Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

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

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

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

Image result

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

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

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

Erasmusbrug seen from Euromast.jpg

Above: Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

Bahnhof St. Gallen bei Nacht, Juli 2014 (2).JPG

Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

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

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

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

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

Image result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagge Italiens

Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

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

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

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

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

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

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

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

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francesco Sforza.jpg

Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

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

Gentile Bellini 002.jpg

Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

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

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

Above: The Floating Piers

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

Bildergebnis für chiesa di san michele peschiera maraglio

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

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

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

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

Bildergebnis für santuario della ceriola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

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

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Siviano

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

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

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

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

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

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

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

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

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

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

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

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

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

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

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

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

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

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

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

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

Love Actually movie.jpg

I hope not.

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

As good a place as anywhere.

Bildergebnis

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

 

 

Advertisements

Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

Flag of the United States

Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles (1964 US release).jpg

Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

Flag of Italy

Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

Lombardy in Italy.svg

Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

Lega Nord Salvini.png

Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.

Intimefairuse.jpg

A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.

SNice.svg

Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Ulrich-Zwingli-1.jpg

Above: Huldrych Zwingli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vienna, Austria, 2 October 1998

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

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

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

The arrival to this imperial city started poorly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Hundertwasser, Vienna

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

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

Above: Johann Strauss II Monument, Stadtpark, Vienna

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

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

Leonard Cohen, 1988 01.jpg

Above: Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

“Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women.”

Ah, the things men do to woo women….

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

Bildergebnis für neidhart fresken

Ah, the things men do to escape women….

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

Bildergebnis für kornhäuslturm

Above: Kornhäuselturm, Vienna

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

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

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

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

Above: The former Hotel Metropole, Vienna

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

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

A lobby is a place where people wait.

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

10 Sephirot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Grave of Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

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

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

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

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

Bildergebnis für hochhaus wien herrengasse

Above: Hochhaus, Herrengasse, Vienna

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

A cross where the King of Peace was crucified?

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

Wien - Stephansdom (1).JPG

Above: St. Stephan´s Cathedral, Vienna

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

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

Above: The Pötscher Madonna, Stephansdom, Vienna

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

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

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

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

Winterhalter Elisabeth 2.jpg

Above: Empress Elisabeth of Austria

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

Princess sophie of bavaria 1866.jpg

Above: Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1805 – 1872)

Later, Elisabeth would tell her daughter:

“Marriage is an absurd institution.

 

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

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

By 1860, Sisi had suffered enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands turned out for Sisi´s funeral in Vienna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wien - Staatsoper (1).JPG

Above: The Staatsoper, Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

Bildergebnis für bermuda dreieck wien fotos

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

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

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

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

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud

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

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

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

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

Bildergebnis für sigmund freud museum wien

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

His hat, coat and walking stick are still here.

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

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

“And I´ll dance with you in Vienna….

….Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

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

Parliament Building, Vienna

Above: Austrian Parliament, Vienna

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

Above: The Spanische Reitschule, Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johann Strauss I (2).jpg

Above: Johann Strauss the Elder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would Freud have thought?

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

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

Take this waltz.

Take This Waltz (film) poster art.jpg

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

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

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

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

O, my love.

O, my love.

Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

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

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

ThirdManUSPoster.jpg

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

Lying, waiting.

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

Memory stays with me until the feeling is gone.

The waltz is weaving.

The rhythm is willing.

Cold, empty silence?

Cold grey sky?

These mean nothing to me.

Oh, Vienna.

Ultravox - Vienna.png

“Slow down, you crazy child.

You´re so ambitious for a juvenile.

But then if you´re so smart,

Tell me why you are still so afraid.

Where´s the fire?

What´s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

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

But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want

Or you can just get old.

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

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you?

….Slow down, you crazy child.

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile.

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

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you.”

Thestranger1977.jpg

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

Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 December 2017

Soon, thoughts of expatriates will turn to thoughts of home as Christmas draws ever closer.

My American friends will wish to fly back to California and Florida, Boston and Philadelphia.

Flag of the United States

My Canadian friend will wish to fly to Nova Scotia to proudly show off her new daughter, while my Indian friend resident in Canada will fly to Delhi to proudly show off his one year old son.

File:Flag of India.svg

As for my coworkers, our Ethiopian to Addis Ababa, our Nepalese to Kathmandu, our Turks to Turkey, our Swede to Sweden, and so on, while the Swiss that surround me will probably want to go back to their villages and visit their friends and family for the holidays.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

As for me and mine, we will work over much of the holidays as sick people still need tending and coffee drinkers still need coffee.

While the Mamas and Papas sing in my mind´s jukebox:

The Mamas and the Papas Ed Sullivan Show 1968.JPG

Above: The Mamas and the Papas: Left to right – Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and John Phillips

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church
I´d passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I began to pray.
You know the preacher likes the cold.
He knows I’m gonna stay….

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day.

The desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else, is strong.

To be in some sort of faraway California where we could be safe and warm, instead of wrestling with the constant anxieties our respective jobs contain as we struggle against worsening weather and we hear ad nauseum infinitum of colleagues and companions about to jet off here, there and everywhere while we remain behind to fight the fight absurdium.

Flag of California

And in the process we forget the joys and benefits of remaining here.

I think about past travels and ask myself:

Does anyone actually learn anything from all the travel we do?

I think back to our own vacations together this past year….our trip to Reichenbach Falls, our summer fortnight in northern Italy, our October week in London, and I ask myself….

Do we travel simply to escape the trivality of our normal lives of quiet desperation?

Is travel only a means to relax or is wanting to walk away from my travels somewhat better than I started putting too much pressure on this period of time?

Of all the books I treasure in the library I have been building for myself over the past two decades, I have come to love the writings of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his best seller The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims´ Progress, which humourously chronicles his excursion through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travellers in 1867.

Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad.jpg

As I write this blog and describe the places where I have travelled I hope that Twain´s complaints about others´ travelogues are not applicable to my own writing.

Granted I am not prone to lampooning or often writing in a humourous vein, and I can live with that assessment, but I do sincerely hope that I don´t regale my poor readers in such a way that they find me to be bland, pointless or repetitive.

I admit to a love of history but I hope that my historical anecdotes do not detract from the uniqueness of the present moment´s recollections.

For it is my intention to make a place as understandable as possible in ways that modern travel guides seem to fail, in their focus in helping the foreign traveller find as much as the common comforts he left behind everpresent wherever he travels, and show both the contrasts and comparisons between places….to celebrate the unique while embracing the common humanity.

I have often felt that the biggest problem with our modern world that we are so focused with the moving from place to place that we have forgotten about the significance of what lies between these places.

We have reached a point where only certain locations are designated worthy of being named places and the landscape has become an unimportant generic blur to be tolerated and travelled through as quickly as possible.

We forget that who we are is where we are, wherever we are at a given moment in time.

Wherever we go, there we are.

We have become indifferent and impatient with what lies between our starting-out point and our destination.

The faster we travel, the more we miss.

The Flash (1990 TV series).jpg

We have forgotten how to live in the here and now.

Lago di Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Twain and I share similar observations about Lake Como:

Mark Twain, Brady-Handy photo portrait, Feb 7, 1871, cropped.jpg

Above: Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

“I always had an idea that Como was a vast basin of water shut in by great mountains.

Well, the border of huge mountains is here, but the lake itself is not a basin.

It is as crooked as any brook….

There is not a yard of low ground on either side of it – nothing but endless chains of mountains that spring abruptly from the water´s edge, and tower to chains of mountains that spring abruptly from a thousand to two thousand feet.

Their craggy sides are clothed with vegetation and white specks of houses peep out from the luxuriant foliage everywhere.

They are even perched upon jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above your head.

Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats, surrounded by gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes in nooks carved by nature out of the vine-hung precipices, and with no ingress or egress save by boats.

Some have great broad stone staircases leading down to the water, with heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and fancifully adorned with creeping vines and bright coloured flowers – for all the world like a drop curtain in a theatre, and lacking nothing but long-waisted and high-heeled women and plumed gallants in silken tights coming down to go serenading in the splendid gondola in waiting.

A great feature of Como´s attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides.

They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when everything seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como, can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.”

Bellagio 1.jpg

Lake Como is Paul McCartney´s Mull of Kintyre, Linda Ronstadt´s Blue Bayou, James Hilton´s Shangri-la.

While Twain and his companions voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco from Bellagio, my wife and I drove through wild mountain scenery, passed hamlets and villas, with towering cliffs on our left and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right.

Lago di Como.png

Flanked by these mountains of scored granite, Como´s eastern fork, the Lago di Lecco, is as austere as a priest and fjord-like as an Norwegian postcard.

This is not the Como of George Clooney but rather the Italy of a Jude the Obscure.

One arrives in Como and Bellagio.

The traveller simply gets to Lecco.

Twenty-seven years prior to Twain, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy) also took a steamer from the promontory of Bellagio.

RothwellMaryShelley.jpg

Above: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

“We found that the lake soon lost much of its picturesque beauty.

Manzoni and Grossi have both chosen this branch of the lake for the scene of their romances, but it is certainly far, very far, inferior to the branch leading to Como, especially as at the end of the lake you approach the flat lands of Lombardy and the bed of the Adda.

At Lecco, we hired a caleche for Bergamo.”

Lecco is a workday world, a centre of commerce.

Piazza XX Settembre, in the centre of the town, and the San Martino mountain.

And yet some culture managed to escape this ancient town of ironmongers that unceremoniously straddles the River Adda, defenselessly striving to reach the safety of the Lake from the roughness of her passage.

Twain did not try to sing Lecco´s praises and spoke little of it except to say he was there to leave a steamer and board an open barouche with a wild and boisterous driver, hellbent determined to reach Bergamo within two hours so Twain´s party could meet the train.

Lonely Planet doesn´t touch the town with a thesaurus nor does Rick Steeves or any of the other guidebooks designed for the Anglo traveller.

Rough Guide begins its description of Lecco with the words:

“You almost certainly won´t want to stay in Lecco.”

Rough Guide expends itself exhaustively telling the trapped traveller how to exit Lecco posthaste: hop on the bus, Gus; take the train, Jane; there´s the ferry, Mary.

Clearly, there must be 50 ways to leave your Lecco.

