Canada Slim and the Anachronic Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 October 2018

anachronic: not belonging to the time where one finds oneself

 

There are some places in the world where a person is immediately drawn to explore, either because of the sheer immensity of the place or because there is something truly remarkable there that cries out to be visited.

Kilchberg, a small town just south of Zürich on the western shore of the Lake of Zürich, fits neither description.

Kilchberg - Albis-Uetliberg - ZSG Pfannenstiel 2013-09-09 14-34-19.JPG

Kilchberg, unlike huge metropolises like London or Istanbul, does not offer surprises around every corner.

It takes only a well-planned excursion to see what little there is to see in this town: the Mann legacy of house and gravesites, the chocolate factory, and a museum dedicated to an anachronic man.

This post is this anachronic man’s story.

His museum is, to be frank, only of interest to those who can read fluently in German, for there are no descriptions in any other language within his last abode and his works seem to be only available in the Teutonic tongue.

The Museum, though named after the man who lived there, is not exclusively about him, as the scattered collections also focus on the bulk of the Klaus Mann family who lived and died in Kilchberg, as well as the local history of the community.

And those who run the Museum certainly do nothing to make a person want to make an effort to visit it, as the Museum is open only six hours a week on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 pm.

 

(To be fair to the Museum, limited opening times and almost non-existent promotion are a typical problem of many museums in Switzerland.

The motivation to see such an attraction must have been driven from yourself, for it won’t have been created by anything the Swiss did.

For example, there is a Police and Criminal Museum in St. Gallen I knew nothing about until recently, despite my having worked in St. Gallen for the past eight years.

Now that I know it exists I am compelled to visit it soon, but its promised treasures are available for viewing at very limited opening times and with next to nothing and no one actively promoting it.)

 

As related in the previous post Canada Slim and the Family of Mann, my visit on 12 August 2018 to Kilchberg’s Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Museum was a third and final attempt to learn about Meyer.

And though Meyer is of little interest to most folks except those with either a passion for local history or Swiss literature, there are certain aspects about the life of Meyer with which I (and maybe you too, my gentle reader)can relate.

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was born on 11 October 1825 in Zürich of patrician descent (i.e. nobility).

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.gif

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

 

His father, who died early, was a statesman and historian, while his mother was a highly cultured woman.

Throughout Meyer’s childhood two traits were observed that later characterized the man and the writer:

  • He had a most scrupulous regard for neatness and cleanliness (a place for everything and everything in its place to the point of cleanliness nest to godliness).
  • He lived and experienced more deeply in memory than in the immediate present.

 

(Blogger’s personal note:

I have always been surprised that any museum one visits always show the subject of the museum as an organized and tidy individual, when it has been my experience that those of a creative nature rarely are.)

 

Meyer suffered from bouts of mental illness, sometimes requiring hospitalization.

His mother, similarly but more severely affected, killed herself.

 

I am reminded of Lewis Carroll….

Image result for all the best people are crazy

 

Once Meyer’s secondary education was completed, he took up the study of law, but history and the humanities were of greater interest to him.

He spent considerable amounts of time in Lausanne, Genève, Paris and Italy, immersed in historical research.

The two historians who influenced Meyer the most were Louis Vulliemin at Lausanne and Jacob Burkhardt in Basel whose book on the Culture of the Renaissance stimulated his imagination and interest.

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Above: Jacob Burkhardt (1818 – 1897)

 

From Meyer’s travels in France and Italy, he derived much inspiration for the settings and characters of his historical novels.

Meyer’s master of realism was uncanny to the point that the reader is convinced that he lived what he wrote.

Reading his historical novels or narrative ballads the readers feel that they are living the past settings now.

 

What follows is the stuff of science fiction and immense improbability….

 

It is uncertain if time travel to the past is physically possible, but there are solutions in general relativity that allow for it, though the solutions require conditions not feasible with current technology.

The earliest science fiction work about backwards time travel is uncertain.

 

Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) is a series of letters from British ambassadors in 1997 and 1998 to diplomats in the past, conveying the political and religious conditions of the future.

Above: Samuel Madden (1686 – 1765)

 

In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), editor August Darleth claims that the earliest short story about time travel is “Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism“, written for the Dublin Literary Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838.

The narrator of this short story waits under a tree for a coach to take him out of Newcastle, when he is transported in time over a thousand years.

The narrator encounters the Venerable Bede (672 – 735) in a monastery and explains to him the developments of the coming centuries.

The Venerable Bede translates John 1902.jpg

Above: Bede the Venerable

 

The story never makes it clear whether these events are real or a dream.

 

There are a number of science fiction classics that suggest that the mind can transport a person back into the past.

 

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)(Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889):

Connecticut engineer Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur.

After some initial confusion and his capture by one of Arthur’s knights, Hank realizes that he is actually in the past, and he uses his knowledge to make people believe that he is a powerful magician.

He attempts to modernize the past in order to make people’s lives better, but in the end he is unable to prevent the death of Arthur and an interdict against him by the Catholic Church of the time which grows fearful of his power….

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

Above: Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens)

 

Daphne du Maurier (1907 – 1989)(Rebecca / Jamaica Inn), The House on the Strand (1969):

Dick Young, has given up his job and been offered the use of the ancient Cornish house of Kilmarth by an old university friend Magnus Lane, a leading biophysicist in London.

He reluctantly agrees to act as a test subject for a drug that Magnus has secretly developed.

On taking it for the first time, Dick finds that it enables him to enter into the landscape around him as it existed during the early 14th century.

He becomes drawn into the lives of the people he sees there and is soon addicted to the experience….

The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)

Above: Daphne du Maurier

 

Jack Finney (1911 – 1995)(The Body Snatchers), Time and Again (1970)

In November 1970, Simon Morley, an advertising sketch artist, is approached by U.S. Army Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret government project.

He is taken to a huge warehouse on the West Side of Manhattan, where he views what seem to be movie sets, with people acting on them. It seems this is a project to learn whether it is feasible to send people back into the past by what amounts to self-hypnosis—whether, by convincing oneself that one is in the past, not the present, one can make it so.

As it turns out, Simon (usually called Si) has a good reason to want to go back to the past—his girlfriend, Kate, has a mystery linked to New York City in 1882.

She has a letter dated from that year, mailed to an Andrew Carmody (a fictional minor figure who was associated with Grover Cleveland).

The letter seems innocuous enough—a request for a meeting to discuss marble—but there is a note which, though half burned, seems to say that the sending of the letter led to “the destruction by fire of the entire world“, followed by a missing word.

Carmody, the writer of the note, mentioned his blame for that incident.

He then killed himself.

Si agrees to participate in the project, and requests permission to go back to New York City in 1882 in order to watch the letter being mailed (the postmark makes clear when it was mailed).

The elderly Dr. E.E. Danziger, head of the project, agrees, and expresses his regret that he can’t go with Si, because he would love to see his parents’ first meeting, which also occurred in New York City in 1882.

The project rents an apartment at the famous Dakota apartment building.

Si uses the apartment as both a staging area and a means to help him with self-hypnosis, since the building’s style is so much of the period in which it was built and faces a section of Central Park which, when viewed from the apartment’s window, is unchanged from 1882.

Si is successful in going back to 1882….

Time and Again.jpg

 

Richard Matheson (1926 – 2013)(I Am Legend), Bid Time Return (1975):

Richard Collier is a 36-year-old screenwriter who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and has decided, after a coin flip, to spend his last days hanging around the Hotel del Coronado.

Most of the novel represents a private journal he is continually updating throughout the story.

He becomes obsessed with the photograph of a famous stage actress, Elise McKenna, who performed at the hotel in the 1890s.

Through research, he learns that she had an overprotective manager named William Fawcett Robinson, that she never married and that she seemed to have had a brief affair with a mysterious man while staying at this hotel in 1896.

The more Richard learns, the more he becomes convinced that it is his destiny to travel back in time and become that mysterious man.

Through research, he develops a method of time travel that involves using his mind to transport himself into the past.

After much struggle, he succeeds.

At first, he experiences feelings of disorientation and constantly worries that he will be drawn back into the present, but soon these feelings dissipate.

He is unsure what to say to Elise when he finally does meet her, but to his surprise she immediately asks, “Is it you?

(She later explains that two psychics told her she would meet a mysterious man at that exact time and place.)

Without telling her where (or, rather, when) he comes from, he pursues a relationship with her, while struggling to adapt himself to the conventions of the time.

Inexplicably, his daily headaches are gone, and he believes that his memory of having come from the future will ultimately disappear.

But Robinson, who assumes that Richard is simply after Elise’s wealth, hires two men to abduct Richard and leave him in a shed while Elise departs on a train.

Richard manages to escape and make his way back to the hotel, where he finds that Elise never left.

They go to a hotel room and passionately make love.

In the middle of the night, Richard leaves the room and bumps into Robinson.

After a brief physical struggle, Richard quickly runs back into the room, and he casually picks a coin out of his pocket.

Realizing too late that it is a 1970s coin, the sight of it pushes him back into the present.

At the end of the book, we find out that Richard died soon after.

A doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind, the desperate fantasy of a dying man, but Richard’s brother, who has chosen to publish the journal, is not completely convinced….

BidTimeReturn.jpg

 

There have been various accounts of persons who allegedly travelled through time reported by the press or circulated on the Internet.

These reports have generally turned out either to be hoaxes or to be based on incorrect assumptions, incomplete information, or interpretation of fiction as fact, many being now recognized as urban legends.

 

I am not suggesting that Meyer’s writing is superior to other historical writers.

Nor am I suggesting at all that Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was a time traveller, but rather he was an anachronic man, a man more at home in the memory of the past than the reality of the present.

Perhaps Meyer had even hypnotized himself into believing he had visited the past upon which he wrote so convincingly, but there is absolutely not a shred of proof to support such a wild hypothesis.

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

 

In 1875, Meyer settled at Kirchberg.

Meyer found his calling only late in life.

(He was 46 when his first work Hutten’s Last Days was published.)

Being fluently bilingual, Meyer wavered between French and German.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871) cemented his final decision to write in German.

In Meyer’s novels, a great crisis releases latent energies and precipitates a catastrophe.

In the same manner, his own life, which before the War had been one of dreaming and experimenting, was stirred to the very depths by the events of 1870.

Meyer identified himself with the German cause and as a manifesto of his sympathies published the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days in 1871.

After that his works appeared in rapid succession and were collected into eight volumes in 1912, fourteen years after his death.

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

The periods of the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) and the Counter Reformation (1545 – 1648) furnished the subjects for most of his novels.

Most of his plots spring from the deeper conflict between freedom and fate and culminate in a dramatic crisis in which the hero, in the face of a great temptation, loses his moral freedom and is forced to fulfill the higher law of destiny.

 

His two most famous novels are gripping and provocative.

In Jürg Jenatsch (1876), which takes place in Swiss Canton Graubünden during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), a Protestant minister and fanatic patriot who, in his determination to preserve the independence of Switzerland, does not shrink from murder and treason and in whom noble and base motives are strangely blended.

Georg Jenatsch.jpg

Above: Jörg Jenatsch (1596 – 1639)

 

In The Wedding of the Monk (1884), the renowned writer Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) is introduced at the court of Cangrande in Verona, who narrates the strange adventure of a monk who, after the death of his brother, is forced by his father to break his monastic vows but who, instead of marrying the widow, falls in love with another young girl and runs blindly to his fate.

head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Above: Dante Aligheri

 

Meyer has written about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (the night of 23 – 24 August 1572)(The Amulet), Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170)(The Saint), the Renaissance in Switzerland (Plautus in the Nunnery), France during the reign of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715)(The Suffering of a Boy), Charlemagne (742 – 814) and his Palace School (The Judge), and a tale of a great crisis in the life of Fernando d’Ávalos (1489 – 1525)(The Temptation of Pescara).

Yet if Meyer is remembered by the Swiss at all, it is as a master of narrative ballads, such as the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days.

Meyer fascinated a man whose name is more recognizable to my gentle readers: psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Freud in reflecting on Meyer’s life and works argued that there is a widespread existence among neurotics of a fable in which the present day parents are imposters, replacing a real and more aristocratic pair.

In repudiating the parents of today, the child is merely “turning away from the father whom he knows today to the father he believed in the earliest years of his childhood“.

He identified this psychological complex as the family romance.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

 

(I am reminded of Joanne Greenberg’s semi-autobiographical novel – written under the pen name Hannah GreenI Never Promised You a Rose Garden, where Hannah shares a room with a memory-impaired girl who gives herself multiple sets of musical celebrity parents. “My father is (Igancy Jan) Paderewski (1860 – 1941) and my mother is Sophie Tucker (1886 – 1996).”

Greenberg’s novel was made into a film in 1977 and a play in 2004.

Perhaps it may have inspired Lynn Anderson’s 1967 song Rose Garden.)

INeverPromisedYouARoseGarden.jpg

 

Perhaps Meyer’s legacy of a father’s early death and a mother’s suicide made Meyer retreat from his grim reality and escape into the past.

Perhaps his pain made it possible for him to write so convincingly about a past he never personally witnessed except through his research.

Meyer’s genius is such that his readers are made to believe that they too are in the midst of the past stories he relates.

 

(If years rather than places were made into travel guides for time travellers I would suggest adapting Meyer’s works into such a form.

Imagine such a concept….

1313: A Travel Guide

This time travel guide is invaluable for showing the prospective reader what dates to visit, what places are “happening” then, and all the dangers and delights of the time of the Battle of Gamelsdorf and the Siege of Rostock, the birth of the Infanta Maria of Portugal and the death of Austrian Saint Notburga.

Don’t leave your era without it!“)

 

Perhaps the difference, then as now, between a good artist and a great one is not only a question of talent….

Perhaps it is a question of successfully marketing that talent….

Though Meyer is lost in the shadows of time, perhaps a consideration of who he was and what he wrote is finally due.

Perhaps his story makes his Museum, even with German-only captions, worth a visit….

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

Sources: Wikipedia, http://www.kilchberg.ch

Above: The TARDIS, BBC Doctor Who

 

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Canada Slim and the Magnificent Homeland

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 August 2018

There is something about the politics of a number of nations today (the United States, North Korea, the Philippines, Venezuela) that reminds me again and again of the late Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

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Above: Il Duce Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

I have written about Mussolini before – his birth and his youth, his exile in Switzerland, his rise to power, his reign as Il Duce, his fall from power, his temporary reprieve through German assistance, his capture and his death – (See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence) – when speaking of the Lake Como town of Dongo and the village of Giulino de Mezzegra.

