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

 

 

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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.

Centered blue star within a horizontal triband

Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

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

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

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

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

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

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

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

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

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

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

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

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

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

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

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

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

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

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

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

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

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

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

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

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

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

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

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

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

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

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

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

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

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

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

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

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

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

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

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

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Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

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

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

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

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

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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.

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

Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

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

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

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

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

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

Littledorrit serial cover.jpg

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

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

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

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Tate Modern

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

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

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Above: The Shard, London

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

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot

Canada Slim 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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Paddington Arrival

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 October 2017

Yesterday evening I returned home after spending an intense week in London with my wife, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed.

It is important that my wife is mentioned, for it must be admitted that travelling as a pair is significantly different than travelling by oneself.

And if one of the pair is financially dependent upon the other, then the one in a weaker financial situation will find the trip itinerary determined by the person in the stronger position.

It was my second attempt to experience London.

A number of years ago my best friend, his gal pal (now his wife) and I spent a weekend in London, visiting Greenwich Observatory and the Globe Theatre, walking along the Thames and taking in a theatre performance of a musical (with puppets!) called Avenue Q.

It was a great time, and I will always be grateful to Iain and Samantha for their amazing generosity and thoughtfulness, but the mad dashing from place to place left my mind in a spin with only moments remaining as memories.

I had hoped for more of a chance to savour London this trip, but my good Frau Doctor wife had her own ideas of approaching London….

 

London, England, 23 October 2017

There had been the usual amount of stress that is customary with flying to foreign destinations: the packing and preparation, the dash to the Airport, the long line-up at the airline check-in, the even longer line-up at airport security, then the wait at the gate to board the aircraft, the scramble and silent war of wills to claim overhead compartment space for the stuff one insists having close at hand while flying, the take-off, the landing, then finally…..

One has arrived.

I won´t criticise Zürich Airport, but to be fair, it is not Heathrow.

Heathrow Airport, also known as London Heathrow (LHR), is the 2nd busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic (surpassed only by Dubai International), the busiest airport in Europe by passenger traffic and the 7th busiest airport in the world by total (domestic and international) passenger traffic.

Heathrow Logo 2013.svg

Last year, Heathrow handled a record 75.7 million passengers.

And Heathrow is only one of six airports with scheduled services serving the London area.

(The others are Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend and London City.)

Clearly London is a popular destination.

Heathrow is 14 miles/23 km west of central London, so as the Airport is west of London and as its runways run east-west, an airliner´s landing approach is usually directly over London itself.

So the lucky airplane passenger can look out the plane windows and see the flow of the Thames and spot from a distance the world famous sites of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as well as the London Eye ferris wheel.

Where once there were farms, market gardens and orchards, Heathrow Airport is now used by over 80 airlines flying to 185 destinations in 84 countries.

London Heathrow is the primary hub for British Airways and the primary operating base for Virgin Atlantic.

Every year one million passengers arrive at Heathrow from Zürich Airport, though most outbound passengers use Heathrow to fly to New York City´s JFK Airport (over 3 million every year).

Despite all this air traffic, Heathrow has only two parallel runways and covers an area of 4 square miles / 12 square km.

Though flying remains one of the safest methods of transportation in the world, there are those, like myself, who do not enjoy flying.

Some turn to religion for comfort in these turbulent times, so Heathrow has thoughtfully provided Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh chaplains with multi-faith prayer rooms and counselling rooms in each terminal.

For the celebrity set, Heathrow is not a sanctuary away from the public eye, as it has its own resident press corps (six photographers and one TV crew), serving all the major newspapers and TV stations around the world.

Heathrow has five terminals, though only four are used.

Terminal 5 lies between the northern and southern runways at the western end of the Heathrow site, exclusively used by, the airline we used for this trip, British Airways and its partner company Iberia.

30 million passengers visit Terminal 5 every year, using the 60 aircraft stands and the more than 100 shops and restaurants in the main terminal building.

There are a number of ways to get into London from Heathrow….

There is the Heathrow Express, a 21-minute non-stop service direct to Paddington Station; the Heathrow Connect, a 27-minute stopping service to Paddington calling up to five National Rail stations en route; and the Piccadilly line of the London Underground, a 50-minute journey.

HeathrowExpress.svg

There are also many buses and coaches, taxis, rental car agencies and even bicycle routes to take you away from the frantic hustle and bustle of the Airport to the even more frantic hustle and bustle of central London.

There have been incidents and accidents at Heathrow….

Since 1948 – Heathrow has been in operation since 1929 though at a much smaller scale than today – there have been 14 airplane crashes, 14 terrorism or security incidents and two major weather incidents.

But let´s not focus on these, shall we?

But instead imagine all the other stories worth telling….

In 2005, the Dutch network Nederland 1 began producing the TV series Hello Goodbye, whose format has been picked up and remade in other countries.

The shows involve a presenter who roams around an airport with a cameraman asking members of the public in departures and arrivals who they are saying goodbye to or welcoming home.

The presenter looks for unusual stories and the show is edited with inspirational music in dramatic points of the show, usually when people say their goodbyes or meet whom they´ve been waiting for.