Then RG suggests that if you have time to kill you could pop into the Basilica or visit the Villa Manzoni.

If you have time to kill?

Not exactly slaying the reader with seductiveness or enthusiasm.

Even the local Lake Como tourist guidebook, created by folks whose job is to compel the reader to explore the region, uses words like “industrious” and “commercial” to describe Lecco, in a manner similar to describing a blind date as possessing “a great personality” as if her beauty were so minimal as to not warrant description.

Anglo writers fail to generate even the slightest spark of interest in the town and guidebooks written for them reflect this.

Leave it to the underestimated, much-maligned Germans to save the day, for how easily we forget that it was they who invited the romantic novel and seductive poetry that can respectfully rival even Keats and Shakespeare.

These are the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, that most famous of German writers, who while admitting that his people can be detail-obsessed in their “Ordnung ist Alles.” (order is everything) methodology, seeking to grasp the nature of all that he sees in his Italian Journey:

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein - Goethe in the Roman Campagna - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Goethe in the Roman Campagna, by Johann Tischbein

Trento, Italy, 11 September 1786

Goethe (Stieler 1828).jpg

Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“I console myself with the thought that, in our statistically minded times, all this has probably been printed in books which one can consult if need arise.

At present I am preoccupied with sense impressions to which no book or picture can do justice.

The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life.

How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me?

Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?

How much can I take in at a single glance?

Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced?

This is what I am trying to discover.”

 

Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Eberhard Fohrer – what an uninspiring name – the writer of Michael Müller Verlag´s Comer See Reiseführer, though not so verbose as the reader might hope, still manages to pique interest in this industrious and commercial town with a great personality.

Fohrer speaks of how the town nestles besides the lake with its long promenade of large trees and how pedestrians pleasantly stroll between sidewalk cafés and open air restaurants, shops and boutiques.

Lecco, lying at the southern extremity of the east branch of Lago di Como where the River Adda adds its substance to the lake, seems as disregarded as one´s nether regions or the heel of one´s foot.

Does no one see the imposing outline of Mount Resegone that has protected the town since Roman times?

Can no one sense romantic purpose to the determined currents beneath the Ponte Visconteo as plain plains have wrought lovely lake?

Bildergebnis für ponte visconteo lecco

Does not the Palazzo della Paure (Palace of Fears) still inspire trepidation to the visitor as it did to the citizenry who were compelled to leave their taxes within?

Bildergebnis für palazzo della paure lecco

Can no one sense the quiet majesty of the Basilica with its high neo-Gothic 98-metre bell tower and 14th century Giottesque frescoes and feel the divine protection from the relics of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boatmen?

Bildergebnis für basilica san nicolò lecco

Is there no history worth discovering within the Torre Viscontea which once belonged to a mighty castle guarded by long high walls?

Bildergebnis für torre viscontea lecco

Is the neoclassical Teatro della Societa or the rationalist Justice Building on Piazza Garibaldi unworthy of a glance, a photograph, or even a mention?

Is Lecco nothing more than a historical hub, the frontier´s border between beauty and boredom?

Is Lecco simply a place to disembark, to fuel up, to stock up, before dashing down to Bergamo or eagerly anticipating the much-touted delights of Como and the other branches of the lake?

The town contains over 48,000 people.

Are they nothing more than unwilling residents resigned to their fate or do they simply exist to serve those rushing through?

Yet can not poetry, literature, music, adventure and progress not emanate from such a place?

Lecco has produced some citizens that stand out for attention:

  • Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873), poet and novelist, author of the Italian classic The Betrothed
  • Antonio Ghislanzoni (1824 – 1893), journalist, poet and novelist, who wrote many librettos for the great composer Verdi
  • Carlo Mauri (1930 – 1982), a great climber and explorer
  • Antonio Rossi, Olympian kayaker and five-time medal winner

Just to name four that even the foreigner can learn about.

This is not a “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” kind of town.

Of the aforementioned four, the casual visitor quickly deduces that it would take very little convincing for the town to rename itself Manzoniville as his name and image seem to be everywhere.

Bildergebnis für villa manzoni lecco

Above: The Villa Manzoni, Lecco

There is the Villa Manzoni, the Manzoni Monument, the Piazza Manzoni….

Piazza Manzoni mit Denkmal

Above: The Manzoni Monument

Manzoni, Manzoni, Manzoni….

Who knows who this is, outside of those who are Italian or who study things Italian?

Francesco Hayez 040.jpg

Above: Alessandro Manzoni

Lecco won´t help you in your quest if you don´t read Italian, for the stores don´t seem to stock his classics in translation.

Which is a shame, really, for Manzoni was considered so talented a writer that the Count de Gubernatis remarked that there was “one genius having divined the other” when the great Goethe defended Manzoni against attacks on his first tragedy Il Conte di Carmagnola which in its day violated all classical conventions of how a poet was supposed to be poetic.

The death of Napoleon in 1821 inspired Manzoni´s powerful stanzas Il Cinque maggio (The 5th of May), one of the most popular lyrics in the Italian language.

Gold-framed portrait painting of a gaunt middle-aged man with receding hair and laurel wreath, lying eyes-closed on white pillow with a white blanket covering to his neck and a gold Jesus cross resting on his chest

Above: Napoleon on his Deathbed, by Horace Vernet

The political events of 1821 and the imprisonment of many of his friends, seeking Italian liberation from Austrian suppression, weighed much on Manzoni´s mind, so he sought distraction in historical studies.

These studies suggested his greatest work, I Promessi sposi (The Betrothed).

I promessi sposi - 2nd edition cover.jpg

The Penguin Guide to European Literature notes that “the book´s real greatness lies in its delineation of character”.

The heroine Lucia, the Capuchin friar Padre Cristoforo, the saintly Cardinal of Milan…

These are what Republicans should model their Christianity upon, instead of the weak perverse President upon whom they serve.

The novel, much like Lecco itself, is rich in pictures of ordinary men and women, filled with irony and disenchantment which always stops short of cynicism.

In 1822, Manzoni published his second tragedy, Adelchi, turning on the overthrow by Charlemagne of the Lombard domination in Italy, with clear allusions to the existing Austrian rule.

Above: Statue of Charlemagne (742 – 814), St. Peter´s Basilica, Vatican City

Manzoni was brought up in several religious institutions and his wife´s conversion to Catholicism led him to become an austere Catholic intensely interested in the subject of human morality.

He tried to lead a life true to his beliefs.

For example, in 1818, when Manzoni had to sell his paternal inheritance as his money had been lost to a dishonest agent, rather than having his heavily indebted peasants compensate him for his losses, Manzoni not only cancelled the record of all sums owed to him, he allowed the peasants to keep for themselves the whole of the coming harvest.

Yet much like Job, Manzoni´s faith would be sorely tested.

His wife died in 1833, preceded and followed by the death of several of his children.

Manzoni married again, but his second wife also died before him, as did seven of his nine children from both marriages.

The death of his eldest son in 1872 hastened Manzoni´s own demise.

He was already a weakened man when on 6 January 1873 while exiting Milan´s San Fedele Church, he fell and hit his head on the steps and died after five months of cerebral meningitis, a complication of the trauma.

Bildergebnis für chiesa san fedele milano

Above: Chiesa San Fedele, Milano

His funeral was given great pomp and ceremony, attended by princes of the realm and great officers of state.

Above: Manzoni´s funeral procession in Milan

Giuseppe Verdi´s (1813 – 1901) Requiem was written to honour Manzoni´s memory.

Requiem (Verdi) Titelblatt (1874).jpg

Yet outside of Italy, distant from the 19th century, I, like many non-Italians, had to ask:

“Alessandro Manzoni? Who?”

Does our education teach us nothing beyond the national or linguistic love of ourselves?

Have the Bielievers of our society any clue as to who Verdi was or that there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in The Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons?

Do they know or care that there was life and love before Kayne West and that self expression does have and should have its moral limits?

Above: Kanye West taking the microphone from Taylor Swift, MTV Video Music Awards, 13 September 2009

This grumpy old man accompanied by his truly lovely lady strolled through the town which, by the time of our arrival, was slowly ending its business day.

The Villa was closed, the shops shuttered, the streets mostly devoid of pedestrian traffic, yet Lecco still quietly charmed us.

The Cathedral did not need throngs of tourists to reveal its importance, nor did the promenade need scores of visitors to suggest it was a place worth lingering on.

The human spirit, much like the human mind, must sometimes meander about in unfamiliar marketplaces and wander uncharted and unheralded towns.

Let the Rough Guides dissuade their sychophants from visiting.

Let Lonely Planet lead the Australians to another pub and the English to yet another club.

Steeves is blind to Lecco´s hidden charms and Frommer caters to the armchair traveller who will only leave his comfort zone when there is no other choice.

Let´s Go to that budget bistro, the door of which no local´s shadow will cross.

Or instead we can find in a place like Lecco, that industrial, commercial, unloved, unremarkable lady of a town that unwavering strength of character that Manzoni could see and so eloquently showed.

Como has charisma and Belgamo has beauty, but Lecco is…real.

We too had made the error of following the advice of guidebooks and disregarded the possibilities of Lecco beyond a few hours´ visit.

Our prepackaged, preplanned trip, though not at all horrible, did not allow for much spontaneity.

Our night´s accommodation lay outside of Lecco´s limits in better advertised, more recommended, Belgamo.

We did not remain in Lecco, but Lecco remains in us.

Bildergebnis für lecco

May we have the strength of character to visit her again.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lariologo, Lake Como: Itineraries and Photographs of Lario, Ceresio and Surrounding Valleys / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us about the World / Eberhard Fohrer, Comer See / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey / Alessandro Mansoni, The Betrothed / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

It is a season of grey days and black, almost eternal, nights.

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

As much as I comprehend why Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving in October rather than November because the growing seasons are shorter up there, I occasionally wonder if the Americans might not be onto something by celebrating life at a time of darkening skies and colder temperatures.

Flag of the United States

Thanksgiving, celebrated every third Thursday of November in the US, is meant to convey thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon self, friends and family through the bountiful harvest received and shown by a fully laden dining room table.

It is a New World celebration meant to commemorate the Pilgrims´ first year in America when they gave thanks to God that through the help of native tribes they learned how to produce food to survive and thrive as a transplanted people.

