patenting of a mechanical reproduction of the sound effects of horses and his introduction of realism into sets and props.

Prior to Gillette, the British had a very low opinion of American art in any form.

Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes consisted of four acts combining elements of Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem, but with the exception of Holmes, Watson and Moriarity, all the characters in Gillette’s play were Gillette’s own creations.

(Doyle would later use Gillette’s Billy Buttons as Holmes’ pageboy in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone in 1921.)

Gillette’s portrayl of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective, with his use of the deerstalker cap and curved pipe which became enduring symbols of the character.

Gillette assumed the role of Holmes more than 1,300 times over 30 years, on stage, in the 1916 silent motion picture based on his Holmes play and as the voice of Holmes on the radio.

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It is sometimes said the Doyle was forced to bring Holmes back to life by public pressure.

If that was the case, then why did it take him a whole decade to do so?

Sherlock’s return after Reichenbach Falls in The Adventure of the Empty House (1903) came not as a result of public pressure, but rather Doyle was swayed by a substantial financial deal being offered by the US periodical Collier’s Weekly.

Doyle would go on to write another 32 Holmes stories and two other Holmes novels and the Great Detective soon became famous all over the world and has remained an international phenomenon ever since.

Doyle accepted that Holmes had his own “life” out in the world, so he never attempted to stop other people trying their hands writing about Holmes.

And other writers quickly did.

The first authors to adopt Holmes parodied him, often with amusing adaptations of his name.

In 1892, the Idler magazine published The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs.

In 1893 Punch magazine featured The Adventure of Picklock Holes.

In 1903 P. G. Wodehouse wrote Dudley Jones, Bore Hunter, while Mark Twain produced A Double-Barrelled Detective Story, in which Holmes goes to California.

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Above: P. G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975)

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Above. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)(1835 – 1910)

Many writers have attempted to imitate Doyle’s efforts at creating reasoning detectives in the Holmesian mold.

Among them, Stephen King, famed American mystery writer John Dickson Carr in collaboration with Adrian Conan Doyle (Arthur’s son)(The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, 1954) and Anthony Horowitz who continues to publish Sherlock Holmes novels with the approval of the Doyle estate. (The House of Silk, 2011 / Moriarty, 2014)

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Above: Stephen King (b. 1947)

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Some authors have written about characters from the Sherlockian tales other than Holmes himself: Inspector Lestrade, Irene Adler (“The Woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia), Mrs. Hudson (Baker Street housekeeper), Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty.

(Even former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tried his hand by writing 2015’s Mycroft Holmes.)

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Holmes mania spread to the Continent.

A German magazine of 1908 described the Holmes craze as “a literary disease similiar to Werther-mania and romantic Byronism.”

(“Werther-mania” refers to the excitement generated by Goethe’s publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther, considered to be literature’s first romantic novel.)

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When two sensational murders occurred in Paris, French newspapers ran imaginary interviews with Holmes to try to get to the bottom of the cases.

Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is the most well-known, with the Guinness Book of World Records listing him as the “most-portrayed movie character” in history, with more than 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films.

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(There have also been more than 750 radio adaptations in English alone.)

His first screen appearance was in the 1900 film Sherlock Holmes Baffled.

In the early 1900s, H. A. Saintsbury took over the role of Holmes in Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes play and in Doyle’s stage adaptation of The Adventure of the Speckled Band, portraying Holmes over 1,000 times.

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Above: Harry Arthur Saintsbury (1869 – 1939)

Basil Rathbone played Holmes in 14 US films and in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the radio from 1939 to 1946.

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Above: Basil Rathbone (1892 – 1967)

Between 1979 and 1986, Soviet TV produced a series of five TV films, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with Vasily Livanov as the Great Detective.

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Above: Vasily Livanov (b. 1935)

The 1984 – 1985 Japanese anime series Sherlock Hound adapted the Holmes stories for children, with its characters being dogs.

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Jeremy Brett, considered by many to be the definitive Holmes, played the detective in four series of Sherlock Holmes for Britain’s Granada Television from 1984 to 1994.

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Above: Jeremy Brett (1933 – 1995)

In the 21st century, the world’s fascination with Holmes is as strong as ever.

Robert Downey Jr. played Holmes in the Guy Ritchie directed films Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011).

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Meanwhile, on the small screen, Holmes has been throughly and modernly reimagined.

In Elementary, begun in 2012, Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict who helps the New York City Police Department solve crimes, assisted by a female Dr. Watson.

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The even more popular BBC TV series Sherlock, begun in 2010 and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has created a new generation of Holmes fans.

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Holmes is so popular and famous that many people have believed him to be not a fictional character but a real individual.

Widely considered a British cultural icon, the character and stories of Sherlock Holmes continue to have a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and pop culture, with both Doyle’s original tales as well as thousands written by other authors being adapted into stage and radio plays, TV, films, video games and other media for over one hundred years.

In 1911 Ronald Knox, a young Oxford academic theologian, wrote an analysis of the Holmes stories, Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.

Intended as a spoof of detailed, scholarly textual analyses of the Bible, Studies used Biblical terms – such as the “Canon”, or the “Sacred Writings” – to refer to the stories of Holmes.

Thereafter, Doyle’s Sherlock tales are known as “the Canon” and the countless stories written by others as “non-canonical works” by Holmes fans.

Numerous literary and fan societies have been founded that pretend that Holmes had indeed been real.

Above: The logo of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

Two Holmes scholars, Ronald Knox and Christopher Morley founded the first societies devoted to the Holmes Canon – the Sherlock Holmes Society in London and the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI) in New York – in 1934.

The BSI logo

(The BSI is named after Holmes’ helpful band of little street children.

In a number of his investigations Holmes was aided by this invisible army of helpers, whom Watson described in A Study in Scarlet as “half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged…that ever I clapped eyes on”, but Holmes knew their value, calling them “the Baker Street division of the detective police force”, for they could “go everywhere and hear everything”, because no one but Holmes paid any attention to dirty little street children.)

BSI members have included such important figures as Isaac Asimov and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Above: Isaac Asimov (1919 – 1992)

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Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), 32nd US President (1933 – 1945)

The BSI is an invitation-only group that oversees a host of “scion societies” across North America – ranging from the Red Circle of Washington (named after Doyle’s 1911 tale The Adventure of the Red Circle) to the Dancing Men of Providence (named after Doyle’s 1903 short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men).

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Each of these societies have their own obscure rituals, but in general members meet up to chat about the Great Detective, watch films, dress up and exchange views about details of the adventures.)

The Sherlock Holmes Society has published, since 1952, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, featuring Holmesian news, reviews, essays and criticism.

Today there are at least 400 groups devoted to Holmes worldwide.

Japan is home to more than 30 Holmes societies, among them the Japan Sherlock Holmes Club, which boasts 1,200 members.

Japan Sherlock Holmes Club

Portugal has the Norah Creina Castaways of Lisbon, named after the ship that went down off the Portuguese coast in Doyle’s 1893 tale The Resident Patient in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes short story collection.

There are also numerous Holmes societies in India, Russia, Germany and around the world.

In my homeland of Canada the equivalent to America’s BSI is The Bootmakers of Toronto, who, like the BSI, have their own scion societies in five other Canadian cities: the Spence Munros of Halifax, the Bimetallic Question of Montreal, the Stratford Sherlock Holmes Society, the Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen of Calgary and the Stormy Petrels of British Columbia based in Vancouver.

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That Canada would have Holmesian societies should come as no surprise, for not only are the Anglo roots to England quite strong in Canada – our head of state is still the Queen of England Elizabeth II – but Doyle refers to Canada a number of times in his Sherlock Holmes stories.

The overseer of Canada’s Holmesian groups, The Bootmakers of Toronto acquired the idea for their name from Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Meyers in Bog

(A boot is stolen from Sir Henry Baskerville, for its scent was intended to let a fierce hound to track and kill Sir Henry.

The boot was fashioned in Toronto by a bootmaker named Meyers.

Each year the leader of the Toronto Holmes society is called “Meyers”.)

The Spence Munros of Halifax acquired their society name from Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Breeches, wherein Violet Hunter, a young governess, tells Holmes that she had been employed for five years in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but she lost that position two months previously when the Colonel received a new posting in Halifax and took his family with him.

