Canada Slim and the Great Expedition

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

We live in an age where we take for granted many things and we only seem to question things when they don’t happen as we think they should.

We live in an age where we casually accept what is, without questioning how it came to be.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that there is no such thing as coincidence.

We may not understand why things happen, but I believe that things happen (or don’t happen) for a reason, even if we don’t know what that reason is.

“God only knows.

God makes His plans.

The information is unavailable to the mortal man.

We work at our jobs.

Collect our pay.

Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip-sliding away.”

(Paul Simon, “Slip-Sliding Away”)

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I recently discovered a book called Literaturführer Thurgau, which has me looking anew at the region where I live, through the eyes of writers who have experienced this region.

(See Dreams of Dragonflies of this blog for the start of my walking adventures tracing the literary figures of Canton Thurgau.)

Reading this book and as well about recent events have led me to consider the topic of flying.

I am very much like the John McClane character, portrayed by Bruce Willis, in the Die Hard movie series….

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I hate flying.

Or, put another way, I am the composite antithesis of the Ryan Bingham character, portrayed by George Clooney, in the film Up In the Air, whereas Bingham lives to fly, I will fly only when I truly feel I have no other choice.

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I am an English teacher who has found himself, much to my own surprise, teaching aircraft technicians and engineers, pilots and cabin crew, the necessary English they need to do their jobs more professionally.

So, ignorance is bliss…

For knowing what keeps a plane functioning, what allows it to fly, land and take off safely, and what passengers know and don’t know about the flight happening around them…

This knowledge does not comfort me.

I know what can go wrong.

I like to travel and to do so I have flown across continents and oceans.

I have been buffeted by winds that have caused my pants to get stained by coffee.

I have been bumped up to first class and have been bumped off flights that had been overbooked.

I have missed flights due to changes in either the airline schedule or my inability to meet the airline schedule.

All part of the experience…

Overbooking, also known as overselling, is the sale of a good or service in excess of the actual supply,  or ability to supply, that good or service.

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It is a common practice in the travel industry, because it is expected that some people will cancel or miss their flights.

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By overselling, the supplier is ensured that 100% of the available supply will be used, resulting in the maximum return on the supplier’s investment.

But if most customers do wish to purchase or use the good or service, this practice of overselling leaves some customers lacking the good or service they paid for and expected to receive.

Overselling is regulated, but rarely prohibited.

Companies that practice overbooking are usually required to offer large amounts of compensation to customers as an incentive for them to not claim their purchase.

An alternative to overbooking is discouraging customers from buying services they don’t actually intend to use by making reservations non-refundable or requiring them to pay a termination fee.

An airline can book more customers onto a flight than can actually be accommodated by the aircraft, allowing the airline to have a full aircraft on most flights, even if some customers are denied their flight.

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Airlines may ask for volunteers to give away their seats or refuse boarding to certain passengers in exchange for a compensation that may include an additional free ticket or an upgrade on a later flight.

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Airlines can do this and still make more money than if they booked only to the plane’s capacity and had taken off with empty seats.

Some airlines do not overbook as a policy that provides incentive and avoids customer disappointment.

By making their tickets non-refundable, these airlines lower the chances of passengers missing their flights.

A few airline frequent flier programs allow a customer the privilege of flying an already overbooked flight, requiring other customers being asked to deplane.

Often it is only Economy Class that is overbooked, while higher classes are not, allowing the airlines to upgrade some passengers to otherwise unused seats while providing assurance to higher paying customers.

Chicago O’Hare Airport, 9 April 2017

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Early April 2017 saw severe weather on the east coast of the United States, causing many flight cancellations.

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Due to the large number of stranded passengers trying to board flights, many flights were far too overbooked.

On this date of 9 April 2017, United Airlines Express Flight 3411 was scheduled to leave O’Hare at 5:19 pm/1719 hours.

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After passengers were seated in the aircraft, bound for Louisville, Kentucky, but while the plane was still at the gate, the flight crew announced that they needed to remove four passengers to accommodate four staff members who had to cover an unstaffed flight at another location.

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Passengers were initially offered $400 US in vouchers for future travel, a hotel stay and a seat on a plane leaving more than 21 hours later, if they voluntarily deplaned.

No volunteers.

The offer was increased to $800 in vouchers.

Still no volunteers.

A manager boarded and informed the flight that four people would be chosen by computer (based on specific factors such as priority to remain aboard for frequent fliers and those who had paid higher fares).

Three of the computer-selected customers agreed to deplane.

The 4th selected passenger, Asian American 69-year-old Dr. David Dao of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, refused, saying he needed to see patients the next day at his clinic.

 Dr David Dao has been revealed as the man who was dragged from a United flight in Chicago on Sunday. He is pictured with his wife, Teresa, and one of their grandchildren. It was his wife who alerted authorities to his inappropriate relationship with a patient

Above: Dr. David Dao (on the left) with his family

United Airlines decided it required assistance from Chicago Department of Aviation Security officers.

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A security officer threw the Doctor against the armrest of his seat, causing injuries to the physician’s head and mouth (a broken nose, the loss of two front teeth, sinus injuries and a concussion), before dragging Dao down the aisle by his arms unconscious.

Other passengers on the flight recorded the incident on video using their Smartphone cameras and the incident was quickly and widely circulated on social media and was picked up by the mainstream media agencies.

The violent methods used by the security personnel distressed a number of passengers who voluntarily left the aircraft along with the three passengers who had been selected for deplaning.

Four United Airlines staff promptly sat in the now vacated seats.

The flight departed at 1921 hours – two hours and two minutes behind schedule – and arrived at Louisville at 2101 hours – two hours behind schedule.

Back in Chicago, Dao was taken to hospital and would require reconstructive surgery.

No one has been fired as a result of this incident, which could have been avoided had United simply had the computer choose another passenger when Dao had refused to leave.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

Imagine how differently things might have been had the effects of overbooking and a methodology had been practiced to deal with dissatisfied customers by United.

In fairness, running an airline is not an easy task.

So far we have considered ourselves only with the issue of assigning and seating the passengers, but now let’s think about the men and women who actually pilot these aircraft.

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What must they plan for?

Part of a pilot’s job is straightforward and traditional: inspecting the aircraft about to be piloted.

The pilot looks at the external surfaces of the aircraft for signs of damage, then he/she checks the nose undercarriage for excessive wear and the tires for any cuts.

The leading edges of the wings are inspected for damage, the fastenings on the engine cowling are checked and the visible fan blades on the engine are examined.

Moving along the fuselage to the tail, the pilot does the same visual checks over all surfaces before ensuring that all cargo doors and access hatches are securely fastened.

All pretty standard operating procedure….

But not only must the pilot be concerned as to whether the craft can fly, but as well thought must be brought to bear on the actual flight itself.

In the very early days of powered flight, pilots were contented with simply getting airborne and flying short distances.

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Navigational aids did not exist and the basic technique followed was pilotage – flights were at low altitudes and the pilot simply looked out the window and navigated with reference to known landmarks.

In some cases, it was just a question of the pilot following a road, river or railway to the desired destination.

Planes nowadays fly further, so they need a method to find their way safely and efficiently to their final flight arrival.

As well an airplace can only carry a limited amount of fuel.

Failure to reach a destination before the fuel runs out might have fatal consequences.

In modern times all flights operate under VFR (visual flight rules) or IFR (instrument flight rules).

A VFR pilot is qualified and authorised to fly only in good weather conditions and is responsible for maintaining separation from other aircraft and obstructions based on what can be seen.

An IFR pilot is permitted to fly in all weather conditions, including when visibility may be low, relying on flight instruments and navigational aids to follow a safe course.

