Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

It may be founded on love, trust and a shared sense of purpose, but it runs on cowardice, impatience, ill-advised remarks and low cunning.

But also: apologies, belated expressions of gratitude and frequent appeals for calm.

Every day is a lesson in what I am doing wrong.”

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“Twenty years ago my wife and I embarked on a project so foolhardy, the prsopect of which seemed to us both so weary, stale and flat that even thinking about it made us shudder….

We simply agreed – we’ll get married – with the resigned determination of two people plotting to bury a body in the woods.”

(Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband)

Since autumn of 2016 I have been teaching technical English to a company in two locations: Amriswil in Canton Thurgau (the Canton where I reside) and in Neuhaus in Canton St. Gallen (the Canton where I mostly work) on the border of Canton Zürich.

From Neuhaus it is closer to visit Zürich than it is for me to return back to Landschlacht, so when my schedule as a freelance English teacher finds me with a free afternoon after the company class I take myself down to Zürich.

Zürich possesses many temptations for me: museums, bookshops, the Limmat River, the Lake of Zürich, restaurants and cafés.

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And as well Zürich is where my wife resides from Sunday afternoon to Thursday evening every week.

And somewhere buried deep within our marriage contract in words only my wife can read is a clause that insists that I occasionally be nice and visit the Wife, aka my own personal She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Upon my arrival in Zürich yesterday a bus ride and a train journey later, I still had a few hours to myself with which I had the illusion of freedom to do what I wished before my wife, the doctor, finished work at her hospital.

I foolishly forgot that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays and I had this explained to me politely by a security guard at the Swiss National Museum.

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But like every bibliophile bookworm I never travel without literature for such situations, so with Duncan Smith’s Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Ununsual Objects in hand I once again set out to discover Zürich before meeting the wife who would then set my agenda for me.

All guidebooks to Zürich mention the fact that Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) spent time in the city during the years leading up to the First World War.

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Seven years and eight months (1896 – 1900 / 1909 – 1911 / 1912 – 1914 / 1919), to be precise, at six different addresses (Unionstrasse 4 / Klosbachstrasse 87 / Dolderstrasse 17 / Moussonstrasse 12 / Hofstrasse 116 / Hochstrasse 37).

Albert Einstein’s name is now synonymous with genius and his face has become a 20th century icon.

But what about his wife during this time, the gifted mathematician Mileva Maric (1875 – 1948)?

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Few books mention her name and even fewer mention that she was buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich.

Albert Einstein arrived in Zürich in October 1896 to study at the Federal Polytechnic Institute (Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum) – today the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)(ETH).

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A wall plaque at Unionstrasse 4 marks one of the addresses where Albert lived during this period.

In the same year Mileva attended the same institution and the two soon became close friends.

Born to wealthy parents in Titel (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of Serbia), Mileva was the first and favourite child of an ambitious pesant who had joined the army, married into money and then dedicated himself to making sure his brilliant daughter was able to prevail in the male world of mathematics and physics.

Mileva spent most of her childhood in Novi Sad and attended a variety of ever more demanding schools, at each of which she was at the top of her class, culminating when her father convinced the all-male Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb to let her enroll.

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Above: St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb, Croatia

After graduating there with the top grades in physics and math, Mileva made her way to Zürich, where she became, just before she turned 21, the only woman in Albert’s section of the Polytechnic.

More than three years older than Albert, she was afflicted with a congenital hip dislocation that cause her to limp.

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

One of her female friends in Zürich described her as “very smart and serious, small, delicate, brunette, ugly”.

But she had qualities that Albert, in his romantic scholar years, found attractive: a passion for math and science, a brooding depth and a beguiling soul.

Her deepset eyes had a haunting intensity, her face an enticing touch of melancholy.

Mileva would become, over time, Albert’s muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist and she would create an emotional field more powerful than that of anyone else in Albert’s life.

Mileva would alternately attract and repulse Albert, with a force so strong that a mere scientist, a mere man, like himself would never be able to fathom it.

Mileva and Albert met when they both entered the Polytechnic in October 1896, but their relationship took a while to develop.

They were nothing more than classmates that first academic year, but they did, however, decide to go hiking together in the summer of 1897.

“Frightened by the new feelings she was experiencing” because of Albert, Mileva decided to leave the Polytechnic temporarily and instead audit classes at Heidelberg University.

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Mileva and Albert corresponded, her letters a mix of playfulness and seriousness, of lightheartednes and intensity, of intimacy and detachment.

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

By February 1898, Mileva made up her mind to do so.

By April she was back, in a boarding house a few blocks from him and now they were a couple.

They shared books, intellectual enthusiasms, intimacies and access to each other’s apartments.

Friends were surprised that a sensuous and handsome man such as Albert, who could have almost any woman fall for him, would find himself with a short and plain Serbian who had a limp and exuded an air of melancholy.

But it is easy to see why Albert felt such an affinity for Mileva.

They were kindred spirits who perceived themselves as aloof scholars and outsiders, rebellious toward others’ expectations, intellectuals who sought as lovers someone who would also be a partner, a colleague and collaborator.

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

She would eventually gain the same score in physics as Albert.

In 1900 Albert presented his first published scientific paper to the Annalen der Physik, Europe’s leading physics journal, in which his unified physical law of relativity was already apparent.

In February 1901, Switzerland made Albert a citizen, but his parents insisted that he go with them to Milan and live there if he could not find work in Zürich.

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Both in Zürich and in Milan, Albert was unsuccessful at attaining fulltime employment.

He spent most of 1901 juggling temporary teaching assignments and some tutoring.

Waiting for a decent post to materialise, Albert accepted a temporary post at a technical school in Winterthur for two months, filling in for a teacher on military leave, while Mileva remained in Zürich.

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To make up for his absences, Albert proposed that they have a romantic getaway by Lake Como.

It was early Sunday morning, 5 May 1901, Albert waited for Mileva at the train station in the village of Como, “with open arms and a pounding heart”.

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Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

Back in Zürich preparing to take her exams and hoping to go on to get a doctorate and become a physicist, she decided instead that she wanted Albert’s child – even though he was not yet ready or willing to marry her.

Perhaps as a consequence of her pregnancy or her dissatisfaction that Albert went on summer vacation with his parents and sister in the Alps instead of finding employment after Winterthur as he had promised her, Mileva failed her exams and gave up her dream of being a scientific scholar.

In the fall of 1901, Einstein took on a job as a tutor of a rich English schoolboy at a little private academy in Schaffhausen.

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Mileva was eager to be with Albert, but her pregnancy made it impossible for them to be together in public, so she stayed at a small hotel in a neighbouring village.

Their relationship became strained, as Albert came only infrequently to visit her claiming he did not have the spare money.

Albert was desperately unhappy with his job in Schaffhausen so it was with some relief that his friend Marcel Grossmann told him that a job as a Bern patent office clerk would soon be his.

Albert moved to Bern in late January 1902, while Mileva returned to her parents’ home in Novi Sad to have their baby, a girl they called Lieserl.

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

Though Albert wrote to Mileva asking about Lieserl, his love for the child was mainly abstract.

Albert did not tell his friends or family about his daughter and never once publicly speak of her or even acknowledge she existed.

Albert found a large room in Bern but Mileva would not be sharing it.

They were not married and an aspiring Swiss civil servant could not be seen cohabitating in such a way.

After a few months Mileva moved back to Zürich to wait for Albert to marry her as he had promised.

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

Lieserl was left back in Novi Sad with relatives and friends, so that Albert could maintain both his unencumbered lifestyle and respectability he needed to become a Swiss official.

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

Albert married Mileva at a tiny civil ceremony in Bern’s registry office on 6 January 1903.

Their son Hans Albert Einstein was born on 14 May 1904.

After gaining his doctorate in 1905 while working in the Swiss Patent Office, assessing the worth of electromagnetic devices, Albert wrote four groundbreaking articles: one concerning the photoelectric effect (for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921) and another containing his now famous mass-energy equivalence equation: E=mc squared.

In 1909 Albert and Mileva along with Hans moved back to Zürich, where Albert was made Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Zürich.

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The Einstein family lived on the second floor at Moussonstrasse 12, where in 1910 their second son Eduard “Tete” Einstein was born.

In March 1911 the family relocated to Prague, where Albert became full professor at Charles University.

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Einstein’s fame would lead him to wander around Europe giving speeches and basking in his renown, while Mileva stayed behind in Prague, a city she hated.

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She brooded about not being part of his scientific circles that she had once struggled to join.

She became even more gloomy and depressed than her natural disposition had often led her to before.

So it was in this instability between them that Albert travelled alone to Berlin during the Easter holidays of 1912 and became reacquainted with a cousin, three years older, whom he had known as a child, Elsa.

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Elsa Einstein had been married, divorced and now at age 36 was living with her two daughters in the same apartment buildings as her parents.

Albert was looking for new companionship and thus began secret romantic correspondence between them.

But after returning to Prague from Berlin, Albert began to develop qualms about his affair with his cousin.

What remained between Mileva and Albert was a feeling that living among the middle class German community in Prague had become wearisome, so they decided to return to the one place they thought could restore their relationship: Zürich.

In July 1912 the Einsteins returned once more to Zürich, where Albert took up a professorship at the Polytechnikum.

Life should have been glorious.

They were able to afford a modern six-room apartment with good views.

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Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

But Mileva’s depression continued to deepen and and her health to decline.

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

So, when a few months later, Einstein received an offer to work in Berlin and be with Elsa, he was quite receptive.

