Canada Slim and the Writer’s Apartment 1: Learning

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 13 June 2019

In everyone’s life there are marker moments that separate who you were from who you are, as significant to the individual as BC and AD are to the Western calendar.

I have had my share of such moments in my own life.

Some are as obvious as scar tissue from accidents and operations.

Others are so subtle, so intimate, that they are as soft as a lover’s whisper in the night, and are no less important, nay, sometimes are far more important, than moments that clearly marked and marred you in the eyes of others.

Who we were, who we are and who we will become are often determined by what happens where we happen to be.

 

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Certainly there are those who argue that we make our own destiny, that we create our own karma, but it is usually those who have known little hardship who wax poetically upon how they would have acted differently had they been in situations alien to their experience and understanding.

Their songs of self-praise usually play to the tune of “had I been there I would have….“.

“If I had been living in Germany during the Second World War I would have sheltered Jews.”

“If my country suffered a famine I would not remain.”

“If I lived in North Korea I would rise in revolt against the Kim dynasty.”

 

Flag of North Korea

 

Truth be told, we may have the potential to freely make such brave decisions, but in the harsh chill of grim reality whether we would actually possess the needed courage and have the opportunity to successfully act is highly debatable.

If the consequence of helping others might lead to your death and the death of your loved ones, would you really risk everything to shelter those whom your government deems enemies of the state?

Would you be able to abandon your family to famine to save yourself?

Would you really defy your entire country’s military might to speak truth to power and say that what is being done in the name of nationalism is wrong for the nation?

 

Flag of the United States

 

It is easy to condemn the Germans of the National Socialist nightmare, the starving masses in Africa and India, the North Koreans under the Kims, and suggest that they were weak to allow themselves to be dominated by circumstances.

The self-righteous will argue with such platitudes like “Evil can only triumph when the good stay silent.“, but martyrdom’s recklessness is not easily embraced by everyone.

 

Flag of Germany

 

I was born in an age and have lived in places where I have never personally experienced the ravages of war firsthand.

I have known hunger and thirst but have never been hungry or thirsty to the brink of my own demise.

I have been fortunate to live in places where democracy, though imperfectly applied at times, dominated society rather than being sacrificed for security.

As a Canadian born in the 60s, who has never been in a military conflict, it is not easy for me to fully appreciate the difficulties of others that I myself have never experienced.

 

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

 

I count former refugees among my circle of friends, but I cannot claim to fully comprehend what they have endured or what they continue to quietly endure.

I have known those who chose not to be part of a military machine, despite the accusation of treason and disloyalty to their nation this suggests, because they chose not to act in the name of a nation that does not respect a person’s rights to choose not to kill their fellow human beings.

 

 

I love my homeland of Canada but I have never been called to defend her, have never had to choose between patriotism and humanity.

Canada’s leaders I have known may not have been great statesmen, but neither have they been as reprehensible as the leadership of other nations.

Can it be easy to be a true believer in Turkey under a tyrant like Erdogan?

 

Flag of Turkey

 

Can it be easy to be a patriotic American with an amateur like Trump?

Can it be easy to call yourself a native of a nation whose government does things that disgust the conscience and stain the soil?

 

 

I grew up in Québec as an Anglophone Canadian and fortunately I have never been forced to choose between the province and the nation.

 

Flag of Quebec

 

I now live in a nation that certainly isn’t a paradise for everyone within its boundaries, but its nationalism has not tested my resolve nor has it required the surrender of my conscience.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

Oh, what a lucky man I have been!

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

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I have visited places that have reminded me of my good fortune because of their contrast to that good fortune.

I have seen the ruins of the Berlin Wall and the grim reality of Cyprus’s Green Wall.

 

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I have stood inside an underground tunnel between the two nations of South and North Korea, where two soldiers stand back-to-back 100 meters apart, and though they share the same language and the same culture, they are ordered to kill the other should the other speak.

 

Korea DMZ.svg

 

I have seen cemeteries of fallen soldiers and the ravaged ruins that wars past have left behind.

 

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

 

I have seen the settings of holocaust and have witnessed racism firsthand.

I have heard the condemnation of others for the crime of being different.

 

 

How dare they love who they choose!

How dare they believe differently than we!

How dare they look not as we do!

How dare they exist!

 

Some places are scar marks on the conscience, wounds on the world.

Some places whisper the intimate injury of injustice and barely breathe the breeze of silent bravery against insurmountable obstacles.

I have not lived in a nation torn against itself where bully bastards hide their cruelty behind an ideological -ism that is a thinly disguised mask for their sadism.

 

 

What follows is the tale of one man who did, a man who lived in Belgrade, Serbia’s eternal city, and gave the world an image of the place’s perpetuity, the mirage of immortality….

A man’s whose life has made me consider my own….

 

Above: Belgrade

 

Some folk tales have such universal appeal that we forget when and where we heard or read them, and they live on in our minds as memories of our personal experiences.

Such is, for example, the story of a young man who, wandering the Earth in pursuit of happiness, strayed onto a dangerous road, which led into an unknown direction.

To avoid losing his way, the young man marked the trees along the road with his hatchet, to help him find his way home.

That young man is the personification of general, eternal human destiny on one hand, there is a dangerous and uncertain road, and on the other, a great human need to not lose one’s way, to survive and to leave behind a legacy.

The signs we leave behind us might not avoid the fate of everything that is human: transience and oblivion.

Perhaps they will be passed by completely unnoticed?

Perhaps nobody will understand them?

And yet, they are necessary, just as it is natural and necessary for us humans to convey and reveal our thoughts to one another.

Even if those brief and unclear signs fail to spare us all wandering and temptation, they can alleviate them and, at least, be of help by convincing us that we are not alone in anything we experience, nor are we the first and only ones who have ever been in that position.

(Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside)

 

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Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, 5 April 2018

The weather was worsening but my spirits were high.

I was on a mini-vacation, a separate holiday without my spouse, in a nation completely alien to me.

My good friend Nesha had graciously offered me the use of his apartment while he was away on business in Tara National Park, and so I was at liberty to come and go as I pleased without any obligations to anyone else but myself.

 

Flag of Serbia

Above: Flag of Serbia

 

The day had started well.

I had visited Saint Sava Cathedral, the Nikola Tesla Museum and had serendipitiously stumbled upon a second-hand music store that sold Serbian music that my guidebooks had recommended I discover.

 

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

Above: Saint Sava Cathedral

 

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum

 

(For details of these, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Land of Long Life
  • the Holy Field of Sparrows
  • the Visionary
  • the Current War
  • the Man Who Invented the Future)

 

I was happy and so I would remain in the glorious week I spent in Belgrade and Nis.

I was learning so much!

(I still am.)

This journey I was making reminded me once again of just how ignorant I was (and am) of the world beyond my experience.

 

 

Before I began travelling the existence of life outside my senses remained naught more than rumours.

For example, I remember distinctly reading of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but it was far removed from my life until I moved to Germany and later visited Berlin before I began to understand why this had been a significant event, a big deal.

 

 

I partially blame my ignorance on the circumstances of my life in Canada.

Canadian news dominates Canadian media, which isn’t surprising as we are more interested in that which is closest to our experience.

English-language literature remains more accessible in Anglophone parts of Canada than other languages and so that is mostly what we know.

Too few Canadians speak more than their native tongues of either English or French.

Only 10% of Canadians are truly bilingual and not necessarily in the other official Canadian language.

How sad it is that so many North Americans know so little of the outside world unless there is a military conflict or diplomatic gesture in which they are involved.

Send a Canadian soldier or the Canadian Prime Minister to Serbia then a few Canadians might make a curious effort to find Serbia on a world map.

 

A map of Canada showing its 13 provinces and territories

 

Part of the problem and the reason why world peace and true unity eludes humanity is nationalism.

Why care about those who are not us?

If “us” is defined and limited by our national boundaries then how can we include “them” in our vision of fellow human beings?

Only the truly exceptional of that which is foreign grabs our momentary attention.

How can we understand one another if that which has shaped us is unknown by others and that which has shaped them is alien to us?

 

Flag of the United Nations

 

Can a Serbian truly understand a Canadian without knowing of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky, Robert W. Service and Margaret Atwood, Just for Laughs and Stephan Leacock, the Stanley Cup and the CBC, Sergeant Renfrew and Constable Benton Fraser?

 

Statue of Fox running set on a plinth engraved with "Somewhere the hurting must stop..."

 

Can a Canadian truly understand a Serbian without knowing of Novak Djokovic and Nemanja Vidic, the Turija sausage fest and the Novi Sad Exit, the Drina Regatta and the Nisville Jazz Festival, Emir Kusturica and Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac and Ivo Andric?

 

Frontal view of a bespectacled man

Above: Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975)

 

Possibly not.

 

I often think that it would be a good idea for the young to not only read what is / was written in their own tongue but as well to read Nobel Prize winning books translated from other languages.

It might even be a step towards world unity.

In my school years I was exposed to the writing of Nobel Prize winners Kipling, O’Neill, Buck, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Bellow.

I had to travel to discover other Nobel laureates like Pamuk, Jelinek, Saramango, Neruda, Sartre, Camus, Marquez, Solzhenitsyn, Gidé, Mann and Andric by accident.

How much we miss when we stick to only our own!

How can we possibly have world peace when we are so ignorant of the world’s music, art and literature?

 

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.

 

The street that runs beside Belgrade’s New Palace, now the seat of the President of Serbia, is named Andrićev venac (Andrić’s Crescent) in his honour.

It includes a life-sized statue of the writer.

 

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The flat in which Andrić spent his final years has been turned into a museum.

 

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Several of Serbia’s other major cities, such as Novi Sad and Kragujevac, have streets named after Andrić.

Streets in a number of cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Višegrad, also carry his name.

 

 

Andrić remains the only writer from the former Yugoslavia to have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Given his use of the Ekavian dialect, and the fact that most of his novels and short stories were written in Belgrade, his works have become associated almost exclusively with Serbian literature.

 

(I asked my good friend Nesha whether Serbians can communicate with Bosnians and Croatians in a similar language, whether there was a Slavic tongue that unites the three.

He responded that it is all one Serbo-Croatian language with a difference in dialects that changes from region to region and divided by three different accents: Ekavica, Jekavic and Ijekavica

Even though Slovenians and Macedonians speak a little differently, they all understand and speak a Serbian-type speech.)

 

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The Slavonic studies professor Bojan Aleksov characterizes Andrić as one of Serbian literature’s two central pillars, the other being Njegoš.

The plasticity of his narrative,” Moravcevich writes, “the depth of his psychological insight, and the universality of his symbolism remain unsurpassed in all of Serbian literature.

 

 

Though it has been said that the Serbian novel did not begin with Ivo Andric – (that honour lies with Borisav Stankovic (1867 – 1927) who explored the contradictions of man’s spiritual and sensory life in his 1910 work Bad Blood, the first Serbian novel to receive praise in its foreign translations) – it was Andric who took Serbian literature’s oral traditions and epic poetry and developed and perfected its narrative form.

 

Image result for Borislav Stankovic the tainted blood

 

To this day, Andric remains probably the most famous writer from former Yugoslavia.

And, sadly, I had never heard of him prior to this day.

A visit to the Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric (to give its official title) this day helped correct this imbalance….

 

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By a decision of the Belgrade City Assembly, the property of Ivo Andric was heritage-listed and entrusted to the Belgrade City Museum immediately following Andric’s death on 13 March 1975.

It was an act meant to express the city’s deep respect for Andric as a writer and as a person.

In accordance with the practice common all over the world, Belgrade wished to preserve the original appearance of the writer’s apartment, surrounded by the Belgrade Old and New Courts and Pionirski Park, in its picturesque environment, to honour its famous citizen.

The establishment of this Memorial Museum also throws light on a very remarkable period in history encompassing the two world wars, as well as the post-war years, on which Andric left a strong personal and creative impact.

The holdings of Ivo Andric’s legacy chiefly consist of items found and inventoried at his apartment after his death – the underlying idea being to reflect the spirit and atmosphere of privacy and nobility surrounding him.

Andric’s personal library contains 3,373 items, along with archival materials, manuscripts, works of fine and applied arts, diplomas and decorations, 1,070 personal belongings and 803 photographs.

The apartment covers an area of 144 square metres (somewhat larger than my own apartment) and is divided into three units:

  • the authentic interior, encompassing an entrance hall, a drawing room and Andric’s study
  • the exhibition rooms, created by the adaptation of two bedrooms
  • the curators’ and guides offices and the museum storerooms, occupying the former kitchen, the maid’s room, the bathroom and the lobby

It is both an unusual and a subtle combination of ambiguously private and unabasedly public, presenting an overview of Andric’s private life while depicting his vivid diplomatic, national, cultural and educational activities.

Ivo Andric was an unusual man who lived in unusual times, a life captured by a small apartment museum that like Andric himself is deceptively normal in appearance….

 

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The original appearance and the function of the entrance hall have been preserved to a great extent.

The showcase with publications and souvenirs of the Belgrade City Museum is the only sign indicating that a visitor, though in residential premises, is actually in a Museum.

Already at the entrance to the Museum, an open bookshelf populated with thick volumes of Serbo-Croatian and foreign language dictionaries and encyclopedias and literary works in French, German and English, symbolizes Andric’s communication with European and world literature, history and philosophy as well as his own creative endeavours.

This is where the story of the writer begins to unfold….

 

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Ivan Andrić was born in the village of Dolac, near Travnik, on 10 October 1892, while his mother, Katarina (née Pejić), was in the town visiting relatives.

 

Above: The house in which Andric was born, now a museum

 

(Travnik has a strong culture, mostly dating back to its time as the center of local government in the Ottoman Empire.

Travnik has a popular old town district however, which dates back to the period of Bosnian independence during the first half of the 15th century.

Numerous mosques and churches exist in the region, as do tombs of important historical figures and excellent examples of Ottoman architecture.

The city museum, built in 1950, is one of the more impressive cultural institutions in the region.

Travnik became famous by important persons who were born or lived in the city.

The most important of which are Ivo Andrić, Miroslav Ćiro Blažević (football coach of the Croatian national team, won third place 1998 in France), Josip Pejaković (actor), Seid Memić (pop singer) and Davor Džalto (artist and art historian, the youngest PhD in Germany and in the South-East European region).

 

Skyline of Travnik

Above: Images of Travnik

 

One of the main works of Ivo Andrić is the Bosnian Chronicle, depicting life in Travnik during the Napoleonic Wars and written during World War II.

In this work Travnik and its people – with their variety of ethnic and religious communities – are described with a mixture of affection and exasperation.

 

Ivo Andriac, Ivo Andric - Bosnian Chronicle

 

The Bosnian Tornjak, one of Bosnia’s two major dog breeds and national symbol, originated in the area, found around Mount Vlašić.)

 

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Andrić’s parents were both Catholic Croats.

He was his parents’ only child.

(I too was raised as an only child.)

 

His father, Antun, was a struggling silversmith who resorted to working as a school janitor in Sarajevo, where he lived with his wife and infant son.

(The Museum disagrees with Wikipedia, describing Antun as a court attendant.)

 

At the age of 32, Antun died of tuberculosis, like most of his siblings.

Andrić was only two years old at the time.

(My mother died, of cancer, when I was three.)

 

Widowed and penniless, Andrić’s mother took him to Višegrad and placed him in the care of her sister-in-law Ana and brother-in-law Ivan Matković, a police officer at the border military police station.

The couple were financially stable but childless, so they agreed to look after the infant and brought him up as their own in their house on the bank of the Drina River.

Meanwhile, Andrić’s mother returned to Sarajevo seeking employment.

Andrić was raised in a country that had changed little since the Ottoman period despite being mandated to Austria-Hungary at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Eastern and Western culture intermingled in Bosnia to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the Balkan peninsula.

Having lived there from an early age, Andrić came to cherish Višegrad, calling it “my real home“.

Though it was a small provincial town (or kasaba), Višegrad proved to be an enduring source of inspiration.

It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional town, the predominant groups being Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

 

Višegrad

Above: Images of Visegrad

 

(Like Andric, I was born elsewhere than the place I think of as home, though to Andric’s credit he lovingly wrote about his birthplace in The Travnik Chronicle.

I could imagine writing about St. Philippe, my childhood hometown, but I feel no intimate connection to St. Eustache, my birthplace, whatsoever, despite the latter having a larger claim to fame than the “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” village of my youth.)

 

Above: St. Eustache City Hall

 

(My imagination plays with the notion of St. Philippe as “St. Jerusalem” and St. Eustache described during the Rebellion of 1837.)

 

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Above: The Battle of St. Eustache, 14 December 1837

 

From an early age, Andrić closely observed the customs of the local people.

These customs, and the particularities of life in eastern Bosnia, would later be detailed in his works.

Andrić made his first friends in Višegrad, playing with them along the Drina River and the town’s famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge.

 

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(The area was part of the medieval Serbian state of the Nemanjić dynasty.

It was part of the Grand Principality of Serbia under Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96).

In the Middle Ages, Dobrun was a place within the border area with Bosnia, on the road towards Višegrad.

After the death of Emperor Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55), the region came under the rule of magnate Vojislav Vojinović, and then his nephew, župan (count) Nikola Altomanović.

The Dobrun Monastery was founded by župan Pribil and his family, some time before the 1370s.

 

Above: Dobrun Monastery

 

The area then came under the rule of the Kingdom of Bosnia, part of the estate of the Pavlović noble family.

The settlement of Višegrad is mentioned in 1407, but is starting to be more often mentioned after 1427.

In the period of 1433–37, a relatively short period, caravans crossed the settlement many times.

Many people from Višegrad worked for the Republic of Ragusa.

Srebrenica and Višegrad and its surroundings were again in Serbian hands in 1448 after Despot Đurađ Branković defeated Bosnian forces.

 

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Above: Durad Brankovic (1377 – 1456)

 

According to Turkish sources, in 1454, Višegrad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire led by Osman Pasha.

It remained under the Ottoman rule until the Berlin Congress (1878), when Austria-Hungary took control of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge was built by the Ottoman architect and engineer Mimar Sinan for Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.

Construction of the bridge took place between 1571 and 1577.

It still stands, and it is now a tourist attraction, after being inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

 

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

The Bosnian Eastern Railway from Sarajevo to Uvac and Vardište was built through Višegrad during the Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Construction of the line started in 1903.

It was completed in 1906, using the 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in) track gauge.

With the cost of 75 million gold crowns, which approximately translates to 450 thousand gold crowns per kilometer, it was one of the most expensive railways in the world built by that time.

This part of the line was eventually extended to Belgrade in 1928.

Višegrad is today part of the narrow-gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight.

 

The area was a site of Partisan–German battles during World War II.

Višegrad is one of several towns along the River Drina in close proximity to the Serbian border.

The town was strategically important during the Bosnian War conflict.

A nearby hydroelectric dam provided electricity and also controlled the level of the River Drina, preventing flooding downstream areas.

The town is situated on the main road connecting Belgrade and Užice in Serbia with Goražde and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a vital link for the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) with the Uzamnica camp as well as other strategic locations implicated in the conflict.

 

 

On 6 April 1992, JNA artillery bombarded the town, in particular Bosniak-inhabited neighbourhoods and nearby villages.

Murat Šabanović and a group of Bosniak men took several local Serbs hostage and seized control of the hydroelectric dam, threatening to blow it up.

Water was released from the dam causing flooding to some houses and streets.

Eventually on 12 April, JNA commandos seized the dam.

 

Бањска стена - Тешке боје.jpg

 

The next day the JNA’s Užice Corps took control of Višegrad, positioning tanks and heavy artillery around the town.

The population that had fled the town during the crisis returned and the climate in the town remained relatively calm and stable during the later part of April and the first two weeks of May.

On 19 May 1992 the Užice Corps officially withdrew from the town and local Serb leaders established control over Višegrad and all municipal government offices.

 

Soon after, local Serbs, police and paramilitaries began one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the conflict.

There was widespread looting and destruction of houses, and terrorizing of Bosniak civilians, with instances of rape, with a large number of Bosniaks killed in the town, with many bodies were dumped in the River Drina.

Men were detained at the barracks at Uzamnica, the Vilina Vlas Hotel and other sites in the area.

