Where there´s a way, there´s Wil

Wil, Switzerland: 2 February 2016

historic center of Wil

A small walk on a nice day?  Why not?

Climb some hills, ascend a tower, a leisurely stroll.

So while North Americans anxiously worried about whether their local groundhogs would see shadows, I decided to face my own shadows.

Prior to this day, the city of Wil represented only one thing: defeat.

I had worked for a private school in this town and found that the school and I had different philosophies in regards to teaching English.

I wanted the students to make an effort.

The school cared more about the students´ feelings than whether they actually learned.

I left under a cloud.

Many years ago, back in Quebec City, back in the 80s, a girl I was dating at the time had complained to me that walking along the Dufferin Terrace always reminded her of the unpleasantness of her last boyfriend.

I responded that the best way to deal with an old bad memory was to replace it with a new good moment.

I like to think my thinking worked then.

I decided to try similar thinking in regards to Wil.

Trains to St. Gallen and Wil, city bus to Bronschhofen.

The Old Schoolhouse, Bronschhofen

The pilgrimage church of Maria Dreibrunnen (Mary of the Three Fountains)

A bedroom community of Wil, Bronschhofen is known as a centre for electronics with Cicor Technologies / Swisstronics, a major manufacturer of memory cores for computers.

Up, up through streets and vineyards.

Up and onward through forest and fields to arrive at Wiler Tower:

On a clear day it seems that you can see half the world from the top platform.

The tower is an open structure, rising on six slanted columns from three equi-distant ground support points.

A circular stairway (189 steps) rises in the center of the columns, opening onto a roofed observation deck.

Although the structure rises some 34 meters above the ground, the deck is barely above the surrounding trees.

The structure is entirely of wood, all obtained from the surrounding forest.

The columns are Douglas fir and the stairway is of silver fir.

The wood was harvested in the early months of 2005 and allowed to dry naturally for a year before construction began.

The view from Wiler Tower looking south

I linger forever, trying to postpone returning to Wil, but eventually I know I must face the place.

I did not know that there was much I did not know about Wil, much that I had not seen.

Wil is more than its train station and pedestrian shopping street.

Rising above Wil Pond, the Hof, the former seat of power of the Prince-Abbott:

The old town of Wil and its pond

Datei:Stadtweier Wil SG.jpg

Inside the old city quarter of Wil

As I dig more into the stories and personalities that make up Wil, I begin to discover similarities with my own fall from grace:

Wil is said to be the “Güllen” of Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt´s tragicomic play, The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame) where an enormously wealthy older woman returns to her former hometown with a dreadful bargain:

The Visit (1964 film).jpg

She wants the townspeople to kill the man who got her pregnant then jilted her.

In exchange, she will provide enough money to revitalise the decrepit town.

The townspeople eventually agree.

Or consider the case of Anna Sutter:

Anna Sutter (26 November 1871 – 29 June 1910) was a Swiss operatic soprano.

Born in Wil, she earned a diploma in piano performance from the Bern Conservatory before studying singing in Munich.

She made her debut at the Volkstheater in Munich in 1892.

From 1892 to 1895, she was committed to the Stadttheater von Augsburg.

From 1895 until her death 15 years later she was a member of the Staatsoper Stuttgart.

Her career was cut short when she was murdered by conductor Aloys Obrist.

Prior to her death, she had broken off a romantic relationship with Obrist and become involved with the bass baritone Albin Swoboda Jr., who was just 17 years old at the time.

On 29 June 1910, Obrist broke into Sutter’s apartment, murdered her and committed suicide in the presence of Swoboda who was unable to stop him.

Unusual for an unmarried woman at that time she gave birth to a daughter in 1900 (from Hans Freiherr von Entress-Fürsteneck) and to a son in 1902 (from Hugo Reichenberger).

During her career she also performed as a guest artist at the Bavarian State Opera, the Berlin State Opera, and the Frankfurt Opera among others.

Her repertoire included Sieglinde in Richard Wagner´s The Ring Cycle and the title role in Richard Strauss´ Salome (an icon of dangerous female seductiveness, notably in regard to the erotic Dance of the Seven Veils).