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While an IFR pilot may still use VFR pilotage techniques, it is advisable for all pilots that their flights be planned careful before taking off, using detailed navigational charts.

Pilots plan their routes, taking into consideration natural obstacles and airspace which may be restricted, which they then mark on their charts.

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Planning a flight is dependent upon a number of factors: topographical, geographical and meteorological.

An area needs to have been mapped out, navigational beacons established, geographical features noted and the weather conditions monitored.

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But in the pioneering days of public air transportation, there were few maps, few beacons, few airports and few refuelling locations.

Before satellites, there was only one way to ascertain what route lay ahead, someone had to go there first.

As well, as any reader of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War can tell you, one cannot defeat a potential enemy if one is unprepared for the terrain upon which one might be forced to battle.

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So geographical knowledge is not only an exercise in exploration, it is crucial for the planning of strategy, both politically and militarily.

Konstanz, Germany, 4 January 1927

It was a time of great change.

Germany was still the Weimar Republic and to reduce the state’s cost of funding two airlines, Deutsch Aero Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr, a merger of the two under the composite name of Deutsche Luft Hansa (German Air Hanseatic) was born on 6 January 1926.

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British and Belgian troops had left German soil and many of the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, that marked Germany’s World War One defeat, had been lifted, enabling Deutsche Luft Hansa to expand its routes beyond the borders of Germany worldwide.

Luft Hansa planned an airline connection between Berlin and Beijing and needed to know the meteorological conditions of the land over which it planned to fly – Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and the Chinese province of Xinjian (then known as East Turkestan) – as well as possible locations for landing, weather monitoring and refuelling.

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The top man for such an expedition, the only man capable of leading such an expedition, was someone who had experience in such matters.

Swedish geographer, topographer, explorer, photographer, travel writer and illustrator Sven Anders Hedin (1865 – 1952) was the man chosen to lead this Sino-Swedish Expedition of 1927 – 1928.

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Already Hedin had made four expeditions to Central Asia, explored the Himalayas, located the sources of the rivers Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej, mapped the “wandering lake” Lop Nur and discovered the remains of cities, grave sites and the Great Wall of China in the deserts of the Tarim Basin.

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Hedin had visited Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, India, China, Russia and Japan, in an age where air travel was not common, trains were not everywhere and where the automobile had yet to be developed to a point of affordable utility.

Hedin would enter uncharted territory and literally put these places on the map, filling the “white spaces” up with his discoveries.

On the Sino-Swedish Expedition, Hedin, age 62, would be accompanied by a multinational team of 29 men, among them a humble bookkeeper who would serve as the Expedition’s logistics manager.

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This bookkeeper, the son of a Konstanz pharmacist, would later write about his adventures in Mongolia (and his explorations of the Lake of Constance upon his return home), which would be published by a small Lengwil publisher.

Fritz Mühlenweg (1898 – 1961), educated as a chemist in Bielefeld and taking over his family’s business when his father died, left Konstanz for Berlin and began to work for Deutsche Luft Hansa.

On this day of 4 January 1927, Mühlenweg said his final farewells to his family in Konstanz and boarded a train bound for Berlin where the Expedition would begin, not knowing when or if he would ever return.

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Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

Through Mühlenweg’s youthful eyes – he was 29 at the start of the Expedition –  and masterful writing, not only is the reader exposed firsthand to countries that, even today, few Westerners visit, but as well the reader is given the common man’s perspective of travelling with a legendary explorer.

 Fritz Muehlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

 

 

 

I have been inspired by the writing of Fritz Mühlenweg, for he sought not just to see the places he visited but to understand what he saw, to see the romance in the commonplace, the exotic in the familiar and the familiar in the exotic.

Like Mühlenweg, I intend to expose my readers to both the exotic and familiar in the hopes that they too will see the wonder of the world as I do.

Men like Mühlenweg and Hedin have been mostly forgotten and our ability to traverse oceans and continents taken for granted.

Journeys that once took months now take only hours.

Journeys that once demanded much time and money are now expected to be quick and affordable.

We now move through and over landscapes that once meant something, that have now been reduced to simply spaces of transit, where everything is temporary and everyone is just passing through.

The wonder of the distinctiveness of a place has been replaced with a disdain for the local and an indifference to the uniqueness of every locality.

Human progress is now measured out in air miles, while communities find their common ground in cyberspace rather than terra firma.

We live in an age where we wish the world to be fully codified and collated, a world where ambiguity and ambivalence have been so sponged away that we know exactly and objectively where everything is and what it is called.

We want to arrive, instead of travel.

The case of Dr. Dao and United Airlines is a malaise particular to our modern age.

We conveniently forget that for every gain there is a loss.

Completeness removes the possibility of exploration, escape and hope.

We need the unnamed and the unexplored.

We need to examine our discarded sense of place and explore places both distant and at our doorstep.

For romance needs place and in a world “fully” discovered exploration must never stop.

The idea of exploration now needs to be reinvented.

We must not only see a place but as well observe it for its uniqueness and romance.

Let’s go on a journey – to the ends of the Earth and the other side of the street, as far or as close as we need to go to get away from the familiar and the routine prisons we have built for ourselves.

Whether they be good or bad, scary or wonderful, we need unruly and unexplored places that defy our expectations and make us question our preconceptions.

Love of place can never and should never be extinguished or sated.

Utopia (from the Greek for “no place”) is a happy land.

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Sometimes the most fascinating places are often also the most disturbing, entrapping and appalling and often temporary.

In ten years’ time, most places will look very different.

Some will no longer exist, because nature is often horrible and life is transitory.

Love of place is not finding a place that is cute and cuddly, but rather love of place is a fierce love, a dark enchantment, that runs deep and demands our attention.

As Herman Melville wrote, in Moby Dick, when the first mate of the Pequod was describing his home:

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“It is not down in any map. 

True places never are.”

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Sources:

Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia

Albert M. Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Fritz Mühlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Dreams of dragonflies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Good Friday 2017

Perhaps a sacrifice is necessary for good to be achieved.

Over 2,000 years ago, it is said that the crucifixion of one man led to the salvation of all mankind.

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Perhaps this is so.

Clearly this man of God had to give up much to achieve a greater good.

And perhaps the same can be said for writing and getting that writing published.

Sometimes one needs to sacrifice energy and effort, comfort and leisure, pride and fear, to achieve something worthwhile for others to read.

It has been said that there are usually reasons for success, but often only excuses for failure.

I offer neither for the time elapsed since my last entry, except to say that I want to try a couple of new approaches in my writing contributions.

I still feel that I need to occasionally express my thoughts about world events for it has often been said that evil triumphs when good men say nothing.

There remains much that is interesting to discuss in this regard and worthy of discussion and thought.

But it would be remiss of me to suggest that I am any wiser than those who represent us in these matters.

It is not that my opinion in these matters doesn’t matter – it does – but rather I have more authority and accuracy if I also write about what is most familiar to me.

So, this blog, the Chronicles of Canada Slim, will also begin to incorporate travel writing.

While my much-neglected blog Building Everest will serve double duty as a platform to write fictional stories, as well as the creation of a textbook I feel has been lacking in the teaching of Technical English.

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(Look for fiction prefaced with the words, The Forest of Shadows, and technical stories under the title Tech Talk in the Building Everest blog.)

While I wait – impatiently – for my local bookseller to receive a copy of The Writer`s Market, I now spend my freetime exploring the local area where I live and reading about how to write.

Lengwil, Switzerland, Monday 10 April 2017

Up at 0500 in my Landschlacht apartment, left at 0700, 0714 train to Kreuzlingen, followed by 0729 train to Lengwil.

Why visit Lengwil?