Vilina Vlas also served as a “brothel“, in which Bosniak women and girls (some not yet 14 years old), were brought to by police officers and paramilitary members (White Eagles and Arkan’s Tigers).

 

Visegradska banja vilina vlas by Klackalica.jpg

Above: Vilina Vlas Hotel today

 

Bosniaks detained at Uzamnica were subjected to inhumane conditions, including regular beatings, torture and strenuous forced labour.

Both of the town’s mosques were razed.

According to victims’ reports some 3,000 Bosniaks were murdered in Višegrad and its surroundings, including some 600 women and 119 children.

According to the Research and Documentation Center, at least 1,661 Bosniaks were killed/missing in Višegrad.

 

With the Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, the latter which Višegrad became part of.

 

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Above: Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Before the war, 63% of the town residents were Bosniak.

In 2009, only a handful of survivors had returned to what is now a predominantly Serb town.

On 5 August 2001, survivors of the massacre returned to Višegrad for the burial of 180 bodies exhumed from mass graves.

The exhumation lasted for two years and the bodies were found in 19 different mass graves.

The charges of mass rape were unapproved as the prosecutors failed to request them in time.

Cousins Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić were convicted on 20 July 2009, to life in prison and 30 years, respectively, for a 1992 killing spree of Muslims.

 

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Above: Milan Lukic

 

The Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge was popularized by Andric in his novel The Bridge on the Drina.

A tourist site called Andricgrad (Andric Town) dedicated to Andric, is located near the Bridge.

Construction of Andrićgrad, also known as Kamengrad (Каменград, “Stonetown“) started on 28 June 2011, and was officially opened on 28 June 2014, on Vidovdan.)

 

Above: Main Street, Andricgrad

 

Throughout his life Andric was tied to Visegrad by pleasant reminiscences and bright memories of childhood.

 

The Bridge on the Drina.jpg

Above: First edition of The Bridge on the Drina (Serbian)

 

At the age of ten, he received a three-year scholarship from a Croat cultural group called Napredak (Progress) to study in Sarajevo.

In the autumn of 1902, he was registered at the Great Sarajevo Gymnasium (Serbo-Croatian: Velika Sarajevska gimnazija), the oldest secondary school in Bosnia.

While in Sarajevo, Andrić lived with his mother, who worked in a rug factory as a weaver.

 

 

(Today Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 275,524 in its administrative limits.

The Sarajevo metropolitan area,  is home to 555,210 inhabitants.

Nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of the Balkans.

Sarajevo is the political, financial, social and cultural center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a prominent center of culture in the Balkans, with its region-wide influence in entertainment, media, fashion, and the arts.

Due to its long and rich history of religious and cultural diversity, Sarajevo is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europeor “Jerusalem of the Balkans“.

It is one of only a few major European cities which have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood.

A regional center in education, the city is home to the Balkans first institution of tertiary education in the form of an Islamic polytechnic called the Saraybosna Osmanlı Medrese, today part of the University of Sarajevo.

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century.

Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history.

In 1885, Sarajevo was the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time electric tram network running through the city, following San Francisco….)

 

 

At the time, the city was overflowing with civil servants from all parts of Austria-Hungary, and thus many languages could be heard in its restaurants, cafés and on its streets.

Culturally, the city boasted a strong Germanic element, and the curriculum in educational institutions was designed to reflect this.

From a total of 83 teachers that worked at Andrić’s school over a twenty-year period, only three were natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The teaching program,” biographer Celia Hawkesworth notes, “was devoted to producing dedicated supporters of the Habsburg Monarchy.”

Andrić disapproved.

All that came at secondary school and university,” he wrote, “was rough, crude, automatic, without concern, faith, humanity, warmth or love.

 

Andrić experienced difficulty in his studies, finding mathematics particularly challenging, and had to repeat the sixth grade.

For a time, he lost his scholarship due to poor grades.

Hawkesworth attributes Andrić’s initial lack of academic success at least partly to his alienation from most of his teachers.

Nonetheless, he excelled in languages, particularly Latin, Greek and German.

Although he initially showed substantial interest in natural sciences, he later began focusing on literature, likely under the influence of his two Croat instructors, writer and politician Đuro Šurmin and poet Tugomir Alaupović.

Of all his teachers in Sarajevo, Andrić liked Alaupović best and the two became lifelong friends.

 

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Above: Tugomir Alaupovic (1870 – 1958)

 

Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer.

He began writing in secondary school, but received little encouragement from his mother.

He recalled that when he showed her one of his first works, she replied:

“Did you write this? What did you do that for?”

Andrić published his first poem “U sumrak” (At dusk)  in 1911 in a journal called Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy), which promoted Serbo-Croat unity.

At the time, he was still a secondary school student.

His poems, essays, reviews, and translations appeared in journals such as Vihor (Whirlwind), Savremenik (The Contemporary), Hrvatski pokret (The Croatian Movement), and Književne novine (Literary News).

One of Andrić’s favorite literary forms was lyrical reflective prose, and many of his essays and shorter pieces are prose poems.

The historian Wayne S. Vucinich describes Andrić’s poetry from this period as “subjective and mostly melancholic“.

Andrić’s translations of August Strindberg’s novel Black Flag, Walt Whitman, and a number of Slovene authors also appeared around this time.

 

August Strindberg

Above: Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)

 

In 1908, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the chagrin of South Slav nationalists like Andrić.

In late 1911, Andrić was elected the first president of the Serbo-Croat Progressive Movement (Serbo-Croatian: Srpsko-Hrvatska Napredna Organizacija; SHNO), a Sarajevo-based secret society that promoted unity and friendship between Serb and Croat youth and opposed the Austro-Hungarian occupation.

Its members were vehemently criticized by both Serb and Croat nationalists, who dismissed them as “traitors to their nations“.

Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians.

On 28 February 1912, he spoke before a crowd of 100 student protesters at Sarajevo’s railway station, urging them to continue their demonstrations.

The Austro-Hungarian police later began harassing and prosecuting SHNO members.

Ten were expelled from their schools or penalized in some other way, though Andrić himself escaped punishment.

Andrić also joined the South Slav student movement known as Young Bosnia, becoming one of its most prominent members.

 

 

In 1912, Andrić registered at the University of Zagreb, having received a scholarship from an educational foundation in Sarajevo.

He enrolled in the department of mathematics and natural sciences because these were the only fields for which scholarships were offered, but was able to take some courses in Croatian literature.

 

University of Zagreb logo.svg

 

(Today Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia.

It is located in the northwest of the country, along the Sava River, at the southern slopes of Mount Medvednica.

 

 

The climate of Zagreb is classified as an oceanic climate, but with significant continental influences and very closely bordering on a humid Continental climate as well as a humid subtropical climate.

Zagreb has four separate seasons.

Summers are warm, at the end of May the temperatures start rising and it is often pleasant with occasional thunderstorms.

Heatwaves can occur but are short-lived.

Temperatures rise above 30 °C (86 °F) on an average 14.6 days each summer.

Rainfall is abundant in the summertime and it continues to be in autumn as well.

Zagreb is Europe’s 9th wettest capital, behind Luxembourg and ahead of Brussels, Belgium.

Autumn in its early stages is mild with an increase of rainy days and precipitation as well as a steady temperature fall towards its end.

Morning fog is common from mid-October to January with northern city districts at the foothills of the Medvednica mountain as well as those along the Sava river being more prone to all-day fog accumulation.

Winters are cold with a precipitation decrease pattern.

Even though there is no discernible dry season, February is the driest month with 39 mm of precipitation.

On average there are 29 days with snowfall with first snow falling in early November.

Springs are generally mild and pleasant with frequent weather changes and are windier than other seasons.

Sometimes cold spells can occur, mostly in its early stages.

The average daily mean temperature in the winter is around 1 °C (34 °F) (from December to February) and the average temperature in the summer is 22.0 °C (71.6 °F).

 

 

Zagreb is a city with a rich history dating from the Roman times to the present day.

The oldest settlement located in the vicinity of the city was the Roman Andautonia, in today’s Ščitarjevo.

The name “Zagreb” is recorded in 1134, in reference to the foundation of the settlement at Kaptol in 1094.

Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851 Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today.

 

 

Zagreb still occasionally experiences earthquakes, due to the proximity of Žumberak-Medvednica fault zone.

It’s classified as an area of high seismic activity.

The area around Medvednica was the epicentre of the 1880 Zagreb earthquake (magnitude 6.3), and the area is known for occasional landslide threatening houses in the area.

The proximity of strong seismic sources presents a real danger of strong earthquakes.

Croatian Chief of Office of Emergency Management Pavle Kalinić stated Zagreb experiences around 400 earthquakes a year, most of them being imperceptible.

However, in case of a strong earthquake, it’s expected that 3,000 people would die and up to 15,000 would be wounded.

 

Zagreb Cathedral interior 1880.jpg

Above: Damage done to Zagreb Cathedral, 9 November 1880

 

The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891.

The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterised by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities.

This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas.

An electric power plant was built in 1907.

 

Since 1 January 1877, the Grič cannon is fired daily from the Lotrščak Tower on Grič to mark midday.

 

 

The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable expansion of Zagreb.

Before World War I, the city expanded and neighbourhoods like Stara Peščenica in the east and Črnomerec in the west were created.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie its leading economic position in Croatia.

Zagreb is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries.

Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the centre of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia.

It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting and entertainment events.

Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

 

 

Zagreb is an important tourist centre, not only in terms of passengers travelling from the rest of Europe to the Adriatic Sea, but also as a travel destination itself.

It attracts close to a million visitors annually, mainly from Austria, Germany and Italy, and in recent years many tourists from the Far East (South Korea, Japan, China and India).

It has become an important tourist destination, not only in Croatia, but considering the whole region of southeastern Europe.

There are many interesting sights and happenings for tourists to attend in Zagreb, for example, the two statues of Saint George, one at the Republic of Croatia Square, the other at Kamenita vrata, where the image of Virgin Mary is said to be only thing that hasn’t burned in the 17th-century fire.

Also, there is an art installation starting in Bogovićeva street, called Nine Views.

Most people don’t know what the statue “Prizemljeno Sunce” (The Grounded Sun) is for, and just scrawl graffiti or signatures on it, but it’s actually the Sun scaled down, with many planets situated all over Zagreb in scale with the Sun.

There are also many festivals and events throughout the year, making Zagreb a year-round tourist destination.

The historical part of the city to the north of Ban Jelačić Square is composed of the Gornji Grad and Kaptol, a medieval urban complex of churches, palaces, museums, galleries and government buildings that are popular with tourists on sightseeing tours.

The historic district can be reached on foot, starting from Jelačić Square, the centre of Zagreb, or by a funicular on nearby Tomićeva Street.

Each Saturday, (April – September), on St. Mark’s Square in the Upper town, tourists can meet members of the Order of The Silver Dragon (Red Srebrnog Zmaja), who reenact famous historical conflicts between Gradec and Kaptol.

It’s a great opportunity for all visitors to take photographs of authentic and fully functional historical replicas of medieval armour.

 

 

Numerous shops, boutiques, store houses and shopping centres offer a variety of quality clothing.

There are about fourteen big shopping centres in Zagreb.

Zagreb’s offerings include crystal, china and ceramics, wicker or straw baskets, and top-quality Croatian wines and gastronomic products.

Notable Zagreb souvenirs are the tie or cravat, an accessory named after Croats who wore characteristic scarves around their necks in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and the ball-point pen, a tool developed from the inventions by Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, an inventor and a citizen of Zagreb.

Many Zagreb restaurants offer various specialties of national and international cuisine.

Domestic products which deserve to be tasted include turkey, duck or goose with mlinci (a kind of pasta), štrukli (cottage cheese strudel), sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese with cream), kremšnite (custard slices in flaky pastry) and orehnjača (traditional walnut roll). )

 

 

Andrić was well received by South Slav nationalists in Zagreb and regularly participated in on-campus demonstrations.

This led to his being reprimanded by the university.

In 1913, after completing two semesters in Zagreb, Andrić transferred to the University of Vienna, where he resumed his studies.

 

Uni-Vienna-seal.png

 

(Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria.

Vienna is Austria’s principal city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic and political centre.

It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants.

Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin.

Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC.

The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

These regions work together in a European Centrope border region.

Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants.

In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

The city’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.

The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstraße lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life.

In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities.

Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne.

In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot.

For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

Monocle’s 2015 “Quality of Life Survey” ranked Vienna second on a list of the top 25 cities in the world “to make a base within.”

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013.

The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets.

Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions.

It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.)

 

From top, left to right: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna City Hall, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, and Austrian Parliament Building

Above: Images of Vienna (Wien)

 

While in Vienna, Andric joined South Slav students in promoting the cause of Yugoslav unity and worked closely with two Yugoslav student societies, the Serbian cultural society Zora (Dawn) and the Croatian student club Zvonimir, which shared his views on “integral Yugoslavism” (the eventual assimilation of all South Slav cultures into one).

Andric became acquainted with Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either / Or, which would have a lasting influence on him.

 

A head-and-shoulders portrait sketch of a young man in his twenties that emphasizes his face, full hair, open and forward-looking eyes and a hint of a smile. He wears a formal necktie and lapel.

Above: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

 

Despite finding like-minded students in Vienna, the city’s climate took a toll on Andrić’s health.

He contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill, then asked to leave Vienna on medical grounds and continue his studies elsewhere, though Hawkesworth believes he may actually have been taking part in a protest of South Slav students that were boycotting German-speaking universities and transferring to Slavic ones.

 

For a time, Andrić had considered transferring to a school in Russia but ultimately decided to complete his fourth semester at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

 

POL Jagiellonian University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Jagiellonian University

 

(Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.

Situated on the Vistula River, the city dates back to the 7th century.

Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life.

Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city.

It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading centre of Central Europe in 965.

With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre.

The city has a population of about 770,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.

 

 

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government.

The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.

 

Krakow Ghetto Gate 73170.jpg

 

In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

 

John Paul II on 12 August 1993 in Denver, Colorado

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Kraków’s Historic Centre.

Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of high sufficiency by GaWC.

Its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula, the St. Mary’s Basilica, Saints Peter and Paul Church and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny.

Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.

In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.

In 2013 Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.)

 

 

Throughout his life Andric would feel that he owed much to the Polish excursion.

Andric met and mingled with painters Jovan Bijelic, Roman Petrovic and Peter Tijesic.

He transferred in early 1914 and continued to publish translations, poems and reviews.

Six poems written by Andric were included in the anthology Hrvatska Mlada Linka (Young Christian Lyricists).

In the words of literary critics:

As unhappy as any artist.  Ambitious.  Sensitive.  Briefly speaking, he has a future.

 

Flag of Poland

Above: Flag of Poland

 

(This perspective has always made me wonder….

Must a man suffer before he can call himself an artist?)

 

A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is wearing a winter hat, his ear is bandaged and he has no beard.

 

Certainly, Andric lost his father and was separated from his mother in his childhood and the domination of his homeland by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire clearly bothered him, nonetheless Andric had had the distinct privilege of living and studying in four of the most beautiful and cultural cities that Eastern Europe offers.

Certainly, Andric would be plagued with ill health often during the course of his lifetime, but it would not be until the outbreak of war in 1914 that his, and Europe’s, suffering would truly begin….

(To be continued….)

Image result for ivo andric museum belgrade images

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Eastern Europe / Belgrade City Museum, Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric Guide / Komshe Travel Guides, Serbia in Your Hands / Top Travel Guides, Belgrade / Bradt Guides, Serbia / Aleksandar Diklic, Belgrade: The Eternal City / Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina / Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside

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Canada Slim and the Voices without Echo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Monday 2 June 2019

Thursday was Ascension Day, a holiday commemorated in both Thurgau Canton (where my wife works) and in St. Gallen Canton (where I work), and, to our mutual surprise, we found ourselves both free from the obligations of employment simultaneously.

A miracle almost as spectacular as someone rising to Heaven in a cloud!

 

Obereschach Pfarrkirche Fresko Fugel Christi Himmelfahrt crop.jpg

 

We decided to visit the Hundertwasser Exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Lindau, Germany, by taking a train to Romanshorn, then another to Rorschach Harbour and then finally a boat across the Lake of Constance to Bavaria’s only port.

This post is not that story, though it is this story that inspires this post.

 

Image result for hundertwasser lindau bilder

 

In thinking about how my wife and I interacted on yesterday’s day trip I invariably compare it to other times we have travelled together.

 

(For previous posts about Porto, please see Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges as well as Canada Slim and the Station Sanctuary of this blog.)

 

The wife and I have been together for 23 years – she IS tough – and we always somehow muddle through.

We forgive one another.

She forgives me for being wrong and I forgive her for pointing out how truly wrong I can be!

Sadly, the amnesia of our conflicts is sometimes not as permanent as it should be….

 

Main eventposter.jpg

 

Porto, Portugal, Wednesday 25 July 2018

It is a warm day in this the most western country of Continental Europe and happily we are in a city we both like.

Porto is more than a twee tourist trap of little more than pomp and ceremony, like Lisboa the Portuguese capital.

Porto is Portugal’s Chicago, a busy commercial centre, whose fascination lies in its riverside setting and day-to-day life.

Make no mistake there are sites in Porto worth seeing….

  • The riverside barrio of Ribeira with waterfront cafés and restuarants
  • The landmark Clérigos Tower
  • The Sé, Porto’s cathedral
  • The contemporary art gallery and park at the Fondacao de Serralves
  • The port wine lodges across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia
  • A Douro River cruise
  • The bridges that span the Douro: the Ponte Dom Luis I, the Ponte Infante, the Ponte María Pia
  • The Salào Árabe of the Palácio da Bosa

 

From the top left corner clockwise: Clérigos Tower; Palácio da Bolsa; Avenida dos Aliados; Church of São Francisco; Porto Cathedral; Porto City Hall; Ribeira

Above: Images of Porto

 

We had walked through the cathedral square the day previously, but this morning we were determined to explore all the sites that surrounded it.

But the morning began badly.

 

A wardrobe malfunction made us return back to our B & B bedroom.

Then we discovered the English language guidebook we were dependent upon had somehow gone missing.

 

Pocket Rough Guide Porto

 

We returned once again to the room, didn’t find it, so we were forced to find a bookshop and buy the book anew.

We made our way back to the Sé and then she discovered her German-language guidebook was not to be found with us.

She rushed back to the room and left me in the bright sunshine waiting her return.

 

Porto April 2019-19a.jpg

 

Set on a rocky outcrop, a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station, Porto’s Cathedral, the Sé, commands fine views over the rooftops.

I look up at the Sé’s North Tower, the one with the bell, and my eyes trace the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a reminder of the earlier days of Portugal’s maritime epic, when sailors inched nervously down the west Saharan coastline not knowing what dangers were ahead.

Perhaps my wife’s impatience with the morning was partially affected by our cathedral visit, for the Sé’s interior is a disquieting, disastrous doomsday design of Baroque blended with rough Romanesque and gargantuan Gothic architecture that has a spirit as gloomy as a bride and groom forced to wed whom they do not love.

The Sé is redeemed its ghastly first impressions once the senses escape into the cathedral cloisters, with walls lovingly draped with glowing azulejos and a grand staircase that ascends to the breathtaking chapterhouse for panoramic perspectives of the world from the windows.

The Sé is a holy seductress with a mask of beauty that barely conceals a darkness and depth that dares not expose itself to the light.

The Sé is not an intimate ingress of inspiration but rather a stern sorrow-laden scourge of sin and sacrifice designed to intimidate and threaten those unworthy of salvation.

The old dowager lacks teeth, her majesty missing, her glory gone, her gloom inescapable.

 

 

The wife returned to retrieve her German-language Müller Guide which I should have packed in my rucksack and didn’t.

Boys, or men who eternally and internally remain boys, are book-bearing beasts of burden meant to be present but unobtrusive, to be seen but not heard.

I sit in the sun with clear directives to accomplish as set by my bothered bride.

I must plan our progress for the rest of the day.

Planning is never a prospect I embrace, for invariably my plans falls short of her perception of what a perfect plan entails.

I soak the warmth of the sunbaked stone into my already weary bones and tired mind.

I am unmoving and unmoved, immensely immovable.

On the south side of the Sé stretches the grandiose facade of the Paco Episcopal, the medieval archbishop’s palace, where the first King of Portugal was crowned and spent his wedding night.