Above: The First Thanksgiving, 1621, by Jean Farris (1899)

Above the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are many countries who have similar seasonal changes and similar harvest times, and to be fair Americans did not invent the concept of praising divinity for blessings received as this ritual has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia.

As the weather turns colder than even Donald Trump´s soul, I find myself thankful that I am still alive, that I have a roof over my head and regular food in my belly, that I am of (relatively) sound mind and body and that I have people in my life whom I love and by whom I am loved.

I am truly a fortunate man.

That having been said I am not unaware that there are those who don´t feel so fortunate.

I have known people, good people, for whom reality seems to them to be cruel and unkind, for whom life seems to be a never-changing cycle of sadness, of eternally grey days and black ink evil evenings with slim hope for the dawn.

I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for those who feel illness within their minds, who feel an emptiness within their souls.

I cannot but feel sympathy for those who feel death is a release, a relief, from the hell of their perceived existence.

I know just enough, and yet far too little, that changing one´s perspective is not simply emotional determination but could also be both a product of one´s history and chemical make-up.

It is easy to condemn humanity´s monsters, like the recently deceased Charles Manson, for they made life decisions that brought extreme pain and suffering to others.

Manson's

Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

It is impossible and frightening to imagine how on God´s green Earth that the murder and torture of others can be justifiable in the minds of these rare abominations of the mentally unwell.

I say rare abominations, for I believe that the vast majority of those hurting members of the psychologically unhappy are more victims to their condition than they are bent on taking others down with them in their descent into darkness.

We, the seemingly rational and arrogantly confident in our inappropriately felt superiority, blame the illness on the ill victims, not sensing nor caring that they too wish to feel welcome by a humanity that does not understand them and thus struggles, often in vain, to assist them, or, failing that, remove them from the general populace.

I watch in silent frustration when those I love hurt themselves and others as they blindly grope their way through illogical reality simply trying to survive.

Life has somehow injured them and they have selfishly sought solace in safer corners of their minds where no one else can go.

I have seen wonderful, compassionate friends and family victimised by their own private pain and there seems nothing I can do or say to help, because the everpresent fear of swimming into psychologically insecure deep waters instinctively instills a fear that we too might be swept along in and dragged down by the wake of their thrashing.

We judge them by standards we understand, rather than by their standards we can´t understand.

I want to hold each one of them and tell them in a way they might truly believe, that their lives matter, that they are worthy of love and dignity, but sometimes I am scared by my inability to do so.

I want to tell them that though there truly is a vast amount of pain in this vale of tears that we share, there is also the potential for great joy.

Perhaps here is the value of Thanksgiving, of giving thanks to something or someone beyond ourselves, of prayer to whatever or whomever may be either within or from outside ourselves.

In the brutal honesty of a sleepless night, I reject my rational analysis of the folly of believing in a God whose only proof of existence is that His non-existence has yet to be proven and hope beyond reason that God does exist whether or not His existence is a creation or a manifestation of my own making.

Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg

Above: Michelangelo´s The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

And this I think is the value of faith, of religion – finding hope and comfort in that which might exist.

To somehow believe that pain can be endured, that there will be a dawn beyond the darkness, even if it is unclear how this can happen.

Mankind has built mighty edifices in an attempt to enclose the divine and bend it to our will for our benefit….

Sheer folly.

Yet the symbolic gathering together of humanity into congregations, bound by faith and traditions, giving meaning to the passages of life in its forms of birth, maturity, matrimony and death, gives purpose to the construction of shrines of worship.

Though cathedrals and churches, monasteries and mosques, temples and tabernacles, by the very act of enclosure create a division of people between those within and those outside and have caused those within to feel both a superiority and a zeal to extend the choir invisible beyond the ecclesiastical doors with some even willing to break the taboos of religion in the name of religion, nonetheless these places of illogical and irrational faith sustain and console us.

I am reminded this morning of the places of worship I visited while I was in London last month and though the seeds of the religious fell mostly on mentally stubborn and stone hard ground, my visit to these places still left their impression upon me.

A visitor walking around London cannot help but be impressed by the number of churches in this city more renowned for trade and commerce, but, as we know from the remains of the Temple of Mithras at Walbrook discovered in 1954, religious buildings have always been an integral part of the fabric of London.

Some of London´s most breathtaking modern structures are religious buildings dedicated to many faiths, whose communities form a strong part of the social fabric of modern London.

As hard as it is to imagine London without its many churches, it is even harder still to imagine London without its many faiths.

Our discovery of the faithful of London began on our first night in town….

London, England, 23 October 2017

My wife, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, wanted to take pictures of the Thames River before we headed back to our B & B in the Paddington district.

It had already been quite the full day: pre-dawn departure from our beds and dash down the highway to Zürich, the bureaucratic exit from one designated country and the bureaucratic entry into another, the search and finding of our week´s accommodations, the navigating of the nefarious nightmare beneath called the Tube, and a mad race through one of the world´s most famous museums – the Tate Modern.

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, London

But my wife wanted to see more while she could with what remained of her day´s energies.

I had no objections.

We, like many before, crossed the London Millennium Footbridge, or as it is affectionately known by Londoners “the wobbly bridge”, the steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames, linking Bankside on the south bank with the City of London to the north.

Millenium bridge 2015.jpg

Above: Millennium Bridge, as seen from St. Paul´s Cathedral

The Bridge, 1,066 feet/325 metres long, 13 feet/4 metres wide, officially opened on 1 June 2000 and quickly was closed again shortly thereafter as the 90,000 people crossing it on its opening day felt that the Bridge was wobbling and lurching dangerously.

It reopened in 2002 after engineers refitted 37 energy dissipating dampers to control horizontal movement and 52 inertial dampers to control vertical movement to solve the wobble effect.

You may have seen the Bridge and not realised it….

The Millennium collapsed following an attack by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix poster.jpg

The Bridge also appeared as part of the climatic battle scene on the planet Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

File:GOTG-poster.jpg

And the Bridge was in the video of the Olly Murs song “Heart on my Sleeve”.

To the south the midpoint standing pedestrian on the Bridge sees the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.

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

Above: The Globe Theatre, London

To the north the red brick City of London School (actor Daniel Radcliffe / “Harry Potter” ´s old alma mater) can be spotted nestling below the magnificence that is St. Paul´s Cathedral.

How strange and yet familiar St. Paul´s appeared to me in the fast-approaching darkness.

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

The enormous lead-covered dome of St. Paul´s Cathedral has dominated the City skyline for generations and will probably continue to do so for generations to come if Star Trek: Into Darkness is any accurate omen to go by.

The poster shows the USS Enterprise falling toward Earth with smoke coming out of it. The middle of the poster shows the title written in dark gray letters, and the film's credits and the release date are shown at the bottom of the poster.

The Cathedral facade is particularly magnificent, fronted by a wide flight of steps – seen in Mary Poppins (1964) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) – and a two-storey portico and two towers, and is said to be amongst the finest examples of Baroque architecture in London.

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

The west front of St. Paul´s shows the Saint surrounded by others of his ilk as he is dazzled by the glory of God whilst on the road to Damascus.

In the northeast churchyard, a plaque marks the location of Paul´s Cross, a popular centre of fake and real news and contemporary commentary, where during the Reformation William Tynsdale´s New Testament was burned because it was sinfully an English translation.

While it can´t compete with Westminster Abbey for celebrity corpses, royal remains and awesome atmosphere, St. Paul´s is nevertheless a perfectly calculated architectural space, a burial place for captains rather than kings, artists not poets, and a popular wedding venue and favoured funeral locale for the privileged few.

The current Cathedral is the fifth on this site, including Old St. Paul´s, a huge Gothic cathedral built by the Normans, with a 489 foot spire that once was part of the longest and tallest Christian church in the world.

During the English Civil War and the Republic which followed the execution of King Charles I in 1649, St. Paul´s was allowed to become dilapidated and was used for stabling horses and as a marketplace with a road running through it.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II threw out the traders and began to return the scarred Cathedral to the status it once had, but before work could begin the Great Fire of London intervened.

The blaze started on 2 September 1666 and destroyed 2/3 of the City of London.

It burned for four days and nights, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 parish churches, including Old St. Paul´s.

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

In 1668, Christopher Wren was asked to produce a new Cathedral.

Christopher Wren by Godfrey Kneller 1711.jpg

Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

Wren was not only an architect, he was also an astronomer, scientist and mathematican.

Wren was a founding member in 1660 of the Royal Society, a national academy for science, but he was also a man of profound Christian faith.

He came from a family of clergy who had been loyal to the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was faith which inspired him.

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

As an architect favoured by royalty and state, Wren´s commissions varied widely, including the Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich Hospital, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, as well as some magnificent buildings in Oxford, where he studied and worked as Professor of Astronomy from 1661 to 1673.

St. Paul´s was just one of over 50 church commissions Wren received in the wake of the Great Fire.

Sir Christopher Wren

Said, “I´m going to dine with some men.

If anyone calls,

Say I´m designing St. Paul´s.” (Edmund Clerihew Bentley)

Hassles over his initial plans and wrangles over money plagued the project throughout, but Wren persevered and England´s first Protestant cathedral was completed in 1711 under Queen Anne, whose statue stands below the steps.

Above: Statue of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714), St. Paul´s Cathedral

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

“Without, within, below, above, the eye is filled with unrestrained delight.”

Some hated it.

“There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches.  They were unfamiliar, un-English…”

Until his death, at the age of 91, Wren regularly returned to St. Paul´s to sit under its dome and reflect on this masterpiece of faith and imagination.

For over 300 years this particular reincarnation of St. Paul´s has been a place where both the individual and the nation can express those feelings of joy, gratitude and sorrow that are so central to our lives.

St. Paul´s has borne witness to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805)(buried in the centre of the Cathedral Crypt), the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852)(buried also in the Crypt)(13,000 people filled the Cathedral.), the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria (1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (2012), the bombs of the Blitz (1940), a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), the funerals of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1965) and Margaret Thatcher (2013), and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana (1981).

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015.jpg

Above: Queen Elizabeth II

Services have also been held to mark the valuable contributions made by ordinary women and men involved in armed conflicts in the Falklands, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.