Or ponder upon Alex Zülle:

Alex ZUELLE.jpg

During the 1990s he was one of the best cyclists in the world, winning back-to-back races in the 1996 and 1997 Vuelta a Espana, taking second place in the 1995 and the 1999 Tour de France.

He was world time-trial champion in Lugano in 1996.

In 1998, Zülle joined Festina.

The team was banned from the 1998 Tour de France amid doping allegations, which later became known as the Festina Affair.

Five Festina riders including Zülle admitted taking EPO. (erythropoietin: a performance-enhancing hormone)

Zülle said he took it to satisfy his sponsors.

On 28 November 1998, Zülle’s haemotocrit was found to be 52.3%, 2.3% over the limit.

Zülle retired in 2004 and held a party for his fans in Wil in October that year.

To be fair not all those who have shared in the life of Wil have become fallen heroes.

Wil has produced film makers and football players, TV show hosts and speed skaters, musicians and politicians, writers and monks.

Wandering along the waters of Wiler Pond or strolling the streets of the old quarter I begin to realize that it is not the place that creates the person but rather the people that create a place.

I take some comfort in this.

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The future: Older dog, newer tricks

Winterthur, Switzerland: 26 January 2016

Wirbeltiere aus aller Welt

Generally speaking I am not a fan of natural museums, for they often seem to me to be: well, unnatural.

“On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail, you’ll be sure to see
All Mother Nature’s favourite pets, all sitting rigidly.
They’re never hungry any more, their last meal left them stuffed.
Don’t worry, they won’t walk away if you try and pet their fluff.

And the dog goes…(silence)
And the cow goes…(silence)
And the bear goes…(silence)
And the pig goes…(silence)
And the crow goes caw! I guess it was alive.
You can see all this
On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail.

Arrogant Worms, “Mounted Animal Nature Trail”

Completely Canadian Compilation

To be fair, I will visit them along with whatever museums happen to be around a new place, but, more often than not, I find myself leaving depressed and disappointed rather than glad I stopped by.

I have visited natural museums in Ottawa, Freiburg im Briesgau, Zürich, Winterthur, etc., hoping against hope that these monoliths to nature will captivate me more than they do.

And there are brief moments when they do.

Ottawa impresses with the sheer size and age of its buildings.

CanadianMuseumofNature2010-05-19.JPG

Freiburg celebrates spring every year with live baby chicks and bunnies for the child in all of us to feel delight in.

The Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich has an impressive corner 3D mural inside its halls.

Adam Kerr's photo.

Winterthur?

Adam Kerr's photo.

The rats are as big as bears…

Adam Kerr's photo.

You can almost feel the motion of the sea as you travel the oceans in search of natural wonders.

And in a quiet and powerful way one is reminded of two powerful ideas:

  1. In comparison to the actual age of the planet, man´s presence is barely registerable.
  2. And this too shall pass.  Who knows what/who will replace man in the millennia to come?

What would some future archaeologist make of our civilisation?

“I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
You can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.”

Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

In my typical fashion of overthinking, the fossilised Coca Cola bottle got me pondering…

How will I be remembered when I´m gone?

“I look around me,
But all I seem to see,
Is people going nowhere,
Expecting sympathy

It’s like we’re going through the motions,
Of a scripted destiny
Tell me where’s our inspiration,
If life won´t wait,
I guess it’s up to me.

Procrastination, running circles in my head
While you sit there contemplating,
You wound up left for dead (left for dead)
Life is what happens, while you’re busy making your excuses
Another day, another casualty
And that won’t happen to me.

Because every wasted day becomes a wasted chance
You’re gonna wake up feeling sorry,
Because life won’t wait,
I guess it’s up to you.

We’ll leave the past in the past,
Gonna find the future
If misery loves company well,
So long, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.

Simple Plan, “When I´m Gone”

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 29 January 2016

As the first month of this New Year draws to a close, I consider my own legacy.

Last year I wrote of some plans and ideas I had for this blog:

To those brave souls who have faithfully followed this blog since its genesis on 18 May 2015, and have loyally read all posts that came before, you will have noticed that I have tended to write in three directions:

– Opinion about world events and current affairs
– History (why things are and how they got that way)
– Personal thoughts about events and encounters in my daily life

For the Chronicles of Canada Slim, I will continue to do so, hoping that former readers as well as new followers will get the same pleasure and thoughtfulness in reading them as I put into writing them.

Look for my newest blogs soon:

The Forest of Shadows: “Sometimes evil doesn’t die” (My novel released in serial form)(Feedback and criticism most welcome)

The Anglo Guide to Switzerland: “Life, work and play in the Land of the Edelweiss” (Complimentary, not competitive with others’ existing blogs)

Making It Work: “English for Employment” (mit deutsch Wortschatz)(Perhaps later “avec vocabulaire francais”)”

(See Old Dog, New Tricks of this blog.)

What has happened since?

Well, as my wife would often complain…

I lack discipline and focus, but, hey, a man can begin to change, eh?

I have decided that the Anglo Guide and Making It Work are not really what motivates me, so I have, for now, abandoned these ideas, or at least these ideas will become a part of the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

As for the Forest of Shadows

Thanks to the wonderful couple, Natalie and Ricardo Utsumi who set up this blog for me, I now have a second blog, a blog I want to regularly contribute to as much as I have to this one.

Building Everest: The Writing of Canada Slim will be restricted to novels and short stories, including The Forest of Shadows, I am writing and one day hope to see published.

Check out https://buildingeverest.wordpress.com, starting tomorrow!

In the sheer grand scale of the future unwritten and the universe to come, my words will probably be forgotten.

But one can dream, eh?

Viennese, Down Under

Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: 25 January 2016

There is an 11-hour time zone difference between Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, and Canberra, the capital of Australia.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

So while I was discovering the secrets of this land of the Walser in southern Liechtenstein, Australians were already starting up their barbies for cut lunch and snag while drinking stubbies of beer to commemorate the national celebration of Australia Day.

So it is rather fitting that I discover an Australian connection to a former resident of this Liechtenstein municipality.

Cheviot Beach.png

Cheviot Beach, a beach near Point Nepean in the state of Victoria, Australia.

It was named after the SS Cheviot, an English coal and passenger steamer, which broke up and sank nearby with the loss of 35 lives on 20 October 1887.

(Wikipedia)

On clear days the lookout at the top of Cheviot Hill offers the full panorama of Port Phillip Bay.

The 2.7 kilometre gap between Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale is an awesome sight.

The Rip, as it is known, is one of the most perilous passages to a harbour in the world.

Half the entrance is unnavigable due to underwater reefs and when the tide rises in Bass Strait it cannot cope with the volume of water surging forward.

When the flood tide is rushing into the heads, the sea level in the Strait is more than a metre higher than in the Bay and vice versa when the tide is going out.

Cheviot Bay is well suited to snorkeling.

Its cliffs have receded over thousands of years, leaving a shelf of limestone rock where the Cheviot came to grief.

If you were allowed on Cheviot Beach, you could wade out to a point where the water suddenly becomes very deep.

Looking down, you can tell it by the churning waves.

The public has been locked out of Point Nepean since the quarantine station was established there in 1852.

Access became even more restricted when a series of defence fortifications were built there in the 1880s, then expanded and upgraded for the First and Second World Wars.

It is still not possible for the general public to go down to Cheviot Beach, even though Point Nepean became a national park in 1988.

Access is difficult as the lower part of the only path has collapsed.

In addition the seas are considered too dangerous.

The only way to see the beach is to do the Cheviot Hill Discovery Walk, one of four self-guided walks at Point Nepean.

The path is sealed but is steep in places with a few steps near the top.

It passes through tough tea-tree scrub punctuated with signs warning walkers to stay on the track and not to climb the gun emplacement structures dating from World War II.

This area was used for target practice for many years and still contains unexploded shells.

Interpretation boards along the way explain the vegetation and the Aboriginal and military history associated with the peninsula.

After about 20 minutes, the path emerges from the scrub to a clearing on the top of Cheviot Hill.

Directly below, at the bottom of a sheer cliff, is the long golden stretch of sand and the pounding waves of the beach.

(http://parkweb.vic.gov.au)

“Australia is a difficult country to keep track of.

On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight from London reading a history of Australian politics in the 20th century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt was strolling along the beach, plunged into the surf and vanished.

No trace of the poor man was ever seen again.

This seemed doubly astonishing to me – first that Australia could just lose a Prime Minister and second that news of this had never reached me.”

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

To be fair to Bill, Australia is not unique for having people go amiss.

The list of famous people whose whereabouts remain a mystery is a distinguished one.

Among the many who have vanished without a trace are: the rebel slave Spartacus, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s son Caesarion, Roman Emperor Valens, Owain Glyndwr (last Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales), Giovanni Caboto (in English, John Cabot, the Italian discoverer of Canada), the Roanoke colonists of Virginia, John Franklin´s expedition looking for the Northwest Passage, Solomon Northup (US author of Twelve Years a Slave), Joshua Slocum (first man to sail alone around the world), Ambrose Bierce (US author of The Devil´s Dictionary), Roald Amundsen (first man to reach the South Pole), Amelia Earhart (first woman to try a circumnavigational flight around the world), Glenn Miller (popular US jazz musician and bandleader), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (French author of The Little Prince), D.B. Cooper (US bank robber), Jimmy Hoffa (US trade union leader)…

And these are just some famous folks.

Of course, still fresh and unforgotten, we all still recall the disappearance on 8 March 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with 227 passengers and 12 crew who still remain unaccounted for.

“It was at Cheviot Beach that Harold Holt went for the Swim That Needs No Towel.

On the day Prime Minister Harold Holt waded into the surf, the weather was windy but fine.

HaroldHoltPortrait1953.JPG

Above: Harold Edward Holt, 5 August 1908 – 17 December 1967, 17th Prime Minister of Australia

Things were not going very well for him as Prime Minister – his skills lay more in kissing babies and making the ladies tingle (he was evidently a bit of a hottie) than in running affairs of state – and we may safely assume that he was glad to be out of Canberra for the long Christmas break.

Holt and his wife, Zara, built a beach house at Portsea in 1957.

For Holt, swimming and snorkelling were a wonderful antidote to the pressures of high office.

Holt came to Cheviot Beach because he had a weekend home at nearby Portsea and the army let him stroll on its grounds for the sake of his privacy.”

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

Holt had taken up snorkelling in 1954 and loved it.

“As soon as I put my head under water, I was hooked,” he said.”

(http://parkweb.vic.gov.au)

So there were no lifeguards, no members of the public or even security guards in attendance when, on 17 December 1967, Holt went for a breezy stroll with some friends among the rocks and pounding waves just below.

Also on the beach was Holt’s lover of the time, Marjorie Gillespie.

Although the sea was lively and the tide dangerously high…

Although Holt had almost drowned there six months earlier while snorkelling with some chums…

Holt decided to go for a swim.

Before anyone could react Holt had whipped off his shirt and plunged into the surf.

He swam straight out from the Beach a couple of hundred feet and almost instantly vanished, without fuss or commotion or even a languorous wave.

Fearing the worst, his friends raised the alert.

Within a short time, the beach and the water off shore were being searched by a large contingent of police, Royal Australian Navy divers, Royal Australian Air Force helicopters, Army personnel from nearby Point Nepean and local volunteers.

This quickly escalated into one of the largest search operations in Australian history, but no trace of Holt could be found.

Enter Hans Hass.

Hans Hass.jpg

Hans Hass (23 January 1919 – 16 June 2013) was an Austrian biologist and diving pioneer.

Born in Vienna, Hass was known for being the first scientist to popularise coral reefs, stingrays and sharks.

He pioneered the making of documentaries filmed underwater.

He led the development of the aqualung and a type of re-breather.

He was known, too, for his energon theory (the idea that the behaviours of all life-forms — human, nonhuman animal and plant — have common origins) and his commitment to protecting the environment.

