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.

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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.

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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

 

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Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

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

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

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

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

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

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

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Above: Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

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

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

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

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

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

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

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

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

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

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

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

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

Above: The Floating Piers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

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

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Siviano

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

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

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

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

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

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

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

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

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

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

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

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

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

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

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

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

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

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

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

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

Love Actually movie.jpg

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.

Bildergebnis

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.

Bildergebnis für cosmati pavement

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.

Lady Elizabeth & Joseph Nightingale

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.

George sitting on a throne

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)

Ähnliches Foto

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

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

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

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

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

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

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

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

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

Work continued on the War Rooms.

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

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

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

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

Two days later, Britain was at war.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Cabinet War Room

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

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

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

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

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

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: A V1 guided missile

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

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Above: A V2 rocket

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

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

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

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

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

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what of the Great Man himself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a product of our time and place.

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

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

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

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

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the Wonders on the Wall

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 November 2017

I just had my first viewing of a DVD I had never seen before last evening: The Lady in the Van, starring Dame Maggie Smith as “The Lady in the Van Miss Mary “Margaret ” Theresa Shepherd” and Alex Jennings as “Alan Bennett” upon whose memoirs the story is taken.

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This is a powerful movie with wonderful performances and some quiet thought-provoking moments that cause a person to ponder and think about life, compassion, responsibility and creativity.

Something said in the movie sticks with me this evening as I search for a way to describe a world famous London attraction and my reactions towards it:

Alan, at the end of the film, says the adage that a writer puts himself into his writing isn´t true.

Instead a writer discovers who he is by the act of writing, that the writing brings out himself.

I am more and more discovering this for myself since I started this blog on 18 May 2015.

I also believe that how we approach art and how it affects us also says a lot about who we are.

I am reminded of the extremely irreverant but surprisingly perceptive geniuses that formed the British comedy group Monty Python´s Flying Circus.

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A skit in their first season´s Episode 4 (“Owl-stretching time”) called “Art Gallery”:

(Interior of art gallery.  Two figures enter.  They are both middle-aged working mothers.  Each holds the Hand of an unseen Infant who is beneath the range of the camera.)

Janet (John Cleese):  ´Allo, Marge!

Marge (Graham Chapman): Oh hello, Janet, how are you love, fancy seeing you.

Janet: How´s little Ralph?

Marge: Oh, don´t ask me!  He´s been nothing but trouble all morning.  Stop it Ralph! (she slaps at an unseen infant)  Stop it!

Janet:  Same as my Kevin.

Marge: Really?

Janet: Nothing but trouble …. leave it alone!  He´s just been in the Florentine Room and smeared tomato ketchup all over Raphael´s Baby Jesus. (shouting off sharply)  Put that Baroque masterpiece down!

Marge: Well, we´ve just come from the Courtauld and Ralph smashed every exhibit but one in the Danish Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition.

Janet:  Just like my Kevin.  Show him an exhibition of 18th century Dresden Pottery and he goes berserk.  No, I said no, and I meant no!  (smacks unseen infant again)  This morning we were viewing the early Flemish Masters of the Renaissance and Mannerist Schools, when he gets out his black aerosol and squirts Vermeer´s Lady at a Window!

Marge: Still, it´s not as bad as spitting, is it?

Janet (firmly): No, well Kevin knows (slaps the infant) that if he spits at a painting I´ll never take him to an exhibition again.

Marge:  Ralph used to spit – he could hit a Van Gogh at thirty yards.  But he knows now it´s wrong – don´t you Ralph? (she looks down) Ralph! Stop it! Stop it! Stop chewing that Turner!  You are … (she disappears from shot)  You are a naughty, naughty, vicious little boy. (smack, she comes back into the shot holding a copy of Turner´s Fighting Temeraire in a lovely gilt frame but all tattered) Oh, look at that!  The Fighting Temeraire – ruined!  What shall I do?

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Janet (taking control): Now don´t do a thing with it love, just put it in the bin over there.

Marge: Really?

Janet: Yes take my word for it, Marge.  Kevin´s eaten most of the early 19th century British landscape artists, and I´ve learned not to worry.  As a matter of fact, I feel a bit peckish myself.  (she breaks a bit off the Turner)  Yes…. (Marge also tastes a bit.)