 

Image result for paço episcopal do porto

 

Like the Sé,  the Paco is a mishmash of architectural elements: a Rococo stairway lined with carved granite flowers, Neoclassical doorways with Baroque decor, priceless furniture of luxurious lifestyle exposed to penny-pinching voyeuristic peasants, a lodging financed by a love of God with 17th century Indonesian cabinets hewed from blood and sweat, toil and tears hatefully demanded by harsh Portuguese taskmasters, religious paintings ironically produced in the secular scene of the first Portuguese Republic (1911 – 1956).

The Palace does not intice nor excite me.

 

 

But the notion of politics and history does, as I read A.H. de Oliveira Marques’ A Very Short History of Portugal and I wonder, as I often do, at what compels a man to demand better from those who would rule him.

The reckless courage that is required to speak truth to power and demand justice from the unjust has always fascinated me.

 

I am a foreigner living in Switzerland and though my lot as a Canadian is far more fortunate than that of other nationalities exiled here, there does exist inequalities and injustices enforced by the Swiss upon those who were not born in the Helvetian Republic.

Just to name a few: taxation without any or only minor representation, difficulty to find employment matching the expat’s experience and the unnecessary requirement that rejects qualifications not obtained within Switzerland, the blatant racial and religious profiling done at border crossings by unsympathetic customs pitbull police, the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, xenophobia encouraged by the eternally re-elected party in power, the bureaucracy that is bathed with greed and complexity, the fortress mentality of a nation determined to remain neutral yet one that profits from the spoils of war, a people who confuse quality of life by quantity of franks in silent bank vaults and wonder why having it all isn’t so much fun….

I often want to climb the stairs to our apartment building’s roof and shout obscenities down upon the unsuspecting neighbourhood of Landschlacht.

But I lack the courage, for attention garnered may mean expulsion, and, for better or worse, Switzerland has been my home for nine years.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

I am a whisper on the Internet, a voice without echo, in a world blind to everything but the square screen of the preset mobile device upon their palms.

 

Image result for mobile phone addiction

 

I think about what we could tour next.

The house behind the Sé at Rua de Dom Hugo 32 was once the home of the poet and writer Guerra Junquiero whose works reflected the revolutionay turmoil of the Republican era.

Today the Casa Museu Guerra Junquiero exhibits the Iberian and Islamic art, the Seljuk pottery, glassware and glazed earthenwear that he had collected over his lifetime, in rooms that recapture the atmosphere of the poet’s last home.

My guidebooks speak of the Junquiero Museum but none lavishes praise upon it, primarily for the reason that all is written only in Portuguese.

 

Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro 88.JPG

 

Abílio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro (1850 – 1923) was a Portuguese top civil servant, a member of the Portuguese House of Representatives, a journalist, author and poet.

His work helped inspire the creation of the Portuguese First Republic.

Junqueiro wrote highly satirical poems criticizing conservatism, romanticism and the Church, leading up to the Portuguese Revolution of 1910.

He was one of Europe’s greatest poets.

 

 

Born in Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal to José António Junqueiro Júnior, a supply trader and farmer, and wife Ana Maria Guerra.

His mother died when he was only three years old.

He completed his secondary studies in Bragança and at sixteen, he enrolled at the University of Coimbra to study theology.

Guerra Junqueiro began his literary career in a promising way in Coimbra in the literary journal A Folha, directed by the poet João Penha, of which later he was editor.

 

Above: Bust of Joao Penha (1838 – 1919), Braga, Portugal

 

Here Junquiero created friendly relations with some of the best writers and poets of his time, a group generally known as the Generation of 70.

Guerra Junqueiro from a very young age began to manifest remarkable poetic talent, and already by 1867 his name was included among the most hopeful of the new generation of Portuguese poets.

In the same year, in the book entitled The Portuguese Aristarchus, appreciating the book  Vozes Sem Echo (Voices without Echo), published in Coimbra in 1867 by Guerra Junqueiro, an auspicious future was already foreseen for its author.

Image result for Vozes sem eco

 

In Porto, on the same date, another work appeared, Baptismo de Amor (Baptism of Love), accompanied by a preamble written by Camilo Castelo Branco.

 

Image result for Baptismo de amor junquiero

 

In Coimbra, Junqueiro published the Lira dos quatorze anos (The Book of Fourteen Years), a volume of poetry, and the poem Mysticae nuptiae.

 

Image result for Lira dos catorze anos junqueiro

 

In Porto, in 1870 the Vitória da Franca (Victory of France) was published, then later republished in Coimbra in 1873.

 

Related image

 

In 1873, when a republic was proclaimed in Spain, Junquiero wrote the vehement poem À Espanha livre (To free Spain).

 

Image result for À Espanha livre junqueiro

 

Junqueiro concluded his study of law also in 1873.

He became secretary of the governors of Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, and later of Viana do Castelo.

 

In 1874 his poem A morte de D. Joao (The death of D. João) achieved great success.

 

A Morte de D. João (Classic Reprint)

 

Camilo Castelo Branco dedicated an article to him in the Nights of Insomnia, and Oliveira Martins, in the magazine Arts and Letters.

 

Camilo Castelo Branco.jpg

Above: Camilo Castelo Branco (1825 – 1890)

 

In Lisbon, Junquiero was a contributor of prose and verse, for political and artistic journals, such as The Magic Lantern  and António Maria, with the collaboration of drawings by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.

In 1875 Junquiero wrote O Crime, a poem on the murder of Ensign Palma de Brito, the poem Aos Veteranos da Liberdade (To the Veterans of Freedom) and the volume of Contos para a infancía (Tales for Childhood).

 

Image result for crime guerra junqueiro

 

In Diário de Notícias (The Daily News) he also published the poem Fiel e Na Ferra da Ladra (Fiel and the Story of Feira da Ladra).

 

Image result for guerra junqueiro

 

In 1878 he published in Lisbon the poem Tragédia infantil.

 

Image result for tragédia infantil junqueiro

 

Junquiero collaborated to several periodical publications, namely: Atlantida (1915-1920), Branco e Negro (1896-1898), Brazil Portugal (1899-1914) (1884-1885), The Press, The Universal Illustration (1884-1885), The Portuguese Illustration (1885-1891), Sunday’s Newspaper (1881-1888), The Reading (1894-1896), Light and Life (1879), The West (1878-1915), Renaissance  (1878-1879), The Pantheon (1880-1881), The Portuguese Republic (1901-1911), Azulejos (1907-1909), in the Tourism magazine, begun in 1916 and in the newspaper O Azeitonense (1919-1920).

A great part of the poetic compositions of Guerra Junqueiro is reunited in the volume A Musa Em Férias (The Muse on Vacation), published in 1879.

 

Image result for a musa em férias guerra junqueiro

 

This year he also wrote the poem O Melro (O Blackbird), which was later included in A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father) of 1885.

 

Image result for o melro guerra junqueiro

 

Idílios e Sátrias (Idylls and Satires) was a translated and collected volume of short stories by Hans Christian Andersen and others.

 

Photograph taken by Thora Hallager, 1869

Above: Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875)

 

After a stay in Paris, apparently for treatment of digestive disease contracted during his stay in the Azores, Junquiero published in 1885, in Porto, A Velhice do Padre Eterno (The Old Age of the Eternal Father), a work that provoked bitter retorts by the clerical opinion, represented in the press, among others, by the canon José Joaquim de Sena Freitas.

 

Image result for José Joaquim de Sena Freitas

Above: José Joaquim de Sena Freitas (1840 – 1913)

 

Controversial with regard to religion, other writings of anticlerical nature by its author have been found in periodical publications like The Lucta and The Light (1919 -1921).

 

When the conflict with England over the “pink map“, which culminated in the British Ultimatum of 11 January 1890, Guerra Junqueiro became deeply interested in this national crisis and wrote Finis Patriae (The end of country) and A Cancao do Ódio (The Song of Hate), to which Miguel Ângelo Pereira wrote the music.

 

Finis Patriae (Classic Reprint)

 

(The 1890 British Ultimatum was an ultimatum by the British government delivered on 11 January 1890 to Portugal.

The ultimatum forced the retreat of Portuguese military forces from areas which had been claimed by Portugal on the basis of historical discovery and recent exploration, but which the United Kingdom claimed on the basis of effective occupation.

Portugal had attempted to claim a large area of land between its colonies of Mozambique and Angola including most of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia and a large part of Malawi, which had been included in Portugal’s “Rose-coloured Map“.

 

 

It has sometimes been claimed that the British government’s objections arose because the Portuguese claims clashed with its aspirations to create a Cape to Cairo Railway, linking its colonies from the south of Africa to those in the north.

 

Above: British colonies (pink), Portuguese colonies (purple)

 

This seems unlikely, as in 1890 Germany already controlled German East Africa, now Tanzania, and Sudan was independent under Muhammad Ahmad.

Rather, the British government was pressed into taking action by Cecil Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company was founded in 1888 south of the Zambezi and the African Lakes Company and British missionaries to the north.

 

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Above: Cecil Rhodes (1853 – 1902)

 

When Portugal acquiesced to British demands, it was considered as a breach of the Treaty of Windsor (1386) and seen as a national humiliation by republicans in Portugal, who denounced the government and the King as responsible for it.

On 14 January, the progressive government fell and the leader of the Regenerador Party, António de Serpa Pimentel, was chosen to form the new government.

 

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Above: António de Serpa Pimental (1825 – 1900)

 

The progressivists then began to attack the King, voting for republican candidates in the March election of that year, questioning the colonial agreement then signed with the British.

Feeding an atmosphere of near insurrection, on 23 March 1890, António José de Almeida, at the time a student in the University of Coimbra and, later on, President of the Republic, published an article entitled Bragança, o último, considered slanderous against the King and led to Almeida’s imprisonment.

 

Antonio Jose de Almeida (official).jpg

Above: António José de Almeida (1866 – 1929)

 

On 1 April 1890, the explorer Silva Porto (1817 – 1890) immolated himself (set himself on fire), wrapped in a Portuguese flag in Kuito, Angola, after failed negotiations with the locals,  attributed to the Ultimatum.

The death of the well-known explorer of the African continent generated a wave of national sentiment and his funeral was followed by a crowd in Porto.

 

 

On 11 April, Guerra Junqueiro’s poetic work Finis Patriae, a satire criticising the King, went on sale.

 

In the city of Porto, on 31 January 1891, a military uprising against the monarchy took place, constituted mainly by sergeants and enlisted ranks.

The rebels, who used the nationalist anthem A Portuguesa as their marching song, took the Paços do Concelho, from whose balcony, the republican journalist and politician Augusto Manuel Alves da Veiga proclaimed the establishment of the republic in Portugal and hoisted a red and green flag belonging to the Federal Democratic Centre.

The movement was, shortly afterwards, suppressed by a military detachment of the municipal guard that remained loyal to the government, resulting in 40 injured and 12 casualties.

The captured rebels were judged. 250 received sentences of between 18 months and 15 years of exile in Africa.

A Portuguesa was forbidden.

Despite its failure, the rebellion of 31 January 1891 was the first large threat felt by the monarchic regime and a sign of what would come almost two decades later.

 

 

The British Ultimatum was considered by Portuguese historians and politicians at that time to be the most outrageous and infamous action of the UK against its oldest ally.

The 1890 ultimatum was said to be one of the main causes for the Republican Revolution, which ended the monarchy in Portugal 20 years later (5 October 1910) and the Lisbon assassinations of the Portuguese king (Carlos I of Portugal) and the crown prince on 1 February 1908.

 

 

After the British Ultimatum and the political crisis associated, he was involved in the political debate in 1891, writing some best sellers that had huge impact on public opinion, contributing to the discredit of the Portuguese monarchy and the success of the Portuguese Republican Party in the 1910 Portuguese Revolution.

The 5 October 1910 revolution was the overthrow of the centuries-old Portuguese monarchy and its replacement by the Portuguese Republic.

It was the result of a coup d’état organized by the Portuguese Republican Party.

By 1910, the Kingdom of Portugal was in deep crisis: British pressure on Portugal’s colonies, the royal family’s expenses, the assassination of the King and his heir in 1908, changing religious and social views, instability of the two political parties (Progressive and Regenerador), the dictatorship of João Franco and the regime’s apparent inability to adapt to modern times all led to widespread resentment against the Monarchy.

The proponents of the republic, particularly the Republican Party, found ways to take advantage of the situation.

The Republican Party presented itself as the only one that had a programme that was capable of returning to the country its lost status and place Portugal on the way of progress.

 

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(Why does this sound so familiar?)

(Make Portugal great again?)

 

 

After a reluctance of the military to combat the nearly two thousand soldiers and sailors that rebelled between 3 and 4 October 1910, the Republic was proclaimed at 9 o’clock of the next day from the balcony of the Paços do Concelho in Lisbon.

 

 

After the revolution, a provisional government led by Teófilo Braga directed the fate of the country until the approval of the Constitution in 1911 that marked the beginning of the First Republic.

 

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Above: Joaquim Teofilo Fernandes Braga (1843 – 1924)

 

Among other things, with the establishment of the republic, national symbols were changed: the national anthem and the flag.

 

Flag of Portugal

 

The revolution produced some civil and religious liberties, although there were no advances in women’s rights  and in workers’ rights, unlike what had happened in other European countries.

The First Portuguese Republic (Portuguese: Primeira República Portuguesa; officially: República Portuguesa, Portuguese Republic) spans a complex 16-year period in the history of Portugal, between the end of the period of constitutional monarchy marked by the 5 October 1910 revolution and the 28 May 1926 coup d’état.

The sixteen years of the First Republic saw nine presidents and 44 ministries and has been described as consisting of “continual anarchy, government corruption, rioting and pillage, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and religious persecution“.

The latter movement instituted a military dictatorship known as Ditadura Nacional (national dictatorship) that would be followed by the corporatist Estado Novo (new state) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.

 

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Above: António de Oliveria Salazar (1889 – 1970)

 

Kidnapped and driven off into darkness after Salazar snatched power in 1928, Portugal was absent from the Second World War and through most of the 20th century was economically isolated and politically smothered.

 

Portugal is rich with potential and a certain backwardness adds to the charm.

It is easy to fall in love with this fair land on this final edge of the world, though it could use a bit more self-confidence and a lot more marketing of itself and its heritage.)

 

Junquiero married Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves on 10 February 1880.

The couple had two children: Maria Isabel Guerra Junqueiro on 11 November 1880 and Júlia Guerra Junqueiro in 1881.

He died in Lisbon at the age of 72.

In 1940 Junqueiro’s daughter donated his estate in Porto that became the Guerra Junqueiro Museum.

 

 

Chronology of Guerra Junquiero:

1850:  Born in Ligares, Freixo de Espada a Cinta
1864:  The Book of Fourteen Years
1866:  Studies theology at the University of Coimbra;
1867:  Voices Without Echo
1868:  Baptism of Love. Enrolls in the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra.
1873:  Free Spain. Collaboration to The Leaf of João Penha. He earns a bachelor’s degree in law.
1874: The Death of D. João
1875: First issue of The Magic Lantern to which he collaborates
1878: He is appointed Secretary General of the Civil Government in Angra do Heroísmo.
1879:  The Muse on Vacation and The Blackbird.  Joins the Progressive Party. He is transferred from Angra do Heroísmo to Viana do Castelo and elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
1880: Married on 10 February to Filomena Augusta da Silva Neves. 11  November, their daughter Maria Isabel is born.
1881: Daughter Julia is born. Diagnosed with dementia, hospitalized in Porto.
1885:  The Old Age of the Eternal Father. Creation of the “New Life” movement of which Junqueiro is a sympathizer.
1887: Second trip to Paris
1888: The group “Losers of Life” is formed. The Legitimate.
1889: His wife, Filomena Augusta Neves, dies whom he will mourn until the end of his days.
1890:  Finis Patriae. Guerra Junqueiro is elected deputy by the Quelimane circle.
1895:  Sells most of the artistic collections he had accumulated;
1896:  The Fatherland. Departs for Paris.

1902:  Prayer for Bread
1903:  Lives in Vila do Conde.
1904:  Prayer to the Light
1905:  A visit to the Polytechnic Academy of Porto prompts him to settle in this city.
1908:  He is candidate of the Republican Party for Porto.
1910:   He is appointed Extraordinary Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Portuguese Republic to the Swiss Confederation in Berne
1914:  Exonerated from the functions of Minister Plenipotentiary
1920:  Sparse Prose
1923:  He died on 7 July in Lisbon.
1966: His body is solemnly transferred from the Jerónimos Monastery where it had been interred to the National Pantheon of the Church of Santa Engrácia, Lisbon, in a ceremony held to honor other illustrious Portuguese figures.

 

 

Those are the facts as drily given by Wikipedia and Google, but who was the man?

How should we categorize him?

Should we?

Can we?

Was he a mere bureaucratic drone who dabbled in poetry?

Or a poet who dabbled in government work?

Did his writing incite a revolution or did it merely capture the spirit of the times?

 

 

As I sit in the sun my mind should be planning our travel itinerary for the day so to placate my wife upon her return.

But instead I think of Junqueiro and his Museum I won’t mention to the wife, already unhappy with the start of our first full day in Porto.

 

 

I think instead of the power of the printed word and of the impossibility, even through the written expression of a writer’s thoughts, of truly knowing another person.

Though it may be acknowledged that it is surely difficult for us to know a Portuguese poet long dead from nearly a century ago, it must also be acknowledged that even those we presently love remain unsolved mysteries to us.

 

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.

And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.”  (Michel de Montaigne, Essais)

 

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne, circa unknown.jpg

Above: Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

 

Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves.

So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them.

In the vast colony of our being, there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.”  (Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego)

 

Portrait of Pessoa, 1914.

Above: Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935)

 

I think of the mix of contradictory emotions that fill me anticipating my wife’s return, both eagerly awaiting and decidedly dreading her return.

 

I think of how each of us carries around inside ourselves whole worlds.

 

I am more than a sweaty balding head.

I am also a tear-softened soul.

 

I think of how much life I might still have before me, how open my future might be, how much could still happen, how much there might still be experienced.

 

 

Can anyone see beneath my mask that I am a mix of modesty and immodesty, of conformity and eccentricity, that within me lies a silent rage aimed at a pompous world, an unbending defiance against the world of show-offs whose only real accomplishment is their accidental connectivity to realms of power and prestige denied the average man?

 

I sit in the sun, uncertain of what to suggest next, unwilling to face my wife’s disapproval at what she will perceive to be laziness instead of confusion.

 

Perhaps we travel not to experience another world, but to flee from our own experience, simultaneously running to and from life.

 

 

Portugal is a land always in the shadows, a land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests.

It is a land of mournful fado wailing and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

 

 

Critics, most of them Portuguese, call Portugal the graveyard of ambition, the kingdom of mediocrity, where the national pastime is complaining and the ambitious leave.

As late as 2005, Portugal still had 13% of women who couldn’t read, less than 50% of children who made it to high school and was the lowest earner of the EU.

 

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

 

Porto, historically the country’s wine distribution centre, is said to be the hardest working part of Portugal:

Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays.

 

I want to visit the archbishop’s palace and the poet’s place, for I take great comfort from the calm of everything past.

 

So often I am alone with my thoughts, even when surrounded by a cacophony of chaotic conversations convulsing from a crowd.

My mind is sealed and my tongue falters in failing to express the vaulted thought.

My wife speaks and my ears hear and my heart listens, but my mind is my own, adrift on its own adventure, lost in its own odyssey.

 

I am reminded of my reading on the flight the day before, of the writing of Amadeu Prado, as invented by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier in his book Night Train to Lisbon:

 

Night Train to Lisbon.jpg

 

Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one experience at most and even this one merely by chance and without the care it deserves.

Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its colour and its melody.

Then, when we turn to these treasures, as archaeologists of the soul, we discover how confusing they are.

The object of contemplation refuses to stand still, the words bounce off the experience and in the end, pure contradictions stand on the paper.

 

What benefit is there in being the archaeologist of one’s self, to dig for buried experience?

 

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpg

 

Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?

 

The Wikipedia photo of Junquiero shows a man of intelligence and self-confidence and boldness.

Or is what I perceive only an observation of qualities I wish I possessed beneath the mask I wear?

 

 

Yet the contradiction that is a man’s character sometimes wonders could something be made different from my life, that there may be more to me than anyone knows.