Dongo 1.JPG

Above: Dongo, where Mussolini was captured while fleeing to Switzerland

But I feel the need to speak of him again for we (the wife and I) visited the Lake Garda town of Salò which served as Mussolini’s de facto capital of the Italian Social Republic (23 September 1943 – 25 April 1945), a German puppet state of the Third Reich.

How did a man who once possessed absolute power over the whole of Italy (28 October 1922 – 25 July 1943) find himself reduced to being a mere figurehead for Nazi Germany?

And could one get a sense of that by visiting Salò over half a century later?

 

Salò, Lake Garda, Italy, Sunday 6 August 2017

Salò is one of the most important commercial and tourist centres of Lago Garda.

It lies in a spacious, seductive gulf on the slopes of Monte San Bartolomeo.

From the hills, resplendent in villas and olive yards, the viewer is rewarded by the grand immensity and glory of the Lake.

View of Salò and its bay

Above: Aerial view of Salò

According to a legend, Salò was founded by the Etruscan Queen Salonica.

There are some traces of the Roman colony Pagus Salodium: in the Lugone necropolis at via Sant’ Jago and findings of vase flasks and funeral steles in the Civic Archaeological Museum within the Communal Palace.

In 1377 Beatrice della Scala, Bernabó Visconti’s wife, chose Salò as the capital of Magnifica Patria (“the Magnificent Homeland“).

Bernabò e Beatrice Visconti.jpg

Above: Bernabo Visconti (1323 – 85) and Beatrice della Scala (1331 – 84)

Beatrice had walls propped up and a new castle built, of which sadly nothing remains.

On 13 May 1426, after a long period of war, the towns of the western bank  of Lake Garda spontaneously joined the Republic of Venice wherein they would remain for the following three centuries.

Above: Winged lion column of St. Mark (symbol of Venice)

Sansovino built the Palace of the Captain Rector (now the town hall) and during the 15th and 16th centuries the Duomo (Cathedral) took form.

Among the famous men who were native to Salò we must remember:

  • Gaspare Bertolotti (1540 – 1609) aka Gasparo da Salò, a famous maker of stringed instruments and inventor of the violin, whose bust is kept in the town hall.
  • Above: The bust of Gasparo da Salò
  • Pietro Bellotto (1625 – 1700), a painter who painted portraits for cardinals, popes and dukes and who after wandering from court to court he returned to Lake Garda to die
  • Above: The Old Pilgrim, by Pietro Belloto
  • Ferdinando Bertoni (1725 – 1813), composer, organist and prolific writer of church music and 70 operas
  • Ferdinando Bertoni.jpg
  • Above: Fernando Bertoni
  • Marco Enrico Bossi (1861 – 1925), composer, organist and music teacher, who established the standards of organ studies still used in Italy today and made numerous international organ recital tours
  • Above: Marco Enrico Bossi
  • Sante Cattaneo (1739 – 1819), painter known for his religious painting
  • Angelo Zanelli (1879 – 1942), sculptor who created the large Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the statue of Goddess Rome
  • Luigi Comencini (1916 – 2007), film director known for his Commedia all’italiana (Italian-style comedy) movies:
    • La bella di Roma (The Belle of Rome)
    • Tutti a casa (Everybody Go Home)
    • La ragazza di Bube (Bebo’s Girl)
    • Incompreso (Misunderstood)
    • Le avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
    • Lo scopone scientifico (The Scientific Cardplayer)
    • La donna della domenica (The Sunday Woman)
    • Buon Natale…buon anno (Merry Christmas…Happy New Year)
    • Un ragazzo di Calabria (A Boy from Calabria)
    • La storia (History)
    • Voltati Eugenio (Turn Around Eugenio)
    • L’ingorgo (Traffic Jam)
    • Signore e signori, buonanotte (Good Night, Ladies and Gentlemen)
    • Quelle strane occasioni (Strange Occasion)
    • Delitto d’amore (Somewhere Beyond Love)
    • Senza Sapere niente di lei (The Unknown Woman)
    • Infanzia, vocazione e prime esperienze di Giacomo Casanova, veneziano (Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Adolescence)
    • Il nostro agente Natlino Tartufato (Italian Secret Service)
    • Le bambole (The Dolls)
    • Il commissario (The Police Commissioner)
    • A Cavallo della tigre (On the Tiger’s Back (US) / Jailbreak (GB))
    • Und das am Montagmorgen (And That on Monday Morning)
    • Le sorprese dell’amore (Surprise of Love)
    • Mogli pericolose (Dangerous Wives)
    • Mariti in città (Husbands in the City)
    • La finestra sul Luna Park (The Window to Luna Park)
    • Pane, amore e gelosia (Bread, Love and Jealousy)
    • Pane, amore e Fantasia (Bread, Love and Dreams (GB)/ Frisky (US))
    • La valigia dei sogni (Suitcase of Dreams)
    • La Tratta delle bianche (Girls Marked Danger)
    • Heidi
    • Persiane chiuse (Behind Closed Shutters)
    • L’imperatore di Capri (The Emperor of Capri)
    • Proibito rubare (Hey Boy)
    • Tre notti d’amore (Three Nights of Love)
    • La mia Signora (My Wife)
    • Il compagno Don Camillo (Don Camillo in Moscow)
    • La bugiarda  (Six Days a Week)
    • Mio Dio come sono caduta in basso! (Till Marriage Do Us Part)
    • Il gatto (The Cat)
    • Luigi Comencini 1971.jpg
    • Above: Luigi Comencini

Comencini’s films tell wonderful stories:

  • A missionary on his way to Africa has his suitcase stolen in Naples and, while trying to locate it, he comes to realize the suffering and poverty in the city needs his attention more.
  • A beautiful gold digger, mistakes a waiter in a Neapolitan hotel, for an Arab prince.
  • A woman searches for her missing sister in the morally degraded seaside of Genoa.
  • A police chief wants to marry and selects a woman as his bride but she is already in love with his shy constable.  Rejected, the chief turns his attention to the town midwife who returns his love but is hiding a secret….
  • A junior officer is shocked when Germans storm the base where he is stationed and his fellow Italian officers simply want to go home.
  • After receiving a tractor as a gift from a Soviet village, the mayor plans to twin the village with theirs. The priest tricks the Mayor into including him on the trip to Russia.
  • An aging American millionairess journeys to Rome each year with her chauffeur to play cards with a destitute man and his wife.  The annual scenario never changes: she donates the money so the Romans can play, then she wins the game shattering their dreams of escaping their poverty.  But now the Roman couple’s daughter wants revenge….
  • A girl raised by nuns marries a man only to discover on her wedding night that she married her brother….
  • Thousands of motorists are stuck in a terrible traffic jam for 24 hours.

But as films go the Italian horror art film Salò: The 120 Days of Sodom, directed by Paolo Pasolini, is shockingly more frightening than the Italian Social Republic ever was.

Salò focuses on four wealthy, corrupt Italian libertines, during the time of the Social Republic, who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, perversion, sex and fascism.

Salò has been banned in several countries because of all the graphic sex and violence and portrayals of rape, torture and murder.

Pasolini’s intentions were to use sex as a metaphor for the relationship between power and its subjects.

Saloposter.jpg

In Salò, the historically-informed mind is filled with confusion about a place so filled with contradictions:

Musicians and painters and movies that bring to brightest light the glorious potential that is man’s creative genius contrasted with a Führer’s puppet fascist frontier and a pornographic snuff film intended to somehow make a political statement revealing the darkest depths man can sink to.

 

But what can the visitor see today?

The Duomo di Santa Maria Annunziata has a memorable Renaissance portal by Gasparo Cairano and Antonio Mangiacavalli, 16th century paintings by Zenone Veronese, a polyptych of Paolo Veneziano and a Madonna and Saints by Romanino.

The Palazzo della Magnifica Patria is home to the Historical Museum of the Azure Ribbon, an exhibition of documents on Renaissance history, on Italy’s colonial wars, the Spanish Civil War and the resistance against fascism.

This latter part of the museum may feel ironic at first glance as Salò was the seat of government of Mussolini’s Nazi-backed puppet state, the Italian Social Republic.

Villa Castagna was the seat of the police headquarters, Villa Amedei was the head office of the Ministry of Popular Culture, Villa Simonin (today’s Hotel Laurin) was the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on via Brunati was located the Stefani Agency, Italy’s leading press agency during World War II.

Salò is a seismicity.

As the area around the lake is a seismic zone (a good place to measure earthquakes), in 1877 a meterological observatory and in 1889 a geophysical observatory (seismic station) were built, which became an important scientific research centre after the 1901 and 2004 earthquakes.

Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone.

Salò and Mussolini?

The former by earthquake one day?

The latter by gunfire.

 

Salò, despite its beauty, despite its importance, despite its hard work and industry, is a town branded by history, a place forever associated with a dying republic and a failed leader.

So as the mind meanders through the streets of Salò, let’s consider the man Mussolini and wonder how his personality compares with politicians of today.

 

What follows is a description of Il Duce as remembered by one of his contemporaries Luigi Barzini:

Luigi Barzini Jr.jpg

Above: Luigi Barzini, Jr. (1908 – 1984)

 

Mussolini grew up hating:

The Church, the army, the king, the police, the law, the rich, the well-educated, the well-washed, the successful, any kind of authority….

All the things he was later to defend.

 

He was a turbulent boy, determined to be first at everything, proud, quarrelsome, boastful, superstitious and not always very brave.

He picked quarrels for the sake of the fight.

When he won at games he wanted more than the stake.

When he lost he refused to pay.

He was expelled from two schools for having knifed two schoolmates.

Many of his companions hated him.

A few loved him dearly, fanatically, and followed him as their leader.

He is remembered for his harsh charm, his winning smile and his fierce loyalty to his friends and followers.

 

He was always persuaded that a great destiny was reserved for him.

Benito said to his mother when he was still a boy:

One day I will make the earth tremble.

He did.

 

Mussolini became a school teacher in 1901.

The following year he fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription.

At that time, the duty of a serious revolutionary.

Above: Police record of Benito Mussolini following arrest (19 June 1903)

He returned to Italy in 1904, as an heir had been born to the king and a general amnesty had been granted.

He became a village school teacher, served in the army (He turned out to be a good soldier, after all.), earned a new diploma as teacher of French in high schools, and did odd jobs as a journalist, socialist agitator and organizer.

Above: Young Benito Mussolini

He began to improve his oratory, slowly developing a technique which was to make him one of the best and most moving speakers in Italy.

He paid little attention to the logic and truth of what he said as long as it was energetic and stirring.

His gestures had rhythm and vigour.

He used short, staccato sentences, with no clear connexion between them, often with long and dramatic pauses, sometimes changing voice and expression in a crescendo of violence and ending in a tornado of abuse.

When the audience was carried away by his oratory he would sometimes stop and put to them a rheotrical question.

They roared their answer.

This established a sort of heated dialogue, through which the spectators became involved in decisions they had no time to meditate on.

 

By means of violent writing and incendiary eloquence, Mussolini rose in the socialist organization until, by 1912, he was made editor of the party newspaper, Avanti!.

Above: Benito Mussolini as editor of Avanti!

He was a very successful editor.

The paper’s circulation rose from 50,000 copies to 200,000 under his leadership.

The role of journalist was one of the few in his life he did not have to act.

He really was one, perhaps the best popular journalist of his day in Italy, addressing himself not to the sober cultured minority, but to the practically illiterate masses, easily swept by primitive emotions.

Those very qualities which made him an excellent rabble-rousing editor made him a disastrous statesman:

  • His intuitive and superficial intelligence
  • His capacity to oversimplify and dramatize
  • A day-by-day interest only in the most striking events
  • A strictly partisan point of view
  • The disregard for truth, accuracy, objectivity and consistency when they interfered with his aims
  • The talent for doing his job undisturbed by scruples, doubts or criticisms
  • Above all, an instinctive ability to ride the emotional wave of the day, whatever it was, to know what people wanted to be told and by what low collective passions they would more easily be swept away.

He made strange grimaces when he talked, used violent and unprintable words, had an impatient temper….

 

Yet Mussolini managed to attract faithful friends and fanatical followers.

Some of whom clung to him until the end.

 

There was something about him that startled and fascinated almost everybody, including some of his enemies.

Most people who knew him well, who spoke frequently with him, who worked for him, were the victims of his inexplicable charm.

They fell in love with him, unreasoningly and blindly, ready to forgive him everything: his rudeness, his errors, his lies, his pretentiousness, his obstinacy and his ignorance.

 

One of the men who had worked for him since 1914, Manlio Morgagni, committed suicide in July 1943, after writing these words on a piece of paper:

Il Duce has resigned.

My life is finished.

Viva Mussolini!

 

Mussolini attracted many women.

He treated them roughly, as he had the peasant girls of Forli (where he grew up), taking them without preliminary explanation on the hard floor of his study or standing them against a wall.

 

Few sensed his timidity, his insecurity, his desire for admiration and affection.

Mussolini was obstinate, deaf to criticism, self-willed and suspicious, as well as erratic and indecisive most of the time, prone to adopt the most recent opinion he heard.

He was irresolute and afraid.

 

In the summer of 1914, Mussolini denounced warmongers.

He headed one of his violent articles:

Who drives us to war betrays us“.

 

But then the journalist in him wavered when he felt he would lose followers by supporting the cautious government policy.

On 18 October 1914, without taking orders from or consulting the party leaders, Mussolini published an editorial urging war.

He was immediately dismissed from his job and expelled from the party in a stormy session.

He walked out crying dramatically:

You hate me because you cannot help loving me!”

 

With foreign and Italian money, Mussolini started his own newspaper, Popolo d’Italia (People of Italy), which came out on 14 November 1914.

He immediately managed to gather more followers than he had had when editing Avanti! and more readers.

 

Italy entered World War I on 24 May 1915.

Mussolini went to war when he was called and served well as a corporal until he was wounded.

standing photo of Mussolini in 1917 as an Italian soldier

Above: Soldier Mussolini, 1917

After the war, when the frail structure of Italian political unity was endangered by civil strife, economic difficulties and the collapse of government, Mussolini used his paper to give vent to all his passions, to rally all the hot-headed veterans who found it difficult to return to dull civilian life, the very young men who felt that they had been cheated by not having been in the war, and all those who wanted a revolution, any kind of revolution.

 

On 23 March 1919, in Milan, he founded I Fasc (the League), a vague but determined organization which adopted a fiery and contradictory programme, so contradictory that it attracted dissatisfied and restless men from the right and left, anarchists and conservatives, businessmen and artists.

the Fasci italiani di combattimento manifesto as published in Il Popolo d'Italia on 6 June 1919

The confusion of the Fasci di combattimento (ex-servicemen league) reflected the disorderly but brilliant mind of Mussolini, his lack of principles and his constant inconsistency.