Certainly the guidebooks give it no mention.

Those not from Thurgau Canton have no clue where in Switzerland it is located – south of Kreuzlingen-Konstanz on the rail route towards Weinfelden – and little reason to visit, for Lengwil hasn’t a lot to attract the visitor.

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No museums, no breathtaking wonders or great historical moments to draw outsiders to this community…

(Though the view of the Lake of Constance from the Lengwil station is pretty terrific…)

There are two restaurants –  the Sonne and the Sternen (the sun and the stars), both in half-timbered structures – one grocery store (the Dorfladen)(village shop) and one bank (Raiffeisen) with an ATM banking machine.

Restaurtant Sonne, Lengwil

Restaurant Sternen, Lengwil

Above: Restaurant Sonne (top picture) and Restaurant Sternen (bottom picture)

But the Gemeinde Lengwil (town hall) offers no brochures for the tourist, for clearly it doesn’t expect any.

For the working man or for the shopper, Lengwil has little to offer them as well, save for Fehr Elektrotechnik and Polymechanik Art Design: Splendid Tools.

But, unless you are into the sort of products and services these small firms offer, they are hardly sufficient to attract your attention.

So, what caught my attention about Lengwil?

Dragonflies.

Let me explain.

I have always been a bibliophile – a lover of books.

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And one of the reasons for this great love has been how good books nurture within a reader a relationship with the writer,  by the extent and ability the writer possessed in communicating his message and by the reader’s ability to identify and assimilate what the writer has written.

A good book, a great book, embraces life and teaches the reader how to live, through the lessons the writer has sought to impart through his own life experience, whether the book is fiction or fact.

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A great book is unforgettable, much like a great love, you find that you cannot forget it, you cannot stop thinking about it and your reaction to it.

A great book changes you, lifts you, fills your mind and increases your understanding.

And though there are countless millions of books that exist and continue to be published, there are very few that reward the reader for the effort of reading them.

A good book teaches the reader about the world and about ourselves, about the great endearing truths of life.

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Obviously not many books can do this for any of us, perhaps of the millions that exist, perhaps a number considerably less than a hundred.

And human beings differ in many ways other than in the power of their minds.

They have different tastes.

Different things appeal more to one person than another.

But I believe that each person should seek out the few books that give value to their lives, the books that teach us the most, the books that you want to return to over and over again, the books that help you grow.

In a way, a person’s path to intellectual enlightenment can be compared to a person’s path to spiritual enlightment.

Attainment of both is a personal discovery and an adventure that only the traveller, the explorer, can make within themselves.

My own personal path is unique to myself, but despite this the lessons of life discovered upon the journey are lessons that bind me to the rest of humanity.

Everyone has his own method of discovery of the world.

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And it might be argued that I have lived my life and have done these explorations of the world physical and intellectual in a scatterfire random way.

But this is me and what works for me.

When I explore the world physically I like to be as basic as I possibly can.

Depending on limits of time and money, I like to travel and absorb the surroundings as slowly as possible and let my emotions and thoughts guide my discoveries.

Walking and thinking at my own pace

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In the realm of the mind, I like to explore the physical region I find myself in through the literature the region has produced and, on occasion, through serendipitious discoveries made in bookshops and libraries.

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Take, as an example, the land of China.

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I have never been there, so before I would physically travel there I will have already mentally begun the journey by reading not only travel guides that suggest what to see and do once I am there but as well I would seek out literature from this place, to try and understand what it means to be human in such a place.

Perhaps I would read Han Dong’s Banished! or J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun or Gao Xingjain’s Soul Mountain or any number of books recommended to me through my guidebooks or through books like Ann Morgan’s Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer or Luisa Moncada and Scala Quinn’s Reading on Location: Great Books set in Top Travel Destinations.

But my intellectual and emotional discovery of China would not be complete until I was physically there, interacting with the people I meet there and with the literature I stumble across while I am there.

I am Canadian and I have tried (and continue to try despite the distance and expense) to read and discover the works of my fellow Canadians, in an attempt to understand what it means to be Canadian.

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I have been a resident of Switzerland for the past seven years (since 1 April 2010 to be precise), in the Canton of Thurgau, in the wee hamlet of Landschlacht, by the Lake of Constance.

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I speak and read German at a relatively low level but nonetheless while I reside in the German-speaking part of Switzerland I continue to try and converse and read in German as often as possible, for language is the means by which people express themselves.

It is not an easy task for me, for it is much easier to fall back on old habits of reading and speaking in my native English.

Reading in German is especially daunting and time-consuming and much time is spent with a German-English dictionary by my side as I slowly wade through the text I have decided to sacrifice my time and energy towards its understanding.

A book to which I have devoted time and energy to, in an attempt to understand what it means to live in Canton Thurgau has been Albert Debrunner’s Literaturführer Thurgau.

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Above: The coat of arms of Thurgau Canton, Switzerland

Debrunner’s approach is quite similar to that used by Oxford University’s Illustrated Literary Guides, in that Debrunner takes the reader to the places where writers have lived and worked in Thurgau and encourages a discovery of these places through the works of the writers who found their inspirations there.

Thus I found myself in Lengwil and the discovery of dragonflies…

Landschlacht, Easter Monday 17 April 2017

It is too early for dragonflies, for dragonflies are a summer insect, and there is little about today’s weather that suggests summer, for this Easter Monday is cloudy and cold with the threat of rain.

But when I recall last week’s visit to Lengwil, I have come to the realization that it is never too late for dragonflies…

Lengwil, 10 April 2017

The English translation of the German word “Libelle” is Odonata, an order of carnivorous insects made up of dragonflies and damselflies.

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How to tell the difference?

Well, damselflies wear dresses and are in constant need of rescuing…

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No.

Dragonflies are generally larger and perch with their wings held out to the sides.

They are strong fliers with fairly robust bodies and dragonfly eyes occupy much of their heads, touching each other across their faces.

Damselflies have slender bodies and hold their wings over their bodies while at rest.

They are more fragile than dragonflies, appear rather weak when they fly and there is a gap between their eyes.

Odonates are aquatic – they need water to survive, so that is why it is, at first, somewhat confusing that the most interesting dragonflies of Thurgau Canton are found not by the Lake of Constance, but instead inland.

To discover the Dragonflies / Libelle, after disembarking at the Lengwil station, one must first walk towards the town centre and then turn right onto Sternengarten (garden of stars) Street until one finds himself at Number Six, in front of an unremarkable single family house where a nice aging couple live.

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The doorbell that rings inside the house reveals the pair of dragonflies which have gathered here.

Their wingbeat is the rustle of thick bundles of paper, and they whiz from idea to idea, from concept to concept, from manuscript to manuscript and rest in between times upon completed tomes of excellent quality before swarming out into the great wide world.

Readers, at least German-language readers, treasure the books from this publishing house of dragonflies, the Libelle Verlag, where even the readers with the least imagination can appreciate what has been bred here.

Ueber uns / about

Above: Logo of Libelle Verlag

Like their namesakes, these dragonflies of Lengwil cannot be pinned down to one location, for they have two addresses: one in Lengwil and one in Konstanz.

Now the zoologically educated will boringly point out that dragonflies zigzag in their flight, so why shouldn’t this pair of dragonflies only remain in Baden or in Thurgau?

So what are these dragonflies?

German or Swiss?

(An incredibly important distinction for both Germans and Swiss who dislike being confused while being identified as either one.)

Papa Dragonfly, Ekkehard Faude, is a Konstanzer, while Mama Dragonfly, Elisabeth Tschiener, is from Steckborn on the Swiss side.

