Canada Slim and the Pirates of Teguise

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday 5 May 2019

Imagine the perfect holiday.

Perhaps it is an active one spent hiking and windsurfing.

Perhaps you are a culture vulture mesmerized by museums and attracted to artefacts of days gone by.

Or perhaps you long for a lengthy siesta where your hardest decision is how much sunscreen to wear today.

 

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The Canary Islands have what you want, however you want it, but being all things to all people means this is a place of contradictions.

 

The Islands lie off the coast of Africa yet they are European.

 

The Canary Islands form a Spanish archipelago and the southernmost autonomous community of Spain located in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Morocco at the closest point.

The Canary Islands, which are also known informally as the Canaries, are among the outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union proper.

It is also one of the eight regions with special consideration of historical nationality recognized as such by the Spanish Government.

The Canary Islands belong to the African Plate, like the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the African mainland.

 

Location of the Canary Islands within Spain

 

The seven main islands are (from largest to smallest in area) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

The archipelago includes much smaller islands and islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.

It also includes a series of adjacent roques (those of Salmor, Fasnia, Bonanza, Garachico and Anaga).

 

In ancient times, the island chain was often referred to as “the Fortunate Isles“.

But delving into Canarian history the casual observer has to ponder the question:

Fortunate for whom?

 

Historically, the Canary Islands have been considered a bridge between four continents: Africa, North America, South America and Europe.

And it has been their strategic location that has been both a blessing and a curse to those who have chosen to make the Islands their home.

 

Flag of Canary Islands

Above: Flag of the Canary Islands

 

The archipelago’s beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (a World Heritage Site) in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

 

 

Imagine living on an island where more people around you are tourists than residents.

 

Tourists are, by their very nature, selfish in that the pleasure principle dominates their every thought.

Most care nothing about those who reside there except in how the locals cater to their needs.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

 

The islands have a subtropical climate, with long hot summers and moderately warm winters.

The precipitation levels and the level of maritime moderation vary depending on location and elevation.

Green areas as well as desert exist on the archipelago.

Rain seems rare and snow something never seen.

 

Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation.

For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.

 

The day sky is cloudless.

The night sky stretches to infinity and beyond.

The horizon beckons with promise.

 

 

So it may be reasonable to assume that piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce.

 

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties.

Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates.

Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

 

 

Due to the strategic situation of this Spanish archipelago as a crossroads of maritime routes and commercial bridge between Europe, Africa and America, this was one of the places on the planet with the greatest pirate presence.

In the Canary Islands, the following stand out:

  • The attacks and continuous looting of Berber, English, French and Dutch corsairs
  • The presence of pirates from this archipelago who made their incursions into the Caribbean.
  • Pirates and corsairs, such as François Le Clerc, Jacques de Sores, Francis Drake, Pieter van der Does, Murat Reis and Horacio Nelson, attacked the islands.
  • Among those born in the archipelago who stands out above all is Amaro Pargo, whom the monarch Felipe V of Spain frequently benefited from his commercial incursions.

 

During the time of the Spanish Empire, the Canaries were the main stopover for Spanish galleons – galleons seeking to be laiden with treasure – on their way to the Americas, which came south to catch the prevailing northeasterly trade winds.

 

 

Sailing off the coast of Africa the closest of the Canaries to be reached is the Island of Lanzerote and thus it became the first Canary Island to be settled.

 

Lanzerote is the northernmost and easternmost of the autonomous Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is located approximately only 125 kilometres (78 miles) off the north coast of Africa and 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) from the Iberian Peninsula.

Covering 845.94 square kilometres (326.62 square miles), Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the islands in the archipelago.

With 149,183 inhabitants, it is the third most populous Canary Island, after Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

Located in the centre-west of the island is Timanfaya National Park, one of its main attractions.

The island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

The island’s capital is Arrecife.

 

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The Phoenicians may have visited or settled there, though no material evidence survives.

The first known record came from Roman author Pliny the Elder in the encyclopaedia Naturalis Historia on an expedition to the Canary Islands.

The names of the islands (then called Insulae Fortunatae or the “Fortunate Isles“) were recorded as Junonia (Fuerteventura), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Ninguaria (Tenerife), Junonia Major (La Palma), Pluvialia (El Hierro), and Capraria (La Gomera).

Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two easternmost Canary Islands, were only mentioned as the archipelago of the “purple islands“.

The Roman poet Lucan and the Greek astronomer and geographer Ptolemy gave their precise locations.

 

 

Several archaeological expeditions have uncovered the prehistoric settlement at the archaeologic site of El Bebedero in the village of Teguise.

In one of those expeditions, by a team from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the University of Zaragoza, yielded about 100 Roman potsherds, nine pieces of metal, and one piece of glass.

The artefacts were found in strata dated between the 1st and 4th centuries.

They show that Romans did trade with the Canarians, though there is no evidence of settlements.

Lanzarote was previously settled by the Majos tribe of the Guanches, though the Romans did not mention them.

 

 

Guanches were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.

In 2017, the first genome-wide data from the Guanches confirmed a North African origin and that they were genetically most similar to modern North African Berber peoples of the nearby North African mainland.

It is believed that they migrated to the archipelago around 1000 BC or perhaps earlier.

The Guanches were the only native people known to have lived in the  region before the arrival of Europeans, as there is no evidence that the other archipelagos (Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira) were inhabited before Europeans arrived.

After the Spanish conquest of the Canaries they were ethnically and culturally absorbed by Spanish settlers, although elements of their culture survive to this day, intermixed within Canarian customs and traditions such as Silbo (the whistled language of La Gomera Island).

 

 

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Canary Islands were ignored until 999, when the Arabs arrived at the island which they dubbed al-Djezir al-Khalida (among other names).

An account of the Guanche population may have been made around AD 1150 by the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in the Nuzhatul Mushtaq, a book he wrote for King Roger II of Sicily, in which al-Idrisi reports a journey in the Atlantic Ocean made by the Mugharrarin (“the adventurers“), a family of Andalusian seafarers from Lisbon.

The only surviving version of this book, kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and first translated by Pierre Amédée Jaubert, reports that, after having reached an area of “sticky and stinking waters“, the Mugharrarin moved back and first reached an uninhabited island (Madeira or Hierro), where they found “a huge quantity of sheep, which its meat was bitter and inedible” and, then, “continued southward” and reached another island where they were soon surrounded by barks and brought to “a village whose inhabitants were often fair haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty“.

Among the villagers, one did speak Arabic and asked them where they came from.

Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.

Apart from the marvelous and fanciful content of this history, this account would suggest that Guanches had sporadic contacts with populations from the mainland.

Al-Idrisi also described the Guanche men as tall and of a reddish-brown complexion.

During the 14th century, the Guanches are presumed to have had other contacts with Balearic seafarers from Spain, suggested by the presence of Balearic artifacts found on several of the Canary Islands.

 

Map of the Balearic Islands

Above: (in red) The Balearic Islands

 

In 1336, a ship arrived from Lisbon under the guidance of Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello, who used the alias “Lanzarote da Framqua“.

A fort was later built in the area of Montaña de Guanapay near today’s Teguise.

 

 

Castilian slaving expeditions in 1385 and 1393 seized hundreds of Guanches and sold them in Spain, initiating the slave trade in the islands.

 

Where there is profit to be found on the open seas there will be those who will seek to claim it.

Slavery and piracy differ only in that the plunder of the former is the lives of human beings.

The violence used by both is indistinguishable from the other.

 

French explorer Jean de Béthencourt arrived in 1402, heading a private expedition under Castilian auspices.

Bethencourt first visited the south of Lanzarote at Playa de Papagayo, and the French overran the island within a matter of months.

 

Above: Jean de Béthencourt (1362 – 1425)

 

The island lacked mountains and gorges to serve as hideouts for the remaining Guanche population and so many Guanches were taken away as slaves.

Only 300 Guanche men were said to have remained.

 

The Castilian conquest of the Canary Islands began in 1402, with the expedition of Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle (1340 – 1415) to the island of Lanzarote.

Gadifer would invade Lanzarote and Fuerteventura with ease since many of the aboriginals, faced with issues of starvation and poor agriculture, would surrender to Spanish rule.

 

 

At the southern end of the Yaiza municipality, the first European settlement in the Canary Islands appeared in 1402 in the area known as El Rubicón, where the conquest of the Archipelago began.

In this place, the Cathedral of Saint Martial of Limoges was built.

The cathedral was destroyed by English pirates in the 16th century.

The diocese was moved in 1483 to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Roman Catholic Diocese of Canarias).

 

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In 1404, the Castilians (with the support of the King of Castile) came and fought the local Guanches who were further decimated.

The islands of Fuerteventura and El Hierro were later similarly conquered.

 

In 1477, a decision by the royal council of Castile confirmed a grant of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, with the smaller islands of Ferro and Gomera to the Castilian nobles Herrera, who held their fief until the end of the 18th century.

In 1585, the Ottoman admiral Murat Reis temporarily seized Lanzarote.

In the 17th century, pirates raided the island and took 1,000 inhabitants into slavery in Cueva de los Verdes.

 

From 1730 to 1736, the island was hit by a series of volcanic eruptions, producing 32 new volcanoes in a stretch of 18 kilometres (11 miles).