Hass was a remarkable person.

Hass developed the first robot cameras, the first underwater colour photographs and film, the process of research diving, patented radio signal fishing, an underwater watch, swim fins, underwater habitation, a submersible, as well as a decompression computer.

Hass produced four movies, 70 TV films, 105 commercial films and more than 25 books.

He received medals and honours galore, including an Oscar for his extraordinary underwater photography in the movie Xarifa Expedition (1959).

A cone snail, found in the Philippines, was named after him (Protoconus hanshassi) (2012).

Hass acknowledged a rivalry with the better-known French scientist Jacques Cousteau.

According to the New York Times obituary, Hass told historian Tim Ecott that:

“For Cousteau there exists only Cousteau.

He never acknowledged others or corrected the impression that he wasn’t the first in diving or underwater photography.”

Hass lived in Triesenberg from 1960 to 2006, which is a rather odd choice of living location for a man in love with the sea.

1987.08.25.li.Triesenberg.jpg

Following the disappearance of the Australian Prime Minister, Hass explored the area where Holt had disappeared.

In an interview with Harry Martin for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s current affairs programme A.M., Hass said that having observed the underwater conditions of the area with its sharp and jagged rocks he was convinced that Holt had been trapped in the structure of one of these rocks and his body considerably torn by the nature of the forces of the sea and the sharp rocks.

“I got chatting with the park ranger:

“The thing you´ve got to remember is that the only thing unusual about the Harold Holt drowning was that he was Prime Minister when it happened.

If it hadn´t been for that the whole thing would have been completely forgotten.

Mind you, it´s pretty well forgotten anyway…

Most people barely remember it.

A lot of people under 30 have never even heard of it…

They built a memorial to him in Melbourne.

Know what it was?

A municipal swimming pool.””

Melbourne’s Harold Holt Swim Centre

(Bill Bryson, Down Under)

Holt was 59 years old and had been Prime Minister for not quite two years.

A memorial to Holt has been attached to the limestone reef beneath the waters of Cheviot Bay, not far from the remains of the ship he loved to explore.

The last 48 years have seen a succession of conspiracy theories unveiled to explain Holt´s disappearance.

  • He was abducted and taken on board a Chinese submarine.
  • Holt was a spy who defected to the Chinese, swimming out to the submarine that took him away.
  • The CIA bumped Holt off for planning to withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam.
  • Holt swam out to meet a speedboat, which promptly took him to Europe to be with a French lover.
  • Shark attack
  • He was abducted by aliens / mermaids / the KGB.
  • He was lured away to join the circus.

(Adam Ward, Everything You Didn´t Need to Know About Australia)

Hass left Triesenberg and moved back to Vienna, where he died on 16 June 2013.

Maybe Hass´ international exposure and his visit to Australia might be the reason why Vienna souvenir shops sell postcards and T-shirts with the words:

No Kangaroos in Austria T-Shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old dog, new tricks

I have, of recent days, acquired two new gurus: Blogging 101, a site that is helping me “grow” my blog to its ultimate potential, and Patrick Castaglia, my co-worker Nathalie’s brother who earns his “bread and butter” bringing buyers and sellers, people and products, ideas and innovation together.

Both have been invaluable.

Both have suggested that I need to have a clearer message as to whom I am, to whom my writing is for and most importantly show the reader why they should spend their valuable time bothering to read what I write.

My wife, aka my own personal She Who Must Be Obeyed, often complains that she is dragging me kicking and screaming into the 11th century, as in:

I stubbornly remain a millennium behind everyone else!

She despairs that an old dog can ever learn new tricks.

She is partially justified in this thinking.

I am, after all, only a man!

I am, after all, half a century old.

But she forgets that she married into the Clan Kerr.

Our motto: Sero Sed Serio. (Late but in earnest!)

So, gentle patient readers, expect some changes in the wind.

As of this day, Monday 13 July 2015, one blog becomes four.

