Canada Slim and the Museum of Many

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 January 2018

It is easy to criticize, easy to destroy and belittle the efforts of others.

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Above: The very critical and much criticized President Donald Trump

 

But sometimes criticism is unavoidable.

 

I have had colleagues at work who have gone both directions when it comes to negativity and praise.

 

One colleague will hide her light under a blanket, not reminding others enough about her significant accomplishments and good work.

She needs to make sure that the people who count – those with whom she works, those who make decisions, those who have influence on her career – are aware of her accomplishments and contributions.

She is amazingly generous about giving others their due when they deserve it, but I feel she neglects to include herself as meriting praise in the team´s success.

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Above: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910 – 1997)

 

Another colleague can sink a ship with her constant barrage of complaints, negativity and whining about what´s wrong with everyone and everything.

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Above: The RMS Titanic leaving Southampton, 10 April 1912

For her, the glass is always half empty.

Upon arrival at the Pearly Gates, she will invariably ask St. Peter:

“Is that it?”

For her, the worst is about to happen.

She can spot the negative and bad in most everyone at a distance of a thousand paces.

She is Vampirella without the sex appeal, draining energy rather than blood.

Vampirella reclining. She has dark black hair, red lips, and is wearing her red sling suit costume and black high heel boots

And there is not a whole hell of a lot a person can do about her.

She is genetically predisposed to her way of thinking, so she is avoided whenever possible.

 

A tourist attraction gets both types of these visitors:

Those inclined to see the best in the place, not realizing that it is their attitude that influences their positive opinion of the place.

And there is the type who will find negative in the place no matter what.

In this blog, which has become over time a series of travelogues and essays, I am trying to find a balance between these two extremes.

I will try not to wax too poetically about a place, unless it truly is a wonder of wonders that one must see before “kicking the bucket”.

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By the same token I am trying consciously not to let the negative experience I might have had, often through no fault of the place´s own, keep me from seeing the positive aspects of the places I have visited.

 

London, England, 25 October 2018

Take my wife.

Please!

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Above: Comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 – 2004)

She is a lovely woman but she has special ways about her that make each travel experience with her an adventure.

Her Swabian soul (think of a German version of a Scot´s stereotypical thriftiness) was working overtime on our week´s sojourn in London.

We only had a week and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to see EVERYTHING.

She bought us London Passes and, by God and all the saints and apostles, we were going to use them efficiently.

The London Pass

As she had less time for sightseeing than I did, because her reason for visiting London was to attend an international doctors symposium, she was stressed, grim and determined for us to be the ultimate tourists.

Running, not walking, between attractions.

Viewing museum exhibits without reading their descriptions, unless the museum particularly interested her.

In marrying her I sowed the winds of change.

And as a result there are many times I am swept away by the whirlwind that is my wife.

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Today we visited the Museum of London akin to the way a tornado visits a town: without lingering long in any location, choosing our own path and method of passing through.

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She Who Must Be Obeyed hated it.

I still reserve judgment.

 

The neighbourhood of the Museum is, at first glance, brutal, concrete, unwelcoming.

The city´s only large residential complex is a maze built upon a bombed borough, a labyrithine dystopia of listless pedestrian paths and anonymous apartments straitjacketed by three 400-foot towers.

Barbican Towers

To appreciate this section of city known as the Barbican, one must ignore first impressions of promethian prison and imagine instead that beyond the boundaries of natural hesitation lies a land of soft sensitivity and cool cultural crossways.

Here is an amazing arts centre set along side an artificial oblong lake within and home to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

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Here be bars, cafés and restaurants.

The Barbican complex is indistinguishable for most folks from the Barbican Centre, whose seven floors feature a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, a rooftop garden and an art gallery.

The Barbican Centre is home to one of the top venues in London for jazz, classical and world music and, surprisingly, one of the most affordable (by London standards) places in the city for quality theatre and dance.

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As well as being a champion of young and new artists, playwrights, performers and filmmakers, the Barbican Centre is home to the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as one of the largest public libraries in London.

The Barbican Centre has plenty of places to eat and drink.

There are art and design shops and, unexpectedly, a giant conservatory teeming with tropical flora.

 

Here in the Barbican are two of the most neglected spots in London.

 

The church of St. Giles Cripplegate is the Barbican´s solitary prewar building.

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Above: St. Giles-without-Cripplegate Church

A heavily restored early Tudor church, St. Giles is bracketed between a pair of artificial lakes and overlooks an impressive corner bastion of an old Roman fort.

It was here in St. Giles that Oliver Cromwell was married in 1620.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658)

It was here in St. Giles that the poet John Milton was buried in 1674, then unburied in 1793.

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Above: John Milton (1608 – 1674)

His teeth were knocked out as souvenirs and his corpse exhibited to the public until the idea of a putrifying poet no longer appealed.

 

Opposite the former General Post Office, south of the Museum, lies Postman´s Park, one of the most curious and least-visited corners of the city.

Circle of green grass about 10 yards in diameter, with a roughly 3 yard brown central area containing low bushes. Outward-facing park benches are at the circle's rim, and a multistorey brick building with an awning is in the background, across a sidewalk.

Above: Postman´s Park

Here, in 1900, in the churchyard of St. Botolph Aldersgate, the painter and scupltor George Frederick Watts paid for a national memorial to “heroes of everyday life”, a patchwork wall of majolica tiles protected by a canopy and inscribed with the names of common folk who died in the course of some act of uncommon bravery.

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Above: George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904)

It is the classic Victorian morbid sentimental fascination with death.

It is macabre masterpiece literature.

“Drowned in attempting to save his brother after he himself had just been rescued….”

“Saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station, but was himself run over by the train….”

Edgar Allan Poe would have loved and Stephan King would love this place.

Flowerbeds and crowded benches stand in front of a long dark wooden structure. On the wall of the wooden structure, parallel rows of pale tiles are visible.

Above: The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postman´s Park

 

Hidden in the southwestern corner of the Barbican is the Museum of London, whose permanent galleries are meant to be an educational excursion through London´s past from prehistory to present, as seen through archeological artifacts and massive scale models.

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The Museum was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 2 December 1976, as the first new museum building to open in London since the end of the Second World War.

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Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Museum tries to tell the story of London´s development as a city over hundreds of thousands of years: from stone age settlements in the Thames Valley, through the founding of Londinium by the Roman army, to the great world city that London is today.

I use the word “tries” deliberately, because the Museum is a victim of its own success.

It attracted 370,000 visitors in its first six months and has attracted millions since then.

Above: Christopher Le Brun´s Union (Horse with two discs), Museum entry

It has acquired a reputation for excellence as a museum that sees itself as “not simply of or about London, but also for London” and thus seems to encompass a tourist population the size of London that visit it.

The Museum´s mission is to play a part in the lives of all Londoners, to inspire a passion for London, but it is hard to feel passionate about the history of London when half of London congregates within the Museum.

 

The Museum attempts to answer the questions:

How did London come to be such an extraordinary place?

 

(Which begs the unasked question:

What exactly is ordinary and extraordinary?

Can a place be either/both?)

 

Who were the Londoners who lived here in the past?

What does the future hold?

 

The Museum has around one million items in its core collection, plus an additional six million “finds”.

It holds 25,000 items of clothing and fashion, 100,000 paintings, prints and photographs, 17,000 excavated skeletons, 50,000 prehistoric and Roman objects, 50,000 objects from Tudor and Stuart London, 110,000 objects from modern London, 1,800 life stories from individual Londoners, half a million historic documents and a growing collection of items from the yet-unfinished 21st century.

 

Imagine if you will herds of mammoths here where crowds now gather.

Or see if you can a Londinium that boasts a thriving Roman port, a large forum and basilica, public baths, barracks, amphitheatre and temples.

Then imagine a battleground where one civilization replaces another to be itself subseded by yet another: Angles and Saxons, Vikings and Normans, the splendour, hustle and bustle of medieval times with merchants and craftsmen….

Imagine a city that survives the Black Death, Civil War, a Great Fire, the Blitz.

A city where once walked Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare, where a King was publicly executed.

Imagine a city that grows from being the capital of a country to become the centre of an empire.

A busy chaotic place filled with both amusement and hardship, fabulous fortunes and pathetic poverty….

Stroll down the Victorian Walk with the look and feel of London in the year 1900.

The shop fronts, fixtures and fittings are all original.

Peek through the windows of the tobacconist, the barber´s, the chemist´s, the tailor´s, the pawnbroker´s….

See a city that has seen overcrowding and lack of sanitation, failing health and lack of housing.

Where customs changed as technology developed….

Electricity, telephones, motor vehicles and moving pictures that heralded modern times….

 

And what of the future?

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Above: The Shard, London

How can the city reduce its carbon footprint?

Where will the jobs of the future come from?

Should London build higher skyscrapers or deeper Tube lines?

 

The Museum of London could be a great place.

But the Museum suffers from an overabundance of overabundance.

Too many artifacts, too many stories, too many visitors, too much of too much.

The screaming children, the harried parents, a warehouse of the walking weary….

A Museum with a too well-worn welcome mat….

A Museum that one regrets visiting, because one cannot linger undisturbed to absorb all that one sees, because the mass and mob make tranquil contemplation and progressive study of all that can be seen damned difficult and downright discouraging.

And it was this Museum, this overabundance of overabundance, this overwhelming overgrowth, that made me see the Museum as the actual model of what London means to me.

Too much and too many.

I could never live in London, though visiting it from time to time is a pleasant idea.

London is too crowded, too complex and complicated for a wee lad such as I am who came from a wee village and lives in another wee village today.

London is too expensive and expansive.

It is as unnerving as the Museum that exhibits it.

The Museum tries to be everything to everyone but it is everyone that diminished everything the Museum has tried to accomplish.

I don´t belong in London.

Take me home, rural routes, to the place where I do belong.

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / The Museum of London

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. 

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

(The Beautiful South, “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)”, Blue is the Colour)

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There are a couple of songs that I enjoy listening to from this group:

“Don´t Marry Her” – purely for its shock value.

“Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” – for the feelings its lyrics inevitably generate within me.

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Above: Rotterdam

My wife recently bought me a new computer whose kinks and quirks I have yet to comprehend and overcome.

But these First World problems could have happened to anyone anywhere in the First World.

The sadness and annoyance at yet another piece of technology in my possession suddenly becoming obsolete, the frustration of having to master yet another new machine, I believe, are common emotions of someone of my generation trying to cope with the tools of a more modern time that make us sometimes feel obsolete as well.

During a break between completed errands in town and waiting for a train to take me to my only teaching job (at present) I spontaneously decided to visit the public library across the square from the Bahnhof (Train Station) St. Gallen.

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

To the library´s credit they do possess more English language books than I do in my own personal library (though my wife doesn´t believe this to be true).

Spontaneously I grab the works of three authors whose writing I have hesitated to read for various irrational reasons: Jonathan Ames (because he has struck me as being elitist), Maya Angelou (too urban with themes common to the USA but almost unrecognizable to white Canadians) and Margaret Atwood (out of pure and simple jealousy for her success rather than any logical premise at all).