 

What Mussolini’s rheotric created, other men developed and their successes he would claim as his personal own.

Disgruntled anarchists across Italy violently seized regions and called them Fascist.

The March on Rome that would convince the King to make Mussolini Prime Minister wasn’t joined by the Fascist leader.

Mussolini and the Quadrumviri during the March on Rome in 1922

He arrived by train in Rome, borrowed a black shirt from one of the marchers and presented himself to the King as leader of the defiant assembly.

Even the black shirts themselves had been inspired by another man, Gabriele d’Annunzio, poet and self-proclaimed world’s greatest lover, who on 12 September 1919 led a band of 1,000 men to Fiume and conquered it for an Italy that had felt, despite being on the winning Allied side, that it had been cheated of territory and martial glory.

Gabriele D'Anunnzio.png

Above: Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863 – 1938)

 

And in one of history’s ironies, Hitler would borrow from Mussolini’s ideology his own brand of fascism and soon the student would far surpass and finally control the teacher.

 

Mussolini was dictator of Italy for two decades (1922 – 1943).

He was 39 when he seized power and 60 when he was forced to relinquish it.

Benito Mussolini seated portrait in suit and tie facing left

Above: Mussolini, at start of his dictatorship

He had shaped Italy according to his wishes, organized according to his theories, staffed by men educated and selected by him.

His powers were limitless.

Where his legal prerogatives ended, his undisputed authority and immense personal prestige began.

He ran the only official political party, so invasive and widespread that it interfered with the daily habits of millions of people 24/7 from the cradle to the tomb.

He decided the contents of all written material.

He had no opposition.

Mussolini was sole legislator, judge, censor, policeman, ambassador, general, the head of government, president of the Grand Council, President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of the Interior, of Foreign Affairs, of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, of Corporations.

What he didn’t run he controlled indirectly.

 

He was defeated by one man alone.

Himself.

 

He would become impotent in front of his enemies and of the arrogant ally he had encouraged and cultivated.

His grasp of world politics was over-rated.

He chose the wrong commanders, wrong strategies and wrong weapons.

He underestimated the will of the Italian people to suffer and die for a war they did not understand.

He believed his own propaganda.

He thought he had all the answers to all the riddles of the modern world.

 

He lacked raw materials, fuel and food to wage a long world war.

 

He lacked merchant ships to supply the far-flung theatres of war he had chosen to fight in.

 

His tanks were small, weak, slow, tin affairs, easily pierced by machine gun fire.

He had chosen them because they were cheaper and could buy them in bulk.

He said they were faster than the heavier models and more “attuned to the quick reflexes of the Italian soldier“.

 

He had no aircraft carriers.

His planes were good but too few to count and were not replaced fast enough.

 

His navy was efficient but not big or advanced enough to challenge the combined fleets he attacked.

They lacked radar which they never suspected existed.

What was missing in Italy wasn’t the courage or the will to fight but rather any kind of serious planning and organization behind the fighting men.

 

What had Mussolini really done with his time as dictator?

He promoted public works, built harbours, railways, roads, schools, autostrade, monuments, aqueducts, hospitals, irrigation and drainage networks, public buildings, bridges, etc.

But to get the exact measure of his achievements one must, first of all, subtract from the total all that would have been accomplished by any government in his place.

Subtract again how many projects that were just plain mistakes, decided for political and spectacular reasons rather than the hope of practical results.

Calculate how much money disappeared into the hands of dishonest contractors.

As a result, the sum total of Mussolini’s achievements is far out of proportion to the noise surrounding them, their fame and their moral cost.

 

What is the explanation for the inaction and ineffectiveness of Mussolini and why did he fail?

Mussolini was not stupid.

He was shrewd, quick to learn, wary, astute.

He could grasp a complex circumstance in a few minutes, face resolute opponents with success and usually take what intuitive decision any situation required.

The explanation of his failure is that he was not a failure.

He lost the war, his country, his mistress, his place in history and his life, but he succeeded in what he had always wanted to do.

It was not to make Italy safe and prsoperous.

It was not to organize Italy for a modern war and victory.

Mussolini had dedicated his life just to putting up a good show, a stirring show.

He played versatile and multi-faceted roles: the heroic soldier, the cold Machiavellian thinker, the Lenin-like leader of a revolutionary minority, the steely-minded dictator, the humanitarian despot, the Casanova lover,  the Nietzschean superman, the Napoleonic genius and the socialist renovator of society.

He was none of these things.

In the end, like an old actor, he no longer remembered what he really was, felt, believed or wanted.

As a showman his success was incredible.

Mussolini was more popular in Italy than anybody had ever been and possibly ever will be.

His pictures were cut out of newspapers and magazines and pasted on the walls of poor peasant cottages.

Schoolgirls fell in love with him as with a film star.

His most memorable words were written large on village houses for all to read.

One of his followers exclaimed, after listening to Mussolini announce in May 1936 that Ethiopia had been conquered and that Rome had again become the capital of an empire:

He is like a god.

Another responded:

Like a god?

No, no, he is a god.

Benito Mussolini saluting crowd

We laugh now when we see him in old newsreels.

His showmanship is like some wines which do not last or travel well, but which are excellent when consumed the year they are made in their native surroundings.

His technique was flamboyant, juvenile, ridiculous and highly effective.

Mussolini deceived the people.

He enjoyed a monopoly and was able to multiply his deceit by making good use of the newest communication techniques.

His slanted views and fabrications filled newspapers, posters, the radio, film screens, books, magazines and public discourse.

The majority of his captive audience believed most of what he wanted them to believe.

He loved a good show, enjoyed a good military parade, was comforted by a naval review and strengthened by a vast ocean of supporters in a city square.

He believed his own slogans.

He was amazed by the statistics he invented, thrilled by the boasts he made, stirred to tears by his own oratory.

He confused appearances for reality.

Truth was what it looked like and what most people liked to believe.

His show was always new and startling.

Only by keeping his public interested, thrilled, puzzled, frightened and entertained, could he make them forget the sacrifice of their liberty and their miserable poverty, unite them behind him, dishearten and divide his opposition, assure internal order and international prestige.

Mussolini was corrupted by his own spectacle and the people who surrounded him.

 

Great leaders, drunk with their own great importance and vast intelligence, think themselves infallible, surrounded by sychophants, all stumble and commit fatal mistakes.

Mussolini thought World War II was almost over when he entered Italy into it in June 1940.

He counted on the aid of Hitler in an emergency.

He trusted his own intuition and his luck.

But any reasonably prudent dictator should also have been prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

Mussolini was not.

He never knew what every military attaché in every foreign embassy in Rome knew.

Italy was ridiculously and tragically unprepared.

What blinded him?

He never even suspected that practically nothing was behind his show.

He never knew how really weak, disarmed and demoralized his country was.

He was badly informed, but he wanted to be badly informed.

The master of make-believe could not detect make-believe when practised by others on him.

His resistance to deception, which was never very strong, gradually dwindled and eventually disappeared altogether.

He needed bigger and bigger doses of flattery and deception each year.

In the end, the most sickening and improbable lies, as long as they adulated his idea of himself and confirmed his prejudices, seemed to him the plain and unadorned expression of objective truth.

In the end, Mussolini lived within his own private imaginary world of his own making.

He was shown only the things and the people that would please and comfort him.

Everything else was efficiently hidden.

 

The technique was so smooth that it even deceived Hitler.

Mussolini and Hitler saluting troops

Hitler’s favourable opinion of Mussolini, of Italian military preparations and the people’s devotion to the régime and to the Axis, made him commit several miscalculations which cost Germany the war.

Hitler had taken a big risk when he attacked Russia and tried to fight the war on two fronts, but he had a reasonable chance of winning despite heavy odds.

Hitler believed that he lost the Russian campaign because he had started four weeks too late.

He was four weeks too late because he wasted time to rescue the Italians bogged down in Albania in Mussolini’s ill-prepared attack on Greece.

 

Mussolini fell from power on 25 July 1943.

The allied armies had invaded Sicily only a few days before, all overseas possessions were lost, the Italian army had been destroyed in Russia, in the Balkans and in Africa, Italy was battered and paralysed by massive air bombardments, Germans were retreating.

All the big Fascist chiefs took part in a fateful meeting of the Grand Council and demanded that the command of all armed forces be turned over to the King.

Mussolini pleaded with them, cajoled them, threatened them and finally accepted his demotion.

 

The following day King Victor Emmanuel received Mussolini in his private villa and ordered his arrest.

 

There was no Fascist revolt when the news spread.

No faithful followers rose in arms.

Nobody kept the Fascist oath:

I swear to defend the revolution with my blood.

Nothing happened.

The show was over.

That’s all.

The people rejoiced simultaneously, for Mussolini had cost them much.

 

Mussolini was transported here and there in search of a place the Germans could not reach, to some islands at first, then to a ski resort hotel in the mountains of Abruzzi.

The Germans found him anyway, in spite of the fact that there was no road to the hotel and only a cable railway connected it with the lowlands.

They used gliders.

 

Mussolini arrived at Hitler’s headquarters, thanked his liberator, donned his old uniform and was named president of the puppet régime, the Italian Social Republic.

four color map of northern Italy with Italian Socialist Republic in tan, 1943

Mussolini’s capital was in Salò, comfortably on the direct road to the Brenner Pass, in case of sudden retreat to Switzerland.

As puppet president, Mussolini’s life was dismal.

He knew everything was lost.

He was a failure.

He had plunged Italy into the wrong war, at the wrong time, with practically no weapons.

The few moral and materialistic resources which existed, including the heroic courage of thousands of soldiers, were squandered by an amateur strategist who wanted to show his ally that he too was a mastermind.

Mussolini paid no attention to current affairs, read many books, wrote an enormous quantity of insignificance.

He was interested in only one thing:

How history would see him.

 

He knew the end had come.

 

Mussolini decided to trust his art as an actor: to disguise himself and flee.

He made up his mind to go directly to Switzerland, without wasting time in futile and bloody heroics, carrying all his money and documents to defend himself if he were tried as a war criminal.

On the road to Switzerland, he was found and arrested.

On 25 April 1945, Mussolini was executed and his body hung on display above a Milan petrol station.

Above: Mussolini (second from left)

Even in disgrace and death Mussolini had put on a public show.

 

In our journeys through Lombardy and around and amongst the northern Italian lakes, we neither sought out nor were overly interested in the life of this man over half a century deceased, but somehow Mussolini’s legacy quietly lingers here.

We would drive through Brenner Pass and later find ourselves spontaneously detour our Lake Como travels to the ornate gate of the pompous villa in the tiny village where he was executed, fascinated by the morbidity of everything.

Now on our homeward journey along the shores of Lake Garda we once again encounter the dark spectre of the man-monster that was Mussolini.

Salò once the home of musical genius and artistic endeavour seems now reduced to the embarrassing legacy of failed Fascist capital and unsavoury snuff film locale.

The August sun and horrid humid air seems somewhat chilled by the ghosts of the past.

Only the ignorant feel bliss here.

 

I wonder where and when the next dark Salò will be:

Somewhere in America?

Deep within North Korea?

On an island of the Philippines?

A village in Venezuela?

And as the world burns someone plays the violin….

{{{coat_alt}}}

Above: Coat of arms of the Italian Social Republic (or the Republic of Salò)

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / R.J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini

Canada Slim and the Breviary of Bartholomew

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 June 2018

“Writing a blog about everything that happens to you will honestly help here.” (Therapist)

“Nothing happens to me.”(John Watson, MD)

(“A Study in Pink“, Sherlock)

A view of the London skyline, with the word "Sherlock" in black letters

Two months ago (30 April) I began this post.

Four days later I was involved in an accident resulting in both arms broken.

After 3 weeks in hospital and 4 weeks in a rehab centre and 2 weeks at home, I am finally able to resume this post.

(My other blog is only a month and a half behind, so I am making progress!)

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 April 2018

I am certain that what I am feeling this morning isn´t unique to myself.

That feeling that my life isn´t completely my own.

That I am being pulled and propelled by others in directions that I would rather choose for myself.

There are the obligations of work where employers view employees as mere tools towards their profits or obstacles carelessly removed when those profits are threatened.

There are the obligations of relationships where everyone wants your time and attention and feels slighted if your time and attention is considered more important to you than their own.

There are times when I can really relate to the words of Dido Armstrong….

Dido - Life for Rent.png

“If my life is for rent….

….I deserve nothing more than I get

Cos nothing I have is truly mine.

I´ve always thought that I would love to live by the sea.

To travel the world alone and live more simply.

I have no idea what´s happened to that dream.

Cos there´s really nothing left here to stop me.

It´s just a thought, only a thought….

While my heart is a shield and I won´t let it down.

While I am so afraid to fail so I won´t even try.

Well, how can I say I´m alive?”

This song comes back to me each time I have the feeling of being a voyeur of my own life.

And as the jukebox of my mind plays this song I am reminded of particular moments in London….

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

She was there for a medical conference.

I was there to carry her bags.

Or so it felt at times.

We had only a week to explore London (23 – 29 October).

Her conference was Thursday to Saturday 26 – 28 October, which meant from Monday to Wednesday and on Sunday I would need to accommodate her wishes and make them my own for the sake of marital bliss.

(Ain´t love grand?)

It wasn´t Thursday yet, so serendipitious exploration by myself wasn´t in the cards this day.

She was determined to see absolutely everything she could while she could and liked having me around to carry our half dozen guidebooks and the liquid refreshment and the various odds and ends tourists insist they overpack their daybags with.

We found ourselves in the section of London known as Smithfield….

 

“The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep with filth and mire, a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle and mingling with the fog.”

(Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens)

Smithfield is a corruption of “smooth field“, originally open ground outside the city walls, a flat marshy area stretching to the eastern bank of the Fleet River.

Very little of early medieval London remains intact today, because Londoners built houses of wood.

The City burned down in 1077, 1087, 1132, 1136, 1203, 1212, 1220 and 1227.

Almost anything left intact was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

What has survived was begun by a fool.

The great Priory of Saint Bartholomew along with St. Bartholomew´s Hospital was founded in the 12th century by Rahere when Henry I (1068 – 1135), a son of William the Conqueror, was King.

Almost all that is known about Rahere comes from the Book of Foundation.

Rahere´s family was poor, but he was intelligent and ambitious so over time he would acquire rich and powerful friends.

His cheerful and fun-loving character made him popular and he soon became part of Henry I´s court as the king´s jester.

The whole royal household was thrown into grief and gloom when the White Ship bearing the King´s heir and a number of his friends was lost with all hands on board in a winter storm in November 1120.