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The Stormy Petrels of Vancouver have a name that requires more explanation than simply a reference to Holmesian literature…

In the Holmes story The Last Bow, the detective warns the world about the menace of Germany:

“There’s an east wind coming…such a wind as never blew on England yet.

It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither…

But it’s God’s own wind nonetheless, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

Vancouver is a coastal city.

There is a small seabird, generally with dark plumage, that is found in most of the world’s oceans, that takes shelter on the leeside of ships away from the direction from which the wind blows during a storm.

The bird is called a storm petrel.

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In naval parliance, a person who brings or predicts trouble is called a “stormy petrel”.

Montréal’s Holmesian society name, The Bimetallic Question, is in reference to an explanation made by Sherlock to Watson as to the importance of the detective’s brother Mycroft in the affairs of the British government:

“We will suppose that a Minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question…” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans)

Sherlock’s elder brother Mycroft is a vibrant element in the Holmes Canon – although, like Moriarty, Mycroft only appears directly in two stories.

The reader learns that Mycroft is seven years older than Sherlock and, if it is possible, even cleverer than the Great Detective.

Mycroft is described in various places in the Canon as having “the tidiest and most orderly brain with the greatest capacity for storing facts of any man living”.

Mycroft’s brilliance has given him a place at the heart of the secret government machinery of Britain and he is a crucial source of intelligence.

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In this scope of intelligence, it is hinted that economic expertise is also included with the mention of “the bimetallic question.”

Since 1971, most of the world’s currencies are unconnected to the value of silver or gold but operate by a free floating standard that fluctates in active trading in stock markets around the world.

Money represents value.

Before 1971 the value of a monetary unit was defined by how much of a quantity of metal, typically gold and silver, it could purchase.

A country’s wealth was determined by exactly how much gold and/or silver it possessed.

In Doyle’s day, there was a great deal of scholarly debate and political controversy regarding monometallism and bimetallism, whether a country should only use gold as a standard by which money is valued or if silver should also be included along with gold.

Before the Klondike and the South African Gold Rushes, the supply of gold was minimal, so it was questionable how accurate gold was as a determination of value, thus putting pressure for greater use of silver.

The fact that Mycroft understood the bimetallic question was an indication of just how intelligent he was.

Why Montréal chose The Bimetallic Question for its name might be connected with the society’s postal address in Montréal’s Stock Exchange Tower.

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That is the bimetallic question, isn’t it?

(Christopher Plummer, famed for his role as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 film The Sound of Music, is also called “the Canadian Holmes”.

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Plummer played the role of Sherlock Holmes in the Canadian/British 1978 film production, Murder by Decree, wherein Holmes tackles Jack the Ripper.)

The Reichenbach Irregulars is the Holmesian society of Switzerland, keeping the memories of Holmes and Doyle alive over here.

 

 

 

The Reichenbach Irregulars were founded in Meiringen (near the Reichenbach Falls) in 1989 by a group of young Holmesians (or Sherlockians) lead by Marcus Geisser.

Together with The Bimetallic Question of Montréal, the Reichenbach Irregulars erected the commemorative plaque that marks the fateful encounter between Holmes and Moriarty.

More than 300 of these groups are devoted to piecing together the “true” events of the “lives” of Holmes and Watson.

Calling this pursuit “the Grand Game” (after Holmes’ famous exclamation “The game is afoot.”), the Game assumes that Holmes and Watson were real historical figures and the Canon a record of true events.

Doyle is explained as being their literary agent.

Any inevitable mistakes on the part of a fast-working, under pressure of a deadline, author (Doyle) are explained away as deliberate attempts to mislead or simply forgetfulness on the part of the stories’ narrator (usually Watson).

(Gamers are particularly intrigued by the period – named “The Great Hiatus” –  between Holmes’ “death” at Reichenbach Falls and his reappearance in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Doyle left off writing about Holmes from 1893 to 1901, though this first new story The Hound of the Baskervilles was said to occur two years prior to The Adventure of the Final Problem.

Doyle returned to the chronology of Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House in 1903, Holmes’ reappearance after Reichenbach Falls.

But Doyle’s dating of the Holmes’ adventures has Holmes disappear at Reichenbach Falls on 4 May 1891 and reappear in London in 1894 to investigate the Park Lane mystery, the strange murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair.

In The Adventure of the Empty House, Doyle drops hints about what Holmes was up to in these three years – travels to Florence and Tibet, role-playing as a Norwegian explorer, visiting Persia (modern day Iran), Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and Khartoum (Sudan), research work in Montpelier – but these are only hints.)

For the 1951 Festival of Britain, Holmes’ living room was reconstructed as part of a Sherlock Holmes exhibition with a collection of original material.

After the Festival, items were transferred to The Sherlock Holmes (a London pub) and the Conan Doyle collection housed in the Chateau Lucens, near Lausanne, by the author’s son Adrian.

Both exhibitions, each with a Baker Street sitting room reconstruction, are open to the public.

In 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened on Baker Street in London, followed the next year by a Sherlock Holmes Museum in the English Church in Meiringen at Doyle Place.

Walk Along Baker Street!

(Meiringen also has a reconstruction of Holmes’ Baker Street sitting room.)

A private Conan Doyle collection is on permanent exhibit at the Portsmouth City Museum, as Doyle once lived and worked there as a physician.

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The London Metropolitan Railway named one of its 20 electric locomotives deployed in the 1920s for Sherlock Holmes – the only fictional character so honoured.

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In London one can find streets named Sherlock Mews and Watson’s Mews.

Five statues of the Great Detective have been erected across the globe in Edinburgh (the birthplace of Doyle), Meiringen, London (on Baker Street), Moscow and Karuizawa, Japan.

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Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, Edinburgh

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Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, London

Monument to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson Foto

Above: Holmes/Watson Statues, Moscow

Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, Karuizawa

In 2014, 113 Sherlock devotees, dressed in deerstalkers and capes, gathered near University College in London in an attempt to create a world record for the largest group of people dressed as Sherlock Holmes.

People dressed as Sherlock Holmes

So, where does your humble blogger fit into all of this Holmes mania?

I confess that it was Sherlock that drew me into Holmes lore.

I had, of course, known of Holmes, but he had struck me as unapproachable because he was a product of the Victorian age, while Elementary felt more like an Americanisation of the Canon than I imagined.

But it was my best friend Iain of Liverpool who introduced me to the BBC TV series Sherlock and it was this series that has encouraged me to explore and discover Doyle’s works for myself.

It has been my desire to explore the possibilities of Swizerland, my country of residence since 2010, that led me to Reichenbach Falls and Meiringen.

I am now left with my own bimetallic question:

Do I prefer the Holmes from the golden age of Doyle’s writing or the Holmes from the silver screen (TV and movies)?

Either way I don’t need Mycroft Holmes to show me just how valuable his brother has been to the shaping of our modern society.

As Irene Adler said in the Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia:

“Intelligent is the new sexy.”

And I wholeheartedly agree with “Canada’s Sherlock Holmes” Christopher Plummer:

“I don’t think anybody will ever get tired of Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t think the public will ever let him die just as they wouldn’t let Doyle kill him.”

While we remember him, Sherlock Holmes can never die.

Sources:

Dorling Kindersley, The Sherlock Holmes Book

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes Canon

Wikipedia

http://www.bakerstreetdozen.com

http://www.221b.ch (The Reichenbach Irregulars)

http://www.bimetallicquestion.org

http://www.torontobootmakers.com

Quelle: weheartit.com

 

 

The rise of Recep

Landschlacht, Switzerland, St. Patrick’s Day 2017

I am a Turkey watcher.

Flag of Turkey

I have twice visited this beautiful country and I have rarely met a Turk I haven`t liked.

I began to talk about Turkey in this blog, because of the event that began 2017: the ISIS attack on a nightclub in Istanbul.

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Above: The Reina restaurant/nightclub, Istanbul

(See this blog’s No Longer My Country 1: Take Me Back to Constantinople and No Longer My Country 2: The fashionable dead.)