The Dutch series is filmed at Amsterdam´s Schiphol Airport, the Sky 1 British series is filmed at Heathrow and the Canadian CBC Television series is filmed at Toronto´s Pearson Airport.

Schiphol logo.svg

I have not seen these series myself, but I imagine them to be quite similar to the closing act of the film Love…Actually, where Prime Minister Hugh Grant is met by his girlfriend, Liam Neeson´s son meets his girlfriend, Colin Firth meets his Portuguese fiancée, Emma Thompson greets her husband Alan Rickman, and Bill Nighy is reunited with his best mate and manager, all to the background music of the Beach Boys´ “God Only Knows”.

Love Actually movie.jpg

Sadly, no film crew was awaiting our arrival at Heathrow Terminal 5, but we kept calm and carried on.

God only knows how.

In the old days a great deal of London was made up of separate villages (as was the case with many other capital cities of the world).

In 1773 no fewer than 46 were listed and Paddington was one of them.

Over the years the villages grew larger and prospered, eventually merging with each other to become part of one enormous whole.

Paddington Station, also known as London Paddington, is a Central London railway terminus and London Underground station complex, located on Praed Street in the Paddington area.

Paddington is the London terminus of the majority of commuter and regional passenger services to west London and the Thames Valley region as well as long distance intercity services to southwest England and south Wales.

It has two separate tube stations providing connections to the Bakerloo, Circle, District, Hammersmith and City lines.

It´s hard to picture Paddington Station ever having been part of a small village.

Up to 80,000 people pass through it every day, including the 15,000 who fly in and out of Heathrow from all over the world, which explains why it is so busy.

We only just arrived in London and we find ourselves already surrounded by history and legends, for this site has been the London terminus of the Great Western Railway and its successors since 1838, and was first served by London Underground trains in 1863, as the original western terminus of the Metropolitan Railway, the world´s first underground railway.

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

On Platform 8 there is a statue in memory of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the son of a French engineer, who not only designed Paddington Station, but was also responsible for the whole of the Great Western Railway – building bridges and viaducts, digging tunnels and laying the tracks.

Paddington is bounded in front by Praed Street and behind by Bishop´s Bridge Road, to the west by Eastbourne Terrace and to the east by the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal.

This is an area that is partly residential, but also includes St. Mary´s Hospital, restaurants and hotels.

(St. Mary´s Hospital was where Scotsman Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.)

Synthetic Production of Penicillin TR1468.jpg

Above: Sir/Dr/Prof. Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955)

Our hotel is close to Paddington on Sussex Place, (making me think of Sussex Drive back in Ottawa), and is a short walk to Lancaster Gate tube station and the conjoined parks of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Paddington was an important milk depot towards the end of the 19th century.

A milk dock was built in 1881 and by the 20th century over 3,000 churns were being handled in the station every day, along with other goods such as meat, fish, horses and flowers.

By 1936, around 22,000 parcels a day were being forwarded from Paddington, with the Royal Mail service processing around 4,500 mailbags and 2,400 parcel bags every day.

Paddington came under attack several times during World War II.

On 17 April 1941, the departure side of the Station was hit by a parachute mine, while on 22 March 1944, the roof between Platforms 6 and 7 was destroyed by two 500-pound/230 kg flying bombs.

Passenger traffic greatly increased through Paddington during the war, partly by evacuation to the relatively quiet Thames Valley and because holidaymakers chose to travel west as large areas of the south and east coasts had been taken over for military purposes.

Paddington though is more than simply rails leading away from it.

There are many cultural references to this Station.

Paddington is mentioned in several Sherlock Holmes novels, including The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

Holmes (in deerstalker hat) talking to Watson (in a bowler hat) in a railway compartment

The mystery novel 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie begins with a murder witnessed by a passenger on a train from Paddington.

AgathaChristie 450FromPaddington.jpg

One of the Railway Series books, The Eight Famous Engines, contains a Story about Duck, Gordan and a foreign engine debating which Station in London is most important.

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Duck says that he used to work at Paddington so he knows that Paddington is the most important.

However, Gordon later finds out that the most important Station in London is St. Pancras.

There is a fictional underground Paddington Station on the North London System in the novel The Horn of Mortal Danger.

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Paddington Station was the subject of William Powell Frith´s 1862 painting The Railway Station.

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The band Supertramp used Paddington Station to record the train sounds featured in the song “Rudy” on their 1974 album Crime of the Century.

Supertramp - Crime of the Century.jpg

But what comes to most English speakers´ minds when the name Paddington is mentioned is the children´s book character Paddington Bear who was named after the Station.

In the books, written by Michael Bond, Paddington Bear is found at Paddington Station, having come from “deepest, darkest Peru” – with his old hat, battered suitcase (bearing the label “Wanted on Voyage”), duffel coat (with a note attached to it that reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”) and love of marmelade.

Paddington arrived as a stowaway, sent by his Aunt Lucy who has gone to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima.

Paddington claims: “I came all the way in a lifeboat and ate marmelade.  Bears love marmelade.”