WhiteShipSinking.jpg

Henry never smiled again and Rahere became a priest.

Rahere decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, a long and difficult journey by sea or land in those days, controlled by wind and weather and the speed of a sail or a horse, taking a month or more.

Rahere visited various places in Rome associated with St. Peter and St. Paul but then he fell dangerously ill with malaria and was nursed at the Hospital of San Giovanni di Dio on Isola Tiberina by the Brothers of the Order of St. John of God.

If the Book of Foundation is to be believed, in his sickness Rahere vowed that if he would regain his health he would return to England and “erect a hospital for the restoration of poor men.”

Rahere´s prayer was answered and he soon set off for England.

On the way home he had a terrible dream in which he was seized by a beast with four feet and two wings who lifted him up high and placed him on a ledge above a yawning pit.

Rahere cried out in fear of falling and a figure appeared at his side who identified himself as St. Bartholomew and said he had come to help him.

In return the Saint said:

“In my name, thou shalt found a church that shall be a House of God in London at Smithfield.”

So, according to the legend, that´s just what Rahere did.

Rahere´s fabled miraculous return to good health contributed to the priory gaining a reputation for curative powers, with sick people filling the church of St. Bartolomew the Great, notably on 24 August (St. Bartholomew´s Day).

St barts the great exterior.jpg

As Smithfield was part of the King´s market the King´s permission was needed.

A Royal Charter was drawn up (1122) to found a priory of Augustinian canons and a hospital.

Building began in March 1123.

The ghost of Rahere is reputed to haunt St. Bartholomew´s, following an incident during repair work in the 19th century when his tomb was opened and a sandal removed.

The sandal was returned to the church but not Rahere´s foot.

Since then, Rahere is a shadowy, cowled figure that appears from the gloom, brushes by astonished witnesses and fades slowly into thin air.

Rahere is said to appear every year on the morning of 1 July at 7 a.m., emerging from the vestry.

 

Bartholomew Fair was established in 1133 by Rahere to raise funds.

Rahere himself used to perform juggling tricks.

(Samuel Pepys would later write about seeing a horse counting sixpence and a puppet show of Ben Jonson´s 1614 play Bartholomew Fair.)

Crowds throng the streets filled with rides and lined with gaily lit buildings.

In Daniel Defoe´s Moll Flanders (1722) his heroine meets a well-dressed gentleman at the Fair.

William Wordsworth´s poem The Prelude (1803) mentions the din and the Indians and the dwarfs at the Fair.

Victorians would close the Fair down in 1855 to protect public morale.

It was felt that the Fair was encouraging debauchery and public disorder.

The Newgate Calendar wrote that the Fair was “a school of vice which has initiated more youth into the habits of villainy than Newgate Prison itself.”)

 

Hidden in the back streets north of the namesake hospital, St. Bartholomew the Great is London´s oldest and most atmospheric parish church.

Begun in 1123 as the main church of St. Bartholomew´s priory and hospice, it was partly demolished in the Reformation and gradually fell into ruins.

The church once adjoined the hospital and though the hospital mostly survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries, about half of the church was ransacked before being demolished in 1543.

In the early 16th century, Prior William Bolton had an oriel window installed inside the church so he could keep an eye on the monks.

The symbol in the centre panel is a crossbow (bolt) passing through a barrel (tun) in honour of the Prior.

Having escaped the Great Fire of 1666, the church fell into disrepair.

The cloisters were used as a stable, there was a boys´ school in the triforium, a coal and wine cellar in the crypt, a blacksmith´s in the north transept and a printing press where Benjamin Franklin served for a year (1725) as a journeyman printer in the Lady Chapel.

The church was also occupied by squatters in the 18th century.

From 1887, Aston Webb restored what remained and added the chequered patterning and flintwork that now characterizes the exterior.

The Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great is a rare survivor, despite also suffering Zeppelin bombing in World War I and the Blitz in World War II.

To get an idea of the scale of the original church, approach it through the half-timbered Tudor gatehouse on Little Britain Street.

A wooden statue of St. Bartolomew stands in a niche.

Below is the 13th century arch that once formed the entrance to the nave.

The churchyard now stands where the nave once was.

There is also the bust of Edward Cooke made of “weeping marble“, stone that appears to cry if the weather is wet enough and when the central heating hasn´t dried out the stone.

Edward Cooke

The inscription beneath the statue exhorts visitors to “unsluice your briny floods.”

One side of the cloisters survives to the south and now houses the delightful Cloister Café.

Inside the Cloister Café

Under a 15th century canopy north of the altar is the tomb of Rahere.

 

The poet and heritage campaigner John Betjeman (1906 – 1984) kept a flat opposite the churchyard on Cloth Fair.

Betjeman considered St. Bartolomew the Great to have the finest surviving Norman interior in London.

 

Charity in the churchyard on Good Friday still continues.

A centuries-old tradition began when 21 sixpences were placed upon the gravestone of a woman who had stipulated in her will that there would be an annual distribution to 21 widows in perpetuity.

Freshly baked hot cross buns nowadays are not only to widows but to others as well.

Hot cross buns - fig and pecan.jpg

In 2007 the church became the first Anglican parish church to charge admission to tourists not attending worship.

 

St. Bartholomew the Great is the adopted church of the Worshipful Companies of Butchers, Founders, Haberdashers, Fletchers, Farriers, Farmers, Information Technologists, Hackney Carriage Drivers and Public Relations Practitioners.

Perhaps it is this last Company combined with the church´s atmosphere that has made St. Bartholomew´s much beloved of film companies.

 

The fourth wedding of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) sees Charles (Hugh Grant) deciding to marry ex-girlfriend Henrietta (Anna Chancellor) aka “Duck Face“.

Four weddings poster.jpg

However, shortly before the ceremony at St. Bartholomew, Charles´ ex-casual girlfriend Carrie (Andie MacDowell) arrives, revealing to Charles that she and Hamish (Corin Redgrave) are separated.

Charles has a crisis of confidence, which he reveals to his deaf brother David (David Bower) and his best friend Matthew (John Hannah).

During the ceremony, when the vicar asks whether anyone knows a reason why the couple should not marry, David, who was reading the vicar’s lips, asks Charles to translate for him and says in sign language that he suspects the groom loves someone else.

The vicar asks whether Charles does love someone else and Charles replies, “I do.”

Henrietta punches Charles and the wedding is halted, with the church forgotten for the rest of the film.

 

In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) “marries” Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) in this church meant to be the chapel of Nottingham Castle.

A bowman, ready to release a fiery arrow. Below two figures, beside a tree, silhouetted against a lake background.

William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) reveals to Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) that he is alive when he surprises her and her husband-to-be Lord Wessex (Colin Furth) inside St. Batholomew´s. (Shakespeare in Love)

Shakespeare in Love 1998 Poster.jpg

Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore) regularly visits Father Smythe (Jason Isaacs) at the church. (The End of the Affair, 1999)

End of the affair.jpg

William Wilburforce (Ioan Gruffuff)(1797 – 1833) finds spiritual enlightenment in St. Bart´s to inspire him to devote his life to the abolishment of slavery in England. (Amazing Grace)

Amazinggraceposter.jpg

Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) marries King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) and is crowned Queen of England in a ceremony at St. Bartholomew, as is Snow White (Kristen Stewart). (The Other Boleyn Girl)(Snow White and the Huntsman)

Other boleyn girl post.jpg

The interiors of Fotheringray Castle and Chartley Hall (the former where Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587) was imprisoned, the latter from where she reigned, both ruins) are captured by St. Bartholomew´s. (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)

Elizabeth golden poster.jpg

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) with Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) and his police force battle Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) and his men within St. Bartholomew`s. (Sherlock Holmes, 2009)

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in-character. The background is a window display, featuring shelves containing miscellaneous objects relating to the story. The poster reads "Sherlock Holmes" across the top, with the tagline "Holmes for the holiday" centered at the bottom. The poster is predominately turquoise coloured.

St. Bart´s has also been used in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), the TV series Taboo and as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey by T-Mobile for its “royal wedding” advertisement (2011).

 

Historically much blood has been spilt in Smithfield, with both the living their lives dispatched and the dead their bodies snatched.

Blood, both animal and human, has been spilled at Smithfield for centuries that.

Given its ease of access to grazing and water, Smithfield established itself as London´s livestock market, remaining so for almost a thousand years.

Smithfield Meat Market tower1.jpg

The meat market grew up adjacent to Bartholomew Fair, though it wasn´t legally sanctioned until the 17th century.

Live cattle continued to be herded into Smithfield until the Fair was suppressed and the abattoirs moved out to Islington.

A new covered market hall was erected in 1868 and it remains London´s main meat market.

Early morning by 7 am, Smithfield Market is at its most animated with a full range of stalls open.

 

Human blood was often spilled in Smithfield as well.

 

William Wallace (1270 – 1305), a Scottish knight and one of the main rebel leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence, was captured near Glasgow, transported to London and taken to Westminster Hall.

Wallace Monument 20080505 Stained glass William Wallace.jpg

There he was tried for treason and for atrocities against civilians in war, “sparing neither age nor sex, monk nor nun“.

He was crowned with a garland of oak to suggest he was the King of Outlaws.

Wallace responded to the treason charge:

I could not be a traitor to King Edward, for I was never his subject.

Following his trial, Wallace was taken from the Hall to the Tower of London on 23 August 1305.

He was then stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to Smithfield.

He was strangled by hanging but released while he was still alive.

He was then emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burned before him.

Wallace was then beheaded, drawn and quartered.

His head was preserved (dipped in tar) and placed on a pike atop London Bridge.

In 2005 a memorial service was held for Wallace, on the 700th anniversary of the Scottish rebel´s execution.

Above: Plaque on the wall of St. Bartholomew´s Hospital, marking the place of Wallace´s execution

 

Wat Tyler led the Peasants´ Revolt in 1381.

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At the height of the Revolt, Tyler had them gather, 20,000 strong, at Smithfield after having just taken London by storm.

They assembled to discuss what their next move should be.

They were debating whether to loot the city when the King appeared, accompanied by a retinue of 60 horsemen.

Though Richard II was only a boy of 14, he did not shrink from the challenge.

When he reached the Abbey of St. Bartholomew, Richard stopped and looked at the great crowd and said he would not go on without hearing what they wanted.

If they were discontented, he would placate them.

Tyler, a roofer from Kent, emboldened by the peasants´ success, rode forward to negotiate with the King.

He spoke insolently to the King and to the Lord Mayor of London who was with him.

In reply, the Lord Mayor produced his sword and struck Tyler in the head.

Tyler fell to the ground and was surrounded by the King´s retainers who finished him off while the peasants looked on helplessly.

They were about to launch into a massacre when Richard hurriedly retrieved the situation.

Ordering his retainers to stay where they were, Richard rode forward alone and calmed the mob.

He told them:

“I am your King.

You have no other leader but me.”

The crowd dispersed, the Revolt was over, the peasants went home, their remaining leaders hunted down and hanged without mercy.

 

Smithfield became a regular venue for public executions.

The Bishop of Rochester´s cook was boiled alive here in 1531, after being found guilty of poisoning.

The local speciality was burnings, reaching a peak during the reign of “Bloody” Mary in the 1550s when hundreds of Protestants were burnt at the stake for their beliefs, in revenge for the Catholics who had suffered a similar fate under Henry VIII and Edward VI.

A plaque on the side of the church commemorates those who died at Smithfield as martyrs for their faith – 50 Protestants and the religious reformers who would be called “the Marian martryrs“.

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their Theory of the universe.

That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages and it failed altogether in its object.” (G.K. Chesterton)

On 16 July 1546, Anne Askew of Lincolnshire and three men were burnt at the stake, for going around London distributing Protestant tracts and giving them secretly to the ladies of the Queen´s household.

Askew was arrested, tortured in the Tower of London and then executed.

She was 25.

So many executions….

 

Reportedly some nights there is a strong scent of burning flesh.

 

During the 16th century the Smithfield site was the place of execution of swindlers and coin forgers who were boiled to death in oil.

After 1783, when hangings at Tyburn Tree (present site of Marble Arch) stopped, public executions at the nearby gates of Newgate Prison just south of Smithfield, began to draw crowds of 100,000 and more.

The last public beheading took place here in 1820 when five Cato Street Conspirators were hanged and decapitated with a surgeon´s knife.

It was in hanging that Newgate excelled.

Its gallows dispatched 20 criminals simultaneously.

Unease over the “robbery and violence, loud laughing, oaths, fighting, obscene conduct and still more filthy language” that accompanied public hangings drove the executions inside the prison walls in 1868.

The bodies of the executed were handed over to the surgeons of St. Bartholomew´s for dissection, but body snatchers also preyed on non-criminals buried in the nearby churchyard of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

Such was the demand for corpses that relatives were forced to pay a night watchman to guard the graveyard in a specially built watchhouse to prevent the “Resurrection Men” from retrieving their quarry.

Successfully stolen bodies were taken to the nearby tavern, the Fortune of War, to be sold to the physicians of the St. Bartolomew´s Hospital.

Rahere may have been both head of the Priory and master of the Hospital, but soon these offices, these institutions became distinct identities.

St. Bart´s Hospital wasn´t the first of its kind, for it, like the earliest Hospitals, was a part of a monastery that gave shelter and food to wayfarers, serving both as guesthouse and infirmary, caring not just for the traveller, but for all kinds of needy people, including the sick, the aged and the destitute.

St. Bart´s would become known for taking in expectant mothers, foundlings and orphans and babies from nearby Newgate Prison.

St. Bart´s began with eight brethern and four sisters, all following the rule of the Augustinian order.

For over four centuries, the Hospital continued to be a religious institution.

By 1150, St. Bart´s had become a popular refuge for the chronically ill, many seeking miraculous cures, yet little is known about these patients in medieval times, other than those described in the Book of the Foundation.

 

A carpenter named Adwyne was brought in suffering from chronic contractions resulting from prolonged illness.

First he regained use of his hands by making small tools and as his limbs became stronger he was able to use an axe.

His recovery has much in common with modern physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

 

Gradually, treatments based on medical doctrines were introduced.

 

John Mirfeld, a contemporary of Chaucer, lived within the Priory and was closely connected to the Hospital.

He wrote two books in which he recorded everything he believed conducive to spiritual and physical health.

The first of his works, the Breviarium Bartholomei (Breviary of Bartholomew), written in Latin between 1380 and 1395, is a large compendium of diagnoses, treatments and remedies, which were copied from the standard medical authorities of the day, mainly classical and Arabic, but included cures based on folklore and magic which were an integral part of medieval medicine.

Mirfield´s writings were the best available medical practice 600 years ago.