This time they lived at Hofstrasse 116 where they remained until February 1914, when Albert became professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

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Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

Mileva became involved with Zagreb mathematics professor Vladimir Varicak who challenged Einstein’s theories.

In July Mileva moved out with the two boys into the house of her only friend Clara Haber and her husband the chemist Fritz.

Albert was prepared to take her back if she agreed to a brutal ultimatum of her duties and responsibilites.

He was prepared to live with Mileva again because he didn’t want to lose his children but it was out of the question that they would resume a friendly relationship but he aimed for a businesslike arrangement.

Mileva and the two boys left for Zürich on 29 July 1914.

She filled her time giving private lessons in mathematics, physics and piano playing.

Einstein returned to Zürich once more in January/February 1919 to lecture on his Theory of Relativity, staying at Hochstrasse 37.

That same year Albert divorced Mileva, giving her the proceeds from his Nobel Prize for her and their children’s support.

Mileva invested the money in three properties in Zürich, occupying one of them herself at Huttenstrasse 62, which has been identified by a memorial plaque since 2005.

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Hans Einstein (1904 – 1973) would go on to study engineering at Zürich Polytechnic, get married, become a father to two sons and a daughter with his first wife Frieda, move to the United States becoming a professor of hydraulic engineering at Berkeley, remarry after Frieda’s death, father two more children.

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Above: Hans Einstein’s final resting place, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

Eduard Einstein (1910 – 1965) was smart and artistic.

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Obsessed about Freud, Eduard hoped to be a psychiatrist, but he succumbed to his own schizophrenia and was institutionalised in Switzerland for much of the rest of his life at Zürich University Psychiatric Hospital.

Albert would go on to access even greater fame and award, eventually marrying his cousin Elsa.

And what of Mileva?

By the 1930s, the costs of treating Eduard for schizophrenia had overwhelmed her.

She was forced to sell her two investment properties and to transfer the rights to Huttenstrasse to Albert so as not to lose it.

Although he made regular payments to her Mileva died penniless in 1948.

She is buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich’s Nordheim Cemetery and mostly forgotten.

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It was not until 2009 that a memorial gravestone was erected by the Serbian Diaspora Ministry, just inside the cemetery entrance on Käferholzstrasse.

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I visited the places Mileva had known in reverse order from the cemetery to the first apartment she had shared with Albert.

And I found parallels with my own past…

I too had been left behind by my parents like Lieserl.

My mother lies buried in an unmarked grave, but unlike Mileva there is no society to put a plaque on Fort Lauderdale´s cemetery.

Like Mileva I have married a partner more successful professionally than myself, though unlike Mileva I have no illusions about my ever having the same aptitudes as my wife possesses, nor do I feel jealousy or resentment for her success.

Mileva’s partner required that she uproot her life several times to different locations in Zürich and to other cities like Prague and Berlin.

As my wife´s career is more stable than mine, I have moved with/for her from the Black Forest to the Rhine River border near Basel up to Osnabruck and then to this wee village by the Lake of Constance here in Switzerland.

I, like Mileva, am less attractive and outgoing than my spouse.

I, like Mileva, have my own quiet struggles with depression, but, so far, these bouts seem far less serious than those she suffered.

I came from work at the company in Neuhaus dressed for executive type work.

The temperature in Zürich yesterday was 32°, hot and humid.

Elves could have taken a bath in the pools of sweat gathered under my armpits.

Zürich like Rome is built upon hills so seeing the former abodes of the late Mrs. E demanded energy.

Happily if one gets thirsty in Zürich there is no need to find a café or a supermarket because it is quite acceptable to drink from a public fountain.

One never has to travel far to find a fountain because there are few cities with more fountains than Zürich, again compareable to Rome.

At last count, this city boasts a total of around twelve hundred fountains.

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

With portable Starbucks cup in hand, I drank deeply and often.

Albert, with his great intelligence, achieved great fame and fortune.

Mileva, also possessing great intelligence, gave up fame and fortune for her family.

If Albert was a bad husband and father, history has no record in Mileva’s handwriting.

Her secrets and potential lie buried somewhere beneath the earth of the sprawling necropolis in the metropolis she chose to call home.

Daughter of Serbia, wife of a genius, mother to an abandoned daughter, sons becoming a wandering engineer and an ill schizophrenic, a victim of depression, genetics and passion, Mileva Maric Einstein was many things.

Now she is just a historical footnote lost in the shadows of an uncommunicative cemetery visited by a sweaty Canadian with too much time on his hands.

Mileva had her flaws and made her mistakes, but in the end analysis I am glad I found out about her.

I meet the wife later for a quick bite after her work and before her tango dance lesson and as I watch her speak with drama and passion, and as I consider both are good and bad times I can quietly smile and know that I have met my match, muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say that she has made my past quite interesting.

Being a husband ain’t easy, but it sure isn’t boring.

Sources:

Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich

Wikipedia

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Canada Slim and the Greatest Villain

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 May 2017

I read the news and I feel sometimes that all the media seems to report is bad news – news that angers or saddens me.

To be fair, it’s not the media’s fault completely…

Bad things happen in the world.

It is a terrible thing to admit, but nothing encourages us to remember Life more than a sudden threat to it or its sudden ending.

Recently Chris Cornell, former lead singer of the rock groups Audioslave and Soundgarden, died.

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Suddenly I am reminded of two of his songs: Black Hole Sun and You Know My Name (the theme song of the Bond film Casino Royale), which play again and again like a skipping vinyl record in the jukebox of my mind.

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On 22 May, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena after a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

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The attacker was identified by police as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan ancestry, who detonated a homemade explosive device as concertgoers were leaving the Arena.

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23 people, including Abedi himself, were killed and approximately 120 were injured.

My ignorance of things Mancunian, Libyan and the music of Ariana Grande is made manifest and I find myself suddenly searching literature both hard copy and electronic to know more about these things in an attempt to understand an event that is incomprehensible.

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Increased hits on search engines like Google show that I am not alone in this regard.

I am saddened by the loss of those so young whose only desire was to celebrate life’s rhythms.

I am saddened by the insanity that would drive a young man to commit such an atrocity.

I am angered that the Right will use this incident as a justification for their Islamophobia, making a cowed and frightened populace accept the usurpation of their freedom in the name of “guaranteed” security and create further hate and violence against others whose only “crime” is being of a different faith.

I am angered by those who would use religion as a justification for violence.

I am saddened that the tendency to label entire groups of people by the actions of a few still remains a constant impulse.

I am saddened that only those who think and act upon their consciences seek justice and compassion, while too many of us crave bloody revenge for this carnage committed against innocents.

I am saddened that those who have been chosen to lead us failed to protect us and may have been partially responsible for the violence visited upon us.

The lines between black and white, villain and hero, remain blurred.

Only the victims seem untainted of blame.

I, like many others, ask what could possibly be gained by anyone committing such an act.

A fearful populace brought to its knees who will seek to appease their attackers?

A spotlight thrown upon our vulnerability?

A desperate attack made to show the consequences of the actions made against others by those who lead us?

Events like Manchester also bring out the conspiracy theorists, whom are much harder to dismiss after a tragedy such as this.

The identification of the villains that inspired such violence is not so clear.

The child within me wishes for an obvious hero to combat such villainy, to save us as we cannot save ourselves.

A hero obvious who tells us: You know my name.

A hero like Bond.

James Bond.

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A person with a license to kill, to mete out revenge disguised as justice.

But is Ian Fleming’s fictional creation, immortalised in literature and film, truly a hero?

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour and murder is a funny trick.

Bond’s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.”

(Yuri Zhukov, Pravda, 30 September 1965)

Harsh criticism, but was this journalist completely inaccurate?

“It was part of his profession to kill people.

He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it.

As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.

If it happened, it happened.

Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”

(Ian Fleming, Goldfinger)

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But, by this analysis, where do we draw the line between soldier and criminal?

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Is every act justifiable if it is done for Queen and country, or in the name of religion?

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Since 1953, Bond has been in the public consciousness from Fleming’s literature and since 1962 from a never-ending series of films.

We are reminded of Bond these days, not only for the death of Chris Connell, but for the death, the day after Manchester, of one of the seven actors who have played Bond in the 26 films starring this character (including the Woody Allen spoof of Casino Royale and the independent film Never Say Never Again), Roger Moore, who played the secret agent in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985.

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Above: Sir Roger Moore (1927 – 2017)

Roger Moore died on 23 May 2017, age 89, in his home in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

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It is easy to think of Bond as a hero, for his villains are easy to identify.

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And perhaps it is this dispatching of these villains that has somehow given the character its own immortality, regardless of the mortality of those who portray him on the silver screen.

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Those who portray Bond have a terrible time afterwards of being identified only for the role as Bond.

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Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any other actor, had this typecasting problem.

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But unlike the villains Bond dispatched or the victims of real-life villains that strike down civilians, Moore did not end his days violently.

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In his acting roles, Moore encountered his share of villains who would have delighted in his demise, yet, with the exception of one film, Moore’s character of the moment would survive any and all opposition.

(In the 1956 film Diane, Moore, in the role of French King Henri II, is killed in a jousting tournament.)

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Moore’s characters were survivors, whether he was a highwayman against the armed might of a Duke (The Lion’s Thief, 1955) or a soldier in the Battle of Salamanca (The Miracle, 1959).

Moore played more roles than he is remembered for.