I need to grow beyond myself and try to read authors for the value and power of their words rather than reject them without reading their works because of stupid preconceptions.

I begin with Ames´  Wake Up, Sir! for the simplest reason of all: his name takes precedence alphabetically.

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My attempts to dispel my prejudices about Ames do not begin well….

In Chapter One, the damned hero of the book has a valet!

But I must admit that the opening situation of the book is one with which I can relate to….

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the novel, is awoken by his valet and informed that – Horror of Horrors! – his uncle is already up and about.

“It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness.

He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.”

I love my wife, but, like Blair´s uncle, she does not see how important solitude is to producing literature (or in my case, semblances of literature).

Like Uncle Irwin, my wife (being the well-organized German woman she is) has schedules that she adheres to, with a discipline well-trained soldiers would appreciate.

So, when she alters her schedule, I find myself suddenly in a funk and am uncertain as to how to recapture my muse with the alarming alteration of her presence demanding attention to herself rather than any attempts of creation I might be fostering.

Art is more akin to spontaneous ejaculations of expression and emotion, but even I realize that some amount of order and self-control are required to produce something worthy to be published.

Much like Uncle Irwin, my wife views sitting down and producing words on a computer (dead laptop or recently acquired mystery machine notwithstanding) akin to a kind of laziness.

For surely there are better things I could be doing with my time, such as household duties (husbands are, after all, unpaid valets), finding more employment as a teacher or requesting more hours at my “temporary” job as a barista.

She feels, and rightly so, that the inequality of our incomes puts an unjust burden upon her, but, in my defence, I argue that her education should leave her with a larger income than me and that money, as pleasant as it can be, is not the only criteria when it comes to devoting 80% of our lives to a job.

When work presents itself I do not shirk my responsibilities, but by the same token I do not want my life to be nothing more than living to pay bills.

I have more leisure time than she does as a doctor, but I would be lying if I said that I am not glad that I do.

I like having mornings to myself when I can write, or evenings when she has gone to bed exhausted and I am writing my electronic journal.

I like working weekends when the Café closes earlier than weekdays, leaving me free during the week – when I am not teaching – to go hiking or travelling while average people are chained to their workplaces.

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It is a fine thing to go hiking on a Sunday, but nature is truly a wonderland on a Wednesday when most everyone is working leaving the wilderness to myself alone.

That having been said, my ability to travel would not be possible (at least in the same manner I have grown accustomed to since we got married) were it not for her superior income.

And, understandably, she wants to have leisure time to travel as well, though her desire for solitude is rarer for her than mine is.

So, except for conferences, when she travels I usually accompany her.

And, it must be said, as too swift as our travelling together can be, travelling alone can, on occasion, make a place feel like Rotterdam or anywhere.

I can appreciate a sunset alone, but sharing that same sunset does lend the dying day a certain poignancy that solitude does not.

There is an Island that we both visited this past summer that listening to “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” always brings to mind, for had I not been with her not only might I not have seen the Island, I might not have appreciated it without her by my side.

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

Traffic-free Monte Isola, Italy´s largest lake island, at over 3 km long and 600 metres / 1,969 feet high, at the south of the Lago d´Iseo, is defined by Italian legislation as an “area of particular importance from the natural and environmental point of view”.

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

Accessible by hourly ferries from the lakeside ports of Iseo and Sulzano, Monte Isola is a magnet for daytrippers in summers and at weekends, so the Island then is unlikely to provide much solitude.

Still, mid-season or out of season, the Island is well worth a visit, to walk or cycle around the edge of the Island and for great views of the lake.

The population of the Island (1,800 inhabitants) is spread over 11 villages and hamlets.

There are several churches built between the 15th and the 17th centuries with frescoes, statues and altars in vernacular art.

With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres / 4.9 square miles, Monte Isola ranks as the largest lake island not only in Italy, but also in Central and South Europe.

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

(The world´s largest lake island is Canadian: Manitoulin Island.)

The Island is served and reached by two main ports: Carzano to the north and Peschera Maraglio to the south.

There are indications of a Roman settlement, but the Island is first mentioned in a written document in 905 when it was listed among the properties of the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia.

The family Oldofredi, rulers of Iseo, built two strongholds on the Island in the 11th to the 19th centuries.

One of these, on the lower promontory of the Island, covered by olive tree and wine cultivation, is the Rocca Oldofredi-Martinego, built in the 14th century as a strategic and defense point and then turned into a residence by the Martinegos during the Italian Renaissance.

Members of the powerful Visconti family came to the Island to hunt in 1400.

In 1497 Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, gave the islanders some fishing rights and reduced their taxes.

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

In the same year, Caterina Cornaro, Queen and last monarch of Cyprus, resided a while on the Island.

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

During the 19th century the main industry on the Island was the construction of boats and the manufacturing of fishing nets.

In 2016, Monte Isola was the site of the Floating Piers by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Above: The Floating Piers

In Peschiera Maraglio is the single-nave Church of San Michele Arcangelo.

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Consecrated in 1648, this baroque church is notable for the many frescoes on the walls and ceiling and for its wooden carvings.

Climb the mountain from the small village of Cure in the middle of the Island.

The peak offers the most panoramic site of the Lago and from here it is possible to admire all the villages of both lakeshores, the natural reserve of Torbiere del Sebino and a large part of the mainland.

At the top, amongst walnut woods and ancient dolomite rocks stands the Shrine of the Madonna della Ceriola.

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This 13th century church was the first parish church on the Island and the Madonna, the protectress not only of the inhabitants of Monte Isola but the entirety of Lago Iseo, is represented by a 12th century seated wooded sculpture carved from the trunk of a turkey oak.

Wander the Island and feel soothed by the barely tamed bushy copse woods containing oak, bay, hornbeam, ash and fruit chestnut trees.

Brown kites fly above, while wild ducks and great crested grebes swim below.

Agriculture, once an island mainstay, is nowadays practised more as a hobby, yet, nonetheless, it is the maintenance of this ancient art that still plays a crucial role in the preservation of the landscape heritage, preventing the Island being overdeveloped as a Tourist resort similar to other major northern Italian lakes such as Garda and Como.

The 1,800 inhabitants of this lake oasis move about by motorcycle or mini-buses which connect all hamlets and the two main ports.

All connections to and from the mainland run between Peschiera Maraglio and mainland Sulzano (the route we took) or between Carzano and mainland Sale Marasino.

This ferry service, operated by Navigazione Lago d´Iseo, runs every 15 to 20 minutes from 0500 to midnight and every 40 minutes between midnight and 5 a.m.

On Monte Isola cars are banned and the only cars allowed are the ones used for community services (ambulance, doctor, police, priest and taxi).

Motorcycles are for the exclusive use of permanent Monte Isola residents.

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the Island by bike.

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

And the paths leading from the Lago to the top of the Island and to the Shrine.

This is an extremely interesting site, both from a natural and an artistic point of view.

The island´s littlest church contains contemplative quiet beauty and is both the oldest and the highest point on Monte Isola.

The rest of the Island itself is worth a look and a linger.

Artistic churches surrounded by tiny squares and large pale stone houses, sunny arcades, companionable courtyards, lovely landscapes, a rough and simple people  –  some still using ancient wooden farm tools – set in a solid and certain architecture and proud heritage.

Siviano, the most populated hamlet, is the central core of the community.

Above: Siviano

Here, here, is the town hall, the Kindergarten, the Primary School and the Secondary School, the post office, the bank, the two supermarkets.

Peschiera Maraglio, the main harbour of Monte Isola, has a tourist office, another bank, a chemist´s, another Kindergarten, many restaurants, hotels and shops.

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

Carzano was also a fishermen´s village, also all about the fish and fish preservation.

Here, every five years, the fishing folk decorate all the streets of the village with handmade paper flowers to celebrate the religious feast of the Holy Cross, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to watch the spectacle.

Here on Monte Isola it is possible to sleep in small silent hotels and to savour the endless ways to eat a fish.

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

The lake sardines are salted, dried and bottled in oil….

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

The wife and I strolled from Peschiera´s docks, occasionally popping into shops and then settled ourselves down by the shore to watch children splash joyfully in the water.

Ute swam for hours while I read some forgettable tome important only at that and for that moment.

Day Five of our vacation and this day we had driven (or to be precise she drove us) from Bregamo to Sulzano, via Crespi d´Adda and Clusone.

We parked the car near the ferry port in Sulzano and waited for the boat to arrive.

A man in an ambulance gurney is taken off the boat, an ambulance waiting to take him to an emergency room in some nearby town with a hospital.

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

Neither our Italian nor our courage was up to the task of enquiring as to the patient´s identity or circumstances.

On the Island while my wife waded amongst the crowd of mer-children the chilly recollection of the gurney man remained with me but not in a sad or morbid way.

I love my wife, but I won´t deny that my brain wanders off and wonders what it would be like to go somewhere, anywhere, and retreat to an “isolated” spot and devote myself solely to my writing.

(Of course, this is with the assumption that I have the financial means to do this, which, sadly, I do not.)

I fantasize about finding some remote village like Ezra Pound´s Rapallo, or some tranquil wilderness vista like Henry David Thoreau´s Walden Pond, or some artistic alcove like Ernest Hemingway´s in Paris, and devote myself purely to doing nothing but creation.

In my mind´s eye I see myself typing some novel or a magazine article in the early hours before dawn, strolling through the just-waking village to watch the sunrise and smell the baker´s first bread and rolls being prepared for sale, more writing in my small den until lunchtime, lounging in some intimate café soaking the afternoon sun into my bones like some self-indulgent cat, strolling to the harbour to see what cast of characters the lake has spawned this day, more writing just before sunset, down to the beach to watch the sun dissolve into dream tides of amnesiac waters, then walk with purpose and anticipation to my favourite restaurant and slowly sip glass after glass of some local wine until fatigue quietly whispers to me to return back to my bed.

I am not quite certain exactly where my writer´s retreat would be or whether it even could be.

My mind has had this writer´s retreat in Paris, in Ticino and Graubünden, in Lisbon, in Istanbul, and now on Monte Isola.

It wouldn´t have to be in Monte Isola or Istanbul, Lisbon or Paris, or in some remote hamlet in southern Switzerland or northern Italy.

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

I think about the story of Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510), the last Queen of Cyprus (1474 – 1510), how she came to be a temporary resident here on Monte Isola after her husband died and Venice claimed control over Cyprus.

What must it have been like to be an exiled and deposed queen and living in isolation in an old fortress on an Island which has always been barely recognized by anyone?

Did she see her future as nothing more than a destiny of disillusioned despair and diminishment?

Does one need to be defeated, disillusioned and diminished before escaping to a retreat?

(Similar to Colin Firth´s character Jamie, in the film Love…Actually, retreating to a French cottage after he discovers his girlfriend having an affair with his brother.)

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I hope not.

Though my time on Monte Isola was short, decidedly too short –  time (and my wife) waits for no one and we had booked accommodation down the road some distance in Sirmione by Lago di Garda – I am still left with the desire to return some day to Monte Isola.