“When I first set foot on Paddington Station there were so many People rushing to and fro I didn´t know which way to go, so I sat on my suitcase outside the Lost Property Office and waited for something to happen.”

He is found by the Brown family who cannot understand his Peruvian bear name, so they decide to call him Paddington after the railway station in which he was found.

The Browns take him home to 32 Windsor Gardens, off Harrow Road between Notting Hill and Maida Vale.

(There is an actual Windsor Gardens, but there is no #32.)

(Chilcot Crescent in Primrose Hill is where the recent movies Paddington and Paddington 2 were filmed.)

PaddingtonPOSTER.jpg

Paddington is always polite – addressing people as “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Miss”, rarely by first names – and kindhearted.

When Paddington gets annoyed with someone, he often gives them one of his special “hard stares” which causes them to become flush and embarrassed.

Paddington´s adventures usually arise from him misunderstanding something and trying to right (what he perceives to be) unfair or unjust situations.

This typically ends up with him messing things up in some way, but, in all his adventures, he ends up on top and everyone involved can laugh about it.

Paddington frequents the nearby Portobello Road market, where he is respected by the shopkeepers for driving a hard bargain.

Mr. Samuel Gruber, the friendly owner of an antique shop on Portobello Road, with whom Paddington has his “elevenses” every day and who regularly takes Paddington and the Brown children on outings, is a Hungarian immigrant who can relate to what it feels like to be an outsider.

Bond was inspired by his wartime experiences at the BBC Monitoring Unit in Caversham, which was staffed almost entirely by Russian and Polish people.

Michael Bond has said that Paddington was inspired by childhood memories of watching children being evacuated from London.

They would crowd the stations with labels around their necks, their possessions in tiny suitcases.

He is also based partly on Bond´s father and partly on a teddy bear that Bond saw in Selfridges on Christmas Eve in 1956.

He bought the bear as a present for his wife and wrote the first book, A Bear Called Paddington, in 10 days.

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Paddington Bear´s adventures have sold over 35 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 20 languages.

Michael Bond once received a letter from a small boy in America who said he was so used to Paddington being the name of a bear, it now seemed a funny name for a railway station.

These days, at Platform 1, you can find a bronze statue of the very polite bear under the clock and also buy a gift from the world´s only Paddington Bear shop.

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As we leave the Station, I feel somewhat like an outsider, not completely understanding how life works in London but remaining polite and kindhearted nonetheless.

As we head outside towards Praed Street, we pass the latest Great Western Railway advertising campaign billboards, featuring Enid Blyton´s The Famous Five.

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The first billboard sums up perfectly our feelings as we head towards our hotel and further exploration of the City:

“Adventure starts here.”

(To be continued….)

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Michael Bond, Paddington´s Guide to London / Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington / Eloise Millar & Sam Jordison, Literary London

 

Canada Slim and the Danger Zone

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 October 2017

Tomorrow, we fly to London.

British Airways Logo.svg

My wife is concerned.

2017 has been a bad year for London.

22 March: Attack on Westminster Bridge – 6 dead, 40 injured

3 June: Attack on London Bridge – 11 dead, 48 injured

19 June: Attack on Finsbury Park Mosque – 1 dead, 11 injured

North London Central Mosque, Finsbury Park - geograph.org.uk - 759870.jpg

Above: The North London Central Mosque, Finsbury Park

15 September: Attack on Parson´s Green Tube Station – 22 injured

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Still these pale in comparison to the 7 July 2005 Tube attacks, resulting in 52 dead and 0ver 700 people injured.

Are we walking into a danger zone?

But these days is there truly any place that is completely safe?

In Switzerland, during our vacation in Italy, a crazy man stabbed to death an Indian student just outside our Starbucks store window in St. Gallen.

File:Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

Just the year prior, another disturbed individual attacked train passengers with fire and a knife near Salez-Salenstein, mid-distance between St. Gallen and Chur.

And this is Switzerland, a neutral, peaceful country.

Flag of Switzerland

Yet, despite these events, I still continue to work at the same location of the Starbucks incident and have a number of times ridden the train between St. Gallen and Chur passing Salez-Salenstein, and I remember.

These are times that test men´s souls and cause hearts to race with fear, but nonetheless we must keep on living.

Is London dangerous?

The City of London, seen from the south bank of the Thames in September 2015

Can a city that has existed for two millennia always be safe?

Yet today over 8.7 million people continue to survive and thrive in central London, over 13.8 million in the 33 Boroughs of the Greater London area, speaking over 300 languages.

They haven´t fled in panic despite the 7/7 attacks and it would take much more than this before Londoners would lose their nerve and abandon the place.

London remains the world´s largest financial centre, has the largest concentration of wealth in the world and is the leading investment destination, which means it will continue to be a target.

Yet despite all the anguish and fear that these events create in the world press, London remains the most visited city on the planet, with the world´s largest city airport system and the oldest underground railway network.

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

I confess, despite having lived in Britain before, that my knowledge of London is sparse.

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

During my time in Britain (England and Wales) when I lived in Oxford, Leicester, Nottingham and Cardiff, I did not visit London, for both the expense of the city as well as the immensity of the place intimidated me.