They hatched their cocoon of dragonflies, Libelle Verlag, in the Konstanz neighbourhood of Litzelstetten in 1979, but the Swiss are drawn back to their homeland like bees to flowers, so since 1991 Libelle Verlag has lived and thrived in Lengwil splendidly.

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Above: Konstanz harbour with the statue of Imperia

Lengwilers are proud to have these dragonflies here as long as they wish to reside there, despite their cocoon making a significant mark on the publishing world.

But Ekkehard and Elisabeth don’t care if Libelle Publishing remains described as a small or even the smallest publisher, because they don’t want to compromise quality in the name of mass production.

And this pair of dragonflies, much like the Odonates themselves with their variations of size in the variations scattered across the globe, know that size is a relative concept.

The Libelle Verlag’s most famous book in their selection is Yasmina Reza’s Kunst (Art), a slender volume that weighs less than a bar of chocolate.

Yasmina Reza, Kunst

By comparison, Manfred Bosch’s remarkable work, Boheme am Bodensee (Bohemia on the Lake of Constance), which should be in every small library, is a rich and heavy tome.

Manfred Bosch, Boheme am Bodensee

A speciality of this publishing house are the books of Fritz Mühlenweg (1898 – 1961), with its remarkable scenes of Mongolia captured beautifully in photo and prose.

Fritz Muehlenweg, Mongolische Heimlichkeiten

No other publishing house can claim to have horizons that stretch to central Asia.

Fritz Muehlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

While Libelle’s crime novels of Ulrich Ritzel clearly are their most well-known publications amongst adults, children enjoy Fritz Mühlenweg’s wonderful book Nuni, as well as other bestsellers such as Hans Brügelmann’s Kinder auf dem Weg zur Schrift (Children on the way to writing).

 Fritz Muehlenweg, Nuni

 

 

 

Ernst Peter Fischer’s books open cosmic dimensions, while for those for whom Fischer is too expansive, Arno Borst’s Ritte über den Bodensee (Rides over the Lake of Constance) is highly recommended.

Arno Borst, Ritte über den Bodensee

 

 

 

In short, Libelle makes books for everyone without sacrificing quality to do so.

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“Habent sua fata libelli”, the Roman poet Horace (65 – 8 BC) once wrote (Roughly translated from the Latin, ours is the fate of dragonflies.) and such is the destiny of Libelle Verlag, for though it has, like other publishing houses, gone through its share of both setbacks and successes, that its welfare rests solely upon the shoulders of Ekkehard and Elisabeth make this business endeavour quite vulnerable and strong simultaneously.

Libelle Verlag is over 30 years old and considering that it is owned and operated solely by this couple suggests that they have achieved their dreams enormously.

Though Debrunner’s Literaturführer Thurgau led me to their door, I did not disturb the couple in their private residence, for I had no appointment and had not prepared myself for any sort of an interview with them.

But reading Debrunner´s commentary on the dragonflies of Lengwil and seeing their home from the outside and later finding some of their published works in the public library of St. Gallen has inspired me.

What the dragonflies of Lengwil tell me is simple…

Follow your dreams and trust your instincts by being the best you can be.

The dragonflies of Lengwil measure their success not by comparison with others but by their ability to produce what they want to produce.

And though there will be setbacks, there will always be successes, if I remain true to myself and what I want.

Lengwil is an unremarkable village, but even the unremarkable can produce quality.

Never underestimate the “unremarkable”.

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

Sources: Wikipedia / Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading / Albert M. Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau / Luisa Moncada and Scala Quin, Reading on Location: Great Books Set in Top Travel Destinations / Ann Morgan, Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer / http://www.libelle.ch

 

 

 

Bleeding Beautiful

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 February 2017

There are friends and stories that remain in the back of your mind that sometimes require some dramatic moment to have their memory come rushing to your forethoughts.

Such is the case of my Indian friend Sumit, originally of Orissa Province, India, and now Canadian resident of Ontario.

I have known him only for three years, but his friendship is such that constant communication between us is unnecessary, for ours is a friendship that does not need to be constantly voiced to be assured of its constancy.

We met while we were both seeking to improve our German in evening courses across the lake in Konstanz and have remained friends ever since.

Rheintorturm, a section of the former city wall of Konstanz at Lake Constance

I have watched him struggle and succeed against racial profiling, unequal employment opportunities, uncertain prospects and unhappy losses in his family.

Last contact with him a while ago, he spoke with joy about his newborn son, his satisfaction with his Canadian employer and his hopes for the future.

As with all those who have chosen to call me “friend” it is with the greatest pleasure that I greet his communications and listen with rapt attention to his tales of my home and native land from his non-native perspective.

It is a rare moment when a bus ride from Landschlacht through Kreuzlingen to Konstanz does not bring back to me recollections of Sumit riding his bicycle along the same route.

His friendship is such that he will be the sole reason that I will include Toronto in my itinerary when I return again to Canada for a visit.

From top left: Downtown Toronto featuring the CN Tower and Financial District from the Toronto Harbour, City Hall, the Ontario Legislative Building, Casa Loma, Prince Edward Viaduct, and the Scarborough Bluffs

His laugh, his humor, his unique perspective on issues, all are missed.

He is missed.

Sumit dominates my thoughts this week when I read of recent events in Kansas.

Olathe, Kansas, USA, 22 February 2017

In my own personal travels in America I have visited at least 40 States.

Flag of the United States

By happenstance, and like most tourists American or foreign, Kansas is one of those States that somehow seems to get overlooked, which is a shame.

Flag of Kansas

For Kansas is surprising.

The vast, rolling prairies of Kansas, blanketed by wheat, battered by tornadoes, ignored by many, is said to be the Home on the Range (the state song) of some of the friendliest folks you could possibly hope to meet.

The Sunflower State, 32nd in population, 15th in area, the 34th to join the Union, birthplace of avatrix Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937), jazzman Charlie Parker (1920 – 1955), actress Annette Bening (born 1958), songstress Melissa Etheridge (born 1961) and silent film legend Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (1895 – 1966), Kansas is famous for Turkey Red wheat, being the first State to start prohibition, and the fictional residence of Dorothy and Toto (of The Wizard of Oz (1939) fame).

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Portrait of Charlie Parker in 1947.jpg

The American President (movie poster).jpg

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Kansas has historically been a place people pass through – Spanish conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coranado (1510 – 1554) seeking the rich civilization of the Quivira, cowboys driving cattle, pioneers following the Santa Fe Trail, the Pony Express delivering mail, railroads transporting goods and people, carloads of college kids heading to Colorado ski slopes…

The buffalo are gone, as are the native Kansa tribe who were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in 1873.

One might argue that it was in Kansas that the US Civil War really began, for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed settlers to vote for or against slavery, triggered Bleeding Kansas – a term coined by Republican New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley – violent political confrontations that gave a glimpse of how impossible compromise without conflict would be, how inevitable Civil War would become.

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Above: Reynold’s 1856 map showing free and slave states, Kansas in white in the middle

In October 1855, abolitionist John Brown (1800 – 1857) came to Kansas to fight slavery.

John Brown by Levin Handy, 1890-1910.jpg

On 21 November 1855, the Wakarusa War began when abolitionist/Free-Stater Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler.

On 6 December Free Stater Thomas Barber is shot and killed near Lawrence.

On 21 May 1856, Missourians invade Lawrence and burn down the Free State Hotel, destroy two newspaper offices and ransack homes and stores.

In response, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts took to the floor of the US Senate in Washington DC to denounce the threat of slavery in Kansas and humiliate its supporters.

Sumner had devoted his enormous energies to the destruction of the Slave Power – the efforts of slave owners to take control of the federal government and ensure the survival and expansion of slavery.