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Moore played Sir William of Ivanhoe (1958 – 59), Silky Harris (The Alaskans, 1959 – 60), 14 Carat John (The Roaring Twenties, 1960 – 62), Beau Maverick (1960 – 61), Simon Templar (The Saint, 1962 – 69), Gary Fenn (Crossplot, 1969), Harold Pelham (The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970), Lord Brett Sinclair (The Persuaders, 1971), Rod Slater (Gold, 1974), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes in New York, 1976), Sebastian Oldsmith (Shout at the Devil, 1976), Shawn Fynn (The Wild Geese, 1978), Rufus Excalibar ffolkes (North Sea Hijack, 1979), Major Otto Hecht (Escape to Athena, 1979), Captain Gavin Stewart (The Sea Wolves, 1980),Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Cannonball Run, 1981), Inspector Clouseau (The Curse of the Pink Panther, 1983), “Adam” (Bed and Breakfast, 1992), Lord Edgar Dobbs (The Quest, 1996), “The Chief” (Spice World, 1997) and Lloyd Faversham (Boat Trip, 2002).

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These TV/movie roles, which can still be seen on websites like YouTube, are just some of the roles Moore played in a long and successful acting career.

Most of these roles had him play the hero.

Most of these roles had moments when the hero’s life was in grave danger.

As Ivanhoe, Moore suffered broken ribs and a battleaxe blow to his helmet.

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In The Man Who Haunted Himself, Moore’s character briefly suffered clinical death after a car accident, but the movie’s director Basil Dearden would die for real in a car accident shortly thereafter.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore, as Bond, would mourn the death of his wife, though in real life Moore would himself marry four times and was the father of three children.

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Moore acted the hero in more than his screen appearances:

He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (1991) and the voice of Father Christmas in a UNICEF cartoon (2004) and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras (2008).

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Moore’s greatest villain was poor health.

He nearly died from double pneumonia when he was five.

He was a long-term sufferer of kidney stones and needed to be hospitalised during the making of the Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and again during the production of Bond film Moonraker (1979).

In 1993, Moore was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent successful surgery for the disease.

He collapsed on stage while appearing on Broadway in 2003 and was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a potentially deadly slow heartbeat.

In 2012, Moore revealed he had been treated for skin cancer several times.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

His greatest villain, cancer, finally beat him on 23 May 2017.

Terrorism is a villainous act I shall never understand, because despite the headlines it garnishes it is only common to my own life indirectly in headlines.

Diseases, like cancer, on the other hand, are something I, like the common man, can relate to.

In my own life I have lost classmates, my mother and my two foster parents to this disease.

The obituary pages are filled with names of people whose lives were snuffed out by disease.

Still we tend to find death’s arrival after a long battle against a disease easier to cope with, for there is a sense of preparedness / readiness for the fatal end, as unwanted as it may be.

Deaths from accident or from incidents such as Manchester are much harder to accept, for we weren’t ready for our loved ones suddenly departing from our lives.

We are saddened by the deaths of entertainment legends, for we feel that their entertainment touched our lives, but their deaths remind us that, like us, they were mortal too.

But when we compare the death of Moore to the deaths of Manchester, we are left with a sense of unfairness.

Moore was 89 and had lived a full life.

The youngest victim of the Manchester bombing was 8.

Chris Cornell and Salman Abedi could be compared in that they both committed suicide because they were both psychologically unhealthy, but Cornell brought value to the world while Abedi took it away.

So, in these times living in the shadow of death, who or what is the greatest villain?

I believe the greatest villain is: apathy.

When someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it should matter to us.

And it shouldn’t take the death of someone for us to finally realise their value to us.

Don’t take your loved ones for granted.

Don’t take life and health for granted.

Manchester bothers me.

It was senseless and sad.

I refuse to hate.

Abedi was one man, but not all are cast in the same mold.

I refuse to be afraid.

I will live my life to the fullest, knowing that there is no way to predict when my final moment will arrive.

I hope I never forget to be grateful for the life I have and the people within it.

To those reading these words, please know that you are loved and have value.

And it is my hope, whether my life ends in tragic suddenness in some senseless attack or unexpected accident, or if I cling to life against the onslaught of age or disease, that I will be considered to have lived a life of value because I cared.

The greatest villain is apathy.

The best solution is love.

Sources:

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (Dorling Kindersley)

The James Bond Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley)

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

New York Times, 24 May 2017

Wikipedia

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

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Final Problem

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 May 2017

They almost have lives and yet we cannot forget them, for they haunt us in the worlds of literature, film, TV, advertising and video games.

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Ours is a world inhabited by Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, Wonder Woman and Darth Vader, Santa Claus and Cinderella, James Bond and Harry Potter.

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They exist as permanent parts of our culture and yet they have never existed as living breathing people.

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They are all around us.

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They are our hopes and fears, our constant companions, our signposts in our rites of passage.

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They are us, for we have created ourselves through them.

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And we recognize these characters within ourselves.

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We all know Cassandra for whom the half-full glass is always half-empty, Scrooge who derives pleasure from wealth, Don Juan who stalks every woman and Peter Pan who will never grow up.

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The basic characteristics of humanity have become the fictional characters that shape that humanity.

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Southsea, Hampshire, England, 1887

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, MD, was a Scotsman, born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1859, the eldest of 10 children, to a Scottish civil servant/occasional artist father and an Irish mother.

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Charles Doyle was prone to fits of epilepsy and bouts of depression and alcoholism.

Mary, despite her struggles to maintain a large family on a meagre income, would tell her children tales of history filled with high adventure and heroic deeds.

In order to help Arthur escape his depressing homelife, Mary saved enough money to send him to Stonyhurst College, a strict Jesuit boarding school in an isolated part of Lancashire.

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It was at Stonyhurst that he encountered a fellow pupil called Moriarity – a name that Arthur would use to great effect later.

Arthur left Stonyhurst in 1875 and after studying a further year with the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria, he surprised his family by choosing to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

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During his time at the University (1876 – 1881), Doyle encountered Dr. Joseph Bell, whose method of deducing the history and circumstances of his patients seemed magical.

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Bell was the model and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

After graduating in 1882, Doyle became a partner in Plymouth, but the partnership soon disintegrated and Doyle set up a practice of his own in Southsea.

By this time Doyle had already tried his hand at writing fiction and had several short stories published, but it was while at Southsea that he made a more determined effort to achieve success as an author.

As he slowly built up his medical practice, Doyle toyed with the idea of creating a detective story in which the protagonist solved a crime by deductive reasoning in the manner of Dr. Bell.

“Reading some detective stories, I was struck by the fact that their results were obtained in nearly every case by chance.

I thought I would try my hand at writing a story in which the hero would treat crime as Dr. Bell treated disease and where science would take the place of romance.”

This idea materialised in the form of the novel A Study in Scarlet – writtten in only a few weeks -and the Sherlock Holmes legend was born.

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Following A Study in Scarlet‘s publication, Doyle turned his attention to historical fiction – his first love, inspired by his mother’s stories and his admiration for the works of Sir Walter Scott.

The result was Micah Clarke (1889), a tale based on the Monmouth Rebellion.

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(The Monmouth Rebellion, or the West Country Rebellion, was an attempt by James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, to overthrow English King James II in 1685.)

Micah Clarke was a great critical and financial success and it was this book – and not the Sherlock Holmes stories – that convinced Doyle that his future lay in writing.

The US-based Lippincott’s Magazine commissioned a second Sherlock Holmes novel in 1890 and Doyle produced The Sign of Four in less than a month.

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Then Doyle approached the Strand Magazine:

“It had struck me that a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the reader, would bind the reader to the magazine.”

In 1891 the Strand Magazine began the Sherlock Holmes series of 12 short stories (later collected and known as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and the public began to embrace the detective.

Within six months of the Baker Street detective’s first appearance in the Strand, in A Scandal in Bohemia, the main selling point of the magazine was each new Holmes adventure.

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In 1891, Doyle – married since 1885 – moved from Southsea to London to be closer to the literary world.

Despite the success of the first series of Holmes tales, Doyle quickly became bored with his creation, and although Doyle succumbed to the offer of an increased fee for a second series, he was determined that this series would be Sherlock’s last.

Doyle wanted to spend more time writing more historical fiction, which he saw as a more worthy pursuit and one that would gain him greater recognition as a serious writer.

Doyle wrote to his mother in November 1891:

“I think of slaying Holmes….and winding him up for good and all.

He takes my mind from better things.”

34-year-old Doyle came to Switzerland with his wife in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

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Perhaps it was his final school year spent with the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria, that gave Doyle a taste for the Alps.

Unlike his wife Louise Hawkins who was in constant ill health, Doyle was a sporty doctor.

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

Doyle scaled the Jacobshorn in the Albula Range and then tackled the Maienfelder Furka Pass between Davos and Arosa.

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Doyle wrote up his travels for the Strand:

“But now we had a pleasure which boots can never give.

For a third of a mile we shot along over gently dipping curves, skimming down into the valley without a motion of our feet.

In that great untrodden waste, with snowfields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of life save the tracks of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to whizz along in the easy fashion.”

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season.”

Time has proved him right.

Arthur and Louise discovered the village of Meiringen in the Bernese Alps, famous for the nearby Reichenbach Falls.

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The Doyles were shown the Reichenbach Falls by their host Sir Henry Lunn, of the Park Hotel du Sauvage, who suggested to Arthur that he “push him (Holmes) over the falls.”

The Reichenbach Falls are a series of waterfalls on the Reichen Stream – a tributary of the Aare River – in the Bernese Highlands, 2 km south of the town of Meiringen and 25 km east of Interlaken.

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The Falls have a total drop of 250 metres / 820 feet and are one of the highest waterfalls in the Alps and among the most spectacular in Europe.

They were painted by the English Romanticist painter J. M. W. Turner in 1804.