The priest of Yaiza, Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, documented the eruption in detail until 1731.

Lava covered a quarter of the island’s surface, including the most fertile soil and 11 villages.

100 smaller volcanoes were located in the area called Montañas del Fuego, the “Mountains of Fire“.

 

 

In 1768, drought affected the deforested island and winter rains did not fall.

Much of the population was forced to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas, including a group which formed a significant addition to the Spanish settlers in Texas at San Antonio de Bexar in 1731.

 

 

Another volcanic eruption occurred within the range of Tiagua in 1824, which was less violent than the major eruption between 1730 and 1736.

Thus the island has become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protected site.

 

According to a report in the Financial Times, this status was endangered by a local corruption scandal.

Since May 2009, police have arrested the former president of Lanzarote, the former mayor of Arrecife and more than 20 politicians and businessmen in connection with illegal building permits along Lanzarote’s coastline.

UNESCO has threatened to revoke Lanzarote’s Biosphere Reserve status, “if the developments are not respecting local needs and are impacting on the environment“.

The President of the Cabildo of Lanzarote denied “any threat to Lanzarote’s UNESCO status“.

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Piracy upon the open sea beside the shores of Lanzarote may be a thing of the past but greed remains eternal.

 

 

Teguise, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Sunday 1 December 2018

As described in a previous post of this blog, my wife and I arrived on the island and drove from the airport near the island capital of Arrecife to the resort town of Costa Teguise where we overnighted for the entirety of our stay on Lanzarote.

(Please see Canada Slim and the Royal Retreat of this blog.)

 

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Above: Lanzarote Airport

 

Our previous research gleaned that Sunday was market day in Teguise so soon after we checked into our hotel we quickly headed here.

 

Teguise, also known as La Villa de Teguise, is a village in the Municipality of Teguise in the north central part of the Island, 12 km north of Arrecife.

Here North Africa meets Spanish pueblo.

Like no other place on Lanzarote, it has preserved its historic appearance to this day.

It is an intriguing mini-oasis of low buildings set around a central plaza and surrounded by the bare plains of central Lanzarote.

The small old town forms a compact whole that impresses in its uniformity.

The Andalusian style of southern Spain sets the tone.

 

Plaza Mayor

 

The outwardly simple, white houses have high, carved wooden portals and large shutters in front of the windows.

The former capital was built in the 15th century for fear of pirate raids in the middle of the island, right at the foot of the striking Montana de Guanapay.

Built in the Spanish colonial style, it presents a magnificent ensemble of stylish churches and monasteries, harmonious squares, magnificent old houses and quiet streets.

Old town Teguise has been a listed heritage site for over twenty years and is the jewel of Lanzarote.

It is considered one of the best preserved settlement centers of the Canaries.

As of 1 January 2018 the village’s population was 1,776.

 

The town was founded in 1418 and served as the capital of the Kingdom of the Canary Islands from 1425 to 1448 and as capital of Lanzarote until the capital was moved to Arrecife in 1852.

Teguise is said to have been founded by Maciot – the successor of the aforementioned Jean de Béthencourt – who is rumoured to have lived here with Princess Teguise, the daughter of the Guanche King Guadarfia.

 

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Various convents were founded and the town prospered.

But with prosperity came other problems, including pirates who plundered the town several times.

 

Although the strategic location of the city was favorable – protected to the north by the Famara reef, in addition to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara enthroned above the city, a broad overview in all directions, the following centuries were marked by numerous bloody pirate attacks, undoubtedly reactions to the brutal raids of Teguise’s feudal lords, who had previously deported thousands of Berbers to slavery on the African coasts.

Teguise went through hard times and was said to be no more than a miserable village with thatched huts.

 

In 1586, Algerian pirates stormed the city under their infamous leader Morato Arráez and put down everything that stood in their way.

The Callejon de Sangre (Blood Alley) behind the parish church recalls this terrible tragedy.

 

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In 1618, plundering Berber hordes burnt down the city completely, enslaving much of the island’s population.

As a result, Teguise’s historic buildings were increasingly economically unattractive for most of the late 17th and 18th centuries.

 

And this is why, in 1852, the up-and-coming port city of Arrecife was named the new capital of the island, while Teguise evolved into the open-air museum that it still represents today.

 

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Firmly on the tourist trail, there are several shops here selling flowing garments and handmade jewellery, plus restaurants, bars and a handful of monuments testifying to the fact that the town once was the capital.

This is a town of spacious squares and well-kept cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored houses that testify to Teguise’s former glory.

For a stroll, however, you should choose a really sunny day, because Teguise is located in a relatively uncomfortable island corner, namely on a cold and draughty plateau.

During the week, Teguise is a quiet place, ideal for a leisurely stroll through the streets.

 

Sunday is all about the huge folksy market that takes place here every week.

It is a day of flourishing handicrafts in the market with throngs of tourists shopping and gorging themselves into a satiated stupor and locals lounging beneath a gentle breeze and a warm sun.

Throughout the entire old town, stands are close to one other, in between streams of visitors from the whole island crowded here for this one moment in time, the bars and restaurants bursting in an exuberant mood.

A day for dancing, if being leisurely was not so tempting.

 

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What strikes the visitor to Teguise Market the most is the foreign feel of the artists, the arts and crafts, the ecological and esoteric scene.

Various shops around the two central squares offer natural products, jewelery, antiques and so on – certainly not only because Teguise is so “beautiful“, but above all for tangible commercial reasons, because during the big Sunday market, the city is always very well attended.

 

But as well Canarian culture has a focus in Teguise.

Thus, the former capital of the island is considered the place of origin of the timples, the traditional guitar-like string instruments of Canarios, of which an exhibition in the Palacio Spinola proudly praises in the central square of Teguise.

 

 

The timple is a traditional 5-string plucked string instrument of the Canary Islands.

On La Palma Island and in the north of the island of Tenerife, many timple players omit the fifth (D) string, in order to play the timple as a four-string ukulele, though this is considered less traditional by players and advocates of the five-string version.

The players of the four-string style, in return, say that they are simply playing the timple in the old-fashioned way from before the time when a fifth string was introduced in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Timple players (timplistas) of note are Benito Cabrera from Lanzarote, José Antonio Ramos, Totoyo Millares, and Germán López from Gran Canaria, and Pedro Izquierdo from Tenerife.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, at Calle Flores 8, is one of the last to build the famous Canarian guitars.

He also supplies many music groups in other Canary Islands.

Various sizes are produced, from the mini-model to the contratimple.

The Cabildo de Lanzarote, through its Departments of Culture and Industry, has recognized Antonio Lemes Hernández for his involvement of more than half a century in the production of timples.

Lemes, a craftsman from Teguise, has been building timples since he was very small.

He himself recognizes that:

“I have not done anything else, all my life making timples.
I made them out of cardboard as a child.

We brushed them and made them from that material, but of course, I made them and broke them, I did not have a teacher.” 

So he perfected his technique.

And to transform the wood….
I used to make them from polisandro, moral, mahogany, and the lid, which is always made of pine.

The important thing is that it is good wood so that they can tune well.

 

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Sixty years after his first contact with the timple, Antonio’s hands continue to mold, giving life to the sound camel .

To play what is the treasure of Lanzerote music.

 

Antonio Lemes Hernández, popularly known as Lolo, was born in the stately Villa de Teguise.

As a child he learned the technique of woodworking in the School of Crafts of Teguise, although it was his carpenter companion, Antonio de León Bonilla, who had some knowledge of the timple, who taught him to shape the sound camel.

Little by little, Antonio became fond of this instrument, so today his works are highly valued and requested, some to make sound alone or at parties and others are conservative and wish to possess a timble like a real jewel in private storage.

 

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Antonio Lemes has always been linked to the world of music.

In his youth he was part of the famous orchestra of Teguise known as Lira and Lido and he was also a part of cultural institutions such as Rancho de Pascuas de Teguise.

 

At present, Antonio Lemes enjoys his retirement, although as he can not stand idly by, so every day he goes to his workshop located on Flores Street, where he continues to practice the work that made him fall in love as a child, the construction of the timple.

 

In 2016, the Guagime Folkloric Association of Tahíche showed him public recognition by giving him their highest award, the ‘Silver Insignia‘, for his dedication to the development of the timple.

 

 

The eclectic church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe skulks in the town square.

Constructed in the mid-15th century, it has been rebuilt many times that it feels like the divine is in a perpetual state of confusion

Inside neo-Gothic furnishings surround a statue of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, but it was afternoon when we arrived in Teguise, so we were forced to imagine the scene rather than witness it for ourselves.

 

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On the opposite side of the square stands the Palacio Spinola.

The light of God facing the darkness of man.

 

The Palacio, completed after half a century in 1780, is beautiful with a small patio and a well.

It now doubles as both a museum and the official residence of the Canary Islands government.

It too was closed by the time we decided we wanted to visit it.

 

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This impressive edifice is host to the Casa del Timple – a museum dedicated to the small guitar like instrument which plays a big role in local folklore and tradtional music.

 

The building was renovated during the 1970´s by the ubiquitous César Manrique- and provides the perfect opportunity to step back in time and sample the lifestyle of an affluent nobleman in 18th century Lanzarote, whilst also learning more about the role of the timple in island life.