In his The Crime against Kansas speech, Sumner ridiculed the honour of elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, portraying Butler’s pro-slavery agenda towards Kansas with the raping of a virgin and characterizing his affection for it in sexual and graphic terms.

The next day Butler’s cousin, the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, nearly killed Sumner on the Senate floor of the Senate with a heavy cane, deepening the North-South split.

Violence continued to increase.

Ohio abolitionist John Brown led his sons and followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favour of slavery.

On the night of 24 May, at the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie Creek, Brown’s group seized five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords.

Brown and his men escaped and began plotting a full scale slave insurrection to take place at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had created from unorganised native lands the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, permitted residency by US citizens who would decide the region’s slavery status and seek admission to the Union as States.

Immigrants supporting both sides of the question arrived in Kansas to establish residency and gain the right to vote.

Kansas Territory officials were appointed by the pro-slavery administration of US President Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869)(14th US President 1853 – 1857) and thousands of non-resident pro-slavery Missourians entered Kansas with the goal of winning elections, sometimes capturing them by fraud and intimidation.

Portrait of Franklin Pierce by Mathew Brady

In response, Northern abolitionist elements flooded Kansas with free-soilers. 

Anti-slavery Kansas residents wrote the first Kansas Constitution and elected the Free State legislature in Topeka, in direct opposition to the pro-slavery government in Lecompton.

In April 1856, a Congressional committee arrived in Lecompton to investigate voting fraud and found the elections had been improperly elected by non-residents.

President Pierce refused recognition of the committee’s findings and continue to authorise the pro-slavery legislature, which the Free State people called the Bogus Legislature.

On 4 July 1856, proclamations of President Pierce led to 500 US Army troops arriving in Topeka from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley.

With cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, they ordered the disperal of the Free State Legislature.

In August 1856, thousands of pro-slavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas.

That same month, Brown and his followers engaged 400 pro-slavery soldiers in the Battle of Osawatomie.

Hostilities raged for another two months until Brown departed Kansas and a new territorial governor John Geary took office and managed to prevail upon both sides for peace.

This fragile peace was often broken by intermittent violent outbreaks for two more years.

By 1859 approximately 56 people would die violently in Bleeding Kansas.

The American Civil War commenced in 1861.

Over time, the rip-roaring open range would evolve to become some of the most productive wheatlands in the world, while aviation industries would become big moneymakers for the State as well.

For the tourist, there are some tourist attractions in the State.

In northwest Kansas on route 24 is Nicodemus – the oldest African American settlement west of the Mississippi.

Founded in 1877 by black American settlers seeking the promised land, this lonely but friendly village of 25 souls has five historic buildings and a single isolated parking meter.

Nearby Hays has the Fort Hays Historical Site and the domed Sternberg Museum of Natural History with an unusual fish-within-a-fish fossil and animated dinosaurs.

Old Fort Hays HABS cover sheet KS1.jpg

To the south between Dodge City and Wichita, Hutchinson‘s Cosmosphere and Space Center is an out-of-this-world collection of rockets, space gear and warheads.

Kansas Cosmosphere 2003.jpg

Here visitors can see the original Apollo 13, a nuclear warhead that had been found rotting in an Alabama warehouse and cool Soviet cosmonaut outfits.

In Wichita, the birthplace of both Pizza Hut and the Coleman lantern, the visitor can touch a tornado, visit a traditional Wichita grass house and revisit the Wild West in Old Cowtown.

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Above: Wichita’s Exploration Place

Lawrence, the nicest city in Kansas, has America’s only intertribal university (where Olympian athlete Jim Thorpe studied) and Teller’s Restaurant, transformed from a bank, offers bathrooms inside a vault.

Lawrence is famous for the University of Kansas and the many famous folks who once resided here (ex: activist Erin Brokovich, author William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch), basketballer Wilt Chamberlain, Senator Bob Dole, author Frank Harris (My Life and Loves), scientist/diet pioneer Elmer “Mr. Vitamin” McCollum, Canadian-born basketball inventor James Naismith, author Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski crime series), actor Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), just to name a few…)

Official seal of Lawrence, Kansas

Topeka, the state capital, has the unassuming Brown vs Board of Education Historic Site (which shows the story of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case which banned segration in US schools), the impressively domed State Capitol (housing a famous mural of John Brown) and the Menninger Foundation (a leader in mental health treatment which displays a collection of old mechanical restraints).

Dodge City revels in its infamous Wild West past with its Boot Hill Museum and Front Street cemetery, jail and saloon, where enactments regularly held invoke the memory of Wyatt Earp (1848 – 1929) and Bat Masterson (1853 – 1921), gunslingers, buffalo hunters, card sharks and brothel keepers.

Above: Wyatt Earp (seated) and Bat Masterson (standing)

Abilene, where once cussin’ cowboys and huge herds of Texas longhorns ended their trip up the Chisholm Trail, the visitor can now find the boyhood home of former President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower (1890 – 1969)(34th US President, 1953 – 1961) and the Greyhound (the dogs not the buses) Hall of Fame.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, White House photo portrait, February 1959.jpg

Lindsborg flaunts its Swedish roots, while the large Mennonite communities around Hillsboro are descendants of Russian immigrants who brought the Turkey Red strain of wheat to the Great Plains where it thrived despite harsh conditions.

But Olathe in northeastern Kansas, a stone’s throw away from both Lawrence and the twin cities of Kansas City on the Kansas-Missouri border, seems to escape the notice of most folks.

Flag of Olathe, Kansas

In the spring of 1857, Dr. John T. Barton rode to the centre of Johnson County and staked two quarter sections of land.

Barton later described his ride to friends:

“…the prairie was covered with verbena and other wild flowers.

I kept thinking the land was beautiful and that I should name the place Beautiful.”

Barton asked a Shawnee interpreter how to say beautiful in his native tongue.

The interpreter responded, “Olathe”.

Olathe saw violence during the days of Bleeding Kansas and much conflict during the American Civil War.

On 7 September 1862, Confederate guerrillas from Missouri led by William Quantrill surprised the military post (located on the public square where a company of more than 125 Union troops, most of them recruits) and the residents of Olathe, killing a half dozen men, robbed numerous businesses and homes, forced the Union troops to surrender and compelling them to swear an oath forbidding them to take up arms against the Confederacy, and destroying most of the city.

Quantrill would again raid the city on 21 August 1863, en route to Lawrence (where he would massacre over 164 civilians) and later Olathe would suffer a third raid by Confederate Major General Sterling Price and his force of 10,000 men as they retreated south on 25 October 1864 just before the Battle of Marais des Cygnes.

Kansas militia would occupy Olathe until August 1865.

Olathe served as a stop on the Oregon Trail, the California Trail and the Santa Fe Trail, so catering to travellers was the main source of income for local stores and businesses.

The Mahaffie House, a popular resupply point of wagons headed westward, is today a registered historical site maintained by the City of Olathe.

1100 Kansas City Rd., Olathe, KS J.B. Mahaffie House.jpg

The staff wears period costumes, while stagecoach rides and farm animals make the site a favourite attraction for young and old.

Visitors can participate in Civil War enactments, Wild West Days and other activities.

In the 1950s, the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the I-35 linked Olathe with nearby Kansas City, resulting in tremendous commercial and residential growth that still continues.

In 2008, the US Census Bureau ranked Olathe as the 24th fastest-growing city in America, while CNN/Money and Money magazine ranked Olathe #11 in its list of the 100 Best Cities to Live in the United States.

Winters are cold, summers hot and humid in Olathe.

Folks in Olathe are fairly well educated with 35 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, 4 high schools, the MidAmerica Nazarene University and the Kansas State School for the Deaf.