Four days later, a PKK car bombing in Izmir made me curious about exactly why the Kurdish people and the Turkish people have been at each other’s throats for decades and I have tried to be objective in writing about what my research has turned up.

I wrote of Turkey`s history from its ancient beginnings until the election of Turgat Özal in 1989.

Location of Turkey

I promised that I would explain why Turkish politics of today, especially the actions of its President, are affected by events of the past.

The events that followed the election of President Özal and all that has taken place in Turkey since 1989 I believe are instructive, for a number of reasons:

The location of Turkey as the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the meeting point of a predominantly Christian West with a predominantly Muslim Middle East, the crucible of secularism vs fundamentalism, makes Turkey one of the major countries I think the world cannot afford to ignore.

The political evolution of Turkey, especially since Recep Erdogan first assumed office as Turkey’s 25th Prime Minister (2003 – 2014) and then its 12th President (2014 – Present), runs very similarly to other nations’ histories and possible destinies.

(See this blog’s The sick man of Europe 1: The sons of Karbala and The sick man of Europe 2: The sorrow of Batman.)

To understand Turkish politics of today, we need to look at how His Excellency became ruler of Turkey and how his mind might work.

Recep Erdogan was born in the Kasimpasa neighbourhood of Istanbul, to which his family had moved from Rize Province.

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Erdogan spent his early childhood in Rize, where his father was a member of the Turkish Coast Guard.

His summer holidays were mostly spent in Güneysu, Rize, where his family originates from.

Throughout his life Erdogan has often returned to his spiritual home and in 2015 he opened a vast mosque on a mountaintop near his village.

His family returned to Istanbul when Erdogan was 13 years old.

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As a teenager he sold lemonade and sesame buns (simit) on the streets of the city’s rougher districts to earn extra money.

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Brought up in an observant Muslim family, Erdogan graduated from Kasimpasa Piyale primary school in 1973, received his high school diploma from Eyüp High School, studied business administration at the Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences – though several sources dispute the claim that he graduated.

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(To be President of Turkey, one must have graduated from a university.)

In his youth Erdogan played semi-professional football for the Kasimpasa football club, but when Fenerbahce Football Club wanted him to join their team his father prevented this.

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While studying business administration and playing football, Erdogan engaged in politics by joining the National Turkish Student Union, an anti-communist action group.

In 1974, Erdogan wrote, directed and played the lead role in the play Maskomya, which presented Freemasonry, Communism and Judaism as evil.

In 1975 Süleyman Demirel, president of the conservative Justice Party succeeded Bülent Ecevit, president of the social-democratic Republican People’s Party as Prime Minister of Turkey.

Demirel formed a coalition government with the Nationalist Front, the Islamist Salvation Party led by Necmettin Erbakan, and the far right Nationalist Movement Party.

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The 1970s were troubled times for Turkey: many economic and social problems, strike actions and political paralysis.

Turkey’s proportional representation system made it difficult to form any parliamentary majority and an ability to combat the growing violence in the country.

In 1976, Erdogan became the head of the Beyoglu youth branch of the Islamist Salvation Party and was later promoted to the chair of the Istanbul youth branch of the party.

In 1978, Erdogan married Emine Gülbaran of Siirt (a city in southeastern Turkey and capital of Siirt Province) and they have two sons (Ahmet and Necmettin) and two daughters (Esra and Sümeyye).

After the 1980 military coup, Erdogan followed most of Necmettin Erbakan’s followers into the Islamist Welfare Party.

Between 1984 and 1999, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish military engaged in open war.

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Above: Flag of the PKK

The Republic forced inscription, evacuation, destruction of villages, extreme harassment, tortue, illegal arrests, murder and disappearance of Kurdish journalists and executions of Kurds.

Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for the thousands of human rights abuses.

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Erdogan became the party’s Beyoglu district chair in 1984 and a year later became the chair of the Istanbul city branch.

Meanwhile, the military coup leaders under Kenan Evren appointed Turgut Özal state minister and deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs.

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Özal formed the Motherland Party (ANAP) in 1983 after the ban on political parties was lifted by the military government.

The ANAP won the elections and he formed the government to become Turkey’s 19th Prime Minister at the end of the year.

When Özal became Prime Minister, the issue of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 was one of topics on his aganda.

Above: Remains of Armenians massacred at Erzinjan

In 1991, after a meeting with representatives of the Armenian community, Özal said in front of journalists and diplomats:

“What happens if we compromise with the Armenians and end this issue?

What if we officially recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide and face up to our past?

Let’s take the initiative and find the truth.

Let’s pay the political and economic price, if necessary.”

Özal was reelected Prime Minister in 1987.

On 18 June 1988 Özal survived an assassination attempt during the ANAP party congress.

One bullet wounded his finger while another bullet missed his head.

The shooter, Kartal Demirag, was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment but was pardoned by Özal in 1992.

On 9 November 1989, Özal became Turkey’s 8th President elected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the first president to be born in the Republic of Turkey rather than the Ottoman Empire.

(Demirag was later retried in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.)

Özal was born in Malatya to a Turkish family with partial Kurdish roots on his mother’s side.

Views from the city

Above: Scenes of the city of Malatya

In 1991 Özal supported the coalition of nations (France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States) against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.

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Above: Scenes from the 1991 Gulf War

In the early 1990s Özal agreed to negotiations with the PKK, the events of the Gulf War having changed the political dynamics in the region.

(Kurds make up 17% of Iraq’s population.

In 1974 the Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds.

Between 1975 and 1978, 200,000 Kurds were deported out of oil rich Kurdistan.

During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Iraqi government implemented anti-Kurdish policies: the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the wholesale destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages, the deportation of thousands of Kurds.

The Anfal (spoils of war) genocidal campaign destroyed over 2,000 villages and killed 182,000 Kurdish civilians, using ground offensives, aerial bombing, firing squads and chemical attacks, including the most infamous attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 that killed 5,000 civilians instantly.

Above: First Lieutenant of the US 25th Infantry on patrol in fron of Halabja Cemetery

After the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991, Iraqi troops recaptured most of the Kurdish areas and 1.5 million Kurds abandoned their homes and fled to the Turkish and Iranian borders.

It is estimated that close to 20,000 Kurds succumbed to death due to exhaustion, lack of food, exposure to cold and disease.

On 5 April 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 688, which condemned the repression of Iraqi Kurdish civilians and demanded that Iraq end its repressive measures and allow immediate access to international humanitarian organisations.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

In mid-April, the Coalition established safe havens inside Iraqi borders and prohibited Iraqi planes from flying north of the 36th parallel.

Kurds held parliamentary elections in May 1992 and established the Kurdistan Regional Government.)

Apart from Özal, few Turkish politicians were interested in a peace process with the Kurds, nor was more than a part of the PKK itself.

In 1993 Özal worked on peace plans with former finance minister Adnan Kahveci and General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Esref Bitlis.

Negotiations led to a ceasefire declaration by the PKK on 20 March 1993.

With the PKK’s ceasefire declaration achieved, Özal planned to propose a major pro-Kurdish reform package at the next meeting of the National Security Council.

On 17 April 1993 Özal died of a suspicious heart attack, leading some to suspect an assassination.

Özal died just before he had the chance to negotiate with the PKK.

A month later a PKK ambush on 24 May 1993 ensured the end of the peace process.

After Özal’s death, his policies of compromising with the Armenians in order to solve the conflict concerning the Armenian Genocide were abandoned.

Özal’s wife Semra claimed he had been poisoned by lemonade and she questioned the lack of an autopsy.

Blood samples taken to determine his cause of death were lost or disposed of.

Tens of thousands of people attended the state burial ceremony in Istanbul.

(On the 14th anniversary of his death, thousands gathered in Ankara in commemoration.

Investigators wanted to exhume the body to examine it for poisoning.

On 3 October 2012 Özal’s body was exhumed.

It contained the banned insecticide DDT at ten times the normal level.)

Under the new President Süleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Tansu Siller, the Castle Plan – to use any and all means to solve the Kurdish question using violence – which Özal had opposed, was enacted.

In the local elections of 27 March 1994, Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul (1994 – 1998).

Many feared that he would impose Islamic law.

However he was pragmatic in office, tackling chronic problems in Istanbul, including water shortage, pollution and traffic chaos.