Only through the encouragement of my old friend Iain have I seen a wee bit of London: the Theatre District, the Greenwich Observatory, a section of the Thames Path (a 184 mile path that stretches from the Thames Barrier (where the Channel meets the River) to Kemble, just south of Cirencester) and a hodgepodge of meandering streets that confused me more than remained memories.

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Above: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

Now I will travel there with my wife, Ute, whom I met in Stratford-upon-Avon two decades ago.

Above: William Shakespeare´s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

She hasn´t been to London since, though we both visited Cornwall a few years ago.

Above: Land´s End, Cornwall

Tomorrow, two people who live in a village of a population under 800, who both grew up in towns not much bigger than Landschlacht, will try and explore the world´s most visited metropolis on the planet in a short seven-day period.

The true danger is not terrorist attack, but rather being overwhelmed by London´s expanse and expense.

We have tried to prepare ourselves.

The hotel and flights have been booked ages ago.

We will bring ten guidebooks with us: Top 10 London 2017, London Stories, This Is London, London for Lovers, Horrible Histories London, Secret London, Lonely Planet London, Baedeker London, Brandt/ English Heritage`s London: In the Footsteps of the Famous and the German language Müller guide to London.

And, if we remain true to our past experiences of travelling, we will curse the weight of carrying the damn books around with us, which we probably won´t read more than a few pages of, before passing out into exhausted slumber each night, because we walked around so much being lost.

There is simply too much to see and do in London: the British Museum (the world´s oldest public museum), the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye ferris wheel, the Tate Gallery, Westminister Abbey and Parliament Square, the Tower of London and St. Paul´s Cathedral.

Clock Tower - Palace of Westminster, London - May 2007.jpg

And these are the best known attractions in London.

We could try to see London through the eyes of famous folks who once lived here: Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chaplin, Dr. Samuel Johnson (who coined the phrase: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”), John Keats, Sigmund Freud, Georg Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Charles de Gaulle, Virginia Woolf, Mahatma Gandhi, Jimi Hendrix, Henry James, Samuel Pepys, Geoffrey Chauncer, Oscar Wilde, and, not forgetting, the British Monarchy, just to name a few.

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Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

My wife´s Swabian tendencies and my ancestral Scottish blood will probably compel us to see what we can for free in London: the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Tate Modern Gallery, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Institution, Free London Walking Tours, opera recitals at the Royal Opera House, the Roman ruins at the Guildhall Art Gallery, the view from the Oxo Tower Wharf, the feeding of the pelicans at St. James Park, Parliamentary debates, evensong at Westminister or St. Paul´s, stand-up comedy at the Camden Head Pub, and loads more of free entertainment across the City.

Above: Buckingham Palace, London

For three of the seven days we are in London, we shall explore the magic and mystery of London together, maybe even discovering some sites recommended by London for Lovers.

Above: Flower Walk, Kensington Gardens, London

For the four remaining days, while she attends a medical conference, I will wander about the streets on my own.

So what shall I do?

There are a number of temptations.

Do I trace Ben Judah´s explorations as chronicled in his This Is London, hoping to see London in the eyes of its beggars and bankers, cops and gangsters, sex workers and witch doctors, locals and immigrants?

Do I systematically pick neighbourhoods to explore as London Walks´ London Stories suggests?

Do I try to follow from cover to cover the alternative guidebook to London, Secret London, which promises to show me monsters in Trafalgar Square, have me check into Bedlam, praise God, buy meatballs, have a sauna, visit the House of Dreams, join the secret society to which Prince Charles belongs, and discover the secret to instant weight loss?

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Above: Trafalgar Square, London

Or do I take the pedestrian approach and take a walk through London via the Southeast London Green Chain Walk, the London Outer Orbital Path, the Jubilee Walkway, the Lee Valley Walk, the Diana Memorial Walk or the Thames Path?

Above: OXO Tower, Thames Path on the riverside of building

Of course, there is, as well, the temptation of shopping.

I am a native English speaker resident in a country where English is not one of the official languages, who will be visiting England, the birthplace of English.

Flag of England

Above: The flag of England

To have unlimited access to an orgasmic cornucopia of endless variety of English language literature and music and movies….

Heaven!

I want to buy things like…. anime or foreign films that are only translated into German where I live, or music that is unknown in Switzerland, or BBC TV series that I would have to special order at high cost at a local Orell Füssli chain bookshop in St. Gallen or Zürich or at the English Bookshop across the German border in Konstanz.

Logo

Damn the weight restrictions that airlines impose!

Hilde Cook, the owner of the English Bookshop, suggested that I won´t want to return to Switzerland once I am away in London.

She may be right.

London is dangerously seductive.

But my home and my heart are in Switzerland so I must return.

But my wife is right, London is a danger zone.

The stress of trying to see and do so much in too short a time is dangerous indeed.

