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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Live the experience.

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

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 December 2017

I want to run away.

As work increases and pressure mounts to accomplish as much as possible in this last month of the calendar year….

I want to run away.

And though employers try to distract us through Christmas parties from the pressure they themselves create, I find myself nostalgic, almost homesick, for Christmas markets I have previously known and loved during the years I lived in Freiburg im Breisgau and Lörrach in Baden-Württemburg in southwestern Germany.

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I want to run back.

For this area – where a trio of national borders meet and are divided by the mighty Rhine River, (that begins to trickle from the distant Swiss Alps and flows mightily into the Atlantic at the Hook of Holland) – is home to some of the best Christmas markets I have ever experienced.

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Of all the markets, and there are many, that the Christmas season inspires in northern Switzerland, southwestern Germany and eastern France, the best, in my opinion, are those to be found in the French province of Alsace, especially in places like Colmar, Kaysersberg and Strasbourg.

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Above: Flag of Alsace

But once Christmas has passed, Alsace, though still beautiful and still worthy of tourism, seems to lose its charisma somewhat.

The little Venice, Colmar

Above: Little Venice, Colmar

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Above: Kaysersberg

Colmar´s canals are still charming, Strasbourg´s cathedral remains impressive and Kaysersberg maintains its quaintness, but only Freiburg and Basel continue to consistently inspire tourists all year long.

(For more about Freiburg im Breisgau, see Where I Am of this blog.)

There is much I have yet to write about Freiburg, (and I will), for it remains the European city closest to my heart, but I want to share within this blogpost the wonders and fascination of the Swiss city of Basel.

I am inspired to write about Basel at the moment, for in my ongoing Zwingli Project that retraces the life and “footsteps” of one of Switzerland´s most famous religious reformers, I have learned that Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531) after having completed his primary schooling in Weesen, then spent three years (1494 – 1497) in Basel to obtain his secondary schooling.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and…. the Road to Reformation, …the Wild Child of Toggenburg, ….the Thundering Hollows of this blog for more about the Zwingli Project.)

Then, after time spent in Bern and Vienna, Zwingli returned to Basel to complete his Master of Arts degree at the University of Basel. (1502 – 1506)

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But, for reasons I have yet to understand, there is little ado made about Zwingli´s years in Basel and Basel does not seem overly motivated to promote its past connections with the reformer.

It is as if Zwingli´s time in Basel is as insignificant as the record of a butterfly´s flight through a field.

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This intrigues me, for Basel, which thinks of itself as the hub of the universe, is quick to remind visitors of its role in world history.

Basel loves to tell the visitors all about events, discoveries and ideas, which may have seemed small and insignificant at the time later changed the world:

  • The measurements of Gustav von Bunge (1844 – 1920) which laid the foundations for vitamin research and would draw attention to the dangers of sugar, alcohol and nicotine.
  • The discovery of LSD (“This is such stuff as dreams are made of.”) by the chemist Albert Hoffmann (1906 – 2008)

(I like what Hoffmann wrote about his observation of a butterfly while on LSD:

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Above: Albert Hoffmann

“When looking at such jewels of nature, thoughts can unfold concerning the whole of creation and our human existence within it.”

Is this what the mathematician, meteorologist and co-inventor of chaos theory Edward Lorenz had in mind, when he asked:

“Is it possible for the flap of a butterfly´s wing in Brazil to set off a tornado in Texas?”)

  • Architect Hannes Meyer (1889 – 1954) and Bauhaus architecture
  • Ice skaters Werner Groebli (1915 – 2008) (“Frick” from a small village near Basel) and Hans Ruedi Mauch (1919 – 1979) (“Frack”, Swiss German for a frock coat) whose skating colloboration was so seamless and so popular that their stages names crept into American English slang (“Frick and Frack”: a close partnership)
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536) who published the world´s first book of idioms (Adagiorum chiliades, adagia selecta)(“The Ten Thousand Proverbs”) during his time in Basel (1514)
  • The art of art dealing created by Art Basel (1968)
  • Clara Zeltin´s 1912 “Bells of Basel” speech, proclaiming that the modern woman´s voice is mankind´s only real possibility for world peace would lead the call for women´s equality
  • The Bank for International Settlements founded in Basel (1929)
  • The Island of the Dead (1880), a painting by Arnold Böcklin (1827 – 1901), so popular that there are versions of it in major museums in Basel, Berlin, Dresden and New York….

Above: The Island of the Dead (Basel Version)

(In the 1930s Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov remarked that almost every house in Berlin had a print of Die Toteninsel.

As did Sigmund Freud, Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Sergei Rachmaninov, Heinrich Mann, August Strindberg, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Gerhard Meier.)

  • Intramedullary nails (“bone screws”) developed because a Basel woman´s dog broke its leg in 1943
  • Vitamin C and cortosone synthesized by 1950 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine winner Tadeus Reichstein (1897 – 1996), Professor at the University of Basel
  • Tetteh Quarshie, a freed slave bought by the Basel Mission in West Africa in 1867 would go on to introduce cocoa production to Ghana
  • The first edition of the sociology scientific classic best-seller The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias first published in Basel (1939)
  • Theophastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541), would begin the reform of modern medicine during his time in Basel (1527)
  • The invention of “psychohistory” or “scientific prediction” by Basel scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen (1818 – 1887), which would inspire and challenge such great diverse intellectuals such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Carl Jung, etc.
  • The creation of the natural conservation group that would eventually be named the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) (1870);
  • The bittersweet development of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) poison (1939)
  • Basel town clerk Peter Och´s song of peace would lead to the Basel Peace of 1795 ending a bloody conflict between France and Prussia, giving Basel the name “the world´s rock of peace”
  • The Council of Basel (1431 – 1449), the 7th and longest Council in church history
  • Friedrich Nietzche´s first book of philosophy, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, published in Basel (1872)
  • The discovery of cellulose nitrate (“guncotton”) by Basel University Professor Christian Schönbein in 1846, would form the basis of other developments such as celluloid and chardonnet silk, the world´s first synthetic fabric
  • The first printed edition of the Qu´ran in a European language, the first translation from Arabic into Latin, in 1542 by a Basel Publisher, who would then later that same year would publish De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, which would not only set standards in the history of medicine but as well in the history of printed media for being one of the most beautifully printed books of that century
  • “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.” – Theodor Herzl would hold the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, which would one day lead to the creation of the modern nation of Israel.
  • The creation of the Helvetica font (1956)
  • The Bernoulli Crater on Earth´s moon is named after the Basel family of mathematicians (1687 – 1790)

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So, in this cavalcade of Basel accomplishment, why isn´t the name of Switzerland´s famous religious reformer more celebrated in the city where Zwingli spent seven years?

Perhaps it is because it was not until Zwingli began his ministry in Glarus in 1506 that he began to develop his ideas about the necessity of change within the Christian Church.

Basel did not inspire Zwingli to desire church reform, for he was focused on learning how to function within the church.

Yet I am surprised that neither Basel tourism nor the authors of recent books on Zwingli during this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, speak much about his time there.

Thus the Zwingli scholar or amateur historian is not driven to visit Basel in search of Zwinglian links.

And this is a shame, for there is much about Basel worth exploring and experiencing whether one is a history buff or not.

If there is one region of Switzerland that is pro-European, it is Basel, situated on the Rhine River exactly where Switzerland, Germany and France meet.

And this touching of national noses has inspired the success of Basel-Mulhouse – Freiburg´s EuroAirport and has led to the development of high speed rail links to Strasbourg, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.

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Basel is a proud city, frustrated that Zürich and Geneva garner the world´s attention, for Basel is a city of historic excellence in the fields of banking and pharmaceuticals.

Basel is a major port in Switzerland as the Rhine is the nation´s only outlet to an ocean.

It is one of Switzerland´s wealthiest cities and business is booming.

Every March, Baselworld is the most prestigious event in watchmaking and jewellery.

Eingang zur Baselworld (2005)

Every June, the art fair Art Basel is one of contemporary art´s highest profile gatherings with world famous artists and dealers packing the city with glitzy shows and events.