The water shortage problem was solved with the laying of hundreds of kilometres of new pipeline.

The garbage problem was solved with the establishment of state-of-the-art recycling facilities.

Air pollution was reduced by making public buses more environmentally friendly.

Istanbul’s traffic and transportation jams were reduced with more than 50 bridges, viaducts and highways built.

Erdogan took precautions to prevent corruption, using measures to ensure that municipal funds were used prudently.

He paid back a major portion of Istanbul’s two billion dollar debt and invested four billion dollars in the city.

Erdogan initiated the first roundtable of mayors during the Istanbul Conference, which led to an organised global movement of mayors.

In December 1997, while in his wife’s hometown of Siirt, defending his party from being declared unconstitutional by the Turkish government, Erdogan recited a poem from a work written by Ziya Gökalp, a Turkish activist of the early 20th century.

Above: The Ebul Vefa Mosque, Siirt

(To understand Turkey, one must never forget that this is a country that subscribes to the “great man” view of history and politics.

Travellers in Turkey find portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938) everywhere.

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Atatürk created modern Turkey, not only by reclaiming from the Ottoman Empire virtually all the territory that we call Turkey today but as well by lending his name to a series of reforms to demonstrate the uniqueness of living in Turkey – the elimination of the fez, the alteration of the calendar to make Saturday and Sunday the weekend, women encouraged to enter more fully into public life by no longer making veiling compulsory, the adoption of the Latin alphabet, to name just a few changes that led to genuine transformation of the most intimate moments of the Turkish people’s lives.

Mehmed Ziya Gökalp (1876 – 1924) was a Turkish sociologist, writer, poet and political activist whose work was particularly influential in shaping the reforms of Atatürk.

Above: Ziya Gökalp

Influenced by contemporary European thought, particularly the views of Émile Durkheim, Gökalp rejected the unity of the Ottoman Empire or unity through Islam, in favour of Turkish nationalism through the promotion of the Turkish language and culture.

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Above: Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917)

Gökalp believed that a nation must have a “shared consciousness” in order to survive, that “the individual becomes a genuine personality only as he becomes a genuine representative of his culture”.

He believed that a modern state must become homogeneous in terms of culture, religion and national identity.

In an 1911 article, Gökalp suggested that “Turks are the ‘supermen’ imagined by the German philosopher Nietzsche”.

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Above: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Gökalp differentiated between Avrupalilik (Europeanism – the mimicking of Western socieities) and Modernlik (taking initiative).

He was interested in Japan as a model for this, for he perceived Japan as having modernised itself without abandoning its innate cultural identity.

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Above: Flag of Japan

Gökalp suggested that to subordinate “culture” (non-utilitarian, altruist public-spiritedness) to “civilisation” (utilitarian. egotistical individualism) was to doom a state to decline.

“Civilisation destroyed societal solidarity and morality.”

(Many historians and sociologists have suggested that his brand of nationalism contributed to the Armenian Genocide.)

Gökalp’s poetry served to complement and popularise his sociological and nationalist views.)

Erdogan’s recitation of Gökalp’s work included verses which are not in the original version of the poem:

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

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Aboe: The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Under Article 312/2 of the Turkish Penal Code, Erdogan’s recitation was regarded as an incitement to violence and religious/racial hatred.

In 1998, his fundamentalist Welfare Party was declared unconstitutional on the grounds of threatening the secularism of Turkey and was shut down by the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Erdogan was given a ten-month prison sentence of which he served four. (24 March – 27 July 1999)

Due to his conviction, Erdogan was banned from participating in parliamentary elections.

As 9th President of Turkey, His Excellency Süleyman Demirel had four Prime Ministers rise and fall during his time in office:

Tansu Ciller

Tansu Çiller 2015 (Cropped).jpg

(Turkey’s 22nd and first and only female Prime Minister (1993 – 1996), Ciller was responsible for the aforementioned Castle Plan, the persuasion of the United States to label the PKK as a terrorist organisation, the creation of a budget plan that led to a lack of confidence in her government and an almost total collapse of the Turkish lira, was alleged to have supported the failed 1995 Azerbaijan coup d’état, claimed Turkish sovereignty over the islands of Imia and Kardak almost leading to war with joint claimant Greece and was implicated in the Susurluk Scandal involving the close relationship between her government, the armed forces and organised crime.)

Necmettin Erbakan (1926 – 2011)

Necmettin Erbakan.jpg

(Turkey’s 23rd Prime Minister (1996 – 1997), Erbakan formed a coalition government with Ciller acting as Deputy Prime Minister and strongly promoted close cooperation and unity among Muslim countries.

He was the founder of the still-existent D8 (Developing Eight) Organization for Economic Cooperation, whose goal is increased economic and political unity between its members (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey).

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Erbakan found his popularity wane when he made fun of the nightly repetition of demonstrations against his Deputy Prime Minister.

He was strongly encouraged by the military to resign over his perceived violation of the separation of religion and state as mandated by the Turkish Constitution.)

Mesut Yilmaz

Pehlivanoğlu Ozal Yilmaz(cropped).jpg

(Turkey’s 21st Prime Minister (June – November 1991, March- June 1996, 1997 – 1999), Yilmaz quickly began to fade for his 3rd and final time as Prime Minister.

In October 1998, he threatened “to poke out the eyes of Syria” over Syrian President Hafez  al-Assad’s (1930 – 2000)(18th President of Syria: 1971 – 2000) alleged support of the FKK.

Flag of Syria

Above: The flag of Syria

(During Assad’s presidency, Syria’s relations with Turkey were tense.

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An important issue between the countries was water supply and Syria’s support to the PKK.

Assad offered help to the PKK enabled it to receive training in the Beka’a’ Valley in Lebanon.

Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the PKK, openly used Assad’s villa in Damascus as a base for operations.

Abdullah Öcalan.png

Turkey threatened to cut off all water supplies to Syria.

However, when the Turkish Prime Minister or President sent a formal letter to the Syrian leadership requesting it to stop supporting the PKK, Assad ignored them.

At that time, Turkey could not attack Syria due to its low military capacity near the Syrian border, and advised the European NATO members to avoid becoming involved in Middle East conflicts in order to avoid escalating the West’s conflict with the Warsaw Pact states, since Syria had good relations with the Soviet Union.

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Above: Logo of the Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance

However, after the end of the Cold War, Turkish military concentration on the Syrian border increased.

In mid-1998, Turkey threatened Syria with military action because of Syrian aid to Öcalan, and in October it gave Syria an ultimatum.

Assad was aware of the possible consequences of Syria’s continuing support to the PKK.

Turkey was militarily powerful while Syria had lost the support of the Soviet Union.

The Russian Federation was not willing to help; neither was it capable of taking strong measures against Turkey.

Facing a real threat of military confrontation with Turkey, Syria signed the Adana Memorandum in October 1998, which designated the PKK as a terrorist organization and required Syria to evict it from its territory.

After the PKK was dissolved in Syria, Turkish-Syrian political relations improved considerably, but issues such as water supplies from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers remained unsolved.)

In December 1998, in an attempt to privatise the Turkish Trade Bank, allegations of cooperation with Mafia boss Alaattin Cakici began to arise.

Mustafa Bülent Ecevit

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(Turkey’s 16th Prime Minister (January – November 1974, June – July 1977, 1978 – 1979, 1999 – 2002), Ecevit would try to bring economic reforms, aimed at stabilizing the Turkish economy, in order to gain full membership into the European Union.)

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

(Despite lasting only ten months, Ecevit’s first government was responsible for the successful Turkish invasion of Cyprus, for which he is nicknamed the ‘conqueror of Cyprus’. (Turkish: Kıbrıs Fatihi) )

In 2000, Ahmet Necdet Sezer was elected as Turkey’s 10th President (2000 – 2007) after Süleyman Demirel’s seven-year term expired.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer.jpg

The Prime Ministers during Demiril’s term with their unstable coalitions, rampant corruption and lack of durability caused the Turkish people to become highly disillusioned with their government.

Their lack of faith would cause foreign nations to carefully examine any investment in Turkey.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey relied heavily on foreign investment for economic growth.