Sources: Wikipedia / Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 London 2017 / Ben Judah, This Is London / London Walks, London Stories / Sam Hodges & Sophie Vickers, London for Lovers / Bradt & English Heritage, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Ralf Nestmeyer, Michael Müller Verlag, London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / Baedeker´s, London / Rachel Howard & Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Terry Dreary, Horrible Histories London

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Isle of Silence

Landschlacht, Switzerland,  8 October 2017

It may be the greatest of romances, the strongest of friendships, the warmest of families….

Yet travelling together will put these bonds to the test, for there will come a time when the trip is not ideal for all the travellers simultaneously.

For some travelling duos, these moments may be rare and short in duration.

For other travelling pairs, these moments can fracture the relationship permanently.

Simply put, one of you doesn´t want to do what the other one wants to do, so idyllic separate solitude is sacrificed for the travelling partnership, as one person compromises to the other for the sake of the relationship.

Sometimes the compromise turns out not to be so bad after all and the compromised finds him/herself actually feeling enjoyment despite all his/her expectations to the contrary.

Sometimes the compromise is bitterly regretted and the compromised hates both him/herself for making the compromise and the person who demanded the compromise.

I am reminded of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Tour Eiffel Wikimedia Commons (cropped).jpg

My travelling companion and I stood directly beneath the arch of the Tour d`Eiffel, but she looked at the line-up and looked at the price, and adamantly refused to allow herself or me to join the queue and ascend the Tower.

I argued that this was an golden opportunity.

We did not know when, if ever, we would have the chance to do this again, and that, wait and expense be damned, it was well worth it to do so.

She would not budge.

I compromised.

I still have yet to ascend the Tour d´Eiffel and the uncertainty of life does not reassure me that I might ever have that chance again.

Thus there remains a sour feeling inside me and a source of great consternation everytime I think about it.

 

Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We had a day ticket to cruise the Lago di Como and, to be fair, we could not possibly see everything that there was to see and be able to return back to the city of Como on the last returning boat.

But, despite the additional expense, would it have been so tragic had we visited the Isola Comacina, and then arranged passage from there back to the mainland then taken a bus back to Como?

She would not budge.

I compromised.

Prior to the great discussion regarding a visit to Isola Comacina, we visited the Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo and the Villa del Balbianello at Dossa d´Avedo.

The Villa Carlotta is a villa and botanical garden in Tremezzo, located on the lakeshore, facing the Bellagio Peninsula and the mountains surrounding the Lago di Como, which can be seen from the Villa windows or from the terraced gardens.

The Villa Carlotta is a place of precious beauty, combining both natural and manmade masterpieces in perfect harmony.

The Clerici family had risen from rural origins to become successful silk merchants.

Milanese Marquis Giorgio Clerici became a Senator in 1684 and six years later he decided to establish a country estate on ancestral lakeside land at Tremezzo.

The estate was complete in its initial form by 1695 and finally completed in its present form in 1745 by Giorgio`s great grandson Anton.

When Anton died in 1768, he had spent most of the family fortune building the Palazzo Clerici in Milano.

Anton´s daughter Claudia sold Villa Carlotta in 1801 to the banker/politician Giovanni Battista Sommariva.

Above: Bust of Giovanni Battista Sommariva (died 1826) by Bertel Thorvaldsen

Sommariva had risen from being a barber´s apprentice to a position of power in Napoleon Bonaparte´s government in northern Italy.

Portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. In the original image He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.

Above: Napoleone di Buonaparte, aka Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

In 1802 Sommariva was a candidate to be the Vice President of the Republic of Italy, but Napoleon selected instead Francesco Melzi d´Eril for the post.

With his political ambitions thwarted, Sommariva retired from public life and devoted his time to collecting art.

Sommariva added balconies to take in the lake view, a large clock on the Villa facade, patronised a number of sculptors, constructed a domed family chapel and mausoleum, and transformed part of the property´s park into a romantic garden.

Villa Carlotta.jpg

When Sommariva´s eldest son, Emilio, died, fighting in Spain in 1811, and his second son Luigi´s sudden death in 1838, Sommariva´s declining fortune was divided between his wife, Emilia, and numerous relatives.

The property was sold in 1843 to Princess Marianne, the wife of Prince Albert of Prussia.

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Above: Princess Marianne of the Netherlands (1810 – 1883)

Marianne gave the property to her daughter Charlotte (in Italian, Carlotta), as a wedding present upon her marriage to Georg II, the Duke of Sachsen-Meiningen.

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Above: Princess Charlotte of Prussia (1831 – 1855)

Her parents´ marriage was unhappy due to Prince Albert´s several affairs, and was finally dissolved in 1849.

Marianne began to live with her former coachman Johannes von Rossum, with whom she had a son.

Albert married a former actress Rosalie von Rauch, who bore him two sons.

The custody of Charlotte and her siblings Albert and Albertine was given to their father.

However their childless aunt Queen Elisabeth of Prussia took care of them.

As a young woman, Charlotte was highly eligible for marriage, due to her mother´s Dutch fortune and her father´s Hohenzollern noble connections.

In Charlottenburg on 18 May 1850, the nineteen-year-old princess married Georg, Prince of Saxe-Meningen, who was 24.

Already Georg had led a battalion from Meningen in support of the Prussians in the First Schleswig War against Denmark in 1849.