Every visit I have made to Basel, normally accompanied by my wife, shows me more new restaurants that have sprung up with fresh ideas.

The first rate museums and galleries never fail to delight.

Basel is both a mix of yesterday and tomorrow.

Explore the shopping streets between Barfüsserplatz and Marktplatz.

Climb the steep lanes leading from these squares to find leafy courtyards surrounded by 16th century town houses, medieval churches and the majestic, magnificent Münster dominating the skyline from its Rhineside terrace.

Above: Basel Cathedral

Ride a tram, cross the Rhine a number of times by ferry, linger at a terrace café, grab a bite at a fast food joint and party hearty in one of the many racuous pubs.

Architects will joy-gasm upon seeing the Yellow House, while children of all ages will dance with excitement in the Doll´s House Museum with a forest of teddy bears.

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Above: Roger Diener´s Yellow House, Basel

The elegant white church overlooking Barfüssplatz, the Barfüsserkirche, built by and named after the barefooted Franciscans, is home to the Basel Historical Museum, with its monumental choir stall and sumptuous tapestries.

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Here one can both laugh at life and dread death.

Here is the original 1640 Lällekeenig (Tongue King) which once adorned the gate (demolished in 1839) of the Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge)(for centuries the only bridge over the Rhine between the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and the North Sea).

Above: The Tongue King

The Tongue King would greet arrivals with rolling eyes and stuck-out tongue controlled by a clockwork motor.

Here in the Garden of Love two lovers play cards inside a summer pavilion.

The man slaps down a card with the words:

“That last play of yours was a good one!”

The woman nods in triumph:

“And it´s won me the game!”

The Battle of the Sexes is eternal.

Man will never win, but, oh!, what a sweet surrender!

The Dance of Death, originally part of a 60-metre long mural that once covered the cemetery wall of Basel´s Dominican convent (demolished in 1805) graphically depicts, in a macabre reminder of human mortality, people of all different ages and professions on a morbid march leading to the cemetery´s charnel house.

In the market square lined by shops, reached by descending down the dense network of narrow, sloping medieval alleys, such as Tailor Street (Scneidergasse), Saddle Street (Sattelgasse) and Ginger Alley (Imbergässlein), crowds gather at a myriad of fruit and vegetable stalls, beneath the shadows of the elegant scarlet Rathaus (City Hall).

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Above: Rathaus, Basel

Climb steep quiet old lanes towards the former city walls to the Gothic Peterskirche with its secret frescoes.

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Above: Peterskirche, Basel

Follow narrow Spalentorstadt to the Spalentor, the most elaborate of the surviving city gates, with massive wooden doors and a huge portcullis.

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Above: Spalentor, Basel

The small Swiss Jewish Museum has many interesting items on the history of the Jews in Basel.

As you wander through the old residential quarter make your way to the St. Leonardskirche, with porthole windows and a cat´s cradle vaulted ceiling.

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Above: St. Leonhardskirche, Basel

Curse yourself and your unfit condition as you climb the tightest, narrowest spiral staircase in Christendom to reach the church´s gallery.

At the Münster, Basel´s cathedral, see St. George slay a Dragon, while a foolish virgin is led astray by a scheming Satanic seducer.

Within the Münster is the tomb of the Renaissance humanist Erasmus.

Near Erasmus´ final resting place, St. Vincent is shown speaking for his bishop, flogged for doing so, tortured and led to a furnace.

Angels carry his soul to heaven while ravens protect his body before it is dumped at sea, retrieved and buried in a proper tomb.

Off alleyways leading from the Münster the wanderer finds the Cultural Museum and Natural History Museum.

The narrow lane of Rheinsprung leads to the St. Martinskirche beside the curiously named Alley of the 11,000 Virgins (Elftausendjungfern Gasse), commemorating the martydom in Cologne (Köln) of St. Ursula and her legendary company of female supporters.

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Above: St. Martinskirche, Basel

Visit the Kunsthalle with big white rooms staging a continual flow of cutting edge contemporary art shows.

Above: Kunsthalle, Basel

See the Architecture Museum (joy-gasm!) showcasing the work of Swiss and international contemporary architects, then compare new with old at the Antiquity Museum featuring treasures of ancient Egypt and the Middle East.

Basel´s world famous Kunstmuseum, a stern and forbidding building with marble floors, high ceilings and grand staircases offers Dali´s nightmares, Impressionists artists that impress, Giacometti´s cat that lingers in the mind long after it is seen, and wood that flows from the imaginations of Kirchener and Scherer.

And Basel loves Picasso.

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Above: Picasso´s Arlequin assis

Dostoyevsky became obsessed with Hans Holbein the Younger´s (1497 – 1543) Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521) when he visited the Kunstmuseum in 1867.

He climbed on a chair to get a better view of it and then started to yell:

“Holbein was a great painter and a poet!”

His embarrassed wife, who thought he was about to have a fit, hurriedly rushed him from the room.

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Above: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881)

Holbein´s work subsequently popped up in Doestoevsky´s novel The Idiot, when a character´s recollections of the painting cause him to question the existence of God.

Down to the river to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, free with admission to the Kunstmuseum, then be surprisingly captivated by the nearby wonderful Swiss Museum of Paper, Writing and Printing within the Basel Paper Mill.

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Above: Basel Paper Mill

The water wheel keeps on rolling and amongst the exhibits of paper and typography, the Museum stages demonstrations of typecasting, typesetting, bookbinding and papermaking, where you can physically follow and imitate the complete process from wood pulp to final printed product.

A must see on any wanderer´s itinerary is the Museum Tinguely, on the north bank of the Rhine, in Solitude Park under the Schwarzwaldbrücke (Black Forest Bridge).

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Jean Tinguely (1925 – 1991) is perhaps Switzerland´s best-loved artist, who combined static sculpture with mechnical motion using scrap metal, plastic and everyday junk to create maverick post-modern Monty Pythonesque machines that joyfully shudder, squeak, clank, bang and scrape in an entertaining-for-all-ages parody of our modern performance-driven and speed-obsessed world.

With bonging bells and crashing cymbals, with smoke and smell and fireworks, this is art at its most inspirational and imaginative and interactive best.

Hop on a tram to Riehen, the city´s most northern limits and on the border with Germany, and visit a museum that commands respect throughout the art world, the Fondation Beyeler.

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Above: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel

Beyeler has created a masterfully exquisite building, housing exceptionally high-quality art collections of works of some of the 20th century´s greatest artists – Rothko and Rodin, Klee and Kandinsky, Matisse and Mondrian, Miró and more.

Then reminscient of Monet, the visitor can contemplate the waterlilies in the watery gardens outside the floor-to-ceiling windows.

But life is not all museums and monuments, for Basel knows how to celebrate life with its ancient masked carnival, Fasnacht, a time of blazing bonfires and lantern processions, streets filled by celebrants dancing in papier mâché heads atop jester costumes, cakes of icing sugar and caraway seed pretzels, and music, music, music.

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Basel´s Fasnacht is a festival of fools, a topsy-turvy unforgettable feast of joy and excitement.

Somehow no one thinks of the Zwinglihaus, Basel´s Reformed Church, during Fasnacht.

Perhaps this is why Zwingli goes unheralded in Basel, for religious reformers are rarely known for their party personas, and God and business are an uneasy mix in this city of the wealthy and prosperous.

For a tourist, Basel is a city of the beautiful butterfly not the endlessly engaged bee.

Basel´s butterfly effects of open-mindedness, a work ethic happily balanced with an appreciation of the need to find pleasureable respite from profit-earning, resonate with the visitor and are felt upon the visitor´s return home.

The flutter of butterfly wings will be felt far beyond the banks of the Rhine where three countries congregate.

Let Zürich claim Zwingli.

Basel is doing just fine without him.

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Sources: Facebook / Google / Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Switzerland / The Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Matthias Buschle and Daniel Hagmann, How Basel Changed the World / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis

 

Canada Slim and the Voyageur´s Album

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 November 2017

I have just returned home from the dentist (one more tooth less) and I find that listening to Franz Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsodies seems to keep pace with the throbbing pain experienced inside my mouth, as if each tooth is an ivory piano key pressed upon in tempo with the music being produced by pianist Georges Cziffra.