As good a place as anywhere.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy / http://www.comune.monteisola.it

 

 

Canada Slim and the Uncertainty Principle

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 January 2018

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I am reminded of this more and more these days as I watch events unfold again and again around the globe that suggest the politicization of society remains an ongoing clear and present danger.

Politicization is, at least to my way of thinking, a process where tradition and excellence are replaced by ideology and illusion.

Take, for example, two stories from the 8 January edition of the New York Times:

Windsor, England

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Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their wedding date last month, the council leader who oversees one of the richest boroughs in Britain has been on a campaign to deal with the homeless people who “sleep rough” near the wedding venue, Windsor Castle – all eight of them, according to official statistics.

An aerial photograph of a castle, with three walled areas clearly visible, stretching left to right. Straight roads stretch away in the bottom right of the photograph, and a built-up urban area can be seen outside the castle on the left. In the upper right a grey river can just be seen.

Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Thames Valley Police last week, demanding that they use their legal powers to tackle the issue of “aggressive begging and intimidation” before the royal wedding on 19 May.

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Last month, while on ski vacation in Wyoming, Dudley tweeted  – (Why do we give tweets so much damn influence anyway?) – about an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor”, which he says paints the historical market town in an “unfavourable light”.

His description of “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets  – (Sounds like my apartment!) – and “people marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” suggested that homeless people had somewhat taken over the quaint streets of Windsor.

But while Britain has a big homelessness issue, with 1 in every 200 people in England currently without a home, there are just 8 homeless people in all of Windsor and Maidenhead, the government says.

Local charities say the official figures may not fully capture the extent of the problem, because a number of people, known as the “hidden homeless”, beg on the streets by day and spend their nights in temporary accommodations for extended periods.

The Thames Valley Police say they deal with occasional reports of begging in the area but have not had any reports of anyone being marched to cash points to take out money.

(I will say that I have seen beggars begging near cash points but the only thing compelling me to assist them was my own conscience and not any overt intimidation from them.)

To quote some of the people interviewed by Ceylan Yeginsu:

“I think that (Dudley´s) comments are rude and heartless. 

If they are going to move us, it should be into a permanent home, not out of sight for a day just so that rich people can throw a party.”

“They are making us out to be criminals, a public safety hazard. 

What´s all that about?

We don´t bother anybody. 

We don´t go up on anyone. 

We just take whatever we are given.”

“The unpleasant sight is not what is shameful here. 

It´s the fact that we are not providing these poor people with warm homes in the middle of winter.”

“People sleeping on the street don´t do so through choice. 

They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs, and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and violence.”

To the mind of Dudley what matters most is not the tradition and excellence of character showing compassion and charity to those in genuine need and distress but rather it is the illusion of pretending that there is no homelessness issue in Windsor.

Haworth, England

Above: Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth

Should a 30-year-old supermodel help lead a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth (30 July 1818) of Emily Bronte?

Above: (from left to right) Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte

That question is at the crux of a row that broke out after the Bronte Society in Britain, one of the world´s oldest literary societies, anointed Lily Cole a “creative partner” for the upcoming festival celebrating Emily´s life.

Cole outside wearing a strapless purple dress with her hair up in a large bun, surrounded by photographers

Above: Lily Cole

The colloboration, announced last week, spurred a Bronte biographer and Society member to write a scathing blog post denouncing it as a “rank farce”.

“What would Emily Bronte think if she found that the role of chief “artist” and organizer in her celebratory year was a supermodel?”,  the biographer Nick Holland asked.

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Above: Nick Holland

Holland said Cole´s appointment smacked of a desire to be “trendy”.

Based on what I have read about Lily Cole, though she may be compassionate and intelligent in her own way, whether she is sufficiently qualified and knowledgeable enough to properly respect the literary tradition of this great writer remains doubtful to me.

It seems that the Society is more interested in attracting people to the celebration through the use of Cole´s beauty and celebrity than they are in demonstrating the excellence and tradition of Bronte´s writing.

And whether simply being beautiful qualifies a person as being sufficiently competent is a prickly issue.

For it begs the question:

Can a woman be both beautiful and competent, rather than being exclusively one or the other?

I believe that a woman can be both, but I don´t think a woman should necessarily be considered competent or incompetent because she is beautiful or not.

Cole should be judged on her knowledge of Bronte´s writing and her academic record in literature, neither of which seems to dominate her resumé.

It seems that tradition and excellence is being superseded by the illusion that all a woman needs are looks to be successful, rather than intelligence, experience or merit.

And I still remain skeptical of the value that a model serves society when basically her primary role is to walk up and down a catwalk like a living clothes hanger showing clothing that she had no hand in creating to a small minority of people who can afford the clothing being demonstrated.

In a world crying for equal respect to be paid to women, can we not find a woman who is more than a pretty face and praise her for her intelligence and insight instead of her ability to artistically apply make-up to anorexic cheekbones?

Isn´t that the point of celebrating Emily Bronte, in that we are praising her for the merits of her literature rather than for the accident of her gender?

(For more on the Bronte sisters, please see That Which Survives of this blog.)

 

The United States

Let´s look at science and truth and the disdain with which the present Administration has for these concepts.

If the facts do not support the present political agenda then they are dismissed as fake.

The illusion that the government is infallible is preferred over the tradition of hard work and the excellence of research.

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An entire community of scientists can scream until they are blue in the face that global warming is real and a danger to the continued existence of this planet and that they have the facts and research to prove it, but this is considered nonsense and invalid with a simple 5 am barely literate tweet by the President.

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Above: Donald Trump, the Twit of Twitter

 

Nazi Germany, 1935 – 1939

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On 1 April 1935 Arnold Sommerfeld achieved emeritus status at the University of Münich.

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Above: Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951)

However, Sommerfeld stayed on as his own temporary replacement during the selection process for his successor, which took until 1 December 1939.

The process was lengthy due to academic and political differences between the Munich faculty’s selection and that of both the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM, Reich Education Ministry) and the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

In 1935, the Munich faculty drew up a candidate list to replace Sommerfeld as ordinarius professor of theoretical physics and head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich.

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Above: Seal of the University of Munich

There were three names on the list: Werner Heisenberg, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932,  Peter Debye, who would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936, and Richard Becker — all former students of Sommerfeld.

The Munich faculty was firmly behind these candidates, with Heisenberg as their first choice.

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Above: Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

However, supporters of Deutsche Physik and elements in the REM had their own list of candidates and the battle commenced, dragging on for over four years.

During this time, Heisenberg came under vicious attack by the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

One such attack was published in Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler.

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Above: Heinrich Himmler (1900 – 1945)

Heisenberg had been lecturing to his students about the theory of relativity, proposed by the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein.

In the editorial, Himmler called Heisenberg a “White Jew” who should be made to “disappear.”

These verbal attacks were taken seriously, as Jews were subject to physical violence and incarceration at the time.

Heisenberg fought back with an editorial and a letter to Himmler, in an attempt to get a resolution to this matter and regain his honour.

At one point, Heisenberg’s mother visited Himmler’s mother to help bring a resolution to the affair.

The two women knew each other as a result of Heisenberg’s maternal grandfather and Himmler’s father being rectors and members of a Bavarian hiking club.

Eventually, Himmler settled the Heisenberg affair by sending two letters, one to SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and one to Heisenberg, both on 21 July 1938.

In the letter to Heydrich, Himmler said Germany could not afford to lose or silence Heisenberg as he would be useful for teaching a generation of scientists.

To Heisenberg, Himmler said the letter came on recommendation of his family and he cautioned Heisenberg to make a distinction between professional physics research results and the personal and political attitudes of the involved scientists.

The letter to Heisenberg was signed under the closing “Mit freundlichem Gruss und, Heil Hitler!(“With friendly greetings and, Hail Hitler!”)

Overall, the settlement of the Heisenberg affair was a victory for academic standards and professionalism.

However, the replacement of Sommerfeld by Wilhelm Müller on 1 December 1939 was a victory of politics over academic standards.

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Above: Wilhelm Müller (?) (1880 – 1968)

Müller was not a theoretical physicist, had not published in a physics journal, and was not a member of the Deutsches Physikales Gesellschaft(DPG, German Physics Society).

His appointment as a replacement for Sommerfeld was considered a travesty and detrimental to educating a new generation of theoretical physicists.

The Nazis preferred the illusion – the ideology that scientific knowledge could only be disseminated by those of “pure Aryan blood” and “proper thinking” – over academic excellence achieved through merit.

Werner Heisenberg, known as the father of quantum physics, won his Nobel Prize for postulating his now-famous uncertainty principle which, in the simplest terms that I understand, says that the more precisely position of some particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum of the particle can be known, or vice versa, the more precisely the momentum of a particle is known, the less precisely the position can be determined.

I am no physicist and I will be damned thrice if I could properly explain the principle in any significant way, but in my own personal psychology I find the more settled a person is, the less precise his progress will be, and vice versa, the more progressive a person is, the less precise the position he holds.

If one does not travel physically or intellectually beyond one´s comfort zone, the less certain it is that the person can evolve beyond their stage of stagnation.

The more one travels physically or intellectually, the less certain he/she will be about maintaining an inflexible position on any given topic, for the exposure to new ideas offers the mind the suggestion of infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.

Travellers can nonetheless be fooled by illusion overwhelming our common sense.

Three incidents come to mind in my own personal travels.

 

Niagara Falls, New York, 1990

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

I couldn´t resist..

I had visited the Canadian Niagara Falls so I was understandingly curious to compare how the American Niagara Falls looked.

Misty spray, mighty roar, majestic scale, marvelous spectacle, I was one of millions of people who have invaded the Niagara River area that splits the land into two separate nations.

Long before tourists came, Seneca natives populated the area.

In 1678 they led the French priest Louis Hennepin (1626 – 1704) to the Falls.

His description was widely read in Europe:

“The universe does not afford its parallel.”

The Falls have attracted daredevils, including the Great Farini, who used barrels and tightropes and various contraptions in attempts to go over the Falls.

(For a description of the Great Farini, please see Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies of this blog.)

Only some survived.

Honeymooners arrive (starting with Napoleon III) in the thousands, despite jokes that the Falls will be the first (or second) disappointment of married life.

To keep tourists and their dollars for longer than it takes to view the Falls, the American side has parks and attractions like its Canadian counterpart does, but – national pride aside – I believe the Canadians have done it better.

I tried visiting the New York side of the River by crossing on foot the Rainbow Bridge that spans the expanse between the nations.

I was refused.

So I opted for the Greyhound bus entry, then played the tourist.

I viewed the American Falls, took the Prospect Point Observation Tower elevator, crossed a bridge to Goat Island to view Terrapin Point and the Three Sisters Islands in the upper rapids, and descended to the Cave of the Winds where walkways go within 25 feet of the cataracts.

The town itself with over 60,000 people struck me as a grimier and grittier place as compared to the Ontario town of 75,000 people and a visit to nearby Buffalo made me think of the Gotham City as presented by Tim Burton´s Batman movie.