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Doyle describes the Falls in The Adventure of the Final Problem:

“It is, indeed, a fearful place.

The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.

The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged curtain of spray hissing forever upwards, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.

We (Holmes and Watson) stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.”

It would be here that Doyle would kill off Holmes, getting Doyle’s writing career back on track.

The Reichenbach Falls was a place that would “make a worthy tomb for poor Sherlock, even if I buried my banking account along with him.”

But how to let Holmes go?

Doyle decided to let Holmes go down in a blaze of glory, having rid the world of a criminal so powerful and dangerous that any further task would be trivial by comparison.

“I (Holmes speaking) think I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not lived wholly in vain.

If my record were closed tonight I could still survey it with equanamity.

The air of London is the sweeter for my presence.

In over a thousand cases I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong side.

Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature rather than those more superficial ones for which our artificial state of society is responsible.

Your memoirs will draw to an end, Watson, upon the day that I crown my career by the capture or extinction of the most dangerous and capable criminal in Europe.”

Doyle would create Professor James Moriarty simply to provide a fitting opponent with whom his hero could grapple during his goodbye to the world in The Final Problem, for killing off Holmes was exactly the final problem that Doyle had.

Doyle did not want his literary legacy to be only that of his creation Sherlock Holmes.

Meiringen, Switzerland, 13 May 2017

Weeks have gone by since I have written my blog.

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From mid-April to mid-May much has felt wrong.

I felt poorly, both in mind and body, and worked little as a teacher, a Barista or as a writer, for as I have previously written I occasionally find myself battling depression.

(See Taming the black dog of this blog.)

But this was complicated by a touch of the flu and a touch of mild thrombosis in my left leg causing it to swell like a red Zeppelin airship.

As regular readers of my blog or Facebook know, Switzerland has not been favourable to me personally or professionally since I moved here back in 2010.

I found myself lacking motivation to devote my best efforts to improving my situation and I felt dissatisfied for myself for feeling this way.

A weekend in hospital and a week enforced confinement at home gave me opportunity to think.

Teaching no longer gives me the fulfillment it once did and Starbucks will always remain a mere end to a means of maintaining a steady income.

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I thought backwards in time to events in my life that lead me here and asked myself what inspired me then and still inspires me now.

And what I have enjoyed the most has been travelling and writing.

My travels, like most people’s travels, have been restricted over the years of the constraints of both time and income.

My writing has been hampered by both a lack of discipline and an awareness of how to generate income from its practice.

I felt discouraged.

The health problems ended employment in Winterthur and caused employers in St. Gallen to reflect upon the wisdom of engaging my services.

Over the past few years my wife has made it a point to take me away from Landschlacht on the weekend including or closest to my birthday.

(For example, last year we went to Vevey to see the newly opened Charlie Chaplin Museum, and the year before that we visited Jungfrau and the Top of Europe…both topics of future blog posts…)

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I spoke of a desire to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes “fatally” grappled with Professor Moriarity, for I had seen and enjoyed the third and final episode of the second season of the TV series Sherlock – a modern version of the detective with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes – wherein Holmes falls from the London roof of the Reichenbach building – and I wanted to see for myself the story location not too far removed in distance from my home.

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I had heard that Meiringen has a Sherlock Holmes Museum – one of two in Switzerland, the other in Lucens near Lausanne – and I wanted to see both the Falls as well as the Museum.

(Meiringen has another claim to fame besides the Reichenbach Falls:

It is also known for its claim to have been the place where the meringue was first created.)

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There are a number of ways to reach Meiringen:

Meiringen is served by trains: the Brünig line (a narrow gauge railway connecting Interlaken to Lucerne), an hourly InterRegio service between the aforementioned cities and it is also the endstop of an hourly Regio service from Interlaken as well as the local Meiringen – Innertkirchen railway which traverses through the Aareschlucht (Aare Gorge).

A six-minute bus ride or a twenty-minute walk away in nearby Willingen is the lower terminus of the Reichenbachfall funicular which links the village to the Reichenbach Falls.

While on the opposite side of the Meiringen valley, a cable car runs to Reuti, from where a system of gondola lifts runs to Planplatten (2,200 metres / 7, 200 feet) via Mägisalp.

Nearby is the Meiringen Air Base, one of three main air bases of the Swiss Air Force, in Unterbach, which operates mainly F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

The wife and I travelled by car from Landschlacht (on the Lake of Constance) bypassing Zürich and Bern, a journey of approximately three hours.

Meiringen (population nearly 4,700) sits quietly in an outdoor wonderland laced with hiking and cycling paths that crisscross wild valleys, waterfalls and high alpine moors, but the inhabitants of Meiringen remain eternally grateful to Doyle and Holmes for ensuring the worldwide fame of Reichenbach Falls and the promotion of tourism to their town.

There are a number of tourist accommodations available in Meiringen: the smart, modern Hotel Sherlock Holmes, the Alpin Sherpa Hotel, the Hotel Alpbach, and, of course, Doyle’s old haunt, the Park Hotel du Sauvage.

Appropriately, my wife booked us in the Hotel Sherlock Holmes, with carpets bearing an image of Holmes in deerstalker cap, an excellent restaurant, a swimming pool and wellness centre on the 4th floor.

We arrived mid-afternoon and quickly set out for the Falls as the weather forecast warned of the possibility of rain over the weekend and we hoped to see the Falls before bad weather denied us the chance.

I was looking forward to this weekend as I felt that maybe a change of scenery would get me out of the funk I had been in and the exercise might do my body good as well.

The signposted Sherlock Holmes Path leads from the Meiringen train station through the town, crosses the Aare River and leads away from the funicular to climb the slopes of the summit of the Falls.

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The wife, 11 years my junior, was, as usual, in fine form, while I, who only the day before had ended my homebound convalescence, slowly, breathing heavily, made my slow progress upwards behind her.

Thoughts of Doyle and Holmes were much upon my mind.

Here Doyle ended his most famous character’s “life”.

Here Holmes would battle his greatest adversary to ensure that Moriarity could cause no more harm to others.

But why was I here?

Was I too searching for a solution to my final problem?

Was I seeking a solution to how to end my days with more dignity than I had previously known?

Doyle did not want to known as only the writer of detective stories.

I do not want to be known only as an occasionally motivated/motivating freelance teacher and part-time Barista, but to be remembered as leaving the air “sweeter for my presence”.

Moriarity said to Holmes:

“I am quite sure that a man of your intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this affair….

…You have worked things in such a fashion that we have only one recourse left.”

But does there remain a sense of inevitability to the present course of my life?

Or should I tell myself like Holmes responded:

“Danger is part of my trade.”?

Perhaps I need to risk more and follow the spur of my heart, rather than simply do the appropriate things that have sustained my income but at the sacrifice of my spirit?

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, 4 May 1891

“It was upon the 3rd of May that we (Watson writing about Holmes and himself) reached the little village of Meiringen, where we put up at the Englischer Hof (the Hotel Park du Sauvage), then kept by Peter Steiler the elder.

Our landlord was an intelligent man and spoke excellent English, having served for three years as waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel in London.

At his advice, upon the afternoon of the 4th we set off together with the intention of crossing the hills and spending the night at the hamlet of Rosenlaui.

We had strict injunctions, however, on no account to pass the falls of Reichenbach, which are about halfway up the hill, without making a small detour to see them.”

So, who were Watson and Holmes, and why are they in Switzerland?

As previously mentioned, one of the characters from whom Doyle framed his hero Sherlock Holmes was his old teacher at Edinburgh University’s medical school, Dr. Joseph Bell (1837 – 1911).

Doyle recalled that Bell “often learned more of the patient by a few quick glances than I had done by my own questions.”

Other sources of inspiration for the character of Holmes were:

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, for the idea of the locked room mystery and solving crimes by clever deduction
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  • Emile Gaboriau who wrote about a detective using forensic science and crime scene investigation
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  • Wilkie Collins’ detective inspired Holmes’ appearance
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  • Sir Henry Littlejohn who, as the Chairman of Medical Jurisprudence at the medical school as well as police surgeon and medical officer of health in Edinburgh, provided Doyle with a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime
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  • Francis “Tanky” Smith, a policeman and master of disguise who went on to become Leicester’s first private detective
  • Maximilien Heller, a depressed, antisocial, polymath, cat-loving and opium-smoking Paris-based detective by French author Henry Cauvain
  • According to Doyle, Holmes had sharp, angular features, was tall and thin, yet wiry and athletic, with reserves of strength that enabled him to cope relatively well in any physical tussle.

The popular image of Holmes wearing a tweed suit, a cape and a deerstalker cap, and carrying about his person his trademark cane and pipe, were created by Sidney Paget, the first illustrator of the Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine.

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Doyle gave away few details of Holmes’ life, but careful reading of his works can allow the reader to deduce that Holmes was born in 1854, attended a university, and had an older brother named Mycroft.

After university, Holmes moved to London and took up residence in Montague Street, near the British Musuem.

He had connections at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which allowed him to conduct his experiments in the lab there, even though he was neither student nor staff.

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By the time Holmes met Watson in 1881 and moved into 221B Baker Street with him as his co-lodger, he had already developed his business as a consulting detective.

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Holmes was a man with exceptional powers of observation and reasoning, a master of disguise possessed of an uncanny ability to establish the truth.

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In Doyle’s The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Holmes declares:

“I am brain, Watson.

The rest of me is a mere appendix.”

Holmes was skilled in martial arts and was quite capable with a sword.

Dr. John Watson was the narrator of all but four of the Sherlock Holmes tales.