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Above: The flag of Hungary

As if to mock me, the weather outside, though seasonably cold, is astonishingly beautiful and invites exploration, but I am later committed to teaching this afternoon, toothache or sunny day be damned.

Liszt listening has become my latest hobby as I keep stumbling across his name in my travels: he visited Weesen, his daughter Cosima was conceived in Como and later born in Bellagio when he visited the town with his lover and mistress the Comtesse Marie d´Agoult.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

He also spent time in other places I have visited, like Budapest, Paris, Rome, Sopron, Vienna and Zürich.

(More on Weesen later in this blog…)

(Clearly Liszt must make a future contribution to this blog.)

Facebook recently drew my attention to a Swiss Info article of three days ago that says, for the first time, Switzerland has two million foreigners living in its midst, which accounts for nearly 25% of the nation´s 8.3 million population.

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More than 80% of the foreigners living in Switzerland are from European countries, with half of these coming from Italy, Germany, France and Portugal.

(The latter does bring sense to Swiss philosophy teacher-writer Pascal Mercier´s Night Train to Lisbon.)

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Above: Poster from the film adaptation starring Jeremy Irons (2013)

These non-Swiss, of whom I am one, are often the subject of huge political debate especially by the current xenophobic government party, the SVP (the Schweizer Volks Partei or Swiss People´s Party).

The big issue, of course, is:

Will all these pesky foreigners and their foreign ideas change the character of the place?

This effect of an alien group affecting the area they choose to alight upon was much on my mind the day my wife and I visited Bellagio….

 

Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

Women worry too much.

Too many of them are convinced that their men remain with them only because they have been able to maintain the illusion of youth, and that once the spell has been broken by the inevitable passage of time fickle men will trade them in for newer models.

Nevertheless there remains good men, men who fall in love with a woman´s character and inner beauty that no horrid hourglass, no mere mirror could ever alter.

For these men, a woman´s beauty is eternal.

Only women can really judge how many of these men there actually are.

I have tried to be a man worthy of the title.

My wife´s birthday, a deeply guarded secret and not a cause for celebration despite my desires to celebrate her life and its importance to my own, finds us in Bellagio, a northern Italian town famous for both its location and the visitors attracted to it over the centuries.

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Above: Bellagio

Bellagio sits at the peak of the Larian Triangle, the peninsula that divides Lake Como into two arms of an inverted Y, and looks across at the northern trunk of the Lago and behind this the Alps extending from Switzerland.

Bellagio is luxury itself with a myriad of trees, including the laurel tree from which the peninsula gets its name, and flowers favoured by a mild and sweet climate.

The Borgo, the historic centre of Bellagio, lies southwest of the promontory tip between hilltop Villa Serbelloni and Como´s southwest arm.

Beyond the Serbelloni are a park and a marina.

Parallel to the shore are three streets: Mazzini (after Italian author and politician Giuseppe Mazzini), Centrale and Garibaldi (after Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi) in ascending order.

Cutting across them to form a sloped grid are seven medieval stone staircases running uphill.

The Basilica of San Giacomo and the Torre delle Arti Bellagio (the last remnant of medieval defences) sit in a piazza at the top.

Above: The Basilica of San Giacomo

There have been signs of humanity around Bellagio since 30,000 years ago, but only in the 7th to 5th centuries before Christ did there appear a place of worship and exchange upon the promontory.

The first identifiable inhabitants of Bellagio, from 400 BC, were the Insubres, a Celtic tribe.

The Insubres lived free and independently until the arrival of the Gauls, led by Belloveso, around 600 BC, whom they replaced or intermarried.

The Gauls created a garrison at the extreme point of the promontory, Bellagio, after their commander Belloveso.

(Another theory is that Bellagio was originally Bilacus – in Latin, “between the lakes”)

In 225 BC, the territory of the Gauls was occupied by the Romans in their gradual expansion to the north.

The Romans, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, defeated the Gauls in a fierce battle near Camerlata.

Gaulish hopes of independence were raised by an alliance with Hannibal during the Second Punic War, but dashed by defeat in 104 BC and absorbed into a Roman province in 80 BC.

Bellagio became both a Roman garrison and a point of passage and wintering for the Roman armies on the way to the Splügen Pass.

Troops wintered at the foot of the promontory, sheltered from north winds and the Mediterranean climate.

In the early decades of the Roman Empire, two great figures brought fame to the Lake and Bellagio:  Virgil and Pliny the Younger.

Virgil, the Latin poet, visited Bellagio and remembered the lake in his second book of the Georgics.

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Above: Publius Vergilius Maro, aka Virgil (70 – 19 BC)

Pliny the Younger, resident in Como for most of the year, had, among others, a summer villa near the top of the hill of Bellagio, known as “Tragedy”, which he described in a letter the long periods he spent there not only studying and writing but also hunting and fishing.

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Above: Statue of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus aka Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD), Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, Como

In 9 AD, the Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus passed through Bellagio en route to the Splügen Pass then onwards to Germany against Arminius.

They were annihilated in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, near present day Osnabrück, Germany.

At the time of the barbarian invasions, Narses, a general of Justinian, in his long wanderings through Italy waging war, created along Lake Como a fortified line against the Gauls.

Nevertheless, around 568 the Lombards, led by Alboin, poured into the Po Valley and settled in various parts of Lombardy, in the alpine Valleys and along the lakes.

With their arrival in Italy, the Franks of Charlemagne descended on Lombardy through the high Alps and defeated the Lombards in the Battle of Pavia (773).

The suzerainty of the Frankish kings was followed by the rule of the Ottonian dynasty of Germany.

By 1100 Bellagio was already a free commune and the seat of a tribunal.

In 1154, under Frederick Barbarossa, Bellagio was forced to swear loyalty and pay tribute to Como.

Towards the end of the 13th century, Bellagio, which had participated in numerous wars, became the property of the House of Visconti and was integrated into the Duchy of Milan.

With the death of Filippo Maria, the House of Visconti lost power.

For a short time the area was transformed into the Ambrosian Republic (1477 – 1450), until Milan capitulated to Francesco Sforza, who became Duke of Milan and Lombardy.

In 1535, when Francisco II Sforza, the last Duke of Milan, died, then began two centuries of Spanish rule.

Favoured by Bellagio´s ideal position for transport and trade, various small industries flourished, most notably candle making and silk weaving

During the brief Napoleonic period, the port of Bellagio assumed military and strategic importance and Count Francesco Melzi d´Eril established his summer home here.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril, Bellagio

Melzi proceeded to build his magnificent Villa, bringing to the area the flower of the Milanese nobility and the promontory was transformed into a most elegant and refined court.

(For more on the Villa Melzi, please see Canada Slim and the Holiday Chronicles of this blog.)

The fame of the lakeside town became well known outside the borders of the Kingdom of Lombardy – Venetia.

Emperor Francis I of Austria visited in 1816 and again in 1825.

Stendhal first visited Bellagio in 1810:

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Above: Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

“What can one say about ……Lake Como, unless it be that one pities those who are not badly in love with them…..

The sky is pure, the air mild, and one recognises the land beloved of the gods, the happy land that neither barbarous invasions nor civil discords could deprive of its heaven-sent blessings.”

At Bellagio he was the guest of Melzi d´Eril, from whose Villa he wrote:

“I isolate myself in a room on the second floor.  There, I lift my gaze to the most beautiful view in the world, after the Gulf of Naples.”

 

In January 1833, the 21-year-old Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt met Comtesse Marie d´Agoult, a Parisian socialite six years his senior.

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Above: Author Marie d´Agoult (pen name: Daniel Stern)(1805 – 1876)

She had been married since 1827 to Comte Charles d´Agoult and had borne two daughters, but the marriage had become sterile.

Drawn together by their mutual intellectual interests, Marie and Franz embarked on a passionate relationship.

In March 1835 the couple fled Paris for Switzerland.