The two shared many interests, particularly with the theatre, as they were both ardent attendees.

During their engagement, they had even acted in amateur court theatricals together.

Charlotte had a talent for music and was professionally instructed by great artists of the period, even writing a number of military marches, songs and piano pieces.

The couple spent much of their time in Berlin and Potsdam but resided in Meiningen for the birth of their children.

Charlotte, whose marriage was a love match, had only a short time to enjoy the Villa Carlotta, for she died of childbirth complications at the age of 23 in 1855.

Georg and Charlotte had, prior to her death and the death of their one-day-old son, three other children Bernhard (1851 – 1928), Georg (1852 – 1855) who died a few months before his mother did, and Marie Elisabeth (1853 – 1923).

Duke Georg would later marry two more times, outliving his second wife Feodora (1839 – 1872) who provided him with three sons before she died of scarlet fever and would be outlived by his third wife, former actress Ellen Franz (1839 – 1923).

The Sachsen-Meiningens used the property as a private holiday home.

In 1857, author Ludwig Bechstein wrote a description of the Villa, which was published as Villa Carlotta: Poetische Reisebilder vom Comersee und aus den lombardisch-venetianische Landen.

Above: German writer Ludwig Bechstein (1801 – 1860)

Duke Georg, who had a passion for botany, dedicated himself to the development and enrichment of the Villa gardens introducing a great variety of rare and exotic species.

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Above: Duke Georg II of Sachsen-Meiningen (1826 – 1914)

He died in 1914 at the outbreak of World War One.

Once Italy entered WW1 in May 1915 on the side of the Allies, the Villa, despite being owned by a German, was not confiscated by the Italian state, as were most other properties of other enemy aliens in Italy, but was placed under the management of the Swiss Consulate.

In 1921, the financial administrator of the Province of Como informed the owners of Villa Carlotta that the entire property was now the property of the Italian state, arguing that the Villa was of eminent national significance.

It was proposed in 1922 that the Villa would be sold at auction.

Local enthusiasts, led by Senator Guiseppe Bianchini and the Rotary Club of Milano opposed this, which lead to the Villa being entrusted to the Ente Villa Carlotta Foundation, constituted by royal decree on 12 May 1927.

This foundation is still responsible for the Villa.

The Villa consists of three floors, two of which are open to the public and serve as a museum, with art works by Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822), Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 – 1844), Adamo Tadolini (1788 – 1863), Luigi Acquisti (1745 – 1823), Francois Hayez (1791 – 1882), Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762 – 1834) and others.

Above: The Repentant Magdalene, by Antonio Canova

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Above: Mars and Venus by Luigi Acquisti

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Above: Palamedes by Antonio Canova

(Palamedes, the mythological inventor of chess, dice games and some of the letters of the Greek alphabet, was the only one, in Homer´s Illiad, who unmasked Ulysses´ deceit in pretending to be mad, thus forcing him to abandon his island of Ithaca and go fighting in the Trojan War.

Ulysses never forgave him and plotted against Palamedes who, for this reason, was killed.)

The botanical garden covers an area of about 8 hectares/20 Acres and is filled with cut hedges, orange and camellia trees, rhodendron and 150 varieites of azalea, cedars, palms, redwoods, plane trees and other exotic plants, and over 25 different bamboo species.

Fancy decadence.

Nice gardens.

Waitress at the Villa Café tells me “I love you.” after I give her a large tip.

Fickle woman tells the next tipper the same thing.

 

My wife and I then travelled onwards down the western shore of Lago di Coma to the tip of the small wooded peninsula of Dosso d`Avedo, not far from the Isola Comacina.

Yet another Italian Villa.

The Villa del Balbianello is reached by taking a stroll along the harbour of Lenno and through a park of skillfully pruned plane trees.

At the entrance to the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano/Italian National Trust) property, we are greeted by a trio of young men who ask us to sign a petition and give a donation to assist those with drug addiction.

The views of the Lago di Como from here are breathtaking.

Unlike most of the grand villas on the Lago di Como, Balbianello was not initially built as the residence of an aristocrat.

A Franciscan monastery had existed on the grounds since the 13th century, and the two towers which still remain are the campanili of the monastery´s church.

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After failing in his attempts to buy nearby Isola Comacina, Cardinal Angelo Durini (1725 – 1796) purchased the property in 1785.

In 1787 Durini converted the monastery building into a villa for use during the summer and added a loggia, which would allow visitors to obtain two different panoramas of the Lago.

The elegant loggia, built at the highest point of the property, opens on two sides to take in the extraordinary beauty of the Lago.

21VillaBalbianello.jpg

It has a central portico with two rooms on either side which Durini used as a library and a music room.

Cardinal since 1776, Durini dedicated himself to poetry and engagement with Lombardia literary circles, where he distinguished himself as a generous patron of the arts.

He was a great friend and benefactor of Giuseppe Parini, who dedicated his important ode La Gratitudine to him.

Giuseppe Parini, in a lithograph by Rosaspina.