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As historic as Buffalo´s Erie Canal and railroads may be, as fine as some of Buffalo´s buildings and parks are, the city felt like one huge Crime Alley, the downtown isolated and almost deserted.

Buffalo was in the 1990s a working class town known by me for only two things: the Buffalo Bills (who never seem able to win a Super Bowl) and the Anchor Bar´s Buffalo wings (deep-fried chicken wings covered in a spicy Sauce and served with blue cheese dressing and celery).

I ate the wings and boarded a bus back to Niagara Falls, New York and then waited in the bus terminal for a bus back over the border.

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I was approached by a stranger.

I never understood racism or racial profiling, for I can never forget the family vacation I took a decade previously when we were on a freeway outside of Chicago and an ebony family in a long station wagon passed alongside us.

My foster mom shrieked and insisted we bolt our doors and windows.

The family, except for the darker hue of their skin, were no more dangerous than a Norman Rockwell painting, and we were travelling together at a speed of 60 miles per hour on a crowded highway.

It was illogical, irrational and emotional.

I had seen few black people before visiting the States and those I had met were quite decent and civil individuals, so I couldn´t understand why the extreme fear demonstrated by my foster parent.

Maybe Canadians are exposed to too much American TV?

When I was approached by a black man about my age (I was in my 20s then.) I felt neither fear nor suspicion.

He gave me a song and dance about how he needed to get back home to Los Angeles but couldn´t afford the bus fare.

He gave me a LA business card of what he said was his current employer.

His manner seemed sincere, but as a last measure of caution I bought his ticket ensuring that it was non-refundable and could only be redeemed as a bus ticket.

Time passed.

I contacted his LA employer who informed me that the young man had indeed worked for them but had quit their employ before he asked me for bus fare.

To my own surprise I was neither angry nor disappointed.

I might have been scammed but I proved to myself that I could be a generous person.

Maybe my action resulted in his returning to LA or perhaps he managed to convince another hapless traveller to buy his ticket, still he must have needed the money or he wouldn´t have done the scam.

I wish him well, though I doubt he would remember me.

 

Barcelona, Spain, 25 May 2007

On vacation with my wife, a week in this self-confident and progressive capital of Catalunya, Barcelona was and ever shall remain a city vibrating with life and excitement.

It is a thriving port and a prosperous commercial city that one could easily spend one´s entire life in and yet barely scratch its surface.

Superb museums, Gothic and modernista architecture, world famous ramblas, beautiful beaches, beckoning promenade, every day felt like a fiesta.

We soaked in Picasso, Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí.

We strolled, we browsed, we listened to buskers and watched street Performers.

The energy of Barcelona was and still remains boundless.

We sunbathed, we swam, we ate, we drank as if there would be no tomorrow.

We wandered the streets of Barcelona day and night unafraid, lost in a kaleidoscope of colours and a garden of smells, lost in a warren of broad boulevards and ancient and narrow streets, lost in our own private flight of fancy, seeing only joy and elegance all around us.

We did not see the dirt and neglect that is also Barcelona´s seedier side.

We did not see poverty, for we chose to be blind to it.

We did not see drug use, for we were high already on the wine of each other´s company and the intoxicating nature of our vacation playground.

Was there danger lurking the flanks of the ramblas?

Should we have locked our passports, tickets and wallets inside the safe of our hotel room?

Should we have kept our backpacks beneath our feet as we poured endless sangrias down our gullets?

Were there pickpockets and bag snatchers hungry for the wealth we had and they did not?

Perhaps.

Yet fear is forgotten, for hidden down alleys little changed for centuries are tapas bars, in gentrified old town quarters are designer boutiques, in workers´ taverns bargain lunches.

Gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin de siècle cafés, restored palaces, neighbourhood markets and specialist galleries, and that wonder of wonders, that miracle of miracles, Gaudí´s labour of love the Sagrada Familia.

Where is the fear?

Where is the danger?

We climbed a hillside, after midnight, intimately intoxicated.

Two men approach us, claiming to be plain clothes policemen.

My wife is German, so her instinct is to be lawabiding and obedient to figures of authority.

I am Canadian with a healthy trust in law and order common to a country where – unlike our neighbours to the south where settlement arose then the law followed,  we sent the law out first then settlers followed – it is assumed that those who regulate our lives do it in our best interests rather than their own.

(Naive, perhaps, but preferable to paranoia.)

Perhaps it was Niagara Falls that remained with me, but there was something about the set-up, the whole approach, that smelled bad, felt wrong.

They demanded to see our passports.

I categorically refused.

My wife was concerned, ready to be compliant.

But I was unwilling to budge.

Their badges were too quickly opened and closed to be read distinctly in the midnight lamplight.

I felt a bravado that only alcohol can provide.

I was prepared to defend my fayre maiden even had they been armed to the teeth.

I was curiously unafraid and completely certain of my stance.

I told them I thought they weren´t policemen and I brushed them aside as I dragged my wife down the street with me.

They did not follow.

Whether they were cops or crooks, they were too amateur to want to tackle a man twice their height who refused to be intimidated.

I should have been scared.

I still don´t understand why I wasn´t.

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

Soho

The Soho district has a historic reputation for tolerance.

No matter how dour daily life may be or how depressingly dull politics may become, Soho is a refuge from the rigours of reality.

Here the artistic assemble and the groups gather.

Here the media IS the message, the film is the fantasy, the advertised the attraction.

Life in high profile, in coats of many colours.

There is nowhere else in London where diversity in infinite forms congregates and clashes: businessmen boast, drunks drop, theatre goers critique, fashion leaps and falls, markets never seem to close, pimps, prostitutes and police patrol.

This is the best of times.

This is the worst of times.

A place where the song “There´s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” seems fitting.

We are drawn to the lights and sounds like moths to flames, for we are tourists.

We wonder if one can be sober and a teenager at the same time here.

And is everyone getting married tomorrow?

Here a stag party, here a hen party, here a drunk, there a drunk, everyone´s a drunk, drunk.

Ol´ Macdonald went to Soho, e-i-e-i-ohhh!

Sadly the wedding invitations will be as lacklustre as the imagination that went into the wandering about the streets from pub to pub the night before.

Are you not entertained?

It felt like a full day: the Churchill War Rooms (Would the man who would fight on the beaches and in the streets have defended Soho?), the Household Cavalry Rooms, Westminster Cathedral, the Florence Nightingale Museum….

Enough of the mighty and the martyrs, the pomp and pomposity, we wanted to pump passion into our veins and colour into our consciousness.

We find ourselves on Charing Cross Road, T.S. Eliot territory, where the American Eliot spent much of his time retreating from his English wife Vivienne.

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Their marriage was markedly miserable, in part because of Viv´s health.

In a letter to their mutual friend Ezra Pound, Vivi complained of having a high temperature, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and colitis simultaneously.

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Above: Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot (1888 – 1947)

Eliot retreated so often from his wife that Viv would eventually resort to marching up and down Charing Cross Road wearing a sandwich board bearing the slogan:

“I am the wife that T.S. Eliot abandoned.”

She was later diagnosed with mental instability and spent her remaining years in an asylum.

Is that what it means for a European to be married to a North American?

My poor wife.

We find ourselves wandering aimlessly trying to locate a restaurant listed in her Müller guide to London when in front of Wyndhams Theatre two young ladies in their 20s approached us.

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Would we like two free tickets to see the show about to begin?

Cautiously, we accept.

One of the ladies, her name written in ink on our tickets, Miranda Banfield had received four free tickets through her workplace and two of the ladies cancelled at last moment.

The show was Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, our seats next to theirs.

To relieve their anxiety I opted to keep Ute between myself and them.

We were plesantly distracted and immensely grateful for the generosity.

Heisenberg is the story of Georgie Burns (Anne-Marie Duff), a 42-year-old American and Alex Priest (Kenneth Cranham), a 75-year-old English butcher, who meet in a London railway station.

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They begin a romantic relationship and eventually travel to New Jersey to search for Georgie´s missing son.

Had we been sceptical of Miranda´s unexpected kindness we might have missed out on a magical moment of theatre.

Miranda and her companion did not expect or ask for further contact or remuneration and we parted ways pleasantly after the show.

We had progressed over the years and were less certain about categorizing people into distinct categories of good and bad.

Stranded strangers could be legitimate or could be liars.

Men on midnight streets could be cops or conmen.

Generosity could be genuine and gratefully accepted.

Life is uncertain.

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Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet USA / The Rough Guide to London / The Rough Guide to Spain

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Lady of Lovere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 January 2018

As another New Year begins the question turns to New Year´s resolutions, to make them or avoid them, and if made what those resolutions should be.

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Above: New Year´s Eve, Sydney, Australia

For example, some of us resolve to become fitter in the following twelve months, but those that know us know better than us that the sacrifice of time, effort and money required to do so isn´t truly who we are or really want to be.

Sometimes a person can be too close to a situation to properly see it for what it is.

Two women in my life recently caused themselves and others great friction, because they never accepted that their behaviour is harmful and refused to change their behaviour, despite being warned of consequences.

In fairness to them, it is often difficult to see beyond our own perspectives, regardless of what is said to us or what happens around us.

For example, I never truly appreciated how much I am liked by some of my regular customers when two evenings ago one of them spontaneously entered the Café and gave me a hug wishing me “Happy Holidays”.

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It wasn´t until I have reflected upon this several hours later that I realised that my response might not have been as warm and welcoming to him as it should have been.

Visiting him at his place of business bearing gifts of apology and remorse for my unintended coldheartedness is the first of my New Year´s resolutions.

For every person there are also situations that trigger a kind of blindness that makes it difficult to see anything besides the emotions the situations generate.

For example, nothing makes me see red more than bullies.

So, as a result, I have the most difficult time seeing American, Turkish or Filipino politics open-mindedly, for Trump, Erdogan and Duterte strike me as being the epitome of bullies in their behaviour.

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Above: Donald Trump, 45th US President since 20 January 2017

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Above: Recep Erdogan, 12th President of Turkey since 2014, 25th Prime Minister of Turkey (2003 – 2014)

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Above: Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines since 2016

These leaders and their followers can´t see, won´t see, what they are doing is wrong and truly believe that they are doing what is best and can´t comprehend, won´t comprehend, why others don´t see things as they do.

I was reminded of this last summer when we visited Lovere…..

Lovere, Italy, 4 August 2017

The Rough Guide to Italy doesn´t love Lovere very much.

“Lago d´Iseo raises your expectations:

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Descending from Clusone, the road passes through steep gorges, thick forests and stark angular mountains, at the foot of which lies the Lake.

(For a description of Clusone, please see Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre of this blog.)

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As Iseo is the 5th largest of the northern lakes and the least known outside Italy, you would imagine it to be more undiscovered than the others but the apartment blocks, harbourside boutiques, ice cream parlours and heavy industry of Lovere put paid to any notions that Lago Iseo might have escaped either tourist exploitation or industrialization.”

Lonely Planet Italy isn´t complimentary either.

“Lago d´Iseo is the least known and least attractive of the lakes.