Marge:  I never used to like Turner.

Janet (swallowing):  No… I don´t know much about art, but I know what I like.

London, England, 23 October 2017

All the guidebooks absolutely rave about the place, commanding everyone that the Tate Modern is an absolute must for anyone visiting or living in London.

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

Designed as the old, oil-fired, Bankside power station by Giles Gilbert Scott, this austere, brick “cathedral of power” was closed down in 1981 and reopened as a modern art gallery in 2000.

The masterful conversion, by the Swiss duo Herzog and de Meuron, still has the feeling of original industry, yet provides wonderfully light and spacious galleries to show off the museum´s impressive collection of international 20th century artists, such as Monet, Duchamp, Hepworth, Matisse, Mondrian, Dali, Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and Warhol.

Most impressive of all is the stupifying vastness of the main Turbine Hall, which rises to a height of 115 feet from below the Thames.

Tate Modern receives more than five million visitors a year, more than double what had been envisaged.

The Tate´s extension, the Switch House, opened last year, is a distorted prism of latticed bricks rising to 215 feet, housing three new floors of gallery space.

The Tate sits above the old power station´s subterranean oil tanks, which have been converted into rough-edged hard spaces for live work, video installations and performance art.

Today´s permanent collection dates back to 1900, but the curators have rejected a chronological approach and have gone instead for hanging works according to themes or individual artists.

The displays are changed frequently.

The visitor must decide for him/her self whether their groupings are the best manner of discovering the art or whether it makes the incomprehensible incoherantly unapproachable.

The best entrance is via the ramp at the West Entrance to the Turbine Hall, where you will find the information desk, the museum cloakroom and the giant bookshop with more than 10,000 titles that claims to be London´s largest art bookshop.

There are free guided tours as well as free admission, except for some temporary exhibitions.

There is a reasonably priced café on Level 1, an espresso bar on Level 3, and a pricey restaurant and bar on Level 7 with a great view over the river.

Of all the creations that mankind has invented I think art museums are the most unnatural.

A person walks into an artificial arena of deep dark suspicion as to what exactly are visitors´ intentions for visiting them.

Are they here to steal the artworks, like Pierce Bronson at the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in the film The Thomas Crown Affair?

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Are they here to vandalise the works in protest or in spite?

I somehow doubt that museum managers or security personnel find the Python “Art Gallery” skit even slightly amusing nor would they understand how identifiable Jack Nicholson´s (as “Jack Napier / the Joker”) visit to the Gotham City Art Museum (in Tim Burton´s film Batman) and his resulting vandalism is to the average man.

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For the urge to do the forbidden lies within all of us.

It would be sinfully delightful to be like the drunken man who walked into the Birmingham City Art Gallery in 1989 and took the Henry Wallis painting The Death of Chatterton off the wall, staggered out carrying the 25,000-pounds worth art piece out into the street and made his escape on a double-decker bus.

We want the tactile experience of feeling the paint strokes of the hanging pictures or caressing the marble contours of some Grecian goddess (or god, depending on which way you swing).

Denied this interactivity, which for the preservation of these masterpieces is sensible, the average visitor, especially with limited time to see absolutely as much as one can while in the Big City, is uninspired to do much more than rush past the painstakingly created masterpieces, retaining little or nothing of the art within their memories.

A museum as immense as the Tate Modern should require a half-day or even a full day to truly immerse the visitor in the awe and inspiration the artists wished to instill within their voyeurs.

How enviable and remarkable are those who have the time and patience to sit for long periods of time in front of just one canvas just to soak into their souls the passion and thought behind each brushstroke and colour choice.

I love watching artists trying to reproduce the wonders on the wall, like Clint Eastwood´s retired thief “Luther Whitney” in front of a canvas in Washington DC´s Corcoran Gallery of Art reproducing the delicate hands of a masterpiece in the film Absolute Power.

A angry man looks to the viewer while the US Secret Service logo and a dead woman is in the bottom with the film's title

Yet I think there is a great deal of irony in artists trying to reproduce modern art, for many 20th century artists tried to reach the parts of our brains that other art doesn´t reach and felt that imitating the art of the past would cripple the ability to produce anything truly new.