Olathe is home to many companies, including Honeywell, Husqvarna, Aldi, Garmin, Grundfos and the Farmers Insurance Group (this latter though based in LA has more Farmers employees here than anywhere else in the US).

Olathe has also produced a few notable people like Hollywood actor Charles Buddy Rogers (lead actor in Wings – the first picture to win an Academy Award – America’s boyfriend and 3rd/final husband of America’s Sweetheart, Canadian-born Mary Pickford), actor Willie Ames (of TV’s Eight is Enough and Charles in Charge), NFL footballers Jonathan Quinn and Darren Sproles, as well as prominent Communist leader and 1936/1940 US Presidential candidate Earl Browder.

Olathe is now famous for four other names: Adam Purinton, 51, and his victims – Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who died; his friend Alok Madasani who was injured; and Ian Grillot, 24, who had tried to stop Purinton’s violence, also injured.

Adam Purinton

Above: Adam Purinton, suspected shooter

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

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

Last Wednesday night at 2103 East 151st Street in South Olathe – one of  three chain locations – Austins Bar and Grill“serving up great food and spirits since 1987”, known for its “world famous chicken tenders”, “sports, spirits, steaks”, smoked pulled pork. BBQ sauce, Napa slaw (cole slaw from the Napa Valley?) and baked beans, was offering its Wednesday night $7.00 special: chicken fried steak smothered in gravy and served with garlic mashed potatoes and sweet corn.

Austins Bar and Grill

Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe

The place was packed, as folks were watching the University of Kansas (Lawrence) Jayhawks basketball team, coached by Bill Self, play at home against Fort Worth’s TCU (Texas Christian University) Horned Frogs.

Logo

Kansasans were hoping that the Jayhawks continue their 13-game winning streak.

(Final score: U of K – 87, TCU – 68)

Kuchibhotia and Madasani both worked at the US technology company Garmin.

Logo von Garmin

Garmin is a multinational, founded by Gary Burrell and Min Kao in 1989 from Lenexa, Kansas, with its international HQ in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and its American HQ right there in Olathe.

Garmin is known for its specialization in GPS tech development for its wearable use in automotive, marine, outdoor and sports activities.

Kuchibhotia and Madasani were regulars at Austin’s Bar and Grill where they enjoyed sharing a drink after work.

Purinton, another customer, began shouting racial slurs and told the two men that they did not belong in America.

Madasani told the BBC:

“This guy just randomly comes up and starts pointing fingers.

We knew something was wrong.

He said, ‘Which country are you from? Are you here illegally?’ “

Purinton was thrown out, but, according to Olathe Police, he returned with a gun.

A bystander told the Kansas City Star that Puriton shouted: “Get out of my country.” just before opening fire, killing Kuchibhota and wounding Madasani.

Grillot hid under a table when the shooting began, counted the gunman’s shots, then pursued Purinton, mistaking thinking he was out of bullets.

Grillot was shot in the hand and the chest.

Grillot, speaking from his hospital bed to local KMBC TV news, brushed aside any suggestions that he was a hero:

“It wasn’t right and I didn’t want the gentleman to potentially go after somebody else.

I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being.

It’s not about where he’s from or his ethnicity.

We’re all humans.

So I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”

Madasani later visited Grillot to thank him.

Purinton fled on foot.

Thousands of Indian tech workers have come to the United States under the H1-B program, which grants skilled foreign workers temporary visas.

Kuchibhota’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, had grown anxious about racial hatred after the election of Donald Trump, but she said Srinivas was dedicated to their life in the United States and to his job as an engineer.

In this undated photo provided by Kranti Shalia, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, right, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Sunayana began to lose sleep after the election in November, fearful that the couple would suffer hate crimes in the country they called home.

“I was so worried I just couldn’t sleep.”, Sunayana told the BBC.

“I was talking to Srini and I was like, ‘Will we be safe in this country?’

He would say ‘Nani, Nani, don’t worry. We will be OK. We will be OK.’ “

They discussed whether they should return to India but, in the end, she decided that if they minded their own business, nobody would harm them.

Many immigrants in the US have been voicing anxiety since the rise of President Trump, who has ordered restrictions on immigration and a sped-up deportation process for undocumented immigrants.

A potential tightening of the H1-B program has raised concerns in India where many young people dream of studying or working in the United States.

Sunayana last saw her husband that morning when he left for work.

“I was still taking my shower as he was passing from the hall and he said goodbye.”

Srinivas had worked late two nights already that week and so she texted him to ask if he would bring some work home so they could have tea together.

He said yes and told her he would be home at 7 pm.

At 8 pm Sunayana began to get worried and started calling friends, including Madasani’s wife.

Sunayana heard something about a shooting at a bar and she phoned her husband over and over again.

A friend came to the house with news.

Sunayana wanted to rush to the hospital but collapsed in the garage.

She waited at the house until two policemen arrived.

“They asked me my name, Srini’s name, his date of birth.

Then they told me those words and they just said it so simply.

They said they were sorry.”

Srini was from the Indian city of Hyderabad, where his parents still live.

A montage of images related to Hyderabad city

Sunayana said her husband “loved America” and came to the country “full of dreams”.

Sunayana described how her husband had recently bought a car for his father.

“He was so happy and so proud about it.”

Srini had worked at Rockwell Collins, an avionics and IT systems company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before joining Garmin in 2014.

“Just last week we drove to Iowa to see our friends and their new baby.

When we came back, he was working in the car while I was driving.

That’s how much he loved working.

He personally wanted to do so much for this country.”

Purinton was arrested five hours later at an Applebee’s restaurant just over the state border, 80 miles / 130 km away in Clinton, Missouri.

He told a staff member at the dining chain that he needed a place to hide because he had killed two Middle Eastern men.

A barman there tipped off police that he had a customer who had admitted shooting two men.

Police officers arrived to detain the suspect.

Purinton has been charged with premeditated first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder.

Olathe Police Chef Steve Menke has declined to comment on the reports of racial abuse, but said his force was working with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) “to investigate any and all aspects of this horrific crime”.

The FBI have reported a rise in hate crimes in the US since Trump’s nomination as Republican candidate for the US Presidency.

Last October, two men were charged with hate crimes in Richmond, California, after being accused of beating a Sikh man and using a knife to cut his hair, which was unshorn by religious mandate.

The Olathe killing has dominated news bulletins and social media  in India.

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the centre of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

Above: The flag of India

Indian actor Siddharth Narayan tweeted to his 2.6 million followers:

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“Don’t be shocked!

Be angry!

Trump is spreading hate. 

This is a hate crime.

RIP Srinivas Kuchibhotia.”

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian lawmaker and former diplomat, tweeted:

“The vicious racism unleashed in some quarters in the US claims more innocent victims, who happen to be Indian.”

Back in Hyderabad, Madasani’s father, also an engineer, Jaganmohan Reddy, called the Olethe shooting a hate crime and said that his family was “in a state of shock.”

Reddy said he did not know whether he would ask Madasani and another son living in the States to leave the country.

“We have to think it over.

My sons are not new to America.

They have been staying there for the last 10 to 12 years.

This is a new situation, and they are the best judges.”

Srini’s parents, Madhusuhan and Vardhini Rao, were too stunned by news of his death to comment, the Associated Press reported.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry sent two Indian consulate officials from Houston and Dallas to meet Madasani in Olethe and to arrange the repatriation of Srini’s body back to Hyderabad.

Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India in New Delhi, said that an isolated incident like Olethe would not affect the relationship between America and India, but if there were more attacks against Indians, or if the US is perceived to not be taking such cases seriously, there could be a problem.

Jay Kansara, Director of Government Relations at the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group in Washington, called for the shooting to be investigated as a hate crime.