Shut in by mountains, Iseo is scarred by industry and a string of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere, although driving through the blasted rock face at the water´s edge can be enjoyable.” 

And herein lies the problem.

Because so many English-speaking readers trust and faithfully follow the advice given by these two popular travel guides, they fail to discover that there might be more to Heaven and Earth than is expounded by these two guidebooks´ philosophies.

Automobiles are quick, efficient and quite liberating from the quirks of predetermined routes and set schedules, but much is missed if the destination is deemed superior to the possible discoveries that can be made if one stops and explores along the journey.

My wife and I, like many other automobile travellers, were restricted by time and money to how often we could leisurely stop and explore.

And that is a shame.

For had we taken the train from Bergamo to the harbour town of Iseo then a ferry from there to Lovere, we might have discovered a town far more deserving of compliments than the aforementioned guidebooks give it credit.

Lovere is much like Lecco in that it is considered far more unremarkable than it truly is.

(For Lecco, see Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town of this blog.)

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At first glance of Lovere a person might be forgiven for thinking that somehow the road had led the traveller somehow back to Switzerland, for the houses in this town (of 5,000 residents) have overhanging wooden roofs, typical of Switzerland, yet united with the heavy stone arcades of Italy.

Lovere faces the Lago Iseo and is held in the warm embrace of a semi-circle of mountains behind.

The Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani includes Lovere as one of the I Borghi piu belli d´Italia, one of the small Italian towns of artistic and historical interest and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

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Being part of the crossroads of culture and conflict that this region has been for centuries, Lovere has seen different peoples struggle to possess it: the Celts, Romans, Lombards, Franks, the monks of the Marmoutier Abbey (Tours, France), the Bishops of Bergamo, the Republic of Venice, the Napoleonic French, the Austrians and finally Italians.

There are a few sights in town worthy of a look and a linger of a few hours: the Church of Santa Maria in Valvendra with works by Cavagna, Carpinoni and Marone; the Palazzo Tadini which is both historic palace and art gallery, with many beautiful paintings and magnificent marble sculptures, along with terracotta, porcelain, antique armaments, furniture and zoological collections; the Church of San Giorgio with Cavagana´s Last Supper and Palma the Younger´s Trinity with the Virgin; the Clarissan monastery of Santa Chiara; the frescoes of the Oratorio San Martino; the ancient fortifications of Il Castelliere Gallico.

Above: Basilica Santa Maria in Valvendia, Lovere

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Above: Palazzo Tadini, Lovere

Above: Church of San Giorgio, Lovere

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Above: Convent of Santa Chiara, Lovere

Above: Church of San Martino, Lovere

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Above: Fortifications of Castelliere Gallico, Lovere

This town is truly deserving of mention and preservation.

Yes, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, there is industry here in Lovere, for the town possesses a metallurgic plant, Lucchini, which employs about 1,300 people and specializes in the manufacture of railroad wheels and axles.

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But this town is more than industry and churches and it has produced or adopted a few folks worthy of mention:

The English aristocrat, letter writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) resided in Lovere for ten years.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu (1689 – 1762)

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient Camillo Golgi studied in Lovere´s Liceo Classico.

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Above: Camillo Golgi (1843 – 1926)

(Golgi was known for his work on the central nervous system and his discovery of a staining technique called black reaction or Golgi´s method, used to visualize nerve tissue under light microscopes.)

The all-time leader in victories in motorcycle Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini was born in Lovere in 1942.

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Above: Giacomo Agostini

Leading cinema critic and author Enrico Ghezzi was born in Lovere in 1952.

Above: Enrico Ghezzi

And while these abovementioned four have world recognition (at least in their day), Italians and the locals of Lovere also won´t forget that the town has also produced Santa Vincenza Gerosa, Santa Bartolomea Capitanio, acrobatic pilot Mario Stoppani, as well as Italian liberators, athletes and politicians.

Of the more famous four the person that captures my imagination the most is the Lady Montagu.

The Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) is today chiefly remembered for her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire as wife to the British Ambassador, which have been described as “the very fine example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is known for introducing and advocating for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey.

Her writings address and challenge the hindering contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.

Mary began her education in her father´s home and to supplement the instruction of a despised governess, Mary used the library in Thoresbury Hall to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin, a language reserved for men at the time.

By 1705, at the age of 14, Mary had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents), and a romance modelled after Aphra Behn´s Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684).

By 1710, Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu (1678 – 1761) and Clotworthy Skeffington.

May corresponded with Edward, but Mary´s father rejected Edward as a prospect pressuring her to marry Skeffington.

In order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712.

The early years of Mary´s married life were spent in the countryside.

She had a son, Edward Jr., on 16 May 1713.

On 1 July 1713, Mary´s brother died of smallpox, leaving behind two small children for Mary and Edward Sr. to raise.

On 13 October 1714, Edward Sr. accepted the post of Junior Commissioner of the Treasury.

When Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court.

Her famous beauty was marred by a bout with smallpox in 1715.

In 1716, Edward Sr. was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul, where they remained until 1718.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Montagus set sail for England via the Mediterranean, finally reaching London on 2 October 1718.

The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in her Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions.

Flag of Turkey

Above: Flag of Turkey

Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travellers/writers.

During her visit Mary was sincerely charmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Ottoman women she encountered and she recorded her experiences in a Turkish bath.

She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women at a bath in Sofia, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for they tied up their wives in little boxes, for the shape of their bodies”.

Mary wrote about misconceptions previous travellers, specifically male travellers, had recorded about the religion, traditions and the treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire.

Mary´s gender and class status provided her with access to female spaces that were closed off to males.

Her personal interactions wth Ottoman women enabled her to provide, in her view, a more accurate account of Turkish women, their dress, habits, traditions, limitations and liberties, at times irrefutably more a critique of the West than a praise of the East.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu in Turkish dress

Mary returned to the West with knowledge of the Ottoman practice of inoculation against smallpox.

In the Ottoman Empire, Mary visited the women in their segregated zenanas, making friends and learning about Turkish customs.

There she witnessed the practice of inoculation and eager to spare her children, she had Edward Jr. vaccinated.

On her return to London, Mary enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because vaccination was an Eastern custom.

In April 1721, when a smallpox epidemic struck England, Mary had her daughter inoculated and published the event.

She persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment.

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Above: Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737), Queen of England (1727 – 1737)

In August 1721, seven prisoners at Newgate Prison awaiting execution were offered the chance to undergo vaccination instead of execution.

All seven survived and were released.

After returning to England, Mary took less interest in court compared to her earlier days.

Instead she was more focused on the upbringing of her children, reading, writing and editing her travel letters – which she then chose not to publish.

In 1736, Mary met and fell in love with Count Francesco Algarotti.

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Above: Francesco Algarotti (1712 – 1764)

She wrote many letters to Algarotti in English and French after his departure in September 1736.

In July 1739, Mary departed England “for health reasons” declaring her intentions to winter in the south of France.

In reality, Mary left to visit and live with Algarotti in Venice.

Their relationship ended in 1741, but Mary stayed abroad and travelled extensively.

She would finally settle in Avignon and then later Lovere.

After August 1756, she resided in Venice and resumed her relationship with Algarotti.

Mary received news of her husband Edward´s death in 1761 and left Venice for England.

En route to London, she handed her Letters from Turkey to Benjamin Sowden of Rotterdam, for safekeeping “to be disposed of as he thinks proper”.

Mary´s Letters from Turkey was only one set of memoirs written by Europeans who had been to the Ottoman Empire:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 – 1592) was a diplomat in the Holy Roman Empire sent to the Ottoman Empire to discuss the disputed territory of Transylvania.

Above: Ogier de Busbecq

Upon returning to his country Busbecq published the letters he had written to his colleague Nicholas Michault under the title Turkish Epistles.

Busbecq is also known for his introduction of the tulip from Turkey to Europe.

Above: Tulip cultivation, Netherlands

Kelemen Mikes (1690 – 1761) was a Hungarian essayist, noted for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg Monarchy.

Above: Kelemen Mikes

Although backed by the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian rebels were defeated and Mikes had to choose a life in exile.

After 1715, Mikes spent the rest of his life in Tekirdag (near Istanbul).

His work is known as Letters from Turkey.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 – 1891) was an officer in the Prussian army.

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Above: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

He spent four years in the Ottoman Empire as a military advisor between 1835 and 1839.

Upon returning to Germany, Moltke published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey (1835 – 1839).

As I ponder my visit to Lovere and think of how necessary and important the Lady Montagu observations about Turkey were, I am left with two distinct impressions:

First, Lady Mary saw what others did not see.

She viewed Turkey through her own perspective, inspiring generations of writers and travellers to express themselves in their own unique fashion.

Second, Lady Mary saw something about Lovere, a town possibly as ignored in her day as it is ignored in these modern times, that inspired her to remain until the siren call of love compelled her return to Venice and an old flame.

All of which reminds me that I, in my own humble way, have my own unique perspective on places that guidebooks ignore and that people might be inspired to visit.

And, as well, perhaps my observations about places and politics that are often misunderstood or ignored might encourage others to advocate positive changes to both our perspectives on these places and a rallying call to empathise with people rather than judging them for the inadequate governments that suppress them.

So, if I have any New Year´s resolutions, it would be to continue reading, travelling and writing about places both near and far.

Who knows what ripples my wee pebbles can cause?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

There are moments when one has to accept one´s limitations.

For example, the wife and I were asked to attend her employer´s Christmas Party yesterday evening, but neither one of us was healthy (or motivated) enough to attend.

I have been home all week when I would have rather been working, but it is hard to be a barista or teacher when one has lost his voice.

The demands of work and other personal responsibilities limit my ability to travel very far at present, so some of the places where I would like to visit I cannot visit due to both the constraints of limited time and money to do so.

As regular readers (both of them!) of my blog know I have been retracing the life and “footsteps” of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531).

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I wrote about walking from Wildhaus to Strichboden to Arvenbuel to Weesen.

(See Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg and Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows of this blog.)

I wrote that Zwingli was born in Wildhaus and was first educated in Weesen (1489 – 1494)

Zwingli then completed his secondary education in Basel (1494 – 1496), then five years later returned to Basel to complete his Master´s Degree at the University of Basel (1502 – 1506).

I did not walk to Basel, but having frequently visited and worked in the city I felt that my readers would still like a glimpse of the place.

(See Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect of this blog.)

But what of the years (1496 – 1502) between Zwingli´s Basel educational periods?

Well, Zwingli was sent to Bern, the Swiss capital, and stayed with the humanist Henry Wölfflin.

The Dominicans in Bern tried to persuade Zwingli to join their order and it is possible that he was received as a novice, but as both his father and uncle disapproved of such a course of action, he left Bern without completing his Latin studies.

Zwingli then enrolled in the University of Vienna in the winter semester of 1498 but was expelled, according to the University´s records.

Zwingli´s activities in 1499 are unknown, but history records that he re-enrolled in the summer of 1500 and continued his studies until 1502, after which he transferred to the University of Basel.

After Basel, Zwingli would be ordained in Konstanz, celebrate his first mass in Wildhaus, and then take up his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus.