Some, like Salvador Dali, were really interested in the world of dreams and the weird and bizarre thoughts that float around the darkest corners of our minds.

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Above: The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali

They wanted to open our subconscious cupboards and make art about the things lurking within.

Modern artists felt themselves to be outsiders who were increasingly dissatisfied with the aims and the methods of the art that pleased the public.

For some, “new” meant recapturing nostaglia for the uniqueness of the “old” as they were unhappy about the general decline in craftsmanship caused by the Industrial Revolution and hated the sight of cheap and tawdry imitations of what once had meaning and nobility.

But the uniqueness of the individual mind reflected on canvas is not some dim carbon copy of what has come before but instead was fresh, novel and thought-provoking even if the public thought the artist insane or the works mystifyingly elusive to grasp.

Perception of art is also as individual as the artist him/her self.

Art means very different things to different people in different times and different places.

There are no wrong reasons for liking (or disliking) a statue or a picture.

People see (or don´t want to see) what they want (or don´t want) to see in reality.

In fact, it is often the expression of reality, conscious or subconscious, which makes us either love or loathe a work of art.

Some people like an expression which they can easily understand and which therefore moves them profoundly.

But herein lies the difficulty for the unartistic in trying to embrace art….

We want to admire an artist´s skill in representing the things we see, but we also want the artwork to generate a feeling from within us.

We don´t just want to see reality reproduced as much as we want to experience the feelings the reproduction is meant to convey.

Don´t just show me a rooster, but rather bring out in the image a sense of its aggressiveness, its cheekiness and its stupidity.

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Above: The Rooster, Pablo Picasso

I think it must be a real challenge for the older generation, as well as for modern art museum managers, to distinguish passing fashions from lasting achievements.

Nor can we predict whether a crazy, middle-aged Dutchman working away in southern France, or a retired gentleman of independent means who refuses to send his art to exhibitions, or a stockbroker who has become a painter late in life and has fled to paint far away in the South Pacific, whether they will later be much-appreciated artists that Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin became.

A painting of a scene at night with 11 swirly stars and a bright yellow crescent moon. In the background there are hills, in the middle ground there is a moonlit town with a church that has an elongated steeple, and in the foreground there is the dark green silhouette of a cypress tree and houses.

Above: Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

Above: Pyramid of Skulls, Paul Cézanne

Above: Ta Matete, Paul Gauguin

Still my wife, (a far more cultural creature than I – the simple country bumpkin she married – poor lamb!) – and I, torn between wishing to linger indefinitely and hearing our mental clocks ticking out the dwindling precious hours remaining in both our vacation time and the museum´s opening hours, probably did not give the Tate Modern the proper full attention and reverance it deserved.

Nor did time permit us to see more than a whirlwind peek of the permanent collections, so sadly we missed the “Red Star Over Russia” exhibition with its rarely seen artworks by Russian and Soviet artists over the five decades from the Revolution of 1905 to the death of Stalin.

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(Anyone in London before 18 February 2018 can still catch it.)

Still, nonetheless, some artworks remain in my mind: Henri Matisse´s The Snail (I tried but my imagination couldn´t discern the snail.), the Guerilla Girls´ US dollar entitled Women in America Earn Only 2/3 of What Men Do, the neon words of Bruce Naumann, the energy and emotional violence of Picasso´s The Three Dancers, Roy Lichtenstein´s Whaam! with the comic book dramatic power of live action, and Constantin Brancusi´s bronze Fish, which is simultaneously both as abstract as a baby´s drawing and as real as the fire extinguisher and the guard in the gallery room.

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Above: The Snail, Henri Matisse

Above: Women in America, The Guerilla Girls

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Above: The Three Dancers, Pablo Picasso

Sadly, for many visitors, including the wife and I, the museum´s structure and clarity is lost in the visitors´ energy and process.

We see, but we don´t observe.

We momentarily reflect, but we don´t remember much or any of what we saw and reflected upon.

The decades a blur and the many hours of love and devotion the artists sacrificed of their lives unappreciated and unacknowledged, such is the result of whirlwind exploration in this age of instant communication and selfish sudden gratification.

We are as children in a playground, lost in the worlds of our own making, using what is seen only as a backdrop to what we want to see.