 

César Manrique

Above: César Manrique (1919 – 1992)

(“For me, Lanzarote was the most beautiful place on Earth, so I made it a point to show Lanzarote to the world.“)

(More on this amazing man in a future post….)

 

Today, echoes of the glorious past still resonate through Teguise´s cobbled streets – which are home to some fantastic old buildings and a wealth of colonial architecture that cannot be found anywhere else on Lanzarote.

Making La Villa, as it is known locally, one of the best-preserved historic centers in the whole of the Canary Islands.

Many of these buildings are now private residences and are therefore hidden away from public gaze behind green wooden shutters.

But the house-museum at the Palacio Spinola is open to the public.

 

The Palacio Spinola is located in the heart of Teguise in the Plaza de San Miguel – also known locally as the Plaza de Leones because of the two statues of lions that stand guard opposite the entrance to the Palace.

Construction on the building started in 1730 – the same year that the south of the island was subjected to a six-year volcanic eruption that forged the national park at Timanfaya.

These eruptions obviously disrupted life on Lanzarote and the building of the Palacio took another fifty years to complete.

The Palacio was originally known as the Inquisitors House – as it was once the HQ of the Holy Inquisition.

From the middle of the 18th Century it became home to the Feo Peraza family, the best known of whom was the policitican Jose Feo Armas.

But by 1895 the Palacio had passed into the hands of the wealthy Spinola family.

The impressive frontage of the building with its six huge windows enclosed by intricately carved wooden shutters is a clear indication of the prosperity of the original owners.

 

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You needed serious money to afford this sort of opulence in the early 18th century.

 

Visitors walk through a formal entrance way, tiled with volcanic stone – where a small admission charge of €3 is made (free for children under 12 years) – and they are then free to explore the passageways and patios of the Palacio with the help of a basic printed guide which outlines the function of each room.

Amongst the most fascinating of these are the kitchens, with a chimney arrangement that is open to the elements in order to carry away cooking smoke, a latticed viewing gallery that overlooks the two main salons, or living rooms, a massive dining room with seating for thirty two guests and a small private family chapel, featuring an intricately carved wooden altar.

Throughout the Palacio, modern paintings by local artists, such as Aguilar, are juxtaposed with antique and reproduction furniture.

The exterior of the building is equally impressive, as long passageways lead visitors out into a delightful courtyard area that houses two stately old Canarian palm trees as well as a variety of flowering plants such as hibiscus and strelitza as well as an array of colourful succulents.

Here, visitors can observe the giant wooden door guarding the entranceway – built to a height that would allow both a horse and rider to enter unhindered.

 

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The Palacio Spinola isn’t huge – comprising eleven rooms in total, so it will probably only occupy an hour or so of your time at best, but it is an extremely well preserved example of 18th century architecture.

And who knows – you might even bump into a modern day grandee.

As the Palacio Spinola is also now the official residence of the President of the Canary Islands when he is visiting Lanzarote.

 

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Above: Fernando Clavijo Batlle, current President of the Canary Islands

 

 

Towering over the town is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, built in the early 16th century on top of the 452-metre (1,480 foot) high Guanapay Peak and provides a view almost over the entire island.

Visible from afar, the fortress Santa Bárbara perches on a bare crater ridge above Teguise.

A real mini “knight’s castle” with massive masonry, drawbridge and small round towers awaits the visitor.

Inside, a pirate museum has been housed here for several years.

 

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The Museo de la Pirateria (Pirate Museum) has an exhibition that deals with an almost existential theme for Teguise and is also good for children.

With cartoon figures, picture stories, dioramas, historical signs and museum relics, the city’s hard times come to life again.

Excerpts from pirate films with six galleys from 1586 under Morato Arráez who conquers the castle and leaves Teguise with 200 prisoners, including the wife and daughter of the city commander Marquis Agustin Herrera y Rojas, for which Arráez finally receives 20,000 ducats for their ransom.

 

For me, Teguise, and most especially the Pirate Museum of Castle Bárbara, struck me as incongruous and felt somehow wrong.

 

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Teguise had made a fortune from the slave trade until it was punished by Africans from whose populations these slaves had come.

The mercantile nature of the town, exhibited on a Christian day that is supposed to be free of commerce and labour, though less barbaric than former times, still resonates in the overpriced restaurants with substandard food and at the overvalued merchandise stalls where the buyer need be aware of deals done deceptively.

 

The Pirate Museum bothers me intensely, for it seems inherently callous to make profit from all the pain and violence committed by these bandits of the sea, celebrated and packaged glamourously for children’s consumption.

Pirates have always been and shall always be bloodthirsty bastards unable and unwilling to earn a honest day’s labour for the bread on the table.

How many hardworking families lost all that they had, including their lives, at the gory bloody hands of murderous, torturing and raping pirates?

And yet we have given pirates a mythical mystique of free men thirsting for liberty outside the confines of society.

We have made legends out of murderers, rapists and thievies and have given them colourful sobriquets like Blackbeard and Calico Jack.

 

Above: Pirate Cemetery, Île Sainte Marie, Madagascar

 

Beginning with Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, piracy has become a celebrated cause since 1724.

 

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Since then we have had Long John Silver of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Captain Hook as Peter Pan‘s aristocratic villain of J.M. Barrie’s play, and the sea stories of Rafael Sabatini.

These have led to films like Captain Blood, The Black Swan, and, of course, the immensely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

 

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Somehow we have brainwashed ourselves with glamourous images of men walking the plank, being marooned, buried treasure, wooden legs and black eye patches, Jolly Roger flags and parrots squawking “pieces of eight, pieces of eight“.

Somehow we have come to warmly embrace and bring to life a seagoing world, befuddled twixt fact and fantasy, favouring felons of murderous, greedy, untrustworthy character, addicted to violence, crime committed casually, consciousness lacking conscience.

Somehow we don’t see unarmed fathers and sons viciously attacked, but instead we see elegant choreographed duels and sword fights, and not the bloody encounters where merciless men hack innocents down with axe and cutlass.

Real pirates bore little resemblance to Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp.

 

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Above: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

 

And women aboard ship were rarer than chocolate truffles at a homeless shelter despite what Hollywood would have you believe with their lovely heroines playing a key role in the outcomes of their films.

 

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Pirates are a frequent topic in fiction and, in their Caribbean incarnation, are associated with certain stereotypical manners of speaking and dress, most of them wholly fictional:

Nearly all our notions of their behavior come from the golden age of fictional piracy, which reached its zenith in 1881 with the appearance of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

 

 

Hugely influential in shaping the popular conception of pirates, Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pirates, published in London in 1724, is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age.

The book gives a mythical status to pirates, with naval historian David Cordingly writing:

It has been said, and there seems no reason to question this, that Captain Johnson created the modern conception of pirates.

Such as a person costumed like the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s lead role in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

 

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Some inventions of pirate culture such as “walking the plank“–in which a bound captive is forced to walk off a board extending over the sea–were popularized by J. M. Barrie’s novel, Peter Pan, where the fictional pirate Captain Hook and his crew helped define the fictional pirate archetype.

 

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English actor Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island also helped define the modern rendition of a pirate, including the stereotypical West Country “pirate accent“.

 

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Other influences include Sinbad the Sailor and the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films have helped rekindle modern interest in piracy and have performed well at the box office.

 

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The video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag also revolves around pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy.

 

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The classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Pirates of Penzance focuses on The Pirate King and his hapless band of pirates.

 

 

Many sports teams use “pirate” or a related term such as “raider” or “buccaneer” as their nickname, based on these popular stereotypes of pirates.

 

Such teams include the Pittsburgh Pirates, who acquired their nickname in 1891 after “pirating” a player from another team.

 

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The Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both in the National Football League, also use pirate-related nicknames.

 

Oakland Raiders logo

Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo

 

In the early 21st century, seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$16 billion per year in 2004), particularly in the waters between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore.

 

Today, pirates armed with automatic weapons, such as assault rifles, and machine guns, grenades and rocket propelled grenades use small motorboats to attack and board ships, a tactic that takes advantage of the small number of crew members on modern cargo vessels and transport ships.

They also use larger vessels, known as “mother ships“, to supply the smaller motorboats.

 

Above: Somalian pirates

 

The international community is facing many challenges in bringing modern pirates to justice, as these attacks often occur in international waters.

Some nations have used their naval forces to protect private ships from pirate attacks and to pursue pirates, and some private vessels use armed security guards, high-pressure water cannons, or sound cannons to repel boarders, and use radar to avoid potential threats.

 

Piracy in the 21st century has taken place in a number of waters around the world, including the Gulf of Guinea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, and Falcon Lake.

 

Due to the crisis in Venezuela, issues of piracy returned to the Caribbean in the 2010s, with the increase of pirates being compared to piracy off the coast of Somalia due to the similar socioeconomic origins.

In 2016, former fishermen became pirates, appearing in the state of Sucre, with attacks happening almost daily and multiple killings occurring.

By 2018 as Venezuelans became more desperate, fears arose that Venezuelan pirates would spread throughout Caribbean waters.