 

In the centre of the city, in the centre of my life, I sit in the sun in the square of the cathedral.

I reflect how we live in an age rushing through a timeless universe only appreciated when contemplated quietly and calmly.

 

 

I think of the life of a man I never knew, a poet whose words I never read, who wrote in a language I never spoke.

Is Junqueiro only identifiable by what he did and the words he wrote?

Was there more to the man than anyone besides himself could ever possibly know?

 

Related image

 

Is there a mystery under the surfaces of human action?

Or are human beings utterly what their obvious acts indicate?

 

The words that Junquiero wrote, the words I have never read, are they expressions of eternally, essentially, the same things others have said before?

 

Words are so horribly frayed and threadbare, worn out by being used millions of times.

Do they still have any meaning?

Naturally, the exchange of words functions.

People act on them.

They laugh and cry.

They go left or right.

The waiter brings the coffee or tea.

But that’s not what I want to ask.

The question is:

Are they still an expression of thoughts?

Or only effective sounds that drive people here and there because the worn grooves of babble incessantly flash?

 

Perhaps I should follow the advice of Marcus Aurelius when he writes in his Meditations:

Do wrong to thyself.

Do wrong to thyself, my soul, but later thou wilt no longer have the opportunity of respecting and honouring thyself.

For every man has but one life….

Those who do not observe the impulses of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

 

Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius. This masterful portrait captures the pensive temperament of the philosopher-emperor and author of the celebrated 'Meditations', reflections on life and the ways of the gods. The smooth, softly modeled carving of the flesh contrasts markedly with the mass of thick, curling hair. The drooping eyelids and detached gaze suggest his contemplative nature.

Above: Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180)

 

She returns to me still sitting in the sun, with little progress on the planning made.

I imagine her thinking:

What is the point of having a husband if he does not do what he is told?

I imagine that she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders having a man about who is so completely useless at times.

I smile foolishly and say pointless words to defend my pointlessness.

 

 

I don’t mention Junquiero’s house and she never asks.

I also know I would be frustrated being in a museum whose signage I couldn’t read, despite the unfair expectation that a Portuguese museum have any other language besides Portuguese for a poet unknown outside of Portugal.

 

With a heavy sigh, she plans for us.

The morning has been shot to hell, so lunch across the Douro River in Gaia might inspire us.

Like the animal I am, I respond greedily to the prospect of food.

I know there is no excuse for my behaviour and no words to justify it, so I don’t bother trying.

 

Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Above: Vila Nova de Gaia

 

As I rise to my feet, carefully – I am just recovering from an accident where I broke both my arms – I think of Prado who never existed and Junquiero who no longer exists, then I focus on matters at hand.

The universe may be timeless but our vacation time is not.

 

But reading Mercier’s novel and learning of Junquiero’s life has inspired me.

I will ask when I can at random bookshops for the poems of Junquiero available in English translation.

 

Above: Livraria Lello, Porto

 

I know that the rhythm and subtlity of his poetry will be inadequately conveyed in translation, but I also know the painfully slow process of translating the original Portuguese into English I understand will somehow destroy the passion with which I started to read.

Nonetheless there is too little poetry in my life and even the muse of love has her limits and I must make amends for this deficiency.

 

I will return from the vacation and do the things I must do.

Work where and when I can.

Meet my obligations to others as best as I can.

I will seek no evil to see, no evil to hear, no evil to speak.

I remain a true husband, a good friend and loyal employee.

But my mind is my own and my words, as imprecise as they can be, will seek to speak my mind.

Perhaps through reading poetry I shall find the means to express myself.

I am my own archaeologist of my own self.

 

So much generated from simply sitting in the sun.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Portugal / Rough Guide Portugal / Pocket Rough Guide Porto / Matthew Hancock, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Portuguese / A.H. de Oliveira Marques, A Very Short History of Portugal / Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon / Pedro Rodrigues, Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories / Melissa Rossi, The Armchair Diplomat on Europe / Jürgen Strohmeier, Nordportugal

Canada Slim and the Mandir of Nose Hill

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 21 May 2019

This Sunday in Switzerland some folks will attend services in either a Reformed Church or a Roman Catholic Church and both groups will call themselves Christian.

 

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And as the Earth spins around the Sun, from the Dark Continent of Africa to the Canadian tundra, Christians will kneel on this day to receive the elements of their own version of the eternal Eucharist as written in the Bible that speaks of how God sent His Son whose sacrifice somehow saved our wretched souls and whose resurrection conquered death for all of us, despite death being our destiny.

 

 

In Jerusalem and parts of the planet where the Great Diaspora has led them over centuries, others, wrapped in the prayer shawls that their ancestors wore in the desert, recite the Torah, as their Rabbi lovingly guides a wand across sacred text that Yahweh spoke to His Chosen People.

 

 

And within the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and anywhere where the Qu’ran reigns the mind, five times a day, the faithful prostrate themselves towards Mecca, towards Mohammed’s holy city, and show their devotion to Allah, who also remains God the Father of Christianity and Yahweh of the Jews and yet is unrecognizable as the same God of Abraham said to be the originator of all three great religions.

 

 

Same deity, different names, different practices, same intolerance too often seen by those who claim this deity as their own.

 

 

In a tiny house by the Ganges River at the foot of the Himalayas, a Hindu Swami will not speak today, but will continue his devotional silence that, with the exception of three days each year, he has kept for years.

 

 

In Yangon, the monks of Shwedagon sit alone and together with the eternal in the tranquil silence and privacy of their Buddhist shrine, as do the Zen monks in Kyoto, spending most of the day sitting immovable in the lotus position, as they seek to plumb with absolute absorption the Buddha-nature that lies at the centre of their being.

 

 

What a freaky fellowship, an odd misplaced madness, this is, this seeking of something divine that defies description or definition, voices raised in desperate disparate ways, sacrificing precious life to a God of life that cannot be proven not to exist.

Such strange ethereal harmony, each faith claiming superiority over every other belief, no individual religion understanding the others, and yet united in lifting their voices to the heavens in the hopes that what binds the universe will spare a moment for those who are naught more than carbonated stardust.

 

Are the faithful foolish or the unbelieving unredeemable?

 

We cannot know.

 

All we can do is try and listen carefully, with full attention to each voice as it in its turn addresses the divine that lies within and without us.

 

Religions wrap the globe in their comfort, with histories stretching back into the forgotten mists of time, that still motivates more people today than ever before.

Nothing unites us more nor divides us more than religion does.

 

 

Who should we follow?

What should we believe?

 

Should Christians worship in ornate cathedrals bedecked with icons or consider even steeples divine desecrations?

How should Muslims decide between Sunni and Shi’ite or feel about Sufism?

Must a Jew be orthodox to call himself a true Jew?

And let us wonder as Buddhists ponder different traditions of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana philosophies.

 

Millions live by a faith.

More than three quarters of the world’s population consider that they belong to a religion, however little or much they do about it.

Communities of people who share practices and beliefs gather in special buildings for worship or meditation and seek to live lives in special ways in the world.

Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, religion has been the resource and inspiration for virtually all the most enduring art, architecture, music, drama, dance and poetry that the world has known, in search and expression of that which endures when all else passes away.

 

 

We must decide if faith has relevance in these digital days, our modern minds, our computerized lives.

 

As every religion mixes universal truths with local peculiarities we must lift out the former from the latter and embrace that which speaks to what  is generically human in us all.

 

This is not easy for the irreverent, for religion is rich in rites and laden in legends.

This is not simple for those whose lives are reigned by rationalism, for the claim that the universal principles of faith are more important than rites and rituals is like contending that the trunk of a tree is more important than the branches, leaves or roots of that tree.

I know that when I seek to understand the religious impulse, that I myself lack, this is akin to trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

 

The mind that is mine struggles to grasp how Hindu’s holy Kali Temple in Calcutta revers two million cows to the point of nuisance while fakirs offer their bodies to bedbugs as sacrifice.

 

 

I find myself conflicted between the stillness of Bethlehem and department stores blaring “Silent Night” from stereos above plastic reindeer and overweight Santas.

 

 

I seek to define the divine amidst images of crucified Christs and chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs.

 

 

I wallow in a mire of confusion as to how Crusades can be Christian or Jihads holy, or how a God of love co-exists with witch slaughter in Salem, monkey trials in Tennessee and Grand Inquisitions in Spain.

 

 

I, like billions before me and aeons after me, seek the meaning to my existence in the hope that my short span of life has worth.

 

I am reminded of a Faustian fable of a man who climbed to the top of a mountain and seized hold of the Truth.

Satan, suspecting sedition from this mortal upstart, directed a demon to tail the determined seeker.

When the demon reported with alarm the man’s success, Satan was not in the least bothered by the bulletin.

Don’t worry.“, Satan yawned.

I will tempt him to institutionalize the Truth.

 

 

The empowering theological and metaphysical truth of faith is inspirational, but the religious institutions built around this truth are often not.

Religion is constituted of people with their inbuilt frailities, vices and virtues.

When the vices get compounded by masses, the results are horrifying to the point where one might suggest that faith should be left outside the hands of humanity.

But faith without the faithful would have left no mark upon humanity’s history, for better or for worse.

Had faith remained as only aloof disembodied insight and had not embraced institutions and rituals, then faith could not have established traction on history or upon men’s souls.

What is important is to not get lost in the smoke and ceremony of rite and ritual, but instead we need to sift religion for the truths they try to preserve, the wisdom that maintains our world.

 

 

As T.S. Eliot so wisely phrased it:

Where is the knowledge that is lost in information?

Where is the wisdom that is lost in knowledge?

 

Eliot in 1934 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

 

I categorically reject the premise that one religion is superior to another, for it is this comparison that is the most odious aspect of all institutions, for, as Arnold Toynbee observed:

There is no one alive today who knows enough to say with confidence whether one religion has been greater than all others.

 

Arnold Toynbee.jpg

Above: Arnold Toynbee (1852 – 1883)

 

It must be admitted that though I seek to embrace the world, I am incorrigibly myself and I know that the tale I am about to tell might be quite differently written had I been a Burmese Buddhist, a Turkish Muslim, a Nepalese Hindu, a Serbian Orthodox, a Swiss Catholic or a Polish Jew instead of a Canadian humanist with delusions of fluency.

 

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

 

We live in a world of wonders.

Lands across the planet are our neighbours, China is around the corner, the Middle East is our backyard, my younger colleagues and close companions with backpacks go everywhere, while I – who often remain at home in this wee hamlet of Landschlacht – have access to an endless parade of books and videos and visitors from abroad.

It isn’t so much that East meets West as it is humanity is being flung at one another, hurled across distances at jet speed, information invading our impatient intelligence within the breath between atoms.

 

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

 

Diogenes, twenty-five hundred years ago, exclaimed:

I am not an Athenian or a Greek but a citizen of the world.

 

Above: Diogenes (412 – 323 BC)

 

Today we have the possibility to not only think of ourselves by the nations we found ourselves born in, but rather we have the opportunity to judge our heartbeat by the pulse of the planet.

We need to understand the faiths of others if we are to meet them as allies or antagonists, so that we can avoid military engagement through diplomacy.

We need to understand one another through our faiths so we can enjoy the world vision it offers us.

 

 

Or put another way….

What do they know of England, who only England know?

 

Location of England (dark green) – in Europe (green & dark grey) – in the United Kingdom (green)

 

How can we truly understand our beliefs if we never question them by comparison with others?

How truly enriching our lives become when we truly understand what belonging means to the Japanese, to sense with a Burmese grandmother what passes in life and what endures, to comprehend with the Hindu that our personalities mask the Infinite within, to follow the paradox of a Zen monk who assures you that everything is sacred but refrains from acts that are unholy, to feel the comfort that confession offers the devout Catholic….

For as language opens the mind to understanding other people, faith enlarges the heart to compassion and love for humanity.

 

True faith, not a dull habit but a living passion, confronts the individual with the momentous wisdom that life can offer.

Faith calls a soul to the highest adventure, a journey across the landscape of the human spirit.

It is the siren call to confront reality as it is, to master the self.

It is a lonely journey, a personal quest….

 

A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse,

A difficult path is this – the poets declare!

(Alfred Toynbee, Civilization on Trial)

 

Razors edge 84.jpg

 

Los Alamos, New Mexico, 16 July 1945

Today is the day that the chain reaction of scientific discoveries that began at the University of Chicago and focused here at Site Y has reached the final culmination.

 

 

No one has been more instrumental in this project’s achievement than the director of the Los Alamos Project, Robert Oppenheimer.

All eyes are upon him closely this morning.

 

Head and shoulders portrait

Above: Robert Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967)

 

He grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off.

He scarcely breathed.

He held on to a post to steady himself.

When the announcer shouted “Now!”, there came this tremendous burst of light, followed by the deep-growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed in an expression of tremendous relief.”

The first atomic bomb is a success.

 

 

What flashed through Oppenheimer’s mind during those moments were two lines from the Bhagavad-Gita in which the speaker is God:

I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds;

Waiting that hour that ripens to their doom.

 

Photograph of a bronze chariot. The discourse of Krishna and Arjuna in Kurukshetra is the Bhagavad Gita.

(The Bhagavad Gita is a discourse between Krishna and Arjuna set in a chariot at the start of the Mahabharata War.)

 

Thus began an age in which violence and peace continue to confront each other more fatefully than ever before.

 

In India, Gandhi’s name became, in the middle of the 20th century, the counterpoint to those of Stalin and Hitler, but not just for the British withdrawl from the Subcontinent in peace, but, more importantly, for his lowering a barrier even more formidable than that of race in America.

Gandhi renamed India’s untouchables harijan – God’s people – and raised them to human stature.

In doing so, Gandhi provided the non-violent strategy and the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights movement in the United States.

Gandhi’s inspiration was revealed in his autobiography:

Such power as I possess for working in the political field has derived from my experiments in the spiritual field.

Truth is the sovereign principle and the Bhagavad-Gita is the book par excellence for the knowledge of truth.

 

Studio photograph of Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, 1931.

Above: “Mahatma“(“the Venerable“) Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

 

On a grey day in October 2017, a stone’s throw from the grim North Circular, that drab ring road that encircles London’s northern suburbs of Neasden, I would follow my curiosity and thirst for truth eternal to a Hindu temple.

A temple both alien and appropriate in the homeland of English, in the heart of an empire that once dominated my own birth country of Canada and whose sovereign remains our head of state, from a religion with roots in the land of India – that living coalition of religions and languages where one billion congregate and of which 80% call themselves Hindu – with 30 million adherants dispersed throughout the world.

On that day I would visit the largest traditional Hindu temple outside India (as recognized by Guinness World Records), Neasden’s 8th Wonder of the World, the Crown Jewel of Hinduism, one of Reader’s Digest‘s 70 Wonders of the Modern World, Time Out London‘s Seven Wonders….

The BAPS Shri Swamirayan Mandir Hindu temple.

It would not make me a Hindu nor make me feel any more knowledgeable about Hinduism than I felt before, but, nevertheless, my morning visit left impressions with me that still remain….

 

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London, England, 26 October 2017

Shri Swaminarayan was not my first visit to a Hindu temple (and I have a feeling that it won’t be my last), for on a visit to Singapore in the spring of 2014, en route to the Perth wedding of friends in Western Australia, I visited Sri Mariamman Temple, paradoxically located in the Lion City’s Chinatown district.

Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and I still remember the temple’s incredible, brightly coloured gopuram (tower) above the entrance, covered in kitsch plaster images of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and (Oppenheimer’s) Shiva the Destroyer, as sacred cow sculptures graze the boundary walls.

 

 

I had a three-day stopover in Singapore and in the process of trying to cram so much into my consciousness in a very short time Sri Mariammen is a blurred memory amongst many that I saw during my short sojourn in the city-state.

I recall also seeing the Peranakan Museum, the Raffles Hotel, the Chinatown Heritage Centre, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, the Taoist Temple of Heavenly Happiness (Thian Hock Temp), Little India, Changi Prison, the Night Safari, Sentosa Island and Pulau Ubin.

I remember Little India, not for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with images of Kali, wearing a garland of skulls and ripping out the insides of her victims, but rather for the Bismallah Biryani Restaurant’s mutton kebab.

Hindu temples in Singapore were, for me at the time of my visit, only part of a tightly squeezed adventure and a list of must-sees rather than research for right or righteous religion.

 

 

(Thinking of Singapore and Perth I see future posts about them….)

 

I might not have bothered with London’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir at all had not my wife purchased for us two London Passes, offering free entry to over 60 attractions, as well as free public transport on buses, tubes and trains, and strongly suggested I use mine as much as possible during the days of the medical conference she would attend that week.

Today would be the first day that I would view London unaccompanied by my spouse during the week.

 

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It was not my first visit to London….

 

 

(I had spent a couple of days on my own in 1995, mostly walking along the Thames rather than doing much exploring as a lack of money dogged my days then.

I spent a day and an evening in 2010 with my good friend Iain and his beautiful companion – now his spouse since the aforementioned Perth wedding – Samantha, visiting Greenwich Observatory and seeing the show Avenue Q in the Theatre District, with time to enjoy life walking well and dining fine.)

 

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But this was the first time I would attempt to deliberately explore London on my own without having to worry excessively about money.

I approached the Project alphabetically from the pages of the London Pass Guide.

As the ArcelorMittal Orbit (London’s tallest sculpture), the All Hallows by the Tower Church (where William Penn was baptized, John Quincy Adams was married and Archbishop William Laud was buried), Apsley House (with the oldest surviving grand piano in the UK) and the Arsenal Stadium Tour & Museum – (Football was never so crucial a sport to me as Canadian ice hockey or American baseball.)(Iain, an Everton fan, would never have forgiven me such a sacrilege.) – didn’t strike me as “must-see-before-I-die” / bucket list attractions, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Manhir seemed the place to start.

 

 

And I must admit the attraction was attractively described:

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a masterpiece of traditional Hindu design and exquisite Indian workmanship in the heart of London. 

Using 5,000 tonnes of Italian and Indian marble and the finest Bulgarian limestone, it was hand-carved in India before being assembled in London in just 2.5 years. 

Since it opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over 400,000 visitors every year. 

Come and marvel at the intricate carvings, experience a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony, or learn about the world’s oldest living faith.

 

 

I took the Tube from our hotel’s neighbourhood way out to Stonebridge Park Station and wandered lost for an hour until I reached Neasden in the London Borough of Brent.

 

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It may seem at first thought that Neasden is an unusual spot for a Hindu temple, but then Neasden has always been an unusual spot in its own right.

Neasden’s name meant “nose hill” and referred to the small promontory at the western end of the Dollis Hill Ridge upon which the hamlet sat.

The countryside hamlet land was once owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and consisted of only several small buildings around a green near the site of the present Neasden roundabout until the mid-19th century.

In 1823 Neasden was no more than a “retired hamlet” with six cottages, four large farms, a pub and a smithy gathered around the green.

 

The Brent Reservoir (aka the Welsh Harp Reservoir from the name of the aforementioned pub) between Henden and Wembley Park, that straddles the boundary between the Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, was completed in 1835 and was breached in 1841.

The breaking of the dam on the River Brent resulted in folks dying and many fields and meadows under water.

Today the Brent Reservoir is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to the great crested grebe, the gadwall, the shoveler, the common pochard, the tufted duck and the common tern, as well as eight species of warbler – a total of 253 species of bird life.

As well the Reservoir possesses 31 species of butterfly, 15 species of dragonflies and is also the residence of grey squirrels, red foxes and bats.

In 1960 the Reservoir hosted the Women’s European Rowing Championships.

Today the Welsh Harp Open Space surely sees not only rowboats and sailboats but those of the Hindu faith enjoying the magic of this unglamourous corner of suburban tranquillity.

 

 

(Not fishermen though, as fishing is strictly forbidden.)

 

In 1873 Neasden had a populace of 110 and the horse was the main form of transport.

As London grew, the demand for horses in the capital soared, so in the second half of the 19th century Neasden farms focused on rearing and providing horses for the City.

Town work was exhausting and unhealthy for the horses….

 

Two Nokota horses standing in open grassland with rolling hills and trees visible in the background.

 

(It ain’t so wonderful for humans either.)

 

In 1886 the RSPCA formed a committee to set up the Home of Rest for Horses with grounds in Neasden, where, for a small fee, town horses were allowed to graze in the open for a few weeks.

 

The urbanization of Neasden began with the arrival of the railway.

The first railway running through Neasden was opened for goods traffic in 1868 with passenger services following soon after.

 

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In the 1890s change led to a conscious effort to create a village atmosphere.

At this time, the Spotted Dog became a social centre for local people.

By 1891 Neasden had a population of 930, half of whom lived in the village.

Despite the presence of the village in the west, it was the London end that grew fastest.

 

In 1893 the Great Central Railway got permission to join up its main line from Nottingham with the Metropolitan.

The Great Central set up a depot south of the line at Neasden and built houses for its workers.

 

 

The Great Central village was a “singularly isolated and self-contained community” with its own school and single shop, Branch No. 1 of the North West London Co-operative Society.

It is now part of a conservation area.

There was considerable sporting rivalry between the two railway estates and a football match was played every Good Friday.

By the 1930s the two railways employed over 1,000 men.

 

 

Neasden Hospital was built in 1894 and closed in 1986.

 

Apart from the railways, Neasden was dominated by agriculture until just before the First World War.

In 1911, Neasden’s population had swelled to 2,074.

By 1913, light industry at Church End had spread up Neasden Lane as far as the station.

 

In the 1920s, the building of the North Circular Road, a main arterial route round London, brought another wave of development.

It opened in 1923.

 

 

The 1924 British Empire Exhibition led to road improvements and the introduction of new bus services.

Together with the North Circular Road, it paved the way for a new residential suburb at Neasden.

The last farm in Neasden was built over in 1935.

The Ritz Cinema opened in 1935, and Neasden Shopping Parade was opened in 1936, considered then to be the most up-to-date in the area.

All of Neasden’s older houses were demolished during this period, except for The Grange.

The Spotted Dog was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style.

Industries sprung up in the south of the area, and by 1949, Neasden’s population was over 13,000.

 

The Post Office Research Station was located nearby in Dollis Hill.

 

 

There the Colossus computers, among the world’s first, were built in 1943-1944, and underneath them the Paddock Wartime Cabinet Rooms had been constructed in 1939.

 

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Neasden Power Station, which was built to provide power for the Metropolitan Railway, was closed and demolished in 1968.

 

The post-war history of Neasden is one of steady decline.

Local traffic congestion problems necessitated the building of an underpass on the North Circular Road that effectively cut Neasden in half and had a disastrous effect on the shopping centre by making pedestrian access to it difficult.

The decline in industry through the 1970s also contributed to the area’s decline.

 

But nonetheless Neasden has somehow survived, largely due to a succession of vibrant immigrant communities keeping the local economy afloat.

 

Neasden Depot continues to be the main storage and maintenance depot for the London Underground’s Metropolitan line (and is also used by trains of the Jubilee line).

It is London Underground’s largest depot and as such it is a major local employer.

The Grange Tavern (previously called The Old Spotted Dog) on Neasden Lane was closed in the 1990s and demolished to make way for a block of flats, bringing to an end the inn that had stood there for around two centuries.

Another old pub, The Pantiles, which stood on the North Circular Road was converted into a McDonald’s restaurant.

 

The Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA opened its second UK outlet in Neasden in 1988.

 

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On 14 July 1993, in an MI5 anti-terrorist operation, a Provisional IRA man was arrested in his car on Crest Road carrying a 20 lb bomb.

It came just over a year after the Staples Corner bombing just over 500 yards away, which devastated the junction.

 

 

In 1995, Neasden became the unlikely home of the biggest Hindu temple outside India: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, known locally as the Neasden Temple.

 

In 2004, the shopping centre area was partially redeveloped by the Council in an effort to reverse its fortunes.

The Grange, which had housed a museum about the people of Brent, was closed by the Council in 2005.

The 2004 redevelopment proved to be unpopular with local businesses, as it changed the layouts of parking, thus forcing customers and local trade to pass by due to the parking restrictions of the redevelopment.

Neasden was once nicknamed “the loneliest village in London” and “God’s own borough“.

Neasden has achieved considerable notoriety thanks to the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Since early in its history (when the magazine was actually printed in Neasden) the magazine has used Neasden as an exemplar of the suburban environment in pieces parodying current events, personalities, and social mores (for example, the University of Neasden).

Spoof sports reports in the magazine usually feature the perennially unsuccessful football team, Neasden F.C. with their manager, “ashen-faced” Ron Knee and their only two supporters, Sid and Doris Bonkers.

 

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Neasden was one of the locations in the TV documentary Metro-land.

In it, Sir John Betjeman described Neasden as “home of the gnome and the average citizen” (the former a reference to the preponderance of gnome statuettes in suburban front gardens, but possibly also a nod in the direction of the Eye’s fictional proprietor, Lord Gnome).

Background music was provided by William Rushton’s recording of Neasden (1972):

(“Neasden

You won’t be sorry that you breezed in.“)

 

Title card with the title "Metro-land with John Betjeman" in mock Edwardian script - yellow on a deep red background.

 

In a celebrated spoof of the Early Music phenomenon which grew enormously in the late 1960s, Neasden was selected by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer David Cain as the home of a fictional ensemble dedicated to historically-informed performances on authentic musical instruments from an indeterminate number of centuries ago.

It was thus that in 1968, listeners to BBC Radio 3 were given a recital by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis whose members performed on the equally fictional Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clackett.

 

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Athletico Neasden was an amateur football team of mostly Jewish players, which played in the Maccabi (Southern) Football League in the 1970s and 1980s and were named after the place, though they didn’t actually play in the area.

The team eventually merged with North West Warriors to form North West Neasden.

 

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David Sutherland’s children’s novel A Black Hole in Neasden reveals a gateway to another planet in a Neasden back garden.

 

Diana Evans’s 2006 novel 26a details the experiences of twin girls of Nigerian and British descent growing up in Neasden.

Willie Hamilton reported in ‘My Queen and I‘ that the Victorian Order medals were made on a production line in Neasden from used railway lines.

 

A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR. A crimson ribbon is attached

 

A pirate radio station, Dread Broadcasting Corporation, credited as Britain’s first black music radio station, was broadcast from a Neasden garden between 1981 – 1984.

 

In the Dangermouse episode “Planet of the Machines“, Dangermouse and Penfold arrive back in Neasden from the planet in the Baron’s space time machine.

 

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Konnie Huq and Matt Cooke from BBC TV present the Your News programme from Neasden.

 

So all of this begs the question:

 

What in the name of Krishna is a Hindu temple doing here?

 

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Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in the old Hindu proverb:

The lotus blooms in splendour, but its roots lie in the dirt.

 

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Let me be frank.

Neasden is a glum place, especially after the glamour of the City has been seen, thus the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir seems to rise majestically above the dismal, between-the-world-wars housing like a welcome oasis of sight.

So sudden and grandiose does the Mandir appear that the viewer wonders whether it is a mirage, a shimmering dream, conjured up by one’s overactive imagination.

Here in London’s loneliest village is an experience of India’s glorious tradition and faith, a legacy that seems to have evolved over millennia rather than appearing miraculously on the landscape in a mere 30 months.

 

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Since the Mandir opened in 1995, this renowned place of worship has attracted over half a million visitors a year.

The inventory of visitors, including your humble blogger, has incorporated prime ministers and presidents, royalty and religious leaders, artists and industrialists, school children and journalists, the devout and the merely curious.

 

It is impossible to catalogue all the appelations, emotions, inspirations and experiences that this Mandir has evoked.

On a personal profound level, the Mandir is a pavilion of peace and promise, a dissolver of disquiet, a messenger dispelling misunderstanding, a statement of hope and faith for the future.

 

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I am fascinated by the power of belief and teamwork and the spirit of volunteerism that made the Mandir possible.

In June 1970, the first BAPS Mandir in Britain opened in a converted disused church in Islington, North London, by Yogji Maharaj.

In 1982, having outgrown the Islington temple, the congregation moved to a small former warehouse in Neasden.

The present Mandir was designed by Pramukh Swami, a 92-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man) and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors.

 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, 2010

Above: Pramukh Swami (1921 – 2016)

 

It was built and funded entirely by the Hindu community.

The entire project took five years, although the Neasden construction itself was completed in a mere 30 months.

 

In November 1992, the temple recorded the largest concrete pour in the United Kingdom, when 4,500 tons were put down in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 1.8 metres / 6 feet thick.

The first stone was laid in June 1993.

Two years later, the Mandir was complete.

 

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Designed according to the Shilpa-Shastras, a Vedic text that develops Hindu architecture to metaphorically represent the different attributes of God, it was constructed almost entirely from Indian marble, Italian marble, Sardinian granite and Bulgarian limestone.

No iron or steel was used in the construction, a unique feature for a modern building in the UK.

From the conceptual design and vision of Pramukh Swami, the architect C. B. Sompura and his team created the Mandir entirely from stone.

 

It is a shikharbaddha (or pinnacled) mandir:

Seven-tiered pinnacles topped by golden spires crowd the roofline, complemented by five ribbed domes.

The temple is noted for its profusely carved cantilevered central dome.

Inside, serpentine ribbons of stone link the columns into arches, creating a sense of levitation.

Light cream Vartza limestone from Bulgaria was chosen for the exterior, and for the interior, Italian Carrara marble supplemented by Indian Ambaji marble.

The Bulgarian and Italian stone were shipped to the port of Kandla in Gujarat, where most of the carving was eventually completed, by over 1,500 craftsmen in a workshop specially set up for the project.

More than 26,300 individually numbered stones pieces were shipped back to London and the building was assembled like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw.

 

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The Mandir was inaugurated on 20 August 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS – the organisation behind the temple.

The entire Mandir complex represents an act of faith and collective effort.

Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, more than 1,000 volunteers worked on the building, and many more contributed and solicited donations, or organised sponsored walks and other activities.

Children raised money by collecting aluminium cans and foil for recycling – the biggest can collection in English history – 7 million cans collected by 1,500 children.

 

The Mandir serves as the centre of worship.

Directly beneath each of the seven pinnacles seen from the outside is a shrine.

Each of these seven shrines houses murtis (sacred images) within altars.

Each murti is revered like God in person and devoutly attended to each day by the sadhus (monks) who live in the temple ashram.

 

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Beneath the Mandir is the permanent exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism‘.

Through 3-D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork, it provides an insight into the wisdom and values of Hinduism.

Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs and contribution of Hindu seers, and how this ancient religion is being practised today through traditions, such as the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampraday.

 

The Mandir is open to people of all faiths and none.

Entrance is free, except to the ‘Understanding Hinduism‘ exhibition where there is a £2 fee, which was covered by the London Pass.

 

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(A note about BAPS….

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) (Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā) is a Hindu religious and social organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.

BAPS was established on 5 June 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj after leaving the Vadtal Gadi of the Swaminarayan Sampraday.

It was formed on the founder’s interpretation that Swaminarayan was to remain present on Earth through a lineage of Gunatit Gurus (or Akshar) dating all the way back to Gunatitanand Swami – one of Swaminarayan’s prominent devotees.

Gunatitanand Swami was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.

Due to the organizational emphasis on the Akshar Purushottam doctrine, it essentially forms the organization’s middle name.

The fundamental beliefs of BAPS include the spiritual guidance through the living Akshar (or Guru) who is believed to have attained oneness with Swaminarayan.

Mahant Swami Maharaj is the current Guru and the president of the organization.

As a global, well-established Hindu organization, BAPS actively engages in a range of endeavors aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare.

The activities span religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains.

Through these activities, it aims to preserve Indian culture, ideals of Hindu faith, family unity, selfless service, interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.

55,000 volunteers and 3,300 temples serve 3,300 communities around the world.

As of August 2018, BAPS has approximately 1,560 saints (or sadhus), among the most saints in one sanstha in Hinduism.

As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS also engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable endeavors, by which its volunteers serve neighbors and communities.

With total assets of 17.5 billion USD, BAPS is able to contribute to a lot of welfare and public service works.

Through BAPS Charities, a non-profit aid organization, BAPS has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes and community-building campaigns.)

 

BAPS Logo with the symbol of Akshar Deri

 

For the Hindu community, the Mandir is a unifying force that installs pride and dignity with a zeal to serve society.

Every week, hundreds of faithful devotees, young and old alike, gather for prayers and services.

The annual Diwali and New Year’s festivals are witnessed by thousands of devotees and well-wishers.

Diwali is a spectacular celebration that falls in the month of November, a festival of lights and fireworks that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

Every year 35,000 children visit the Mandir.

 

 

What exactly is a Mandir, you ask?

A Mandir is a Hindu place of worship, literally a place where the mind becomes still and the soul floats freely to seek the source of life, bliss and meaning, a place to pause for a moment to pray, reflect and absorb the peaceful ambiance.

 

 

The problem is that the Mandir is a place that takes religion seriously, and though it is listed as a tourist attraction, the Mandir is anything but one.

Here, there is no pandering to curiosity seekers.

It is not a place to go rifling through the Hindu faith to light on what has shock value, for the focus on what is bizarre and outside one’s experience is the crudest kind of vulgarization of faith.

Behind the ceremony and ritual, we seek what is of deepest concern to ourselves, that search for the essential similarity in human nature.

Hinduism is, like true faith, like other religions, not a dull habit but a raging fever, a pounding pulse that gives its adherants all that is startling about life itself.

 

The Mandir in the suburbs of Neasden is as unbelievable to the eyes as a garden in the Sahara.

This spectacular edifice, this the largest Hindu temple outside India, includes seven spires (shikhars), six domes, 193 pillars and 55 different ceiling designs.

The Mandir‘s visual splendour and tranquil atmosphere have spontaneously generated poetic expressions and sentiments.

The media have dubbed the Mandir as “hallucinogenic” and described the profuse carvings as “frothy milk on a cappuccino“.

Deities and motifs representing the Hindu faith spring from the ceilings, walls and windows.

The impressive monument is supported by a 1,070-foot long pageant of extraordinary stone elephants and a 610-foot long ornately carved outer wall.

The Narayan Sarovar, a water body that embraces the monument on three sides, gives the Mandir an aura of a traditional place of pilgrimage.

The Mandir is entered through the richly carved portico of the Grand Haveli (cultural complex), welcoming you into a majestic wooden courtyard with soaring teak columns and oak panels.

Elegant peacocks, delicate lotus flowers and royal elephants beckon in greeting, with the carpet designed to compliment the motifs.

 

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Wood for the Haveli was sourced from sustainable forests, and for each tree felled, ten saplings were planted.

The Haveli Prayer Hall is a pillar-less assembly area that measures 2,750 square metres and seats over 2,500 worshippers.

The Hall incorporates environment-friendly features such as light wells, energy-saving lighting and a heat exchanger which uses thermal energy dissipated by the congregation to heat other parts of the complex.

Here is the venue for weekly assemblies and regular festivals.

 

 

The heart of the Mandir is its murtis (the sacred images of the deities who are revered as living gods), ritually infused with the presence of the divine.

Hindus worship murtis to express and enhance their loving relationship with that which is holy.

Murtis are the soul of the Mandir, making it a sacred place of worhsip wherein God resides – the home of God.

 

 

The shrine’s foundations are His feet, the pillars His knees, the inner sanctum His stomach, the throne His heart, the murti His soul, the shikhars His shoulders, the bell His tongue, the lamp His breath, the lion His nose, the windows His ears, the ringed stone on the shikhar His neck, the golden pot His head and the flags His hair.

The entire Mandir is revered as a divine manifestation.

In total, there are 11 shrines with 17 murtis, including Ganesh, Hanuman and Swaminarayan – this last to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

 

The murtis are ritually served by dedicated sadhus (monks) who live in the Mandir.

Before sunrise, the murtis are awakened by the sadhus and the shrine doors opened for the first of five daily artis (prayers), the Mangala Arti.

 

 

An arti is a ritual wherein a specific prayer is recited to a poetic format with music while the sadhus wave a lighted lamp in front of the murtis.

The sadhus recite some shlokas (prayers), serve the murtis, offer them food and bathe them and close the shrine doors.

Feeding and bathing of the murtis continues throughout the day.

 

The shrines are opened again for the second aarti, the Shangar Arti, and remain open from 0900 to approximately 1100, when the shrines are closed and offered thal (hymns).

At 1145, the shrines are opened for the midday arti, the Rajbhog Arti, and the thal is recited before the murtis.

The shrines are closed after this to allow the murtis to rest during the afternoon.

The shrines reopen at 1600 until 1830 for darshan.

 

 

The Sandhya Arti (sunset arti) follows at 1900.

Thereafter, a selection of prayers are recited by the devotees including dhun (where the names of God are chanted and verses of praise are sung).

The shrines are closed again for approximately one hour so they can be offered their final meal by the sadhus.

The murtis are then prepared for the night and adorned in their evening attire by the sadhus.

The shrines are opened a final time for the Shayan Arti (night-time arti) with the lights dimmed and music lowered.

The devotees recite a few hymns, gently sending the murtis to sleep, before the shrines are finally closed for the night.

 

The elaborately carved pillars, friezes, ornate ceilings and the magnificent dome provide an aesthetic and elevating atmosphere to the sanctum sanctorum of the Mandir.

 

 

The murtis of the Mandir – Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Guru Parampara, the avatars of Sanatan Dharma, Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj, Shri Radha-Krishna, Shri Sita-Ram, Shri Shiv-Parvati, Shri Ganeshji and Shri Hanumanji – exude a heavenly calm and beauty.

 

Don’t despair if you can’t decipher who is who and what is what, for, to understand all of this, one needs to be steeped in Hindu history and Indian heritage.

 

 

Here prayers are whispered, songs of praise are heightened and the soul rejoices beyond the frontiers of mundane existence to experience the divine peace of God.

It is a nucleus of socio-spiritual activities for the benefit and elevation of individuals, families and society.

It inspires a society free from violence, crime and addiction.

It infuses people with a spirit of selfless service, to live in tune with God and in harmony with humanity.

 

Or at least these are the Mandir’s intentions.

 

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An hour of lost and bewildered walking finally led me to a procession of French teenagers who were scrutinized carefully by the burly security that met us.

 

Here at 105 Brentfield Road, as in most places that devote time and attention to unearthly divinity, apparently God has a strict dress code that must be adhered to before you will be allowed to worship Him.

Clothing must be respectable, respectful.

Shorts and skirts must be below knee-length and footwear removed upon entering the Mandir complex.

No one smokes on the premises.

Video and photography are forbidden upon entry.

Mobile phones must be turned off and no food or beverages are allowed on the premises.

 

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By the time I reach the security shed where backpacks are stored upon long shelves and make my way into the Mandir I am immediately summoned by personnel into the Prayer Hall where row upon row of folding chairs support a large collection of English senior citizens let loose here on this most unusual excursion.

The film is agonizingly long and as I am not officially a part of this senior set, despite the balding pate and silver mane that is mine, I extrude myself as quietly as I can and find myself lining up to enter the Inner Sanctum with the aforementioned French and some Indian devotees.

 

Hindu worship (puja) involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).

The simplest yantra is a circle within a square within a rectangle, with four gates to represent the four directions of the universe.

Hindu temples are based on this design, although still open to endless additions and variations in decoration.

Central to worship is the icon, or sacred image, which together with the temple, is believed to both house and represent a manifestation of God.

An icon can be worshipped at home or in a temple.

Most Hindu worship at home more often and the majority of Hindu homes have a shrine, where at certain times different members of the family make offerings and say prayers.

Most Hindus worship individually, not in a communal service.

Worship involves mantras (vibrating sounds that summon the murti) and prasad (the offering of gifts).

While many prayers and offerings are made for the fulfillment of wishes, the ultimate objective is the offering of the self to become one with God.

Central to this worship is darshan (seeing and being in the presence of the central murti).

 

 

The best time to visit the Mandir is just before 1145, when the rajbhog arti ceremony is performed.

Lit candles are waved in front of the embodiments of the murtis, accompanied by a musical prayer performed by drums, bells, gongs and a conch shell.

 

It is truly a haunting and uplifting experience.

 

Abhishek is the ancient Hindu practice of pouring water over the sacred image of God to honour Him and to attain His blessings.

In this Mandir, abhishek of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (or Bhagwan Swaminarayan) is performed daily to the chanting of Vedic verses, including the ancient prayer of peace (the Shanti Paath) and the recital of the 108 auspicious and liberating names of Varni (the Janmangal Namavali), in a ceremony that lasts 15 minutes.

The abhishek is done by devotees on days of special significance to them or to seek blessings for personal reasons.

 

 

The Abhishek Mandap is a marble chamber on the lower floor of the Mandir, housing the sacred image of Shri Nilkanth Varni, the teenage form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to whom the Mandir is dedicated.

The chamber is clad in Brazilian and Italian marble and embellished with intricate traditional designs.

At the chamber’s heart lies the murti of Varni in gilded brass.

He is depicted in mid-step, emaciated, yet looking calm and resolute.

With matted hair and a small gutko (handwritten manuscript of excerpts from sacred texts) wrapped in a kerchief around his neck, Varni is wearing nothing but his loincloth tied at the waist by a jute cord.

In his left hand, Varni carries a dand (a wooden staff) and a kamandalu (a drinking pot made from dry gourd), both common marks of Hindu ascetism.

 

 

Who was Varni?

After renouncing his home at the tender age of 11, Bhagwan Swaminarayan embarked upon an epic journey of spiritual awakening that took him around India, into Nepal and Tibet, and through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

During this time, he became to be known as Nilkanth Varni.

Barefoot and alone, Nilkanth walked almost 8,000 miles over seven years, blessing the land and liberating numerous spiritual aspirants along the way.

Carrying no maps, no food and no money, Varni crossed raging rivers, faced ferocious animals and survived the freezing heights of the Himalayas.

His solitary journey is a story of courage, kindness and enlightenment, and the inspiration for the naming of the Mandir.

 

Mount Everest as seen from Drukair2 PLW edit.jpg

 

But can the non-believer understand Hinduism?

I have tried and what I have concluded is the following….

 

Hinduism is the world’s oldest ongoing living religion, practised as early as 6500 BC.

It has, unlike Christianity or Islam, no one single founder, but is rather a collective of experiences of ancient seers over the centuries.

According to Hinduism’s adherents, Hinduism teaches one to see the presence of God in everything and thus honour the whole of creation.

You can find God in the world of everyday affairs as readily as anywhere else.

 

Shiva

 

With this perspective, there are no heathens nor enemies.

Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a divine man, while believing that there have been many as such, including Rama, Krishna and the Buddha.

 

Everyone, even Canada Slim your humble blogger, has the right to evolve spiritually and will, at some time, realise the truth.

 

Hindus believe that souls are not limited to one life – many lives offer many chances for spiritual elevation.

 

 

Like many religions, this faith has rigorous rules.

People are responsible for every action they perform, through the Law of Karma.

 

Hindus believe in one supreme, all-powerful God, the Creator, who has a divine form, is immanent (eternal), transcedent and the grantor of spiritual liberation (moksha).

Jews, Christians and Muslims view the worship of God in the form of one chosen ideal.

Hindus view and represent God in innumerable forms.

 

Brahma sarawati.jpg

 

Each form (avatar) is but a symbol that points to something beyond.

No one form can truly encapsulate God’s actual nature, so an entire array is needed to complete the picture of God’s aspects and manifestations.

Each representation’s vocation is to introduce the human heart to what it represents but what it itself is not.

Though each representation points equally to God, the Hindu devotee tends to form a lifetime attachment to one, the ishta, the form of the divine the devotee wishes to adopt.

This worship of sacred images of God is called murti puja.

After all, love assumes different nuances according to the relationship involved.

 

Hindus believe in Karma that the soul reaps fruit – good or bad – which is experienced either in this life or in future lives.

They believe in reincarnation (punar-janma), that the soul is immortal, repeatedly born and reborn in one of millions of lifeforms until it attains spiritual liberation (moksha).

Moksha is the release of the soul from this perpetual cycle of births and deaths, remaining eternally in the blissful presence of God.

 

 

Dharma is how we choose to live our lives according to divine law, which values service, sacrifice, humility, duty, devotion, purpose, fidelity, respect and integrity among other positive practices and virtues.

This divine law is believed to be revealed by the authority of the Vedic scriptures, the four Vedas – the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyaka and the Upanishad.

And in a model of efficiency these are encapsulated in the Shikshapatri, a book of moral conduct in 212 succinct Sanskrit verses.

 

 

In a nutshell of simplicity:

  • Do not steal.
  • Do not eat meat.
  • Do not consume alcohol or other intoxicants.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Maintain purity of conduct.

 

Hindus claim a proud heritage:

  • the world’s first university (700 BC), Takshashila, India
  • the invention of the Zero, which makes the binary system and computers possible
  • the invention of the decimal system
  • the invention of geometry and trigonometry
  • the value of pi – the ratio of the circumference and diameter of a circle
  • the prior formulation of the Pythagorean Theorem (which says that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the square of the two sides)  (For me, mathematics is as arcane and mysterious as faith.)
  • a theory of the revolution of the Earth 1,000 years before Copernicus
  • a formulation of the law of gravity 1,200 years before Newton
  • an idea of the smallest and largest measures of time from a kratl (34,000th of a second) to a kalpa (4.32 billion years)
  • the practice of surgery 2,600 years ago with 125 types of surgical instruments for 300 different operations

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I did not leave the Mandir of London as a convert to Hinduism, but what my visit showed me was worth the effort.

 

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Life holds more than what one is experiencing now.

People need to live for something which makes life worthwhile, a quest for meaning and value beyond oneself.

Life holds other possibilities beyond our own experience.

 

Hinduism holds that underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss.

Hinduism sees the mind’s hidden continents as stretching to infinity, infinite in being, infinite in awareness, infinite in joy.

Hindus believe that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for a distinctive mode of travel, each starting from the kind of person one is.

 

Lakshmi

 

We all play the roles our personalities dictate, cast in this moment in the greatest of all tragi-comedies, the drama of life itself in which we are all simultaneously co-authors and actors, powered less by reason than by emotion.

To find meaning in this drama, in the mystery of existence, is life’s final and fascinating challenge.

Life is a training ground for the human spirit.

The world is the soul’s gymnasium, both a school and a training field.

 

Hindus believe that the world is lila, God’s plan, that the goal of life is life itself.

 

The various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal to find meaning to our lives beyond ourselves.

The various religions are but different languages through which God, should God exist, speaks to the human heart.

 

Truth is one.

Sages call truth by different names.

 

Differences in culture, history, geography and temperament all make for diverse starting points.

Is life not more interesting as a result of its infinite variety in endless combinations?

 

I may not always understand that which is out of my experience, but the benefits of trying to go beyond my experience are boundless.

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Understanding Hinduism Exhibition Guidebook, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir / John Bowker, World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored and Explained / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Huston Smith, The World’s Religions / The Bhagavad-Gita

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Freudian Slippers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 15 January 2018

I have spoken of Sigmund Freud before.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

 

And I must confess to a reluctance to like the man and his theories, for the same reason I am reluctant to embrace Charles Darwin and his theories:

Three quarter length studio photo showing Darwin's characteristic large forehead and bushy eyebrows with deep set eyes, pug nose and mouth set in a determined look. He is bald on top, with dark hair and long side whiskers but no beard or moustache. His jacket is dark, with very wide lapels, and his trousers are a light check pattern. His shirt has an upright wing collar, and his cravat is tucked into his waistcoat which is a light fine checked pattern.

Above: Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

 

Admitting there may be some validity to their theories is to admit to embarrassing revelations about myself.

 

Maybe we did evolve from single cell organisms and apes through a process of millions of millennia, so perhaps a belief in an invisible God that created the world in seven calendar days and could bring me eternal life after death is less plausible than the acceptance that I am just the tiniest particle in the vast expanse of time, space and reality.

 

And maybe, just maybe, there might be more to Freud and his theories than just the scandalous unproven idea that he liked to watch his mother pee, and that some of the ways we think about ourselves and how our unconscious, dreams and sexuality as suggested by Freud’s theories might be somewhat uncomfortably plausible.

 

My wife, the medical doctor in the house, has, of course, had exposure during her studies to the work and thought of Freud in regards to child development.

During her internship in a Vienna practice she visited the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna – there are three Freud Museums, the other two are in Pribor, Czech Republic, and in London – which she immensely enjoyed.

Above: Sigmund Freud Museum, Bergstrasse 19, Vienna

 

Knowing that she had some free time before her medical conference in London in October 2017, Ute was determined that she would visit the Freud Museum here as well.

The Freud Museum (20 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3, England), as seen from the garden.

Above: Freud Museum, London

 

I have already written extensively of some of the many sites we saw in London during our week there together and suffice to say that what I have said is a mere drop in the bucket of all that has been said or could be said by others.

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(For more on London, please see:

  • Canada Slim and the Body Snatchers /….and the Danger Zone / ….and the Paddington Arrival / ….and the Street Walked Too Often /….Underground / …. and the Outcast /…. and the Wonders on the Wall / …. and the Calculated Cathedral / …. and the Right Man / …. and the Queen’s Horsemen / …. and the Royal Peculiar / …. and the Uncertainty Principle / …. and the Museum of Many / …. and the Lamp Ladies / …. and the Breviary of Bartholomew of this blog. )

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

In North London, perched on a hill to the west of Hampstead Heath, Hampstead Village developed into a fashionable spa in the 18th century and was not much altered thereafter.

Being a sloping site deterred Victorian property speculators and put off the railway companies from destroying much of Hampstead.

Later it became one of the city’s most celebrated literary quartiers and even now retains a reputation as a bolt hole for high-profile intelligentsia and discerning pop stars.

The steeply inclined High Street, lined with posh shops and arty cafés, flaunts the area’s ever-increasing wealth, but far more appealing are the extensive, picturesque and precipitious maze of alleyways and steps radiating both east and west of Heath Street.

Proximity to Hampstead Heath is the true joy of the territory, for this mixture of woodland, smooth pasture and landscaped garden is simply the most exhilirating patch of greenery in London.

Over the years, countless writers, artists and politicos have been drawn to Hampstead, which has more blue plaques commemorating its residents than any London borough.

John Constable lived here in the 1820s, trying to make ends meet for his wife and seven children, painting cloud formations on the Heath.

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Above: John Constable (1776 – 1837)

 

John Keats (1795 – 1821) moved into Well Walk in 1817 to nurse his dying brother then moved to a semi-detached villa, fell in love with the girl next door, bumped into Coleridge on the Heath and in 1821 went to Rome to die.

Above: Keats House, Spanish Steps, Rome

(I have visited Keats House in Rome and in London.)

Above: Keats House, Hampstead, North London

 

In 1856, Karl Marx finally achieved respectability when he moved into Grafton Terrace.

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Above: Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

 

Robert Louis Stevenson stayed here when he was 23 suffering from tuberculosis and thought Hampstead was “the most delightful place for air and scenery“.

Robert Louis Stevenson in 1893 by Henry Walter Barnett

Above: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

 

Author H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) lived on Church Row for three years just before World War One, while photographer Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980) attended primary school and was bullied by author Evelyn Waugh (1903 – 1966) – the start of a lifelong feud.

 

The composer Edward Elgar became a special constable during the war, joining the Hampstead Volunteer Reserve.

image of a middle aged man in late Victorian clothes, viewed in right semi-profile. He has a prominent Roman nose and large moustache

Above: Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934)

 

Writer D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930) and his German wife Frieda (1879 – 1956) watched the first Zeppelin raid on London from the Heath in 1915 and decided to leave.

Above: Memorial, Camberwell Old Cemetery, London, to 21 civilians killed by Zeppelin bombings in 1917

 

Following the war, Lawrence’s friend and fellow writer Katherine Mansfield, lived for a couple of years in a big grey house overlooking the Heath, which she nicknamed “the Elephant“.

Katherine Mansfield

Above: Katherine Mansfield (1888 – 1923)

 

Actor Dirk Bogarde was born in a taxi in Hampstead in 1921.

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Above: Dirk Bogarde (1921 – 1999)

 

Poet Stephen Spender spent his childhood in “an ugly house” on Frognal and went to school locally.

Spender in 1933

Above: Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995)

 

Elizabeth Taylor was born in Hampstead in 1932 and came back to live here in the 1950s during her first marriage to Richard Burton.

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Above: Elizabeth Taylor (1932- 2011)

 

In the 1930s, Hampstead’s modernist Isokon Building, a block of flats on Lawn Road, became something of an artistic hangout, particularly the drinking den, the Isobar.

Above: Isokon Flats, Hampstead, North London

 

Architect Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969) and artists Henry Moore (1898 – 1986), Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) and her husband Ben Nicholson (1894 – 1982) all lived here.

Another tenant, Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976), compared the exterior of Isokon to a giant ocean liner.

 

Architect Ernö Goldfinger (1902 – 1987) built his modernist family home at 2 Willow Road and local resident Ian Fleming named James Bond’s adversary after him.

Above: 2 Willow Road, Hampstead, North London

 

Mohammed Ali Jinnah abandoned India for Hampstead in 1932, living a quiet life with his daughter and his sister and working as a lawyer.

A view of Jinnah's face late in life

Above: Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876 – 1948)

 

George Orwell lived rent-free above Booklovers’ Corner, a bookshop on South End Road, in 1934, in return for services in the shop in the afternoon.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying has many echoes of Hampstead and its characters.

 

Artist Piet Mondrian escaped to Hampstead from Nazi-occupied Paris, only to be bombed out a year later, after which he fled to New York.

Piet Mondriaan.jpg

Above: Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944)

 

Nobel Prize-winning writer Elias Canetti (1905 – 1994) was another refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe as was painter/poet Oskar Kokoschka (1886 – 1980).

 

General Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) got first-hand experience of Nazi air raids when he lived on Frognal with his wife and two daughters.

Heinkel over Wapping.jpg

 

Ruth Ellis (1926 – 1955), the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1955, shot her lover outside Magdala Tavern by Hampstead Heath Train Station.

 

Sid Vicious (1957 – 1979) and Johnny Rotten lived in a squat on Hampstead High Street in 1976.

 

John le Carré lived here in the 1970s and 1980s and set a murder in Smiley’s People on Hampstead Heath.

John le Carré in Hamburg (10 November 2008)

Above: John le Carré

 

Former Labour leader Michael Foot lived in a house he bought in 1945 with his redundancy cheque from The Evening Standard until the age of 96.

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Above: Michael Foot (1913 – 2010)

 

Today comedian Ricky Gervais, director Ridley Scott, footballer Thierry Henry and pop stars Boy George and Harry Styles have homes here.

 

And it was here in Hampstead where the Austrian neurologist and the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life, having reluctantly left Vienna following the Nazi Anschluss (annexation).

In January 1933, the Nazi Party took control of Germany and Freud’s books were prominent among those they burned and destroyed.

Freud remarked to Ernest Jones:

What progress we are making!

In the Middle Ages they would have burned me.

Now, they are content with burning my books.

Freud was wrong.

The Nazis would have gassed and incinerated him too in one of their death camps – as happened to millions of other Jews.

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Freud continued to underestimate the growing Nazi threat and remained determined to stay in Vienna, even following the Anschluss of 13 March 1938, in which Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and the outbreaks of violent anti-Semitism that ensued.

 

Ernest Jones, the president of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), flew into Vienna from London via Prague on 15 March determined to get Freud to change his mind and seek exile in Britain.

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Above: Ernest Jones (1879 – 1958)

 

That same month Nazi S.A. men invaded Freud’s home searching for valuables.

Freud’s “Old Testament” frown frightened them away, though daughter Anna was detained by the Gestapo a whole day.

This prospect and the shock of the arrest and interrogation of Anna Freud by the Gestapo finally convinced Freud it was time to leave Austria.

Flag of Germany

 

Jones left for London the following week with a list provided by Freud of the party of émigrés for whom immigration permits would be required.

Back in London, Jones used his personal acquaintance with the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, to expedite the granting of permits.

There were seventeen in all and work permits were provided where relevant.

Jones also used his influence in scientific circles, persuading the president of the Royal Society, Sir William Bragg, to write to the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, requesting to good effect that diplomatic pressure be applied in Berlin and Vienna on Freud’s behalf.

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

 

Freud also had support from American diplomats, notably his ex-patient and American ambassador to France, William Bullitt.

Bullitt alerted US President Roosevelt to the increased dangers facing the Freuds, resulting in the American consul-general in Vienna, John Cooper Wiley, arranging regular monitoring of Berggasse 19.

He also intervened by phone call during the Gestapo interrogation of Anna Freud.

Flag of the United States

 

The departure from Vienna began in stages throughout April and May 1938.

Freud’s grandson Ernst Halberstadt and Freud’s son Martin’s wife and children left for Paris in April.

Freud’s sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, left for London on 5 May, Martin Freud the following week and Freud’s daughter Mathilde and her husband, Robert Hollitscher, on 24 May.

By the end of the month, arrangements for Freud’s own departure for London had become stalled, mired in a legally tortuous and financially extortionate process of negotiation with the Nazi authorities.

Under regulations imposed on its Jewish population by the new Nazi regime, a Kommissar was appointed to manage Freud’s assets and those of the IPA whose headquarters were nearby Freud’s home.

 

Freud was allocated to Dr. Anton Sauerwald, who had studied chemistry at Vienna University under Professor Josef Herzig, an old friend of Freud’s.

Sauerwald read Freud’s books to further learn about him and became sympathetic towards his situation.

Though required to disclose details of all Freud’s bank accounts to his superiors and to arrange the destruction of the historic library of books housed in the offices of the IPA, Sauerwald did neither.

Instead he removed evidence of Freud’s foreign bank accounts to his own safe-keeping and arranged the storage of the IPA library in the Austrian National Library where it remained until the end of the war.

Though Sauerwald’s intervention lessened the financial burden of the “flight” tax on Freud’s declared assets, other substantial charges were levied in relation to the debts of the IPA and the valuable collection of antiquities Freud possessed.

Unable to access his own accounts, Freud turned to Princess Marie Bonaparte, the most eminent and wealthy of his French followers, who had travelled to Vienna to offer her support and it was she who made the necessary funds available.

This allowed Sauerwald to sign the necessary exit visas for Freud, his wife Martha and daughter Anna.

Image result for anton sauerwald

Above: Anton Sauerwald

 

They left Vienna on the Orient Express on 4 June, accompanied by their housekeeper and a doctor, arriving in Paris the following day where they stayed as guests of Princess Bonaparte before travelling overnight to London arriving at Victoria Station on 6 June.

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Freud was immediately Britain’s most famous Nazi exile.

Among those soon to call on Freud to pay their respects were Salvador Dalí, Stefan Zweig, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf and H. G. Wells.

 

 

Representatives of the Royal Society called with the Society’s Charter for Freud, who had been elected a Foreign Member in 1936, to sign himself into membership.

 

Princess Bonaparte arrived towards the end of June to discuss the fate of Freud’s four elderly sisters left behind in Vienna.

 

MARIE BONAPARTE PRINCESS GIORGIOS OF GREECE (14901259040).jpg

Above: Princess Marie Bonaparte (1882 – 1962)

 

Her subsequent attempts to get them exit visas failed and they would all die in Nazi concentration camps.

 

In early 1939 Sauerwald arrived in London in mysterious circumstances where he met Freud’s brother Alexander.

He was tried and imprisoned in 1945 by an Austrian court for his activities as a Nazi Party official.

Responding to a plea from his wife, Anna Freud wrote to confirm that Sauerwald “used his office as our appointed commissar in such a manner as to protect my father“.

Her intervention helped secure his release from jail in 1947.

 

In the Freuds’ new home, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, North London, Freud’s Vienna consulting room was recreated in faithful detail.

He continued to see patients there until the terminal stages of his illness.

He also worked on his last books, Moses and Monotheism, published in German in 1938 and in English the following year and the uncompleted An Outline of Psychoanalysis which was published posthumously.

Der Mann Moses 1939.jpg

 

The ground floor of the museum houses Freud’s study, library, hall and the dining room.

Freud’s study and library look exactly as they did when Freud lived here – they were modelled on his Berggasse 19 flat in Vienna:

The large collection of antiquities and the psychiatrist’s couch, sumptiously draped in an opulent Iranian rug, were all brought here from Vienna.

Image result for freud museum london images

 

Upstairs on the first floor in the video room there is some old footage of the Freud family.