Ignoring the scandal they left in their wake, they settled in Geneva where, on 18 December 1835, Marie gave birth to a daughter, Blandine-Rachel.

In the following two years Liszt and Marie travelled widely in pursuit of his career as a concert pianist.

Franz and Marie d´Agoult stayed for four months in Bellagio in 1837.

Here, on Christmas Eve 1837, in a lakeside hotel in Bellagio, a second daughter was born, named Francesca Gaetana Cosima.

It is as “Cosima” that the child would become known.

In Bellagio, Franz wrote many of the piano pieces which became Album d´un Voyageur, which later became landscapes seen through the eyes of Byron and Senancour.

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Above: Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)

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Above: Étienne Pivert de Senancour (1770 – 1846)

These works contributed much to the image of Bellagio and Lake Como as a site of romantic feeling.

The Comtesse´s letters show that they were sadly aware of drawing an age of motorised tourism in their train.

Franz and Marie continued to travel in Europe.

Their third child and only son, Daniel, was born on 9 May 1839 in Venice.

That same year, while Franz continued his travels, Marie took the social risk of returning to Paris with Blandine and Cosima.

Marie´s hopes of regaining her social status in Paris were denied when her influential mother, Madame de Flavigny, refused to acknowledge the children.

Marie would be socially shunned while her daughters were clearly in evidence.

Franz´s solution was to remove the girls from Marie and place them with his mother Anna in her Paris home.

By this means, both Marie and Franz could continue their independent lives.

Relations between the couple cooled, and by 1841 they were seeing little of each other.

They were both engaged in their own affairs.

 

In 1838, Bellagio received with all honours the Emperor Ferninand I, the Archduke Rainer and the Minister Metternich, who came from Varenna (on the east shore of Como north of Bellagio) on the Lario, the first steamboat on the Lake, launched in 1826.

Bellagio was much frequented by the nobility and saw the construction of villas and gardens.

Luxury shops opened in the village and tourists crowded onto the lakeshore drive.

Gustav Flaubert visited Bellagio in 1845.

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Above: Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

He told his travel diary:

“One could live and die here.  The outlook seems designed as a balm to the eyes….

The horizon is lined with snow and the foreground alternates between the graceful and the rugged – a truly Shakespearean landscape, all the forces of nature are brought together with an overwhelming sense of vastness.”

In 1859, Bellagio became part of the Kingdom of Italy until 1943 when Germany created the Italian Social Republic under Benito Mussolini.

Bellagio was part of the Italian Social Republic until 1945.

The Futurist writer and poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a Mussolini loyalist who had helped shape Fascist philosophy, met his death from a heart attack in Bellagio in December 1944.

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Above: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876 – 1944)

Since the end of the Second World War, Bellagio has degenerated into a place of mass tourism.

There are at least seven churches in the area where the visitor can recite the Lord´s Prayer, beseeching God that he/she be not lead into temptation.

For beauty can lead to temptation, here in this cradle between cypress-spiked hills, with promenades planted with oleander and limes, fin de siecle hotels painted in pastel shades of butterscotch, peach and cream, steep cobbled streets and secret alleyways.

This village lined with upmarket souvenir shops, piped music and scandalous swimwear worn by carefree sun worshippers enjoying the days of summer in the waters of the Lido.

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This is not a local´s village.

Here one finds money in all of its denominations from old money sitting silently in mute accounts and spent on old patrician houses that line the banks of the promontory, to new money unashamedly exposed and spent carelessly in boutiques and fancy hotels.

This is not a local´s village.

Just behind the hill of the promontory, protected from the winds of change, sits the Villa Serbelloni, which dominates the town´s historic centre.

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Above: Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio

Serbelloni was built in the 15th century in place of an old castle razed in 1375, and has been rebuilt several times.

In 1798 it came into possession of Alessandro Serbelloni (1745 – 1826) who enriched it with precious decorations and works of art of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 1905, the Villa was transformed into a luxury Hotel, which still offers the well-to-do their own private jetty, beach, tennis courts, fitness centre, sauna, poolside restaurant and beauty farm as just some of the luxurious facilities available.

In 1959, it became the property of the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.

Rockefeller Foundation logo

Since then, the Bellagio Center in the Villa has been home to international conferences, held by American scholars, housed in the Villa.

This is not a local´s Villa.

Today the visitor can visit only the gardens, while trails lead to the remains of a 16th century Capuchin monastery.

The gardens of Serbelloni resemble a woodland where paths spacious invite strolls amongst oaks, firs, osmanti, myrtles, junipers and pines which shade confidences and confidently screen against storms.

Outside these gardens of lost Eden, the locals quietly enjoy rowing and football at the Bellagio Sporting Union, eat tóch (polenta  mixed with butter and cheese), share red wine from communal jugs, and enjoy miasca, pan mein, and paradel for dessert.

At least this is what the tourists are taught that the locals do.

No one meets the locals.

Service to the foreigner is, more often than not, provided by other foreigners.

No one comes to Bellagio in search of Italy, but rather in search of a sort of sexual electricity that is produced by foreigners mingling with other foreigners in a Mediterranean Babel and babble of intertwining nationalities and languages.

Some foreigners reside here, retire here and some even respire here, for Bellagio even has a small cemetery for foreigners.

Here lies Nellie, 25, the wife of Arthur Charles Parkinson of London, who died here after only 10 days of marriage on 10 June 1895.

Nearby lies Sidney Brunner, of Nennington, Cheshire, 23, who lost his life saving his older brother from drowning on 8 September 1890.

Why wife and brother were left to rest in peace in an isolated forgotten cemetery in Bellagio rather than back in England, posterity does not record.

 

The wife and I do as the other tourists do: we eat in cafés, we shop in boutiques, we wander the streets, we linger at the Lido.

There is beauty here in Bellagio but it feels purchased, artificial, imported.

A few hours here and we feel no impulse to linger.

We let the rich be rich and the tourist be complacent in his superiority.

There is life beyond Bellagio, richer in quality and more beautiful in substance than this pastel Paradise.

We create and carry with us our own sexual electricity.

We don´t need Bellagio for this.

“Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn´t already have.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / America, In the Country, “Tin Man”

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Outcast

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 November 2017

Maybe it´s the endless days of grey skies outside or being restless with being confined indoors by illness that has got me feeling morbid of late.

Perhaps my ghastly mood has been affected by the topics I have written about recently: ghosts and corpses on the London Tube (Canada Slim Underground) and the millions dead in the Thirty Years War (Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation), so maybe I need not wonder that I find myself even dreaming about mortality.

My choice of reading material hasn´t helped, what with police constables talking with ghosts (Rivers of London) and a story about how death stalked three brothers (The Tales of Beedle the Bard) or the news…..

I need to think about happier places and more joyful times.

It´s once again time to write about London.

Maybe this will help….

 

London, England, 23 October 2017

Day One of our London week and already we had discovered Paddington Bear and Praed Street and rode the Underground.

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We left the Tube at Piccadilly Circus, one of the great centres of London life and one of the noisiest and busiest traffic intersections we had ever seen, situated at the meeting of five major streets.

I thought of the hustle and bustle of New York City (Piccadilly Circus resembles, in many ways, Times Square in Manhattan.), and the chaos and clutter of Paris or Rome, the madness of Seoul….

Open Happiness Piccadilly Circus Blue-Pink Hour 120917-1126-jikatu.jpg

This is THE fashionable place to be, a Circus (from the Latin for “a round open space at a street junction”) named after Piccadilly Hall, belonging to Robert Baker, a tailor famous for selling piccadills (large broad collars of cutwork lace that were fashionable in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by folks like Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I).

Above: Potrait of English nobleman Grey Brydges wearing a piccadil (1615)

The myriad of night spots….this is the West (End) World of entertainment, never resting, constantly abuzz with activity day and night, at once both obviously artificial yet vibrantly real and alive.

This is the heart of Theatreland.

Here is the Criterion Theatre, built in 1873, seating for 588 people, featuring The Comedy about a Bank Robbery since March 2017.