As you may have already noticed I have changed the tagline of THIS blog from “Boldly writing what was not written before!” to “Thoughts and observations about life and love in Switzerland and everywhere, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

I think this tagline is, although perhaps still a wee bit vague, an improvement on the former one.

To those brave souls who have faithfully followed this blog since its genesis on 18 May 2015, and have loyally read all 73 posts that came before, you will have noticed that I have tended to write in three directions:

– Opinion about world events and current affairs
– History (why things are and how they got that way)
– Personal thoughts about events and encounters in my daily life

For the Chronicles of Canada Slim, I will continue to do so, hoping that former readers as well as new followers will get the same pleasure and thoughtfulness in reading them as I put into writing them.

Look for my newest blogs soon:

The Forest of Shadows: “Sometimes evil doesn’t die” (My novel released in serial form)(Feedback and criticism most welcome)

The Anglo Guide to Switzerland: “Life, work and play in the Land of the Edelweiss” (Complimentary, not competitive with others’ existing blogs)

Making It Work: “English for Employment” (mit deutsch Wortschatz)(Perhaps later “avec vocabulaire francais”)

As soon as I figure out how…

Expect my mentioning them at the end of each post.

Let the games begin.

Death and despair defeated

The past month has been good for me in that it has awakened long dormant feelings and ambitions that I am only now starting to act upon.

Part of this has, of course, been connected with my domestic situation at home, which, after the mother of all discussions and arguments, seems, for the first time in a long time, well and truly on the mend.

But, this development had been well over a year in the making, so I began to view life from a complete different perspective than I had done previously.

I began to contemplate a life apart.

Though grievances and secrets are now in the open, there remains inside me a reserve, a resolve, that still wants to explore this idea of more self-sufficiency in my life despite the decision not to change our status quo.

For two reasons…

One, it has been a practice of mine to take the path of least resistance, not to attempt to do new things for fear of conflict or difficulty. I am dissatified with this practice and now want to face my fears by attempting new things and learn by doing.

Two, I want to prove to myself that I am more than just part of a couple, that I can rely on myself, finanically and emotionally, regardless of whether I am in a relationship or not.

So…

I have resolved to devote more time and energy into an activity that I have loved but neglected for far far too long…writing.

At present, I have ideas for magazine writing as well as a great genesis of an idea for a novel!

Of course, I will not stop working at other jobs to keep body and soul intact, and my own meagre contribution to bread and butter to the communal table continuing.

But I do this not for fame or wealth, but as an expression of the need to create and write, regardless of success, though of course recognition and reward for my efforts won´t be rejected!

Rather than despairing about lack of accomplishment in the past or fearing rejection in the future, I simply want to write in the moment and just see what happens…

I have been recently inspired by a project I am developing involving walking and social reform.

I want to explore the world, starting with Switzerland, on foot and examine the places I see and the people I meet from the duality of what makes them special and what could be improved, what makes a community beautiful and how it deals with issues like poverty, unemployment, equality, etc.

The starting point of this project is a nature preserve at the northernmost tip of Switzerland, only 1 1/2 hours away by bus and train, a place as yet unvisited but whose description has already inspired me.

Imagine there is a place where the secret of eternal life can be found.

What would people do to protect it? To claim it?

If death could be defeated, should it be?

What if a plant held the secrets of longevity but it was a rare plant indeed?

What is the danger of an exclusive group having this secret while others are denied?

Granted these themes are not new, but there are always new ways to rediscover these themes.

These are the seeds germinating in my mind for a novel.

I want to avoid any comparison with James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (Shangra-la) or Biblical references to the Garden of Eden and instead examine the questions of life versus death, reasons nations go to war and individuals fight, and the pros and cons of immortality in a story that only I can tell.

Intrigued?

Good.

I have decided to increase my blog output…my daily dosage of observations as per usual and a Dickensian weekly serialisation of a novel as a work-in-progress.

Today, I will work on a rough plot and characters and will soon announce the arrival of Chapter One. Each blog will be a rough draft of what I hope will eventually find its way upon a bookshelf, so what is read here will not necessarily be the final version later on.

Watch this blog!

Feedback, both positive and negative, is extremely welcome.