“Anything less will be an injustice to the victims and their families.”

The US Embassy in New Delhi condemned the shooting.

“The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live.”, said Charge d’Affaires Mary Kay Carlson.

“US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief.”

Nani flew to India to be with her husband’s family.

She is “devastated” by Srini’s death.

She plans to return to the US, but she said her husband would be “everywhere”.

“His clothes, his side of the sink, the way he used to brush, shower.

His daily prayers in that room, preparing his favourite food.

It will be tough eating without him.”

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 27 February 2017

As I learn more about the shooting in Olethe, I feel fear for my friend Sumit and his family in Canada.

Flag of Canada

For as liberal and welcoming as Canada appears by comparison with the United States at present, hate crimes also exist and continue to rise there as well.

For reasons that escape me there are a minority of Canadians who agree with the fear and paranoia that has managed to seep across the border from Trump´s America.

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Sumit is a faithful husband, good father, true friend and hard dedicated worker.

I pray for his and his family’s safety and am almost confident that my worries have little basis in reality.

Almost.

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Above: Liberty Enlightening the World, New York City, USA

Sources: “Olathe shooting: Murder charge after Indian man killed in bar”, BBC News, 24 February 2017

“Olathe shooting: My husband loved America, says widow”, BBC News, 25 February 2017

“Indian foreign minister shocked by Kansas shooting”, New York Times, 25-26 February 2017

Lonely Planet USA / Wikipedia / http://www.austinsbarandgrill.com

 

Flames and broken promises

Konstanz, Germany: 10 February 2016

I am angry this day.

Promises made to me that one of my favourite backpacks would be repaired by now has not only gone unfulfilled but the repair shop wanted me to pay more money for repairs they are not sure they can actually accomplish.

In my mind´s eye I picture the wretched repair shop being consumed by flames.

I leave the shop in a huff and try a clothing repair shop.

They can´t help, but they direct me to a leather repair shop near Schutzentor (the guard tower) and the Hus House Museum.

The museum reminds me of other broken promises.

1913: It was the year before the storm that would start in Sarajevo would sweep across Europe and across the globe, a world before the First World War.

Louis Armstrong is learning to play the trumpet.

Franz Kafka is in love and writing endlessly beautiful letters to Felice Bauer.

Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract.

Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud discuss beauty and transience.

Marcel Proust sets out in search of lost time.

While Igor Stravinsky celebrates The Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler tries to sell his conventional cityscapes of Munich.

And in the city of Konstanz excitement is building, despite the premonition of ruinous days ahead, the following year marks the 500th anniversary of the Council of Konstanz (1414 – 1418), the biggest congress of the European Middle Ages.

A Renaissance print depicting the Council of Trent

People from all over the then-known world poured to Lake Constance to participate in this unique event.

The Church and the entirety of Christianity had to deal with urgent issues: three Popes and the need for Church reform.

Constance city planners were geared up and ready.

But the winds of war began to blow.

A century passes.

And despite a world still beset with problems, Konstanz is determined that the Council´s 600th anniversary would not go unheralded this time.

2014 marked the beginning of the anniversary and Konstanz remains in full tourist mode.

The Council House which is normally used as a concert venue became an exhibition hall.

The main museums of Konstanz all focused their attention on the Council and life during those days.

Much ado is made of the presence of kings and queens, cardinals and priests present at the Council.

But there remains dark shadows on the celebration of the Council – the stain of blood and the smell of burnt flesh fill the senses of remembrance.

It is the second part of 1414.

The days are cold and the nights are long and fog covers the town as Christendom´s greatest leaders gather to discuss the problems that torment the Church.

The presence of three Popes in Rome, Avignon and Pisa encourage the critics of the Church to speak out, some with furious overeagerness.

One of the most influential Church critics was the English scholar John Wyclif, who criticized the power of popes over political affairs as well as the idea of celibacy in the priesthood and ranks above it.

It can truly be said Wyclif was most hated, but before the Council could convene, Wyclif, at age 30, had a stroke and died.

But Wyclif´s ideas went far afield and a Czech reformer named Jan Hus preached the message of reform.

Jan Hus 2.jpg

The son of a wagon-maker, Hus attracted attention due to his excellent intelligence and his ability to inject excitement and enthusiasm into whole crowds of people with the power of his words and the conviction of his beliefs.

Being a professor of philosophy and theology, Hus was aware of Wyclif´s ideas and made them his own.

Jan Hus was dangerous.

The Council decided to send for him and deal conclusively with “this Bohemian nuisance”.

The patron of the Council, King Sigismund assured Hus of safe conduct both to and from Prague if he would come to Konstanz to present his proposals for Church reform.

Pisanello 024b.jpg

On 3 November 1414 Hus arrived in Konstanz two days before the official opening of the Council.

One of the three Popes, Pope John XXIII was in town as well hoping to promote his legitimacy as Vicar of Christ in person.

Johannes XXIII Gegenpapst.jpg

John also promised Hus protection.

Unmolested for three weeks, Hus lived and preached in town.

But then the reformer was arrested and imprisoned in the dungeon of the Dominician monastery on Constance Island.

Links im Bild die Dominikanerinsel mit dem Steigenberger Inselhotel, dahinter die Alte Rheinbrücke

Sigismund was out of town and could not interfere.

John, hoping to be chosen the sole Pope, remained silent.

Jan Hus experienced terrible weeks.

His cell was located beneath the latrine of the monks, so soon Hus was in poor health.

Hus would be sentenced and burned as a heretic outside the city gates.

Though the Council had proven its power over popes and kings and silenced the voice of its loudest critic…

Though the Council would go on to eliminate the three Popes contesting for power and establish a fourth candidate as the sole pontiff…

After his execution in 1415, the followers of Hus’s religious teachings (known as Hussites) rebelled against their Roman Catholic rulers and defeated five consecutive papal crusades between 1420 and 1431 in what became known as the Hussite Wars.

A century later, as many as 90% of inhabitants of the Czech lands were non-Catholic.

Some still follow the teachings of Hus and his successors.

The Jan Hus House Museum is quite possibly the least heralded museum in Konstanz, yet it is by far my favourite one, for the story of Jan Hus is a fascinating one.

Hus spoke truth to power and preached reason to faith.

He was a powerful thinker in a dangerous time.

He died as he had lived – with courage and conviction.

The house where he lived when he was allowed to preach his message to the people of Konstanz stands as a reminder of how religion can both inspire as well as destroy lives.

If you ever find yourself in Konstanz, pay a visit to the Museum.

All printed matter is translated into various languages, including Czech, and the staff is quite friendly.

The monument in Konstanz where reformer Jan Hus was executed

Let Jan Hus remind us that we should never underestimate the power of one individual to make a change in the world.

(Sources: Florian Illies, 1913: The Year Before the Storm, Ulrich Buttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance, Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?

In the two years just passed and in the two years that follow, multitudes of people around the globe commemorate the events of World War 1 (1914 – 1918) that involved 70 million soldiers – 9 million of them killed in action, 7 million civilian casualities, and a conflict that lasted 4 years, 3 months and 2 weeks. (Wikipedia)

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Konstanz, a mere 15 kms from where I live in Landschlacht, is exceptional.

Konstanz (in English: Constance / in Latin: Constantia), where the Rhine River once again finds its shape as it flows out of the Lake of Constance (in German: Bodensee), hasn´t forgotten the Great War either.

Periodically, the museums of Konstanz have exhibitions focusing on the effects that this global conflict had upon this region.

But Konstanz has its civic planners fixated on more distant past events: the Council of Konstanz (1414 – 1418).