Above: Italian poet Giuseppe Parini (1729 – 1799)

Sadly the Cardinal was able to enjoy Balbianello only for a short time, passing away at the estate in 1796.

After the Cardinal´s death, the Villa passed to his nephew, Luigi Porro Lambertenghi (born 1780).

Lambertenghi was a high profile figure in a group of Milanese republicans and a member of the Carbonari, who wished to liberate Italy from the Austrians, who after the end of the Napoleonic era were restored their former possessions but now acted more repressive than they had previously in policing their domains.

The Carbonari desired both the liberation and unification of the entire Italian peninsula and frequently met at Balbianello to discuss their plans.

In 1815 Lambertenghi hired the republican writer Silvio Pellico to tutor his children.

Above: Italian republican writer Silvio Pellico (1789 – 1799)

Pellico stayed for many years at Balbianello, which he recalled fondly in his Le mie prigioni (My prisons).

In July 1817, during a boating excursion from Como to Cadenabbia and Bellagio, Stendhal passed in front of Balbianello, where the oarsmen had difficulty in rounding the promontory, due to a sudden wind.

Stendhal.jpg

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

The rocky shoreline reminded the Frenchman of Scottish lakes and the romantic allure of “that heavenly lake” inspired his first chapters of The Charterhouse of Parma.

In 1821, following the failure of an attempted insurrection, Lambertenghi – having caught wind of his imminent arrest – fled Milano to take refuge in Switzerland, remaining there in exile until 1840.

He was sentenced to death in absentia in 1882.

Pellico was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Before leaving for Switzerland, Lambertenghi sold Balbianello to his friend Giuseppe Arconati Visconti (born 1797)

Visconti made improvements to the gardens and the loggia.

To this day the balustrade in front of the church bears the Visconti emblem of a serpent with a man in its mouth.

Shortly after acquiring Balbianello, Visconti was also accused of participating in revolutionary movements.

Visconti eluded capture by the Austrian authorities by fleeing to Gaasbeek, Belgium and taking refuge in his maternal uncle´s castle 15 km from Brussels.

Above: Gaasbeek Castle

In 1924, Visconti was sentenced to death in absentia.

Visconti and his wife Costanza lived in Gaasbeek until 1839.

During the period of Visconti ownership, the Villa hosted politicians and writers including republican poet Giovanni Berchet (1783 – 1851), novelist Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873), republican politician Giuseppe Giusti (1809 – 1850) and Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (1827 – 1901).

(I wonder…. did the view of Isola Comacina from the Villa del Balbianello inspire Böcklin´s painting “Island of the Dead”?)

Gian Martino Visconti (1839 – 1876), Giuseppe and Costanza´s only surviving son, was a restless youth who embarked on a career in the military while nourishing a dominating passion for travel.

He undertook many journeys in Europe and Egypt.

All Gizah Pyramids.jpg

His passion led him to undertake in-depth studies of Arabia.

In 1864, Gian was in Algeria, as documented by his book Viaggi a caso di un vagabondo – Gita ad Algeri (An Errant Vagabond – Out in Algeria).

Above: Pipelines across modern Algeria

In 1865, Gian embarked on his most ambitious trip – to the Arabian Peninsula via Cairo and Suez, crossing southern Arabia to Aqaba.

Above: Map of the Arabian Peninsula, 1720

He then went up the Wadi Arabah until he reached Petra, which was little known at the time.

Petra Jordan BW 21.JPG

Above: Petra, Jordan

After leaving Petra and surviving the perils of Bedouin attacks, Gian took refuge in Jerusalem before returning to Europe.

His Diario di un viaggio nell´Arabia (Diary of a voyage in Arabia) was one of the last records of an individual journey through places that would soon be visited by organised tourism and amply described in Baedeker guidebooks.

In 1873 Gian married radical republican Frenchwoman Marie Peyrat, a free spirited, eccentric, beautiful young woman, in Paris, witnessed by Emmanuel Arago and Victor Hugo.

However, the marriage was short-lived.

In 1876, Gian died from a disease contracted during his travels.

Marie stopped going to Balbianello a few years after the death of her husband and for more than 30 years Balbiandello was left to fall into a state of neglect.

In 1904 during a boat excursion with some friends, US businessman/politician Butler Ames saw the Villa for the first time and was determined to own it.

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Above: Butler Ames (1871 – 1954)

Ames was immediately and irrevocably struck by the romantic beauty of Balbianello.

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It was until 1919 that he was successful in obtaining ownership.

After purchasing the Villa, Ames and his wife Fifi spent all of their summers there, with the exception of World War 2, until Ames´ death in 1954.

In these years, their guestbook contained the names of a great number of visitors, including “America´s Sweetheart” Canadian actress Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979), former US First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (1929 – 1994) and US Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson II (1900 – 1965).

Ames´ will stipulated that his heirs could not sell Balbianello for 20 years after his death, but as soon as the period expired Balbianello was sold to Guido Monzino (1928 – 1988).

Monzino had admired and desired the Villa ever since he was young, when he used to spend his Sundays fishing with his father, who moored his boat near the Dosso d´Avedo promontory.