 

Above: Gasoline smugglers, Limon River, Zulia State, Venezuela

 

Piracy on Falcon Lake involves crime at the border between the United States and Mexico on Falcon Lake.

The lake is a 100-kilometre-long (60 mi) reservoir constructed in 1954 and is a known drug smuggling route.

A turf war between rival drug cartels for control of the lake began in March 2010 and has led to a series of armed robberies and shooting incidents.

All of the attacks were credited to the Los Zetas cartel and occurred primarily on the Mexican side of the reservoir but within sight of the Texas coast.

The so-called pirates operate “fleets” of small boats designed to seize fishermen and smuggle drugs.

While the events have been referred to colloquially as piracy, all the waters of Falcon Lake are considered either US or Mexican territorial waters and therefore are not technically piracy under Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

 

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Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community.

By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern.

Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.

In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year.

 

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved over the first decade of the century.

For some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria.

Over time, pirates became more aggressive and better armed.

 

Above: The Gulf of Guinea

 

As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas.

This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces.

 

Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks.

They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks.

The local pirates’ overall aim is to steal oil cargo.

As such, they do not attach much importance to holding crew members and non-oil cargo and vessels for ransom.

 

Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen.

The increasingly violent methods used by these groups is believed to be part of a conscious “business model” adopted by them, in which violence and intimidation plays a major role.

 

By 2010, 45, and, by 2011, 64 incidents were reported to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (UN – IMO).

 

However, many events go unreported.

 

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Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As an example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70%.

The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about $2 billion.

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013 maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Southeast Asia.

 

Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the civil war in Somalia in the early 21st century.

Since 2005, many international organizations have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.

Piracy impeded the delivery of shipments and increased shipping expenses, costing an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).

 

 

According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a veritable industry of profiteers also arose around the piracy.

Insurance companies significantly increased their profits from the pirate attacks as insurance companies hiked rate premiums in response.

 

Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting the piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden and Guardafui Channel.

By September 2012, the heyday of piracy in the Indian Ocean was reportedly over.

 

 

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks had by October 2012 dropped to a six-year low, with only one ship attacked in the third quarter compared to thirty-six during the same period in 2011

 

By December 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence reported that only 9 vessels had been attacked during the year by the pirates, with zero successful hijackings.

 

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Control Risks attributed this 90% decline in pirate activity from the corresponding period in 2012 to the adoption of best management practices by vessel owners and crews, armed private security onboard ships, a significant naval presence and the development of onshore security forces.

 

Pirates in the Strait of Malacca near Indonesia are normally armed with guns, knives, or machetes.

Many reports on attacks could have gone unreported because the companies are scared of the pirates attacking them more often because the company told the authorities.

The pirates in this area also attack ships during the night.

If vessels sound an alarm, the pirates usually leave without confronting the crew.

Pirates in the Singapore Straits attack at night, while ships are underway or anchored.

 

 

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca had by mid-November 2013 reached a world high, surpassing those in the Gulf of Guinea.

 

 

I am all for generating income to feed a family and I realize that Teguise is highly dependent on tourism to feed theirs.

But a community that claims to be Christian should not be making a market day out of a day of rest and religious reflection.

 

I am all for having a museum that portrays reality historically accurate, but I find it objectionable to package criminal barbarity as a fun day out with the kids.

Piracy in all of its horror is not something that should be forgotten, but neither should it be glamorized nor sanitizied as entertainment for children.

 

Perhaps being a tourist is all about ignoring the realities of life, escaping from life.

But nothing is learned from life or travel if all we choose to see is only pleasureable.

 

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Teguise is a beautiful town worth visiting but it has forgotten what value truly is.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of faith.

Heritage is not a commodity to be sold at the expense of truth.

 

When houses of worship are ignored on a day of faith to increase a merchant’s profits….

When violent crime is packaged to sell tickets to children….

Then a community has sold its soul for filthy lucre.

 

I liked the streets of the town and the warm sunshine after the cold and damp of Switzerland, but I longed for real people uninterested in garnering money or attention from visitors.

Real folks content with living life on their own terms rather than that dictated by others.

 

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The aforementioned timple maker Antonio Lemes Hernandez is one.

Don Pillimpo is another.

 

On the access road from Mozaga, diagonally across from the petrol station, there is a house with a garden full of original sculptures, everyday and art objects, children’s toys, teddy bears and dolls.

 

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Pillimpo, who is actually known as José Garcia Martin, is constantly expanding and changing his unusual collection, the children of Teguise bring him their discarded toys, new color paintings enliven the large sculptures, unusual compositions call out for the viewer to notice.

 

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This strange collection of statues frequently stops passers by in their tracks.

Cars pause in the road whilst their passengers stare.

Pedestrians stop to browse the chaotic display of figurines.

The colour of the statues change frequently, shades of grey, green and pale pink.

 

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The house is referred to as the Casa Museo Mara Mao after the statue holding this name up.

The front door is generally open, although it is said the artist is shy about being photographed and doesn’t like people entering his garden.

Rogue dolls’ heads daubed with paint and teddy bears chained to the tree  have been embraced into this artist’s eclectic display.

In his 60’s Don Pillimpo is free to use his quirky imagination for everyone to wonder at.

Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, pass the Pillimpo figurine park every year, but few people know the name of this artist.

 

Speechlessness, astonishment, amusement and helplessness is felt by those who pass by Pillimpos’s garden, as well as rejection, a sad shaking of the head, indifference, even fear.

But if you ask someone about these characters, who makes them, if they have any meaning, why Pillimpo dresses them in new colors over and over again, you only hear shrugs.

Maybe because it is not easy to approach the creator of this chaotic world?

 

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Because the God of this Garden, of these saint sculptures, dolls, teddy bears, plush moose, Santa Clauses and action toy monsters with names like “Cloverfield” or “Zombie Spawn” does not show his world to the audience?

Pillimpo does not want to explain his world.

This world is dominated by larger than life figures of sand and cement, and the iconography reminds all those who grew up in the Christian context of saints that in the midst of society children have become disposable victims.

 

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I never saw a greater balance between order and chaos, kitsch and authenticity.“, wrote a Spanish admirer of Pillimpos art on his blog.

Horrible.  I do not like it.  It’s just too heavy for me.“, an island-renowned German artist described his feelings about Pillimpo’s work.

Another artist looks at Pillimpos’s work from his own perspective of usual order and harmony:

So if my garden should look like this then you can instruct me!

 

So, is this art?

 

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Art is a human cultural product, the result of a creative process.

The artwork is usually at the end of this process, but can also be the process itself.

Admiration, as such, is essential to art, but this does not have to be immediate in time and can only be the result of gaining knowledge.” is one definition of art according to Wikipedia.

 

Perception, imagination and intuition are some of the requirements for the artistic process.

Pillimpo’s creativity and imagination are innate to him, he says.

A gift from God that he believes in, for which he is grateful.

He emphasizes this again and again.

He knows his art is not universally loved.

In their opinion, I disturb the cityscape.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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But they can not easily get rid of the man.

Thank God.

 

The land is his property.

The house in which he lives, and which is also inhabited by his creatures inside him, belongs to him.

He built it with his own hands.

No problem for the skilled bricklayer, who was born over half a century ago in his grandfather’s house near Teguise.

 

A hard time was the time of his youth, he recalls, and speaks of his mother, who gave birth to five more children, three girls and two boys.

Even as a young boy, Pillimpo had a thriving imagination.

Every morning, as he gazed at the sunbeams that filtered through the holes and cracks in the meagerly plastered walls, he was fascinated by the play of light and shadow and the forms his imagination accepted.

Too high reaching dreams for a boy from poverty, on Lanzarote, where at times, water was valuable, food scarce and schooling almost impossible.

Although little José could go to school, it was not fun for him.

When you come into the world, God has already given you all the skills you should have.

He gave me imagination.

 

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Pillimpo leaves the subject quickly behind, almost as fast as the questions – about the meaning of his characters, whether he gives them names, why he always wraps them in new colors and how often he does that, where do the toys come from and why does his art matter – come flying at him.

It’s as if he does not hear these questions right.

He mentions that he gets the toys from local children.

He is happy when they look into his garden as they hold their parents’ hands and proudly point to their old teddy bear.

A special meaning?

Do his characters have names?

Names?  What names ?  No, they have no names.

As for the colours, I change, because I just enjoy it.

I love colors and I love all these things.“, says Pillimpo.

 

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And, with that, the explanation is done for him.

Pillimpo goes into the house.

When he comes back, he has a magazine in his hand.

He leafs a bit until he finds what he’s looking for and then proudly shows an article about himself with many photos of his sculpture park and a poem.

He reads it aloud.

The interviewers are silent.

They go home but their thoughts remain in this other world for a long time.

In Pillimpos’s world.

 

In Pillimpos’s world, toys cast out of children’s rooms find a new home, new appreciation and attention.

A new place where they are admired or pitied.

Here, childlike feelings return to the adult.

No viewer can escape the power of this mixture of chaos and order, kitsch and originality.

 

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Who is this man and why does he do what he does?

It is futile to ask others.

Nobody really knows anything about him.

There are only stories, rumours, now and then a grin.

 

Pillimpo began to scrape drawings in the sand with a stick and form figures out of loam, sand and water.