Above: the Council Building, Konstanz, Germany

In 1414, the political and religious situation in Europe was a mess.

The world now had three Popes: Gregory XXII in Rome, Benedict XIII in Avignon and John XXIII in Florence.

It was getting increasingly more difficult to unite behind a Church that was itself split asunder, so critics of ecclesiastic and papal authority were arising.

The Church had offered a cohesiveness of thought and a structure of power that replaced the unity lost when the Roman Empire had fallen.

So the mandate of the Church was clear: reestablish the authority of the Church.

To do so meant ending the division caused by having rival Popes and decisively end any vocal opposition and questioning of the Church´s fallibility.

Above: Bishops debating with the Pope at the Council of Constance

They would succeed in their goals, though not in a fashion that would endure.

The rival Popes were eliminated and a fourth Pope, Martin V, was elected who was deemed acceptable by all.

Czech priest and Church reformer Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic and executed by the Council.

Painting of Jan Hus at the Council of Constance by Vaclav Brozik

It attempted to mediate in politics to prevent a reoccurance of the violent and bloody Polish-Lithuanian Teutonic War that was threatening to explode again over border disputes.

At the entrance of the harbour of Konstanz is a concrete statue, standing 9 metres high, weighing 18 tonnes and revolving on a pedestal that rotates on its axis once every four minutes.

It was created by Peter Lenk, known for the controversial sexual content of his public art.

The Imperia was put up in 1993, clandestinely at night.

Before that, there was a lot of controversy about the sculpture in the Town Council, a lot of criticism about the satiric way the Pope and the King were depicted.

The adminstration of the Bishop of Freiburg stated that the sculpture was “without taste and could disturb the religious peace”.

There were reports in the national media about this local controversy.

The harbour area is owned by the Deutsche Bundesbahn (German National Railways).

The company welcomed the Imperia.

The Imperia shows a woman holding two men on her hands.

The two men represent Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund.

Martin V was elected Pope during the Council while Sigismund was the King who called the Council together.

Both are naked except for the crown and papal tiara that they wear as symbols of their power.

Imperia has curves and is not modest about revealing them.

The statue refers to a short story by Honoré Balzac, “La Belle Imperia”.

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Above: Honoré Balzac

The story is a harsh satire of the Catholic clergy’s morals, where Imperia seduces cardinals and princes at the Council of Constance and has power over them all.

“The highest and the bravest courted her, one of her movements could cost a life, and even paragons of virtue did everything she wanted.”

Today Imperia is the most photographed attraction in the city.

(A detail from the sculpture, a nude figure of Pope Martin V, was displayed in the Konstanz train station in 2010, but was removed after complaints from the Catholic church and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politicians.)

(The historical Imperia Cognati – also called Imperia La Divina, Queen of the Courtesans – who served as the source material of Balzac’s story, was a well-educated Italian courtesan, (medieval prostitute, escort or call girl), who died in 1512, nearly 100 years after the Council and never visited Konstanz.)

There is not only a connection to literature in the sculpture, but to history as well.

During the medieval Church Council in Konstanz, many prostitutes were in town.

The attitude of medieval society towards prostitutes is characteristically a dichotomy.

On the one hand, these wenches/whores/pretty women were seamlessly integrated into city life.

It was not uncommon for them to be sent to greet important visitors.

At the Council of Konstanz, there were 1,500 prostitutes in the city of 8,000 inhabitants, but the Council itself attracted many visitors.

(Ulrich Büttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance)

Now having a 9-metre statue of a prostitute in your harbour does something to a town.

As part of the 600-year commemoration of the Council of Konstanz, 2016 has been declared as the Year of Imperia, and the arthouse cinema Scala currently and proudly presents Horizontal: the Prostitution Film Festival.

Ten films are shown in all their glory and sordidness, all focused on sex workers and the psychology that motivates them to do what they do.

Germany presents Sex Worker, The Girl Rosemarie and Ladies´ Room.

Switzerland offers Dreamland.

France proudly shows Young and Beautiful and The House of Sin.

There is Sweden´s Lilja 4ever, Morocco´s Much Loved, Spain´s Princesas, and finally Britain´s Irina Palm.

These movies are nothing new for German speakers, for who here has not heard of the Wandering Harlot? (in German: Die Wanderhure)

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The Whore is a 2010 German television film, adapted from Iny Lorentz´s novel.

The film is set in Konstanz during the Council.

The name of Marie Schäter brings instant recall to today´s generation of German film afficiandos.

The film was also made into a TV series.

One must remember that the mentality behind all these films, including those with Fraulein Schäter, are those created by 20th/21st century people.

Clichés are constantly confirmed and checked off a sort of Hollywood cliché list.

The men are instinct-driven idiots, the women their typical victims.

Now there is no doubt that the medieval world was male-dominated, but women were by no means without rights and simply fair game that could be raped anytime with impunity.

Rapes were harshly punished.

Excepting rapes by the nobility, punishments for rapists were draconian.

Blinding, castration and execution were common, even when prostitutes were raped.

Prostitutes, when registered and working for a civic brothel, were protected.

During the Council, in the spring of 1415, a pimp was sentenced to death and drowned in Lake Constance.

He had forced a 12-year-old girl, a “still foolish child without breasts” into prostitution.

The criminal offered a male client this girl to perform all desired sexual actions.

The girl suffered such agonies that the Town Clerk, who made written notes of the incident, was unable to record the details.

(Ulrich Büttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance)

Prostitution occurs in a variety of forms.

Brothels are establishments specifically dedicated to prostitution.

In escort prostitution, the act may take place at the client’s residence or hotel room (referred to as an outcall) or at the escort’s residence or a hotel room rented for the occasion by the escort (in-call).

Above: “tart cards” in a British phone box advertising the services of call girls

Another form is street prostitution.

Sex tourism is travel for sexual intercourse with prostitutes or to engage in other sexual activity.

Virtual sex – sexual acts conveyed by messages rather than physically – is also the subject of commercial transactions.

Commercial phone sex services have been available for decades.

The advent of the Internet has made other forms of virtual sex available for money, including computer-mediated cybersex, in which sexual services are provided in text form by way of chatrooms or instant messaging or audiovisually through a webcam.

Although the majority of prostitutes are female with male clients, there are also gay male prostitutes, lesbian prostitutes and heterosexual male prostitutes.

There are about 42 million prostitutes in the world, living all over the world.

In the US and Australia, it has been reported that at least 15% of all males have used the services of a prostitute at least once in their lives.

Prostitution is frequently viewed as a form of violence against women and children, as well as their exploitation, as shown by its intimate connection with human trafficking. (Wikipedia)

This film festival asks the question:

What drives a person to prostitution?

Above: The statue to honor the sex workers of the world, installed March 2007 in Amsterdam’s Oudekerksplein, in front of the Oude Kerk, in the red-light district De Wallen, Belle‘s inscription says: “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

Above: Prostitution Information Centre, Amsterdam

A difficulty facing migrant prostitutes in many developed countries is the illegal residence status of some of these women.

They face potential deportation, and so do not have recourse to the law or to legal employment.

Sometimes a person is driven to prostitution by a need for basic necessities such as food or shelter.

This type of prostitution is common among the homeless and in refugee camps.

Drugs and prostitution have often been documented to have a direct correlation. (Wikipedia)

I have already considered the issue of prostitution in this blog…

(See The Dark Side of the Red Light of this blog.)

…and I still feel unresolved about it.

I cannot pretend to understand either the person driven to become a prostitute or the person compelled to visit one.

But I think I may be safe in surmising that no one dreams of becoming a real prostitute.

(Fantasy is perhaps a different thing.)

I wonder:

What dreams did these sex workers once have?