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Above: Fish, Constantin Brancusi

Still, I will be as a guidebook and recommend the Tate Modern and will caution the visitor to not rush by the landscapes like a high speed train but rather absorb the artwork and let it seep into your soul like a sponge resting on the ocean floor.

Stop and see the artwork.

Stroll past the wonders on the wall like a man without a care in the world rather than like a harried maniac wishing to quickly check off the Tate Modern as just another item seen on some “To Do” list.

I promise you the time spent fishing for enlightenment will generate bounty for both the senses and the emotions.

Allow the art to inspire you.

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Above: Whaam!, Roy Lichtenstein

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / The Complete Monty Python´s Flying Circus: All the Words / E.M. Gombrich, The Story of Art / Michael Cox, The Knowledge: Awful Art / http://www.tate.org.uk

 

Canada Slim and the Outcast

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 November 2017

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

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

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

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

It´s once again time to write about London.

Maybe this will help….

 

London, England, 23 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the heart of Theatreland.

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

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

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

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

Nearly 30 pounds just to get in the door.

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

Still not as expensive as the Chinawhite.

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

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Here Premier League footballers hobnob with Hollywood actors and supermodels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once seen, this can be believed.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired sculptors, painters and musicians.

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

The sleeve art from the 1974 issue of the album

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

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

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Above: Shaftesbury, National Portrait Gallery, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May I improve hourly! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

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

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

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

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

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

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

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

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

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

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

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

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

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

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

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

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

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

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

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

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

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

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

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

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

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

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

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

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

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

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

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

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

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

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

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

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

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

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

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

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Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

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

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

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

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

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

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler

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

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Another tube line northeast to Borough tube station.

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

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

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Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

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

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

St. George The Martyr (1).jpg

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

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

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

Littledorrit serial cover.jpg

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

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

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

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Tate Modern

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

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

The Shard from the Sky Garden 2015.jpg

Above: The Shard, London

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

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot

Canada Slim Underground

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 November 2017

I don´t drive.

I never learned how.

(I know….strange for a Canadian adult to say that, eh?)

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

We own a car.

My wife drives it.

My work takes me to places well outside of reasonable walking distance, so I spend a lot of time on buses and trains.

And as much as I dislike bus travel and loathe the SBB (Schweizerisches Bundesbahnen or Swiss Federal Railways), the one advantage that constant passenger travel offers me is the opportunity to read.

SBB-CFF-FFS.svg

Recently I have been reading Ben Aaronovitch´s Rivers of London, the first in his series of Peter Grant novels.

Rivers of London.jpg

“Meet DC Peter Grant. 

He will show you his city. 

But it´s not the capital that you all see as you make your way from tube to bus, from Elephant to Castle. 

It´s a city that under its dark surface is packed full of crime. 

And of magic. 

A city that you never suspected….”

Monday, after a frustrating day at work, I bought myself J. K. Rowling´s The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Tales of Beedle the Bard.jpg

Inspired by this purchase, today I bought the British Museum´s Harry Potter: A Journey through the History of Magic.

Just ten days ago I bought at Heathrow Airport a keychain train ticket passage from London to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, departing from King´s Cross Station´s Platform 9 3/4.

If there is one thing that Aaronovitch and Rowling (the Harry Potter series) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes series) have taught me is that there is much we take for granted and that magic lies just below the surface of what we see.

Just yesterday, I went into Kreuzlingen and Konstanz to get our phone repaired and to do some shopping to change the funky mood I have been in since Monday, and I serendiptiously made some discoveries.

I had lunch in a Japanese café I had not known existed on the Hauptstrasse and was served by a young woman from Newcastle, England.

I visited the Kreuzlingen Tourist Information Centre and I found myself astonished to bring home many brochures and pamplets from my visit.

Later still I found a street in Konstanz that leads from the border post to  Rosengartenstraße, offering restaurants previously undiscovered and a second hand shop that gives away free CDs and books from time to time.

So often I think I know a place and then I am surprised by something new that had escaped my previous attention.

As tourists we visit places with preconceptions of places that often are quite different from reality.

From 23 to 29 October, the wife and I visited London and, of necessity, we rode the London Underground with its own magic just under the surface….