A vast crowd also gathered at St. Paul´s following the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001, as London expressed its solidarity with Americans at a time of great grief.

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon

People of other faiths also have a place in national services at St. Paul´s.

The memorial service for King Hussein of Jordan in 1999 was the first Christian service in St. Paul´s to include a reading from the Qur´an.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

In 2005, at the service of remembrance following the terrorist bombings in London in June of that year, young people representing different faith communities lit candles as a shared sign of hope during turbulent times.

Take a journey through this place mortal designed to evoke the divine.

We took our own calculated journey through St. Paul´s two days later.

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

Begin with the Nave, the font of baptism, marking the beginning of the journey of faith that Christians believe leads from Earth to Heaven.

Here is the final stop, the last resting place, of the Duke of Wellington, best known for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.png

Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

Wellington died 37 years later and is buried in the Crypt beneath the Monument.

Nearby in the All Souls´ Chapel is the Kitchener Memorial, dedicated to the servicemen who died in World War I and to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener who died at sea and whose body was never recovered.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener.jpg

Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

Kitchener is best known for his restructuring of the British Army and for his most effective recruitment campaign reminding Britons that “Your Country Needs You”.

30a Sammlung Eybl Großbritannien. Alfred Leete (1882–1933) Britons (Kitchener) wants you (Briten Kitchener braucht Euch). 1914 (Nachdruck), 74 x 50 cm. (Slg.Nr. 552).jpg

Quietly light a candle for those you wish to have remembered inside St. Dunstan´s Chapel, a place of prayer and stillness.

The silver pyx that hangs above the altar in this chapel contains the sacrament – the consecrated bread that Christians believe is (or represents) the body of Jesus, shared at services of Holy Communion.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. George honours those who have rendered important service overseas.

It takes only a modicum of observation to see that St. Paul´s is built in the shape of a cross with a large dome crowning the intersection of the cross´s arms.

At 365 feet / 111.3 metres high, the Dome is one of the largest cathedral domes in the world and weighs approximately 65,000 tons.

The area under the Dome is the space where congregations congregate for the Cathedral´s most important rituals of faith – the Liturgy, the worship of God.

The altar is the focus, the place where the Eucharist (mass) is celebrated every day, where people of all ages of many different languages and nationalities, gather to eat bread and drink wine that symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ sacrificed by God the Father to save mankind from itself.

Or so the story goes.

The Dome is actually not one dome but three: the outer dome shell is seen prominently on the London skyline, while the painted dome that the congregated sees from the cathedral floor conceals an inner layer of brick which provides the structure strength and support.

Within the Dome´s construction there are three gallery levels.

The Whispering Gallery runs around the interior of the Dome, 257 steep steps up from ground level.

There is a charming acoustical quirk in the gallery´s construction which makes a whisper spoken against the walls on one side audible on the opposite side.

Two higher galleries encircle the outside of the Dome – the Stone Gallery and the smaller Golden Gallery offering superb views across London….

Or so we were told as they were closed the day of our visit.

Upon our descent from the Whispering Gallery, further exploration of the Cathedral reveals many aspects of what makes St. Paul´s unique unto itself.

To the north of the interior is the Chapel of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, with a statue of Dr. Johnson.

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

Above the altar is William Holman Hunt´s painting The Light of the World, showing Jesus holding a lantern as He knocks at the handleless bramble-strewn door of the human Soul which must be opened from within, above the caption that reads:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.”

Close by the Chapel is Henry Moore´s Mother and Child, a sculpture he made when he was recovering from an illness so it is heavily indolent in religious meaning.

Bildergebnis für henry moore mother and child

Above: Mother and Child by Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

By Moore´s Mama Madonna with child are two pairs of wrought-iron gates made by Jean Tijou.

Inside the gates at the top northern part of the architectural cross is the Quire, the first part of the Cathedral to be built.

The organ within, built in 1694 and rebuilt several times, is the third largest in the UK with 7,256 pipes.

The 1694 version of this organ was much loved by the composer George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759).

The organ case and the stalls on both sides of the Quire are decorated with exquisitely delicate carvings by the Anglo-Dutch sculptor Grinling Gibbons, whose work can still be seen in many royal houses and great houses.

One contemporary commentator wrote:

“There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers with the free disorder natural to each species.”

Yet free disorder seems particularly ironic here, as each of the canopied stalls has a designated occupant and definitively determines how the Cathedral is to be governed.

It is within the Quire where choir, clergy and congregation gather to sit for Evensong, the service that draws the day to a close.

As dusk descends, we the people are to be remanded and reminded of the proper calculation of our place in the universe, both manmade and celestial.

Queen Victoria, she of the inaccurately attributed “We are not amused.”, is said to have complained that St. Paul´s was “dull, dingy and undevotional”, so in response William Blake Richmond decorated the ceilings and the walls of the Quire with mosaics depicting the story of Creation and the story of the angel Gabriel´s visitation to the Virgin Mary with the news that she is pregnant with the Son of God.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

Behind the alter stands the Jesus Chapel, commemorating the 28,000 Americans who were killed on their way to, or while stationed in, the UK during the Second World War, their names recorded in a 500-page roll of honour glass enclosure.

“Defending freedom from the fierce assaults of tyranny they shared the honour and the sacrifice. 

Though they died before the drum of victory, their names and deeds will long be remembered wherever free men live.”

So reads the American roll of honour, but as the Canadian descendant of Commonwealth soldiery I cannot help but cynically observe that the Cathedral today is funded by multitudes of tourists, the majority of whom are American.

A cynical attitude that is met with a punch in the arm by my loving spouse whose German ancestors were conscripted soldiers of the aforementioned tyranny.

In the south is the statue of John Donne, which somehow survived the Great Fire of London intact.

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Donne, a former Dean of St. Paul´s, wrote passionate love poems and eloquent odes expressing with eloquence his zeal for God.

He is perhaps best remembered for his meditation on the human condition:

“No man is an island, entire of itself….

 Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Fourteen bells of St. Paul´s toll for thee: Great Tom tolls to mark the death of a sovereign; Great Paul, the largest swinging bell in Europe, strikes the hours; the remaining twelve bells sound the peal.

And here one finds a statue of Nelson, a cloak covering the area where Nelson´s right arm should be – amputated in 1797.

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

Nelson lies buried in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle, atop a black marble sarcophagus.

Would he have thought his memorial truly “humanity after victory“?

Keeping him company across from him in the Crypt, the Iron Duke, Lord Wellington, rests in a casket of Cornish granite.

Wellie would have hated it, for he was said to be a man not prone to bask in his own glories:

“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”

Why do places of worship glorify those who murder in the name of a flag?

Beside the Crypt, close to the foundations of the former church, is the Chapel of St. Faith, created in recognition for the contribution made by women during the First World War.

Surrounding the Chapel are memorials celebrating the remarkable of the arts and sciences: painters Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) and John Guille Millais (1865 – 1931); composer Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) and poet William Blake (1757 – 1827); scientist Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955).

Sir Christopher Wren himself is buried here, his tomb marked by a simple stone which translated from Latin reads:

Bildergebnis für christopher wren s tomb inscription

“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

St. Paul´s has stood here defiantly unscathed amid the carnage of the Blitz and was defended by the St. Paul´s Watch – volunteers who patrolled the Cathedral´s roof every night to combat the incendiary bombs and died carrying out their duties.

Bildergebnis für st paul´s watch

Time and choice did not permit us to see the worship of God at work, or listen to virgin boys attempt in song to reach within us to find something beyond ourselves, or ponder important issues ranging from global economy to climate change by prominent speakers, such as Kofi Annan or Bianca Jagger.

As we leave St. Paul´s, I recall the words of Mary Poppins:

Marypoppins.jpg

Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes.
In her own special way to the people she calls:
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
 
Come, feed the little birds.
Show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
The young ones are hungry.
Their nests are so bare.
All it takes is tuppence from you.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds.”, that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.
 
All around the Cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
 
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”

No, we didn´t feed the birds, for security measures no longer permit little old bird women to feed assemblies of pigeons on the steps of St. Paul´s.

Poverty is very offputting for the tourists and, after all, charity begins at home.

The tourist entry fee at the door is 18 pounds per adult.

In October 2011, the anti-capitalism Occupy London encampment was established in front of St. Paul´s, after failing to gain access to the London Stock Exchange on Paternoster Square nearby, costing the Cathedral revenue of 200,000 pounds per day.

The encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012, by court order, without violence, by the City Corporation.

Our visit to St. Paul´s made me ask, as St. Paul´s Cathedral Arts Project and its artistic installations have asked:

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

What does St. Paul´s mean in that contemporary context?

Those questions, much like questions of faith themselves, can only be answered by individuals themselves.

Should one care to ask.

Black and White photograph of the dome of St Paul's, starkly lit, appearing through billowing clouds of smoke

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / St. Paul´s Cathedral / http://www.stpauls.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 November 2017

Where is the line between insanity and sanity?

What does it actually mean to be sane?

Sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies brokenness?

One theory suggests that sanity is tied to how we fit with what is actually going on in the world.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire socieites “may be lacking in sanity”.

One of the most deceptive features of social life involves consensual validation.

“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings.

Nothing is further from the truth….

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues.

The fact that they share so many errors does not make these errors to be truths.

The fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” (Erich Fromm, The Sane Society)

(This might explain American politics?)

Are the religious insane?

Is it insane to believe in all-powerful invisible forces we can´t see because there are phenomena we can´t explain and because we fear our own mortality?

Is it insane for groups of people to believe in the same divinity yet believe that only their manner of belief or worship is the correct one and are willing to fight to the death to defend it?

Or are our lives empty echo chambers without religion to fill them?

I am neither psychologist nor theologian and my only philosophy is to accept other people´s points of view unless their perspective hurts either themselves or others.

I handle humanity on a case by case basis, situation to situation.

For example, I have a friend who is convinced to his bones that we live on a flat Earth, that the moon landing was staged and that space photographs are faked.

On one level, I admire his tenacity to stick to his beliefs and his insistence that one should question everything.

On the other, I am baffled that he can so easily deny so much that is based on empirical evidence and scientific experimentation over centuries.

I listen to him expound his case and though I can´t agree with him, his beliefs are not sufficient grounds for dissolving our friendship, and as long as he does not insist that I share his beliefs, then we can co-exist without agreement.