He often sits for hours, giving free rein to his imagination.

 

Not everyone likes that, but his mother had understood.

She had protected him, even defended his “quirks” from others, and did not laugh when he started to make music and dreamed of becoming an actor.

 

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Pillimpo speaks of his dreams only to those able to exchange views with a true philosopher.

I would like to speak with a great thinker, so maybe I can know if I’m right in my views or if I’m a bit of a fool.“, he says seriously.

 

I cannot help but compare and contrast the Pirate Museum with the garden of Don Pillimpo.

 

The former forms the fantastic from facts best forgotten in the frentic thirst for profits.

The latter at no cost leaves a legacy of nostalgia for the children we once were.

 

The Museum claims to be history but it is not.

The garden makes no claims about being art but it is.

 

Teguise, for me, will never be about El Mercadillo (the name of this Sunday market) or the Castillo Santa Bárbara, despite how both dominate the attention.

Teguise is instead quiet humble pride whispered from a timple workshop and an eclectic sculpture garden.

 

And this is something no pirate could ever take from me.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Canary Islands / DK Eyewitness Canary Islands / Eberhard Fohrer, Lanzarote / http://www.lanzarote37.net / https://lanzaroteinfomration.co.uk

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Canada Slim and the Legacy of Left Boy

Landschlacht, Switzerland (Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera)

Thursday 24 April 2019

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She is susceptible.
He is impossible.
They have their cross to share.
Three of a perfect pair.
He has his contradicting views.
She has her cyclothymic moods.
They make a study in despair.
Three of a perfect pair.

One, one too many
Schizophrenic tendencies
Keeps it complicated
Keeps it aggravated
And full of this hopelessness.
What a perfect mess.

 

It has been said that there are two true tests of a relationship:

  • Assembling IKEA furniture together
  • Travelling together

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Though we are not much good at the former, we are not too bad at the latter.

 

I have previously written about our visit to Gardone Riviera by the Lago di Garda in northern Italy.

 

Panorama of Gardone Riviera

 

I described with much detail the life of Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio and the Il Vittoriale degli Italiani where he spent his last days in this town.

 

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Above: Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863 – 1938)

 

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Above: Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera

 

(Please see Canada Slim and the Shrine of Italian Victories of this blog.)

 

We discovered that there is more in this town of 3,000 than just a Fascist rabblerouser’s monument to ego.

 

Gardone Riviera, Italy, Sunday 6 August 2018

In the sweltering summer heat we discover that the town has two other claims to fame….

 

On 21 June 2000, the English band King Crimson recorded in its auditorium the songs “Three of a Perfect Pair” and “Blastic Rhino” for the album Heavy ConstruKction.

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Above: L’Ampiteatro, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera

 

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King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968.

They have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists.

The band has undergone numerous formations throughout its history, in the course of which 22 musicians have been members.

Since October 2017 it has consisted of Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey and Bill Rieflin.

Fripp is the only consistent member of the group and is considered the band’s leader and driving force.

The band has earned a large cult following.

They were ranked No. 87 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.

Although considered to be a seminal progressive rock band (a genre characterised by extended instrumental sections and complex song structures), they have often distanced themselves from the genre.

As well as influencing several generations of progressive and psychedelic rock bands, they have also been an influence on subsequent alternative metal, hardcore and experimental/noise musicians.

 

Heavy ConstruKction is a live album (3-CD set), incorporating video footage, by the band King Crimson, released by Discipline Global Mobile records in 2000.

The album features recordings from King Crimson’s European tour of May to July 2000, taken from DAT recordings of the front-of-house mixing desk.

King Crimson’s 2000 European tour was conducted to promote the Studio album The Construkction of Light.

 

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The band members at the time of the tour were Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto.

Bill Bruford had previously left the group, and Tony Levin was not included in this particular King Crimson project due to prior commitments.

The third disc features band improvisations from different shows, which are often spliced together in the same track.

The liner notes describe the disc as “a cohesive presentation out of a series of incoherent events“.

Which also accurates describes the band itself.

 

We’re so different from each other that one night someone in the band will play something that the rest of us have never heard before and you just have to listen for a second.
Then you react to his statement, usually in a different way than they would expect.
It’s the improvisation that makes the group amazing for me.
You know, taking chances.
There is no format really in which we fall into.
We discover things while improvising and if they’re really basically good ideas we try and work them in as new numbers, all the while keeping the improvisation thing alive and continually expanding.

(King Crimson violinist David Cross on the band’s approach to improvisation)

 

Above: David Cross

 

Gardone Riviera’s second claim to fame….

 

The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller (2 acres), also known as the Giardino Botanico Arturo Hruska, is a botanical garden located on the grounds of the André Heller Foundation above Lake Garda, in via Roma, Gardone Riviera.

It is open daily in the warmer months.

 

 

The Garden was established c. 1901 by Arturo Hruska (1889 – 1971), who, from 1910-1971, collected many species on the grounds of his villa, organized as a dense forest of bamboo, Japanese ponds, streams, and waterfalls, as well as alpine plants in ravines.

 

 

The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller is a few minutes below the Vittoriale.

Gardone’s heyday was due in part to its mild climate, something which benefits the exotic blooms that fill the Austrian artist’s sculpture garden.

Designed by the Austrian dentist and botanist Arturo Hruska at the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of tropical, subtropical and alpine plants grow here, between streams and wild limestone, is where one meets orchids and a whole bamboo forest.

 

 

Laid out in 1912, the Garden is divided into pocket-sized climate zones, with tiny paths winding from central American plains to African savannah, via swathes of tulips and bamboo.

There are more than 500 species, including cactus, edelweiss, ferns including Osmunda regalis, magnolias, orchids, water lilies and trees.

Within 10,000 square metres there are botanical species from all over the world, from the Alps to the Himalayas, from Mato Grosso to New Zealand, from Japan to Australia, from Canada to Africa.

 

 

Around 1901, Arturo Hruska, originally from Czechoslovakia, graduated in Monaco, dentist to the Czar, the Italian Royal Family, Popes Pius XII and Johannes XXIII, and King Albert of Belgium, naturalist and botanist, moved from Austria to Gardone Riviera.

The moment the beauty and the light of the Lake struck the dentist he was spurred to acquire land on the slopes of Mount Lavino.

Lake Garda with its typical Mediterranean greenery, the brilliant and magnificent peacock-blue of its waters, is numbered along with the most beautiful landscapes of Central Europe.

 

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The garden town of Gardone Riviera extends from the foothills of the Alps down to the Po Valley.

Gardone Riviera is made of two parts: the group of houses by the water and the other located on the slope by the church.

The locals call them Gardone Sopra (Upper Gardone) and Gardone Sotto (Lower Gardone).

Gardone Sotto is the elegant part:

  • The Grand Hotel, immortalized in the literary novel “Untergang eines Herzens“(Beware of Pity) by Stefan Zweig
  • the cocktail bar where Winston Churchill rested after painting

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Above: Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942)

 

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Above: Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

 

  • the park of the Savoy Hotel, that in the early 1900s would offer every night a great ball with an orchestra to the noble guests from Russia, Sweden and other cold lands.

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Gardone Sopra is more rustic, scents of olives and dry grappa, and occasionally, within the tortuous alleys, pious women still carry the Virgin Mary in procession.

 

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Probably their grandfathers worked as errand boys for the devious Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose luxurious residence, extending for nine hectares and located next to Gardone, is a token of magnificent outlandishness, celebrating war victims and cruel sacrifices that were so important for Mussolini but are repugnant to me.

 

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Above: Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

 

Gardone Sotto and Gardone Sopra combine to create a place of magic and sensuality.

 

The Botanical Garden, a collection of Continental stature, where Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia are interwoven.

Edelweiss among orchid meadows, meter tall ferns next to splendid pomegranates.

Creeks and falls, ponds with koi carps, trouts and reflections of flying dragonflies, stone hills next to cacti and ivy towers.

Indian and Moroccan sculptures in harmony with art works from Roy Lichtenstein, Susanne Schmoegner and Keith Haring.

 

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I am among this paradise, that never stops amazing me and filling me with joy, since 1988.

The dentist to the last Tsar, Dr. Arturo Hruska, funded this fortune, which also hosts a Venetian villa, that is now my beautiful home.

When I watch from one of the balconies the majesty of Lake Garda or one of my bamboo woods, it is always difficult for me to believe that this park wanted me as its custodian and ally, and I thank it, as much as I can, with love.

André Heller

 

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With a panoramic view over the Gulf of Salò and the wide, soft hilly landscape of the southern shores of Lago Garda, Gardone Sotto and Gardone Sopra reconcile between themselves a highland landscape covered in woods and dominated by cypresses, palms and evergreen magnolias.

 

The owner of this Garden of Eden since 1988 has been the Viennese artist André Heller.

The playful touches Heller has hidden among the greenery include 30 pieces of contemporary sculpture.

Look out for the jagged red figure by Keith Haring near the entrance, Rudolf Hirt’s Gandi-esque Ioanes, God of Water and Roy Lichtenstein’s polka-dot take on the Pyramids.

 

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The botanical garden acquired by André Heller, to be transformed into a centre for environmental awareness, hosts several works of art either donated or commissioned by the Austrian artist.