London Underground logo, known as the roundel, is made of a red circle with a horizontal blue bar.

London, England, 23 October 2017

It was inevitable.

First day in London and we were compelled to use the Tube, London´s nickname/brandname for its Underground subterranean railway system.

The world´s first below-ground railway, first began operations in 1863, the Underground handles over 1 billion passengers a year, at an average of 8 million per day, and yet it is not the world´s busiest metro system.

Ten other cities have busier systems with Beijing the busiest.

Beijing Subway logo.svg

Though the entire London Underground comprises a total of 250 miles/400 km of track, Shanghai has the longest route system.

Shanghai Metro Full Logo.svg

Although the Underground has 270 stations, New York City has more.

File:MTA New York City Subway logo.svg

There are 157 cities in 55 countries that possess a metro system.

This country boy has only ridden the metro systems in 21 cities in 15 countries.

(As fellow Canadian Michael J. Fox commented in the NYC-set 1993 movie The Concierge / For Love or Money, “I take the subway like any other animal.”)

ForLoveorMoney1993.jpg

And the idea of having a metro system keeps expanding, with Australian cities like Melbourne and Sydney constructing new metro systems, and even Honolulu getting into the metro scene.

But the London Tube, being the oldest, is the metro system with the longest history of being under attack.

As early as 30 October 1883 (Paddington Station) and as late as 15 September 2017 (Parsons Green), the Tube has been bombed (or has been attempted to be bombed) for over 150 years.

ParsonsGreen1.jpg

And the memory of the 7/7 Tube attacks in 2005 remains fresh in many people´s minds, when bombs were set off between Aldgate and Liverpool Street stations, Russell Square and Kings Cross St. Pancras stations, and Edgware Road and Paddington stations, and on a double decker bus above ground on Tavistock Road, resulting in the deaths of 52 UK residents of 18 different nationalities* and more than 700 people injured.

(*Every week 2,000 migrants unload at Victoria Coach Station.

Victoria Coach Station, Buckingham Palace Road 4711332 af8ae6e6.jpg

At least 55% of people living in London are not ethnically white British.

There are more people in London with little or no English than the entire population of the city of Newcastle.)

Still Londoners and visitors keep calm and ride the Tube.*

(*Except for, sadly, those who use the Tube to commit suicide.

In the first decade of the new Millennium, there were 643 suicide attempts on the Underground between 2000 and 2010, including successful attempts.

King's Cross St Pancras underground station entrance - IMG 0746.JPG

More people commit suicide at King´s Cross and Victoria stations than at any other Tube location.

Victoria tube antrance.jpg

People who throw themselves under Tube trains are called “one-unders” by the staff.

In New York they call them “track pizza”.)

During the London Blitz in World War II many people used Tube stations as bomb shelters.

Above: Aldwych Tube Station, 1940

A Tube station was never once struck by aerial bombardment.

But on 3 March 1943, after British media reported a heavy RAF raid on Berlin on the night of 1 March, the air raid Civil Defence siren sounded at 8:17 pm, triggering a heavy but orderly flow of people down the blacked-out staircase leading to Bethal Green station from the street.

A middle-aged woman and a child fell over, three steps up from the base and others fell around her, tangled in an immovable mass, which grew as they struggled, to nearly 300 people.

Some managed to get free, but 173 people, most of them women and children, were crushed and asphixiated.

And speaking of Tube air quality, an environmental study in 2000 showed that the air quality of the Tube was 73 times worse than the air quality above ground.

In the heatwave of 2006, temperatures inside the Tube reached the sweltering extreme of 47° Celcius/117° Fahrenheit.

Still Londoners and visitors keep calm and ride the Tube in 26 of London´s 32 boroughs.

Our experience in London left me with an uncertainty of how to feel about the Tube.

It is definitely an odd sensation to stand in a Tube car where no one talks to one another as if talking on the Tube was an silent taboo everyone understood.

Is it a shared misery to ride the Tube wherein one mustn´t complain?

It is certainly an exercise in map-reading and decryption trying to navigate through London´s maze of Underground stations and lines, which always makes me wonder if the architects who designed the entire network were inspired to create a system that resembles multi-coloured strands of twisted spaghetti thrown randomly upon the heart of this great metropolis after nursing hangovers in an Italian restaurant.