Still those who live in greenhouses shouldn´t throw stones, for I am unusual in my own eccentric manner.

I don´t drive, I am not glued to my mobile devices every available moment, I prefer print to electronics, I prefer walking to any other form of transportation no matter the distance or time involved.

I am not fanatical about these preferences.

I don´t drive but I can see the wisdom of knowing how to do so.

I have a mobile phone and see its practicality but I try not to let its use become an addiction.

My wife prefers the compactness of an electronic library, while I prefer the personal connection I feel towards physical books in my hands.

But many Swiss, as well as my German wife, question my sanity when it comes to walking.

Flag of Switzerland

Not because they don´t enjoy hiking, they do.

But here hiking is not usually a solitary sport, but rather it is usually done in groups of people or minimally it´s done as a duo.

They feel that hiking can be dangerous and that there is safety in numbers should one of the group get injured.

Wise, to be sure, but for me the point of hiking is isolation, getting away from humanity and bathing oneself in the delights of nature.

I love my wife and we have hiked together, but she is not a quiet person comfortable with silence, nor does one stroll but rather they march with her.

But she and the Swiss are right….

Hiking can be dangerous, even fatal, and the local papers are quick to trumpet to the reading public the latest fatalities.

I derisively laugh at all of this until I find myself in solitary difficulties on some godforsaken trail of my own choosing….

 

Toggenburg, Switzerland, 18 October 2017

I recently began following a man.

A religious man, willing to die for that which he believed in.

In an attempt to derive some sort of meaning from the hubbub of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I have begun following the life and “footsteps” of the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli, through the use of biographies and a recently purchased book, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis.

Ulrich-Zwingli-1.jpg

Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

The previous week I walked from Strichboden in the heart of the Toggenburg region to Zwingli´s birthplace in the town of Wildhaus.

Above: Zwingli´s birthplace, Wildhaus

(For an account of this, please read Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg of this blog.)

I accomplished the first walking section of the nine-stage rediscovery of Zwingli´s life by walking from the wilderness to Zwingli´s birth home to get a greater appreciation of arriving in Wildhaus on foot then simply disembarking from a Postbus to walk the intended direction of the Zwingli-Wege book.

Today though I would do things the right way, the intended direction.

To do so meant returning back to Strichboden.

So, once again, train to Neu St. Johann, bus to Starkenbach, a ride up the mountain via the ancient rickety cable car system called the Selunbahn, to arrive back on top of the mountain called Strichboden, this time to walk away from, rather than towards, Wildhaus.

Destination: Weesen, where Zwingli lived and went to school from age 6 to 10.

I began hiking early afternoon, for it is hard to awake early on my days off and it takes over two hours to reach Starkenbach from my home on public transportation.

Now there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you, gentle reader, read these words….

October means the ending of many tourist facilities, diminishing daylight hours, and a reduced tendency for people to go hiking in the wilderness at this time of year.

All of these were factors I had to keep in mind.

Still the weather was warm, almost summerlike, and as the Selunbahn rose through the alpine sky, so did my spirits.

From Alp Vorderselun / Starkenbach, I began strolling towards Amden / Arvenbüel 8.4 km distance, three hours away.

Now 8 kilometres may not seem like much of a distance to walk, but midway in the walk, the trail descends steeply from 1,800 metres to 1,200 metres.

The walk began quite pleasantly.

After only one kilometre, the hiker heading west comes to the Ochsenhütte (the Oxen Huts), a small mountain inn just 100 meters from the trail (still the Toggenburger Höhenweg).

Above: Ochsenhütte, Starkenbach, Toggenburger Höhenweg

Happily, hunger is deliciously abated and after wolfing down lunch, I resume the Höhenweg and gradually ascend the Alps Bleien and Hüeberlis to arrive at the Donnerlöcher (the Thundering Hollows).

Bildergebnis für donnerlöcher churfirsten

In the totality of the Churfirsten Region there are no streams.

Bildergebnis für churfirsten

Rainwater and melting snow simply seep into the ground.

Innumerable hollows and depressions dent the alpine pastures on this Toggenburger side of the Churfirsten range.

When it rains, water rushes through these funnel depressions to form pits deep into the earth.

Along the walls of these funnels limestone is dissolved and sinks into these depressions to form deposits within these hollows.

Over vast amounts of time the increasing weight of the accumulating limestone deepens the hollows as much as 800 metres below the surface.

Depending on the wind conditions the sound that emerges from these hollows is said to be akin to thunder.

Beyond the Donnerlöcher and the summit of Alp Tritt I find myself suddenly on the side of limestone cliffs descending maniacally sharp down towards the pastoral hills of Arvenbüel.

Bildergebnis für schrattenkalk am first

How easy to make a misstep, how quickly one could get injured, how foolish one feels clinging to a cliff, how insane an activity is this solitary hiking….

The hiker is torn between the reflex of great hesitation and the need to continue onwards to safety.

The feet complain, arms and back comment, the rock is unforgiving and intolerant of careless fools, and one begins to envy the carefree manner by which mountain goats navigate these heights.

This aging man is no young mountain goat gleefully leaping from rock to rock unconcernedly.

Palms sweat, despite firm grip on walking stick and mountain cable.

I recall a similar situation during my walking days in Canada when I spontaneously decided to climb up the side of the Scarborough Bluffs (just outside Toronto) with a discovered tennis ball in one hand!

Above: Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Apparently I was not very wise in the past and clearly I have not gotten much wiser since then.

Still I persevere….too scared to live, too stubborn to die.

Eventually limestone turns to hilly pastureland and pastureland with glimpses of the Walensee (Walen Lake) gives way to flat streets and roads.

Fear is forgotten in a tidal wave of relief when I reach the end bus stop of the Arvenbüel – Ziegelbrücke bus 650 route before sunset.

Bus 650, happily arriving when I do, winds its way down the slopes with stops in the villages of Amden and Weesen.

I resolutely refuse to explore these villages until I return again to walk from Arvenbühl.

Weather and work make the return walk wait for nearly a fortnight….

 

Arvenbüel, Switzerland, 1 November 2017

All Saints´ Day is one of the days of the year that one perceives how divided Switzerland is between Catholics and Protestants.

Central Switzerland, Canton Valais, Canton Ticino, the Jura region, Canton Freiburg/Fribourg, Canton Solothurn, Baselerland, half of Canton Aargau, Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden and Canton St. Gallen remain devoutly Catholic.

Wealthier and more urban Cantons are stubbornly Protestant.

This difference of religious opinion even led to a bloody civil war in Switzerland called the Sonderbundkrieg (the Sonderbund, or Separate Alliance, War) in November 1847.

Take, for example, the half-Cantons of Appenzell: Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR).

(In Switzerland´s Parliament, AI and AR get only an one half cantonal vote, despite being separate individual cantons.)

AI (Cantonal Capital: Appenzell) is predominantly Catholic, so today schools, government offices, banks and shops are closed there.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Innerrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden

AR (Cantonal Capital: Herisau) is predominantly Protestant, so there everything is business as usual today.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Thurgau Canton where I reside is Protestant, while St. Gallen Canton is Catholic, (despite the efforts of St. Gallen reformer Vadian, whose statue is across from the Starbucks where I work when I am not teaching).

Above: Statue of Joachim von Watt, aka Vadian (1484 – 1551)

AI and AR are often confused in my mind so I had cancelled my Herisau lesson for today, forgetting that the company for whom I teach was operational today, and opted to resume my Zwingli walking.

(For more on the wonders of the Appenzell Cantons, please see A to Z: Adam to Zelg, An Aura of Appenzell Alpacas and Aion A, Riding the Rails, Railroads to Anywhere: Urnäsch and Appenzell and This Gais in Plain Sight of this blog.)

Today´s hiking trek began after a train to St. Gallen, another to Herisau and yet another to Ziegelbrücke, then a bus back up to Arvenbüel.

Another pleasant hiking day.

The trail started reassuringly level for 1.5 km from Arvenbüel through Stock and Chapf, offering great views of the Walensee, but then it began a rapid 4 km descent from a height of 1,300 metres to 900 metres through Giregärtli, Fallen and Hofstetten -a quarter of the town of Amden – to arrive at the back of an apartment building where a Turkish family offers communal drinks paid for by voluntary contributions.

What can one say about Amden?

Bildergebnis für amden

Well, Amden is one of the largest municipalities in Switzerland at 43 square kilometres, as well as one of the most varied in terms of extremes of elevation from 2,101 metres high down to 421 metres low at Walen Lake.

There are a little more than 1,600 Ammlers, most of them good Catholics, despite Amden having seen Romans, Goths, Franks, Swabian, invading Swiss from other cantons, and the French come tromping through over the millennia.

For Amden is desirable, with scenic and strategic value and fertile land.

But its location is both a blessing and a curse, for not only has it been a much coveted area for many, but nature herself has restlessly fought against Amden with a major rockslide in 1972 that sealed off roads leading to the town, requiring facilities to be flown in and new roads built.

There are ruins of a Roman fortress here, Burg Strahlegg, built in 15 BC by order of Caesar Augustus, and uncovered by soldiers en route to the Battle of Näfels in 1388.

Bildergebnis für burg strahlegg

One Turkish coffee and 200 more meters descended to Faren later, the trail bends back upon itself heading towards another wonder of Switzerland, but not before I see one of the faithful entering the Catholic church of St. Gallus in Amden.

Perhaps it is the rare alpine air here that seems to create talent….

German landscape painter Otto Meyer (1885 – 1933) loved the place so much he renamed himself Otto Meyer-Amden, while a generation later painter Doris Stauffer (1934 – 2017) remained ever devoted to the town.

Above: Amden Landscape (1913), Otto Meyer-Amden

But Amden´s size and dominant Catholicism must not be easy for everyone.

Local popular singer Michael von der Heide´s sexuality remains a topic of much debate, a debate in which he refuses to engage in, saying that he should be judged by his talent and not his sexuality.

Above: Michael von der Heide

And, of course, he is right.

At Faren, the hiker must choose to either walk east towards the Seerenbachfälle or walk west down towards Weesen and the Walensee.