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery.jpg

Over there is the London Pavilion, now a shopping arcade and home to Ripley´s Believe It or Not! Museum dedicated to the weird, the unusual and the unbelievable, once was a theatre, then was transformed into a cinema that once premiered The Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. No and A Hard Day´s Night and once housed Madame Tussaud´s Wax Museum.

Come into the world´s largest branch of Ripley´s.

See a chewing gum sculpture of the Beatles and the Tower Bridge built from 264,345 matchsticks.

Nearly 30 pounds just to get in the door.

Wherever that door might be, for on the day of our arrival Ripley´s permanently closed at the Piccadilly Circus location.

Still not as expensive as the Chinawhite.

Nearby is the famous nightclub for the famous, the Chinawhite, where only members and celebrities enter – Membership costs 700 pounds a year.

Bildergebnis für china white london

Here Premier League footballers hobnob with Hollywood actors and supermodels.

The Chinawhite has seen the likes of celebrities like Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jude Law, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Prince Harry, Justin Bieber, to name only a few….

Piccadilly Circus is a high profile location, eternally recognisable by its bright billboards that dominate a curve of this traffic circle.

Coca Cola shouts, the public is updated about Tube closures and delays, new products and promotions are ablaze these days in bright LED glory.

And even this symbol of commercialism gone ecstatic is not immune to politics.

In 2002, Yoko One paid 150,000 pounds to display a lyric of her late husband (1940 – 1980) John Lennon´s song Imagine: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” for a number of weeks.

JohnlennonImagine.jpg

The lights have been turned off when national figures of great importance have died, like Winston Churchill (1965) and Princess Diana (1997) on the days of their funerals.

All the people seem to congregate at Piccadilly Circus, so much that the phrase “It´s like Piccadilly Circus.” is used in English parliance to say that a place is extremely crowded.

It is said that if a person lingers long enough in Piccadilly Square that they will eventually bump into everyone they know.

Once seen, this can be believed.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired sculptors, painters and musicians.

Bob Marley (1945 – 1981) mentions Piccadilly Circus in his song “Kinky Reggae”, in his album Catch a Fire.

The sleeve art from the 1974 issue of the album

And where everyone is…. makes Piccadilly Circus the site of numerous political demonstrations.

In the centre of the Circus stands the Shaftesbury Memorial, commemorating the philanthropic Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801 – 1885).

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury by John Collier.jpg

Above: Shaftesbury, National Portrait Gallery, London

Anthony´s early family life was loveless, a circumstance common among the British upper classes, so he grew up without any experience of parental love.

He saw little of his parents and when duty or necessity compelled them to take notice of him they were formal and frightening.

Even as an adult, Anthony disliked his father and was known to refer to his mother as “the Devil”.

This difficult childhood was softened by the affection he received from their housekeeper, Maria Millis, and his sisters.

Ashley was elected to Parliament in 1826 and a year later, he was appointed to the Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics and Lunatic Asylums.

The Committee examined many witnesses concerning the White House, a madhouse in Bethnal Green in London.

Ashley visited the White House on the Committee´s behalf.

The patients were chained up, slept naked on straw, and went to toilet in their beds.

They were left chained from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning when they were cleaned of the accumulated excrement.

They were then washed down in freezing cold water and one towel was shared by 160 people, with no soap.

It was overcrowded and the meat provided was “that nasty thick hard muscle that a dog could not eat”.

The White House had been described as “a mere place for dying” rather than a cure for the insane.

Ashley would be involved in framing and reforming the Lunacy Laws of the land.

After giving his maiden speech, in support of madhouse reform, Ashley wrote in his diary:

“So, by God´s blessing, my first effort has been for the advance of human happiness. 

May I improve hourly! 

Fright almost deprived me of recollection but again, thank Heaven, I did not sit down a presumptuous idiot.”

He had cited the case of a Welsh lunatic girl, Mary Jones, who had for more than a decade been locked in a tiny loft with one boarded-up window with little air and no light.

The room was extremely filthy and filled with an intolerable smell.

She could only squat in a bent position in the room which caused her to become deformed.

Shaftesbury´s work in improving the care of the insane remains one of his most important, though less well-known, of his achievements.

He was better known for his work on child labour and factory reform, mining conditions, the prohibition of boys as chimney sweeps, education reform, the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land and the suppression of the opium trade.

Centered blue star within a horizontal triband

Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

Forget the Mary Poppins Disney idea of chimney sweeping being a glamourous profession…..

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Many of these climbing boys were illegitimate and had been sold by their parents.

They suffered from scorched and lacerated skin, their eyes and throats filled with soot, in danger of suffocation, in danger of cancer of the scrotum.

This show a cross section of two chimneys with an internal diameter of about twenty eight centimetres in each is a climbing boy of about ten years old. To the left the boy is climbing by bracing his back and knees against the chimney. To the right the boy is 'stuck', his knees are wedged up against his chin, and calfs, thighs and torso block the chimney preventing him from moving up or down.

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

Though not Jewish, Shaftesbury believed that the Jews should have their own Homeland – however others might object – that they were “a country without a nation” in need of “a nation without a country”.

The Shaftesbury Memorial is a bronze fountain topped by a cast aluminium figure of an archer, that everyone calls Eros, but was intended by the artist Sir Alfred Gilbert to identify the angel of charity, Eros´ brother Anteros.

Fuente Eros, Piccadilly Circus, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 159.JPG

This is fashionable London, where Eros, the angel of love, is more fashionable than Anteros.

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

In 1750, London was disturbed by two earth tremors severe enough to bring down a pair of old houses and a number of chimneys on 8 February and 8 March.

A former member of the Life Guards, on the evening of 7 April, created mass panic after walking up and down Piccadilly shouting out that the world would end on 8 April.

A huge number of Londoners made plans to escape the City, but Piccadilly  was so choked wth traffic that many got no further than Hyde Park.

Women sat out of doors in their gowns while men played cards, awaiting the apocalypse that never came.

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.

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Above: “Bedlam”, a word meaning “uproar and confusion” and the nickname of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London

During World War II so many prostitutes assembled at Piccadily Circus that the men in uniform who enjoyed their services called them “the Piccadilly Commandoes”.

And the idea of assembling together leads to “Piccadilly Circus” being used as the codeword for the spot where the D-Day (6 June 1944) Invasion fleet would assemble in the English Channel before landing on the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazi hordes.

Above: D-Day assault routes into Nazi-occupied Normandy, France

We would ourselves, the wife and I, assemble with the hundreds that gather at Piccadilly Circus all day and all night.

No apocalypse came, and the prostitutes now frequent another section of London these days.

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

I read about Fore Street, Edmonton Green, North London.

When the pubs empty and the night is late, the girls come out.

This is when the work picks up, when the men get loud and want it….bad.

Between the street lights there are no other women walking the street.

Folks reckon there are at least 7,000 prostitutes in London – 96% of them immigrants.

Above: Prostitution worldwide: legal/regulated (green), legal/unregulated (blue), organised illegal (yellow), illegal (red)

Girls from Europe´s east or the Americas or Asia south….

At least 2,000 of them out every night on the streets.

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

They´ll tell you that there are many more than that.

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

There used to be a lot of women of easy virtue in Soho and in Southwark.

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

The girls now live at the fringes, cast out from city centre.

They don´t do this for pleasure, and sometimes it is they who pay.

The need for men´s money is overshadowed by the danger of men.

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

We are surprised by the Swiss Court with maypole adorned by the coats of arms of Switzerland´s 26 cantons.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

To the left/north, we see a church on Leicester Place, the Notre Dame de France.

The French have been in London for a very long time.

The Huguenots built fortunes in the textile industry, but Notre Dame was not built for the wealthy.

It was founded in 1865 to take care of the lower class French.

Soho was once, not that long ago, a kind of French enclave.

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

At first glance Notre Dame looks unremarkable, although circular churches in Britain are rare.

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

Murals by legendary French filmmaker/artist/designer Jean Cocteau fill one side chapel.