It wouldn´t at all surprise me if this were true.

Setting out to explore London on two feet remains the best way to discover the city´s most interesting corners, but above ground navigation can be equally confusing.

As well, the distance between central Tube stations is always further than you think, as the schematic Tube map is very misleading.

So most Londoners find that, except for very short journeys, the Tube is the quickest way to get around and about London.

Eleven different lines cross much of the metropolis, although south of the Thames River is not very well-covered.

Each line has its own colour and name.

All you need to know is which direction you are travelling in: northbound, southbound, westbound, eastbound, unless you are taking the Circle Line then…..well, good luck, mate.

As a precaution, one must also check the final destination displayed on the front of the train, as some lines, such as the District and Northern Lines, have several different branches.

All this complexity which Londoners take simply in stride does this country boy´s head in.

I grew up in a village of less than 500 people and live today in a village with a little more than 700.

There is almost no planning or logistics computation needed to navigate from one end of the village to the other.

Only one city in Switzerland has a metro – surprisingly neither Zurich nor Geneva do – Lausanne, with its two lines and 30 stations, is the smallest city in the world to have such a system.

Pink circle with three diagonal white lozenges forming stylised letter 'm'

Above: The logo of the Lausanne Métro

So though I have visited and lived in cities with metro systems, I have never felt at ease zooming at high speed through underground tunnels in overcrowded trains.

Yet despite all this I know there is magic and history to be found in London´s Underground.

Some of the history of the Underground is horrible.

Victorian Londoners were very superstitious.

One preacher, Dr. Cuming, said that digging into the ground would be digging into Hell and the Devil would be disturbed.

(Even today people say the Underground is Hell.)

The first Tube trains ran on 10 January 1863 from Paddington to Farringdon.

Sketch showing about a dozen people standing on an underground railway platform with a train standing at the platform. Several more people are visible inside the train, which has the words "Baker St" visible on its side.

So many people got on at the start that there was no room for anyone to get on at the other stations.

(Not a lot has changed since then.)

Steam trains were used for the first 25 years, filling the tunnels with smoke.

The railway companies said the smoke was a good thing.

If you had a bad chest then Tube smoke would clear it.

(….and putting your head on the track will cure your headache.)

Electric trains were first used in 1890.

The law said a person would be fined two Pounds if he/she tried to ride on the roof of an electric train.

If you rode on the roof your head would be knocked off.

Headache gone, two Pounds saved.

To test the first escalators, of which the Tube now has 426, the operators used a man called Bumper Harris to demonstrate that even a man with two wooden legs could use the escalators safely.

The first Tube carriages had no windows and had buttoned seats, looking uncannily similar to the padded cells of insane asylums, which might lead one to question the sanity of riding the Tube.

The tunnels were cleaned at night by ladies with feather dusters, dustpans and brushes.

They were known as “fluffers”!

Many carriages are too small today for many people who travel on the Tube, as the tunnels were built in the 1860s when people were smaller.

And, of course, an old Underground must be rumoured to be haunted.

An actress from the Royal Strand Theatre, knocked down to build Aldwych Station, is said to haunt Aldwych.

Station entrance when open: a canopy covers the station's previous name.

(More on Aldwych in a moment…)

Sarah Whitehead became a nun and haunts Bank Station, because she is searching for her brother Philip who was executed in 1811 for forging bank notes.

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Above: Entry to Bank Station, in front of the Bank of England

The ghost of Amen-Ra, an Egyptian pharoah who died in about 1500 BC was said to haunt the abandoned British Museum station, because the trains disturbed its eternal slumber.

Wearing only a loincloth and Egyptian headdress, he was said to scream so loudly that the sound would carry down the tunnels to the adjoining Holborn tube station.

The rumour grew so strong that in 1932 a newspaper offered a reward to anyone who would spend the night there.

No one took up the challenge.

The story takes a stranger turn after the closure of the station on 25 September 1933.

The comedy thriller Bulldog Jack, made in 1935, featured a chase through a secret tunnel that led from the station (called Bloomsbury in the film) to the Egyptian Room of the Museum, from where a necklace belonging to Amen-Ra was stolen.