The detour to the Falls is well worth it, for they are not just one set of waterfalls but three, cascading down from a height of 585 metres, making the Seerenbachfälle trio the 3rd highest waterfalls in Switzerland.

Above: The Seerenbach Falls, Amden

The day´s goal and the focus of this walking project was to visit a location where Huldrych Zwingli once lived….

Weesen, where from ages 6 to 10 Zwingli attended the village school and lived with his uncle Bartholew.

According to the Zwingli Zentrum Toggenburg back in Wildhaus, the walk I followed over the course of three days from his birthplace to his primary school residence was also actually taken by Huldrych and his father Ulrich.

It is said that Ulrich frequently followed this path through the Amdener Pass to keep in personal contact with his son, his brother and the commerce of the area.

For commercial profit, Weesen was built at the meeting point where the Linth River flowed into the Walensee and was thus a much travelled route.

Above: Aerial view of Weesen, where Linth Canal meets Walensee

It was in Weesen where Huldrych learned German, reading, writing and arithmetic and where he met Katharina von Zimmern.

Katharina von Zimmern was born in 1478 in the rich southern German noble family of Baron Hans Werner von Zimmern and Countess Margarethe von Oettingen.

Bildergebnis für katharina von zimmern

Above: Katharina von Zimmern (1478 – 1547)

Katharina was the fourth girl and had four further brothers and two sisters.

Her father loved hunting, played several musical instruments, and was in the service of the Duke Sigmund of Tyrol.

In 1488 he fell from the favour of Emperor Frederick III, due to intrigues and was forced to flee with his family.

Katharina had an adventurous escape with her mother and some siblings before arriving at Weesen on the Walensee lakeshore.

There in 1490 she met the boy Huldrych, who had been given to his uncle, the parish priest in charge.

Little did the 22-year-old nun imagine then that this boy would one day make her future position of Abbess in Zürich to be the last Abbess of the Fraumunster Abbey.

The aforementioned history of Amden is quite similar to that of Weesen, with two significant differences:

Weesen didn´t suffer a rockslide….it was razed by the victorious Swiss after the Battle of Näfels then rebuilt a few years later.

Weesen has an Abbey.

Weesen Kirchen.jpg

Above: Weesen Abbey

The Weesen Abbey, or as it is properly known the Maria Refuge Dominican Order of Nuns Cloister, has existed since 1256, and is known for quite a number of remarkable things:

It is one of the few monasteries that wasn´t looted during the Swiss Reformation as the cloister´s vows of charity meant there was little for anyone to steal, and though it too was a victim of iconoclastic attacks (the destruction of religious symbology) it still was able to repair itself and continue to function right up to today.

The Abbey library contains over 8,400 books, mostly in German on how to be a good nun.

The Abbey accommodates and is served by nine nuns and one laywoman who range from ages 46 to 78.

It offers a temporary guesthouse for women from ages 18 to 40.

The ladies manage their own cloister shop, bakery and atelier which produces candles and icons.

Their bakery is, surprisingly, the most modern wafer-producing factory in Switzerland, manufacturing 30,000 brown and 3,000 white wafers per week, or two million wafers a year.

The wafers are created from a mixture of flour and water without the use of either yeast or baking powder.

The Eucharist wafer, the symbolic body of Christ, is mass produced, though fully automated, in astonishing purity and massive quantities by less than a dozen women who are mostly past their prime of life.

Walk around Weesen a bit, though the tourism infrastructure doesn´t yet appreciate that non-German speakers might visit, and you may find yourself pleasantly charmed by this town.

The Hotel Schwert has been offering food and lodging since 1523, while the Town Hall has been administering since 1388 – despite the Great Fire of 1523 that razed the original building.

...

Follow the flow of the Lauibach, a stream that should never be underestimated, which flooded the streets of Weesen in 2005.

Visit the aforementioned Cloister and be inspired by these ladies of Maria Zuflucht.

See the Schlössli (small chateau) in the town centre where the von Zimmern family once lived after their flight from Austria.

More divinity awaits within the walls of the Holy Cross Church should you desire the trappings of Catholicism or deep within the sanctuary of the Zwingli Reformed Church if plain and simple surroundings are more to your religious inclinations.

Above: Zwingli Church, Weesen

Ponder the Russian Monument beneath the Zwingli Church and recall that the acceptance of war refugees into foreign communities began long before our present Syrian War crisis.

In the First World War and in the years between the global conflicts millions left the ruins of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Second World War saw many thousands of people flee wartorn areas and many afterwards sought to escape the chokehold of Communist dominated lands.

More than 100 Russian refugees called Weesen their new home from 1951 until 1992.

The Monument was unveiled in 2006.

Beneath the ground of Speerplatz the Middle Ages are still being uncovered and rediscovered, while on the walls of the Weesen Museum and Gallery are fine paintings capturing on humble canvases the mighty glory of the Seerenbachfälle and the quiet majesty of the Walensee.

Along the harbour of Weesen the casual stroller learns of how high the floodwaters of the Walensee can be, that Zwingli once lived here and that Franz Liszt visited, while watching as a summer fountain flings water high above the surface of the lake.

Above: High water marker, Weesen Harbour

Enjoy delicious pastries and High Tea, served by lovely ladies in 19th century period dress, inside the warm and inviting Café Liszt and see photos and sheet music by the famous composer peeking at the patrons from the walls and from on top of cleverly arranged furniture pieces.

There is a timelessness to Weesen that soothes the visitor.

This is a place contented with itself, complacent in its attractiveness.

Large enough to handle commerce and accommodate throngs of lake cruise disembarking passengers and summer visitors, small enough to feel cosy and comfortable and intimate with the surroundings and one another.

In Weesen, a young boy would learn the fundamentals of basic education, a young girl would be inspired to take up a life of service to Christ, and a wild Hungarian romantic would feel compelled by his surroundings to linger and create music that would delight crowds and put the name of Weesen into their souls.

Look up into the mountains or across the waters of the Walensee and feel the place work its quiet spell upon you.

Bildergebnis für weesen

Let your curious feet lead you down to the Linth canals and decide spontaneously which canal you will follow, whether you wish to visit Glaurus or Zürich Cantons today.

The hallows of your heart will thunderously applaud your decision to come here.

Linger awhile.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwengli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis

 

Canada Slim and the Holiday Chronicles

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 16 November 2017

I hate November: shorter days (dawn still incomplete after 6 am, dusk already started at 1600), grey clouds ever threatening rain, blocking the sun by day and the stars by night.

November with its month flower, the chrysanthemum, a symbol of adversity, grief and death.

And I miss seeing the Lake under blue skies by day and the stars beyond my grasp overhead above the lamplightless-after-midnight streets that usually makes life for me in Landschlacht worthwhile.

I like slipping outside onto our balcony, sprawl upon a deck chair and gaze out upon a sky full of stars.

(See Thus one journeys to the stars of this blog regarding star spotting in Landschlacht and Zürich.)

I wish it were August again and we were once again exploring Italy….

(For a description of the journey through Switzerland and Italy leading to Como, please see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, …..and the Apostle of Violence, …..and the Road to the Open,……and the Quest for George Clooney, …..and the Injured Queen, …..and the Isle of Silence, …..and the Inappropriate Statues, …..and the Life Electric, …..and the Distant Bench, …..and the Smarter Woman, of this blog.)

 

Lake Como, Italy, 3 August 2017

It was the kind of road my wife both loved and hated: curvy with high vistas of great scenery, but demanding constant alertness for traffic and pedestrians with no more sense than God gave a cantalope.

There are three big lakes in Italy which reach a depth of more than 300 metres and cover an area of hundreds of square kilometres.

The most west is Lago Maggiore, the most east is Lago di Garda, the central one is Lago di Como.

Lago di Como is distinguishable from its charateristic shape of an upside-down “Y”.

Lago di Como.png

(The Lake of Constance is distinguishable as an eastwardly swimming fish.)

Bodensee satellit.jpg

The triangle formed by the two branches of the Lago is named the Triangolo lariano. (the Larius Triangle)(Larius is the Latin name for the Lago.)

The eastern shore of Lago di Como, stretching from flat marshes in the north to the lake´s right leg, Lago Lecco, overshadowed by the sawlike ridge of Monte Resegone, is often as sunless as November on the southern shore of the Lake of Constance (Bodensee) is.

Resegone 4.JPG

This lack of direct sunlight consequently means that the eastern shore is less visited than the western.

There are few places to stay and and these are not easily accessible scattered among and between the quiet villages that line the shore from Como to Bellagio.

The S5340 feels like an old military road, less concerned with tourist infrastructure as it is with the simple linkage of the lakeside communities.

We left Como after a stay of three glorious days and nights, from the Sant´ Agostino quarter, passed the funicular that runs to Brunate, ascending away from the city.

We reached Blevio with its Villa Taglioni, which once belonged to the Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884), the daughter of an Italian choreographer father and a Swedish ballerina mother.

Above: Marie Taglioni

Taglioni was a central figure in the history of European dance and she is credited with being the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe.

Taglioni was married to Comte Auguste Gilbert de Voisins in 1832, but separated in 1836.

She later fell in love with Eugene Desmares, a loyal fan, who had defended her honour in a duel.

He later died in a hunting accident.

When her father Filippo was appointed the ballet master at the court opera in Vienna, there was a decision that Marie would debut her dancing career in the Habsburg capital.

Her father created a rigourous six-month training program where she would hold positions for 100 counts.

Her training was conducted daily and consisted of two hours in the morning with difficult exercises focusing on her legs and two hours in the afternoon focusing on adagio movements that would help her refine poses in ballet.

She focused her energy on her shape and form and less on bravura tricks and pirouettes.

Taglioni would dance in her father´s court opera ballet as well as in Munich and Stuttgart before joining the Paris Opéra, where she would rise to fame.

She would later dance in St. Petersburg, where “the cult of the ballerina” was so strong that a pair of her pointe shoes were sold for 200 rubles, cooked, served with a sauce and eaten by a group of her fans.

She would even perform for Queen Victoria.

Taglioni retired from performing in 1847 after been active since 1824 and began to chereograph and judge other ballet dancers´  performances.

Her only choreographic work was Le Papillon, wherein her student Emma Livry died when her costume was set alight by a gas lamp used for stage lighting.

Taglioni died in Marseille, the day before her 80th birthday.