Lenno Villa Balbianello 12.jpg

A businessman and entrepreneur, Monzino had been Managing Director of Standa, Italy´s 1st large department store chain, but deep in his heart he was, like Gian Visconti, an explorer and dedicated much of his time to this pursuit, participating in or leading a total of 21 major expeditions over a twenty-year period to all corners of the world. including being the 1st person to climb the north face of the Torres del Paine in Chile, the first to climb Kanjut Sar (the 26th tallest mountain in the world) in Pakistan, and the leader of the 1st Italian Expedition to climb the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest.

Above: Mount Everest

At the end of his long career, Monzino threw himself wholeheartedly into the restoration and refurbishment of the Villa.

He died in 1988 at the age of 60.

Unmarried and without any direct heirs, Monzino bequeathed Balbinello to the FAI.

In keeping with his final wishes, Monzino is buried in the estate´s underground icehouse in the garden.

Today the Villa del Balbinello is the most visited among the FAI properties with over 90,000 visitors annually.

A number of feature films have used Balbinello for location shooting:

  • A Month by the Lake (1995), starring Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox and Uma Thurman
  • Amonthbythelakeposter.jpg
  • Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones (2002), starring Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen
  • Film poster. A young man is seen embracing a young woman. A man holds a lightsaber. In the foreground, there is a man wearing a suit.
  • Casino Royale (2006), starring Daniel Craig and Eva Green
  • The poster shows Daniel Craig as James Bond, wearing a business suit with a loose tie and holding a gun. Behind him is a silhouette of a woman showing a building with a sign reading "Casino Royale" and a dark grey Aston Martin DBS below the building. At the bottom left of the image is the title "Casino Royale" – both "O"s stand above each other, and below them is a 7 with a trigger and gun barrel, forming Bond's codename: "Agent 007" – and the credits.

 

Across from the Villa del Balbianello, there is a small wooded island in the gulf known as the Zoca de l´oli.

The island, which is home to many archaeological remains, is about 600 metres long and a perimeter of two kilometres.

Isola Comacina is a wild place where one can wander through the ruins of nine abandoned churches.

In the late 6th century was a remaining stronghold under Francio (legendary founder of the Franks), even though the Lago di Como surrounding the island was controlled by the Lombard tribes.

The island was besieged by Authari of the Lombards, with Francio captured and sent back to Ravenna.

Nuremberg chronicles f 150r 1.jpg

Above: King Authari of the Lombards (540 – 590)

The Lombards found the island to contain many riches left behind by local Roman loyalists.

A place once conquered by the Romans and then the Lombards became a refuge for the wealthy citizens of Como.

It developed into a centre of resistance, and in the turmoil of the Middle Ages, attracted an eclectic mix of dethroned monarchs, future saints and pirates.

Eventually it allied with Milano against Como, an unfortunate move, which led the Island to be sacked by the Comoese and razed to the ground.

The island was invaded in 1159 by Frederick Barbarossa and soldiers from the town of Como.

Above: Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I / Federico Barbarossa (1122 – 1190)

In 1175, Vidulfo, the Bishop of Como, cursed the island with the following words:

The bells will never ring.

The rocks will never be placed one over the other.

Nobody will do here the work of the publican (businessman), the punishment a violent death.”

Abandoned for centuries, Isola Comacina was bought by a local, Auguste Caprini, who outraged Italy by selling it to the King of Belgium.

In 1917 the island was bequeathed to King Albert I of Belgium, who donated it to the Italian government, and entrusted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Milano.

Portrait of Albert I of Belgium.jpg

Above: King Albert I of Belgium (1875 – 1934)

The Island is now administered by a joint Belgian/Italian commission.

Pietro Lingeri built three houses on the island in 1939.

His idea was to turn the island into a colony for artists.

The three artist houses were built in a rationalist style, made from local materials and without much decoration.

Since 1947 it has been home to an extremely exclusive restaurant, the Locanda dell´ Isola, whose clients have included English Lady Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, and American singer Madonna Ciccone.

Bildergebnis für locanda dell'isola comacina

Today the Isola Comacina consists of the three artist houses, a restaurant, a café and a collection of archaeological sites.

Image may contain: sky, mountain, outdoor, nature and water

My wife and I stood directly beside the landing dock of the Isola Comacina, but she looked at the line-up in front of the restaurant and looked at the price, and adamantly refused to allow herself or me to join the queue and ascend the stairs leading off the boat and above the island.

I argued that this was an golden opportunity.

We did not know when, if ever, we would have the chance to do this again, and that, wait and expense be damned, it was well worth it to do so.

I consider the personalities I have learned about today….

Princess Charlotte died young, limited travels;

Cardinal Durini died before his plans complete;

Gian Visconti, saw the world, died shortly after marriage;

Guido Monzino, saw the world, died alone.

Shakespeare once wrote:

“Gather ye rosebuds whilst you still can.”

One never knows if dreams unspoken will ever be realised, if places denied can ever be revisited.

Above: The Island of the Dead (1920) by Alfred Böcklin

Sources: Wikipedia / Facebook / Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / Villa Carlotte / FAI, Villa del Balbianello