The walking tourbook Zwingli- Wege mentions Bern, Vienna and Konstanz, but the authors do not extend their book´s walks to these three cities.

As far as I can tell there is little celebration of Zwingli´s life in Bern, Vienna and Konstanz.

And even though Zwingli´s time in Glarus is definitely noteworthy, it isn´t until he began his reformatory crusade for change in the Church in Zürich do the Swiss take much notice of the man.

As I have written of both Bern and Konstanz in the past within this blog, I want to speak of Vienna, not so much in regard to Zwingli but in regards to the wisdom of spending time in this place.

(For stories about Bern, see Capital Be and Canada Slim in the Capital of this blog.)

(For stories about Konstanz, see Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?, Flames and Broken Promises, and Canada Slim and the City of the Thousand of this blog.)

Above: View of Vienna (Wien) from the Stephansdom (St. Stephen´s Cathedral)

Vienna, Austria, 2 October 1998

It was my second adventure travelling about Europe, and, as a result of my first adventure, this time I was not alone.

Accompanied by the woman who would one day become my wife, Ute and I travelled by train and bus from Freiburg im Breisgau in southwestern Germany´s Black Forest, north to Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Trier and Köln (Cologne), east to Nuremburg, Praha (Prague) and Kutná Hora, south to Ceske Budojovice and Cesky Krumlov, and finally southeast to Wien (Vienna) arriving by overnight train.

The journey to Vienna had been, for the most part, pleasant, filled with discoveries and missteps as are common to any long adventure spent together.

The arrival to this imperial city started poorly.

I had gotten into my head that Vienna was a place where I was expected to wear a suit.

Somehow I convinced myself that Vienna was an élite environment that would not accept me unless I was wearing a suit.

Said suit had lain balled up at the bottom of my backpack, but at the crack of dawn I rolled it out, put it on and waited for us to arrive.

A sudden braking of the train caused me to split wide open the crotch of my suit trousers, putting me in a frightfully ugly and grumpy mood.

My Ute is never one to let an ugly mood go to waste and she responded in kind, so perhaps it was a mixed blessing that we spent our nights in Vienna in separately segregated youth hostel beds.

And though we would later argue yet one more time during our sojourn there, we were generally happy together in this romantic city of hidden courtyards, mysterious cellars and forgotten cemeteries, of Harry Lime (The Third Man) and Mozart (Rock me, Amadeus!), of Schubert, Strauss and Freud, of Marilyn Monroe and Karl Marx, of Vivaldi and 007, the blue Danube and the kaleidoscope of colour that is the Hundertwasserhaus.

Above: Hundertwasser, Vienna

Vienna conjures up a myriad of memories: impressive imperial palaces and dictatorial failed artists, coffeehouses crammed with cakes and customers, baroque mirrors and angelic choirboys, Art Nouveau architecture and Klimt canvasses, horsedrawn fiacre carriages and lovely leaping Lippanzer stallions.

This is also a city of music: a Strauss waltz, a cathedral choir, an organ recital, an opera performance, a celebration of the talents of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Liszt and Mahler, a litany of life, melodies of magic.

Above: Johann Strauss II Monument, Stadtpark, Vienna

As is normal in any relationship of two or more travelling companions, there must be a certain amount of give-and-take for harmony to happen.

And I must confess I was searching for the poetry of Canadian balladeer Leonard Cohen to be reflected on the streets of Vienna.

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Above: Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

“Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women.”

Ah, the things men do to woo women….

The Neidhart Frescoes show a thief groping beneath a woman´s skirt, while another uses snowballs to win the favours of a peasant girl.

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Ah, the things men do to escape women….

The Kornhäusel Tower was designed by architect Josef Georg Kornhäusel (1782 – 1860) as a refuge from his nagging wife, having a retractable iron staircase from the first floor rather than a conventional doorway at street level.

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Above: Kornhäuselturm, Vienna

“There´s a shoulder where Death comes to cry.”

On 15 March 1938 German Chancellor Adolf Hitler came to Vienna to proclaim the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria.

Above: Adolf Hitler, Heldenplatz, Vienna, 15 March 1938

Within days Vienna´s elegant Hotel Metropole at Morzinplatz was commandeered as the regional headquarters of the Nazi secret police and Heinrich Hemmler´s henchmen began rounding up opponents of National Socialism: Fascists, Communists, Jews, men, women and children for interrogation, torture and dispatch to concentration camps.

Above: The former Hotel Metropole, Vienna

Above: Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Gestapo, Morzinplatz, Vienna

“There´s a lobby with nine hundred windows.”

A lobby is a place where people wait.

Kaballah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that this earthly existence is a lobby where we wait for the “world to come”.

10 Sephirot

Kaballah also teaches that there are 900 – yes, exactly 900 – potential types of death for a human being.

This refers not to the manner or cause of death, but to the inner experience of the person who is dying and the different experiences of death vary in degree of gentleness or painfulness.

The most gentle & peaceful death is referred to as “the kiss”, or “the kiss of Shekinah” and is described as feeling like a hair being pulled from a cup of milk.

The most painful death is described as feeling like a spiked ball at the end of a hairy rope being pulled out of the person’s throat.

Vienna is a city where some people still keep a separate savings account in order to ensure an appropriately lavish funeral.

Above: Grave of Ludwig von Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

Vienna´s chief cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof is one of the biggest in Europe, larger than the entire Innere Stadt, and with a much bigger population – 2.5 million – than the whole of the city (1.8 million).

Above: Grave of Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

It even has its own bus service to help mourners get around the cemetery.

Above: Grave of Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Opened in 1874, at the height of Viennese funereal fetishism – when having eine schöne Leich (a beautiful corpse) was something to aspire to, the Zentralfriedhof is still very much a working graveyard.

1 November / All Saints´ Day sees up to a million Viennese make the trip out here and leave candles burning in remembrance on virtually every grave.

And here the music is buried along with its decomposing composers: Beethoven, Schubert, Gluck, Brahms, Wolf and the entire Strauss clan.

Or could the 900 windows be more pedantic and simply be Vienna´s first skyscraper, the 16-storey, 50-metre high Hochhaus, built in 1932?

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Above: Hochhaus, Herrengasse, Vienna

“There´s a tree where the doves go to die.”

A cross where the King of Peace was crucified?

Stephansdom, a cathedral that has dominated the Viennese skyline for centuries and an obvious military target that has endured two Turkish sieges, Napoleonic bombardment, American bombers and Russian artillery.

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Above: St. Stephan´s Cathedral, Vienna

Despite the tourists, it is still very much a place of worship.

The Pötscher Madonna, an object of great veneration even today, wept tears from her unusual large eyes during the Battle of Zenta against the Turks in 1697 and in so doing miraculously secured victory against the invading infidels.

Above: The Pötscher Madonna, Stephansdom, Vienna

In the Apostles´ Choir is the glorious red marble tomb of Emperor Friedrich III (1415 – 1493) with the Emperor´s mysterious acronym AEIOU (Alles Erdreich ist Österreich Untertan / The whole world is subject to Austria.)

Down in the catacombs, around 16,000 locals are buried here, their bones piled high in more than thirty rooms.

“There´s a piece that was torn from the morning and it hangs in the Gallery of Frost.”

A reference to Sisi (1837 – 1898), a young girl torn away so soon in the morning of her life to become Empress Elisabeth to the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and whose life and love were lynched to death by her loveless husband and his control freak mother?

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Above: Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Married at 16, her mother-in-law Sophie denied Sisi any privacy by choosing her ladies in waiting for her, denied Sisi any love by having her children removed from her care as soon as they were born.

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Above: Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1805 – 1872)

Later, Elisabeth would tell her daughter:

“Marriage is an absurd institution.

 

Above: Sisi´s husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830 – 1916)

At the age of fifteen you are sold, you make a vow you do not understand, and you regret for thirty years or more that you cannot break it.”

By 1860, Sisi had suffered enough.

She abandoned her children and husband and fled to Madeira for six months.

She then spent the rest of her lonely life travelling around Europe, crisscrossing the Continent, never staying in one place too long and went on endless cruises.

Sisi sought solace in fencing, hiking and horseback riding and in the preservation of her beauty.

When her cousin, King Ludwig, and then her only son Rudolf, committed suicide within a few years of each other, she became convinced that she was mentally unstable.

Above: Photos of Prince Rudolf (1858 – 1889) and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera who died together in a suicide pact in the Meyerling Hunting Lodge in the Vienna Woods

From then on, she dressed only in black and carried a black fan to hide her wrinkles.

“When we cannot be happy in the way that we desire there is nothing for it but to fall in love with our sorrows.”

By 1897, Elisabeth´s health began to deteriorate rapidly – a condition partly brought on by anorexia – to the extent that she could barely walk.

Despite her poor health and her obsession with madness and death, few would have predicted her final demise.

On 10 September 1898, the Empress was assassinated by an Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, on Lake Geneva.

Thousands turned out for Sisi´s funeral in Vienna.

Above: Sisi´s funeral procession, Vienna, 17 September 1898

She is buried in the basement vault of the Capuchin Church beside her estranged husband and her suicidal son, amongst other royal remains – some with death´s heads emblazoned on their coffins.

Above: Tombs of Sisi (left), Franz Joseph (centre), Rudolf (right), Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt), Capuchin Church, Vienna

It is a gallery of glorified ghosts, a chamber of frost, a cold place indeed.

“There´s a concert hall in Vienna where your mouth had a thousand reviews.”

Could Leonard have meant the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), which opened in May 1869 with a performance of Mozart´s Don Giovanni?

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Above: The Staatsoper, Vienna

“There´s a bar where the boys have stopped talking.

They´ve been sentenced to death by the blues.”

Surveys have shown that the vast majority of Viennese are safely tucked up in bed by as early as 10 pm.

Nonetheless it is still quite possible to keep partying around the clock in Vienna.

Vienna´s late night bars are concentrated in three main areas, the most famous being the Bermuda Triangle, which focuses on Rabensteig, Seitenstettengasse, Ruprechtsplatz and the streets around.

Bildergebnis für bermuda dreieck wien fotos

If I was searching for a blues bar, the Bermuda Triangle is where I would look.

“There´s an attic where children are playing, where I´ve got to lie down with you soon, in a dream of Hungarian lanterns, in the mist of some sweet afternoon.”

The attic of the body is the mind and who we are psychologically is often formed by the events of our childhood.

Few people are as intimately associated with Vienna as Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), for though he was born in Freiburg in Moravia and died in exile in London, in the intevening 83 years he spent most of his life here.

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Above: Sigmund Freud

The father of psychoanalysis was the first to come up with having patients discuss their problems while lying down on a couch.

Freud´s The Interpretation of Dreams contains two revolutionary ideas:

  1. All dreams represent the fulfillment of wishes.
  2. The functioning of dreams provides systematic evidence of the unconscious.

Sigmund Freud moved to the second floor of Berggasse 19 in 1891 and remained there until 4 June 1938 when he and his family fled to London.

Bildergebnis für sigmund freud museum wien

His apartment is now a place of pilgrimage, even though Freud took most of his possessions with him into exile.

His hat, coat and walking stick are still here.

There is movie footage from the 1930s, but the only room with any original decor, any ancient atmosphere, is the waiting room with odd oriental rugs, a cabinet of antiquities and some burgundy furniture sent back from London by his daughter Anna after the War.

Rooms of photographs and Freud-inspired art and a library are all that remain of eight decades of living in Vienna.

“And I´ll dance with you in Vienna….

….Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

We would visit the bookshop Shakespeare & Company, have lunch at the University Mensa (cafeteria) and supper at the Restaurant Marché Mövenpick and coffee at Café Bräunerhof with Parisian style snooty waiters in penguin tuxedos.

Parliament Building, Vienna

Above: Austrian Parliament, Vienna

We would tour Parliament and watch horses perform ballet at the Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School).

Above: The Spanische Reitschule, Vienna

The King of the Waltz, composer Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899) lived on the first floor of Praterstrasse 34 from 1863 until the death of his first wife, the singer Jetty Treffz, in 1878.

Today´s Strauss Museum contains a room with ceiling cherubs, a grand piano, an organ and a standing desk.

There are dance cards and ball pendants which were kept as mementoes of the evenings tripping the light fantastic.

Strauss is, of course, best known for having written Vienna´s signature tune, An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube), but he also composed stirring tunes such as the Revolution March and the Song of the Barricades.

His operatta, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), written to take Viennese minds off the economic crash of 1873, was another huge success.

Freud would have had a field day had he taken Johann Junior on as a patient.

Johann Strauss the Elder (1804 – 1849) began his career serenading diners in Viennese restaurants, however it was in the dance hall of Zum Sperl that Johann Senior made his mark as a band leader, conducting a frentic mixture of dances, orchestral fantasies and somber melodies.

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Above: Johann Strauss the Elder

Papa Strauss´ gypsy-like features and wild, vigorous conducting style became very popular in Vienna and he and his orchestra would gain fame touring Europe.

However Strauss Senior´s touring took a toil on domestic life and he created a public scandal in 1842 when he left the Family home and moved in with a young seamstress, who bore him several illegitimate children.

Strauss Junior, the eldest son, followed in his father´s footsteps, writing his first waltz at the age of six, though his father wished for him to become a banker.

Above: Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899), photo taken by Fritz Luckhardt

Father and son soon became rivals, both musically and politically, with son surpassing father in fame.

Despite their rivalry, father and son were quite alike, for Johann Junior was a difficult character like his father and something of an outsider.

And like his father, Johann Junior caused a scandal, divorcing his second wife Lili in order to marry his mistress.

What would Freud have thought?

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

Cohen sings when I remember Vienna and think of my emotions towards my wife then and often now:

Take this waltz.

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Take this waltz with its “I´ll never forget you, you know!”

….And I´ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss.

And I´ll yield to the flood of your beauty my cheap violin and my cross.”

I no longer wanted “some hallway where love´s never been”, or to simply be “on a bed where the moon has been sweating”.

O, my love.

O, my love.

Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

I would like to return to Vienna, not to visit the non-descript Zwinglikirche, but to walk on fog-filled streets to pay my last farewell to the impatient young man I was, his coffin lowered into the frozen ground of his impatience.

To perhaps pass him by with incredulity or perhaps no recognition of my present self in his past features, just other stranger on the Strand.

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But for now we walk in the cold Swiss air, our freezing breath on the window pane.

Lying, waiting.

I am a man in the dark in a picture frame, so mystic and soulful.

Memory stays with me until the feeling is gone.

The waltz is weaving.

The rhythm is willing.

Cold, empty silence?

Cold grey sky?

These mean nothing to me.

Oh, Vienna.

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“Slow down, you crazy child.

You´re so ambitious for a juvenile.

But then if you´re so smart,

Tell me why you are still so afraid.

Where´s the fire?

What´s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

You got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want

Or you can just get old.

You´re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you?

….Slow down, you crazy child.

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile.

It´s alright you can afford to lose a day or two.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Austria / Lonely Planet Central Europe on a Shoestring / The Rough Guide to Austria / Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Freud: A Graphic Guide to the Father of Psychoanalysis / Graham Greene, The Third Man / Duncan J. D. Smith, Only in Vienna: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects / Leonard Cohen, “Take this Waltz”, I´m Your Man / Billy Joel, “Vienna”, The Stranger / Ultravox, “Vienna”, Vienna

Canada Slim and the City of the Thousand

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 December 2017

First impressions are lasting.

And one rarely gets a second chance to make a “first” impression.

Today, despite my desire to remain abed at home and nurse my damnably durable cold – with all its joyless aspects of stuffed nose, scratchy throat, hoarse voice, congested chest, sinus headaches and resulting sleepless nights and exhausted days – I need to emerge from my cold-induced hibernation and seek supplies of food and medicine for both myself and the wife.

I will go to Konstanz, Germany, a half-hour distance from home, to buy these goods, but visiting Konstanz will not be a hardship for me, for the moment I laid eyes on the city ten years ago I liked it.

Flag of Konstanz

Above: Flag of Konstanz

I love its well-preserved Altstadt.

As Konstanz straddles the Swiss border on the southern side of the Lake of Constance (Bodensee), the likeable University town came out of World War II almost unscathed, ensuring the survival of the Altstadt.

Though Konstanz has Roman origins, it has a medieval feel to it.

I love Konstanz´s waterfront that hugs the Rhine and overlooks the Lake – a pleasant promenade that lovingly links aged buildings, gorgeous greenery and startling statues.

The southern end of the promenade with its clattering sails of the yacht harbour and several old warehouses that have been converted into a casual restaurant and shopping district ….

The Council Building (Konzilgebäude), a conference and concert hall that healed the Great Schism in the Catholic Church by replacing three popes with one (1414 – 1418)….

Above: The Konzilgebäude, Konstanz

Imperia, the imposing nine-metre high rotating statue of a voluptuous prostitute holding men, be they Emperor or Pope, in the palms of her hands….

Above: Imperia, Konstanz

The Island of Constance with another statue, this one commemorating airship inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838 – 1917), near a former Dominician priory and now a five-star hotel….

Above: Zeppelin Monument, Konstanz

The conical red-tile 15th century Rheintorturm (the Rhine Gate Tower) and the Rheinbrücke (Rhine Bridge) where the Rhine meets the Lake….

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

Above: Rheintorturm, Konstanz

The Münster (cathedral) built of soft sandstone in a regal romantic melange of elegant Romanesque and serious Gothic styles where pre-Reformation Czech religious reformer Jan Hus (1370 – 1415) stood trial and was sentenced to be burnt to death….

Above: Konstanz Münster

His museum, the Hus Haus is surprisingly interesting if a person lingers long enough to discover why Hus was a man truly before his time and a figurehead of Czech identity….

The alarmingly modernist Kulturzentrum am Münster with ever-changing exhibits contrasts with the Rosgartenmuseum, the town´s history museum in an old butchers, grocers and pharmacists guidhall whose greatest treasure is Ulrich Richental´s Chronicle of the Council of Konstanz, a beautifully illustrated work including an extremely graphic rendition of the burning of Hus.

The State Archeological Museum (Archäologisches Landmuseum) with proud lions´ heads, deities and sea leopards from Roman times, along with a local 15th century merchant ship and some canoes from 650 AD….

But none of this would appeal to me had my first impression of the place been negative, for a rejection of Konstanz would probably have meant a rejection of nearby Münsterlingen Thurgau Kantonspital (Cantonal Hospital) where my wife works and the adjacent village of Landschlacht where we have resided these past seven years.

It was easier to explore the area because our first impressions of the area were positive.

We found out this summer that the opposite effect is also true…..

 

Bergamo, Italy,  3 August 2017

It should have been love at first sight, and maybe for others it can be, but for us….

Not so much.

I was expecting there to be love, after all Bergamo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it reminded me of my favourite Canadian city Quebec City with encircling city walls and an upper and lower town.

The iconic skyline of the old fortified Upper City

Above: Sunrise over Bergamo Alta

Bergamo is the second most visited city in Lombardy.

I expected a humane and compassionate welcome as Bergamo is a humane city where the 2017 43rd G7 Summit on Agriculture was held, committing the Group of Seven to reduce hunger for 700 million people worldwide by 2030, to strengthen cooperation for agricultural development in Africa, to combat food waste and to ensure price transparency.

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And, surely, I thought, things in Bergamo had changed since Mary Shelley´s visit in 1840:

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Above: Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

 

Bergamo, 10 September 1840

“It was a pleasant but warm drive.

Oh, how loath will the Austrian ever be to loosen his grip of this fair province, fertile and abundant in its produce, its hills adorned with many villages and sparkling with villas.

These numerous country houses are the peculiarity and beauty of the region,….rendered gay by numerous villas, each surrounded by grounds planted with trees, among which cypresses rise in dark majesty.

The fields were in their best dress, the grapes ripening in the sun, the Indian corn – the second crop of this land of plenty – full-grown, but not quite ripe.

Variety of scene is so congenial that the first effect of changing the mountain-surrounded, solitary lake for the view of plain and village and widespread landscape, raised my spirits to a very spring tide of enjoyment.

We were very merry as we drove along.”

 

Bergamo, 3 August 2017

Up to this point Mary Shelley could have been predicting our future as we drove from Lecco to Bergamo via Highway 342.

The weather was hot and humid, but air conditioning is a wonderful invention.

Austria was indeed reluctant to loosen their grip on its Italian possessions and the residents of Bergamo would achieve eternal fame in their struggle to be free from their domination.

The cultivated fields were still growing and the countryside still sparkles with the villages and houses Shelley described.

And Ute (my wife) and I were in fine spirits as we anticipated our arrival in Bergamo.

 

Bergamo, 10 September 1840

“There is a fair at Bergamo.

It has lasted three weeks and the great bustle is over.”

 

Bergamo, 3 August 2017

There is a festival in Bergamo happening now and it is a Friday night in this festival, though what festival is actually being feted remains unclear.

There is a great bustle all around us and our GPS is distinctively unhelpful and the German translated from his voicebox seems to say:

“Dude, I´m just as lost as you are.”

Once again, our relationship is being tested St. Malo and Dublin style – cities where we navigated streets of no particular logic and fought divorce court angerly, blaming one another for the fine mess we had landed ourselves in.

Above: St. Malo, France

Above: Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland

We arrived at twilight and it would not be for several hours until we found ourselves a place to park and the location of our hostel type bed and breakfast.

This was coupled with the fact that Ute was breaking the cardinal rule of travelling with a man:

Never let a man grow hungry.

We drove around and around, in and out through Bergamo Bassa – modern lower town – and Bergamo Alta – medieval upper town – in search of parking spots and our bed for the night.

Above: Sunset over Bergamo Alta

We had telephoned and text messaged our hosts a dozen times and we were reassured (falsely) repeatedly that we would easily find a parking spot near the B & B and that the B & B was child´s play to find.