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Watson was the essential witness to Holmes’ brilliance and his tireless biographer.

Watson was the warm-hearted and good-humoured everyman to Holmes’ cool pragmatist.

Watson was loyal, steadfast and utterly dependable.

He was a middle-sized, strongly built man with a square jaw, a thick neck and a moustache.

Watson was an army-trained crack shot and was once athletic, playing for the famous Blackheath Rugby Club, but by the time he met Holmes he had developed a war injury and a taste for wine and tobacco.

It is suggested that Watson was born in 1853.

Watson qualified as a medical doctor at St. Bartolomew’s Hospital in London in 1878.

After qualifying, Watson signed up as an army surgeon with the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to the Second Afghan War (1878 – 1880), where he was shot at the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880.

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While in hospital recovering, Watson became ill with typhoid and was sent home with his health “irretrievably ruined” and was discharged from the army with a meagre pension.

With no family to turn to, Watson was left adrift in London.

It was at this low point that Stamford, Watson’s old friend from medical school, introduced him to Sherlock Holmes, who was looking for someone to share his lodgings.

For eight years, Holmes and Watson were inseparable, until in 1889 Watson fell in love with Mary Morstan and moved away from Baker Street to set up his own practice in West London.

By 1891 and the events of The Final Problem, the relationship between Watson and Holmes had become more distant after Watson’s marriage.

Professor James Moriarity made only a brief, dramatic encounter with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls and only appeared directly in one other story, The Valley of Fear – set earlier in Holmes’ career – but his powerful spectre seemed to haunt the Holmes stories that followed.

The Professor’s power to terrify comes from the fact that he was a dark mirror image of Holmes: the man that Holmes might have become had he chosen to follow Moriarity’s sinister path.

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Both Holmes and Moriarity were tall and thin with high foreheads and sharp eyes, but the Professor’s eyes were sunken, his chin protruding, his head would move from “side to side in curiously reptilian fashion”.

Moriarity came from a privileged background and received an excellent education.

Naturally brilliant at mathematics, at the age of 21, Moriarity wrote a treatise on algebra that achieved recognition throughout Europe.

Moriarity was also celebrated for his brilliant book on the dynamics of asteroids, which Holmes remarked was so advanced that “no man in the scientific press was capable of criticising it.”

Moriarity became a Professor of Mathematics at an English university, until unspecified “dark rumours” began to circulate about him and he relocated to London to begin his criminal career.

Moriarity became the ultimate mastermind, “the Napoleon of crime”, drawing on his massive intellect to run a vast network and yet remaining invisible at its heart entirely above suspicion.

Holmes likened Moriarity to Jonathan Wild, who in the 18th century “was a master criminal…the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organisation on a 15% commission”.

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Wild pretended to apprehend thieves, earning fame and money for the way his network caught criminals, but it was also he who was organising their crimes.

But the strongest inspiration for Moriarity was the true life criminal genius Adam Worth (1848 – 1902), who was dubbed “the Napoleon of crime” by Scotland Yard for Worth’s skill in running a major crime network from his home in London.

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Like Moriarity, Worth, for years, outfoxed the world’s police by conducting well-executed crimes without leaving a shred of incriminating evidence.

“As you are aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the higher criminal world of London so well as I do.

For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organising power which forever stands in the way of the law and throws its shield over the wrongdoer.

Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts – forgery cases, robberies, murders – I have felt the presence of this force and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted.

For years I have endeavoured to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarity of mathematical celebrity….

He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them….

You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal.

My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill.

But at last he made a trip – only a little, little trip – but it was more than he could afford, when I was so close upon him.

I had my chance, and, starting from that point, I have woven my net around him until now it is all ready to close….”

The Final Problem has Holmes arriving at Watson’s residence one evening in an agitated state, with bruised and bleeding knuckles.

Much to Watson’s surprise, Holmes had escaped three separate murder attempts that day after a visit from Moriarity warning Holmes to withdraw from his pursuit of justice against him to avoid any regrettable consequences.

Holmes asked Watson to come to the Continent with him, giving Watson unusual instructions designed to hide his trail to Victoria Station.

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As the train pulled out of Victoria Station, Holmes spotted Moriarity on the platform, trying to get someone to stop the train.

Watson and Holmes disembarked at Canterbury, making a change to their planned route.

As they were waiting for another train to Newhaven, a special one coach train roared past, containing the Professor who had hired the train in an effort to overtake Holmes.

Holmes and Watson were forced to hide behind luggage.

Having made their way to Strasbourg via Brussels, Holmes received a message that most of Moriarity’s gang had been arrested in England but Moriarity himself had slipped out of the grasp of the English police.

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Sherlock the hunter had become the hunted.

Holmes and Watson’s journey took them to Switzerland and Meiringen.

As Holmes and Watson prepared to leave the Falls, a boy approached Watson with a letter, supposedly from the hotel landlord, asking Watson to return and tend to an Englishwoman who was dying of tuberculosis.

When Watson reached the hotel, he found that there was no sick woman awaiting his attention.

Holmes had realised that the letter was a hoax but said nothing to Watson, for he felt that the time had come for his final combat with Moriarity.

Realising that he had been tricked, Watson rushed back to the Reichenbach Falls, but he found only Holmes’ Alpinstock (walking stick) leaning against the rock.

Two sets of footprints led to a precipice above the deep chasm and there were no returning footprints.

The disturbed earth and torn branches and ferns at the edge of the path showed that there had been a struggle beside the chasm.

Watson then saw something gleaming from the top of a boulder and found Holmes’ silver cigarette case.

As Watson picked it up, a note from Holmes fluttered out of it, a note which Moriarity had allowed Holmes to write before their battle.

The note revealed that Holmes was prepared to die in order to rid the world of Moriarity.

When Watson and the police searched the scene, they found unmistakeable signs that the two men had wrestled on the brink and both fell to their deaths.

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Watson believed that he had lost the man that:

“I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.”

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, 13 May 2017

The actual ledge from which Holmes and Moriarity are believed to have fallen is on the other side of the Falls from the funicular.

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Ute (my wife) and I climbed the path to the top of the Falls to the ledge where Holmes and Moriarity struggled.

The ledge is marked by a plaque written in English, French and German.

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The English inscription reads:

“At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarity, on 4 May 1891.”

A white star has been placed above the plaque so viewers across the chasm on the funicular side can identify the spot.

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The path on which the detective and the criminal mastermind wrestled was then in 1891 right beside the Falls, but over the years it has crumbled away and today it ends around 100 metres / 330 feet short of the waterfalls.

When Doyle first viewed the Falls in 1893, the path ended by the Falls, close enough to touch them, but over the hundred years since his visit, the pathway became unsafe and slowly eroded away and the Falls have receded farther back into the gorge.

Unlike the 2011 film adaptation inspired by The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – starring Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft) and Jared Harris (Moriarity) – Reichenbach Falls does not have a large castle built over them.

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We took many photographs of the plaque and the Falls, some with a Sherlock Holmes doll my wife had given me some years back and my own Alpenstock with its Stocknageln (stick pins) showing some of the places I had hiked to.

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Though a fan of crime stories and detective novels, the Sherlock Holmes canon had never captured my wife’s imagination before, but a visit to the Falls, and then subsequently a tour of the small Sherlock Holmes Museum, (in the basement of the English Church beside the Hotel Park du Sauvage back in Meiringen), found Ute waxing enthusiastically about the experience.

I found myself in a reflective mood.

For as sad a “death” as Sherlock’s was, he “died” as he chose, in fitting response to Moriarty’s threat.

Moriarty: You hope to beat me.  If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you.

Holmes: You have paid me several compliments, Mr. Moriarty.  Let me pay you one in return when I say that if I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.

To choose how you will end your days…

“Death, where is your sting?

Grave, where is your victory?”

(I Corinthians 15:55, Holy Bible)

Sources:

Time, The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

Dorling Kindersley, The Sherlock Holmes Book

Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland

Lonely Planet, Switzerland

Rough Guides, Switzerland

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Final Problem

Wikipedia

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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”.

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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

 

 

 

A Revolution of One: Under the Covers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 March 2017

You say you want a revolution, but you are not really sure where to start.

There are just so many things wrong with this world that demand change.

In this series A Revolution of One, I have written about the importance of passion and the value of keeping a journal to discover what potential lies within you.

(See: A Revolution of One: The Power of Passion and A Revolution of One: Seize the Day of this blog.)

So imagine you are now at the point where you have discovered some of the things that interest you.

What`s next?

You now need to do reconnaissance and discover what knowledge is out there.

Most of my opinions on bookshops (and libraries) were formed by Donald Rumsfeld.

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In case you’ve forgotten or never knew, Donald Henry Rumsfeld was the US Secretary of Defense in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush….

Ford, arms folded, in front of a United States flag and the Presidential seal.

Above: Gerald Ford (1913 – 2006), 38th President of the United States (1974 – 1977)

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Above: George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (2001 – 2009)

It is his opinion on the necessity of bookshops (and libraries) that truly binds us together.”

(Mark Forsyth, The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Want)

The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted

There are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns.

That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns.

There are things we do not know we don’t know.” (Donald Rumsfeld)

“For some reason that I shall never understand, there are those who find these lines perplexing.

They ridicule it.

The Plain English Campaign even awarded Rumsfeld their Foot in Mouth Award of 2003 for a ‘baffling comment by a public figure’.

But there’s nothing baffling in it really.

I know that Paris is the capital of France, but more importantly I know that I know Paris is the capital of France.