While another room is dedicated to Sigmund’s favourite daughter, Anna Freud, herself an influential child analyst.

 

There is a temporary exhibitions room which hosts alternate contemporary art and Freud-themed exhibitions.

Art installations often use several rooms within the museum, such as the 2001/02 exhibition “A Visit to Freud’s” by an Austrian female photographer Uli Aigner.

 

Many areas such as the kitchen and Anna Freud’s consulting room are out of public view and have been converted into offices.

 

The house had only finished being built in 1920 in the Queen Anne Style.

 

A small sun room (loggia) in a modern style was added at the rear by his architect son Ernst Ludwig Freud that same year so Sigmund could sit out and enjoy the garden.

It has since been enclosed and now serves as the museum shop, which flogs merchandise from silk scarves inspired by his patients’ artwork to novelty Freudian slippers, plus a good selection of books, including those used to research this post.

Image result for freudian slippers

 

In February 1923, Freud detected a leukoplakia, a benign growth associated with heavy smoking, on his mouth.

Freud initially kept this secret, but in April 1923 he informed Ernest Jones, telling him that the growth had been removed.

Freud consulted the dermatologist Maximilian Steiner, who advised him to quit smoking but lied about the growth’s seriousness, minimizing its importance.

Freud later saw Felix Deutsch who saw that the growth was cancerous.

He identified it to Freud using the euphemism “a bad leukoplakia” instead of the technical diagnosis epithelioma.

Deutsch advised Freud to stop smoking and have the growth excised.

Freud was treated by Marcus Hajek, a rhinologist (nose surgeon) whose competence he had previously questioned.

Hajek performed an unnecessary cosmetic surgery in his clinic’s outpatient department.

Freud bled during and after the operation and may narrowly have escaped death.

Freud subsequently saw Deutsch again.

Deutsch saw that further surgery would be required, but did not tell Freud that he had cancer because he was worried that Freud might wish to commit suicide.

 

Freud had been given just five years to live.

He lasted sixteen, but he was a semi-invalid when he arrived in London and rarely left the house except to visit his pet dog Chun who was held in quarantine for nearly a year.

Image result for freud dog chun images

 

Freud was over eighty at this time.

 

By mid-September 1939, Freud’s cancer of the jaw was causing him increasingly severe pain and had been declared to be inoperable.

 

The last book he read, Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin, prompted reflections on his own increasing frailty.

BalzacMagicSkin01.jpg

Above: Title page of Honoré Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin (Skin of Sorrow)

 

A few days later he turned to his doctor, friend and fellow refugee, Max Schur, reminding him that they had previously discussed the terminal stages of his illness:

Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense.

When Schur replied that he had not forgotten, Freud said, “I thank you.” and then “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it.

Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father’s death, but Schur convinced her it was pointless to keep him alive and on 21 and 22 September administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud’s death around 3 am on 23 September 1939, age 83.

However, discrepancies in the various accounts Schur gave of his role in Freud’s final hours, which have in turn led to inconsistencies between Freud’s main biographers, has led to further research and a revised account.

This proposes that Schur was absent from Freud’s deathbed when a third and final dose of morphine was administered by Dr Josephine Stross, a colleague of Anna Freud’s, leading to Freud’s death around midnight on 23 September 1939.

 

Above: Freud’s ashes, Golders Green Crematorium

 

The house remained in his family until his youngest daughter Anna Freud, who was a pioneer of child therapy, died in 1982.

 

The house has a well maintained garden which is still much as Freud would have known it.

 

The Freuds moved all their furniture and household effects to London.

There are Biedermeier chests, tables and cupboards and a collection of 18th century and 19th century Austrian painted country furniture.

Image result for freud museum london images

The museum owns Freud’s collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Oriental antiquities, and his personal library.

Although Freud was not a practising Jew, he was very conscious of his Jewishness, which is reflected in the artifacts he collected, including an etching hanging in his study by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669) of Menasseh ben Israel (1604 – 1657), who persuaded Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews back into England in 1656.

Above: Rembrandt’s Portrait of Menasseh ben Israel

 

Freud’s “old and grubby gods” as he described his collection in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess in 1899 are still on view to visitors, just as he left them.

Freud was an avid and knowledgable collector and often sought expert advice before purchasing.

As his collection grew, his study became a treasure trove of thousands of antiquities from all over the world, ranging from Roman glass objects to wooden Buddha statuettes, terracotta representations of the Greek god Eros, Egyptian gods cast in bronze, Chinese works in jade and a 20th century metal porcupine given to him during a visit to the United States in 1909.


Freud confessed that his passion for collecting was second only to his addiction to cigars.

 

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The star exhibit in the museum is Freud’s psychoanalytic couch, which had been given to him by one of his patients, Madame Benvenisti, in 1890.

This was restored at a cost of £5000 in 2013.

This couch was where patients revealed their wildest dreams, forgotten trauma and hidden phobias or free associated whatever sprung into their minds before Freud would interpret their unconscious meanings.

In 2013, the Freud Museum’s curators worried about the deteriorating condition of the 125-year-old couch, which had begun to sag badly in the middle and was splitting along its seams.

Thanks to generous private donations and painstaking work by specialists, the couch was restored to its original splendour.

Covered with Oriental rugs and cushions it looks remarkably comfortable to recline upon and recall deep-seated memories.

The couch has seen a lot of Freud’s patients both in Vienna and London.

Freud used pseudonyms in his case histories.

Some patients known by pseudonyms were:

  • Cäcilie M. (Anna von Lieben)
  • Dora (Ida Bauer, 1882–1945)
  • Frau Emmy von N. (Fanny Moser)
  • Fräulein Elisabeth von R. (Ilona Weiss)
  • Fräulein Katharina (Aurelia Kronich)
  • Fräulein Lucy R.
  • Little Hans (Herbert Graf, 1903–1973)
  • Rat Man (Ernst Lanzer, 1878–1914)
  • Enos Fingy (Joshua Wild, 1878–1920)
  • Wolf Man (Sergei Pankejeff, 1887–1979).

Other famous patients included:

  • Prince Pedro Augusto of Brazil (1866–1934)
  • H.D. (1886–1961)
  • Emma Eckstein (1865–1924)
  • Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), with whom Freud had only a single, extended consultation
  • Princess Marie Bonaparte
  • Edith Banfield Jackson (1895–1977)
  • Albert Hirst (1887–1974).

The Wolf Man wrote of Freud’s home that….

There was always a feeling of sacred peace and quiet here. 

The rooms themselves must have been a surprise to any patient, for they in no way reminded one of a doctor’s office but rather of an archaeologist’s study.

 

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Above: The Wolf Man

 

To the Wolf Man Freud said:

The psychoanalyst, like the archaeologist in his excavations, must uncover layer after layer of the patients’ psyche.

 

In 2015 (the 50th anniversary of the Museum), the Museum, along with the artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, hired a police forensic team to scrutinize traces of DNA left on the couch.

The team found many examples, including strands of hair and a multitude of a multitude of dust particles, from Sigmund Freud, his patients and his family.

Freud did not sit on the couch himself when analyzing his patients, but sat out of sight next to it.

He once famously remarked to his friend, the psychoanalyist Hanns Sachs:

I can’t let myself be stared at for eight hours daily.”

 

The study and library were preserved by Anna Freud after her father’s death.

The bookshelf behind Freud’s desk contains some of his favourite authors: not only Goethe and Shakespeare but also Heine, Multatuli and Anatole France.

Freud acknowledged that poets and philosophers had gained insights into the unconscious which psychoanalysis sought to explain systematically.

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In addition to the books, the library contains various pictures hung as Freud arranged them; these include ‘Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx‘ and ‘The Lesson of Dr Charcot‘ plus photographs of Martha Freud, Lou Andreas-Salomé, Yvette Guilbert, Marie Bonaparte and Ernst von Fleischl.

The collection includes a portrait of Freud by Salvador Dalí.

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The museum organizes research and publication programmes and it has an education service which organises seminars, conferences and educational visits to the museum.

The museum is a member of the London Museums of Health & Medicine.

 

I quickly wandered through the Museum, upstairs and down, while Ute took the audio-guided tour.

I confess that I did not fully comprehend the importance of Sigmund Freud to the same extent as she did, for in our partnership she is both the brains and the beauty while I am simply loud and can lift heavy objects.

I still couldn’t explain the therapeutic techniques of free association and transference if my very life depended upon it.

And in this overly politically correct climate we now find ourselves living in these days I find myself quite discomfited by the notions of sexuality in infantile forms.

I have yet to be convinced of the soundness of his Oedipus complex theory that suggests that the ancient Greek legend of a king who kills his father and marries his mother is reflective of a child’s incest fantasy of falling in love with Mother and being jealous of Father.

Nor am I decided whether Freud’s idea that dreams are unconscious wish fulfillments as he suggests.

And I claim almost embarrassingly little understanding of that what he called the id, ego and superego, and very scant notions of what he terms the libido and the death drive.

But I will say that the Museum succeeded in capturing my curiosity about this man whose name, though a household one, remains almost as misunderstood as the unconscious mind.

 

Freud was born in Freiburg, Moravia (today’s Pribor, Czech Republic), the first of his mother’s eight children.

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Above: Freud’s birthplace, Pribor, Czech Republic

 

His father, Jakob Freud (1815 – 1896) was a fairly successful wool merchant, who, at age 40, with two grown sons, Emanuel (1833 – 1914) and Philipp (1836 – 1911) and already a grandfather, married, for his second time, Sigmund’s mother Amalie Nathanson (1835 – 1930).

Sigi” was the first – and favourite – of Amalie’s offspring, and Sigi knew it.

A man who has been the indisputable favourite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success, that often induces real success.

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Above: Sigi (age 16) and his mother Amalia, 1872

 

In 1859, the Freud family left Freiburg.

Freud’s half brothers emigrated to Manchester, England, parting him from the “inseparable” playmate of his early childhood, Emanuel’s son, John.

Jakob Freud took his wife and two children (Freud’s sister, Anna, was born in 1858; a brother, Julius born in 1857, had died in infancy) firstly to Leipzig and then in 1860 to Vienna where four sisters and a brother were born: Rosa (b. 1860), Marie (b. 1861), Adolfine (b. 1862), Paula (b. 1864), Alexander (b. 1866).

Freud’s choice of boyhood heroes revealed a deep dislike of Imperial Austria: the anti-monarchist Oliver Cromwell and the Carthaginian general Hannibal.

Austria was Roman Catholic and anti-Semetic.

 

In 1865, the nine-year-old Freud entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school.

He proved to be an outstanding pupil and graduated in 1873 with honors.

He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

 

Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17 in 1873.

He had planned to study law, but joined the medical faculty at the university, where his studies included philosophy, physiology and zoology.

Freud’s special interests were histology (the scientific study of organic tissues) and neurophysiology (the scientific study of the nervous system).

He wanted to be a scientist – not a medical practicioner.

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In 1876, Freud spent four weeks at a zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting hundreds of eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organs.

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In 1877 Freud moved to Ernst Brücke’s physiology laboratory where he spent six years comparing the brains of humans and other vertebrates with those of invertebrates such as frogs, crayfish and lampreys.

His research work on the biology of nervous tissue proved seminal for the subsequent discovery of the neuron in the 1890s.

Freud’s research work was interrupted in 1879 by the obligation to undertake a year’s compulsory military service.

The lengthy downtimes enabled him to complete a commission to translate four essays from John Stuart Mill’s collected works.

He graduated with an MD in March 1881.

 

Freud was happy doing scientific work but Brücke gave him some fatherly advice.

Academic posts were few and badly paid and Freud’s chances of advancement as a Jew were bad, so with Freud’s father unable to support him – what with the Crash of 1873 ruining him and with six other children to support – and marriage plans with Martha Bernays (1861 – 1951), Freud began his medical career at the Vienna General Hospital.

 

Freud had to face another long training period in clinical medicine before starting his own private practice.

First he served (1882 – 1885) as assistant to Hermann Nothnagel (1841 – 1905), Professor of Internal Medicine, and spent five months (1183) working in the Psychiatric Clinic under Theodor Meynart (1833 – 1892), the greatest brain anatomist and neuropathologist at that time.

Meynart influenced Freud to become a specialist in neuropathology (diseases of the nervous system).

 

Freud’s research work in cerebral anatomy led to his studying the effects of cocaine – starting on himself.

He even prescribed it to Martha!

He felt that cocaine was nothing more than an anti-depressant, a harmless anaesthetic.

Freud’s close friend, the gifted physiologist Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow (1846 – 1891), suffered from a painful tumour of the hand and thus became a morphine addict.

Freud suggested that Ernst switch to cocaine instead.

Freud’s colleague Carl Koller put in his claim as the discoverer of cocaine, nearly ruining his reputation, because by 1886 cases of cocaine addiction were reported everywhere and Ernst had become a despairing addict.

Freud’s research would lead to the publication of an influential paper on the pallative effects of cocaine in 1884, but Ernst’s addiction would always make Freud regret that he had failed to anticipate cocaine’s addictive effects.

Above: Ernst von Fleschl-Marxow

 

His work on aphasia (the inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions as a result of a stroke or a head trauma) would form the basis of his first book On the Aphasias: a Critical Study, published in 1891.

 

Over a three-year period, Freud worked in various departments of the hospital.

His time spent in Theodor Meynert’s psychiatric clinic and as a locum (temporary replacement physician) in a local asylum led to an increased interest in clinical work.

His substantial body of published research led to his appointment as a university lecturer in neuropathology in 1885, a non-salaried post but one which entitled him to give lectures at the University of Vienna.

In 1886, Freud resigned his hospital post and entered private practice specializing in “nervous disorders“.

 

The same year he married Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Isaac Bernays, a chief rabbi in Hamburg.

They had six children: Mathilde (b. 1887), Jean-Martin (b. 1889), Oliver (b. 1891), Ernst (b. 1892), Sophie (b. 1893), and Anna (b. 1895).

From 1891 until they left Vienna in 1938, Freud and his family lived in an apartment at Berggasse 19, near Innere Stadt, a historical district of Vienna.

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In 1896, Minna Bernays, Martha Freud’s sister, became a permanent member of the Freud household after the death of her fiancé.

The close relationship she formed with Freud led to rumours, started by Carl Jung, of an affair.

The discovery of a Swiss hotel log of 13 August 1898, signed by Freud whilst travelling with his sister-in-law, has been presented as evidence of the affair.

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Freud began smoking tobacco at age 24.

Initially a cigarette smoker, he became a cigar smoker.

He believed that smoking enhanced his capacity to work and that he could exercise self-control in moderating it.

Despite health warnings from colleague Wilhelm Fliess, he remained a smoker, eventually suffering a buccal (of the mouth) cancer.

Freud suggested to Fliess in 1897 that addictions, including that to tobacco, were substitutes for masturbation, “the one great habit.”

 

Freud had greatly admired his philosophy tutor, Brentano, who was known for his theories of perception and introspection.

Brentano discussed the possible existence of the unconscious mind in his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874).

Although Brentano denied its existence, his discussion of the unconscious probably helped introduce Freud to the concept.

 

Freud owned and made use of Charles Darwin’s major evolutionary writings, and was also influenced by Eduard von Hartmann’s The Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869).

Other texts of importance to Freud were by Gustav Fechner and Johann Friedrich Herbart with the latter’s Psychology as Science arguably considered to be of underrated significance in this respect.

Freud also drew on the work of Theodor Lipps who was one of the main contemporary theorists of the concepts of the unconscious and empathy.

Though Freud was reluctant to associate his psychoanalytic insights with prior philosophical theories, attention has been drawn to analogies between his work and that of both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, both of whom he claimed not to have read until late in life.

One historian concluded, based on Freud’s correspondence with his adolescent friend Eduard Silberstein, that Freud read Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the first two of the Untimely Meditations when he was seventeen.

In 1900, the year of Nietzsche’s death, Freud bought his collected works.

He told his friend, Fliess, that he hoped to find in Nietzsche’s works “the words for much that remains mute in me.”

Later, he said he had not yet opened them.

Freud came to treat Nietzsche’s writings “as texts to be resisted far more than to be studied.”

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Above: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

 

His interest in philosophy declined after he had decided on a career in neurology.

Freud read William Shakespeare in English throughout his life and it has been suggested that his understanding of human psychology may have been partially derived from Shakespeare’s plays.

 

Freud’s Jewish origins and his allegiance to his secular Jewish identity were of significant influence in the formation of his intellectual and moral outlook, especially with respect to his intellectual non-conformism, as he was the first to point out in his Autobiographical Study.

They would also have a substantial effect on the content of psychoanalytic ideas, particularly in respect of their common concerns with depth interpretation and “the bounding of desire by law”.

 

In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a renowned neurologist who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis.

He was later to recall the experience of this stay as catalytic in turning him toward the practice of medical psychopathology and away from a less financially promising career in neurology research.

Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and susceptibility to hypnosis, which he frequently demonstrated with patients on stage in front of an audience.

 

Once he had set up in private practice in 1886, Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work.

He adopted the approach of his friend and collaborator, Josef Breuer, in a use of hypnosis which was different from the French methods he had studied in that it did not use suggestion.

The treatment of one particular patient of Breuer’s proved to be transformative for Freud’s clinical practice.

 

Described as Anna O., she was invited to talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis (she would coin the phrase “talking cure” for her treatment).

In the course of talking in this way these symptoms became reduced in severity as she retrieved memories of traumatic incidents associated with their onset.

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Above: Bertha Pappenheim (aka Anna O.)(1859 – 1936)

 

The uneven results of Freud’s early clinical work eventually led him to abandon hypnosis, having reached the conclusion that more consistent and effective symptom relief could be achieved by encouraging patients to talk freely, without censorship or inhibition, about whatever ideas or memories occurred to them.

In conjunction with this procedure, which he called “free association“, Freud found that patients’ dreams could be fruitfully analyzed to reveal the complex structuring of unconscious material and to demonstrate the psychic action of repression which, he had concluded, underlay symptom formation.

 

By 1896 he was using the term “psychoanalysis” to refer to his new clinical method and the theories on which it was based.

 

Freud’s development of these new theories took place during a period in which he experienced heart irregularities, disturbing dreams and periods of depression, a “neurasthenia” which he linked to the death of his father in 1896 and which prompted a “self-analysis” of his own dreams and memories of childhood.

His explorations of his feelings of hostility to his father and rivalrous jealousy over his mother’s affections led him to fundamentally revise his theory of the origin of the neuroses.

On the basis of his early clinical work, Freud had postulated that unconscious memories of sexual molestation in early childhood were a necessary precondition for the psychoneuroses (hysteria and obsessional neurosis), a formulation now known as Freud’s seduction theory.

In the light of his self-analysis, Freud abandoned the theory that every neurosis can be traced back to the effects of infantile sexual abuse, now arguing that infantile sexual scenarios still had a causative function, but it did not matter whether they were real or imagined and that in either case they became pathogenic only when acting as repressed memories.

This transition from the theory of infantile sexual trauma as a general explanation of how all neuroses originate to one that presupposes an autonomous infantile sexuality provided the basis for Freud’s subsequent formulation of the theory of the Oedipus complex.

 

Freud described the evolution of his clinical method and set out his theory of the psychogenetic origins of hysteria, demonstrated in a number of case histories, in Studies on Hysteria published in 1895 (co-authored with Josef Breuer).

 

In 1899 he published The Interpretation of Dreams in which, following a critical review of existing theory, Freud gives detailed interpretations of his own and his patients’ dreams in terms of wish-fulfillments made subject to the repression and censorship of the “dream work“.

He then sets out the theoretical model of mental structure (the unconscious, pre-conscious and conscious) on which this account is based.

An abridged version, On Dreams, was published in 1901.

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In works which would win him a more general readership, Freud applied his theories outside the clinical setting in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) and Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).

 

In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, published in 1905, Freud elaborates his theory of infantile sexuality, describing its “polymorphous perverse” forms and the functioning of the “drives“, to which it gives rise, in the formation of sexual identity.

The same year he published ‘Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora)‘ which became one of his more famous and controversial case studies.

 

During this formative period of his work, Freud valued and came to rely on the intellectual and emotional support of his friend Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin based ear, nose and throat specialist whom he had first met 1887.