Her body was moved to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

Above: Montmartre Cemetery with the rue Coulaincourt viaduct passing through it

Local dancers began leaving their worn toe shoes on her grave as a tribute and thanks to the first toe dancer.

In the local Blevio cemetery of the Ferranti chapel lies buried the Italian soprano opera singer Giuditta Pasta (née Negri)(1797 – 1865), the Maria Callas of the 19th century.

Giuditta Pasta.jpg

Above: Giuditta Pasta

From 1823 to 1854, Pasta would perform in Milan, Naples, Venice, Paris and London.

Her voice was such that composers, like Stendhal and Bellini, would create roles specifically for her to sing.

Her voice was said to be clear and powerful, encompassing tones that ranged from fine and full-bodied to husky and harsh.

Her voice was said to resonate with a magnetic vibration that exercised an instantaneous and hypnotic effect upon the soul of the spectator, a voice directed towards expressing the most intense passions accompanied by physical movements unknown and unseen before in lyrical theatre.

Her voice is silent now.

There are beautiful Villas near the lakeside square at the boat wharf: Cademartori, Da Riva and Pozzi.

Through the tunnel, the provincial road continues on towards the town of Torno.

Before Torno, there is a cartway branching off to Piazzaga`s famous ancient tombs and Monte Piatto with its Pietra Pendula (pendulum stone) near the small church which honours Mary´s visit to Elisabeth.

Up the mountain above Torno is the church of San Giovanni, characterised by a magnificent Renaissance marble portal and said to preserve a sacred nail from the Cross of Jesus.

Torno – Veduta

Above: The town of Torno, Lombardy, Italy

Near San Giovanni, a path leads to the Villa Pliniana near an awe-inspiring cascade praised by both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as well as Leonardo da Vinci.

Villa Plinianina dal lago.jpg

Above: Villa Pliniana

(Please see Canada Slim and the Inappropriate Statues for discussion about the Plinys, uncle and nephew.)

Pliniana rises above the lake, embraced by greenery.

Built in 1500 by Giovanni Anguissola, the Villa Pliniana – named after Pliny the Younger´s whose estate this once was – has hosted writer Ugo Foscolo (1778 – 1827), opera composer Gioschino Rossini (1792 – 1868), poet Giovanni Berchet, writer Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842), the poet Percy Shelley (1792 – 1822), and writer Cristina Belgioioso (1808 – 1871), but the Villa did not welcome us as it remains closed to the hoi polloi such as my wife and I.

Torno is situated in an ideal position above a promontory and stands out as a typical medieval village, which is surprising when one considers the Spanish razed it to the ground in 1522.

Some of the houses are gathered around the church of Santa Tecla and the beautiful little square on the pier by the lake.

Above: The Church of Santa Tecla, Torno, Italy

Remaining suspended high above the shore of the lake, the S5340 passes through the hamlet of Palanza with its, still in working condition, big wooden press from the 1500s.

Heading onwards towards Bellagio, the traveller soon comes to the hamlet of Careno, stone houses clinging to the mountain along steep pathways that can only be accessed on foot.

Bildergebnis für careno

Above: Careno

At the top of the town there is the Masera Grotto with a pond and a large hall that displays numerous ammonite fossils.

Ähnliches Foto

Above: The Masera Grotto, Careno, Italy

But it is Nesso that most people want to see, easily the most photographed town on the Lago di Como.

Above: Nesso

Situated at the mouth of the Tuf and Nosse Valleys, streams descend to create a picturesque haven of rocks forming a perfect canyon and cascade of water.

Above: L´Orrido Nesso

Descend the tiny streets and stairways to the lake and stand upon the old bridge that joins the two shores of these streams and view the simple lovely majesty of this cascade.

Above: Nesso

Just beyond the northern entry of the S5340 into Nesso there is a road on the right that climbs above the lake to Vico with its small Romanesque church of Santa Maria filled with precious frescoes, passes through Erno that has been making metal nets for generations, rises to the Colma di Sormano and the space observatory of Brianza, then descends to Valassina and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo where souvenirs of the greatest champions that ever rode a bicycle are preserved on the walls and ceilings.

Bildergebnis für chiesa della madonna del ghisallo

But we forego this pleasure and continue upon the cliff clinging road, hellbent to reach Bellagio.

Everything is a blur of trees and cliffs and moments of close calls of we hitting someone/something or the reverse scenario.

Places and placenames are barely registered: Crotto, Pescau, Bagnana, Rozzo, Sossana, Villa and the town of Lezzeno.

Cars have stopped upon the Punta della cappelletta to catch a lovely look upon the lake and Comacina Island.

The road remains panoramic as we see Tremezzina and the Villa Carlotta on the oppposite shore.

Bildergebnis für villa trotti bellagio

Above: Villa Trotti

And Villas never stop appearing: Villa Trotti, determinedly exotic with neo-Gothic mixed with Moorish design surrounded by Chinese and Japanese plants, the Villa Trivulzio with its grand English garden, and finally the Villa Melzi.

Bildergebnis für villa trivulzio bellagio

Above: Villa Trivulzio

Every traveller soon discovers that there are names of famous individuals that are repeatedly stubled upon as they too were travellers.

For us, we constantly seem to run into the ghosts of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and composer Franz Liszt in our travels in Switzerland and Italy.

(For a description of Mary Shelley´s travels, see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, and Canada Slim and the Road into the Open of this blog, as well as Mary Shelley`s Rambles in Germany and Italy.)

RothwellMaryShelley.jpg

Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 6 August 1840

“This evening we crossed again to visit…..the opposite bank.

Villa Melzi is a very pleasant country house.

Its marble halls and stuccoed drawing rooms are the picture of Italian comfort – cool, shady and airy. 

The garden has had pains taken with it. 

There are some superb magnolias and other flowering trees, but one longs for English gardening here. 

What would not some friends of mine make of a flower garden in Italy: how it would abound and run over with sweets – no potting and greenhouses to check, no frost to decimate. 

The Italians here know not what flowers and a flower garden are.”

(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

 

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

I am not so certain if Fulco Gallarati Scotti, the present owner of the Villa Melzi d´Eril (to give its full name) would agree or approve of Mary Shelley´s opinion.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril

The Melzi Villa and gardens have belonged to the Scotti family for more than 90 years and I am certain that Fulco is proud that every year tens of thousands of tourists descend upon the d´Eril property.

As early as 1821, Davide Bertolotti (1784 – 1860) in his Viaggio al lago di Como (Journey to Lake Como) praised the sight of the Villa and its wonderful gardens.

In 1831, Cesare Cantu (1804 – 1895) in his Guida al Lago di Como consolidated the Villa´s fame by mentioning how magnificent Melzi was with an annexed “very elegant oratory”, surrounded by “a garden made delightful by its location and its variety of plants and flowers”.

Ritratto di Cesare Cantù (1804-1895).jpg

Above: Cesare Cantu

In 1912, the Villa and the gardens Melzi d´Eril of Bellagio, designed and built between 1808 and 1831, were declared to be an Italian National Monument and thus came to be officially considered as part of the historic and artistic heritage that remains guarded by the State.

The beauty began on a bloody battlefield.

Early 19th century European history is marked by the great Napoleonic campaign between 1796 and 1814, when the Austrians were chased out of northern Italy to be replaced by the French.

Though French occupation was a period less than twenty years long, it was characterised by a rapid succession of military and political events and intense cultural changes, of which Francesco Melzi d´Eril (1753 – 1816) would play a significant role.

Melzi.jpg

Above: Francesco Melzi d´Eril

Francesco was born in Milan into a family of ancient nobility known since the 14th century.

His father was Count of Magenta; his mother was a Spanish noblewoman.

Francesco completed his education in Milan and also travelled extensively to England, Spain and France widening his cultural experiences.

As a member of Milan´s Consiglio die Sessanta Decuroni, the city´s administrative representatives, Francesco met Napoleon (1769 – 1821) on the battlefield of Lodi in 1796 and presented him with the symbolic keys to the city.

Above: The Battle of Lodi, 10 May 1796

Napoleon appreciated Melzi since this first meeting, considering him a cultivated and balanced man, so he entrusted him with political and diplomatic duties over the newly-created Cisalpina Republic in the turbulent years from 1797 to 1802.

When the first Italian Republic was founded in 1802 with Napoleon as President, Melzi was appointed Vice President, responsible for managing the complex political and administrative organisation of a nation in dire need of reforms in almost all sectors of civil life.

Melzi´s personal dedication was so intense that it took him only three years to successfully create a national army, to balance the books and to reform the educational and judicial systems of the new Italian nation.

Of great relevance was also his contribution to Italian arts and crafts through his support of the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and his commitment to protect and restore the inheritance let behind by the Austrians, including the Royal Palace in Milan and the Royal Villa in Monza.

In spite of his poor health, fatigue for his government duties and his disillusionment caused by Napoleon´s turning to authoritarianism – when Napoleon became self-proclaimed Emperor, he named himself King of Italy in 1805 – Melzi continued to play a role in government though with not as much influence as he had previously.

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: Coronation of Napoleon, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2 December 1804

During the Kingdom of Italy (1805 – 1814), Melzi was appointed Grand Chancellor and Minister of Justice, supporting (and occasionally replacing) Viceroy Eugenio of Beauharnais in governing the royal domains.

EugeneBeau.jpg

Above: Eugenio de Beauharnais (1781 – 1824)

Though Melzi remained on good and constant terms with Napoleon, Melzi longed for a more intimate and less demanding life.

When Melzi would visit the Villa Loppia of his friend Paolo Taverna, Melzi regarded Bellagio as a place desireable for both physical and spiritual recovery, owing to its peacefulness, climate, landscape beauty, the spontaneity of its people and their unaffected way of life.

Though he was of high aristocratic rank, Melzi was not rich, so it wasn´t until December 1807 that his wish for his own Villa was realised when Napoleon named him the Duke of Lodi and granted him a large annual income as an award for “his accomplishments in the field of public administration” and in memory of their encounter in Lodi ten years before.

The 20 December 1807 decree reads:

“Melzi was the first Italian to bring us on the battlefield of Lodi the keys and the confidence” of the city of Milan.

Work began on the Villa Melzi.