UK film poster - Bulldog Jack.jpg

On the very night that the film was released, two women are said to have disappeared from the platform at Holborn – the next station along from the British Museum station.

Oblique angle view of pedestrians on a wide pavement passing the station entrance in a stone building. A long blue canopy bears the words "Holborn station" and a clear glazed screen above contains the London Underground roundel in blue, white and red glass.

Strange marks were later found on the walls of the closed station.

More sightings of the ghost were reported, along with weird moanings from within the tunnels.

London Underground has always denied the existence of a tunnel from the station to the Egyptian Room.

The actor William Terriss was stabbed to death in 1897 and is said to haunt the Covent Garden station.

Above: William Terriss (1847 – 1897)

One can hear the tapping of footsteps and doors flung open at the Elephant and Castle station.

“The Screaming Spectre” of Anne Naylor, who was murdered and chopped to pieces by her mistress in 1758, is said to haunt Farringdon Station.

Farringdon station new building open 2012.JPG

There is no Tube station at Muswell Hill as there is supposed to be, as construction workers came across a deep pit full of the skeletons of people buried during the Plague.

And there are, of course, the urban legends with just enough truth in the telling to make the tales believable.

An art student, a woman was travelling on the Underground back to her campus from central London late at night – she no remembers which line – alone except for one other person – a man in his 30s – in an empty carriage when three people boarded – she can´t recall which station – and sat opposite her.

The art student decided that the trio looked like drug addicts and avoided making eye contact with them.

Then the 30-something man started acting strangely.

He walked over to the student and behaved as if he knew her, asking:

“Hi.  How are you?  I´ve not spoken to you in a long time.”

….before leaning into her and whispering:

“Get off at the next stop.”

The student was wary of this, but did not wish to be left alone on the train with what she thought were three drug addicts, so she followed the man off the train and onto the platform.

Once they were off the train, the man revealed to the student that the girl in the trio was dead.

He had seen the two men drag her onto the train with a pair of scissors embedded in the back of her skull.

The story of the corpse on the train….simply an urban legend….just a horror story about travelling with strangers in enclosed spaces?

People do die on London´s public transport.

There are instances when bodies have been found on the Tube, if rumour and gossip are to be believed.

A train arrived at the East Finchley station at the end of the morning peak time.

East Finchley stn building.JPG

The crew inspected the train and found a man slumped in a seat, who they tried to wake.

They discovered that the man was dead, and had been for so long that rigor mortis had set in and he was rigid in his seat.

The body had to be removed by being laid sideways on a stretcher to prevent it rolling off.

While rigor mortis begins three to four hours after death – so it was possible after the morning peak – maximum stiffness does not set in until around twelve hours.

It is possible the body was left overnight on the Tube.

On the eastbound Piccadilly Line at Southfields, a passenger raised the alarm when a man on the packed train seemed “a bit poorly”.

Southfields station II, SW18 - geograph.org.uk - 1049755.jpg

The guard did not wish to delay the train so he persuaded a couple of passengers to help him drag the corpse off the train and left it sitting upright on a bench.

The police were called and complained about the disrespectful treatment of a body.

The guard then responded with:

“What else could I do?  I couldn´t delay the train, could I?”

121 Westminster Bridge Road was once the site of London´s strangest railway station – the terminus of the Necropolis Railway, which operated between 1854 and 1941.

First London Necropolis terminus.jpg

In the mid-nineteenth century, cemetery spaces in London were becoming increasingly limited due to the rapid increase in population and the legacy of the cholera outbreaks of recent years.

So, in an effort to find a solution, Richard Bourn started the Necropolis Railway Company.

A station was first set up in York Street, opposite Waterloo, from where trains could transport the London dead to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Map of a city surrounded by small cemeteries, and two larger proposed cemeteries slightly further out. A railway line runs from the city to a single large cemetery to the southwest, a long way further out.

When Waterloo was expanded at the turn of the 20th century, the Necropolis line had to be relocated to allow more room for regular train services, so a new terminus was opened in Westminster Bridge Road in 1902.

The railway was divided both by class and by religion with 1st, 2nd and 3rd class tickets for each.