From the enigmatic snakes and symbols of day and night welcoming us at the entry gate, the whole environment indicates that this is not a common botanical garden.

The ticket office is decorated by Susanne Smoegner, displaying colours and shapes that connect adult world with memories of childhood, like Ferdinand’s House built and decorated by Edgar Tezak, water plays and distant sounds.

 

Giardini Heller. Heller Garden. Heller Garten. Un paradiso nel paradiso. A paradise in paradise. #hellergarden #giardiniheller #hellergarten #paradise #arte #art #artecontemporanea #contemporaryart #contemporary #garden #gardens #brescia #lombardia #lombardy #italy #Italia #italya

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Several elements connect with multiple traditions and spiritualties: Buddhist and Tibetan symbols, Hindu statues such as the Great Ganesh by Rudolph Hirt, elephant-god of luck and wisdom, protector of education, coexist with symbols of metropolitan culture and modernity.

 

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Monstrous elements recur by the Bridge of Monsters, where the intolerance of contemporary man transfigures into two monstrous heads on pikes that spit at each other.

 

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Then through a Chinese red door, Torii, you reach a purifying and cathartic path, which includes the water play Shishi-Odoshi: a sort of water clock that marks the fleeting time.

 

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Beside a walkway several large bamboo canes invite you to tickle them: striking one against the other they play like a xylophone. 

 

The link with this modern and cosmopolitan humanity is underlined by the works of Keith Haring, metropolitan artist, friend of Heller, founder of the Pop Shop.

His characters walk, hug, dance, like the Red Man next to the tree/umbrella.

Another important work by Haring is the Stele which recalls a cross, but the characters moving on it carry sexual references.

 

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Haring gifted us with his peculiar and precious interpretation of the garden with a drawing that is represented on the tickets.

 

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Other artists employed the tools that Nature and the Garden offer:

Novak built boardwalks, walls and pavements, with the 28 different species of bamboo present in the garden that provide colors and effect that no other material can grant and used a large stone suspended by rope to deviate the water flow.

 

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These interventions blend harmoniously in the surrounding environment like the great wooden Praying Mantis that crops up between tufts of grass: so well hidden that is almost unseen:

Of all arts, seeing is the hardest to learn“.

 

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The union of Art and Nature is fully celebrated within the great figure of the Genius Loci, created by André Heller.

The great anthropomorphic bust with open arms, emerges from the grass and erects himself as protector and spirit guide. 

The structure completely covered by ivy encloses the constant change of nature,

Every day leaves grow and are blown by the wind, but the great blue eyes, the nose and mouth are human interventions, added value that comes from the artist.

 

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Arturo Hruska was a student of his father Josef and was already engaged in his youth with dental alloys and metal prostheses.

He completed his training in Belgium, Ireland, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and the USA.

He received his doctorate in 1906 in Munich and completed his studies in 1913 in Padua.

He was a surgeon and traumatologist, as well as a biologist, anthropologist and essayist.

 

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Hruska dealt with the aetiology and therapy of periodontal disease.

He described it as “a disease that leads to tissue and enzyme changes through environmental influences and mutations” describing it as a characteristic disease of the civilized and consumerist world.

He was also the first to describe the therapy.

 

 

In 1901 he was called to the court in Petersburg.

The Czar allowed him to practice his profession throughout Russia.

 

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Above: Czar Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1918)

 

Hruska, however, preferred to return to Italy.

In 1903 he bought some property in Gardone Riviera and started to transform the abandoned vineyard into a garden with streams, ponds and paths.

Hruska built various small lakes with water from the nearby springs which he created as naturally as possible.

The water kept the Garden damp and cool while the trees protected it from wind and cold.

 

 

On 30 September 1903, Hruska married Dutchwoman Cornelia (Corry) Anna Lelsz (1874 – 1917).

They had four children.

Like all Austrians, the Hruska family suddenly had to leave Italy during the First World War.

They hid their valuables in the caves and under the waterfall in the garden and fled with a boat.

They later settled in Bressanone (Brixen).

The Hruska family received Italian citizenship.

 

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Arthur Hruska continued his medical work in plastic surgery and operated on maxillofacial injuries.

After the end of the First World War, the house and garden in Gardone Riviera were restored.

 

 

Hruska traveled the world, including the Pyrenees, Himalayas, Tenerife and China.

He studied mountain formations, collected plants and crossed Lapland on foot.

He then built an alpinum, a rock massif, to allow the plants to thrive in their natural environment.

His children called the Garden “Elephant Cemetery“.

The Garden is lush and green, shaded by tall exotic trees: conifers, palm trees, camphor trees, banana trees, bamboo grass, ferns, agaves, lilies and shrubs in the landscaped jungle, water plants blooming along the streams and around the ponds.

 

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Franz André Heller is an Austrian artist, author, poet, singer, songwriter and actor.

 

 

Heller was born in Vienna into a wealthy Jewish family of sweets manufacturers, Gustav & Wilhelm Heller.

He visited Café Hawelka almost daily.

It was in this coffeehouse that he met many men of letters including Friedrich Torberg, H. C. Artmann, and occasionally Elias Canetti, as well as Hans Weigel, and Helmut Qualtinger, with whom he later on collaborated and performed.

 

 

Heller took acting classes from Hans Weigel and his cohabitee Elfriede Ott.

Heller has been writing prose, poetry and songs since 1964.

He left school shortly before obtaining the Matura.

He went to a Jesuit boarding school.

From 1965 to 1967, he was a moderately successful actor at various Viennese avant-garde theatres.

In 1967, Heller co-founded Hitradio Ö3, the ORF’s then progressive pop music station, where he was one of the hosts of the daily Musicbox programme.

 

Ö3 logo

 

That same year, he recorded his first LP record with the title Nr1 that was released in 1970.

His second LP Platte was released in 1971, and, subsequently, his first play premiered entitled, King-Kong-King-Mayer-Mayer-Ling at the Vienna Festival in 1972.

As a poet-songwriter, his work spans across a period of more than 15 years selecting diverse topics and writing for a German-speaking audience.

He has worked with not only international names, such as Ástor Piazzolla, Dino Saluzzi and Freddie Hubbard, but also with Austrian artists, such as Toni Stricker, Wolfgang Ambros and Helmut Qualtinger.

Heller’s own poetry has been set to music.

He has also sung texts by other authors.

For instance, “Catherine“, from 1970, was set to one of the first hits of Heller.

The text came from the then still largely unknown Reinhard Mey, and the music from the Austro-Canadian Jack Grunsky.

With Werner Schneyder, he created Viennese German songs that are translated from Jacques Brel, such as “Franz” (after the Brel title “Jef“).

Using intimate memories of traumatic childhood experiences, and insights into his life, as well as his Catholic-Jewish origin, he created songs with the title “Angstlied” (Verwunschen, 1980).

Titles like “Miruna, die Riesin von Göteborg” (Verwunschen, 1980) are, in turn, influenced by the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.

Das Lied vom idealen Park” (Narrenlieder 1985), or, as a duet with Wolfgang Ambros, he also introduced the Bob Dylan cover, “Für immer jung” (Stimmenhören, 1983) are now titles that are part of the Austro-pop cannon.

In 1983, he appeared on Stimmenhören with the song “Erhebet euch Geliebte“, a song at the time of the peace movement in the early 1980s.

Since the early 1980s, he turned increasingly to large public productions, installations and performances, until 1982, where his concert career came to a close.

In 1985, the album, Narrenlieder, was released.

Between 1967 and 1985, he published a total of fourteen LPs, twelve of those were gold records, and earned him seven times platinum.

In 1991, he wrote, looking back on this period:

I started in 1967, to put my poems together using my voice on record and in recitals before millions of people.

This was following the example of Bob Dylan’s first meaningful and self-published poetry.

1982 was certainly the zenith of that career, where I had to stop my concerts. I realized at this point, it was spoiled for me, because at 8pm, I had to act gifted in front of a few thousand listeners, just because they had paid for admission.

(Heller in the liner notes of Kritische Gesamtausgabe, published in 1991)

However, on his 60th birthday, Heller gave a concert in April 2007 at the Viennese Radiokulturhaus, after twenty-five years of absence from the stage in a recital entitled, Konzert für mich (Concert for me).

Between 1968 and 1983, Heller recorded 15 albums as a singer of his own texts, and in part of his own compositions.

He was on the road with 9 international concert tours and was the host and entertainer in 12 evening TV shows.

In 2006, thanks to the initiative of Chris Gelbmann, he released his last album called, Ruf und Echo.

The 3-CD compendium is the first release in the past 20 years, containing new songs, and interpretations of old hits by artists like Brian Eno, Xavier Naidoo, Thomas D, and The Walkabouts.

 

 

Heller was appointed as an Artistic Director of the Artistic and Cultural Programme that ran parallel to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

His company, Artevent, was also responsible for the presentation of the Germany bid for the 2006 FIFA World Cup project.

He designed the final presentation in 2000 for the successful German application, and, in 2003, designed a “Fußball-Globus“, an architectural project consisting of a huge lit-up football globe that toured through Germany standing in public places such as Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Heller invented the motto for the football World Cup, Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden (A time to make friends).