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Above: The Eiffel Tower, Paris / Flag of France

I know that I don’t know the capital of Azerbaijan, although I am sure they have one.

Three equally sized horizontal bands of blue, red, and green, with a white crescent and an eight-pointed star centered in the red band

Above: The flag of Azerbaijan

(It’s the sort of thing I really ought to check up on.)

But I do not know….

Well, here it gets complicated….

You do not know that you do not know the capital of Erewhon, because you had no idea that there was a country called Erewhon, and therefore you had no idea there was a gap in your knowledge.

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Above: First edition (1872) of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (or Over the Range)

You did not know that you did not know.

The same thing applies to books.

I know that I have read Great Expectations: it is a known known.

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Above: Title page of 1st edition (1861) of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations

I know that I haven’t read War and Peace: it is a known unknown to me…

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Above: Title page, 6th edition 1909, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in original Russian

(…and, barring a long prison sentence, is likely to remain so.)

But there are books I have never heard of.

And because I have never heard of them, I have no idea that I haven’t read them….

There are, as previously mentioned, three kinds of books: the ones you’ve read, the ones you know you haven’t read and the ones you didn’t know existed.

The books you’ve read, you don’t need to buy.

Presumably you bought (or borrowed) a copy before reading.

The famous books you haven’t read are easily obtainable on the Internet.

You type in War and Peace and all sorts of booktraders mention that they have it available for X amount of dollars/pounds/franks/etc and that a nice young man will bring it to your door by teatime.

I believe that here I ought to bemoan the modern age and go on and on about how human contact is lost and we are all going to Hell in a handbasket, but I just can’t.

The Internet is much too convenient….

…The Internet is a splendid invention and it won’t go away.

If you know you want something, the Internet can get it for you.

My point…is that it is not enough to get what you already know you wanted.

The best things are the things you never knew you wanted until you got them.

The Internet takes your desires and spits them back at you, consummated.

You search, you put in the words you know, the things that were already on your mind, and it gives you back a book or a picture or a Wikipedia article.

But that is all.

The unknown unknown must be found otherwise….

….Computers are machines.

The Internet is a huge army of machines.

Machines do not allow in the element of chance.

They do exactly what you tell them to do.

So the Internet means that, though you will get what you already knew you wanted, you will never get anything more.”

(Mark Forsyth, The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Want)

"Shakespeare and Company" store, Paris, 2004

Above: Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris

“We have all browsed – in a bookstore or library or through someone else’s bookshelves.

Above: The Bookworm (1850), Carl Spitzweg

I am going to suggest an enhanced style of browsing that you can use as a way of finding new subjects of interest.”

(If you are already interested in a subject, you may want to skip the rest of this blogpost and visit the Internet.)

Even the most advanced scholars often find that wandering through the stacks of a library (or a bookshop), dipping into a book here and there as the spirit moves them, offers a serendipitious intellectual stimulation that is unavailable any other way.

By making the process of browsing more self-conscious, you can conduct your own informal reconnaissance of the terrain of learning.

All you have to do is follow three rules:

  1.  Pick the best places.
  2.  Keep moving.
  3. Keep a list.

By picking the best places, I simply mean the best library or bookstore or collection of other resources that you can find for your purposes.

Follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice:

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Above: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)

‘Don’t marry for money – go where money is, then marry for love.’

Go where the richest resources are, then you can let serendipity take its course.

In a less rich environment, the items that might best turn you on might simply not be there.

What is the best place for you?

It is the best-stocked one within convenient range.

Many cities now have specialised bookstores, study centres and activists organisations or other agencies in numerous fields, one of which may be the right place for you once you have identified a broad field that you might get deeply interested in.

Once you are in the right place, keep moving and keep a list.

You are brainstorming, not postholding.

You want to get a comprehensive glimpse and taste of a wide range of works.

And you want to keep a log of your discoveries along the way, with notes in case you want to retrace your steps and delve more deeply.

You are compiling your ‘little black book’ of intellectual attractions – books, ideas, authors, points of views, realms of fact and imagination with which you want to make a date sometime, get to know better and, perhaps, come to fall in love with.

Major intellectual journeys (and social change) often begin with browsing.

As part of your browsing, you may want to take a fresh look at some of the important realms of learning, but from your own point of view.

The exhilirating prospect here is to ‘come to ourselves’ intellectually.

After years, sometimes decades, of learning for someone or something else we are now invited to begin using our minds for ourselves.

We are freed from being told what, why and how to learn.

We discover at once the first lesson of freedom in any realm:

Freedom is far more demanding than taking orders, but also far more rewarding.

Forget about which subjects you have already been told are important or prestigious.

Just let each one roll around in your head for a while to see whether it commands your interest.

Do not worry about how formidable each one sounds.

No one is a complete master of any of these realms.

Each category could fill years of study.

The point is to realise the wealth from which you can choose and to start modestly to sample one subject or another that especially appeals to you.

(Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook)

What makes an advocate for change organize that change?

Curiosity.

He/She is driven by a compulsive curiosity that knows no limits.

Life is a search for a pattern, for a meaning to the life around him/her and its relationship to his/her own life.

The search never ends.

There are no answers, only further questions.

The organizer/the advocate for change is a carrier of the contagion of curiosity.

It is in the question “Why?” that change can begin.

It is the questioning of the status quo, the delving into the “Why?” of accepted ways and values that the seeds of reformation and revolution begin to sprout.

Change begins with an individual.

Be the change you desire.

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

 

How to Train a Dragon 1: Canadians in China

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 March 2017

The further away a country is, the harder it is to know and understand that country.

China is such a country.

Flag of the People's Republic of China

So it is with caution that I express my opinion of the events that have so far transpired with China and its relations with the rest of the world.

Until this year I have had little exposure to Chinese people.

The only Chinese people I had known were second generation Chinese Canadians, more Canadian in character than Chinese as they have spent the entirety of their lives in Canada.

Flag of Canada

I am not certain whether they have ever visited their parents’ homeland or even if they have wished to do so.

I have nothing against the three Chinese Canadians I have known, though whether they feel the same towards me remains debateable.

I know that Dicky and I have become more closer since our high school days and that he seems happy back in his hometown of Lachute and working for Air Canada at the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montréal.

I am fairly certain that Walter from my college days became the international lawyer he wanted to be, though whether he returned to Québec City I do not know.

Things had ended badly between us and the only excuse I have in my pitiful defence is that we had known one another at a most difficult and painful time of my life.

Nonetheless I wish him much happiness and success but I don’t anticipate a happy reunion betweeen us anytime soon.

I am not at all sure where Jack, whom I knew from my travelling days, is or what he is doing these days.

I remember his face and stature as if he had been seen only mere moments before, but whether he found whatever he was searching for in his travels I know not.

Here in Switzerland I teach a young lady from Beijing twice a week and I occasionally meet another Chinese woman who works for a company I teach at once every two weeks.

Flag of Switzerland

These two ladies have awakened within me a curiosity to know more about their homeland, but I remain uncertain about how I feel about visiting China one day.

As tourism goes, of course, there is much that attracts me about China…

I would love to walk the Great Wall, visit Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City and Summer Palace, parade amongst the army of terracotta warriors, explore the lush rainforest of Xishuangbanna, take in the sights and scents of Guangzhou’s evening spice markets, listen to the talented Chinese National Orchestra in live performance, watch a Zhang Yimou film without English subtitles, eat duck in Beijing followed by chá at a teahouse where my appearance might increase the level of gossip and intrigue within, hug a panda (if such a thing is even possible), dodge yet another of the endless array of construction sites, sigh as yet another Chinese student tries to practice his English upon me, gaze nervously at Tiananmen Square fearful that my rebellious thoughts betray me, wonder at a country which doesn’t only include an endless sea of Han Chinese but as well 55 other officially recognised ethnic groups…so much to see and experience one hardly knows where to begin.

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The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿) at the centre of the Forbidden City

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Above: (from top to bottom) The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Terracotta Army, the tropical rain forest of Xishuangbanna, the skyline of Guangzhou, the logo of the Chinese National Traditional Orchestra, poster of Zhang Yimou’s 1991 film Raise the Red Lantern, Peking duck, the Yu Yuan Garden Teahouse of Shanghai, a giant panda bear in Hong Kong Zoo, Tiananmen Square

(I am curious about the rumor that generations of Chinese are still convinced that Western music is the Carpenters, Richard Clayderman, Kenny G and Lionel Richie and what the concert goers to Wham!’s Freedom Tour actually felt and understood.)

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Above: (from top to bottom) US musicians Karen and Richard Carpenter at the White House in 1971, French pianist Richard Clayderman (née Philip Pagès), US saxophonist Kenny G. (née Kenny Gorelick), US musician Lionel Richie and British pop duo Wham!

The little I know of China has been limited to newspapers and magazines and the occasionally travel account from writers like Paul Theroux (Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China) or books telling folks how to do business in China, and though this exposure has been interesting I am uncertain, despite the advent of the Internet, how accurate are these impressions.

And though I am aware that it is unfair to confuse the Chinese people with the Chinese government, much as it would be to label all Americans in the mold of Donald Trump, I must confess the politics of China does bother me, especially in regards to Taiwan and Tibet.

Why can`t the Chinese government let Taiwan go?

A red flag, with a small blue rectangle in the top left hand corner on which sits a white sun composed of a circle surrounded by 12 rays.

Above: Flag of Taiwan

Why must the Chinese continue to occupy Tibet?

Above: Flag of Tibet

I have met a handful of Tibetan people here in Switzerland and have read numerous accounts of the oppression that Tibet endures and the never-ending exile of their Dalai Lama and I find it difficult to reconcile my desire to see China with my sadness about the acts that are done in China’s name.