Depicting themes from the Crucifixion and the Assumption of Mary, Cocteau´s work is vigourous, seductive, alive in a manner no Brit could ever imitate.

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

A black hole sun, the feet of Christ, muscular soldiers in tiny skirts toss dice for the Saviour´s robe at the base of the Cross.

Above the altar a tapestry by Robert de Caunac….Mary is the new Eve and a huge statue of the Virgin of Mercy by Georges Saupique watches over all.

Light a candle before plunging into the former fleshpots of Soho and Leicester Square.

Most Londoners avoid Leicester Square unless they´re heading for the cinema.

Leicester Square is famous not only for huge cinemas, but also for the old clockhouse which has been converted into a popular tourist information centre where we picked up our London Passes, granting us free access or reduced rates at many of the attractions London has to offer.

Leicester Square, long famous as a centre of entertainment, is built around a small garden laid out by Albert Grant (1831 – 1899) in 1874.

In the centre of the garden is a statue of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) and at the four corners of the garden are scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726), painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), artist William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) and Scottish surgeon Dr. John Hunter (1728 – 1793), along with a statue of Hollywood actor/director Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977).

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

I think of William Hogarth´s most famous pictorial series, A Harlot´s Progress, paintings show the story of a young country woman, M. (Moll or Mary) Hackabout, and her search for work as a seamstress in London and how she eventually ends up as first as a mistress to become a common prostitute who gets imprisoned and then dies from syphilis at the age of 23.

Above: Plate 1, A Harlot´s Progress, brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham (on the right) procures a young woman newly arrived in London

It is suggested that Hogarth either meant for M. to be named after the heroine of Moll Flanders or ironically named after the Virgin Mary.

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Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

(Daniel Defoe´s novel Moll Flanders tells the story of “the fortunes and misfortunes of a woman who was Born in Newgate Prison, was 12 times a whore, 5 times a wife, 12 years a thief, 8 years a criminal in Virginia, who had last grew rich, lived honestly and died a penitent”.)

(Daniel Defoe´s most famous novel Robinson Crusoe is second only to the Bible in its number of translations.)

In the 18th century, this once pleasant leafy square was home to the fashionable “Leicester House set”, headed by successive Hanoverian Princes of Wales who did not get along with their fathers.

In the mid-19th century, Leicester Square boasted Turkish baths and music halls.

Today M & M´s World has taken the sheen off the traditional shine.

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We debate how and when we will use our London Passes.

We opt to visit an attraction that doesn´t require admission, that can allow us to delay until the next day using our London Passes.

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

South, the Tube propels us under the Thames River, with stops at Charing Cross, Embankment, Waterloo, Elephant and Castle.

(Charing Cross is named after the Queen Eleanor (of Castile)(1241 – 1290)(reigned 1272 – 1290) Memorial Cross in what was once the hamlet of Charing.

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

Embankment is the name of a Thames River pier, the main western departure point of the river boat service, the MBNA Thames Clippers.

London Thames Sunset panorama - Feb 2008.jpg

Waterloo Road, Bridge, Train Station and Tube Station are all named to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, Belgium (18 June 1815).

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler

The Elephant and Castle was once the name of a local inn.)

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Another tube line northeast to Borough tube station.

In the time of Stuart and Tudor kings and queens, the main reason for crossing the Thames to Southwark, was to visit the disresputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, people come to visit the mighty Tate Modern Museum, the remarkably reconstructed Shakespeare´s Globe Theatre and the Shard with its sublime view which on a clear day stretches on forever.

Restaurante The Swan, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 113.jpg

Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

We poke our heads up from the Underground, to a junction where the three streets of Marshalsea Road, Long Road and Great Dover Street meet and greet Borough High Street.

Where the High meets the Long, we see the Church of St. George the Martyr, separated from the tiny lane of Tabard Street by the last remaining wall of the infamous Marshalsea Prison.

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Southwark was home to many famous literary figures, including Geoffrey Chauncer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

Charles immortalised The Borough area in his novel Little Dorritt, whose fictional father, like Charles Dickens´ own father, was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison for failing to pay his debts.

Littledorrit serial cover.jpg

Dorritt gets married at St. George and inside the church is a stained glass memorial showing Dorritt kneeling in prayer.

Little Dorrit in stained glass in one of the church windows.

St. George´s steeple has four clocks, but one of them, facing Bermondsey to the east, is black and is not illuminated at night, allegedly because the parishioners of Bermondsey refused to pay their share for the church.

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

Go through Little Dorritt Park to Redcross Way, turn right and cross over Union Street, and on your left you will see a wasteland.

This piece of wasteland, owned by Transport for London (TfL), contains the bodies of over 15,000 people, over half of them children.

There is no evidence of their passing, for this was unhallowed ground, for prostitutes and paupers.

Crossbones Graveyard, in medieval times, was an unconsecrated graveyard for the prostitutes, the “single women”/”trulls”/”buttered buns”/”squirrels”/”punchable nuns”, known as “Winchester Geese” as this Liberty of the Clink area of Southwark was administered by the Bishop of Winchester who had the power to licence prostitutes and brothels (“stews”).

The Liberty was a free zone outside the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of London, near the prison called the Clink.

The brothels in the Liberty persisted for 500 years until Oliver Cromwell closed down the entire area.

The Winchester Geese were refused burial in the graveyard of St. Saviour´s parish, even though they owed their jobs to the church.

After the closure of the Liberty, Crossbones Graveyard served as a burial place for the poor.

It was closed in 1853 as it was “completely overcharged with the dead”.

The round brown memorial sign on the gates, where the local people have created a shrine, reads “The Outcast Dead R.I.P”.

The gates are covered with ribbons of sympathy, there are vigils for the Outcast on the 23rd of each month at 7 pm and the perfectly formed Crossbones Garden of Remembrance is open weekday afternoons from noon to 3 pm.

But we are hours too soon for the vigil and are too late to enter the Garden.

Our goal is to whirlwind view the Tate Modern within the space of 90 minutes before it closes at 5 pm then stroll beside and across the Thames before returning to our hotel.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Above: The Tate Modern

The dead of Crossbones remain outcast, the women who shared their bodies forgotten, the destitute have no value.

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

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Above: The Shard, London

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Baedeker´s- AA London / DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 London 2017 Lonely Planet London Condensed / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Michael Bond, Paddington´s Guide to London: A Bear´s Eye View / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Ben Judah, This Is London: Life and Death in the World City / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City / Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison, Literary London

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot

Canada Slim and the Smarter Woman

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 November 2017

I generally have (a) few problems with women.

Venus symbol

I have had women bosses, some I have disagreed with.

But not because they were female, but because of their behaviour towards me was unacceptable regardless of the gender exhibiting the behaviour.

Have I, at times, deserved criticism?

Absolutely.

I am neither saint nor model employee.

I have had female colleagues, and I notice that I do treat them differently than their male counterparts.

Above: Sandro Botticelli´s The Birth of Venus (1485)

Let´s be honest.

Society judges men and women differently.

(For now, I will avoid discussion of LGBT issues, because I cannot claim to be an authority on these.

Let it be sufficient to simply ask that the rights and privileges I enjoy as a straight man should not be denied to those who are not.)

I compliment women, but, to avoid the appearance of being a creep or a womaniser, I try to compliment a woman´s style and character, her intelligence and accomplishments, rather than simply her physical attributes.

In the same way that I want to be rejected for the things I´ve done or said rather than for the way my body happens to be shaped or how it has aged, this is the behaviour I hope women see when I interact with them.

I am a married man…..

(How the hell did THAT happen anyway?)

I have been with the same lovely lady for two decades.

We´ve been married for 12 years.

The list of reasons for why She is far superior to me is long.

(Ask my wife!)

I expect from her what I expect for myself, treating her as I would want to be treated.

This doesn´t always happen, but a relationship is an ongoing process, an evolving experiment in personal and interpersonal development.

I would like to think that all the women I have known – sadly, a very short list! – have made me the man I am today.

(Whether I have actually made any progress is a question best answered by my long-suffering wife.

I have been told that a woman´s training of a man is a never-ending process!)

So, do I fight with my wife, seeing how hard I try not to be unpleasant with female bosses, colleagues or clients?

Absolutely.

We are different people, with different perspectives and priorities, which for a healthy relationship requires discussion and debate that may generate emotions and reactions pleasant or unpleasant.

(I am reminded of an old joke:

If a man is in the middle of the forest and no women are around, does this mean he is still wrong?)

I have seen other people´s relationships grow and develop, some successfully, others….not.

I find that as I age that it is becoming more and more difficult for me to be critical of other people´s relationships and their responses to them.

For it is truly difficult to understand another couple´s relationship unless you are one of the partners in the pair in question.

Even then, I cannot claim to always understand my own relationships past or present, or my partners within them.

I thought much about relationships during my visit to Como this past summer….

View from Lake Como. The tower which tops the hill on the right is the Castello Baradello.

Como, Italy, 2 August 2017

I try to not generalise about entire groups of people, but this is not always easy.

My wife is German.

Flag of Germany

Above: The flag of Germany

(Poor lamb!)

The emotions which Germans arouse in others bounces between admiration and fear, depending on the nationality you are talking to.

A Brit and a Frenchman will see Germans just as differently as an Italian or a Swiss would.

I admire German cleverness and thoroughness.

I admire Germans for their ability to make money and their ability to produce things.

To me, Germans work hard and are deserving of success for their efforts.

That having been said, collectively I have found Germans to value efficiency over effect, can be very egocentric, can come across as arrogant and domineering.

Germans will gleefully show you the error of your ways, meaning to be helpful, never realising that not everyone wishes to be shown they are wrong.

Telling a German he is wrong is a waste of time, for he will argue with you to the end of time and despite all evidence to the contrary he will stick to his error with his dying breath.

The only way to get a German to change his ideas is to ignore him, do your thing independently in a better way and then let him do the math for himself.

For Germans, life is serious.

Yet there are times I want to shout at them and plead with them….

“Why, SO serious?”

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Above: Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008) as the Joker, The Dark Knight (2008)

It is OK to have moments that are irrelevant or irreverant, without the assistance of alcohol or other substances.

Life can be occasionally flippant, accidental, serendipitious.

Innovation can be a slow process in Germany because creativity is a random and chaotic process and this runs counter to the very German notion of “Ordnung ist alles.”

(Order is everything.)

When I travel with my wife our attitudes towards behaviour are different.

For her, everything not expressly permitted must be prohibited.

For me, everything not expressly prohibited must be permitted.

Germans view life grumpily.

Every solution has its problems, and if life isn´t regulated God only knows how quickly the inevitable doom might be hastened.

I view life more contemplatively.

For me, all things shall pass.

Good will become bad.

Bad will become good.

The circle of life keeps on spinning.

I worry about what I can control and refuse to worry about what I can´t control.

And as I have grown older, I find I also extend this to people.

I can (mostly) control myself.

I can´t (nor do I want to) control others.

So when they do something I don´t like, my attitude is to fight only when it is worthwhile to fight or take flight from the unpleasantness when it isn´t.

This morning we rode the funicular from Como up to Brunate.

We walked up to the Volta Lighthouse and then arriving back in Brunate….

Above: Faro Voltiano

Thus began our problems.

She Who Must Be Obeyed wanted to save money by not taking the funicular back down to Como but instead she wanted to walk down the mountain.

She was convinced that She knew the best way down.

We got lost in a maze of streets, so She wanted us to climb back up the steep incline we had just descended.

Bildergebnis für brunate como

I am as stubborn as a cow trapped on a staircase:

Once I have begun to descend I am dead set against re-ascending.

My philosophy was simple.

Como was below, so keep following roads that lead downwards.

Her philosophy was:

There is a better way to descend, so let´s climb upwards until we find it.

To say that this difference of opinion led to some unpleasantness is an understatement.

Descending the winding highway with cars coming at us blindly in the opposite direction around blind curves, She cursed my stubbornness that forced us down the road destined to kill us.

I cursed her inability to admit She was wrong in her ability to navigate without a map and her assumption that the locals knew less than She did about how to get around and her insistence that we suffer rather than spend money to take the funicular down.

So angry that She could spit, She marched madly down the mountain, disappearing from sight, too impatient to wait for me to catch up.

Thus isolated, my thoughts turned to the history of Como and couples the town had known.

 

Imagine for a moment the comic playwright Oscar Wilde´s entire body of work lost two millennia after his death.

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Above: Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

It is the year 4017 and somehow all records of his writing have disappeared, yet his name remains connected to quality comic literature in people´s minds.

Imagine that these folks of the future only know of Oscar Wilde because other playwrights closer in time to this imagined future have mentioned Oscar´s name in their own writing.

So similarly have we a problem in 2017 with the Roman era poet Caecilius Statius (222 – 166 BC)

Caecilius is referenced by other Roman writers, like Catullus and Terence, but over two millennia his comedies have become lost.

Como-born, Caecilius, the subject of Catullus´ poem Carmina 35, is said to have had a girlfriend more learned, more smarter than the muse that inspired his writing.

Suetonius, in his On Poets, when discussing the poet Terence (the anglicised version of his Latin name Publius Terentius Afer), tells the story of how Terence came to the house of Caecilius, whose plays were then dominating the Roman stage, and read to the famous playwright the first scene of his new play.

Above: Terence (195 – 159 BC)

Caecilius was so charmed that he invited Terence to dinner and listened admiringly to the rest of his play.

Admittedly, these mentions of Caecilius tell us little about the man himself or the woman said to be smarter than himself.

But those that mention Caecilius´ name and their attitudes towards women are very interesting.

Terence´s most famous play, the Heauton Timoroumenos (“the Self-Tormentor”), is the story of a father who had forbidden his son to marry the girl of his choice.

The son married her nonetheless.

The father disowned and banished his son, and then, in self-punishing remorse, refused to touch his own wealth, but instead lived in hard labour and poverty.

A neighbour proposes to mediate.

The father asks him why he takes so kindly an interest in the troubles of others.

The neighbour replies, in a world-renowned line to which all the audience applauded:

“Homo sum.  Humani nihil a me alienum puto.”

(I am a man.  I consider nothing human to be alien to me.)

If this is so, then why do men find women and women find men to be so alien from one another despite the shared humanity?

Could this mystery explain the popularity of modern books like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?

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Let us now consider the case of Catullus (84 . 54 BC)

Above: Marble bust of Catullus, Sirmione, Italy

Catullus was a Latin poet who wrote about his personal life rather than about the commonly-used topic of the day, classical heroes.

His poems were widely appreciated by other poets and he greatly influenced Ovid, Horace, Virgil and others.

Some of his poems have been set to music by the likes of American composers Michael Lutton and Ned Rorem, Icelandic composer Johann Johannson and Finnish jazz singer Reine Rimón.

Catullus´ explicit writing style has shocked many readers, both ancient and modern.

His poems have been preserved for us in an anthology of 116 carmina, which can be divided into four major thematic groups:

–  Poems to and about his friends (ex: Carmina 13)

–  Erotica: Some about his homosexual desires and acts, but most about women, especially about one he calls “Lesbia” – the false name for his married girlfriend Clodia. (ex: Carmina 50 and Carmina 99)

–  Invectives: Often rude and sometimes downright obscene poems targeted at friends-turned-traitors, other lovers of Lesbia, well-known politicians (ex: Julius Caesar) and rhetors, including Cicero.

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Above: Bust of Julius Caesar (100 -44 BC), Archaeological Museum, Turin

(According to Suetonius, Caesar did not deny that Catullus´ lampoons left an indelible stain on his reputation, but when Catullus apologized, Caesar invited the poet to dinner.)

–  Condolences: Some poems of Catullus are solemn in nature (ex: Carmina 96 comforts a friend in the death of a loved one; Carmina 101 laments the death of Catullus´ brother.)

We know Catullus more intimately than most Roman poets, because his subject is nearly always himself.

His lyric cries of love and hate reveal a sensitive and kindly spirit, capable of generous feeling, but he could also be unpleasantly self-centred, deliberately rude and merciless to his enemies.

He published his enemies´ most private peculiarities.

“He is so foul of breath that if he should open his mouth all persons near him would fall dead.”

Catullus oscillates easily between feelings and faeces, kisses and copulation.

His is the rough poetry of the dirty street corner mixed with civilised refinement, a poetic downtown man with uptown pretensions, who felt that he must salt his lines with dirt to hold his audience.

Think of a Latin William Shakespeare mixed with Henry Miller.

All his poems describe Catullus´ lifestyle and his friends who lived their lives withdrawn from politics.

They were interested mainly in poetry and love.

Which brings us to a (perhaps) smarter woman named Clodia.

The liveliest lady of Catullus´ group of friends was Clodia Pulchra Metellus.

Above: Image of Clodia, Promptuari Iconom insigniorum, Guillaume Rouillé, 1553

Apuleius, in his Apology, assures us that it was she whom Catullus named Lesbia and always loved.

Arriving in Rome at the age of 22, Catullus cultivated her friendship while her husband, Quintus Caecilius Metellus was away governing Gaul.

Above: Catullus at Lesbia´s by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadima

Catullus was fascinated the moment Clodia “set her shining foot on the well-worn threshold”.

Catullus called her his “lustrous goddess of the delicate step.”

And indeed a woman´s walk, like her voice, may be in itself a sufficient seduction.

Clodia accepted him graciously as one of her worshippers, and the enraptured poet laid at her feet the most beautiful lyrics in the Latin language.

For awhile Catullus was consumed with happiness, played attendance upon her daily, read his poems to her, and forgot everything but his infatuation:

“Let us live, Lesbia mine, and love,

And all the mumbling of harsh old men

We shall reckon as a pennyworth.

Suns may sink and return.

For us, when once our brief sun has set,

There comes the long sleep of everlasting night.

Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,

Then another thousand, then a second hundred,

Then still another thousand, then a hundred.

And when we shall have reached many thousands

We shall confuse the count, lest we should ever know,

Or some mean soul should envy us,

Learning the great sum of our kisses.”

History does not record how long this ecstasy lasted, but probably his thousands wearied her, and she who had betrayed her husband for Catullus found it a relief to betray Catullus for another.

Her “benefactions” now ranged so widely that Catullus madly fancied her “embracing at once three hundred adulterers.”

In the very heat of his love, Catullus came to hate Claudio and rejected her protestations of fidelity:

“A woman´s words to hungry lover said

Should be upon the flowing winds inscribed,

Upon swift streams engraved.”

To be fair to Catullus, he realized that women might have similar opinions regarding men when one reads his Camina 64, as Ariadne complains of being abandoned by her lover Theseus:

“Now already let no woman trust a man swearing,

Let none hope that the speeches of man are faithful,

For whom while the desiring mind is eager to grasp something,

They fear to swear nothing, they spare to promise nothing.

But as soon as the lust of the desiring mind has been satisfied

They feared the words as nothing, they care for the false oaths not at all.”

In the days of the dying Roman Republic, adultery was so common as to attract little attention unless played up for political purposes.

Practically every well-to-do woman had at least one divorce.

This was not the fault of women.

It resulted largely from the subordination of marriage, in the upper classes, to money and politics.

Older men chose wives, or young men had wives chosen for them, to get a rich dowry or make advantageous connections.

Rome had become a matrimonial agency.

Such unions, such political marriages, ended as soon as their utility ended.

The husband looked for another wife as a stepping stone to higher status or greater wealth.

He did not need give a reason.

He merely sent his wife a letter announcing her freedom and his.

Some men did not marry at all, alleging distaste for the forwardness and extravagance of the modern woman.

Many men lived in free unions with concubines or slaves.

Under these circumstances women could hardly be blamed for looking lightly upon their marriages vows and seeking in liaisons the romance or affection their political matrimony lacked.

Wealthy women enjoyed their freedom and now moved about almost as freely as Roman men.

They dressed in transparent silks from India and China and ransacked Asia for perfumes and jewelery.

Women divorced their husbands as readily as men their wives.

A growing proportion of women sought expression in cultural pursuits:

They learned Greek, studied philosophy, wrote poetry, gave public lectures, played, sang and danced.

Some engaged in business.

A few practiced medicine or law.

Clodia was the most prominent of these ladies who in this period supplemented their husbands with a succession of lovers.

She had a strong passion for the rights of women, shocked the older generation by going about unchaperoned with men after her marriage, accosted people who she met and knew and sometimes publicly kissed them, instead of lowering her eyes and crouching in her carriage as proper women were supposed to do.

She invited her male friends to dine with her while her husband absented himself.

She was a clever woman, who could sin with irresistable grace, but she underestimated the selfishness of men.

Each lover demanded her entirely until his appetite waned.

Each became her shocked enemy when she found a new friend.

So Catullus besmeared her with ribald poetry and Caelius, alluding to the price paid for the poorest prostitutes, called her in open court “a one-and-a-half-cent woman”.

Her value as a person was determined by how much she was willing to sacrifice her freedom.

The price of freedom for a woman can be extremely high.

Clodio was a daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher.

She had three brothers and four sisters.

Along with her brother Clodius, she changed her patrician name to Clodia.

Clodia was married to Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, her first cousin, with whom she had a daughter, Caecilius Metella.

The marriage was not happy.

Clodia had several affairs with married men (including the poet, Catullus) and slaves, and became a notorious gambler and drinker.

Arguments with Metellus Celer were constant, often in public.

When he died in strange circumstances in 59 BC, Clodia was suspected of poisoning her husband.

As a widow, Clodia became known for taking several other lovers, including Marcus Caelius Rufus, Catullus’s friend.

This particular affair caused an immense scandal.

After the relationship with Caelius was over in 56 BC, Clodia publicly accused him of attempted poisoning.

The accusation led to a murder charge and trial.

Caelius’ defense advocate was Cicero, who took a harsh approach against her, recorded in his speech Pro Caelio.

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Above: Bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero (100 – 43 BC)

Cicero had a personal interest in the case, as Clodia’s brother Clodius was Cicero’s most bitter political enemy.

Cicero accused Clodia of being a seducer and a drunkard and alluded to the persistent rumors of an incestuous relationship with Clodius.

Cicero stated that he “would attack Caelius’ accusers still more vigorously, if I had not a quarrel with that woman’s husband—brother, I meant to say.

I am always making this mistake.

At present, I will proceed with moderation, for I have never thought it my duty to engage in quarrels with any woman, especially with one whom all men have always considered everybody’s friend rather than any one’s enemy.”

He declared her a disgrace to her family.

Cicero’s own marriage to his wife Terentia suffered from her persistent suspicions that Cicero was conducting an illicit affair with Clodia.

Caelius was found not guilty, and after the trial little or possibly nothing is heard of Clodia, and the date of her death is uncertain.

Why do we insist that a man can be promiscous as much as he wants, but a woman can´t?

A woman´s body is her own, yet men continue to insist upon an exclusivity over it, even to the point of how her body is to be displayed.

Over millennia women, normally the physically weaker gender, have wielded their own power through not only equal or superior intelligence and amazing emotional strength and courage as men possess, but those fortunate enough to be blessed with beauty (or clever or rich enough to enhance what beauty they do have) use this beauty to command attention and admiration to achieve that which desire.

Acceptance of the differences between women and men has not always been easy, as emotions and thoughts have been widely different between the genders.

Despite all the disadvantages that women, even today, must endure, I have rarely met a woman who would prefer to be a man.

 

We made it, finally, down the mountainside to arrive in Como´s Piazza Cavour.

Mutual hunger and thirst prompted us to put aside our differences long enough to share lunch with another at a salad restaurant.

As I devour lunch like a crazed wolf, I am smiling and thinking:

I married a woman.

I don´t always understand her.

I don´t always agree with her.

As Billy Joel once sang:

She´s always a woman to me.

Life with her is never boring.

Ah, love!

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Will Durant, Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to AD 325

Above: Romeo and Juliet, by Frank Dicksee