I lost count how many times we seemed to follow the same hill road up into Bergamo Alta, the same crooked alleyways where pedestrians gave us annoyed looks, the same hill road down to Bergamo Bassa.

I can´t calculate the frustrating amount of times we argued about logic versus law, that surely the B & B would not suggest we drive into Bergamo Alta if driving there was not allowed versus her unwillingness to receive traffic fines for illegal entry down signposted forbidden streets.

Did we retrace our routes and our arguments a dozen times?

Twenty?

A hundred?

A thousand?

We were tired and tense.

I was hungry and grumpy.

Ute mentally murdered me a million times.

I silently questioned her sanity several times more.

Three (or was it four? five?) hours later, after we wished death or divorce upon one another, we found a parking spot on the aforementioned, much revisited, hillside road connecting lower with upper Bergamo.

By this point in time we no longer cared if we were allowed to park there or not.

Carabineri, fine us, don´t fine us, unless you tow us, we shall park here.

We climb and weave, climb and weave, through back streets to main streets, dragging far too much luggage with us, for Ute feared that our car might be broken into.

After all, husbands are horses, aren´t they?

Mere beasts of burden?

We arrive at the address and struggle to gain entry.

I am drenched in sweat, my stomach bitterly complains, and my mind rebels against the situation.

We gain entry and find keys waiting for us as per instruction, but no one greets us.

There is no sympathy, no congratulations or commisseration.

There is no air conditioning nor a surplus of electrical sockets for adequate universal light in our room.

Air circulation is open windows allowing bugs to share our bed or a metal fan whose rattle and clatter can be heard and felt within our bones.

Above: Bergamo Alto seen from above

 

Bergamo, 10 September 1840

“We had been told that the inns are bad.

I do not know whether we have found admission into the best, but I know we could scarcely anywhere find a worse.

The look of the whole house is neglected and squalid.

The bedrooms are bare and desolate and a loathsome reptile has been found on the walls.

The waiters are unwashed, uncouth animals, reminding one of a sort of human being to be met in the streets of London or Paris – looking as if they never washed nor ever took off their clothes, as if even the knowledge of such blessings were strangers to them.

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The dinner is inedible from garlic.

Of course, the bill tomorrow morning will be unconscionably high.”

 

Bergamo, 3 August 2017

We had not been told that Bergamo was in festival mode when we arrived, so it dawned on us how fortunate we were to have booked the B & B months before or we might have found ourselves sleeping in the car.

Our B & B, buried in a back courtyard on Via Colleoni, is perfectly situated within the old town between the Citadella and the Piazza Vecchia, but I cannot find much else positive to praise about our accommodations.

I would not go so far as to suggest that the place is squalid but it did not feel welcoming.

The bedroom was devoid of affection and desolate of affectation, but reduced to beggary as circumstances found us this evening we should have been more grateful.

We weren´t.

I am not certain whether it was the ongoing festival or the fact it was Friday night or whether it was customary for restaurants to be open late, but we found a restaurant open at 10:30 pm on the same street as our B & B.

The waiters and waitresses of Ristorante Damimmo did not seem to be unwashed, uncouth animals, but they also did not seem overly welcoming.

Dinner was edible but not palatable.

For the wife, neither mood nor cuisine induced an appetite.

Especially when we were presented with a bill that was unconscionably high.

We returned to the B & B as dissatisfied as when we first arrived.

The humidity and hot tempers vented made for a long uncomfortable night.

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Bergamo, 4 August 2017

A restless night led to an early rising before the scheduled hours of breakfast.

We both awoke with the feeling that Bergamo had failed us and that we desired to linger here as little as possible.

We would wander the streets of Bergamo Alta until it was time to return for breakfast.

Now it must be said that early morning in a city is a fine time to go wandering, for an awakening city seems at its most natural then.

Above: Bergamo Alta

Even though most establishments are closed and few people populate the streets, early morning walking feels like the city is our private playground.

Medieval Bergamo Alta clings to a hill 1,200 feet above the Lombardy plain.

It is one of northern Italy´s loveliest city centre, a favourite retreat for the work-weary Milanese who flock here at weekends seeking solace in the fresh mountain air, seductive lanes and the lively easy going pace of the place.

Bergamo Alta is filled with houses and palaces of fancy Gothic design.

The ring of gated walls are worn, mellow and overgrown with creeping vines and defiant charm.

These walls resisted army after army of invaders who vaingloriously spent themselves without success until the French (ah, those clever French) victoriously stormed the city in 1796, ending centuries of Venetian rule.

Piazza Vecchia is enclosed and encased by an envelope of harmoniously hugging houses with wrought iron balconies and hosting cafés and restaurants and by the palatial Palladian-style civic library.

Above: Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo Alta

Stendhal enthusiastically dubbed the square “the most beautiful place on Earth”, and, to be fair, it is certainly a striking open space to behold, with the Palazzo della Ragione stretching across the Piazza, lending an operatic stage ambiance especially at night under moonlight and lamplight.

Above: Piazza Vecchia at night, Bergamo Alta

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Above: Palazzo della Ragione, Bergamo Alta

Court cases were once heard here under the open arcades that form the ground floor, and, following the inevitable guilty verdict, condemned criminals were exhibited here.

The Piazza itself was the scene of joyous celebration in 1797, when the French (ah, those clever French) formed the Republic of Bergamo.

A Tree of Liberty was erected and the square, carpeted with tapestries, was transformed into an open air ballroom in which – as a symbol of the new democracy – dances were led by an aristocrat partnered with a butcher.

We gazed upwards at the massive Torre Civica (or Torre del Companone) with its 15th century bell that tolls every half hour.

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Above: Torre Civica di Bergamo

We walked through the Palazzo arcades to the Piazza del Duomo and visited both the Duomo and the Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore.

Santa Maria Maggiore is a rambling Romanesque church sheltering slews of saints lost amid overabudant over-ornamentation of too much gild, too much paint and statues too ignored.

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Above: The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (background) and the Cappella Colleoni (foreground)

Here in this church, a monument to a local legend….

Gaetano Donizetti, the Bergamo-based composer of highly popular romantic comedies with memorable melodies and predictable plots, who died from syphilis here in 1848, is the town´s most famous son.

Above: Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848)

His death caused massive grief.

Above: The tomb of Gaetano Donizetti

His groupies stamped their feet and smashed lyres in misery over the event.

The church is as glitzy as Gaetano was.

This is akin to a cathedral in Vegas remembering Liberace.

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Above: Wladziu Valentino Liberace (1919 – 1987)

But class will out, as the Cappella Colleoni next door clearly overshadows the Chiesa in grandeur and extravagance.

This connecting chapel is pastel-coloured marble and twisted columns and mosque-like dome.

Bartolomeo Colleoni, a Bergamo mercenary in the pay of Venice, commissioned the chapel with frescoed ceiling and gleaming gilded equestrian statue.

Above: Bartholomeo Colleoni (1400 – 1475)

Above: Equestrian statue of Colleoni, Cappella Colleoni

Colleoni´s coat of arms on the gate bears a much rubbed third testicle which is supposed to bring the rubber luck.

But biologically true or not, I am not certain how lucky Colleoni´s third testicle was for the man, nor whether I really want to rub another man´s testicles for luck.

And more oddness nearby at the Baptistry outside the Aula della Curia (“the Bishop´s Court”)….

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Above: Il Battistero, Bergamo Alta

More frescoes, these of the life of Christ, but one scene quite strange….

Christ judges the damned while holding a dagger, like the sword of Damocles, in his teeth.

Our guidebooks informed us that these places would not open so early.

No one asks for money nor prevents us from taking photos.

There are no worshippers nor clergy about and yet the doors yawn wide open inviting the curious.

The Via Colleoni slowly wakes with pastry shop personnel placing in window displays trays of chocolate and sweet polenta cakes topped with birds.

The Luogo Pio Colleoni is not yet open, so Colleoni´s Bergamo residence is denied us.

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Above: Il Luogo Pio Colleoni, Bergamo Alta

Once this was also the headquarters of a charitable institution set up to provide dowries for poor women, for the Venetians ruled that no woman could marry without one.

For why marry a woman if there is no profit in the practice?

The Citadella is also denied us.

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Above: Citadella Bergamo

Where once a military stronghold occupied the entire western headland, now remains only buildings housing a small theatre and two museums: archeology and natural history.

Bones interpreted in Italian only, our guidebooks inform us.

But the views of Bergamo Basso and the plains of Lombardy below justify the walk.

There is much we will not see, much we will not learn, in our haste to leave Bergamo and its negative first impact upon us.

We do not learn about the Thurn and Taxis dynasty who are credited with organizing the world´s first modern postal service.

We do not hear about the exploits of the Thousand, many from Bergamo, who aided Giuseppe Garibaldi in liberating the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and bringing it into the reunified Italian fold.

Thus the reason why Bergamo is the Citta dei Mille, the City of the Thousand.

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We do not see the tomb of Enrico Rastelli, a highly technical and world famous juggler who lived and died in Bergamo.

Above: Enrico Rastelli (1896 – 1931)

We may have seen but did not identify which of the paintings in Santa Maria Maggiore were done by Giovanni Cavagna or by Francesco Zucco or by Enea Salmeggia, for the surprise accessibility to the church had us feeling paranoid expecting to be evicted at any moment.

No Bergamese bergamask dancing as practiced by Nick Bottom in William Shakespeare´s A Midsummer´s Night Dream or incorporated into Debussy´s Suite Bergamasque.

Above: Scene from A Midsummer´s Night Dream, in centre wearing the head of an ass, Nick Bottom

No one tells us at breakfast back at the B & B that the famous American electrical engineer and professor Andrew Viterbi was born in Bergamo and somehow it seems the hodge podge assortment of visitors, some from France (ah, the clever French), could not explain Viterbi´s Algorithm better than I can understand it.

Photo of Andrew Viterbi

Above: Andrew Viterbi

(I don´t.)

Despite the ratio of women at breakfast greater than the men no one speaks of Bergamo´s late Mariuccia Mandelli, one of the first female fashion designers to create a successful line of men´s clothing.

(Am I the only one who reads Wikipedia?)

There are perhaps a thousand reasons to linger in this town, a thousand beautiful things to behold in Bergamo.

But first impressions are lasting and the welcome mat was amiss.

We return back to our car, I once again a heavily laden beast of burden.

No traffic ticket nor broken windows greet us and the car is where and how it should be.

We pack up the car and drive away.

We are soon a thousand metres away and eagerly increase this distance a thousandfold.

Ciao, Bergamo.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Germany / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

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

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

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

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

My social circle was and remains small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

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

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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

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

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

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

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

Above: Buckingham Palace

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

Every corner tells a story.

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

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

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

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

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

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

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

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

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

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

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

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

Work continued on the War Rooms.

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

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

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

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

Two days later, Britain was at war.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Cabinet War Room

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

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

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

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

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

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: A V1 guided missile

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

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Above: A V2 rocket

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

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

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

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

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

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what of the Great Man himself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a product of our time and place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

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

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

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

Bildergebnis für churchill war rooms

Live the experience.

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

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