Bellagio has attracted people since ancient times for its location for military and commercial purposes and its attractiveness for leisure.

Bellagio dal traghetto - panoramio.jpg

Above: Bellagio, Lombardy, Italy

According to tradition, Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD) testified to the region´s attractiveness when he wrote his friend Voconius Romanus in 104 AD, explaining why he was setting his Villa Tragedia here.

Como - Dom - Fassade - Plinius der Jüngere.jpg

Above: Statue of Pliny the Younger, Santa Maria Maggiore Duomo, Como

Located at the tip of the peninsula that separates the two branches of the Lago di Como, Bellagio enjoys a privilieged fame as compared to the many admirable places elsewhere along the lake, for it possesses a unique multifaceted landscape of everchanging light nuances and a kaleidoscope of perspectives and sights,

Such qualities were written about by Sigismondo Boldoni in his work Larius (1606), when the Spanish dominated Bellagio.

Bildergebnis für sigismondo boldoni

Above: Sigismondo Boldoni

This trend never reversed.

On the contrary, it increased in the 18th century after the Spanish left Lombardy to be replaced by the Austrians, who would build many residences in Bellagio and wherever they could on the shores of Lago di Como to spend their holidays.

As remarked by Carlo Amoretti in his Viaggio da Milano ai tre laghi Maggiore, di Lugano e di Como (1824), they shaped a delightful surrounding, enjoyed shelter from hot summers to their Villas that were accessible not only by boat but as well by the Valsassina road of ancient Roman origin.

Above: Carlo Amoretti (1741 – 1816)

By the advent of Melzi, Bellagio was the most populated town of the lake, surpassed only by Como and Lecco.

According to the anonymous manuscript Cronachette della villaggiatura (Holiday Chronicles), Melzi considered Bellagio as a “buen retiro”, a place of relaxation, far from political duties, where the mind and body could recover.

Sadly, the Duke of Lodi enjoyed his wonderful retreat for only a short time.

In the last three years of his life, Melzi stayed in his Villa 27 days in 1813, two months in 1814 and another two months in 1815.

Despite these short periods of time, the Villa began to acquire fame as a distinguished house of hospitality.

Among Melzi´s guests were the Viceroy of Italy and his wife Augusta Amalia of Baveria, and the painter Giuseppi Bossi.

Above: Self Portrait, Giuseppe Bossi (1777 – 1815)

The typical day of the Duke began at 9 am when he attended church services officiated by his personal chaplain, followed by breakfast and then work began on his various charitable activities for local people in need.

According to the Holiday Chronicles, Melzi showed great concern both for the single destinies of the individuals he met as well as the general progress of the community.

In spite of his poor health – the Duke suffered from gout – Melzi liked to spend his time walking slowly and meditating in his garden, cheered by the luxuriant vegetation and the magnificent lake landscape that could be admired from his property.

Tiny and slender, Melzi nevertheless inspired respect.

He used to wear simple country clothes but in a refined way: long trousers with a large, well-shaped white hat and a thin cane stick to support him during his walks.

Melzi used to have lunch at 3 pm, eating with other guests in enjoyment of conversation in the absence of servants.

At 10 pm he would retire for the night.

The unknown author of the Holiday Chronicles writes in dismay that Duke Francesco left Bellagio and moved to Milan in October 1815 never to return.

Melzi died on 16 January 1816.

His mortal remains were brought back to the Villa two years after his death to be buried in the Oratory.

The estate has remained in the hands of the Melzi family, though the owner surname would change through the course of time.

The Villa passed on to Francesco´s nephew Giovanni (1788 – 1832).

Stendhal visited Villa Melzi in July 1817, where he enjoyed the gardens and the scenery and gazed upon the bust of Francesco in the oratory, as we can read in Stendhal´s travel journal Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817.

Stendhal.jpg

Above: Stendhal

In 1825, the Villa Melzi received a visit by the Austrian Emperor Francis II.

Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor by Friedrich von Amerling 003.jpg

Above: Francis II (1768 – 1835)

The third Duke, Ludovico (1820 – 1886) entertained Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife Maria Anna of Savoy in 1838.

Ferdinand I; Keizer van Oostenrijk.jpg

Above: Ferdinand I of Austria (1793 – 1875)

Thanks to the diffusion of travel literature, the Villa came to be popular not only among a narrow circle of the Duke´s friends, but among a larger number of people as a result of the article “Le lac de Come”, published in 1838 in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, wherein we learn that musician Franz Liszt stayed in Bellagio with his lover Marie d´Agoult in the autumn of 1837.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

The lovers used to go “to the gardens of Villa Melzi to relax beneath the plane trees in the hottest hours of the day” to read Dante´s Divina Commedia before the garden Monument dedicated to Dante and his beloved Beatrice, which inspired Franz to write his subsequent famous Dante Sonatas.

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

Above: Dante degli Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

Franz and Marie were not among the guests of the family Melzi, but, like other travellers then and now, they could enjoy the gardens which, even then though private property, were almost always open to visitors.

By 1856, strangers were allowed to visit the Melzi gardens with money collected by the gardener.

Among the guests who visited the Villa before the world was engulfed in the wars of the 20th century were Russian Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna (1847 – 1928), Princess Marie von Radzwill, King Albert of Saxony (1828 – 1902) and his consort Carola of Sweden in May 1885.

We are told of their enthusiastic admiration for the beauty of the place, their pleasant walks among the plane tree path, the wonderful flower arrangements offered by the Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

In October 1890 the Villa received King Umberto I of Italy and his entourage, who, though only staying one day, were said to deeply admire the place and declared it one of the most “beautiful of the Como basin”.

 Ritratto di Umberto I.jpg

Above: Umberto I of Italy (1844 – 1902)

By the start of the first decade of the 20th century, access to the gardens by visitors was regulated by entrance tickets.

In 1923, on the death of Duchess Josephine, Villa Melzi passed on to her daughter from a previous marriage, Luisa (1854 – 1937), who had in 1878 married the Prince of Molfetta, Giancarlo Scotti (1854 – 1927).

Their firstborn son, Tommaso (1878 – 1966), an intellectual, writer and Ambassador to Madrid and London, inherited the Villa from his mother.

Anti-Facist from the beginning, Tommaso had to seek refuge in Switzerland in 1943.

Soon after the Scotti family was officially expelled from Italy and their property was requisitioned by the Italian Social Republic, headed by Mussolini, to house the Aviation Ministry and the diplomatic seats of the countries that had acknowledged the new Fascist state.

Mussolini biografia.jpg

Above: Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence for more about Mussolini.)

At the conclusion of the Second World War, Villa Melzi was restored back into the hands of the Scotti family.

Wandering about the gardens of Tommaso´s grandson, we explored the grounds of the Villa Melzi.

Learning of the property´s history I felt like a pauper who had stumbled into a prince´s gardens.

My wife and I, despite my wife´s profession, can, at best, be described as “middle class”.

My own origins are far humbler than my wife´s and can be quite generously described as “lower class” by Canadian standards.

Yet here we were wandering in gardens that had seen writers and musicians, kings and queens, admiring the same types of flora and the same majestic views of the lake that they had enjoyed.

Here there be stone plaques, grotesque masks and mythological statues.

Within these gardens stands an oddity called the Infamous Column, a memorial stone built in 1364 for the sole purpose of disgracing the memory of the Venetian nobleman Bajamonte Tiepolo who had conspired against the Venetian Republic ruled by Doge Pietro Gradenigo.

The Infamous Column originally stood upon the ruins of the Tiepolo house – destroyed by the Gradenigo government – then it was relocated near the Sant´Agostino Church to make it more visible as a warning to the citizens of Venice to remain loyal to their city.

The Column´s epigraph – now eroded owing to the passage of time – accuses Tiepolo of “wicked treason” to the Republic:

“This land belonged to Bajamonte Tiepolo and it is now public as a consequence of his wicked treason and may be shown forever as a warning to everyone.”

The disgracing monument remained in Venice until 1785.

Here in the garden, one sees the small pink and grey granite statue of Rahotep, a high dignitary during the reign of Pharoah Ramses II, as well as a statue of the Egyptian goddess Pakhet with her lion´s head upon a woman´s body.

Overlooking the lake is the Moorish Pavilion with sculptures dedicated to Ferdinand I and his consort Maria Anna and Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

MelziGarden3.JPG

Outside the Pavilion stands the Monument to Dante and Beatrice, showing Beatrice consoling Dante after it was prophised that he would be exiled but her promising him that there is a superior divine justice that will sustain him.

Bildergebnis für monument to dante and beatrice

Visited by Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, the Monument´s inscription was translated into English and reads:

 

“And the lady who to God was leading me said:

“Change thy thought.

Consider that I am near unto Him who every wrong disburdens.”

Unto the loving accents of my comfort I turned me around.”

Here on the grounds of Villa Melzi,  Apollo looks at the sun while Meleagro kills a wild boar.

Sea monsters rise from the water lily fountain and lion-sphinxes guard the Villa staircase.

Wander through the grotto, stroll by the leisure gondola and beyond the stone bridge jetty and view the bronze bell that hangs by the western wall.

Here there be Japanese cedars casting shade upon a Japanese pond and Canadian giant thuja – wood once used to make totems and canoes.

Here there be imposing Florida bald cypress trees, the thick wood of Japanese camillias and maples, holm oaks and mighty California redwoods, Oriental spruce and gingko maidenhair, dwarf palms and Italian cypress, holly olive and cleyera shrubs, cinnamon camphora and Mexican pine, Mediterranean heath and Montezuma pine, azaleas beneath plane trees, red beech and elm trees, bamboo fodder for pandas and black Chinese conifers, Himalyan and Lebanese cedar, the giant dogwood and the North American cedar, cork oak and crape myrtles, cork oak and fragrant olive, Chilean wine palm and Scots pine, weeping beech and strawberry fields, common box and Austrian pine, southern magnolia and Rhododendron, mimosa and tulip.

No, Mary Shelley, the Italians here do know what flowers and a flower garden are.

Lunch time delayed, the wife realises that the husband needs to be fed before maritial strife emerges.

We cast ourselves out of this Garden of Eden, these gardens of Melzi, simply two more anonymous names in a yet-to-be-written Holiday Chronicles.

We must dance and sing while we can.

Winter is coming….