The Breviarium Bartholomei dealt with general illnesses, then categorized other diseases according to the parts of the bodies they affected.

 

The Order of the Hospital (1552) stated that there should be “one fayre and substantial chest” in which the Hospital´s records were kept.

The chest was to have three locks, which only the president, treasurer and one other governor had the key to a lock.

The Clerk of the Hospital was responsible for writing down a record of the Hospital´s business, for which he kept four books: a repertory (copies of all deeds relating to the Hospital´s property, rights and obligations), a book of survey (the names of all the tenants of the Hospital´s properties and who was responsible for repairs), a book of accounts / the ledger (copies of all deeds relating to the Hospital´s property, rights and obligations), and a journal (a record of the meetings of the hospital´s governers).

 

From 1547 there were usually three Hospital surgeons, each in regular attendance on the patients.

Some of the early surgeons at St. Bart´s were skilled practitioners and highly distinguised in their day.

William Clowes (1544 – 1604) wrote a number of books which have been described as the best surgical texts of the Elizabethan age.

Above: William Clowes

John Woodall (1556 – 1643), a contemporary of William Harvey, wrote The Surgeon´s Mate, a book full of sound and practical advice for ships´ surgeons.

Woodall was one of the first to recognize scurvy (caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the diet) and lemon juice as a treatment for it.

Above: John Woodall

The most common operations were: amputations, lithothomy (removing bladder stones) and trephination (drilling with a circular saw to remove portions of the skull.

But without anaesthetics and any understanding of the causes of infection, pus in wounds was accepted as part of the healing process and mortality rates were high.

More typically, surgeons dealt with accidents such as burns, fractures, knife and gunshot wounds.

They also pulled teeth, lanced boils, drained pus, treated skin disorders, venereal infections, tumours and ulcers.

 

Most drugs were made from home-grown and imported plants and spices and were based on traditional remedies.

In 1618 the first London Pharmacopoeia was published and sponsored by the Royal College of Physicians, embodying a list of approved drugs and the methods of preparing them.

Some exotic substances were included, such as unicorn´s horn and spider´s web, reflecting the practices of the time.

 

One of the more distinguished apothecaries at St. Bart´s was Francis Bernard (1627 – 1698) who amassed a huge library, containing 13,000 volumes, 4,500 of which related to medicine and science, at his house in Little Britain near the Hospital.

 

Pharmacy changed slowly and it was not until the 19th century that scientific analysis began to isolate drugs like morphine, codeine and quinine.

 

Unlike surgeons who acquired their skills by apprenticeship, physicians were university trained.

Until the 17th century, medicine remained largely backward looking, dependent upon classical authorities and ancient remedies.

Diagnosis was made by taking into account the patient´s history, lifestyle and appearance, and external factors such as the environment in which the patient lived.

Gradually, however it became accepted that the human body could be investigated by dissection and that knowledge of anatomy was vital in understanding how the body worked.

 

William Harvey (1578 – 1637) studied medicine and anatomy at the famed University of Padua before serving as physician at St. Bart´s.

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Above: William Harvey

He is credited with one of the greatest advances in medical history: the discovery of the circulation of the blood, published in 1628 in Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cardis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An Anatomical Essay on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals).

Based on his observations and experiments, Harvey demonstrated that the blood circulated constantly around the body, pumped by the heart, going out by the arteries and returning by the veins.

His work was a role model for scientific investigation.

Nonetheless by the 18th century there was still no real understanding of the nature and causes of disease.

 

Peter Mere Latham (1789 – 1875) emphasized the careful physical examination of the patient.

Above: Peter Mere Latham

Some 60 volumes of his casenotes, all carefully indexed, are the earliest examples of detailed patient records.

 

Diagnosis using instruments, such as the stethoscope, was introduced in the first half of the 19th century.

Percivall Pott (1714 – 1788) bridged the gap between the barber-surgeons and the modern art of surgery.

Known for his consideration of the patient and who described amputation as “terrible to bear and horrible to see“, Pott introduced many improvements to surgery and helped raised the standing of his procession.

By the last quarter of the 18th century, systematic medical education (the mix of university education and hands-on apprenticeship) had yet to be introduced in England.

Due to popularity of anatomical, surgical operations and bandaging lectures, the Hospital began to provide a purpose-built lecture theatre.

A wide range of subjects was taught including theory and practice of medicine, anatomy and physiology, surgery, physics, chemistry, materia medica (drugs), midwifery and diseases of women and children.

By 1831, St. Bart´s had the largest medical school in London, providing a complete curriculum for students preparing for medical examination.

 

Health care was transformed in the 19th century.

New specialities arose as medicine became a science.

By the end of the century, research, often conducted in the laboratory, had become the basis of medical science.

 

A story, a legend, begins in 1881, when Dr. John Watson, having returned to London after serving in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, visits the Criterion Restaurant and runs into an old friend named Stamford, who had been a dresser under him at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

St. Bart´s was Watson´s alma mater.

Watson confides in Stamford that, due to a shoulder injury that he sustained at the Battle of Maiwand, he has been forced to leave the armed services and is now looking for a place to live.

Stamford mentions that an acquaintance of his, Sherlock Holmes, is looking for someone to split the rent at a flat at 221B Baker Street, but he cautions Watson about Holmes’s eccentricities.

Stamford takes Watson back to St. Bartholomew’s where, in a chemical laboratory, they find Holmes experimenting with a reagent, seeking a test to detect human haemoglobin.

Holmes explains the significance of bloodstains as evidence in criminal trials.

“There´s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life.” (Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet)

After Stamford introduces Watson to Holmes, Holmes shakes Watson’s hand and comments, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

Though Holmes chooses not to explain why he made the comment, Watson raises the subject of their parallel quests for a place to live in London, and Holmes explains that he has found the perfect place in Baker Street.

At Holmes’s prompting, the two review their various shortcomings to make sure that they can live together.

After seeing the rooms at 221B, they move in and grow accustomed to their new situation.

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Pathology (the study of the underlying causes and processes of disease) was at first the main area of scientific work.

Case notes of individual patients were systematically compiled, not only as a record of diagnosis and treatment, but also for use in teaching and research.

Gradually, the old beliefs that infection arose spontanteously gave way to the discovery that disease was caused by small living germs (bacteria).

With the introduction of anaesthetics and antiseptics, procedures could be undertaken that were formerly prohibited by the risk of blood loss, infection and the suffering of the patient.

So while the number of operations performed at St. Bart´s increased dramatically, the overall mortality rate kept falling.

During the 1930s, St. Bart´s led the world in the development of mega-voltage X-ray therapy for cancer patients and was the first Hospital to install equipment capable of treating tumours with a 1,000,000 volt beam.

 

St. Bartholomew´s Hospital has existed on the same site since its founding in the 12th century, surviving both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, making this Hospital the oldest in London.

 

St. Bartholomew´s Hospital Museum, open Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, shows how medical care has developed and the history of the Hospital.

The Museum is part of the London Museums of Health and Medicine and has been described as one of the world´s 10 weirdest medical museums.

Among the medical artifacts are some fearsome amputation instruments, a pair of leather “lunatic restrainers” and jars with labels such as “Poison – for external use only.”

The Museum contains some fine paintings, gruesome surgical tools and a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote some of his Sherlock Holmes stories while studying medicine here.

You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

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Upstairs on the 3rd floor of the Hospital, the Barts Pathology Museum (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/bartspathology) is a cavernous, glass-roofed hall lined with jars of pickled body parts, open to the visitor by appointment only.

Around 5,000 diseased specimens in various shades of putrid yellow, gangerous green and bilious orange are neatly arranged on three open-plan floors linked by a spiral staircase.

Only the ground floor of the Museum is open to the public, while the upper galleries are reserved for teaching, cataloguing and conservation.

Some favourites: the deformed liver of a “tight lacer“(corset wearer), the misshapen bandaged foot of a Chinese woman, the skull of the assassin John Bellingham who murdered Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.

The Museum has a series of workshops and talks inspired by its collection.

There are taxidermy classes, lectures on funerary cannibalism and the history of syphilis, and festivals dedicated to bodily decay and broken hearts.

Have a glass of wine amongst severed hands and trepanned skulls.

If you dare….

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Prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, there were only two ways in which medical schools could acquire corpses: prisoners sentenced to death and dissection, or corpses purchased from the “Resurrection Men” body snatchers.

 

A door leads from the Hospital Museum to the Hospital´s official entrance hall.

On the walls of the staircase are two murals painted by William Hogarth: The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan, which can only be seen at close quarters on Friday afternoons.

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Hogarth was so enraged by the news that the Hospital was commissioning art from Italian painters that he insisted on doing the staircase murals for free as a demonstration that English painting was equal to Italian.

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The legend recreated in the BBC drama, final episode “The Reichenbach Fall” of the second series of Sherlock.

J.M.W. Turner, “Reichenbach Falls

John finds Sherlock at the St. Bartholomew’s lab but leaves after hearing Mrs. Hudson has been shot.

Sherlock texts Moriarty who meets him on the roof of the hospital to resolve what the criminal calls their “final problem“.

Moriarty reveals that Sherlock must commit suicide or Moriarty’s assassins will kill John, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade.

Sherlock realises that Moriarty has a fail-safe and can call the killings off.

Sherlock then convinces Moriarty that he is willing to do anything to make him activate the fail-safe.

After acknowledging that he and Sherlock are alike, Moriarty tells Sherlock “As long as I am alive, you can save your friends,” then commits suicide by shooting himself in the mouth, thereby denying Sherlock knowledge of the abort codes and the ability to prove that Moriarty does exist.

With no way to use the fail-safe, Sherlock calls John, who is rushing back from 221B Baker Street after realising the report about Mrs. Hudson was a ruse.
Claiming that he was always a fake and explaining this last phone call is his “note“, Sherlock swan-dives off the roof of St. Bartholomew as John looks on horrified from the street, thereby ensuring that Moriarty’s true identity dies with him.
After being knocked to the ground by a cyclist, John stumbles over to watch, grief-stricken, as Sherlock’s bloody body is carried away by hospital staff.
St. Bart´s is again used as the location for the resolution to Holmes´ faked suicide, in the first episode (“The Empty Hearse“) of the third Sherlock series.
Just inside the Henry VIII Gate of St. Bartholomew´s Hospital is the Hospital church of St. Bartholomew the Less.
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Inside the light and airy church with its limed oak pews the visitor can find a painting of St. Batholomew, the aforementioned parish chest and memorials to Hospital doctors, nurses and other staff.
On the wall, the Balthrope Monument has the kneeling figure of Robert Balthrope, Sergeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth I with the final lines (paraphrased):
“Let here his rotten bones repose till angel´s trumpet sound.
To warn the world of present change and raise the dead from the ground.”
To wander a neighbourhood so rich in history and culture….
To learn of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, of jesters of joy and saints of determination, of fairs fayre and deadly prisons, of patriots and poets, of movie magic, of queens and martyrs, of rebels who defied kings, of doctors and nurses, of drugs and medicine….
Such is Smithfield, the Springfield of England, such was our Bart day.
The jukebox of my mind thinks of The Simpsons.
Do the Bartman.
Sources
Wikipedia
Nicholas Best, London in the Footsteps of the Famous
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
Rena Gardiner, The Story of Saint Bartholomew the Great
Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide
Rough Guide London
St. Bartholomew`s Hospital: Nine Centuries of Health Care

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Canada Slim and the Lakeside Pilgrimage

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 April 2018

For quite some time in this, what has become my travel blog, I have written about my adventures and discoveries retracing the paths and the life story of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwengli (between accounts of travels in London, Italy and Serbia).

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

Using Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhuas nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch as a guide to what routes I should follow to retrace Zwengli´s steps, I have, of this date of writing already completed the itinerary they suggest.

I have already written about my walks from Wildhaus (where Zwingli was born) to Strichboden, Arvenbüel, Weesen (where he went to school), Glarus (his first posting as a priest), Einsiedeln (his second post) to Wadenswil on the Lake of Zürich.

(See Canada Slim and…. the Privileged Place, the Monks of the Dark Forest, the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul, the Thundering Hollows, the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I also included descriptions of former visits to Basel and Vienna (where Zwingli did his University studies).

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

What remains to be told, and I hope you will enjoy the telling of the walks that follow as much as I enjoyed the walks, are the accounts of my walk along the shores of the Zürichsee from Wädenswil to Zürich (where Zwingli did his third and final posting as a priest and church reformer) and from Zürich to Kappel am Albis (where Zwingli was killed in battle).

I will also include, in a future post, a visit to Geneva, home to the International Red Cross Museum and the International Museum of the Reformation, both crucial to an understanding of the life and times of Zwingli and the effects he, and those who followed his example, had on both Switzerland and the world.

To those gentle readers new to my blog seeking to understand both why I did these walks and why I feel it important to write about these walks and the life of Zwingli….

I walk because I believe that walking remains the superior way to discover a place.

I write about where I travel, including not just what is but also what was, to extend (I hope) the horizons of my readers and cause them to appreciate what a rich, diverse and wonderful world we share and the hard lessons learnt and still being learnt that have led and continue to lead us towards a better tomorrow.

Lofty goals for a humble blogger, eh?

 

Wädenswil to Kilchberg, 27 November 2017

The basin in which Lake Zürich is found was formed 12,000 years ago by the Linth glacier.

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(It was a Tuesday.)

The rugged Romans, the adventurous Alemanni and the hearty Hapsburgs all valued this picturesque, fruitful legacy of ice equally and fought to keep the independently minded Swiss from rightfully claiming it as their own.

Today it is one of the world´s most privileged, coveted and envied residential areas.

There is a walking path system that encircles the Lake.

The 124-kilometre Lake Zürich Trail (Zürichsee Rundweg / Swiss Trail 84) is divided into 10 sections, but only on Section 3 (Horgen – Richterswil) does the Trail leave glimpsing the Lake from above and afar and actually skirt the lakeshore itself.

It is certainly possible that Zwingli may have followed the shoreline himself as he made his way from Einsiedeln to Zürich, but there is little to remind the wanderer of the Reformation until the City of Zürich itself.

That being said, there is much of interest to see and do for the informed visitor, for though the Steiners´ 20-kilometre itinerary from Wädenswil to Zürich is not intensely Zwingli/Reformation-connected, the region offers plenty of enjoyment and surprising contrasts.

After three train rides from Landschlacht (via Romanshorn and Zürich), I began to walk from Wädenswil harbour beside the SBB Station heading north to Zürich.

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Wädenswil is the kind of place that doesn´t immediately spring to mind when one thinks “excitement“.

Rather the harbour inspired within the jukebox of my mind the song “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay“.