For the World Cup, Heller planned an opening gala in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel would be involved.

On 13 January 2006, it was cancelled by FIFA.

The reason cited was that the turf, which would have been re-installed after the end of the gala, would not be in perfect condition for the first game there.

 

2006 FIFA World Cup.svg

 

Since 2003, Robert Hofferer is his manager and leads the firm Artevent, with headquarters in Vienna.

From 1976 until 1981, Heller played major roles in various international movies.

In the late 1960s, Heller joined as a financier in the film, Moos auf den Steinen (Moss on the Stones), with Erika Pluhar in one of the main roles, for which he claims to have used up his inheritance.

It was not long before he was in front the camera as an actor:

Heller played the leading roles in Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film from Germany, in Fürchte dich nicht, Jakob! by Radu Gabrea, in Doktor Faustus by Franz Seitz, and in Peter Schamoni’s Frühlingssinfonie (Spring Symphony), a supporting role in Maximilian Schell’s 1979 film, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Woods), which is based on Ödön von Horváth’s play.

In 1969, Heller participated in a televised version of Arthur Schnitzler’s tragicomedy, Das weite Land (The Wide Land), directed by Peter Beauvais.

 

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In 1989, he also worked as a stamp artist.

On behalf of the United Nations Postal Administration, he designed a stamp to commemorate UN Vienna’s tenth anniversary.

 

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Heller has received numerous international awards.

He has to date written 14 printed publications, among them are collections of stories Die Ernte der Schlaflosigkeit in Wien, Auf und Davon, Schlamassel, and Als ich ein Hund war, the novel Schattentaucher, and the collection of poems Sitzt ana und glaubt, er is zwa(with Helmut Qualtinger), as well as two picture books Jagmandir – Traum und Wirklichkeit, and Die Zaubergärten des André Heller.

 

21 TV documentaries have been produced about Heller’s projects, productions, and plans.

These were done by the likes of Werner Herzog, H. J. Syberberg, and Elsa Klensch, among others.

Heller was married from 1970 to 1984 to the actress, singer, and author Erika Pluhar.

 

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Above: Erika Pluhar, 2018

 

For some years, he lived in the 1970s with the actress Gertraud Jesserer, and much later, with the actress Andrea Eckert.

 

Above: Andrea Eckert, 2016

 

Heller was romantically involved for short periods in the mid-1980s with Anke Kesselaar, Rudi Carrell′s former wife.

 

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The artist lives in an apartment in the Palais Windisch-Graetz in Vienna’s Innere Stadt quarter that is owned by the Augustinian monastery of Klosterneuburg.

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In 2000, Heller received there German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

 

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Above: Gerhard Schröder, German Chancellor (1988 – 2005)

 

Among Heller’s works is “Blind Spot – Hitler’s Secretary” (2001): a documentary interview presented at the 52nd Berlin Film Show.

 

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Heller also became a famous visionary artist, displaying fantastic ideas, artistic creations, multimedia shows and later realized several shows with active participation from the public, managing to create a world in opposition to the daily rational one based on technology.

In 1987 he opened the avant-garde fun fair “Luna Luna” in Hamburg – a travelling territory of modern art – in 1992 the monumental sculpture “Bambus Man” in Hong Kong.

 

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Heller’s works include art for gardens, Wunderkammern, parades, millions of LPs sold as a singer-songwriter, concerts and conferences across Europe, Asia and North America, large flying and floating sculptures, movies, fireworks and labyrinths, renewal of circuses and variety shows, as well as theatrical plays and shows for the public from Broadway to the Burgtheatre in Vienna, in India and in China, in South America and in Africa, designer of museums among which the Swarovski Crystal World, Meteorit, the art direction of the Germany World Cup in 2006, and the fantastic AFRIKA-AFRIKA circus. 

 

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Heller lives part-time in the Giardino Botanico Hruska in Gardone Riviera.

He currently lives with the former model Albina Schmid in Vienna and travels the world.

 

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Heller has one son, Ferdinand, who goes under the stage name “Left Boy” for his music.

 

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Ferdinand Sarnitz, known by his stage name Left Boy, is an Austrian DJ, singer and producer from Vienna.

Sarnitz was born in Vienna in 1988 to Austrian musician André Heller and Sabina Sarnitz.

He attended the American International School of Vienna and graduated in 2007.

In his free time at school Sarnitz spent most of his time rapping.

At the age of 18, Sarnitz went to New York City to study audio engineering at the Institute of Audio Research for a year.

After living in his hometown Vienna for a short while, he decided to move to Brooklyn to live in a shared apartment with two directors, a producer and a photographer.

In December 2010, Sarnitz released his first mixtape The Second Coming for free download.

In mid-2011, he started making music videos for all of the songs.

Sarnitz often uses samples for his English songs, which haven’t been released for usability, which is why an official sound carrier couldn’t be released.

Even though he hadn’t been signed to a record label, he was able to perform at festivals in 2012, including “Sea of Love” and “HipHop Open“.

Live, he is accompanied by the dance group “Urban Movement“.

Ruan Roets is a big fan, describing the Left Boy sound as “poes goed“.

Sarnitz has a son, Yves-Louis.

He cites Wu-Tang Clan, Oxmo Puccino, De La Soul, Atmosphere, Ugly Duckling, Daft Punk, Édith Piaf, Nina Simone, Oumou Sangaré and Gipsy Kings as his inspirations.

In 2015, he rapped in the official theme tune “Building Bridges” for the Eurovision Song Contest.

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I wonder if Left Boy truly appreciates his father’s garden.

I wonder if anyone truly appreciates what came before to make what is possible today.

 

I think of Austria – Italy relations.

 

Map indicating locations of Austria and Italy

 

Austria (Österreich) has an embassy in Roma (Rome / Rom), a general consulate in Milano (Milan / Mailand) and 10 honorary consulates in Bari, Bologna, Firenze (Florence / Florenz), Genoa, Napoli (Naples), Palermo, Trieste, Torino (Turin), Venezia (Venice / Venedig) and Verona.

 

Above: Austrian Consulate, Milan

 

Italy (Italia) has an embassy in Wien (Vienna), a consulate in Innsbruck (Isprucco) and four honorary consulates in Graz, Klagenfurt (Clanforte), Linz and Salzburg (Salisburgo).

 

Above: Italian Embassy, Vienna

 

Since the Middle Ages, Austria has had a great influence over the Italian states, especially in the north of the country, but as well Italy has also influenced Austrian culture, architecture and cuisine.

 

Above: Antonio Salieri (1750 – 1825), Italian composer who worked mainly in Austria

 

Above: Nicolò Pacassi (1716 – 1790), Austrian architect of Italian descent

 

Many Italian artists and architects, like Santino Solari, Martino Altomonte, Giovanni Zucalli, Vincenzo Scamozzi, worked and contributed to the Baroque in Austria, most notably in Salzburg.

 

After the Congress of Vienna, Austrian control of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, with its key cities of Venice and Milan, created the conditions in which Italian nationalism and Austrian interests clashed in the three Wars of Italian Independence between 1848 and 1866 ultimately leading to Italian victory.

Tensions remained throughout the 1870s as continued Austrian rule over Italian inhabited lands such as in Trentino and Istria, inflamed Italian nationalism which in turn threatened Austrian integrity.

As a result the Austrians built further fortifications along the Italian border.

 

In 1876, the Austrian Archduke Albrecht advocated a preventive war against Italy.

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Above: Archduke Albrecht (1817 – 1895)

 

Despite entering into the Triple Alliance of 1882 (along with Germany), areas of clashing interest remained.

Italy’s improving relations with France, Italian interests in the Balkans, and continuing nationalism amongst Italians within Austria-Hungary concerned leaders in Vienna.

Italy’s adherence to the Triple Alliance in the event of war was doubted and from 1903 plans for a possible war against Rome were again maintained by the Austrian general staff.

Mutual suspicions led to reinforcement of the frontier and speculation in the press about a war between the two countries in the first decade of the 20th century.

 

As late as 1911 Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austrian general staff, was advocating a military strike against Austria’s supposed Italian allies.

 

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Above: Conrad von Hötzendorf (1852 – 1925)

 

During World War I, Italy fought against Austria–Hungary despite their defensive alliance signed some decades earlier.

By World War I’s end, Italy emerged victorious and gained new territories from Austria and border agreements were secured.

 

Today both countries are full members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and of the European Union.

The countries share 430 km of common borders.

 

 

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said on 5 June 2018 that Italy is a strong ally of Austria.

 

And here’s the point….

 

Old enemies can lay down their swords and beat them into ploughshares.

And the result, such as a botanical garden and sculpture park, can be remarkably beautiful.

 

 

This is the legacy bequeathed to Left Boy, bequeathed to those of us who reside in Europe.

 

Certainly individuals and nations have their unique talents and opportunities, but when we sacrifice unity in pursuit of selfish gain that beauty, so difficultly obtained, so delicately fragile, can be lost.

We live in an age where popularism and nationalism has nations in nervous anxiety and dangerous xenophobic paranoia with all those who are different than we are.

 

But Italian baroque in Vienna and Austrian artistry by the shores of Lago di Garda show that, rather than divide nations, differences can enhance them.