The government was already running enormous budget deficits, which it managed to sustain by selling huge quantities of high-interest bonds to Turkish banks.

Continuing inflation and the enormous flow of foreign capital had meant that the government could avoid defaulting on the bonds in the short term.

As a consequence, Turkish banks came to rely on these high yield bonds as a primary investment.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1996 warned the Turkish government of an impending financial crisis because of the deficit.

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Turkey’s unstable political landscape led many foreign investors to divest from the country.

As foreign investors observed the political turmoil and the government’s attempts to eleiminate the budget deficit, they withdrew $70 billion worth of capital in a matter of months.

This left a vacuum of capital that Turkish banks were unable to alleviate because the government was no longer able to pay off its bonds.

With no capital to speak of, the Turkish economy declined dramatically.

By 2000 there was massive unemployment, a lack of medicine, tight credit, slow production and increasing taxes.

In November 2001, the IMF provided Turkey with $11.4 billion in loans and Turkey sold many of its state-owned industries in a effort to balance the budget.

But these stabilisation efforts were not producing meaningful effects and the IMF loan was widely seen as insufficient.

On 19 February 2001, Prime Minister Ecevit emerged from an angry meeting with President Sezer saying:

“This is a serious crisis.”

This statement underscored the financial and political instability and led to further panic in the markets.

Stocks plummeted, interest rates reached 3,000%, large quantities of Turkish lira were exchanged for US dollars or euros, causing the Turkish Central Bank to lose $5 billion of its reserves.

Above: Symbol for the Turkish lira

The crash triggered even more economic turmoil.

In the first eight months of 2001, nearly 15,000 jobs were lost, the US dollar was equal to 1,500,000 lira, and income inequality was greater than ever.

Despite this, the government made swift progress in bringing about an economic recovery.

Nevertheless, almost half of his party in the parliament left to form the New Turkey Party(YTP).

Added to this economic crisis, allegations of corruption, as well as Ecevit’s poor health, made early elections unavoidable and the DSP faced an electoral wipeout in the 2002 general elections losing all of its MPs.

In 2001, Erdogan established the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Justice and Development Party

The AKP won a landslide victory and Erdogan assumed office as Turkey’s 25th Prime Minister on 14 March 2003.

Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy just beginning to recover, unresolved issues with the Kurds and the Armenians, the need to improve democratic standards and the rights of minorities, the need to reform labour laws, the need to invest in education, the need to increase Turkey’s infrastructure, as well as the need to reform the Turkish healthcare system and social security.

Recep Tayip Erdogan, born 1954, had come a long way from selling simit in rough districts, or kicking a football, or sitting in a prison cell for speaking ill-chosen words.

He had shown he could rise above coups and his party being declared unconstitutional and dissolved and could improve the lives and the prospects of one of Turkey’s oldest and populous cities.

Erdogan would go on to be known by two, completely contrary to each other, titles:

  • the most successful politician in the Republic of Turkey’s history
  • the world’s most insulted president

Erdogan was Prime Minister for 11 years and has been President for almost three years with four more years to go in his mandate.

And he seemed to start off so well…

(To be continued…)

Sources: Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to build a railroad

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 August 2016

As the few but faithful regular readers of this blog may recall, I am in a marriage wherein my wife is away four days out of seven working in Zürich bringing sick children there the love and professionalism by which she is already known in her particular circles.

So, while she is away with the car I am forced to rely on public transportation when necessity demands I leave this tiny hamlet for purposes other than sleeping.

Today, suffering from extreme toothache, I must once again calculate in my mind the travel time required to reach my destination, in this case a dentist’s chair in Konstanz.

Happily there are moments when taking a train is not connected with work or other necessities, but instead is an adventure and genuine pleasure to do so.

In moments of my recent past I recall the joy I have felt when riding the rails to some undiscovered place as part of another spontaneous exploration.

And there are “before I kick the bucket” travel destinations I would like to visit, which involve boarding a train and seeking out stations that beckon with promise and excitement.

I have even already mapped out in my mind a round-the-world trip that would have me take the train from Paris to Istanbul, then on to Moscow, the Trans-Siberian to Vladivostock, a flight to Alaska, then buses and trains south to British Columbia and down to South America, fly to South Africa then buses and trains back to Europe.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 lunar mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

It is an imperfect and imprecise plan, but then most grand adventures are.

Here in Switzerland, Swiss chests are swollen with pride not only because Swiss athletes have won medals in the Rio Olympics, but because two months ago, on 1 June 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (Gotthard Basistunnel / Tunnel de base du Saint-Gotthard / Galleria di base del San Gottardo / Tunnel da basa dal Son Gottard in the four official Swiss languages of German, French, Italian and Romansh) was officially opened with dignitaries from across Europe extolling its virtues.

20141120 gotthard-basistunnel02-wikipedia-hannes-ortlieb.jpg

And I might visit this tunnel one day, for as much as it pains me to give the Swiss praise – they praise themselves already too jingoistically as it is – I have to acknowledge that Swiss engineers have truly accomplished something noteworthy here.

With a route length of 57 km (35 miles) and a total of 151 km (94 miles) of tunnels, shafts and passages, it is the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel and the first, flat, low level route through the Alps.

The GBT’s depth is approximately 2,300 metres (7,500 feet), which is compareable to that of the deepest mines on Earth.

Without ventilation, the temperature inside the mountain reaches 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit).

The main purpose of the GBT is to increase local transport capacity through the Alpine barrier, especially for freight, notably on the Rotterdam-Basel-Genoa corridor, and more particularly to shift frieght volumes from trucks to freight trains.

Now this is significant, because not only does the GBT reduce the danger of fatal road crashes involving trucks, but it also reduces the environmental damage caused by these trucks.

The GBT bypasses the Gotthardbahn, a winding mountain route opened in 1882 across the Saint Gotthard Massif, which has been operating at full capacity, and establishes a direct route which can be used by both high speed rail and heavy freight trains.

The GBT consists of two single track tunnels, connecting Erstfeld in Canton Uri with Bodio in Canton Ticino, and passing underneath Sedrun in Canton Graubünden.

Passenger trains are now able to travel up to 250 km/h (155 mph) through the GBT, reducing travel times for transalpine train journeys by almost an hour.

And this saving of time and the environment cost the Swiss only 14 billion Swiss francs and nine people´s lives (only one of whom were Swiss).

But these costs in taxpayers´ hard-earned incomes and human life have all been forgiven and forgotten, for a commemoration ceremony – led by a Catholic vicar general, an Evangelical vicar, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam – absolves all guilt… and the massive inauguration – with hundreds of Swiss citizens chosen by lot and dozens of dignitaries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, and the resulting publicity –  absolves all remorse.

Throw in dancers and acrobats, singers and musicians, print and media, all united in harmonious orgasm in a celebration of Alpine culture and history…and you have yourselves the making of one hell of a party.

Artists perform during the opening show directed by German director Volker Hesse, on the opening day of the Gotthard rail tunnel - 1 June 2016

Now I recognize the merit of building a 57-km long tunnel but I find myself unmoved by this hullabaloo, for though the GBT might get me from Zürich to Milano a wee bit earlier, I am robbed of seeing much along the way if I am travelling through an underground passage.

For in reaching the destination quicker, we lose the quality of the journey.

I feel the same way about the Channel Tunnel, having crossed the Channel by boat and through the “Chunnel”, I gained time on the train and felt enchantment on the boat.

Course Channeltunnel en.svg

The trainspotter in me, the rail enthusiast within, does not celebrate the GBT.

Now, as suggested above and in previous blog posts, I have travelled by train in Britain.

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

I have ridden the rails to Cornwall with my wife and have visited friends in Southampton and Oxford and London by train and thoroughly loved riding old steam trains with a former girlfriend when we vacationed in Wales.

For even though rail travel in Britain is expensive, trains are still generally more comfortable than coaches.

Though British trains are still prone to the occasional delay or cancellation, at least most still run close to their scheduled times.

Though about 20 different companies operate train services in Britain and tracks and stations are operated by yet another company, causing confusion for many passengers, information and ticket services are increasingly centralised.

But the days of the best British trains – the slow, sweet branch lines – endangered in the days when train travel writer Paul Theroux in the early 80s wrote The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey around the Coast of Great Britain, may be drawing to a close.

“Twelve groups of companies have made applications to run rail franchises until 2020.

Among them is the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) who has made a bid to run the West Midlands franchise, operated at present by London Midland.

JR East is the operator of Japan’s high-speed bullet trains and manages the 742-mile high-speed network north of Tokyo.” (Times, 8 April 2016)

The Shinkansen, falsely translated by Westerners to mean “bullet train” from the Japanese dangan ressha, the nickname given to the high-speed project in the 1930s, actually refers to the earthquake-and-typhoon-proof track.

There are several types of Shinkasen train, including the 0 series – the front of which actually does resemble a bullet – and the 700 series – the front cab resembling a duck-billed platypus.

These trains reach speeds of up to 300 km per hour, and on average arrive within 6 seconds of their scheduled time.

The Swiss are the most frequent train users in Europe and there is no denying that its network is high quality, comfortable, efficient and scenic.

Swiss Federal Railways – or Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB), Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses (CFF), Ferrovie federal svizzere (FFS) – retains a monopoly on most of the network, but there are some routes, especially alpine lines, which are operated by the companies whch constructed them often a century or more ago.

Logo

Still in comparison with other nations, arrival of the railway in Switzerland was relatively late, because each of the country´s Cantons had a say over the routes chosen and they didn´t always agree.

Only after the enactment of the Federal Railways Act of 1852 did the possibility of a nation drawn together by a cohesive rail network become possible.

Zürich´s Main Station (Hauptbahnhof) is the largest railway station in Switzerland.

Heutiger Hauptbahnhof mit allen Anbauten, dahinter die Sihlpost

3,000 trains, carrying over 350,000 passengers, arrive and depart daily on 30 tracks.

The Hauptbahnhof is one of Switzerland´s oldest.

Outside the neo-Renaissance station is a fountain to the memory of Swiss politician and railway entrepreneur Alfred Escher (1819 – 1882) who initiated the construction of the Gotthard Railway and was the founder of Credit Suisse.

(See The Haa Bay and Needle Park of this blog.)

The GBT doesn´t recall the name of Alfred Escher but a Catholic shrine to Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, stands inside the tunnel as a memorial to those who built the GBT.

I use the train almost every day, travelling to Konstanz and Zürich for shopping, travelling to St. Gallen, Amriswil, Herisau, Neuhaus and Winterthur for work.

And as much as I enjoy travelling by train, these routes are not my favourite, for I love more intensely the slow, sweet trains, trams and cable cars that climb and descend the hills and mountains of this alpine land.

In a former post, Along the Comedy Circuit, I described how one could travel from the Lake of Constance and the harbour of Rorschach, ride a boat along the lakeshore and up the Rhine River to Rheineck, take a gauge train up the hills to Walzenhausen, walk the Witzweg (Joke Trail) to Heiden, then take another gauge train from Heiden down the hills to Rorschach.

I mentioned how I had made this excursion with my wife.

But as much as I adore and respect my wife, I am very much like Paul Theroux in that I find travel more satisfying, more educational, when I am on my own.

When you travel with someone else your world and your perspective of it is reduced to seeing only one another rather than your isolation compelling you to interact with the world.

I mentioned in A to Z: Adam to Zelg how I taught a family in the village of Zelg in Canton Appenzell.

Zelg is a tiny town in the municipality of Wolfhalden and is reachable by bus from either Heiden or Rheineck and is midpoint by car between Walzenhausen and Rheineck.

On two occasions during my contract with the family Frei I had the opportunity to take these two mountain railways of Rheineck-Walzenhausen (the RhW) and Rorschach-Heiden (the RHB) on my own.

The RhW (Bergbahn Rheineck-Walzenhausen) is a 1.9 km (1.2 mile) long rack railway, that links Rheineck, Canton St. Gallen (SG), with Walzenhausen, Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR), in operation since 1896.

Strecke der Bergbahn Rheineck–Walzenhausen

Rheineck (Rhine corner) is a Swiss municipality on the Austrian border, where the Rhine River meets and flows into the Bodensee (Lake of Constance).

Rheineck SG Schweiz, Gaißau, Vorarlberg 1.jpg

Rheineck is an old place – by white Canadian, written historical, standards – as it has been around since 1163 when it was known as Castellum Rinegge (Rheineck Castle) – and it is filled with many old structures in its Altstadt.

Rheineck was home to Swiss writer William Wolfensberger (1889 – 1918) and painter Heinrich Herzig (1887 – 1964).

Walzenhausen is a village and a health resort and a starting point of the 8-km long Witzweg walking trail to Heiden.

The RhW starts from platform 1 of Rheineck`s railway station, parallels the SBB’s St. Margrethen – Rorschach railway line for 600 metres (2,000 feet), then makes a sharp right and crosses the highway to reach the Ruderbach stop.

Here the line joins the funicular rack operation and begins to climb at a steep gradient (25%)(272 m / 892 ft) in a straight line to Walzenhausen, passing first through a 315 metre (1,033 foot) long tunnel and then across a 153 metre (502 foot) long iron bridge over the Hexenkirchlitobel (little witches´ church ravine), to finally enter a 70 metre (230 foot) long tunnel under Walzenhausen’s spa house.

The entire journey on the RhW’s single four-wheeled railcar takes only 9 minutes, but despite the discomfort of the car´s wooden benches, one wants to ride the RhW again and again.

The RHB (Rorschach Heiden Bahn) is a standard gauge mountain rack railway, a 7 km (4.3 mile) route that links Rorschach, Canton St. Gallen, with Heiden, Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden, in operation since 1871, and is a 19-minute journey.

BDeh 2/4 24 mit Velo- und Sommerwagen

Personally I don´t find the RHB as exciting as the RhW, but the places it connects are far more interesting than Rheineck and Walzenhausen for the visiting tourist.

Rorschach, on the south side of the Bodensee, is a very interesting place to visit and not just for its amazing location on the Lake.

One can reach Rorschach by train from either St. Gallen to the south or Romanshorn to the west as well as the RHB up to Heiden.

Highway A1 to the south leads to St. Gallen and St. Margrethen.

Rorschach has a harbour served by passenger ferries that travel to towns on the Swiss, Austrian and German sides of the Lake as well as upstream along the Rhine.

A number of trails begin in Rorschach: the Via Jacobi (one of the routes of the Way of St. James (Jakobsweg) that one can follow to Einsiedeln, Geneva and Santiago de la Compostela in faroff Spain), the Alpenpanoramaweg to Geneva and the Rheintaler Höhenweg (Rhine valley elevated trail) to Sargans.

For the tourist, one can visit the old granary and the Benedictine abbey of Mariaberg, the promenade along the Lake, the St. James Fountain (the starting point of the road to Spain), the bathing hut directly on the Lake, the aviation museum and Hundertwasser House in nearby Altenrhein, as well as the castles of St. Anna, Wartensee, Sulzberg and Wartegg.

Rorschach was the birthplace of Barock fresco painter Johann Melchior Eggmann (1711 – 1756), film actor and 1st Oscar winner Emil Jannings (1884 – 1950), photographer/painter/publisher Ernst Scheidegger (1923 – 2016), Bruno Stanek, space expert and TV moderator (born 1943), and professional racing car driver Neel Jani (born 1983).

(The famous Rorschach inkblot test is named after Hermann Rorschach (1884 – 1922), its Zürich inventor, not the town of Rorschach itself.)

Heiden is also noteworthy as a spa resort, as the birthplace of renowned scientist Hugo Thiemann (1917 – 20112) and footballer Davide Chiumiento (born 1984), and the final residence and resting place of Red Cross founder/Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910).

Dorfansicht von Süd-Osten her

The Henri Dunant Museum is very interesting and well worth a visit.

The RHB is a very comfortable train that ascends 400 metres from Rorschach Main Station (not to be confused with the stations Rorschach Stadt and Rorschach Hafen) and stops upon request at Seebleiche (Pale Lake), Sandbüchel (sandy beeches), Wartensee (waiting lake), Wienacht-Tobel (like night ravine) and Schwendi bei Heiden.

The RHB is a very popular line with both local and international tourists and often the RHB will employ classic train wagons and old steam engines to attract more visitors.

I find myself drawn more towards the RhW and the RHB than the GBT because the old mountain railways embrace the mountains they climb rather than burrow through them.

The RhW and the RHB are symbols of harmony with heritage and nature rather than an avoidance of the environment in the pursuit of speed, in the name of progress.

As I am forced to concede that I do take the fastest trains to work to save time and reach my destination, my heart will always belong to the slow romance of the mountain railways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wormwood forever

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2016

Perhaps it is a result of lying on a beach under the hot Italian sun for three days that have caused my thoughts to think about radiation…

I have just returned yesterday from a two-week holiday in Tuscany and have looked at some of the books I read, or wanted to read, whilst I was away.

I find myself most moved by a book I purchased before I went away: Svetlana Alexievich´s Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.

Produkt-Information

On 26 April 1986, at 1:23:58, Reactor #4 at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, 100 km north of Kyiv, in the Ukraine, exploded.

Chernobyl Disaster.jpg

The nuclear reactor after the disaster:

Reactor 4 (centre). Turbine building (lower left). Reactor 3 (centre right)

It was the largest technological disaster of the 20th century.

Nearly 9 tonnes of radioactive material (90 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb) spewed into the sky.

An estimated 4.9 million people living in northern Ukraine, southern Belarus and southwestern Russia were affected.

Contamination spread to cover 3/4 of Europe.

On 29 April 1986, instruments recorded high levels of radiation in Poland, Germany, Austria and Romania.

A day later, the radiation spread to Switzerland and northern Italy.

On 1 and 2 May, it reached France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and northern Greece.

On 3 May, radiation is detected in Israel, Kuwait and Turkey.

Gaseous airborne particles travelled the globe.

On 2 May they were registered in Japan, 5 May in India, 6 May in Canada and the States.

A local problem on the Belarussian border was suddenly a global problem.

On 11 September 2001, after the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center, emergency triage stations were set up throughout New York City.

Doctors and nurses rushed to their hospitals for extra shifts and many individuals came to donate blood.

These were touching acts of generosity and solidarity.

The blood and triage stations turned out to be unnecessary.

There were few survivors.

List of Victims from Sept. 11, 2001 Royalty Free Stock Photography

The effects of the explosion and nuclear fire at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986 were the exact opposite.

The initial blast killed just one plant worker, Valeriy Khodomchuk.

In the next few weeks no fewer than 30 workers and firemen died from acute radiation poisoning.

But tens of thousands received extremely high doses of radiation.

It was an accident that produced more survivors than casualities.

Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the wife of a fireman whose brigade was the first to arrive at the reactor, witnessed the total degeneration of her husband’s skin in the week before his death.

Any little wrinkle in his bedding would wound him.

The Zone of Exclusion, as the Soviets termed the land within 30 km of the Chernboyl explosion, though evacuated of humans, was still filled with household pets.

As they had absorbed heavy doses of radiation in their fur and were liable to wander out of the Zone, hunters had to go in and shoot them all.

The Soviets had designed a poorly constructed reactor and then staffed it with a group of incompetents, then lied about the disaster while trying to cover it up.

Today the land is still too dangerous for agricultural use and children are still getting sick from the effects of radiation poisoning passed onto them genetically, those that manage to survive pregnancy and do not die pre-term.

The rivers remain polluted by much of the silt carried downstream from Chernobyl.

“The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood.  A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” (The Holy Bible, Revelations 8: 10-11)

Thirty years after the 1986 disaster, many babies born in Chernobyl’s neighbouring regions have birth defects and develop rare forms of cancer.

For neighbouring tiny Belarus, population 10 million, one out of every five Belarussians live on contaminated land.

That is 2.1 million people, of whom 700,000 are children.

Mortality rates exceed birth rates by 20%.

The 4th reactor, known as “the Cover”, still holds about 20 tons of nuclear fuel in its lead-and-metal core…and there are fissures.

There are now over 200 square metres of spaces and cracks.

Radioactive particles continue to escape…

The operation to dismantle Chernobyl’s radioactive core is one of the world´s largest engineering projects and could take another 30 years.

Some say that present radioactive levels at Chernobyl are negligible, so organised tours of the site and the surrounding ghost villages are possible.

Pripyat-Chernobyl Tours by UkrainianWeb.com

Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown and their stories reveal fear, anger and uncertainty with which they still live.

These survivors are fatalistic, stoically brave people who won´t abandon their homes even if they are poisoned with radiation.

Meanwhile in Fukushima, Japan, the only other nuclear accident almost comparable to Chernobyl, full clean-up of the site is expected to take at least 40 years.

Five years (11 March 2011) after a powerful earthquake and tsunami struck, causing three reactors at Fukushima to melt down, a veneer of stability masks a grueling daily battle to contain hazardous radiation.

A smooth clean-up is top priority for the Japanese government which wants to rebuild Japan’s tattered nuclear power industry, as only one atomic power station remains operating in the country and more than 40 reactors sit idle.

The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident since 1986, displaced 50,000 households after radiation leaked into the air, soil and sea.

Radiation checks led to bans of some shipments of vegetables and fish.

The Japan Times estimated 1,600 deaths were the result of evacuation, due to physical and mental stress stemming from long stays at shelters, a lack of initial care as a result of hospitals disabled by the disaster and suicides.

The Fukushima accident sparked worldwide controversy.

Eight of the seventeen operating nuclear plants in Germany were shut down after the 2011 Fukushima accident and it plans to close all its reactors by 2022.

“At Fukushima, four reactors have been out of control for weeks, casting doubt on whether even an advanced economy can master nuclear safety.” (Swiss bank USB, Bloomberg, 4 March 2011)

Countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand and Norway have no nuclear power reactors and remain opposed to nuclear power.

At present there are over 441 reactors worldwide in 31 countries, with 67 more under construction in 15 countries.

In Switzerland, for example, the Leibstadt reactor produces an annual average of 25 million kilowatt hours per day, enough to power a city the size of Boston.

The United States produces the most nuclear energy, with much of its military, and some civilian, using nuclear marine propulsion.

Nuclear power provides more than 11% of the world’s electricity.

There are five nuclear weapons states: the US, Russia, The UK, France and China.

This means there are 4,000 active nuclear weapons in the world and 10,000 nuclear weapons in total.

A full-scale nuclear war could bring about the extinction of the entire human race.

“We knew the world would not be the same.

A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent.

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita

Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says,

“Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

I suppose we all thought that one way or another.”

— J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Decision To Drop The Bomb[

Proponents of nuclear energy contend that that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions and increase energy security by decreasing dependence on imported energy sources.

Nuclear energy produces virtually no conventional air pollution, such as greenhouse gases and smog.

Oil is running out amd nuclear energy could be a replacement energy source.

Opponents believe that nuclear power poses many threats.

There are the problems of processing, transporting and storing nuclear waste, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorist targets, as well as health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining.

Reactors are enormously complex machines where many things can and do go wrong.

And as Chernobyl and Fukushima will attest, there have been serious nuclear accidents.

When considering all the energy-intensive stages of the nuclear fuel chain, from uranium mining to nuclear decommissioning, nuclear power is neither a low carbon or economical energy source.

“I don´t know what I should talk about – about death or about love?

Or are they the same?

Which one should I talk about?

We were newlyweds. 

We still walked around holding hands, even if we were just going to the store.  

I would say to him, “I love you.”

But I didn’t know how much. 

I had no idea…

One night I heard a noise. 

I looked out the window. 

He saw me.

“Close the window and go back to sleep.  There’s a fire at the reactor.  I’ll be back soon.”

I didn´t see the explosion itself.

Just the flames.

Everything was radiant. 

The whole sky.

A tall flame.

And smoke. 

The heat was awful.

And he’s still not back….

Seven o’clock. 

At seven I was told he was in the hospital. 

I ran there, but the police had already encircled it, and they weren’t letting anyone through. 

Only ambulances….

I started looking for a friend, she was a doctor at that hospital. 

I grabbed her white coat when she came out of an ambulance.

“Get me inside.”

“I can’t.  He’s bad. They all are.”

I held onto her. 

“Just to see him!”

“All right.  Come with me. Just for fifteen or twenty minutes.”

I saw him. 

He was all swollen and puffed up. 

You could barely see his eyes….

He started to change – every day I met a brand-new person. 

The burns started to come to the surface. 

In his mouth, on his tongue, his cheeks…

It came off in layers – as white film…the colour of his face…his body…blue…red…gray-brown…

It happened so fast. 

There wasn´t any time to think. 

There wasn’t any time to cry.

I loved him! 

I had no idea how much! 

We had just gotten married. 

When we walked down the street – he would grab my hands and whirl me around. 

And kiss me, kiss me….

It was a hospital for people with acute radiation poisoning. 

Fourteen days. 

In fourteen days a person dies….

I tell the nurse on duty: “He’s dying.” 

And she says to me: “What did you expect?  He got 1,600 roentgen.  400 is a lethal dose.  You’re sitting next to a nuclear reactor.”….

Fourteen nights. 

That´s how long it takes a person to die….

There are many of us here…

They have bad diseases, they’re invalids, but they don’t leave…

Often they die. 

In an instant. 

They just drop…

No one has really asked us. 

No one has asked us what we have been through. 

What we saw. 

No one wants to hear about death. 

About what scares them.

But I was telling you about love. 

About my love…”

(Lyudmilla Ignatenko, wife of deceased fireman Vasily Ignatneko)

(Sources: Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster; New York Times, 10 March 2016; Wikipedia)

Peace symbol.svg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silence Between

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 9 May 2016

An email from an old friend, Sumit, asks: “Not writing blogs anymore?…I have not seen any new blogs in the last few weeks.”

A daily journal, bought at a local grocery chain, has a leather cover that intimidates: “You don´t write because you want to say something.  You write because you have something to say.” (Anonymous)

Facebook: Someone posts a photo of a shelf of books.  Upon the book held up to the foreground of the picture, a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

A private student, upon reading my blog for the first time, commented that she thought that she didn´t need to read about places she already knew, but she thought that underneath all the verbiage was a feeling of sadness.

“So, what´s been happening?”, you might be asking.

“Where have you gone?

Why no more blogging?”

Not an easy or a comfortable question to answer…

Perhaps one might consider what silence actually means…

Many years ago, I spent a very little time in Japan, and at first glance it is a country where everything seems to be happening all at once:

People congregating at Akachochin devouring, like greedy beggars at a banquet, skewered chicken yakitori and grilled squid washed down with beer or sake.

Children scared by their parents into cleaning the bath or the Akaname – a human frog with wild hair, an incredibly long tongue and a single clawed toe will enter the dirty bathroom in the dead of night and will lick the children giving them serious sickness.

Baseball – more popular in Japan than football is in England – is not just a sport, it is a way of life so ingrained in the character of the Land of the Rising Sun that, like bowing or breathing, it consumes them with a passion that haunts even their dreams.

Scandal has never been far away from Japanese shores…

Sada Abe (1905 – 1987), a failed geisha and former prostitute turned waitress, had an affair with the owner of the restaurant where she worked.

To prevent him from leaving her, she strangled him to death and hacked off his privates, knowing that if she killed him, no woman would ever touch him again.

On 8 January 1992, US President George Bush at a state dinner given in his honour during a visit to Japan throws up in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister Kichi Miyazawa, creating the word “Bushusuru” (doing a Bush) meaning to vomit without warning.

Morning, 20 March 1995, 7:30 am, five men board trains at various stations along the Tokyo subway system and release the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Twelve people dead, a thousand injured.

Alcoholism is rampant in Japan as is drunk driving.

The attitude?

Dakari nani?

So what?

Over 1,000 earthquakes a year in Japan, though most are minor tremors barely noticed.

But what is minor and really noticed is Kata – the rituals attached to all activities, and what truly separates us Gaijin from being truly Japanese.

Electric talking toilets; enko ballad singing; the remote possibility of death by eating fugu (blowfish); navigating the rubbish as you wind your way up Mount Fuji; the xenophobic attitudes of the Japanese to those who can never be Japanese; gambatte do-or-die bravery of all who will sacrifice all for the challenge of a greater good; the insanity of Japanese TV game shows; the constant, not at all subtle, gawping of young and old at the obvious foreigners amongst them; the burdensome duties of giri (obligation) one has towards others; golf consuming up precious land and precious time in a country lacking both; drunken hordes of businessmen visiting hosutesu (hostess bars); the never-ending repetition of irashaimase (“welcome”) in any place that deals with the public; the unimaginable disgrace of jaywalking done only by ignorant gaijin or by yakuza gangsters; kapuseru hoteru (capsule hotels) though very cheap are too reminiscient of being buried alive in a fully functional coffin; the labyrinth complexity of keigo (honourific language) that detemines how you speak by with whom you must speak; the waving cats (maneki neko) that greet customers through shop and restaurant windows; overcrowded subways of manga-reading businessmen, the kata of one´s meishi (the ritual of giving your business card); pretending to enjoy Noh (Japanese theatre which, much like Japanese literature, seems to be about nothing happening); playing the omikuji to determine your fortune and destiny; pachinko parlors – a sort of Japanese gambling casino in a country where gambling for cash is illegal – where hordes stare at machines bombarding them with loud noise and bright light; pornography where all is suggested yet nothing is seen, including the presence of joy or pleasure; rabu hoteru (love hotels) where the itch can be scratched; the utter delight of ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels); sake – that drink of the gods – where memory and giri can be divinely drenched; those poor bastards sarariman – the common man – the 12-hour day labourers – unloved and unappreciated yet crucial to the entire structure of the Japanese economy…

So much to bewilder the mind and astonish the senses…

A timeless land that is both bounded by tradition and yet a land beyond tomorrow.

Yet, with all the sound and fury that erupts around the visitor, the faces and the attitudes of the Japanese themselves seem to the uninformed gaijin to be that of non-reactive – “nothing to see here”, “nothing is happening”.

Try reading Japanese literature and the Western mind finds itself desperately craving action.

But therein lies the secret of Japan…

5 / 6 of Japan is uninhabitable, 7,000 islands of mostly mountains suitable only for pine trees, incapable of supporting roads, homes or factories.

127 million people live on top of one another on the crammed coasts in unbelievably cramped and crowded conditions, so they must achieve harmony or the resulting anarchy will tear them apart.

Individuality and selfishness are dangerous.

Society can only work if all work together.

The aim is to remain as level, as neutral, as possible, keeping your private concerns and feelings to yourself and present a gregarious surface that gives little away.

Maintain the larger harmony, so that whatever happens, happens within.

The truth lies not in what is expressed, but rather what is unstated.

To really understand requires rigourous attention to the small print of life, what is suggested rather than said, what is under the surface and between the lines.

To inhabit this world is to live in a realm of constant inner explosions, tremors underground but barely felt by others.

Everything happens between the spaces and in the silences.

Nothing is ordinary.

Nothing is without effect.

A cherry blossom petal falls to the ground and the earth trembles.

Change is constant and emotions revolve around change, but expressing these emotions selfishly disturbs the harmony of the group.

The same can be said for relationships, even here in the expressive emotional West.

What a couple don´t say to one another is just as significant as what they do say.

My wife frequently complains that I don´t express myself enough and perhaps she feels that the unexpressed emotion means an absence of emotion, but this is where she is wrong.

For within my mind is a torrent of emotion and the inner conflict and struggle is to comprehend these emotions and somehow discern which should be communicated and how they should be communicated.

For the more that is spoken, the more that can be misunderstood.

So, in my periods of silence, it is not that nothing is happening but rather the reverse – so much is happening I need time and silence to assimilate it all.

And then I am ready to attempt to speak my mind or write something worth reading.

And though like the soto (invisibility) of the falling cherry blossom petal, events and places may seem commonplace and undramatic, the resulting impact upon myself is worth expression, for both the significance of my own unique perspective brings contribution to the world, as well as the similarity of my human reactions to others creates harmony of shared experience.

So, be patient with me, gentle readers, gentle friends and family, for never imagine that I care too little, but rather realise that I care too much that mere words and emotional expression are only the tip of the iceberg.

Much lies under the surface in the silence between.