I also admit to feeling remorse about the correctness of the accusation that is often levelled at the West…

We simply don`t care about what happens outside of the West until it affects us.

Shortly before I began teaching Chinese students in St. Gallen and Herisau, I read of one Canadian couple’s experience in China and it is their tale I now wish to tell…

Vancouver, Canada, 28 June 2014

Su Bin, aka Stephen Su or Stephen Subin, the owner and manager of Beijing Lode Technology Company Ltd, an aviation technology company -based in China with offices in Vancouver, Kansas City, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shenyang and Changchun – a cable harness equipment company that served the aviation and space market and represented and distributed related aerospace products for a number of companies – is arrested today.

Su Bin a.k.a Stephen Su a.k.a. Stephen Subin

Su Bin, a Chinese businessman and permanent resident of Canada allegedly hacked into the computer systems of US companies with large defence contracts, including Boeing, to steal data on military projects including some of its fighter jets.

On 27 June, the Los Angeles branch of the FBI filed a complaint outlining the alleged participation of Su Bin in a conspiracy to unlawfully access computers in the United States.

The complaint provides an in depth look at an EaaS (espionage as a service) operation.

Su’s alleged role was to help his partners identify valuable military aviation technology to steal.

His company’s logo is almost laughably ironic: We will track the world’s aviation advanced technology.”

Lode Tech is also a representative and distributor of related aerospace products for a number of companies, including DIT-MCO of Kansas City which proudly announces that its equipment “was used on the early Hawk Missile, the first Transcontinental Atlas missile, Polaris missiles for the Navy, Titan missiles for the Air Force and the Patriot Missile used so successfully in the Desert Storm War, as well as almost all the aircraft used by the Air Force, Army and the Navy.”

DIT-MCO International

Prosecutors allege that Su Bin worked with two unnamed Chinese hackers to get the data between 2009 and 2013 and that he attempted to sell some of the information to state-owned Chinese companies.

This case underscore the importance for companies in high value technologies to:

a) Conduct in depth due diligence investigations on all of their vendors.

b) Restrict network access by implementing least privilege rules.

The three hackers targeted fighter jets, such as the F-22 from Lockheed Martin and the F-35 as well as Boeing’s C-17 military cargo aircraft program.

Lockheed Martin.svg

As well, they stole 20 gigabytes of date from a US military contractor via the company’s FTP server, acquired a list of contractors and suppliers and had access to a Russian-India joint missile development program (Brahmos Aerospace?) by controlling the company’s website and “awaiting the opportunity to conduct internal penetration”.

Su Bin’s arrest marks the first time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued an arrest warrant for a foreigner charged with an act of cyber-espionage via a network attack that had until now been attributed to states.

Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.svg

While this is the first criminal complaint that describes “hackers for hire” or espionage-as-a-service, this type of criminal activity is neither new nor exclusive to China.

Hackers for hire operate in the following manner:

Their target selection is determined by the science and technology priorities of their potential customers.

The hackers establish “technology bases” and hop servers outside of their native nation and “machine rooms” with legal status in cities back home.

They focus on those contractors which are among the top 50 arms companies.

Cyber security companies who research cyber threats should study this criminal complaint closely.

Intelligence companies worldwide need to find ways to differentiate the activities of a nation-state with those of a for-profit hacker group, criminal organization or other alternative entities engaging in acts of cyber espionage.

US Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the conspirators are alleged to have accessed the computer networks of US defence contractors without authorization and stolen data related to military aircraft and weapons systems.

Seal of the United States Department of Justice.svg

“We remain deeply concerned about cyber-enabled theft of sensitive information and we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States will continue using all the tools our government possesses to strengthen cyber security and confront cybercrime.”

Boeing said in a statement that the company cooperated with investigators and will continue to do so to hold accountable “individuals who perpetrate economic espionage or trade secret theft against US companies.”

Boeing full logo.svg

“We appreciate that the government brought its concerns about a potential compromise of our protected computer systems to our attention.”

None of the claims have been proven in court.

The New York Times reported that Chinese hackers broke into the computer networks of the Office of Personnel Management earlier in March with the intention of accessing the files of thousands of federal employees who had applied for top secret security clearances.

Seal of the United States Office of Personnel Management.svg

The hackers gained access to some of the agency`s databases before the threat was detected and blocked.

The Chinese community in Canada is one of the largest overseas Chinese communities, the 2nd largest overseas Chinese community in North America after the United States and the 7th largest worldwide.

Canadians of Chinese descent make up about 4% of the Canadian population, or 1.3 million people.

The Chinese Canadian community is the largest ethnic group of Asian Canadians – 40% of the Asian Canadian population.

Chinese have been a part of the Canadian mosaic as early as 1788.

The highest concentration of Chinese Canadians is in Vancouver, where 1 in 5 residents is Chinese, prompting other Canadians to nickname Vancouver “Hongcouver”.

Clockwise from top: Downtown Vancouver as seen from the southern shore of False Creek, The University of British Columbia, Lions Gate Bridge, a view from the Granville Street Bridge, Burrard Bridge, The Millennium Gate (Chinatown), and totem poles in Stanley Park

According to the Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey of 2002, 76% of Chinese Canadians said they had a strong sense of belonging to Canada, yet maintaining a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic culture.

Chinese Canadians are active in Canadian society.

Many of them vote in federal and provincial elections and participate in gatherings such as sports teams or community organizations.

Sadly 1 in 3 Chinese Canadians reported that they had experienced discrimination, prejudice or unfair treatment based on their ethnicity, race, religion, language or accent.

Dandong, China, 4 August 2014

An obscure port tucked away in the corner of southeastern Liaoning Province at the confluence of the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea, Dandong‘s interest to travellers lies in the city’s proximity to North Korea and its convenience as a departure point for the Changbai Shan Nature Reserve eight hours distant by bus.

View of Dandong's skyline on the Yalu River

The North Korean city of Sinuiju (Chinese: Xinyizhou) lies on the other side of the Yalu River, so the Chinese come to Dandong (“red east”) just to see the border of their country.

Flag of North Korea

Above: Flag of North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

A strong Korean influence can be felt in Dandong, from shops to restaurants.

Yalujiang Park is an appealing riverfront park that is a favourite with tourists posing for the standard “I visited the Sino-Korean border.” shot.

After the start of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, this region was occupied by Japan who built an iron bridge leading to North Korea.

From November 1950 to February 1951, this bridge along with a younger Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge was “accidentally” bombed by the United States during the Korean War.

(Americans also “accidentally” bombed the airstrip at Dandong.)

Even though the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge was rebuilt, the remains of the Japanese-built iron bridge remain and now serve as a war monument.

The Koreans dismantled the Japanese bridge as far as the mid-river boundary line, leaving only a row of support columns.

On the Chinese side, tourists can wander along the remains of the original Broken Bridge, from dawn to dusk, and see shrapnel pockmarks along the bridge until it ends mid-river.

The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge runs parallel to the remains of the Japanese bridge.

The Korean War, from the Chinese and North Korean perspectives, is recorded in the city’s huge macabre Museum to Commemorate Aiding Korea Against US Aggression in a compound northwest of the city, close to the 53-metre high square column Resist America, Aid Korea Memorial.

This gleaming museum, built in 1993, has nine exhibition halls on the Korean War, full of maps, plans, dioramas, machine guns, hand grenades, gory photographs, “Defeat Wolf-hearted America” spelled out on marble, a trench simulation, an impressive revolving panorama showing Korean and Chinese soldiers hammering American aggressors, North Korean folk art including dolls and children’s shoes and statues of valiant Chinese and Korean soldiers.

Korean War Montage 2.png

Everything is labelled in Chinese and Korean, with the exception of the Chinese propaganda leaflets dropped behind enemy lines in which worried American wives wonder what their husbands are fighting for, and the United Nations official declaration of war – the only written record in the entire museum that mentions the small trifling detail that it was the North Koreans who kicked off the War by invading the South.

A couple of MiGs and Red Army tanks sit in a compound to the side of the Museum.

At the entrance to the compound, next to Chinese President Jiang Ze Min’s large plaque of calligraphy swearing eternal Sino-North Korean friendship, ice-cold Coca-Colas are for sale.

Behind the Museum, a gleaming structure marks a graveyard containing the remains of more than 10,000 Chinese soldiers.

The promenade along the Yalu River is packed with games, parks, modern restaurants offering freshwater fish or Korean barbeque and the Hong Kong Coffee House with strong Korean coffee and the latest North Korean news on TV.

One of Dandong’s top-rated destinations on TripAdvisor is Peter`s Coffee House, owned by Julia and Kevin Garratt of Vancouver and named after one of their sons.

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Peter’s Coffee House is a hub for expats, local Chinese curious about the outside world, state security agents suspicious of the staff and customers, and the occasional North American diplomat.

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“Down by the riverfront Peter`s Coffee House, at 103 Binjiang Zhong Lu, open from 0800 to 2200, Monday to Saturday, noon to 2200 on Sunday, is a friendly café run by a longterm Canadian expat family.

In addition to its excellent coffee, Peter`s serves milkshakes and sodas, authentic Western baked goods, a fine all-day breakfast, burgers and sandwiches.

This is also the place to go for local information and restaurant recommendations.” (http://www.peterscoffeehouse.com)

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Canadian Christian aid workers Julia and Kevin Garratt lived in China on and off for 30 years, raised their four children there and moved their family from Vancouver to Dandong in 2007.

Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia pose for a portrait in the backyard of a home they're staying at after returning to Canada. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Julia taught international trade and management at a local university while Kevin ran the café, organizing weekly “English Corner” language exchanges.

In their spare time, the Garratts volunteered around Dandong, often taking Chinese orphans ice skating.

The Garratts wanted to address the suffering of those living across the border by providing aid to orphanages and a school for the disabled in North Korea.

The Garratts considered China their home, as do the 300,000 Canadians living in China.

(Most Canadians live in Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, so it can be imagined that the gritty border town of Dandong might have regarded the Garratts as highly unusual but generally not unwelcome.

For two Canadians remain etched in Chinese consciousness: Dr. Henry Norman Bethune and Dashan.

Norman Bethune (1890 – 1939) was a Canadian physician, medical innovator and noted anti-fascist.

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Above: Dr. Norman Bethune (1890 – 1930)

He first came to international prominence for his service as a frontline surgeon supporting the democratically-elected Republican government and their Loyalist troops during the Spanish Civil War, but it was his service with the Communist Eighth Route Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War that would earn him enduring acclaim.

Dr. Bethune effectively brought modern medicine to rural China and often treated sick villagers as much as wounded soldiers.

His selfless commitment made a profound impression on the Chinese people, especially the Communist Party of China’s leader, Chairman Mao Zedong.

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Above: Chairman Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)

The Chairman wrote a famous eulogy to Bethune, which was memorized by generations of Chinese people:

“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warmheartedness towards all comrades and the people.

Every Communist must learn from him.

We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him.

With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people.

A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.”

Bethune is one of the few Westerners to whom China has dedicated statues, of which many have been erected in his honour throughout the country.

There are hospitals across China named after him and the Norman Bethune Medal is the highest medical honour in China.

Dashan is the Chinese stage name of Canadian Mark Henry Rowswell (born, nine days after yours truly, on 23 May 1965 in Ottawa) who works as a freelance performer in China.

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Relatively unknown in the West, Dashan is the most famous Western personality in China’s media industry, where he occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a bona fide domestic celebrity.

Dashan is best known for his mastery of Mandarin Chinese and is considered a true cultural ambassador through his work as a TV host and stand-up comedian done in Chinese.)

This evening the Garratts were invited to a restuarant dinner by Chinese acquaintances who told them they wanted advice about how their daughter could apply to the University of Toronto.

But the dinner was a trap.

When the restaurant elevator doors opened onto a crowd of people, many holding video cameras, Julia and Kevin thought they had stumbled into a wedding party.

But this was no celebration.

In a flash, the Garratts were snatched by men and shoved into separate cars.

They did not know they were in the hands of China’s feared Ministry of State Security.

Ministry of State Security of the People's Republic of China.svg

Above: Logo of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

They would not see each other for more than two years.

The men drove Julia, 55, to an office building and demanded that she sign a document stating that she agreed to be investigated.

“Investigated for what?”, Julia asked.

It was only after a translator said the words “suspect” and “spy” that Julia understood.

“I seriously thought they would realise that they had made a mistake, they would say sorry and we would go home.”

In another room, Kevin Garratt, 56, was hearing the same chilling accusations.

Scared and bewildered, the Garratts signed.

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 12 December 2016

Why were the Garratts taken?

The Garratts suspect they were unwitting pawns in a gambit by the Chinese government to prevent Canada from extraditing Su Bin to the United States.

Those supporting the Garratts say that the couple were simply chess pieces in a larger geopolitical skirmish.

“The Chinese made it clear that the Garratt case was designed to pressure Canada to block Su Bin’s extradition to the US.”, said James Zimmerman, an American lawyer in Beijing hired by the family to lobby Canadian and Chinese government officials for their release.

In an emailed statement about the Garratts’ detention, Global Affairs Canada, the department that handles Canada’s diplomatic relations, declined to comment on the question of an exchange, but said: “Senior government officials were raising the case at every opportunity.”

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The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa denied that the Garratts’ detention was linked to Mr. Su.

“We don’t think it is related to any other cases.”, an Embassy spokesman said in an email.

The Garratts’ account provides a rare glimpse into the workings of China`s opaque state security system.

Their interrogations also reveal clues about the vast reach of China’s global espionage network and the lengths to which the Chinese government will go to protect it.

During the couple’s months-long detention, they said they were frequently threatened with execution or told that they would be sent to a North Korean gulag.

The Garratts’ experience highlights the risks nations face in engaging with China.

According to the Garratts’ account, after signing the investigation document Kevin was driven to the couple’s apartment, where agents ransacked their possessions, grilled him about the contents of their kitchen cabinets and then carted off schoolbooks and computers in the family’s suitcases.

After a heated exchange, the men allowed Kevin to take a pair of Bibles back to the detention centre.

Julia was already at the compund, an extralegal detention centre on the outskirts of the city, confined to a separate isolation cell that had a couch, a bed and a small window covered in opaque plastic.

During the next six months, neither one knew where the other was.

But neither was ever alone.

Rotating pairs of guards sat on the couch in each of these cells, staring intently at them and writing down their every move.

Harsh lights remained on 24 hours a day.

To stay sane, Julia prayed, read books provided by the Canadian Consulate and each day drew a cryptic picture of something she was grateful for in the back of her Bible, afraid anything written would be confiscated.

They each faced daily six-hour interrogations by a team of three men.

Armed with years of emails, Skype messages and surveillance records, the interrogators accused the Garratts of “hosting” foreign diplomats at their coffee shop, taking orders from Canada’s intelligence agency (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – CSIS) and stealing state secrets.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service logo.svg

The agents showed them photos of United States and Canadian diplomats who had visited their coffee shop.

The interrogators claimed Kevin’s photos of street scenes in Dandong and views of North Korea across the Yalu River were espionage, even though tourists on riverboats took the same photos every day.

Security officers used a variety of coercion tactics.

In one exchange, the interrogators described a 2009 meeting in Vancouver between the couple and a CSIS agent who had wanted to ensure their volunteer work in North Korea was not violating United Nations sanctions.

When Julia asked how the interrogators had known about the meeting, one of them said:

“We have people in the US, Canada, everywhere.”

Canadian officials declined to discuss the Garratts’ treatment, but the couple’s accounts squares with those of many people who have been in Chinese detention.

In February 2015, Julia was released on bail and returned to their apartment.

Meanwhile, Kevin was charged with espionage and transferred to a prison medical ward.

During the 19 months he spent there, a rumour circulated among the guards that he would be released as part of a prisoner exchange.

But in February 2016, Mr. Su waived his challenge to extradition and cut a deal with the United States.

Once that happened…

“Beijing was stuck with a weak case of espionage against the Garratts and little bargaining leverage to get much of anything out of Ottawa.”, said Mr. Zimmerman, the American lawyer.

At the end of August 2016, just days before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Hangzhou, China, for the 11th meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) – an international forum for governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies, with the aim of studying, reviewing and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability – Julia was allowed to leave China.

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Above: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The G20 Hangzhou summit was held on 4-5 September 2016.

Two weeks later, Kevin was taken to court, where a judge read out an eight-page guilty verdict in Chinese.

The next morning, he was put on a plane bound for Tokyo, but only after agreeing to pay more than $14,000 in fines and signing a document promising not to speak with the news media about his detention.

Much of that money had been dedicated to a North Korean orphanage.

Julia and Kevin were finally reunited in Canada in September.

Though the Garratts are now back in Canada, they say they do not feel entirely safe, describing a series of unnerving incidents suggesting that the Chinese government may be trying to keep tabs on them and their relatives.

In recent months, relatives have encountered strange interference on their phones, computers have gone haywire and strange cars parked outside their homes drive away when someone approaches.

“Even now we live under a cloud.”, Kevin Garratt said.

Most of all, the Garratts feel grief at losing the lives they built over 30 years.

“That’s the sadness that overwhelms us.

We were just trying to help people in need.

That’s all we did.”, Kevin Garratt said.

So how should businesses and governments deal with China, a country that is both a strategic partner as well as a potential adversary?

A country that is surpassing the United States as the world’s largest economy?

Flag of the United States

A country whose investment in its military continues to rapidly increase, to perhaps achieve military equality with the US in 15 to 20 years?

A one-party socialist regime with a poor human rights record?

I personally teach for three companies in Switzerland which do business in China.

China is Switzerland’s top trading partner in Asia.

There are approximately 300 Swiss firms with more than 700 branches operating in China with a total employment of over 55,000 people.

China is the second largest foreign creditor of the United States, yet US President Donald Trump continues to make comments that strain Sino-American relations and have some Americans anticipating potential trade or military conflict between China and the United States in the near future.

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China is currently Canada’s second largest trading partner.

Trying to understand China feels as difficult as trying to train a dragon, but I believe if we can learn from those who have spent time there and those who have studied Chinese history and culture we might be able to find a solution that enables nations and individuals to have an economic partnership with the Chinese, while encouraging them to develop their country for all its people within their sphere of influence, improve their human rights record, govern well for the good of everyone and build a world that is safer and more secure.

If our leaders could admit that even the most capable must sometimes ask for help and that dragons need be handled carefully, then progress rather than destruction could be their legacy.

(To be continued…)

Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet China / Rough Guide China / Jeffrey Carr,”Su Bin, Lode-Tech and Privatizing Cyber Espionage in the PRC”, Digital Dao (electronic blog), 14 July 2014 / CBC News, “Su Bin, Chinese man accused by FBI of hacking, in custody in BC”, 12 July 2014 / Dan Levin, “China freed Canadians, but ‘even now we live under a cloud'”, New York Times, 3 January 2017