But a little research picked up some interesting tidbits about the town´s tumultuous past.

 

The new Wädenswil chateau, once the seat of the powerful Wädenswil Council, was razed by the French on 24 March 1804 as part of the Bockenkrieg (Bocken War), a farmer/peasant revolt against the French occupation of the Swiss Confederation (1803 – 1815).

The ruins of the old Wädenswil Castle give scant reminder of the powerful Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem who once resided here.

The house Abendstern (evening star) is the main setting of Der Gehülfe (The Assistant) of Swiss writer Robert Walser.

(For more on Robert Walser, please see Canada Slim and the Last Walk of Robert Walser of this blog.)

(An excellent book though I have yet to find it in a English translation.)

 

Hoffnungsweg 7 (Hope Way) was the birthplace of Swiss poet Karl Stamm (1890 – 1919).

Above:  Karl Stamm (2nd from left), on his right, the future painter Eduard Gubler

The 7th of nine children, Karl lost both his favourite brother and his mother during his childhood.

These deaths marked his psychology and his later creative work.

After attending a teachers´ seminary in Küsnacht, Karl taught primary school in the village of Lipperschwandi (1910 – 1914) and Zürich (1914, 1919).

During the First World War, Karl served on active duty on the Swiss border against possible German or Austrian invasion.

He, like millions worldwide, died of influenza (the Spanish flu), in Zürich in 1919.

(For more on the 1919 influenza pandemic, please see Downtime: Pandemic of my other blog Building Everest.)

The poetry he produced in his short lifetime was powerful and patriotic.

Sadly he is mostly forgotten by the Swiss he so passionately defended in lyrics and is an unknown to the world beyond the Swiss borders he so fervently guarded with his life.

 

I continue to hug the shoreline of Lake Zürich.

It is a very pleasant springlike day as I embrace the beauty of the Lake close and personable.

Being midweek I meet few people along the pathways and the ducks bobbing about seem relaxed and undisturbed by the lone hiker strolling by.

I skirt old factories and new developments that seem relentlessly determined to connect themselves to the urban sprawl that is Zürich, the New York City of Switzerland.

Happily the Zürich building craze has yet to reach the Au Peninsula, five kilometres “up” the Lake from Wädenswil.

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On the west side of the Peninsula is a chateau with a romantic park along the Lake.

Further back there are vineyards, beech woods and a pond of undisturbed reeds.

Au was one of numerous sites of prehistoric pile dwellings found around the Zürichsee.

The half-square kilometre large Peninsula is first mentioned in 1316 and was once owned by the Knights Hospitalier.

It was sold by the Knights in 1550 and was later acquired by the Swiss military officer Hans Rudolf Wertmüller (1614 – 1677) who a century later built the villa-style Au Chateau as a country home.

Above: Hans Rudolf Wertmüller (1614 – 1677)

The German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803) spent eight months in this region in 1750 and would nine years later immortalize Au in his “Ode to the Lake of Zürich“.

Above: Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803)

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898), Swiss poet and historical novelist, would revive the memory of both Au and Wertmüller in his novel Der Schuß von der Kanzel (The Shot from the Pulpit) in 1878.

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Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

(More about Meyer later….)

 

Au would again receive frequent praise from another famous resident, the German social worker/Communist/writer Luise “Mentona” Moser (1874 – 1971).

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Above: Mentona Moser (1874 – 1971)

Mentona was born in Badenwiler to the Baroness Fanny Louise von Sulzer-Wart of Winterthur and Swiss watchmaker/industrialist Heinrich Moser of Schaffhausen.

When Fanny and Heinrich married in 1870, the union created scandal as she was 23 and he was 65, despite both of them being from the upper echelons of society.

Heinrich had five children by his first wife who died 20 years before he married Fanny.

The children of Heinrich´s first wife did not accept Fanny, and when Heinrich died four days after Mentona was born, Fanny was accused of killing him, as his death made her one of the wealthiest women in Europe.

Though two autopsies showed no foul play in Heinrich´s death, suspicion continued.

Fanny had a mental breakdown and was one of the five women included in Sigmund Freud´s Studies on Hysteria, which launched his career.

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Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

In 1887, Fanny bought Au Chateau and entertained lavishly, putting the care of her children in the hands of a nursemaid.

The relationship between Fanny and Mentona was strained as Mentona felt that her mother preferred her older sister also named Fanny.

Mentona lived in an imaginary world in which her father became the object of near hero worship.

As was typical for people in her class, Mentona was taught both English and French by governesses.

During 1888 and 1889, Mentona, with her family, travelled to various spa towns across Europe and wintered on the Adriatic coast, while the Chateau was being renovated and her mother was being treated by Freud.

Mentona found the frivolous lifestyle tedious and became convinced that her mother´s problems were caused by her lack of social service.

She studied zoology in Zürich and Wimbledon.

While in England she was struck by the conditions of the poor of Southwark and became involved with social work.

She spent time in workhouses and later worked in a cottage hospital as a nurse, but found the work overtaxing.

In 1903, Mentona decided to return to Switzerland.

That same year, Mentona´s sister Fanny married Jaroslav Hoppe.

Feeling her presence at Au was barely tolerated, Mentona moved into a student apartment in Zürich and began giving lectures on public welfare.

She began publishing such works as Contributions to the Charity and Social Assistance in their Practical Application.

She founded an association for the blind and the first social welface office to assist patients with tuberculosis.

By 1904, Mentona had moved into an apartment with Dr. Clara Willdenow and her friend Pauline Bindschedler at Kreuzstrasse 44.

Mentona and Clara became lovers.

Mentona submitted plans to the city council for labour settlements in Zürich.

In 1907, she developed plans for a School for Social Work.

She also developed playgrounds, working with Zürich´s construction manager, Dr. Hermann Balsiger.

Mentona joined the Socialist Party and travelled to party meetings in other countries to study worker cooperatives.

At a party meeting in Davos, Mentona began developing a relationship with Hermann, which eventually led to her breakup with Clara.

In January 1909, Mentona and Hermann married and had their first child, a daughter named Amrey, on Christmas Eve that year.

Two years later, she gave birth to their son Edouard.

Though initially enamored of her grandchildren, Mentona´s mother quickly lost interest.

As part of Fanny´s estate was lost in a relationship with a much younger man and convinced she was now a pauper, Fanny cut off all financial support to her daughter.

The austerity of World War I and the need to take Edouard for spinal treatments in various spas began to distance Mentona and Hermann from one another.

Hermann became a judge while Mentona moved farther left towards Communism.

They divorced in 1917.

To earn income, Mentona took a job at Pro Juventute, managing maternal and infant care for the next five years.

In 1921 she co-founded the Communist Party of Switzerland and began speaking and writing about Communist activities.

She became an advocate for women´s suffrage and opened a clinic for contraception in Zürich.

Concerned by increasing conflict with fellow Swiss Communists and her political radicalism putting her Pro Juventute position at risk, Mentona left Zürich for Berlin in 1924.

She is buried in Berlin and is recognized today as one of the founders of social work in Switzerland.

Her homeland and her years in Au were fondly recalled in her autobiography, Ich habe gelebt (I have lived).

 

At the foot of the Peninsula, in a converted barn on the perimeter of a vineyard cultivated by the Zürich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), is the Weinbaumuseum am Zürichsee.

This winemaking museum contains a valuable collection of all the varied items needed for wine production.

A showpiece of the collection is a 13-meter long / 120-year old wine press.

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I wander about the Peninsula wondering if I will meet Adolf Hitler.

For somewhere on the half-island, German actor Bruno Ganz (b. 1941) has his summer home here (as well as residences in Venice and Berlin).

Bruno, who has acted in both English and German languages, has achieved fame through his roles in Wings of Desire, The Boys from Brazil, Ripley´s Game, Faust, The Reader and Downfall (as the Führer).

Bruno´s Hitlerian rants have swept the Internet as memes.

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Bruno remained invisible and distant to me during my Au visit and I lacked the courage to ask the locals where his retreat could be found.

Besides, the point of a retreat is to be away from others.

I stroll away from Au and later have lunch at the Restaurant Imperial just south of the town of Horgen.

 

Horgen (population: 20,000) is one of the largest towns on the shores of Lake Zürich and is memorable for a number of reasons for both the tourist and the amateur historian.

The Bergbaumuseum (coal mining museum), in the former coal storage depot, informs visitors about the centuries old history of coal mining in Horgen-Käpfnach.

Films, panels and numerous exhibits give the visitor an understanding of the formation and mining of coal.

A ride on the old railway into the depths of the mine is an adventure for adults and children alike.

Following Horgen´s 1000-year jubilee in 1952, great efforts were made to create a town museum.

In 1957 a museum was set up in the Sust (harbour warehouse).

The Wohn- und Porzellanmuseum (home and porcelain museum) has on display more than 120 sculptured statuettes and more than 300 examples of Zürich porcelain from the 18th century.

There are also paintings and miniatures from the 15th to the 19th centuries as well as graphics, drawings and landscapes from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

The remaining rooms in the house display furniture from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

The Protestant Reformed Church, built from 1780 to 1782 by Johann Jakob Haltiner, has an unusual oval nave (main axis) and is the major landmark of the town as the church´s elegant tower is 70.5 meters high and can be seen far and wide.

Horgen has a history of celebrities.

Adele Duttweiler (1892 – 1990), the wife of, the Swiss supermarket chain Migros and the Alliance of Independents (LdU) political party founder, Gottlieb Duttweiler, was born in Horgen.

Adele Duttweiler in der 'Klubschule' - Strohhaus-Ausstellung 'Park im Grüene' 2015-06-17 17-51-08.JPG

Above: Adele Duttweiler (1892 – 1990)

As was Ernst Sieber (b. 1927), pastor and founder of Sozialwerke Pfauer Sieber, an organization for disadvantaged people to help alleviate the hardships around addiction, disease, violence and homelessness.

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Above: Ernst Sieber

Luigi Taveri (1929 – 2018), three-time Grand Prix motorcycle racing world Champion, was also born in Horgen.

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Above: Luigi Taveri (1929 – 2018)

Steve Lee, lead singer of the Swiss hard rock band Gotthard, was also born here in 1963.

He died in 2010 on Interstate 15 ten miles south of Mesquite, Nevada, when a semi struck a parked motorcycle that slammed into Lee.

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Above: Steve Lee (1963 – 2010)

Swiss by birth in Horgen, the son of Dutch parents and longtime Swedish resident, Hoyte van Hoytema (b. 1971) is famous for directing the films Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk, the James Bond film Spectre and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

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Above: Hoyte van Hoytema (far right)

It surprised me that both the Steiners´ itinerary and the Lake Zürich Trail abandon the shoreline and head upwards towards the hills that range the Sihl River.

But the shoreside walk from Horgen to Zürich quickly proved the wisdom of this breakaway decision, for much of the Lake beyond Horgen is obscured by residential and industrial real estate, and the hiker becomes a pedestrian tramping beside busy streets and racous railways.

Despite the headache-inducing traffic noises and concrete under my feet, I persevere.

I walk through unremarkable Oberrieden….

Above: Oberrieden

And come to the birthplace of a man I am not sure I like:

 

Urs Ernest Schwarzenbach, a UK-based Swiss financier whose estimated net worth at 1.0 million pounds.

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The son of a print shop owner, Urs was born in Thalwil in 1948 and raised in Küsnacht.

Above: Thalwil

Schwarzenbach set up Interexchange, the largest foreign exchange dealership in Switzerland.

Through its success, he has bought:

  • Well over 300 million pounds of property in the UK: Culham Court and Fawley Court near Henley-on-Thames, a 10,000-acre sporting estate in Scotland and the largest country estate on the Isle of Wight
  • 123,000 acres (500 square km) of farmland in New South Wales, Australia
  • Part of the Layadi Palace in Marrakech, Morocco
  • 17 million pounds of assets in the aviation field
  • The five-star Grand Hotel Dolder in Zürich, which cost him CHF 440 million

Above: The Grand Hotel Dolder

 

But can he be trusted?

 

In 2013/14 Schwarzenbach was investigated by the Federal Customs Administration (FCA) for alleged VAT (value-added tax) fraud totalling CHF 10 million and art trafficking.

Under Swiss law, owners of artworks do not have to pay import charges until works of art are formally brought into the country, i.e. they come out of storage and are officially transferred.

On Tuesday 16 April 2013, Schwarzenbach´s Hotel Dolder and nearby Galerie Gmurzynska were raided by Swiss customs officials, on the suspicion that artworks (valuing CHF 75 million) were imported without paying duty.

Zurich

The Swiss authorities seized a large number of documents during their raid.

In October 2016 the Swiss Customs Directorate finalised the case that Schwarzenbach had exported artefacts (value: CHF 130 million) and smuggled them back into Switzerland.

Schwarzenbach eventually admitted the charge but still objects to paying a fine of CHF 4 million.

Urs now lives at Culham Court and sponsored the rowing gallery of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, which is named after him.

His wife, Francesca Schwarzenbach-Mulhall is a former Miss Australia from Sydney.

They have two children and four grandchildren.

Their daughter is married and lives in St. Moritz and London.

 

There is something unsettling about that kind of wealth.

 

Zwingli´s God has been replaced by Money….

 

If Thalwil is the Temple of Money then, up the Lake towards Zürich, Rüschlikon is the Temple of Science.

Above: Rüschlikon

For it is in Rüschlikon that IBM has had its European research laboratory since 1956.

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IBM Research Zürich lab is staffed by a multicultural and interdisciplinary team of a few hundred permanent research staff members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, representing about 45 nationalities.

The Zürich lab is world-renowned for its scientific achievements:

  • Nobel Prizes in Physics (1986, 1987)
  • A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.
  • The invention of the scanning tunneling microscope
  • The discovery of high-temperature superconductivity
  • Trellis Modulation, which revolutionized data transmission over telephone lines
  • Token Ring, a standard for local area networks (LANs)
  • The Secure Electronic Transaction (SET), used for highly secure payments
  • The Java Card Open Platform (JCOP), a smart card operating system
  • SuperMUC, a super computer that is cooled using hot water
  • DOME, a super computer that is developing an IT Roadmap for the Square Kilometer Array

The lab focuses on future chip technologies: nanotechnology, fibre optics,supercomputing, data storage, security and privacy, risk and compliance, business optimization and transformation, server systems…

The lab is involved in many joint projects with universities throughout Europe, in research programs established by the European Union and the Swiss government and in cooperation agreements with research institutes of industrial partners.

Research projects are organized into three scientific and technical departments:

  • Science & Technology
  • Cloud and Computing Infrastructure
  • Cognitive Computing and Industry Solutions

 

The God of Zwingli has been replaced by Science….