Railway ticket labelled "Southern Railways London Necropolis Coffin Ticket, Waterloo to Brookwood, Third Class

These class divisions didn´t just apply to the travelling mourners; they also affected the style in which the deceased travelled, with more ornate coffins and storage compartments for 1st class, while in 3rd class the plain coffins were stacked up and crammed into a hearse carriage.

On arrival at the terminus, mourners would be led to an appropriate class waiting room, while the coffin was discreetly unloaded from the hearse and sent to platform level by lift.

At its peak, 50 corpses a day were transported along this line.

One of the more notable bodies to be carried by the train was that of Friedrich Engels, the German socialist political theorist and philosopher, who died in London on 5 August 1895.

Friedrich Engels portrait (cropped).jpg

Above: Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895)

Engels had expressed a wish to be cremated and for his ashes to be cremated at sea, but at the time there was no crematorium near London, so he was taken first to Brookwood, then on to Woking Crematorium.

By the 1930s London had more cemeteries and crematoria of its own, so the service was reduced to two trains a week.

During the Second World War the station was heavily damaged in an air raid, which brought the Necropolis Railway to a halt.

The repair work was not seen as financially worthwhile, so at the end of the War the station building was sold as office space.

The track to the cemetery was removed in 1947.

As previously stated above, there are 267 tube stations in operation.

Twenty-one have been taken offline since 1900.

Most of them were closed when London Transport was created in 1933, merging several independent transit operators who had been stations very close to each other to compete for passengers.

Some were a real loss for commuters, while others had just been badly designed.

Most of these ghost stations have been abandoned or walled up.

Visiting these ghost stations is largely impossible.

Closed since 1994, the ox-blood red brick facade of Aldwych Underground still stands on the corner of the Strand and Surrey Street.

During WW II, Aldwych was used as an air raid shelter, while treasures from the British Museum were stashed away in the tunnels.

Today, the abandoned station is often featured in films (Patriot Games, Die Another Day, V for Vendetta).

View along platform in 1994.

Access to the public is denied, but visits can sometimes be arranged through the London Transport Museum.

I suspect that most of the millions who ride these rails every day, year after year, neither know nor care about corpses, ghosts or ghost stations, and they choose not to remember the Tube´s history of being attacked.

With Oyster Cards firmly in hands and a bland uncaring resigned look on their faces, London passengers keep calm and carry on with their journey, reading one of the many free papers distributed at many central London stations, looking down at their mobile electronic gizmos or grimly staring off into the distance at the space between spaces.

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(The Oyster Cards, “smart” cards that register your entry and exit from tube stations and debit your travel account accordingly, are named after the idea that “the world is your oyster”, that the world is just waiting to be discovered like a pearl of great value.)

Our first Tube ride together took us from Paddington Station to Piccadilly Circus (on the Bakerloo Line via Edgware Road, Marylebone, Baker Street, Regent´s Park and Oxford Circus) to pick up our Internet-ordered London Passes from the Tourist Information Kiosk at Leicester Square.

We encountered no corpses, no ghosts, no ghost stations then nor during our seven-day sojourn in London.

We never felt threatened nor nervous about being attacked either above ground or below it.

We ate well, drank well and had a merry old time.

We used the Tube, because it was convenient, but like a marriage of convenience, there was not much love felt for the experience.

Perhaps there is magic beneath the streets of London, a world of possibility behind the sliding doors of the Tube carriages.

I honestly can´t say I felt it within the crowded, friendless confines of a speeding carriage hurtling its way through dark and damp tunnels.

I quickly lost count of how many staircases I climbed, how many times I used my Oyster Card, how often I felt confused by the complexity and tangle of train maps and schedules, how many miles I walked without seeing the sun or the stars or feeling fresh air against my face.

Perhaps the Tube is a part of London life, but it is a life that I cannot eagerly embrace, for one doesn´t ride the Tube as much as one haunts it.

Like a ghost that cannot leave until its goal is realised, one cannot abandon the use of the Underground until one´s destination is reached.

Rail romance has been replaced by Underground urgency.

Without travelling companions or time restrictions, I would rather walk.

Too much of modern day reality is rushed and packaged.

A free man prefers to walk.

Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Terry Deary, Horrible Histories London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Ben Judah, This Is London: Life and Death in the World City / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City / Scott Wood, London Urban Legends: The Corpse on the Tube and other stories