 

A world-renowned dentist, a multi-media multi-talented superstar, and a rising musical phenomenon, Hruska, Heller and Left Boy have shown Austrians that one can find purpose outside Austria and have shown Italians that the acceptance within Italy of strangers whose ancestors had once been mortal enemies can make Italy flourish.

Father Heller and son Left Boy have travelled and will continue to travel the world, but they were never kicked out of their Garden of Eden that their fortunes nestled and nurtured in Gardone Riviera.

 

Their Garden is waiting for them, and us, to return to.

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / King Crimson, "Three of a Pair" /Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller, www.hellergarden.com

Canada Slim and the Anachronic Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 October 2018

anachronic: not belonging to the time where one finds oneself

 

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

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

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

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

This post is this anachronic man’s story.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

 

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

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

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

 

(Blogger’s personal note:

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

 

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

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

 

I am reminded of Lewis Carroll….

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

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

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

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Above: Jacob Burkhardt (1818 – 1897)

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Above: Samuel Madden (1686 – 1765)

 

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

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

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

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Above: Bede the Venerable

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

Above: Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens)

 

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

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

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

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

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

The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)

Above: Daphne du Maurier

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then killed himself.

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

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

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

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

Si is successful in going back to 1882….

Time and Again.jpg

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After much struggle, he succeeds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They go to a hotel room and passionately make love.

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

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

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

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

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

BidTimeReturn.jpg

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

 

In 1875, Meyer settled at Kirchberg.

Meyer found his calling only late in life.

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

Being fluently bilingual, Meyer wavered between French and German.

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

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

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

 

His two most famous novels are gripping and provocative.

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

Georg Jenatsch.jpg

Above: Jörg Jenatsch (1596 – 1639)

 

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

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

Above: Dante Aligheri

 

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

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

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

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

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

He identified this psychological complex as the family romance.

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Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

 

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

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

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

INeverPromisedYouARoseGarden.jpg

 

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

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

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

 

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

Imagine such a concept….

1313: A Travel Guide

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

Don’t leave your era without it!“)

 

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

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

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

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

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

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

Above: The TARDIS, BBC Doctor Who

 

Canada Slim and the Magnificent Homeland

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 August 2018

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

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Above: Il Duce Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Salò, Lake Garda, Italy, Sunday 6 August 2017

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

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

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

View of Salò and its bay

Above: Aerial view of Salò

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

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

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

Bernabò e Beatrice Visconti.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comencini’s films tell wonderful stories:

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

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

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

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

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

Saloposter.jpg

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

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

 

But what can the visitor see today?

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

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

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

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

Salò is a seismicity.

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

Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone.

Salò and Mussolini?

The former by earthquake one day?

The latter by gunfire.

 

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

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

 

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

Luigi Barzini Jr.jpg

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

 

Mussolini grew up hating:

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

All the things he was later to defend.

 

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

He picked quarrels for the sake of the fight.

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

When he lost he refused to pay.

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

Many of his companions hated him.

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

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

 

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

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

One day I will make the earth tremble.

He did.

 

Mussolini became a school teacher in 1901.

The following year he fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription.

At that time, the duty of a serious revolutionary.

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

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

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

Above: Young Benito Mussolini

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

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

His gestures had rhythm and vigour.

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

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

They roared their answer.

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

 

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

Above: Benito Mussolini as editor of Avanti!

He was a very successful editor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yet Mussolini managed to attract faithful friends and fanatical followers.

Some of whom clung to him until the end.

 

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

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

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

 

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

Il Duce has resigned.

My life is finished.

Viva Mussolini!

 

Mussolini attracted many women.

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

 

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

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

He was irresolute and afraid.

 

In the summer of 1914, Mussolini denounced warmongers.

He headed one of his violent articles:

Who drives us to war betrays us“.

 

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

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

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

He walked out crying dramatically:

You hate me because you cannot help loving me!”

 

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

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

 

Italy entered World War I on 24 May 1915.

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

standing photo of Mussolini in 1917 as an Italian soldier

Above: Soldier Mussolini, 1917

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Mussolini and the Quadrumviri during the March on Rome in 1922

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

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

Gabriele D'Anunnzio.png

Above: Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863 – 1938)

 

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

 

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

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

Benito Mussolini seated portrait in suit and tie facing left

Above: Mussolini, at start of his dictatorship

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

His powers were limitless.

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

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

He decided the contents of all written material.

He had no opposition.

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

What he didn’t run he controlled indirectly.

 

He was defeated by one man alone.

Himself.

 

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

His grasp of world politics was over-rated.

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

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

He believed his own propaganda.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

He had no aircraft carriers.

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

 

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

They lacked radar which they never suspected existed.

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

 

What had Mussolini really done with his time as dictator?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mussolini was not stupid.

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

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

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

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

It was not to make Italy safe and prsoperous.

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

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

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

He was none of these things.

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

As a showman his success was incredible.

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

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

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

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

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

He is like a god.

Another responded:

Like a god?

No, no, he is a god.

Benito Mussolini saluting crowd

We laugh now when we see him in old newsreels.

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

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

Mussolini deceived the people.

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

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

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

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

He believed his own slogans.

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

He confused appearances for reality.

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

His show was always new and startling.

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

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

 

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

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

He counted on the aid of Hitler in an emergency.

He trusted his own intuition and his luck.

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

Mussolini was not.

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

Italy was ridiculously and tragically unprepared.

What blinded him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything else was efficiently hidden.

 

The technique was so smooth that it even deceived Hitler.

Mussolini and Hitler saluting troops

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

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

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

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

 

Mussolini fell from power on 25 July 1943.

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

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

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

 

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

 

There was no Fascist revolt when the news spread.

No faithful followers rose in arms.

Nobody kept the Fascist oath:

I swear to defend the revolution with my blood.

Nothing happened.

The show was over.

That’s all.

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

 

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

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

They used gliders.

 

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

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

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

As puppet president, Mussolini’s life was dismal.

He knew everything was lost.

He was a failure.

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

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

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

He was interested in only one thing:

How history would see him.

 

He knew the end had come.

 

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

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

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

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

Above: Mussolini (second from left)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Only the ignorant feel bliss here.

 

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

Somewhere in America?

Deep within North Korea?

On an island of the Philippines?

A village in Venezuela?

And as the world burns someone plays the violin….

{{{coat_alt}}}

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

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

Canada Slim and the Breviary of Bartholomew

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 June 2018

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

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

(“A Study in Pink“, Sherlock)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dido - Life for Rent.png

“If my life is for rent….

….I deserve nothing more than I get

Cos nothing I have is truly mine.

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

To travel the world alone and live more simply.

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

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

It´s just a thought, only a thought….

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

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

Well, how can I say I´m alive?”

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

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

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

She was there for a medical conference.

I was there to carry her bags.

Or so it felt at times.

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

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

(Ain´t love grand?)

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

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

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

 

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

(Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens)

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

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

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

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

What has survived was begun by a fool.

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

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

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

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

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

WhiteShipSinking.jpg

Henry never smiled again and Rahere became a priest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In return the Saint said:

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

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

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

St barts the great exterior.jpg

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

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

Building began in March 1123.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Rahere himself used to perform juggling tricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The churchyard now stands where the nave once was.

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

Edward Cooke

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

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

Inside the Cloister Café

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

 

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

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

 

Charity in the churchyard on Good Friday still continues.

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

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

Hot cross buns - fig and pecan.jpg

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

 

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

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

 

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

Four weddings poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Shakespeare in Love 1998 Poster.jpg

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

End of the affair.jpg

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

Amazinggraceposter.jpg

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

Other boleyn girl post.jpg

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

Elizabeth golden poster.jpg

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Smithfield Meat Market tower1.jpg

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

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

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

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

 

Human blood was often spilled in Smithfield as well.

 

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

Wallace Monument 20080505 Stained glass William Wallace.jpg

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

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

Wallace responded to the treason charge:

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

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

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

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

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

Wallace was then beheaded, drawn and quartered.

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

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

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

 

Wat Tyler led the Peasants´ Revolt in 1381.

DeathWatTyler.jpg

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

They assembled to discuss what their next move should be.

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

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

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

If they were discontented, he would placate them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told them:

“I am your King.

You have no other leader but me.”

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

 

Smithfield became a regular venue for public executions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was 25.

So many executions….

 

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

 

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

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

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

It was in hanging that Newgate excelled.

Its gallows dispatched 20 criminals simultaneously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Gradually, treatments based on medical doctrines were introduced.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Above: William Clowes

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

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

Above: John Woodall

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

William Harvey 2.jpg

Above: William Harvey

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

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

His work was a role model for scientific investigation.

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

 

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

Above: Peter Mere Latham

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Health care was transformed in the 19th century.

New specialities arose as medicine became a science.

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

 

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

St. Bart´s was Watson´s alma mater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you dare….

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

 

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

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

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

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

J.M.W. Turner, “Reichenbach Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

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

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

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

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

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

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

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Above: Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

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

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

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

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

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

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

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

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

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

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

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

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

Above: The Floating Piers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

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

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Siviano

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

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

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

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

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

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

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

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

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

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

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

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

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

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

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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I hope not.

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

As good a place as anywhere.

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the 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.

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

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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.

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Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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…..

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Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy