Canada Slim and the Outcast

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 November 2017

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

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

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

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

It´s once again time to write about London.

Maybe this will help….

 

London, England, 23 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the heart of Theatreland.

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

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

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

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

Nearly 30 pounds just to get in the door.

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

Still not as expensive as the Chinawhite.

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

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Here Premier League footballers hobnob with Hollywood actors and supermodels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once seen, this can be believed.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired sculptors, painters and musicians.

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

The sleeve art from the 1974 issue of the album

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

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

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Above: Shaftesbury, National Portrait Gallery, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May I improve hourly! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

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

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

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

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

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

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

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

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

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

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

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

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

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

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

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

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

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

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

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

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

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

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

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

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

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

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

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

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

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

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

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

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

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

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

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

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

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

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

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Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

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

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

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

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

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

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler

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

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Another tube line northeast to Borough tube station.

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

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

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Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

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

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

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

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

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

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

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

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

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Tate Modern

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

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

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Above: The Shard, London

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

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot

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Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

It may be founded on love, trust and a shared sense of purpose, but it runs on cowardice, impatience, ill-advised remarks and low cunning.

But also: apologies, belated expressions of gratitude and frequent appeals for calm.

Every day is a lesson in what I am doing wrong.”

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“Twenty years ago my wife and I embarked on a project so foolhardy, the prsopect of which seemed to us both so weary, stale and flat that even thinking about it made us shudder….

We simply agreed – we’ll get married – with the resigned determination of two people plotting to bury a body in the woods.”

(Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband)

Since autumn of 2016 I have been teaching technical English to a company in two locations: Amriswil in Canton Thurgau (the Canton where I reside) and in Neuhaus in Canton St. Gallen (the Canton where I mostly work) on the border of Canton Zürich.

From Neuhaus it is closer to visit Zürich than it is for me to return back to Landschlacht, so when my schedule as a freelance English teacher finds me with a free afternoon after the company class I take myself down to Zürich.

Zürich possesses many temptations for me: museums, bookshops, the Limmat River, the Lake of Zürich, restaurants and cafés.

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And as well Zürich is where my wife resides from Sunday afternoon to Thursday evening every week.

And somewhere buried deep within our marriage contract in words only my wife can read is a clause that insists that I occasionally be nice and visit the Wife, aka my own personal She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Upon my arrival in Zürich yesterday a bus ride and a train journey later, I still had a few hours to myself with which I had the illusion of freedom to do what I wished before my wife, the doctor, finished work at her hospital.

I foolishly forgot that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays and I had this explained to me politely by a security guard at the Swiss National Museum.

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But like every bibliophile bookworm I never travel without literature for such situations, so with Duncan Smith’s Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Ununsual Objects in hand I once again set out to discover Zürich before meeting the wife who would then set my agenda for me.

All guidebooks to Zürich mention the fact that Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) spent time in the city during the years leading up to the First World War.

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Seven years and eight months (1896 – 1900 / 1909 – 1911 / 1912 – 1914 / 1919), to be precise, at six different addresses (Unionstrasse 4 / Klosbachstrasse 87 / Dolderstrasse 17 / Moussonstrasse 12 / Hofstrasse 116 / Hochstrasse 37).

Albert Einstein’s name is now synonymous with genius and his face has become a 20th century icon.

But what about his wife during this time, the gifted mathematician Mileva Maric (1875 – 1948)?

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Few books mention her name and even fewer mention that she was buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich.

Albert Einstein arrived in Zürich in October 1896 to study at the Federal Polytechnic Institute (Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum) – today the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)(ETH).

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A wall plaque at Unionstrasse 4 marks one of the addresses where Albert lived during this period.

In the same year Mileva attended the same institution and the two soon became close friends.

Born to wealthy parents in Titel (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of Serbia), Mileva was the first and favourite child of an ambitious pesant who had joined the army, married into money and then dedicated himself to making sure his brilliant daughter was able to prevail in the male world of mathematics and physics.

Mileva spent most of her childhood in Novi Sad and attended a variety of ever more demanding schools, at each of which she was at the top of her class, culminating when her father convinced the all-male Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb to let her enroll.

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Above: St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb, Croatia

After graduating there with the top grades in physics and math, Mileva made her way to Zürich, where she became, just before she turned 21, the only woman in Albert’s section of the Polytechnic.

More than three years older than Albert, she was afflicted with a congenital hip dislocation that cause her to limp.

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

One of her female friends in Zürich described her as “very smart and serious, small, delicate, brunette, ugly”.

But she had qualities that Albert, in his romantic scholar years, found attractive: a passion for math and science, a brooding depth and a beguiling soul.

Her deepset eyes had a haunting intensity, her face an enticing touch of melancholy.

Mileva would become, over time, Albert’s muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist and she would create an emotional field more powerful than that of anyone else in Albert’s life.

Mileva would alternately attract and repulse Albert, with a force so strong that a mere scientist, a mere man, like himself would never be able to fathom it.

Mileva and Albert met when they both entered the Polytechnic in October 1896, but their relationship took a while to develop.

They were nothing more than classmates that first academic year, but they did, however, decide to go hiking together in the summer of 1897.

“Frightened by the new feelings she was experiencing” because of Albert, Mileva decided to leave the Polytechnic temporarily and instead audit classes at Heidelberg University.

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Mileva and Albert corresponded, her letters a mix of playfulness and seriousness, of lightheartednes and intensity, of intimacy and detachment.

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

By February 1898, Mileva made up her mind to do so.

By April she was back, in a boarding house a few blocks from him and now they were a couple.

They shared books, intellectual enthusiasms, intimacies and access to each other’s apartments.

Friends were surprised that a sensuous and handsome man such as Albert, who could have almost any woman fall for him, would find himself with a short and plain Serbian who had a limp and exuded an air of melancholy.

But it is easy to see why Albert felt such an affinity for Mileva.

They were kindred spirits who perceived themselves as aloof scholars and outsiders, rebellious toward others’ expectations, intellectuals who sought as lovers someone who would also be a partner, a colleague and collaborator.

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

She would eventually gain the same score in physics as Albert.

In 1900 Albert presented his first published scientific paper to the Annalen der Physik, Europe’s leading physics journal, in which his unified physical law of relativity was already apparent.

In February 1901, Switzerland made Albert a citizen, but his parents insisted that he go with them to Milan and live there if he could not find work in Zürich.

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Both in Zürich and in Milan, Albert was unsuccessful at attaining fulltime employment.

He spent most of 1901 juggling temporary teaching assignments and some tutoring.

Waiting for a decent post to materialise, Albert accepted a temporary post at a technical school in Winterthur for two months, filling in for a teacher on military leave, while Mileva remained in Zürich.

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To make up for his absences, Albert proposed that they have a romantic getaway by Lake Como.

It was early Sunday morning, 5 May 1901, Albert waited for Mileva at the train station in the village of Como, “with open arms and a pounding heart”.

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Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

Back in Zürich preparing to take her exams and hoping to go on to get a doctorate and become a physicist, she decided instead that she wanted Albert’s child – even though he was not yet ready or willing to marry her.

Perhaps as a consequence of her pregnancy or her dissatisfaction that Albert went on summer vacation with his parents and sister in the Alps instead of finding employment after Winterthur as he had promised her, Mileva failed her exams and gave up her dream of being a scientific scholar.

In the fall of 1901, Einstein took on a job as a tutor of a rich English schoolboy at a little private academy in Schaffhausen.

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Mileva was eager to be with Albert, but her pregnancy made it impossible for them to be together in public, so she stayed at a small hotel in a neighbouring village.

Their relationship became strained, as Albert came only infrequently to visit her claiming he did not have the spare money.

Albert was desperately unhappy with his job in Schaffhausen so it was with some relief that his friend Marcel Grossmann told him that a job as a Bern patent office clerk would soon be his.

Albert moved to Bern in late January 1902, while Mileva returned to her parents’ home in Novi Sad to have their baby, a girl they called Lieserl.

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

Though Albert wrote to Mileva asking about Lieserl, his love for the child was mainly abstract.

Albert did not tell his friends or family about his daughter and never once publicly speak of her or even acknowledge she existed.

Albert found a large room in Bern but Mileva would not be sharing it.

They were not married and an aspiring Swiss civil servant could not be seen cohabitating in such a way.

After a few months Mileva moved back to Zürich to wait for Albert to marry her as he had promised.

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

Lieserl was left back in Novi Sad with relatives and friends, so that Albert could maintain both his unencumbered lifestyle and respectability he needed to become a Swiss official.

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

Albert married Mileva at a tiny civil ceremony in Bern’s registry office on 6 January 1903.

Their son Hans Albert Einstein was born on 14 May 1904.

After gaining his doctorate in 1905 while working in the Swiss Patent Office, assessing the worth of electromagnetic devices, Albert wrote four groundbreaking articles: one concerning the photoelectric effect (for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921) and another containing his now famous mass-energy equivalence equation: E=mc squared.

In 1909 Albert and Mileva along with Hans moved back to Zürich, where Albert was made Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Zürich.

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The Einstein family lived on the second floor at Moussonstrasse 12, where in 1910 their second son Eduard “Tete” Einstein was born.

In March 1911 the family relocated to Prague, where Albert became full professor at Charles University.

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Einstein’s fame would lead him to wander around Europe giving speeches and basking in his renown, while Mileva stayed behind in Prague, a city she hated.

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She brooded about not being part of his scientific circles that she had once struggled to join.

She became even more gloomy and depressed than her natural disposition had often led her to before.

So it was in this instability between them that Albert travelled alone to Berlin during the Easter holidays of 1912 and became reacquainted with a cousin, three years older, whom he had known as a child, Elsa.

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Elsa Einstein had been married, divorced and now at age 36 was living with her two daughters in the same apartment buildings as her parents.

Albert was looking for new companionship and thus began secret romantic correspondence between them.

But after returning to Prague from Berlin, Albert began to develop qualms about his affair with his cousin.

What remained between Mileva and Albert was a feeling that living among the middle class German community in Prague had become wearisome, so they decided to return to the one place they thought could restore their relationship: Zürich.

In July 1912 the Einsteins returned once more to Zürich, where Albert took up a professorship at the Polytechnikum.

Life should have been glorious.

They were able to afford a modern six-room apartment with good views.

Hofstrasse 116, Hofburg, Zürich-Hottingen 1936

Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

But Mileva’s depression continued to deepen and and her health to decline.

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

So, when a few months later, Einstein received an offer to work in Berlin and be with Elsa, he was quite receptive.

This time they lived at Hofstrasse 116 where they remained until February 1914, when Albert became professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

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Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

Mileva became involved with Zagreb mathematics professor Vladimir Varicak who challenged Einstein’s theories.

In July Mileva moved out with the two boys into the house of her only friend Clara Haber and her husband the chemist Fritz.

Albert was prepared to take her back if she agreed to a brutal ultimatum of her duties and responsibilites.

He was prepared to live with Mileva again because he didn’t want to lose his children but it was out of the question that they would resume a friendly relationship but he aimed for a businesslike arrangement.

Mileva and the two boys left for Zürich on 29 July 1914.

She filled her time giving private lessons in mathematics, physics and piano playing.

Einstein returned to Zürich once more in January/February 1919 to lecture on his Theory of Relativity, staying at Hochstrasse 37.

That same year Albert divorced Mileva, giving her the proceeds from his Nobel Prize for her and their children’s support.

Mileva invested the money in three properties in Zürich, occupying one of them herself at Huttenstrasse 62, which has been identified by a memorial plaque since 2005.

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Hans Einstein (1904 – 1973) would go on to study engineering at Zürich Polytechnic, get married, become a father to two sons and a daughter with his first wife Frieda, move to the United States becoming a professor of hydraulic engineering at Berkeley, remarry after Frieda’s death, father two more children.

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Above: Hans Einstein’s final resting place, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

Eduard Einstein (1910 – 1965) was smart and artistic.

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Obsessed about Freud, Eduard hoped to be a psychiatrist, but he succumbed to his own schizophrenia and was institutionalised in Switzerland for much of the rest of his life at Zürich University Psychiatric Hospital.

Albert would go on to access even greater fame and award, eventually marrying his cousin Elsa.

And what of Mileva?

By the 1930s, the costs of treating Eduard for schizophrenia had overwhelmed her.

She was forced to sell her two investment properties and to transfer the rights to Huttenstrasse to Albert so as not to lose it.

Although he made regular payments to her Mileva died penniless in 1948.

She is buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich’s Nordheim Cemetery and mostly forgotten.

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It was not until 2009 that a memorial gravestone was erected by the Serbian Diaspora Ministry, just inside the cemetery entrance on Käferholzstrasse.

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I visited the places Mileva had known in reverse order from the cemetery to the first apartment she had shared with Albert.

And I found parallels with my own past…

I too had been left behind by my parents like Lieserl.

My mother lies buried in an unmarked grave, but unlike Mileva there is no society to put a plaque on Fort Lauderdale´s cemetery.

Like Mileva I have married a partner more successful professionally than myself, though unlike Mileva I have no illusions about my ever having the same aptitudes as my wife possesses, nor do I feel jealousy or resentment for her success.

Mileva’s partner required that she uproot her life several times to different locations in Zürich and to other cities like Prague and Berlin.

As my wife´s career is more stable than mine, I have moved with/for her from the Black Forest to the Rhine River border near Basel up to Osnabruck and then to this wee village by the Lake of Constance here in Switzerland.

I, like Mileva, am less attractive and outgoing than my spouse.

I, like Mileva, have my own quiet struggles with depression, but, so far, these bouts seem far less serious than those she suffered.

I came from work at the company in Neuhaus dressed for executive type work.

The temperature in Zürich yesterday was 32°, hot and humid.

Elves could have taken a bath in the pools of sweat gathered under my armpits.

Zürich like Rome is built upon hills so seeing the former abodes of the late Mrs. E demanded energy.

Happily if one gets thirsty in Zürich there is no need to find a café or a supermarket because it is quite acceptable to drink from a public fountain.

One never has to travel far to find a fountain because there are few cities with more fountains than Zürich, again compareable to Rome.

At last count, this city boasts a total of around twelve hundred fountains.

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

With portable Starbucks cup in hand, I drank deeply and often.

Albert, with his great intelligence, achieved great fame and fortune.

Mileva, also possessing great intelligence, gave up fame and fortune for her family.

If Albert was a bad husband and father, history has no record in Mileva’s handwriting.

Her secrets and potential lie buried somewhere beneath the earth of the sprawling necropolis in the metropolis she chose to call home.

Daughter of Serbia, wife of a genius, mother to an abandoned daughter, sons becoming a wandering engineer and an ill schizophrenic, a victim of depression, genetics and passion, Mileva Maric Einstein was many things.

Now she is just a historical footnote lost in the shadows of an uncommunicative cemetery visited by a sweaty Canadian with too much time on his hands.

Mileva had her flaws and made her mistakes, but in the end analysis I am glad I found out about her.

I meet the wife later for a quick bite after her work and before her tango dance lesson and as I watch her speak with drama and passion, and as I consider both are good and bad times I can quietly smile and know that I have met my match, muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say that she has made my past quite interesting.

Being a husband ain’t easy, but it sure isn’t boring.

Sources:

Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich

Wikipedia

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Slave to the Machine / One Flew Over the Internet

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 March 2017

I like Facebook.

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There I said it.

I like the variety of news items that appear, the exchange of ideas, the casual contact with friends and family close or far away, and I find Facebook gives me a forum to share my thoughts.

But a few days ago I began to notice a problem and I wrote about it in Facebook:

“Oh, Father Facebook, forgive me for I have sinned.

It has only been mere moments since I was online posting things that caught my eye and looking up from my phone screen I was embarrassed to realise that a morning went by without my noticing it.

I have become like those I once mocked and ridiculed for their electronic addiction.

I find myself spending too much time reading about life, instead of living life.

A to-do list goes undone.

Walking weather goes unused, literature unread, music unappreciated.

On Monday evening, Switzerland experienced a 4.5 on the Richter scale earthquake and I cannot honestly say whether it was felt here by the Lake of Constance and I was distracted by electronics, or whether there were no tremors this far north of its epicentre.

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And this is just….sad.

So, Father Facebook, we need to re-evaluate our relationship.

I value what I have read and am always intrigued by the new items that keep appearing.

But you are creating bad habits in me by capturing my curiosity.

You show me life while I am neglecting my own.

So, Father Facebook, we need to spend less time with one another.

So, one hour a day, six days a week is my new belated New Year’s resolution.

There is life out beyond the flat screen.

I will report in on what I find.

In the name of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the Ghost in the Machine.

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Above: Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

Amen

Problematic Internet use, also called compulsive Internet use (CIU), Internet overuse, problematic computer use, pathological computer use, problematic Internet use (PIU) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD), all refer to excessive Internet use that interferes with daily life.

Above: The Internet Messenger, Buky Schwartz, Holon, Israel

IAD began as a joke.

Dr. Ivan Goldberg found the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be overly complex and rigid, so as a combination hoax and parody he invented IAD, describing its symptoms: “important social or occupational activities that are given up or reduced because of Internet use”, “fantasies or dreams about the Internet” and “voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers”.

Goldberg felt that to receive medical attention or support for every single human behaviour by giving each one a psychiatric name was ridiculous.

He felt that if every overdose behaviour can be labelled an addiction then this could lead us to have support groups for individuals that consistently cough or are addicted to books.

Goldberg took pathological gambling, as diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as his model for the description of IAD.

To Goldberg’s surprise, IAD receives coverage in the press.

The possible future classification of IAD as a psychological disorder continues to be debated and researched in the psychiatric community.

Online habits, such as reading, playing computer games, or watching very large numbers of Internet videos, are troubling only to the extent that these activities interfere with normal life.

IAD is often divided into subtypes by activity, such as gaming, online social networking, blogging, emailing, Internet pornography, or Internet shopping.

Internet addiction is a subset of the broader category of technology addiction.

Mankind’s widespread obsession with technology goes back to radio in the 1930s and television in the 1960s, but this obsession has exploded in importance during the digital age.

Above: Bakelite radio, Bakelite Museum, Orchard Hill, England

A study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking has suggested that the prevalence of Internet addiction varies considerably among countries and is inversely related to quality of life.

(Cecilia Chang and Li Angel Yee-Lam, “Internet Addiction Prevalence and Quality of Real Life: A Meta-Analysis of 31 Nations Across Seven World Regions”, Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, Issue 17, December 2014)

A conceptual model of IAD has been developed based on primary data collected from addiction researchers, psychologists and health care providers as well as older adolescents themselves.

(Moreno/Jelenchik/Christakis, “Problematic internet use among older adolescents: A conceptual framework”, Computers and Human Behaviour, Issue 29, 2013)

(Kim/Byrne, “Conceptualizing personal web usage in work contexts: A preliminary framework”, Computers and Human Behaviour, Issue 27, June 2011)

These studies have identified seven concepts that make up IAD: psychological risk factors, physical impairment, emotional impairment, social and functional impairment, risky Internet use, impulsive Internet use, and Internet use dependence.

It is not just the amount of time spent on the Internet that puts people at risk, but how the time is spent is also important.

There is a problem if you are unable to maintain a balance or control over your Internet use in relation to everyday life.

It is difficult to detect and diagnose someone with IAD as the Internet is a highly promoted tool.

Addiction to cyber sex, cyber relationships, Internet compulsions, information and research and computer gaming are often considered to be related to IAD, but this variety of rewarding and reinforcing stimuli online might not be addictions to the Internet itself but rather the Internet is the fuel to other addictions.

A 1999 study discovered that over half the people considered to be Internet dependent were new users of the Internet and are therefore more inclined to use the Internet regularly.

Non-dependent users had been using the Internet for more than a year, suggesting that overuse of the Internet could wear off over time.

(Yellowlees/Marks, “Problematic Internet use or Internet addiction?”, Computers in Human Behaviour, Issue 23, March 2005)

What creates in some these compulsive behaviours?

Accessibility: Because of the convenience of the Internet, users now have easy and intermediate access to gambling, gaming and shopping at any time of the day, without the hassles of everyday life, like travelling or queues.

Control: Internet users are in control of their own online activity.  With the use of the latest technology, such as tablet computers and smartphones, users can go to the bathroom or another private place to engage with the Internet, without others knowing about it.

Excitement: Internet users often get an excited feeling of a rush or a buzz when they win an online auction, a video game or online gambling.  This positive feedback can result in addictive behaviour.  Some users use the Internet as a way of gaining this emotion.

The Centre for Online Addiction claims that IAD is a broad term that covers a wide variety of behaviours and impulse control problems, and categorises IAD into five specific subtypes:

Center for Online Addiction

  1. Cybersexual addiction: The compulsive use of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn.  Internet pornography use is increasingly common in Western cultures and the mental health community has witnessed a dramatic rise in problematic Internet pornography use.  At present there is no widely accepted means of defining or assessing problematic Internet pornography use and the notion of Internet pornography addiction is still highly controversial.
  2. Cyber-relationship addiction: Overinvolvement in online relationships. A cyber-relationship addiction has been described as the addiction to social networking in all forms.  Social networking, such as Facebook, and online dating services, along with many other communication platforms create a place to communicate with new people.  Virtual online friends start to gain more communication and importance over time to the person becoming more important than real life family and friends.  Some people are attracted to the silent, less visually stimulating, non-tactile quality of text relationships, especially those who are struggling to contain the overstimulation of past trauma.  Text communication is a paradoxical blend of people being honest and close while simultaneously keeping their distance.  People suffering with social anxiety or who have issues of shame and guilt may be drawn to text relationships because people cannot be seen.  Text enables them to avoid the issue of physical appearance which they find distracting or irrelevant to the relationship.  Without the distraction of in-person cues, they feel they can connect more directly to the mind and soul of the other person. Cyber-relationships can often be more intense than real life relationships, causing addiction to the relationship.  With the ability to create whole new personas, people can often deceive the person they are communicating with.  Everyone is looking for the perfect companion, but the perfect companion online is not always the perfect companion in real life.  Although two people can commit to a cyber-relationship, while offline one of them could possibly not be the person they are claiming to be online.  There are people who deliberately create fake personal profiles online with the intention of tricking an unsuspecting person into falling in love with them.  These people are known as “catfish”. (The term “catfish” is derived from the title of a documentary film released in 2010, in which New York photographer Nev Schulman discovers the woman he had been continuing a cyber-relationship with had not been honest whilst describing herself.)Catfish film.jpg
  3. Net compulsions: Obsessive online gambling, shopping or day-trading. According to David Hodgins, Professor of Psychology at the University of Calgary, online gambling is considered to be as serious as pathological gambling.  The online gambler prefers to separate himself from interruptions and distractions. Online, the problem gambler can indulge in gambling without social influences swaying his decisions.  Online stock trading, like online gambling, gives the participant an addictive rush.  Traders have ownership towards when and how they trade stocks and distribute their money.  There are no second parties, no bosses, no schedules, so the trader feels a sense of empowerment in his own little world outside reality.LogoAbove: Logo of the University of Calgary
  4. Information overload: Compulsive web surfing or database searches
  5. Computer addiction: Obsessive computer game playing.  Video game addiction is a problem around the world.

IAD is usually linked with existing health issues, most commonly depression, and effects the addict socially, psychologically and occupationally.

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Above: Belgian singer Jonathan Vandenbroeck aka Milow, known for his hit single cover, Ayo Technology

Pathological use of the Internet can result in negative life consequences, such as job loss, marriage breakdown, financial debt and academic failure.

70% of Internet users in South Korea are reported to play online games, 18% of these are diagnosed as game addicts.

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Above: The flag of South Korea

The majority of those afflicted with IAD suffer from interpersonal difficulties and stress, while those addicted to online games specifically hope to avoid reality.

A major reason why the Internet is so appealing is the lack of limits and the absence of accountability.

“There were lots of reasons why we pulled the plug on our electronic media…My children don’t use media. They inhabit media…as fish inhabit a pond.  Gracefully and without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.  They don’t remember a time before email, instant messaging or Google.

The letters of "Google" are each purely colored (from left to right) with blue, red, yellow, blue, green, and red.

They download movies and TV shows and when I remind them piracy is a crime, they look at one another and laugh.  These are children who shrug indifferently when they lose their iPods, with all 5,000 tunes plus video clips, feature films and TV shows….

(Who watches TV on a television anymore?)

…”There’s plenty more where that came from.”, their attitude says.

And the most infuriating thing of all?

They’re right.

The digital content that powers their world can never truly be destroyed.

…I had always been an enthusiastic user of information technology, but I was also beginning to have doubts about the power of media to improve our lives – let alone make them “easier”.

I had noticed that the more we seemed to communicate as individuals, the less we seemed to function together as a family.

And on a broader scale, the more facts we have at our fingerprints, the less we seem to know.

The “convenience” of messaging media (email, SMS, IM) consumes ever larger amounts of our time.

As a culture we are practically swimming in entertainment, yet remain more depressed than any people who have ever lived.

We began “The Experiment”, a six-month period during which we stopped using much of our electronic media, such as computers, televisions, game consoles and mobile phones.

Our family’s self-imposed exile from the Information Age changed our lives infinitely for the better.

I watched as my children became more focused, logical thinkers.  I watched as their attention spans increased, allowing them to read for hours at a time.  I watched as they began to hold longer and more complex conversations with adults and among themselves.  I watched as they began to improve their capacity to think beyond the present moment.

They took the opportunity to go out more, to notice food more, to sleep more.”

(Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect)

“And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point…the moment when we realised that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace”… a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm “where we are all connected but no one is in charge.”

After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good…

If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.

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Above: Company logo for Twitter

Yet this realm is where we now spend increasing hours of our day.

Cyberspace is now where we do more of our shopping, more of our dating, more of our friendship making and sustaining, more of our learning, more of our commerce, more of our teaching, more of our communicating, more of our news broadcasting and news seeking and more of our selling of goods, services and ideas.

It’s where both the US President and the leader of ISIS can communicate with equal ease with tens of millions of their respective followers through Twitter – without editors, fact checkers, libel lawyers or other filters.

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Black Standard[1]

Even President Barack Obama was taken aback by the speed at which this tipping point tipped:

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

“I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies.”, Obama told ABC News This Week.

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Alan Cohen, chief commercial officer of the cybersecurity firm Illumio, noted in an interview on siliconAngle.com that the reason this tipping point tipped now was because so many companies, governments, universities, political parties and individuals have concentrated a critical mass of their data in computers.

Illumio - Security That Works Anywhere

Work has to start with every school teaching children digital civics, that the Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.

A Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November 2016 found…

…”a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet

Students had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from.”

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Professor Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the Stanford report, said:

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there.

Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

In an era when more and more of our lives have moved to this digital realm, that is downright scary.”

(Thomas Friedman, “Our lives are digital. Be careful.”, New York Times, 12 January 2017)

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“Many men, women and children spend their days glued to their smartphones and their social media accounts.

No doubt you have seen the following scenarios many times:

  • Young couples out to dinner pull out their smartphones to check messages, emails and social networks before scanning the menu and check their phones repeatedly during the meal.
  • Shoppers and commuters standing in line, people crossing busy streets, even cyclists and drivers, have their eyes on their phones instead of their surroundings.
  • Toddlers in strollers playing with a digital device instead of observing and learning from the world around them.
  • People walking down the street with eyes on their phones, bumping into others, tripping over or crashing into obstacles.

Observations like these have prompted a New York psychotherapist to ask: “What really matters?” in life.

In her enlightening new book, The Power of Off, Nancy Colier observes that:

“We are spending far too much of our time doing things that don’t really matter to us.”

“We have become disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.”

The near universal access to digital technology, starting at ever younger ages, is transforming modern society in ways that can have negative effects on physical and mental health, neurological development and personal relationships, not to mention safety on our roads and sidewalks.

As with so much in life, moderation in our digital world should be the hallmark of a healthy relationship with technology.

Too many of us have become slaves to the devices that were supposed to free us and give us more time to experience life and the people we love.

Ms. Colier, a licensed clinical social worker, said:

“The only difference between digital addiction and other addictions is that this is a socially condoned behaviour.”

While Colier’s book contains a 30-day digital detox program, she offers three steps to help curb one’s digital dependence:

  1. Start by recognising how much digital use is really needed and what is merely a habit of responding, posting and self-distraction.
  2. Make little changes.  Refrain from using your device while eating or spending time with your friends.  Add one thing a day that is done without your phone.
  3. Become very conscious of what is important to you, what really nourishes you and devote more time and attention to it.The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World

Linyi, Shandong Province, China, 17 January 2017

Flag of the People's Republic of China

Above: The flag of the People’s Republic of China

Shandong Province is known for many things.

Map showing the location of Shandong Province

This stumpy peninsula jutting into the Yellow Sea, Shandong has a history that can be traced back to the origins of China itself.

Confucius, China’s great social philosopher, was born here and lived out his days here.

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Above: Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC)

His ideas were championed by the great Confucian philosopher Mencius who also hailed from here.

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Above: Mencius (372 BC – 289 BC)

Other local heroes include Wang Xizhi, China’s most famous calligrapher, and Zhuge Liang, a great military strategist.

Above: Wang Xizhi (265 – 420)

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Above: Zhuge Liang (181 – 234)

Film star Gong Li, who set new benchmarks for Chinese beauty, grew up in this province.

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Shandong has a firm foothold in China’s martial arts history: Wang Lang, the founder of Praying Mantis Fist –  one of the most distinctive of the Chinese boxing arts, emulating the movements of the stick-like insect famed for its ferocity and speed – called Shandong home.

Shandong is home to one of China’s four major schools of cooking.

It is here that the Yellow River, the massive waterway that began in the mud of Tibet and exists as part of the myths that form this mighty land, exits China.

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Above: Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River (Huang He), 2nd longest in Asia, 6th longest in the world

Shandong is one of China’s wealthiest and most populous provinces, with much to attract the tourist.

Southern Chinese claim to have myriad mountains, rivers and geniuses, but Shandong citizens smugly boast they have one mountain (Tai Shan), one river (the Yellow River) and one saint (Confucius) – all that is needed.

Tai Shan is not only the most revered of China’s five holy Taoist peaks, it is the most climbed mountain on Earth.

泰山 南天门.jpg

It is said that if you climb Tai Shan you will live to be 100.

In ancient Chinese tradition, the sun began its westward journey from Tai Shan.

Tai’an is the gateway town to the sacred Tai Shan and the hometown of Jiang Qing, Mao’s 4th wife, ex-actress and the leader of the Gang of Four, on whom all of China’s ills are often blamed.

Above: Jiang Qing (1914 – 1991)

The Dai Temple is in the centre of town.

The Temple is a magnificent structure with yellow tiled roofs, red walls and ancient towering trees.

It is one of the largest and most celebrated temples in China.

100 km south is the dusty rural town of Qufu, the birthplace, residence and final resting place of Confucius – a teacher largely unappreciated in his lifetime.

Apricot Platform in the Confucius Temple

Above: The Apricot Platform, Confucius Temple, Qufu, Shandong Province, China

Qufu is a harmony of carved stone, timber and imperial architecture, of airy courtyards, cypress trees and green grass, of twisted pines and mighty steles, singing birds serenade the seated souls upon quiet benches, unpolluted streets with little traffic, dusty, musty, home to the Confucius Temple, Confucius Mansions, the Confucian Forest…

To the south of the peninsula, the picture perfect town of Qingdao (also called Tsingtao)(Green Island) is called China’s Switzerland, which is surprising as its appearance is more reminiscent of a kind of Bavaria by the sea: cool sea breezes, balmy summer evenings, excellent seafood from dried fish shops, a Lutheran church, a German palace, and beaches of coarse sand covered in seaweed and bordered by concrete huts and stone statues of dolphins.

Clockwise from top left: Qingdao skyline, St. Michael's Cathedral, Qingdao harbour by night, a temple at the base of Mount Lao, and May Fourth Square

Above: Pictures of Qingdao

Jinan, the provincial capital is for most travellers a transit point on the road to other destinations, a city more famous for the celebrities it produced than for any virtues the city itself may possess: the film star Gong Li; Bian Que, the founder of traditional Chinese medicine; Zou Yan, the founder of the Yin and Yang five element school; Zhou Yongnian, the founder of China’s public libraries; and a number of nationally and internationally recognised writers.

Clockwise from top: Jinan's Skyline, Quancheng Square, Daming Lake, Furong Street, and Five Dragon Pool

Above: Pictures of Jinan

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Above: Bian Que (or Qin Yueren)(died 310 BC)

Among these writers is the Song Poet.

Above: Statue of Li Qingzhao (1084 – 1155), Li Qingzhao Memorial, Jinan

Li Qingzhao is famed for her elegant language, strong imagery and her ability to remain unpretentious in her poetry:

Above: Li Qingzhao Memorial, Baotu Spring Garden, Jinan, Shandong Province, China

“Alone in the night, the warm rain and pure wind have just freed the willows from the ice.

As I watch the peach trees, spring rises from my heart and blooms on my cheeks.

My mind is unsteady, as if I were drunk.

I try to write a poem in which my tears will flow together with your tears.

My rouge is stale.

My hairpins are too heavy.

I throw myself across my gold cushions, wrapped in my lonely doubled quilt and crush the phoenixes in my headdress.

Alone, deep in bitter loneliness, without even a good dream, I lie, trimming the lamp in the passing night.”

As I type these words I wonder whether 16-year-old Chen Xin ever read these words of the Song Poet and felt herself identify with this poem, when she was growing up 1,000 km north of Shandong in the sub-Siberian wilderness of Heilongjiang Province, or when she was involuntary a resident of Linyi, or later when she returned to Heilongjiang traumatised from her Linyi experience.

Linyi (“close to the Yi River”) is a city in the south of Shandong Province and though it is not far from Yellow Sea ports and it sits astride the G2 Beijing-Shanghai Expressway, and though it has a history of over 2,400 years and possesses an attractive Confucian temple, Linyi’s claim to fame lies in it being a major centre of human rights abuses in China.

Linyi Confucius Temple

Above: Lin Yi Confucius Temple

Though Linyi has been home to many historical figures, notably Zhuge Liang (former Prime Minister and considered to be the most accomplished strategist of his era akin to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War) and Wang Xizhi (considered to be the greatest master of Chinese calligraphy that ever lived), most modern Chinese might recall the names of Chen Guangcheng (the barefoot lawyer) and Yang Yongxin (the brain waker) and, as a result, feel some compassion for the sad tale of Chen Xin.

Chen Guangcheng is the youngest of five brothers of a peasant family from the village of Dongshigu, Yinan County, Shandong Province.

Chen Guangcheng at the US Embassy in Beijing on 1 May 2012

When Chen was about six months old, he lost his sight due to a fever that destroyed his optic nerves.

His village was poor, with many families living at a subsistence level.

Chen’s father worked as an instructor at a Communist Party school.

When Chen was a child, his father would read literary works aloud to him and helped impart to his son an appreciation of the values of democracy and freedom.

In 1989, at the age of 18, Chen began attending school at the Elementary School for the Blind in Linyi.

In 1991, Chen’s father gave him a copy of The Law Protecting the Disabled, which elaborated on the legal rights and protections in place for disabled people in China.

In 1994, he enrolled at the Qingdao High School for the Blind where he remained until 1998, where he began developing an interest in law and would often ask his brothers to read legal texts to him.

Chen first petitioned authorities in 1996, when he travelled to Beijing to complain about taxes that were incorrectly being levied on his family.

(People with disabilities, such as Chen, are supposed to be exempt from taxation and fees.)

The complaint was successful and Chen began petitioning for other individuals with disabilities.

Chen became an outspoken activist for disability rights within the China Law Society.

His reputation as a disability rights advocate was solidified when he agreed to defend an elderly blind couple whose grandchildren sufered from paralysis.  The family had been paying all of the regular taxes and fees, but Chen believed that, under the law, the family should have received government assistance and exemption from taxation.  When the case went to court, blind citizens from surrounding counties were in attendance as a show of solidarity.  The case was successful and the outcome became well-known.

Chen studied at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine from 1998 to 2001, specializing in acupuncture and massage – the only progrms available to the blind.  He also audited legal courses, gaining a sufficient understanding of the law to allow him to aid his fellow villagers when they sought his assistance.

While studying in Nanjing, Chen learned that a program the leaders of Chen’s home village – implementing a land use plan that gave the authorities control over 60% of the land, which they then rented out at high cost to the villages – was illegal, he petitioned central authorities in Beijing to end the system.

In 2000, Chen returned from his studies in Nanjing to his village of Dongshigu in an effort to confront environmental pollution.

A paper mill constructed in 1988 had been dumping toxic wastewater into the Meng River, destroying crops and harming wildlife, as well as causing skin and digestive problems among villagers living downstream from the mill.

Chen organised villagers in his hometown and 78 other villages to petition against the mill.  The effort was successful and resulted in the suspension of the paper mill.

In addition, Chen contacted the British Embassy in Beijing, informing them of the situation and requesting funding for a well to supply clean water to locals. The British government responded by providing funds towards a deep water well, irrigation systems and water pipelines.

After graduation from Nanjing, Chen returned to his home region and found a job as a masseur in Yinan County Hospital.

Chen met his wife, Yuan Weijing, in 2001, after listening to a radio show.  Yuan had called into the show to discuss her difficulties in landing a job after graduating from the foreign language department of Shandong Chemistry Institute.  Chen, who listened to the program, contacted Yuan and relayed his own story of hardship as a blind man.  Moved by the exchange, Yuan travelled to Chen’s village to meet him.

The couple eloped in 2003.  Yuan, who had been working as an English teacher, left her job in order to assist Chen in his legal work. Their son, Chen Kerui, was born later that year.

In March 2004, more than 300 residents from Chen’s village filed a petition to the village government demanding that they release the village accounts – which hadn’t been made public for 10 years – and address the issue of illegal land requisitions.  When Dongshigu authorities failed to respond and villagers escalated their appeals to the township, county and municipal governments without response, village authorities began to threaten the villagers.

In November 2004, Chen acted on behalf of the villagers.

In 2005, Chen spent several months surveying residents of Shandong Province, collecting accounts of forced, late term abortions and forced sterilization of women who stood in violation of China’s one-child policy.

(In 2005, Chen and Yuan had a second child, a daughter named Chen Kesi, in violation of this one-child policy.)

Though Chinese central authorities have sought to curb the coercive enforcement of the one-child policy since 1990 by replacing measures such as forced abortions and sterilisations with a system of financial incentives and fines, Chen found that coercive practices remained widespread, documenting numerous cases of abuse.

Chen’s survey, based in Linyi, found an estimated 130,000 residents in the city had been forced into “study sessions” for refusing abortions or violating the one-child policy, imprisoned for days or weeks and beaten.

The case garnered international media attention.

The local authorities in Linyi retailiated against Chen, placing him under house arrest and embarking on a campaign to undermine his reputation, portraying him as working for “foreign anti-China forces”.  The authorities threatened to levy criminal charges against Chen for providing state secrets or intelligence to foreign organisations.

Xinhua, the news agency of the Chinese government, stated that on 5 February 2006, Chen instigated others to damage and smash cars belonging to the Shuanghou Police Station and the Linyi government as well as attack local government officials.

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Time reported that witnesses disputed the government’s version of events and Chen’s lawyers argued that he couldn’t have committed the crimes as he was already on house arrest and under constant surveillance by the police.

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On the eve of Chen’s 18 August 2006 trial, all three of his lawyers were detained by Yinan police.

Neither Chen’s lawyers nor his wife were allowed in the courtroom for the trial.

Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic”.

Frank Ching, Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) columnist criticised the verdict:

“Even assuming Chen did damage doors and windows, as well as cars, and interrupt traffic for three hours, it is difficult to argue that a four-year prison sentence is somehow proportionate to the offence.”

Amnesty International declared Chen to be a prisoner of conscience, “jailed solely for his peaceful activities in defence of human rights.”

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Above: The logo of Amnesty International

After his release in 2010, Chen was placed under house arrest against Chinese law and was closely monitored by security forces.  Legally, he was proclaimed by the government to be a free man, but in reality the local government offered no explanation for the hundreds of unidentified agents monitoring his house and preventing visitors or escape.

Chen and Yuan attempted to communicate with the outside world via video tape and letters, describing beatings they were subjected to, seizure of documents and communication devices, cutting off of electric power to their residence, placing metal sheets over their windows, harassing Chen’s daughter by banning her from attending school and confiscating her toys, harassing Chen’s mother while she was working in the fields…

In 2011, the New York Times reported that a number of Chen’s supporters and admirers had attempted to penetrate the security monitoring Chen’s home, but were unsuccessful and subsequently pummeled, beaten and robbed by security forces.  US Congressman Chris Smith attempted to visit Chen but was denied permission.  Actor Christian Bale (Batman Begins) attempted to visit Chen along with a CNN crew, but was punched, shoved and denied access by Chinese security guards.  Video footage showed Bale and the CNN crew having stones thrown at them and being pursued in their minivan for more than 40 minutes.

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Above: Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey

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Above: Actor Christian Bale

On 22 April 2012, Chen escaped from house arrest.  Under cover of darkness and with the help of his wife, Chen climbed over the wall around his house, breaking his foot in the process.

When he came upon the Meng River, Chen found it to be guarded, but he crossed anyway and was not stopped.  He fell more than 200 times during his escape, but reached a pre-determined rendezvous point where He Peirong, an English teacher and activist, was waiting for him.  Human rights activists then escorted him to Beijing.

Chen was given refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing.  On 4 May, Chen made clear his desire to leave China for the United States.  On 19 May, Chen, Yuan and their two children, having been granted US visas, departed Beijing for Newark, New Jersey.

Following his arrival in the US, the Chen family settled in a housing complex of New York University, in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

On 16 October 2013, Chen made his first public appearance, delivering a lecture at Princeton University.

Chen reminded the audience that even small actions undertaken in defense of human rights can have a large impact, because…

“Every person has infinite strength. Every action has an important impact.  We must believe in the value of our own actions.”

Chen’s memoir, The Barefoot Lawyer, was published in 2015.

In February 2016, a young girl, Chen Xin, was forcibly taken away from her home in northern Heilongijang Province by two strange men in a car and driven to Linyi.

At the Internet Addiction Treatment Center, a boot camp at Linyi Mental Hospital, more than 6,000 Internet addicts – most of them teenagers – not only have their web access taken away, they are also treated with electro-shock therapy.

The boot camp is run by the “brain-waker” Yang Yongxin.

Yang, born in Linyi, graduated from Yishui Medical School, with a degree in Clinical Medicine in 1982.  After graduation, Yang was aasigned by the state to the Linyi Mental Hospital, where he specialises in treating schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Yang started to investigate Internet addiction in 1999, when his teenage son began to show “addictive behaviour”.  He began practicing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in 2006.

Initially the Chinese media viewed Yang’s work with great enthusiasm, publishing a book called Fighting the Internet Demon and producing a documentary film of the same name.

Yang was awarded as one of 2007’s Top Ten Outstanding Citizens of Shandong Province “for protecting the minors of Shandong”.

Yang caused widespread controversy in China when China’s most viewed TV channel, state-run CCTV, aired a special coverage of Yang’s treatment centre in July 2008.  The program, Fighting the Internet Demon Who Turned Our Geniuses into Beasts, reported positively on Yang’s ECT and sharply criticised the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, Irvine, California), then popular in China, blaming the game for many teenagers’ Internet addiction.  The program caused an uproar in China’s World of Warcraft community, spreading to most of China’s Internet community.  Yang’s critics revealed Yang’s controversial practices…

WoW Box Art1.jpg

Yang claimed that patients with Internet addiction suffered from cognitive and personality disorders and he promoted electroconvulsive therapy as a means to remedy such disorders.

Yang’s patients ranged from 12 to 30 years old, most of whom were abducted by their parents or by “the Special Operation”, a branch of the treatment centre that would reward more senior patients to abduct new patients.  The parents (even those of adult patients) would then sign a contract with the treatment centre, in which the parents would place the patients into foster care by the treatment centre.

Qu Xinjiu, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing said that the belief that parents have supreme jurisdiction over their children, and that even police officers have no right to intervene in family affairs, is widespread in China.

“That’s why there are so many parents sending their kids for electroshock therapy, even when outsiders think it’s wrong to do so.”, Professor Qu said.

After they were admitted, Yang’s patients were placed into a prisonlike environment, where they were forced to give away all online accounts and passwords.  Yang managed his patients in a military style, where he encouraged the patients to act as informants and threatened resisting patients with ECT, as a means of torture.

In addition to electroconvulsive therapy, Yang used psychotropic drugs without the consent of the patients or their parents, claiming that the drugs were dietary supplements.  The centre also has mandatory sessions with psychiatric counselors, where patients were taught absolute obedience to Yang and forced to call him “Uncle Yang”. He also warned the patients against asking their parents to take them home, another offense punishable by electroconvulsive therapy.

(All of this reminds me of the movie, starring Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest poster.jpg

In 2009 China Youth Daily published the news of a patient who had escaped Yang’s treatment centre.  The escaped patient jumped out from a second floor window at the treatment centre.  Yang’s ECT / psychotropic medication treatment, which Yang dubbed xingnao (brain-waking), triggered cardiac arrhythmia (uneven heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats) in the escaped patient, questioning the safety of Yang`s treatment.

Also the same year, a 15-year-old boy from southern Guangxi Province died after being beaten by staff two days after arriving at a camp treating Internet addiction.

Yang claimed that 96% of the patients treated by his electric therapy had shown improvement.

In 2009, the Chinese Health Ministry issued guidelines against using electroshock therapy for Internet addicts, but despite the Health Ministry’s policy, “punitive practices continue to victimise China’s youth” in Internet detox camps”, said Dr. Bax, assistant professor of sociology at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

In 2014, researchers from universities in Chian, Taiwan and Germany wrote in the journal Asia-Pacific Psychiatry that the highest prevalence of “problematic Internet use” had been observed in Asia.

A series of scandals have erupted in previous years over the treatment of patients at similar camps in China.

In 2014, a 19-year-old woman died at a treatment centre in Henan Province after being given treatment that involved being lifted off the ground and then dropped, the South China Morning Post reported, while another suffered head and neck injuries.  Staff suspected the woman was feigning injury and continued to kick her on the ground, according to a China National Radio report.

Chen Xin’s parents had become concerned about her behaviour after she dropped out of school.  On the suggestion of an aunt, the Chen family decided to send Xin to the camp, which had claimed to have cured 7,000 children of Internet addiction in the past two decades. The camp had become a last resort as they had become exasperated by their child’s habit of playing online games for hours.

Xin escaped the Internet Addiction Centre four months later.

In an online journal Xin complained that the centre’s trainers had beaten patients for no reason and ordered those who did not behave to eat in front of the pit latrine (sewer).

Thepaper.cn said it had received calls from several patients at the camp since they ran Chen’s story.  They complained of being beaten, cursed at and insulted, of being watched even when using the toilet.

One former patient told Thepaper.cn:

“When the toilets clogged up, we were asked to empty the toilets with our hands.  You get beaten up in the toilet and get beaten up again if you dare say no.  You get beaten up if you are found to be in a relationship.”

In a journal post published 25 August 2016, Xin wrote:

“When you mentioned it to your relatives, they all said: ‘Isn’t it all in the past?  We love you.  You should forget all those things.’

I am angry.  People point at my nose and call me unfilial (unloving daughter) and worse than a beast. 

It was them who sent me there.  It was them who cursed me and beat me.  It was them who sabotaged my life and libelled my character, but it was also them who said they loved me.

My friends here, if it were you, what would you do?

I will use their money to practice boxing and martial arts and ambush them later.  I will make them disabled, if not die.”

On 16 September 2016, Xin stabbed her father with a knife after they argued.  He was hospitalised.

She tied her mother to a chair, shot photographs and a video of her mother, demanding money from her aunt to release her so Xin could go to a physics school in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province.

The money was sent the following week, but by then Xin discovered her starving mother was already dying.  She called an ambulance, but it arrived too late.

Xin’s mother died on 23 September 2016.

In January 2017, the Chinese government drafted a law that will crack down on the camps’ worst excesses.

Medical specialists welcomed the law.

“It’s a very important move for protecting young children.”, said Dr. Tao Ran, director of the Internet Addiction Clinic at Beijing Military General Hospital.

Dr. Tao has seen several Chinese teenagers return from Internet addiction boot camps showing signs of lasting psychological trauma:

“They didn’t talk, were afraid to meet people and refused to leave their homes.  They were panicked even to hear the word ‘hospital’ or ‘doctor’.”

The legislation also limits how much time each day that minors can play online games at home or in Internet cafés.  Providers of the games are obliged to take measures to monitor and restrict use.

Many users of Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, were even more critical, saying policing teenage behaviour online is impractical and ill-informed.

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Above: The logo for Sina Weibo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 March 2017

As I read over what I have written I am struck by a memory of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953.

Cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a paper fireman's hat while his left arm is wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. Beside the title and author's name in large text, there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".

The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found.  Bradbury described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.

In Part One of the book, my mind’s eye can still recall Guy Montag, the book’s protagonist, and the other firemen ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman.  She refuses to leave her house and her books, choosing instead to burn herself alive.  Like Montag I am discomfited by the woman’s suicide.

Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty, personally visits Montag to see how he is doing.  Sensing Montag’s concerns, Beatty recounts how books lost their value, how over the course of several decades people embraced new media and sports and a faster pace of life.  Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span.  Books were burned in the name of public happiness.

In Part Two, I recall Montag telling his wife that maybe the books of the past have messages that can save society from its own destruction. But Mildred is only interested in their large screen television.  She invites her friends over to watch TV with her. Montag tries to engage them in meaningful conversation, but they are indifferent to all but the trivial.

And I wonder:

Is this the future?

Above: A visualisation of a portion of the routes on the Internet

Have we become a society that has become addicted to distraction?

A society oblivious to everything, everyone, unconnected, disconnected to flat screens or headphones?

It is easy to condemn the acts of the Chinese state for attempting to gain control over its citizens seduced by technology and mass media, or for using technology or mass media to control its populace, but perhaps, both in the Orient as well as the West, it is the people, us, who are as much culpable as the state.

Perhaps the enemy we seek lies in the reflection cast by our flat screens?

Sources:

Wikipedia / Thomas L. Friedman, “Our lives are digital. Be careful.”, 12 January 2017, New York Times / Mike Ives, “China seeks to curb Internet addiction camps”, 17 January 2017, New York Times / Rough Guides China / Lonely Planet China

 

 

The Name Game

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 16 August 2016

Recent events have made me aware of the importance that humanity gives to names.

A colleague and her husband, both good friends of mine, brought a new soul, a baby boy, into the world at 12:27 pm today.

This past weekend the mother was honoured with a baby shower – a party where her female friends give the mother gifts that they think she will need to help raise her new bundle of joy and baby names were discussed.

The Muslim Macedonian parents have decided to name the wee bundle of joy Dionysus (English spelling) which is their right to do so.

Frankly as much as I love both parents and am certain that their son will charm and delight my heart in the days to come, I cannot deny that this name choice worries me.

Though Macedonia shares a peninsula with Greece (Alexander the Great was Macedonian), where a name like Dionysus is possibly ordinary, my friends are Muslims living in Switzerland, and though I cannot claim to be an expert in Islamic culture nor in the subtle mores of the Swiss, I can’t help wonder how the wee lad’s name will be perceived growing up here.

Above: Flag of the modern Republic of Macedonia

Will he be accepted by those of his faith?

Will he be accepted by those he lives among?

Or perhaps maybe there are secret thoughts underlying this name choice?

I remember the Johnny Cash tune “A Boy named Sue” where Sue learns that his father gave him a girl’s name so the boy would be forced to be tough and would grow up strong.

Could the idea of a name making a person stronger be behind the choice of Dionysus?

Which raises yet another question…

Are we our names?

Do our names define us or are they nothing more than labels to differentiate one human being from another?

I do know that, with rare exception, most names have a history behind them.

Some of us are named after family or friends that shaped our parents’ lives.

In Star Trek we learn that the Captain was named after the fathers of his parents: James Tiberius Kirk.

Star Trek William Shatner.JPG

In Harry Potter books we learn that Harry’s son, Albus Severius Potter, was named after two of Harry’s professors, Albus Dumbledore and Severius Snape.

Above: Hogwarts Castle

A good friend of mine is named after both his mother Eva and his father Ron and thus his name is Evaron.

I myself, when I was in the unique position of deciding what my name would be, as no birth certificate had existed for me before I was 18, chose Joseph Adam Oliver Kerr:

  • Joseph in keeping with Quebec Catholic tradition of naming male children after Jesus’ human father (though with a multitude of Joseph boys running around this name doesn’t often end up on the birth certificate and is never used in daily life)(plus Joe Kerr / Joker does invite trouble, similar to expecting clown fish to be funny!),
  • Joker (Alex Ross).jpg
  • Adam (representing the start of a new generation)(Ironically my wife and I have no children),
  • Oliver (like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist –  at first thought to be orphaned without family),
  • Charles Dickens
  • Above: Charles Dickens in 1867
  • (For more about Charles Dickens, see Goodbye Charles of this blog.)
  • Kerr (my surname, a clan name from Scotland, meaning, among many possible origins, “left-handed”, which I happen to be and which explains why Kerr castles have staircases built for left-handed sword fighting!).

Only later did I realise that I had named myself a damn cur! (a cursed canine)

It could have been worse:

I could have chosen the name Wayne! (as in Wayne Kerr – wanker)

The resulting initials were also preconceived: A for Allard, my foster father’s surname; O for O’Brien, my foster mother’s surname; K for Kerr my biological surname, resulting in AOK, meaning I’m all right in spite of everything!

(For more on this, see Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim as well as Canada Slim behind bars 5a: Arrested Development of this blog.)

Others are named by time and place: where they were and when they were when the baby was born or conceived.

The world is filled with names like April, May, June, August.

An old friend of mine is called Dawn and her daughter is named Aurora.

I have met a Kenyan named Innocent Sunday and others named after their birthplaces.

My nom-de-plume / pen name derives from two events:

During my hitchhiking days I worked on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Tarpon Springs coast of Florida, in an old boat named after JFK’s wartime boat, PT-109.

Above: President John F. Kennedy, 1943, aboard patrol boat PT-109.

As my boss, “the Captain”, could never remember my name, he simply called me “Slim”.

(A tale best left for another day…)

Months later I found myself hitching in Washington State and a trucker suggested that I use a truck stop’s Citizen’s Band radio and pretend that I was a trucker asking other truckers to give the hitchhiker (also me but publicly not) a lift further on down the road.

I needed a “handle” – every trucker gives himself a CB radio name that both identifies himself yet conceals his identity simultaneously (Think of  old 70s movies like Convoy.) and many use their place of residence as part of their handle.

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Above: Movie poster, 1978.

I became “Canada Slim”, thinking of Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in the Paul Newman film The Hustler.

Years later my old friend Iain set me up with my first email account using the name “Canada Slim” after hearing about some of my adventures.

And well, I have grown to like this name.

Dionysus worries me for other reasons…

In Greek mythology Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy.

Above: Dionysus / Bacchus by Caravaggio

Dionysus is a god of epiphany – the god that comes – and the last god to be accepted into Mount Olympus.

He has been portrayed as bearded and robed, holding a staff made of wheat and topped with a pine cone, as well as portrayed as being an androgynous, beardless, sensuous and naked youth returning triumphiantly and disorderly from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilised in a chariot drawn by lions and tigers and accompanied by wild female followers and bearded satyrs with erect penises.

Dionysus is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected.

The Romans called him Bacchus Eleutherios, for as he induces frenzy (bakkheia) this frenzy liberates (Eleutherios – the liberator), through wine, dance and music from self-conscious fear and worry and even frees us from the oppressive restraints of the powerful, including Death itself.

Are we our names?

(Would Donald Trump be as successful as he is had his ancestors upon moving to America not changed their name from Drumph?)

Trump at lectern before backdrop with elements of logo "TRUMP DonaldJTrump.com"

Will baby Dionysus grow up chaotic and dangerous?

We give such power to names, legally and symbolically.

I remember Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, whose refusal to conform became his defining characteristic to the point that he changed his name to a symbol no one could pronounce. (The Independent, 20 April 2016)

Prince logo.svg

I have discussed within this blog how places name themselves after pre-existing places in other lands.

(See Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim, Shakespeare in the original Klingon, and Glarus: Every person a genius of this blog.)

And there have been people who conceal their identity behind other names for various artistic reasons: George Orwell – Eric Blair; Mark Twain – Samuel Clemens; Robert Galbraith – J.K. Rowling; Sting – Gordan Sumner; O. Henry – William Sydney Porter; Banksy…

To name just a few…

(See Best Kept Secret of this blog for more about Banksy.)

Names brand our reality and shape our perceptions.

I recall reading about how Yosemite National Park in the US has lost the right to use its own name:

Above: El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

“Yosemite” became the subject of a multimillion dollar contract dispute between the US government and the Delaware North Corporation of Buffalo, New York, who claims to have trademarked the name of the Park and many of its best-known attractions.

Park officials were forced to rename many of the Park’s landmarks and have stopped selling many souvenir items in their gift shops to stave off the threat of further legal action.

Workers have changed road signs and have covered plaques featuring the original names.

Park visitors and staff have been appalled that the dispute went so far.

A gift shop assistant compared this dispute to three-year-old children fighting.

Jack Whitcher, a retired doctor visiting the Park from San Francisco, told the New York Times that it was “disgusting that a private company can trademark a name that belongs to the land and to the people.

There’s one word for this: greed.“(The Times, 25 March 2010)

The name “Yosemite” (meaning “killer” in Miwok, one of the original native tribes) originally referred to the name of a renegade tribe which was driven out of the area (and possibly annihilated) by the Mariposa Battalion (a California state militia unit formed to combat the native tribes in 1851). (Wikipedia)

Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan once declared that “the name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers”.

Numerous parents in Europe and in America pay large amounts of money to mitigate this damage.

Naming consultancy services, offering to guide nervous parents through the delicate business of ascribing a label to their newborn infants, have sprung up in Europe and America.

“My job is to handpick names that match a family’s priorities.  For example, they desire an American name that families overseas can pronounce easily.”(Sherri Susanne, owner-operator of NYC company, My Name for Life)

(A problem I can relate to:

I recall visiting a Quebec hospital where I was summoned so oddly that I hesitated to respond.

“Mister” is “Monsieur” in French and abbreviated with “M.”

Kerr, traditionally pronounced “K-rrr”, gave the hospital nurse pause.

So in her head, M. Adam Kerr became “Madame Coo”!)

Albert Mehrabian, UCLA psychology Professor Emeritus, has attempted to quantify the effect of a name in surveys.

mehrab's picture

“We asked respondents to imagine that they were meeting someone for the first time.” (The Times, 23 April 2016)

Soon the world will be introduced to baby Dionysus, but I am confident that his character will not be defined by his name, but instead with the loving support of his family, his name will be defined by his character.

Dionysus – the boy that will come – the boy that has arrived to grace the world.

I can hardly wait to meet him.

 

 

Interplanetary communication

Events of recent days have made me think about women and how men, including myself from time to time, have difficulty knowing how to peacefully and harmoniously co-exist with that strange and mysterious phenomenon known as Woman.

My good friend Sumit and his wife Varsha are the proud and happy parents of their first child, a boy.

And as I share from a distance their joy at this marvelous miracle of life, I also consider the tumultuous road ahead of them and the awesome responsibilities inherant with raising a child.

There will be wonderous storehouses of love they will discover inside themselves as they protect such a fragile being so totally dependent upon others for everything.

There will be constant worry over this child, for as long as a parent draws breath, regardless of the maturity and development of this child into adulthood.

There will be moments of pain and frustration as the child develops into an independent thinking-and-feeling being.

It is frustrating knowing that you as a parent can’t always be there to prevent moments when the child will stumble and fall, learning how to live independently and to relate to others.

My wife and I, through circumstances beyond our control, are not blessed with a child in our lives.

My mind sometimes goes down the path of “What if?” and I wonder what we might have been like as parents.

I want to believe that we would have been good parents, but history shows us that good parenting is no guarantee that our offspring will develop into the happy and healthy humans we hope they will be.

If I had become a father of a girl I would worry about how difficult this world is for women:

China has 44 million missing women.

As boy babies are preferred, if the foetus is shown to be female some parents will seek an abortion.

Many baby girls are killed in the first few days or weeks of their life.

If the girl survives babyhood, her birth might never be registered – leading to a life where education, healthcare and even adequate food may be denied her.

More than 12,000 women are killed each year in Russia as a result of domestic violence.

7,000,000 American women suffer from an eating disorder.

2,000,000 girls and women are subjected to female genital mutiliation each year.

Some 120,000 women and girls are trafficked into western Europe every year.

As 2 out of every 3 marriages end in divorce, there are many many single parent women raising their children on their own while working to maintain some sort of a safe and stable environment for them.

Worldwide, many women still labour alongside men but receive lower salaries and fewer chances for advancement as compared to their male counterparts.

Women frequently feel “hunted” as their sexuality can make them targets for unwanted male attention that can range from simple creepiness to actual physical danger.

Yet despite all of this, women never cease to amaze me at their strength of character and dimension of emotional preseverance.

I hope that I would be a good role model for a girl when she searches for her potential life partner.

If I had become the father of a boy I would worry about how to teach him to find inner strength and the ability to express his emotions in a healthy and non-threatening way.

How men and women act and react, feel and express themselves is often so vastly different that over the past few decades books with titles like: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus; Why Women Talk and Men Walk; Why Women Can’t Read Maps and Why Men Can’t Ask for Directions, etc have cropped up in many a Western bookstore.

But by nature of many men coping with their problems solitarily, these books tend to be read more by women than men as many men consider this type of literature as “unmanly”.

So often men have grown up to believe that their masculinity is defined by their might and their sexual prowess and so often fail to realise that, on a planet shared by both genders, behaviour that works in a male environment won’t always succeed in a female environment.

Men so often, we react from our gut (or what hangs below it) rather than our heads (above the shoulders) that in our pursuit of an attractive, personable and intelligent mate we drive away these objects of desire and find ourselves alone and frustrated with ourselves.

Children, in their drive to become self-actualised independent beings, often ignore the lessons their elders try to impart to them and often have to touch the stove to understand why they shouldn’t.

I would hope that had I been blessed with a son that I could teach him the importance and value of thought when seeking the lady of his desire, that “winning her hand” takes more than expression from the heart but as well thoughtfulness from the head.

If only men, in their mad rush to fill the void in their lives through physical and emotional contact with women, would stop and simply consider what it would be like to be on the receiving end of their advances, perhaps then they might begin to understand why women may be wary of them.

Last evening during my shift at Starbucks the lady baristas, chatting away with one another as lady baristas do, surprised me with the comment that they thought I, your humble blogger, was the “last gentleman”.

How does one respond to such a comment?

Perhaps being both the oldest as well as the largest staff member might make them regard me as some sort of an old-fashioned father figure.

I don’t know, for what mind of a man can truly fathom the mind of a woman?

I do know that dealing with members of the opposite gender requires hesitation and thought on my part as it is amazingly easy to be misunderstood.

It is a highwire balancing act between both recognizing and respecting that they are a different gender yet simultaneously pretending that their gender is not a factor when interacting with them.

Finding that middle ground between being strength and support if needed and allowing them the independence to choose to use or reject that strength and support because it might not be needed or desired is a quiet mental playing ground I cautiously move about, occasionally successful.

Take the art of complimenting.

A woman does not need me to compliment her, but on occasion women do acknowledge enjoying compliments, but a compliment needs thoughtfulness or it comes across as a creepy manifestation of a man’s over-obvious desire for physical interaction.

So, for example, if a woman wears something that makes her appear attractive, a simple “I like that dress.” followed by a smile and no further comment is far more welcome to a woman then creepy commentary on her sexiness in the dress unless she is already in an intimate relationship with you.

I guess it boils down to respect.

She is a human being, not a conquest or a piece of flesh.

She is imagination, creativity, passion, compassion, strength, intelligence and beauty both in form and spirit.

If I had ever had a son I hope I could teach him that to win the heart, body and soul of a woman as a companion to his days and nights he needs to be worthy of that woman.

Though he might never quite be able to match all those standards, the thoughtfulness and awareness of how important it is to try and be the best man and companion he can be will go a long way to ensuring that he is a man worthy of a woman’s love and respect.

Alex Supertramp and Canada Slim

“What´s in a name? That which we call a rose
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”
(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

“Each thing is the same with itself and different from another.”
(Plato, Theaetetus)

“Like the pine trees linin’ the windin’ road
I’ve got a name. I’ve got a name.
Like the singin’ bird and the croakin’ toad
I’ve got a name. I’ve got a name.

And I carry it with me like my daddy did,
But I’m livin’ the dream that he kept hid.

Movin’ me down the highway
Rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by…
(Jim Croce, “I’ve got a name”)

“There’s nothing to writing.
All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
(US sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (1905-1982))

As the very few who know me well can attest, I can modestly say I have lived the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”.

I have travelled many a mile on thumb and foot, lived in a few places and have had my own share of adventures, some similar in nature to more famous folk than myself, some very unique to my own particular person.

In the rare telling of my tales, some people have said to me that I should commit these memories to print so that others might be both entertained and possibly enlightened.

The problem has been that much of what I have experienced has been felt on an extremely deep and personal level making it difficult to form such feelings into words suitable for others to read.

Both the encounters of Day One of my Four Points walk, as well as Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, have inspired me to finally put to paper (and blog) some of the background to these Chronicles and perhaps give you, the reader, some insight as to who your humble writer is.

Krakauer´s bestseller tells the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a young man from a well-to-do family, who hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley.

He gave away $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burnt all the cash and identification in his wallet and invented a new life for himself.

(Into the Wild was later produced by Sean Penn into a movie.)

It is a truly understated but powerful moment when McCandless destroys all documents in his possession showing his existence.

He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp.

There were moments on Tuesday, Day One aforementioned, that made me think of McCandless and my own personal history.

Bargen is the northernmost municipality in Switzerland.

It is a farming village and last stop for cheap gas before Germany.

It is farmland and forest, a few buildings and roads, and a river called the Durach, which begins west of the hamlet and flows down to meet the Rhine at Schaffhausen.

On every second mailbox in town one finds a sticker proudly proclaiming participation in an event where four towns named Bargen came together.

(My own search has revealed a Bargen in Bern Canton, in Germany´s Baden and one in faroff Sweden.)

Why not choose a name more original for your town?

I remember during my walking days in Canada I gave an interview to the Stratford Beacon Herald wondering aloud why so many North American towns named themselves after European places rather than use the native names instead.

I have seen both Stratford, Ontario, and Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and despite both having Shakespearean festivals, the towns couldn´t be more different in character.

As much as it is good to respect your ancestral heritage I think a celebration of what makes you individual and unique is far more important.

But I guess for the 300 souls that choose to live in Bargen this name game is not at all a matter of concern.

Identity and its reality don´t seem to worry the folks of Bargen.

Consider the inn Am Krone in the heart of the hamlet.

Bargen could not be more physically or psychologically removed from the sea, yet Am Krone is most definitively a nautical spot.

Anchors, ships´ models, photos of huge oceangoing vessels and sporty sailors, nets, knots, even the wheelhouse of some great ship, boldly proclaim a love of the sea like Bargen is some displaced Davy Jones´ locker or a marooned landlocked island much like the Swiss character itself.

Am Krone is not some sailor´s watering hole, but it chooses to brand itself accordingly.

I walked out of Bargen, 605 metres above sealevel, and climbed hills steeply upwards along the Via Gottardo. A warm day, but not unpleasant, good cool breeze, ideal hiking conditions. I walked happily with a bottle of Brauerei Falken’s (Falcon brewery out of Schaffhausen) Adam und Eva Apfelbier(apple beer), bought in Bargen, in my backpack.

Signage began to appear for the Merishausen Naturlehrpfad (nature learning path) telling those who cared to read about different types of grass, how many hectares of hay it takes to feed your average cow, etc. Even the sheep chewing contentedly at one of the signs seemed impressed!

I descended into Merishausen, population 850, a town rather than a hamlet, but like Bargen, a farming community surrounded by forested hills.

Its only claim to fame, as far as I can tell, is its Pfarrscheune (parish tithe barn) which is listed as a Swiss heritage site of national significance.

Of interest is a lovely fountain with a tiny watermill marking the intersection of Hangstrasse to the Hauptstrasse (main street).

I stumbled across an animated passionate game of local football then followed the pathsigns to the local store/post office.

There I discovered a delicious treat called a bishop´s mitre (Pfaffenhut / Chapeau de cure) a sweet tri-cornered pastry piece of hazelnut heaven.

The Via Gottardo continues to follow Hauptstrasse past three bus stops. The third bus stop (and the one I used to take me back to Schaffhausen) is called “Im Kerr”, named after Kerrstrasse.

(Of course, one of my next projects will be to find out from who or what this street is named.)

Seeing my first name on a beer bottle and my family name on a street sign has made me consider my origins.

When I turned 18 I had a problem…

I wanted to go beyond high school and get myself some higher education, but to do so required something I lacked: a birth certificate.

Of course, I had a name by which I was known in Argenteuil County, a name I hated, for it was a name not only shared by two other boys in my class, but as well the spelling of it was evocative of a character on a TV show which I hated.

(I learned later from my sister that the name had indeed been inspired by the show.)

At the time of my birth my parents gave me a name, but somehow neglected to register it with any government bureaucrat.

And, as any identity thief will tell you, a birth certificate enables a world of other documentation to be possible.

Without one, other documentation like a insurance card or a health card or a passport are impossible – short of paying a Marseilles mafioso type or a Bangkok computer hacker a wheelbarrow full of cash.

To further complicate my life in high school, I was not raised with my biological family,(long story), but instead by a middle aged spinster/homemaker and a retired bachelor, who shared a chaste relationship wherein he allowed her to stay rentfree as long as she did the domestic duties.

(A practice I have learned is not that uncommon in rural areas)

It was not unlike living with a priest and a nun, minus the Catholic vestments!

So, my surname differed from my “father”‘s, as did my “mother”‘s name differ from my own and his.

Try explaining this complex situation when you´re a kid and barely understand it yourself!

To get a birth certificate, I needed to hire a lawyer.

Here was a golden opportunity to name myself whatsoever I deemed fitting.

I thought about sticking with an old Quebec tradition wherein Catholic-raised families registered as a first name all the boys Joseph and all the girls Marie, though these names wouldn´t normally be used off the record.

I thought Joe Kerr was a wee bit too tongue-in-cheek for my liking.

(Or course, Wayne was definitely out of the question as well!)

At that time I did not know my own heritage or roots, so I thought Adam (Aramaic for “red man”) was fitting for someone who was the start of his own generation, Oliver (as in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist)represented the orphan-like status I found myself in, and Kerr (Scottish for “left-handed”) (which by sheer coincidence I happen to be) the only real remnant I had of my unknown past, being my family name.

(There are castles in Scotland called “Kerr Castles” as the staircases are specially built to be defended by left-handed sword fighters.)

(Years later, a Turkish cabdriver in Ottawa would inform me that “Adam” was Turkish for “man”.)

The name was chosen for its initials as well: AOK.

Everything was all right with me(AOK), and A stood for my “father”‘s surname Allard and O for my “mother”‘s surname O’Brien.

(Later adventures would create my “Canada Slim” moniker.)

(Another story for the future…)

Like McCandless, I creat(ed) my own identity, and like McCandless, I found / find myself in adventures of a quite similar nature.

(SPOILER ALERT: minus his fatal final one)

Like McCandless, I possess a strong case of wanderlust and a love of nature.

Like McCandless, I search(ed) for my own sense of self and identity.

If life has taught me anything…

We are who we choose to be.