 

And what lies onwards up the Lake?

The traveller, ever Zürich-bound, comes across Kilchberg….

(To be continued….)

Sources:  Wikipedia / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege

 

Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

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

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

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

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

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

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

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Above: Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

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

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

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

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

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

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

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

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

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

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

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

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

Above: The Floating Piers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

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

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Siviano

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

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

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

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

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

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

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

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

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

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

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

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

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

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

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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I hope not.

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

As good a place as anywhere.

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 December 2017

This week I returned back to work after being absent at home for the past two weeks.

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It was a warm welcome with hugs and expressions of delight.

So much so that one witnessing customer commented:

“I want to work here!” 

Back home after work:

First World problems.

Ah, the problem of having too many choices!

I don´t own (and happily don´t owe) much in this world.

What I possess is an (over)abundance of books and DVDs for a man of my modest income.

If I had to estimate I would say that I probably have at least 1,000 or more DVDs.

Of these I would safely say that there are only about a dozen films that I find myself watching again and again.

For example, I recently watched for the nth time the 1974 Billy Wilder film The Front Page starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau.

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Director Wilder, a newspaperman in his younger days recalled:

“A reporter was a glamourous fellow in those days, the way he wore a hat and a raincoat and a swagger, and had a camaderie with fellow reporters and with local police, always hot on the trail of tips from them and from the fringes of the underworld.”

Wilder set the movie in 1929, because the daily newspaper was no longer the dominant news medium in 1974.

(Even less so in 2017….)

The movie has reminded me of the old idea that there are basically only two types of people: those who make the News and those who follow the News.

Those who are remembered by history are those who have made history, who have made the News.

And if there is one place where a person´s legacy seems to matter is within the confines of a famous cathedral.

The decision to create a mausoleum or memorial for a person is determined by what the person accomplished in their life.

Especially for the Christian West it seems the bigger the mausoleum, the grander the grave, the more remarkable the memorial, the more attention and recognition is paid (or should be paid) to the legacy a person left behind.

The downside of this thinking is the presumption that those without a mausoleum, those lacking a memorial, those without a grave, must then be undeserving of respect, unworthy of memory, unloved and forgettable.

First World thinking and materialist obsessiveness carry on even beyond one´s life and onwards in the legacy of those who no longer live.

This kind of thinking was quite evident in our visit to London in October….

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

The Houses of Parliament overshadow a much older neighbour, Westminster Abbey.

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Westminster Abbey has stood in London longer than any other building and embodies much of the history of England.

It was so named to differentiate it from the “east minster“, St. Paul´s Cathedral.

It is the finest Gothic building in London, the most important religious building in England, with the highest nave of any English church.

Over the centuries Westminster Abbey has meant many things to many people.

The Abbey has been the venue for every Coronation since the time of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087)

It has been the site of every royal burial for some 500 years between the reigns of Henry III (1207 – 1272) and George II (1683 – 1760).

Scores of the nation´s most famous citizens are honoured here and the interior of the Abbey is cluttered with hundreds of monuments, reliefs and statues.

With over 3,300 people buried beneath the Abbey´s flagstones and countless others commemorated here, Westminster is, in essence, a massive mausoleum, more tourist attraction than house of God.

Would a modern day Jesus´ visit to this temple result in His repeating:

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Washington version, by El Greco

Above: Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (El Greco)

“Make not My Father´s house a house of merchandise.” ?

Would the Black Adder of the first BBC series wherein his father makes him the Archbishop of Canterbury (Episode 3)(transplanted to today) gleefully rub his hands together at all the modern wealth to be generated by the faithful and the curious?

"Prince Edmund, Baldrick and Lord Percy in purplse clerical cassocks"

Above: Tony Robinson / Baldrick (left), Tim McInnery / Lord Percy Percy (middle), and Rowan Atkinson / The Black Adder / Prince Edmund / The Archbishop of Canterbury

“Holy Moses! Take a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer.”

(Amanda McKittrick Ros, “Visiting Westminster Abbey”)

No one knows exactly when the first church was built on this site, but it was well over a thousand years ago.

At its genesis, this area was a swampy and inhospitable place on the outskirts of London.

The church stood on an island called Thorney Island, surrounded by tributaries of the River Thames.

In 960, Dunstan, the Bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.

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Above: Dunstan (909 – 988)

One hundred years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site.

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Above: Edward the Confessor of England (1003 – 1066), King (1042 – 1066)

Edward was driven from England by the Danes.

During his exile in Normandy, Edward vowed that if his kingdom was restored to him, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome.

When Edward did eventually reclaim his throne in 1042, there was so much unrest in the kingdom that he was advised not to make the perilous journey in case a coup occurred while he was away.

The Pope absolved Edward of his vow on condition that he raise or restore a church in honour of St. Peter.

Edward´s Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, but the King was too ill to attend.

He died a few days later and was buried before the high altar.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Edward´s body being carried into the Abbey for burial.

After Edward´s death his reputation as a holy man grew.

Miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb.

In 1161, Edward was made a saint.

King Henry III held the Confessor in such reverance that he resolved to build a new shrine for Edward in a yet more glorious church.

Manuscript picture of Henry III's coronation

Above: Henry III of England (1207 – 1272), King (1216 – 1272)

The new church was consecrated on 13 October 1269.

In 1539, England´s monastries faced a crisis.

Henry VIII had fallen out with the Pope because the Pope refused to annul the King´s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

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Above: Henry VIII of England (1491 – 1547), King (1509 – 1547)

Henry declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.

In 1540, Henry dissolved the monasteries and seized their assets.

Westminster Abbey fared better than most religious houses, because of its royal connections, so instead of being stripped and aband0ned it was refounded as a cathedral, with a Bishop and a Dean.

In 1553 Queen Mary succeeded Henry´s son, Edward VI, and Roman Catholicism became once more the approved religion.

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Above: Mary I of England (1516 – 1558), Queen (1553 – 1558)

Mary made the Abbey a monastery again and the monks returned.

Her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne just five years later, in 1558, reversed Mary´s changes and refounded the Abbey yet again, this time with a Dean and a Chapter.

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Above: Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603), Queen (1553 – 1603)

The Dean was answerable to no one but herself as sovereign, and it is in this form, not subject to the jurisdiction of a Bishop, as are most churches, but as a special church under the Queen – an institution known as a Royal Peculiar.

During the English Civil War, which culminated in the execution of Charles I and the establishment in 1649 of Oliver Cromwell´s Commonwealth, the Abbey was damaged when Puritans smashed altars, destroyed religious images and the organ, and seized the crown jewels.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), Lord Protector (1553 – 1558)

The Puritans were keen to rid the Abbey of all symbols of religious “superstition”.

Although the Abbey escaped wanton destruction better than many churches, it still bears the scars to this day.

The Abbey faced new peril during the Second World War.

Westminster miraculously survived, although bombs destroyed parts of it.

Walk with me through the Abbey.

Edward the Confessor´s church was the first in England to be built in the form of a cross, with the North and South Transepts forming its arms.

Most visitors, as did my wife and I, enter the Abbey via the North Transept.

The first impression one gets is of the soaring height of the vaulting.

At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.

The rose window above the entrance dates from 1722 and depicts the Apostles, excluding Judas Iscariot.

The rose window in the opposite transept depicts a variety of religious and other figures.

The North Transept is also known as the Statesmen´s Aisle, because it is littered with overblown monuments to long-forgotten empire builders and 19th century politicians, including Prime Ministers Viscount Palmerston (1784 – 1865), Robert Peel (1788 – 1850), Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) and William Gladstone (1809 – 1898) who are buried nearby.

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Above: William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), UK Prime Minister (1868 – 1874 / 1880 – 1885 / 1886 / 1892 – 1894

Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder (1708 – 1778) is featured in a 30-foot memorial, buried alongside his son Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), who became Prime Minister at the age of  just 24 and whose monument is over the Abbey´s west door.

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Above: William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), Prime Minister (1783 – 1806)

The North Transept leads down to the crossing – the centre of the church.

To the west is the Quire – an intimate space forming essentially a church within a church.

This was where the monks worshipped and this is where the Choir sits for the eight regular Choral Services (Matins, Holy Communion (4x), Eucharist, Evensong and Evening Service) each week.

The Choir consists of 12 men, known as Lay Vicars, and 24 boys, who come from the Abbey´s own choir School, now the only school in England exclusively for the education of choristers.

In the Middle Ages the Quire was the scene of a horrible murder.

In those days criminals could seek sanctuary in the Abbey.

Once they were within the walls, the law could not reach them.

But in 1378 fifty of the King´s men, ignoring the right of sanctuary, chased a prisoner into the Quire.

One of the soldiers “clove his head to the very brains” and also killed a monk who tried to rescue the poor man.

From the Statesmen´s Aisle, go straight to the central Sanctuary, site of the royal coronations.

Look down at the floor.

This precious work of art is the 13th century (1268) Italian floor mosaic known as the Cosmati Pavement, which consists of about 80,000 pieces of red and green porphyry, glass and onyx set into marble.

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The swirling patterns of the universe were designed to encourage the monks in their contemplation.

Look for the inscription in brass letters, which foretells when the universe will end – 19,683 years after the Creation.

On the north side of the Sanctuary is an important group of medieval tombs.

Nearest the steps is the tomb of Countess Aveline of Lancaster.

In 1269, aged just 12, she was married to Edmund Crouchback, the youngest son of Henry III, in the Abbey´s first royal wedding.

Above: Royal seal of Edmund Crouchback (1245 – 1296)

Aveline lived only five more years and died in 1274.

Nearest the altar screen is the tomb of her husband, who outlived his child bride by 22 years, dying in 1296.

Between husband and wife is the tomb of Edmund´s cousin Earl Aymer de Valence of Pembroke, who died in 1324.

These three tombs were originally beautifully coloured and decorated, so that in the candlelight they shimmered with an extraordinary luminescence now lost in time.

The elaborate gilded screen behind the High Altar once protected Henry III´s original altarpiece (“retable”), dating from 1270, the oldest oil painting in Britain and now on display in the Abbey Museum.

The Feeding of the 5000 is an exceptionally important work, and though the centuries have not treated it kindly, what remains gives a tantalising insight into what it must once have been like.

Behind the Altar is St. Edward the Confessor´s Chapel, the spiritual heart of the Abbey.

It was here in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI, making the first ever visit of a Pope to the Abbey, prayed alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Above: Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013)

Around the shrine in the centre, which contains Edward´s body, lie five kings and four queens.

Here is the double tomb of King Richard II (1367 – 1399) and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia (1366 – 1394).

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Above: Richard II of England (1367 – 1399), King (1377 – 1399)

They were married in the Abbey in 1382.

Richard´s body was not allowed to rest in peace.

In the 18th century someone drilled a hole on the side of his tomb through which visitors could put their hand.

A number of bones went missing, including Richard´s jawbone which was only restored to the corpse in 1906.

Here are also buried King Edward III (1312 – 1377) and his wife Philippa (1310 – 1369).

Above: Effigy of Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), King (1327 – 1377)

The Confessor´s devotee King Henry III has his tomb here as well – beautifully decorated, cast in bronze and gilt.

Photograph of Henry's tomb

Here lie the remains of Queen Eleanor of Castille (1241 – 1290), first wife of Edward I.

Above: Statue of Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290), Queen (1272 – 1290)

And here lies Edward I (1239 – 1307), at 6 feet 2 inches, very tall for those days, hence his nickname Edward Longshanks.

A man in half figure with short, curly hair and a hint of beard is facing left. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture.

Above: Edward I of England (1239 – 1307), King (1272 – 1307)

And seek here the tomb of Henry V (1387 – 1422) beside that of his wife Catherine de Valois (1401 – 1437).

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Above: Wedding of Henry V and Catherine de Valois

Her coffin and corpse were in full public view for centuries.

Henry V was considered one of England´s greatest monarchs, a fine military commander and an outstanding statesman.

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Above: Henry V of England (1386 – 1422), King (1413 – 1422)

(His archers beat the French at Agincourt.)

The English were devastated when he died suddenly in 1422, aged only 35.

He was buried in the Abbey on 7 November, “with such solemn ceremony, such mourning of Lords, such prayer of priests, such lamentation of the common people as never was before that day seen in the realm of England.”

The diarist Samuel Pepys, on a visit to the Abbey in 1669, kissed Catherine´s leathery lips, wrote:

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Above: Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

“This was my birthday, 36 years old and I did first kiss a queen.”

Henry and Catherine are now protected by an iron grille.

The chairs and footstools in front were given in 1949 by the people of Canada for royal use.

To the south of the Altar are the medieval seats (“sedilia”) for the priests.

Above their heads are the paintings of Henry III and Edward I.

To the west of the sedilia is the flat-topped tomb of Anne of Cleves, the 4th wife of Henry VIII.

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Above: Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Queen (1540)

There are more than 600 tombs and monuments in the Abbey, some of them quite massive.

Many people commemorated here are remembered because of their distinguished careers, but quite a few owe their presence in the Abbey more to their wealth or social status.

Today distinguished figures are still commemorated in the Abbey, but our tributes today are rather muted compared with the flamboyance of previous centuries.

The huge monument in the North Ambulatory to General James Wolfe (1727 – 1759) reflects the 18th and 19th centuries´ glorification of military figures, especially when they have died at the moment of victory.

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Above: James Wolfe (1727 – 1759)

Wolfe was killed, aged 32, while fighting on the Plains of Abraham, Québec City, in order to capture Canada from the French.

His opponent, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, being French who also died on the Plains, is given no mention.

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Above: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712 – 1759)

Some of the best funereal art is tucked away in St. Michael´s Chapel, east of the Statesmen´s Aisle.

Admire the remarkable monument to Francis Vere (1560 – 1609), one of the greatest soldiers of the Elizabethan period, made out of two slabs of black marble, between which lies Sir Francis.

On the upper slab, supported by four knights, Francis´ armor is laid out, to show that he died away from the field of battle.

Near this a most striking grave, in which Elizabeth Nightingale, who died from a miscarriage, collapses in her husband Joseph´s arms while he tries to fight off the spear aimed at her by the skeletal figure of Death, who is climbing out of the tomb.

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Above: Tomb of Joseph (1695 – 1752) and Elizabeth Nightingale (1704 – 1731)

In the North Ambulatory, two more chapels contain ostentatious Tudor and Stuart tombs.

One of the most extravagant tombs is that of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, which not only dominates the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, it is, at 36 feet in height, the tallest tombs in the entire Abbey.

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Above: Henry Carey, Lord Dunsdon (1526 – 1596)

From the second chapel, the Chapel of St. Paul, climb the stairs and enter the Lady Chapel (or Henry VII´s Chapel), the most dazzling part of the Abbey.

Begun by Henry VII in 1503 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Lady Chapel is beautiful, light, intricately carved vaulting, fan.shaped gilded Pendants and the statues of nearly one hundred Saints, high above the choir stalls decorated with banners and emblems.

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Above: Henry VII of England (1457 – 1509), King (1485 – 1509)

George II, the last King to be buried in the Abbey, lies under your feet, along with his Queen Caroline – their coffins fitted with removable sides so that their remains can mingle.

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Above: George II of England (1683 – 1760), King (1727 – 1760)

(Certainly a different idea of necrophilia…)

Beneath the altar is the grave of Edward IV, the single sickly son of Henry VIII.

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Above: Edward IV of England (1442 – 1483), King (1461 – 1470 / 1471 – 1483)

Behind the Chapel´s centrepiece, the black marble sacrophagus of Henry VII and his spouse – their lifelike gilded effigies are perfectly obscured an ornate grille, designed by an artist more famous for fleeing Italy after breaking Michelangelo´s nose than for his own art: Pietro Torrigiano.

Above: Bust of Henry VII by Pietro Torrignano (1472 – 1528)

His funeral on 11 May 1509 was lavish:

“All the heralds cast their coats of armor off and hung them upon the rails of the hearse, crying lamentably in French – ´Le noble roi Henri le septieme est mort.´ – and as soon as they had done so, every herald put on his armor again and cried with a loud voice – ´Vive le roi Henri le huiteme.´”

Here one finds James I as well as James´ lover Duke George Villiers of Buckingham, the first non-royal to be buried in the Abbey.

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Above: George Villiers (1592 – 1628)

Villiers was killed by one of his own disgruntled soldiers.

To the east the Royal Air Force Chapel: stained glass with airmen and angels in the Battle of Britain.

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In the floor, a plaque marks the spot where Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell rested….

Briefly.

Until the Restoration, whereupon his mummified body was unearthed, dragged through the streets, hanged and beheaded.

To the north four maidens hold up a vast bronze canopy and weep for another of James I´s “favourites”, Ludovic Stuart.

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Above: Ludovic Stuart (1574 – 1624)

Before descending the steps back into the Ambulatory, pop into the Chapel´s north aisle.

Here siblings and hated rivals in life now lie side by side reconciled in death, Elizabeth I and her Catholic half-sister “Bloody” Mary.

“All those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience´s sake.”

At the far end is Innocents´ Corner.

Here James I´s infant daughters lie: Princess Sophia who died aged 3 days (1607) and Princess Mary who died the same year aged 2 (1605 – 1607)

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Set in the wall between the sisters is the urn containing the bones of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and his younger brother Richard.

Above: Richard (1473 – 1483) and Edward V of England (1470 – 1483)

As you leave the Lady Chapel, look for the Coronation Chair, a decrepit oak graffiti-covered throne which has been used in every coronation since 1308.

It was custom-built to incorporate the Stone of Scone (the Stone of Destiny), a great slab of redstone which acted as the Scottish coronation stone for centuries before Edward I stole it in 1296.

A replica of the Stone of Scone

William the Conqueror was crowned here on 25 December 1066.

Above: Coin of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087), King (1066 – 1087)

It did not go well.

“When Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutences asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their King, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice, if not in one language, that they would.

The armed guard (William´s Norman troops), hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot and foolishly set fire to some of the buildings.

The fire spread rapidly from house to house.

The crowd that had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in haste.

Only the Bishops and a few clergy and Monks remained, terrified, in the Sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the King, who was trembling from head to foot.”

On 25 February 1308 Edward II´s ceremony was dominated by his boyfriend Piers Gaveston (1284 – 1312).

Above: Edward II and Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872)

“Seeking his own glory rather than the King´s”, Gaveston wore an outfit of royal purple, trimmed with pearls.

Nor should he have walked in front of the King in the procession, nor carried Edward´s crown.

The barons were so annoyed at Galveston´s presumption that there was talk of killing him on the spot.

Both Edward and Piers would be assassinated later.

Henry VIII was only 17 at his coronation on 24 June 1509.

He walked to the Abbey from Westminster Palace along a carpet of royal blue.

The crowd was so enthusiastic that they fell on the carpet and cut it up for souvenirs.

Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII´s six wives, was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533.

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Above: Anne Boleyn (1501 – 1536)

The ceremony lasted 8 hours and at one point Archbishop Cranmer required Anne to lie on her face in front of the altar – not easy, when she was six months pregnant.

William III´s coronation in 1689 was spoiled by having his money pickpocketed.

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Above: William III of England (1650 – 1702), King (1689 – 1702)

To the south is the Abbey´s most popular spot: The Poets´ Corner.

Above: Poets´ Corner with Shakespeare Memorial in the centre

The first occupant, Geoffrey Chaucer, was buried here in 1400.

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Above: Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400)

When Edmund Spenser chose to be buried close to Chaucer in 1599, his fellow poets – Shakespeare among them – threw their own works and quills into the grave.

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Above: Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599)

More than 100 poets, dramatists and prose writers are buried or commemorated here, as well as the composer George Frederick Handel.

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Above: George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759)

(Handel´s funeral on 20 April 1759 was supposed to be private.

3,000 people turned up.)

“Upon the Poets´ Corner in Westminster Abbey

Hail, sacred relics of the tuneful train!

Here ever honoured, ever loved remain.

No other dust of the once great or wise,

As each beneath the hallowed pavement lies,

To this old dome a juster reverence brings….”

Who decides who is to be immortalized in Poets´ Corner?

The Dean of Westminster consults his colleagues in the Chapter and in the literary world, before reaching a decision which, by law, is his alone to make.

It is rare for a recently deceased poet to be memorialized.

The longest period between a poet´s death and memorialization is 1,3oo years: Caedmon (657 – 680), regarded as the first English language poet.

Above: Caedmon Memorial, St. Mary´s Churchyard, Whitby

The Corner has become a Valhalla for poets and a place of pilgrimage for lovers of literature.

The Poets´ Corner´s most famous memorial is that to William Shakespeare, erected 124 years after his death.

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Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

His body remains in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, with the inscription:

“Good friend, for Jesus´ sake, forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here!

Blest be the man that spares these stones

And curst be he that moves my bones.”

Why tempt fate?

The Abbey recalls actors: David Garrick, Henry Irving, William Walton, Laurence Olivier, William Walton and Peggy Ashcroft.

Here one finds a controversy:

Ben Jonson was an arrogant man who did not suffer fools and frequently quarrelled with his fellow dramatists.

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Above: Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)

He lived apart from his wife, whom he described as “a shrew, yet honest.”

One of his plays caused grave offence by its lewdness and he was imprisoned.

He later killed a man in a duel and narrowly escaped the gallows.

As Jonson grew older he became fat and alcoholic.

He was too poor for a proper grave and said that a two-foot square would be enough for him.

And that´s what he got, as he was buried standing up.

His bones and coffin have been exposed three times since his burial.

His skull is missing.

Christopher Marlowe was memorialized 409 years after his death because it was felt the Poets´ Corner was already overcrowded.

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Above: Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

Tennyson called Marlowe the morning star which heralded Shakespeare´s dazzling sun.

Another description called him “intemperate and of a cruel heart.”

In 1593, at a Deptford tavern in South London, aged 29, Marlowe was fatally stabbed above his right eye, over a bill for supper.

John Milton had to wait more than 60 years before being memorialized.

Above: Bust of John Milton (1608 – 1674), Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

Milton, famous for his Paradise Lost, could have used the title for his autobiography.

In 1642 he married.

She left him after a few weeks.

In 1648 he began to go blind.

By 1652 he had lost his sight completely, as well as his wife and his only son.

In 1656 Milton married again but she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter.

He was passionate about what he hated.

Anti-Catholic, he called for bishops to be executed and prophesied that they would spend eternity in hell.

Milton attacked the greed of the clergy, rallied against censorship and wrote passionately against the monarchy.

On the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton went into hiding, his arrest was ordered and his books burned.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was later pardoned and released.

Charles II greatly admired Samuel Butler.

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Above: Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680)

The King enjoyed Butler´s Hudibras so much that he never ate, drank, slept or went to church without having Hudibras beside him.

Despite the King´s adoration, Butler died penniless.

“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive

No generous patron would a dinner give!

See him, when starved to death and turned to dust

Presented with a monumental bust!

The poet´s fate is here in emblem shown

He asked for bread and he received a stone!”

Here one finds an impressive memorial to Matthew Prior, famous for sayings like:

Above: Matthew Prior (1664 – 1721)

“It takes two to quarrel, but only one to end it.”

“The ends must justify the means.”

“They never taste who always drink.

They always talk who never think.”

John Gay was said to be….

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Above: John Gay (1685 – 1732)

“In wit, a man; simplicity, a child.”

On Gay´s monument, Alexander Pope wrote a long epitaph, but Gay had the last laugh for two lines are Gay´s not Pope´s:

“Life is a jest, and all things show it.

I thought so once, and now I know it.”

Poets´ Corner is a Who´s Who of the English dead: Longfellow, Wilde, T.S. Elliot, Lewis Carroll, Trollope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Austen, Keats, Shelley, Burns, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Gray, Goldsmith, Blake, Scott, Dickens, Lear, Browning, Brooke, Dylan Thomas, Auden….

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

(Charles Dickens was buried secretly on 14 June 1870 to avoid crowds, but so many wanted to pay their respects that the grave had to be left open for a time so the public could see him.)

Just to name a few….

Before you enter the Cloisters, check out the South Choir Aisle.

See the tomb of Thomas Thynne that shows how three thugs did him in.

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Above: Tomb of Thomas Thynne (1610 – 1669)

Or consider the ironic fate of Admiral Shovell, who survived a shipwreck, was washed up alive on a beach in the Scilly Isles, only to be killed by a fisherwoman who wanted his emerald ring.

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Above: Cloudesley Shovell (1650 – 1707)

Or that of the court portrait painter Godfrey Kneller who declared:

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Above: Geofrey Kneller (1646 – 1723)

By God, I will not be buried in Westminster – they do bury fools here.”

Kneller is the only artist to be commemorated in the Abbey.

Enter the Cloisters where Parliament once met, beneath the southern wall where the Whore of Babylon rides the scarlet seven-headed beast from the Book of Revelations.

See the Pyx Chamber which acted like a medieval high security safety deposit box.

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Robbers broke in on 24 April 1303 and stole jewels and riches.

Some of them were hanged the following March.

The ringleader of the Pyx robbery was whipped and nailed to the door of the Pyx Chamber as a warning to others.

500 years later pieces of human skin could still be found in the door hinges.

Before you leave the Cloisters enter the Nave itself.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior with his garland of red poppies recalls the million British soldiers who died in World War One, with an equivalent number of women dying unmarried because there were no husbands for them.

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A tablet in the floor near the Tomb marks the spot where George Peabody, the 19th century philantropist whose housing estates in London still provide homes for those in need, was buried for a month before being exhumed and removed to Massachusetts.

Above: George Peabody (1795 – 1869)

Peabody remains the only American to have been buried in Westminster.

Above the Nave´s west door, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at just 25 teaches Anarchy while History takes notes.

With all I have described it certainly is no wonder why Westminster Abbey is so popular with tourists.

So much to see, so much to learn and yet Westminster left me with a sense of disappointment.

Not so much with the Abbey itself as much as what the Abbey represents.

Death has become a spectacle and a source of profit.

Does a life have no value if it is not commemorated grandly after death?

Does this mean that the Hindus value life less by burning the bodies of their dead?

And what of the poor who lie in anonymous mass graves unmarked and forgotten?

What of the millions who have died in war or in prison or by dread disease?

Did all these lives have no value because there are no markers to show where their bones are piled?

Does a life have no value if it is not historically significant?

Did all these lives lose their value once their bodies turned to ashes and dust?

I believe that the value of life is in the living, in the apppreciation of the moment, in the appreciation of the Now.

I believe that as long as my life is without extreme pain – physical or psychological – and I am not causing pain to others, then my life has value, at least to myself and hopefully beyond myself.

I don´t require assurance that my remains be assigned some grand memorial in some magnificent cathedral.

I don´t require a cemetery plot or even a funeral.

(Though a drinking party where folks dance with joy celebrating that they continue to live on without me would please me greatly.)

I don´t require a dim unprovable hope that some form of existence awaits me after death.

Am I suggesting that the visitor avoid Westminster Abbey?

No.

It is truly a magnificent structure and is peculiar in its own ways.

But I would be more satisfied with plaques that spoke to me of who a deceased person was, both as a person and someone who accomplished great things.

Epitaphs sound grandiose when read aloud but they speak little about what a person was like when they were alive.

Byron´s monument:  “But there is that within me whuch shall tire torture and time and breathe when I expire.”

But who was Byron?

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Above: Lord George Byron (1788 – 1824)

T. S. Eliot: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”

Fine words, but what of the poet who wrote them?

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Trollope: “Now I stretch out my hand and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words I have written.”

Wouldn´t it be more respectful to read the actual words Trollope wrote then to just simply view his gravesite?

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Above: Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1965)

D. H. Lawrence is labelled as “Home sum! The adventurer…” and G. M. Hopkins as “priest and poet, immortal diamond”.

But these words say nothing of who these genetlemen were.

The honour is in appreciating them for what they wrote and the life captured within their words.

Otherwise despite the fine artistry of the graves of Westminster, without an appreciation of who the dead were, what lies beneath slabs of stone is nothing but dust and ashes and the merest whisper of existence.

It would be better to show those that we love that they are loved, rather than mourn their passage which our dead cannot appreciate.

Westminster shows me that death is the great equalizer of us all, no matter how one wishes to decorate the tombs of kings and queens or poets and generals.

If while I live, others are happy that I do so….

“Wouldn´t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

And they´re always glad you came.

You want to go where you know troubles are all the same.

You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

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With a place like this, where everybody knows my name while I am still alive, I don´t need to be buried in some great cathedral.

A great grave doesn´t make a life great.

Great love does.                                                 

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape / http://www.westminster-abbey.org

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

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

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

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

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

My social circle was and remains small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

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

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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

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

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

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

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

Above: Buckingham Palace

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

Every corner tells a story.

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

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

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

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

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

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

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

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

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

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

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

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

Work continued on the War Rooms.

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

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

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

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

Two days later, Britain was at war.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Cabinet War Room

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

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

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

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

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

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: A V1 guided missile

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

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Above: A V2 rocket

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

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

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

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

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

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what of the Great Man himself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a product of our time and place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

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

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

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

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

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