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Above: Freud (left) and Wilhelm Fliess (1858 – 1928)(right)

 

Both men saw themselves as isolated from the prevailing clinical and theoretical mainstream because of their ambitions to develop radical new theories of sexuality.

Fliess developed highly eccentric theories of human biorhythms and a nasogenital connection which are today considered pseudo-scientific.

He shared Freud’s views on the importance of certain aspects of sexuality — masturbation, coitus interruptus, and the use of condoms — in the etiology of what were then called the “actual neuroses“, primarily neurasthenia and certain physically manifested anxiety symptoms.

They maintained an extensive correspondence from which Freud drew on Fliess’s speculations on infantile sexuality and bisexuality to elaborate and revise his own ideas.

His first attempt at a systematic theory of the mind, his Project for a Scientific Psychology was developed as a metapsychology with Fliess as interlocutor.

However, Freud’s efforts to build a bridge between neurology and psychology were eventually abandoned after they had reached an impasse, as his letters to Fliess reveal, though the soundest ideas of the Project were to be taken up again in the concluding chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams.

 

Freud had Fliess repeatedly operate on his nose and sinuses to treat “nasal reflex neurosis” and subsequently referred his patient Emma Eckstein to him.

According to Freud her history of symptoms included severe leg pains with consequent restricted mobility, and stomach and menstrual pains.

These pains were, according to Fliess’s theories, caused by habitual masturbation which, as the tissue of the nose and genitalia were linked, was curable by removal of part of the middle turbinate.

Fliess’s surgery proved disastrous, resulting in profuse, recurrent nasal bleeding – he had left a half-metre of gauze in Eckstein’s nasal cavity the subsequent removal of which left her permanently disfigured.

At first, though aware of Fliess’s culpability – Freud fled from the remedial surgery in horror – he could only bring himself to delicately intimate in his correspondence to Fliess the nature of his disastrous role and in subsequent letters maintained a tactful silence on the matter or else returned to the face-saving topic of Eckstein’s hysteria.

Freud ultimately, in light of Eckstein’s history of adolescent self-cutting and irregular nasal and menstrual bleeding, concluded that Fliess was “completely without blame“, as Eckstein’s post-operative hemorrhages were hysterical “wish-bleedings” linked to “an old wish to be loved in her illness” and triggered as a means of “rearousing [Freud’s] affection“.

Eckstein nonetheless continued her analysis with Freud.

She was restored to full mobility and went on to practice psychoanalysis herself.

Above: Emma Eckstein (1865 – 1924)

 

Freud, who had called Fliess “the Kepler of biology“, later concluded that a combination of a homoerotic attachment and the residue of his “specifically Jewish mysticism” lay behind his loyalty to his Jewish friend and his consequent over-estimation of both his theoretical and clinical work.

 

Their friendship came to an acrimonious end with Fliess angry at Freud’s unwillingness to endorse his general theory of sexual periodicity and accusing him of collusion in the plagiarism of his work.

After Fliess failed to respond to Freud’s offer of collaboration over publication of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1906, their relationship came to an end.

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In 1902, Freud at last realised his long-standing ambition to be made a university professor.

The title “professor extraordinariuswas important to Freud for the recognition and prestige it conferred, there being no salary or teaching duties attached to the post (he would be granted the enhanced status of “professor ordinarius” in 1920).

Despite support from the university, his appointment had been blocked in successive years by the political authorities and it was secured only with the intervention of one of his more influential ex-patients, a Baroness Marie Ferstel, who had to bribe the minister of education with a painting.

With his prestige thus enhanced, Freud continued with the regular series of lectures on his work which, since the mid-1880s as a lecturer of Vienna University, he had been delivering to small audiences every Saturday evening at the lecture hall of the university’s psychiatric clinic.

 

From the autumn of 1902, a number of Viennese physicians who had expressed interest in Freud’s work were invited to meet at his apartment every Wednesday afternoon to discuss issues relating to psychology and neuropathology.

This group was called the Wednesday Psychological Society (Psychologische Mittwochs-Gesellschaft) and it marked the beginnings of the worldwide psychoanalytic movement.

 

Freud founded this discussion group at the suggestion of the physician Wilhelm Stekel.

Stekel had studied medicine at the University of Vienna under Richard von Krafft-Ebing.

His conversion to psychoanalysis is variously attributed to his successful treatment by Freud for a sexual problem or as a result of his reading The Interpretation of Dreams, to which he subsequently gave a positive review in the Viennese daily newspaper Neues Wiener Tagblatt.

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Above: Wilhelm Steckel (1868 – 1940)

 

The other three original members whom Freud invited to attend, Alfred Adler, Max Kahane and Rudolf Reitler, were also physicians and all five were Jewish by birth.

Both Kahane and Reitler were childhood friends of Freud.

 

Kahane (1866 – 1923) had attended the same secondary school and both he and Reitler went to university with Freud.

They had kept abreast of Freud’s developing ideas through their attendance at his Saturday evening lectures.

In 1901, Kahane, who first introduced Stekel to Freud’s work, had opened an out-patient psychotherapy institute of which he was the director in Bauernmarkt, in Vienna.

In the same year, his medical textbook, Outline of Internal Medicine for Students and Practicing Physicians, was published.

In it, he provided an outline of Freud’s psychoanalytic method.

Kahane broke with Freud and left the Wednesday Psychological Society in 1907 for unknown reasons and in 1923 committed suicide.

 

Reitler (1865 – 1917) was the director of an establishment providing thermal cures in Dorotheergasse which had been founded in 1901.

He died prematurely in 1917.

 

Adler, regarded as the most formidable intellect among the early Freud circle, was a socialist who in 1898 had written a health manual for the tailoring trade.

He was particularly interested in the potential social impact of psychiatry.

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Above: Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937)

 

Max Graf, a Viennese musicologist and father of “Little Hans” (Herbert Graf, 1903 – 1973), who had first encountered Freud in 1900 and joined the Wednesday group soon after its initial inception, described the ritual and atmosphere of the early meetings of the society:

The gatherings followed a definite ritual.

First one of the members would present a paper.

Then, black coffee and cakes were served; cigar and cigarettes were on the table and were consumed in great quantities.

After a social quarter of an hour, the discussion would begin.

The last and decisive word was always spoken by Freud himself.

There was the atmosphere of the foundation of a religion in that room.

Freud himself was its new prophet who made the heretofore prevailing methods of psychological investigation appear superficial.

 

Above: Max Graf (1873 – 1958)

 

By 1906, the group had grown to sixteen members, including Otto Rank, who was employed as the group’s paid secretary.

 

In the same year, Freud began a correspondence with Carl Gustav Jung who was by then already an academically acclaimed researcher into word-association and the Galvanic Skin Response, and a lecturer at Zurich University, although still only an assistant to Eugen Bleuler at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zürich.

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Above: Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961)

 

In March 1907, Jung and Ludwig Binswanger, also a Swiss psychiatrist, travelled to Vienna to visit Freud and attend the discussion group.

Thereafter, they established a small psychoanalytic group in Zürich.

 

In 1908, reflecting its growing institutional status, the Wednesday group was renamed the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

 

After the founding of the IPA in 1910, an international network of psychoanalytical societies, training institutes and clinics became well established and a regular schedule of biannual Congresses commenced after the end of World War I to coordinate their activities.

 

In 1911, the first women members were admitted to the Society.

Tatiana Rosenthal (1885 – 1921) and Sabina Spielrein were both Russian psychiatrists and graduates of the Zürich University medical school.

Prior to the completion of her studies, Spielrein had been a patient of Jung at the Burghölzli and the clinical and personal details of their relationship became the subject of an extensive correspondence between Freud and Jung.

Both women would go on to make important contributions to the work of the Russian Psychoanalytic Society founded in 1910.

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Above: Sabina Spielrain (1885- 1942)

 

Freud’s early followers met together formally for the first time at the Hotel Bristol, Salzburg on 27 April 1908.

This meeting, which was retrospectively deemed to be the first International Psychoanalytic Congress, was convened at the suggestion of Ernest Jones, then a London-based neurologist who had discovered Freud’s writings and begun applying psychoanalytic methods in his clinical work.

Jones had met Jung at a conference the previous year and they met up again in Zürich to organize the Congress.

There were, as Jones records, “forty-two present, half of whom were or became practicing analysts.”

In addition to Jones and the Viennese and Zürich contingents accompanying Freud and Jung, also present and notable for their subsequent importance in the psychoanalytic movement were Karl Abraham and Max Eitingon from Berlin, Sándor Ferenczi from Budapest and the New York-based Abraham Brill.

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Important decisions were taken at the Congress with a view to advancing the impact of Freud’s work.

A journal, the Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologishe Forschungen, was launched in 1909 under the editorship of Jung.

This was followed in 1910 by the Monthly Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse edited by Adler and Stekel, in 1911 by Imago, a journal devoted to the application of psychoanalysis to the field of cultural and literary studies edited by Rank and in 1913 by the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, also edited by Rank.

 

Plans for an international association of psychoanalysts were put in place and these were implemented at the Nuremberg Congress of 1910 where Jung was elected, with Freud’s support, as its first president.

 

Freud turned to Brill and Jones to further his ambition to spread the psychoanalytic cause in the English-speaking world.

Both were invited to Vienna following the Salzburg Congress and a division of labour was agreed with Brill given the translation rights for Freud’s works, and Jones, who was to take up a post at the University of Toronto later in the year, tasked with establishing a platform for Freudian ideas in North American academic and medical life.

Jones’s advocacy prepared the way for Freud’s visit to the United States, accompanied by Jung and Ferenczi, in September 1909 at the invitation of Stanley Hall, president of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, where he gave five lectures on psychoanalysis.

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The event, at which Freud was awarded an Honorary Doctorate, marked the first public recognition of Freud’s work and attracted widespread media interest.

 

Freud’s audience included the distinguished neurologist and psychiatrist James Jackson Putnam, Professor of Diseases of the Nervous System at Harvard, who invited Freud to his country retreat where they held extensive discussions over a period of four days.

Putnam’s subsequent public endorsement of Freud’s work represented a significant breakthrough for the psychoanalytic cause in the United States.

When Putnam and Jones organised the founding of the American Psychoanalytic Association in May 1911 they were elected president and secretary respectively.

Brill founded the New York Psychoanalytic Society the same year.

His English translations of Freud’s work began to appear from 1909.

 

Some of Freud’s followers subsequently withdrew from the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) and founded their own schools.

From 1909, Adler’s views on topics such as neurosis began to differ markedly from those held by Freud.

As Adler’s position appeared increasingly incompatible with Freudianism, a series of confrontations between their respective viewpoints took place at the meetings of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society in January and February 1911.

In February 1911, Adler, then the president of the society, resigned his position.

At this time, Stekel also resigned his position as vice president of the society.

Adler finally left the Freudian group altogether in June 1911 to found his own organization with nine other members who had also resigned from the group.

This new formation was initially called the Society for Free Psychoanalysis but it was soon renamed the Society for Individual Psychology.

In the period after World War I, Adler became increasingly associated with a psychological position he devised called individual psychology.

 

In 1912, Jung published Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (published in English in 1916 as Psychology of the Unconscious) making it clear that his views were taking a direction quite different from those of Freud.

To distinguish his system from psychoanalysis, Jung called it analytical psychology.

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Anticipating the final breakdown of the relationship between Freud and Jung, Ernest Jones initiated the formation of a secret committee of loyalists charged with safeguarding the theoretical coherence and institutional legacy of the psychoanalytic movement.

Formed in the autumn of 1912, the Committee comprised Freud, Jones, Abraham, Ferenczi, Rank, and Hanns Sachs.

Max Eitingon joined the Committee in 1919.

Each member pledged himself not to make any public departure from the fundamental tenets of psychoanalytic theory before he had discussed his views with the others.

Above: The Committee (from left to right): Otto Rank, Sigmund Freud, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Sandor Ferenczi, Ernest Jones and Hanns Sachs

 

After this development, Jung recognised that his position was untenable and resigned as editor of the Jarhbuch and then as president of the IPA in April 1914.

The Zürich Society withdrew from the IPA the following July.

 

Later the same year, Freud published a paper entitled “The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement“, the German original being first published in the Jahrbuch, giving his view on the birth and evolution of the psychoanalytic movement and the withdrawal of Adler and Jung from it.

 

The final defection from Freud’s inner circle occurred following the publication in 1924 of Rank’s The Trauma of Birth which other members of the committee read as, in effect, abandoning the Oedipus Complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytic theory.

Abraham and Jones became increasingly forceful critics of Rank and though he and Freud were reluctant to end their close and long-standing relationship the break finally came in 1926 when Rank resigned from his official posts in the IPA and left Vienna for Paris.

His place on the committee was taken by Anna Freud.

Rank eventually settled in the United States where his revisions of Freudian theory were to influence a new generation of therapists uncomfortable with the orthodoxies of the IPA.

 

Psychoanalytic societies and institutes were established in Switzerland (1919), France (1926), Italy (1932), the Netherlands (1933), Norway (1933) and in Palestine (Jerusalem, 1933) by Eitingon, who had fled Berlin after Adolf Hitler came to power.

The New York Psychoanalytic Institute was founded in 1931.

The 1922 Berlin Congress was the last Freud attended.

By this time his speech had become seriously impaired by the prosthetic device he needed as a result of a series of operations on his cancerous jaw.

He kept abreast of developments through a regular correspondence with his principal followers and via the circular letters and meetings of the secret Committee which he continued to attend.

The Committee continued to function until 1927 by which time institutional developments within the IPA, such as the establishment of the International Training Commission, had addressed concerns about the transmission of psychoanalytic theory and practice.

There remained, however, significant differences over the issue of lay analysis – i.e. the acceptance of non-medically qualified candidates for psychoanalytic training.

Freud set out his case in favour in 1926 in his The Question of Lay Analysis.

He was resolutely opposed by the American societies who expressed concerns over professional standards and the risk of litigation (though child analysts were made exempt).

These concerns were also shared by some of his European colleagues.

Eventually an agreement was reached allowing societies autonomy in setting criteria for candidature.

In 1930 Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize in recognition of his contributions to psychology and to German literary culture.

 

Though in overall decline as a diagnostic and clinical practice, psychoanalysis remains influential within psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and across the humanities.

It thus continues to generate extensive and highly contested debate with regard to its therapeutic efficacy, its scientific status, and whether it advances or is detrimental to the feminist cause.

Nonetheless, Freud’s work has suffused contemporary Western thought and popular culture.

 

In the words of W.H. Auden’s 1940 poetic tribute, by the time of Freud’s death, he had become “a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives.”

 

Somehow I got the feeling that the Freud Museum, try as it may, fails to truly capture the essence of what Sigi was trying to do.

Because the man was just too big.

At least in terms of the average tourist-layman, the simple man I am.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Richard Appignanesi & Oscar Zarate, Introducing Freud / Joel Whitebook, Freud: An Intellectual Biography / Rebecca Wallersteiner, “If you’re sitting comfortably….a trip to the Sigmund Freud Museum!“, Spotlight, 23 October 2015 / Sophie Leighton, “Freud’s Collections“, Freud Museum London Friends News

Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

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I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.

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And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

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On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.

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It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

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Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

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Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

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Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.

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Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.

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Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.

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Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

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Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

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Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

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Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

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Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

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She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

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The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

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Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum / http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

 

Canada Slim and the Last Walk of Robert Walser

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Christmas Day 2017

As my wife works – she is a doctor – I wonder what I am going to do with my days off.

Weather is rather grey for walking and I am not particularly motivated to accomplish much housecleaning despite the need to do so.

Of course, I could drag out from my DVD collection the classic holiday movies: Die Hard, Home Alone, National Lampoon´s Christmas Vacation, Skipping Christmas, The Sound of Music, It´s a Wonderful Life, Love….Actually, etc.

But I feel somewhat guilty to be watching DVDs on the couch while my wife slaves away in the hospital.

I´ll get over it.

It is Christmas Day, the day of Christ´s Mass, when Christians (they all crawl out of their comfortable hidey-holes at Christmas and Easter) celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, though high church leaders do admit that there is no real way to ascertain with precision what day Christ was born or even what year Christ was born.

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The early Church determined that the Roman festival of Saturnalia seemed as good a time as any to fix a date of birth for the namesake of Christianity and decided to let the annually-changing lunar calendar determine when to commemorate Jesus being crucified and resurrected.

Religion cannot be an effective opiate of the people unless it is organized, with standards set and traditions established.

I will not and cannot diminish what Christianity means to the true practioner nor would I want to.

But having been raised in a land that calls itself Christian with the belief that Christmas and Easter should be honoured as simply more than excuses to have a school or work vacation, I wonder at the evolution of my beliefs since the days of my childhood and my youth.

When did I begin to question the validity of what I had once viewed as infallible and unquestionable?

Part of my problem with those who profess to be followers of a faith is that many of them do not actually practice what they preach, except within the confines of a temple of worship.

Some will even violate the basic tenets of their faith in defence of that faith.

(For example, the strict rule against murdering one´s fellow man is somehow justifiable if it is in defence of the faith that forbids killing.)

(The instruction to love one another seems always dismissable to the degree by which the other person disagrees with us.)

I am reminded of the Genesis song, Jesus He Knows Me:

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“‘Cause Jesus He knows me and He knows I’m right.
I’ve been talking to Jesus all my life.
Oh, yes, He knows me and He knows I’m right.
And He’s been telling me everything´s gonna be alright.

I believe in the family with my everloving wife beside me,
But she don’t know about my girlfriend or the man I met last night….”

(This also suggests that love must be restricted to the marriage bond and between opposite genders, as if love itself must be defined by the religious rule makers.)

God may be divine, but religion is a human invention.

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Above: The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo

So if a person believes in the existence of God, even if the greatest proof of His existence is the inability to disprove His existence, and if a person believes that His divinity should be worshipped, then what is the best way to go about it?

It seems there is no right answer universally agreed upon.

My way of worshipping God, if one could say that is something I actually do, is to walk.

God cannot, and in my opinion should not, be confined within walls or behind altars.

If God exists, then He is within and without, part of all that surrounds us and composes us,

I ask no one to follow me and ask no one to do or believe as I do.

For me, there is something about being Outside, away from the corrupting influence of civilization and the rules and regulations, customs and conflicts that define it, that suggests to me a sense of the divine far more real and powerful than any mighty cathedral or grand temple can offer.

I believe two Swiss men, both sadly departed, may have felt as I do.

Huldrych Zwingli, for all his flaws, may have felt a touch of the divine simply having lived in remarkably beautiful areas of Switzerland like Wildhaus, Weesen and Glarus.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

I think it was his living in cities or enclosing himself within the manmade walls of monasteries or cathedrals that made him question the certainty of his faith and his allegiance to the Church.

I personally find it difficult to doubt the existence of God and the surety of faith when I am walking in the wilderness.

I find it bothersome to believe in God and the certainty of religion when I see what passes for civilization in human communities.

(More on Zwingli and his questioning of his beliefs in a future blogpost….)

Robert Walser was born in Berne in 1878.

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Above: Robert Walser (1878 – 1956)

Walser was born into a family with many children.

His brother Karl Walser became a well-known stage designer and painter.

Walser grew up in Biel, Switzerland, on the language border between the German- and French-speaking cantons of Switzerland, and grew up speaking both languages.

Old Town of Bienne

Above: The old town of Biel / Bienne

He attended primary school and high school, which he had to leave before the final exam when his family could no longer bear the cost.

From his early years on, he was an enthusiastic theatre-goer.

His favourite play was The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller.

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Above: Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805)

From 1892 to 1895, Walser served an apprenticeship at the Bernische Kantonalbank in Biel.

Afterwards he worked for a short time in Basel.

Walser’s mother, who was emotionally disturbed, died in 1894 after being under medical care for a long period.

In 1895, Walser went to Stuttgart where his brother Karl lived.

Clockwise from top left: Staatstheater, Cannstatter Volksfest in Bad Cannstatt, fountain at Schlossplatz, Fruchtkasten façade and the statue of Friedrich Schiller at Schillerplatz, New Palace, and Old Castle at Schillerplatz

Above: Pictures of Stuttgart (clockwise from top left: Staatstheater / Cannstätter Volksfest in Bad Cannstatt / Schloßplatz / Schillerplatz / New Palace / Old Castle )

He was an office worker at the Deutsche Verlagsanstalt and at the Cotta’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

He also tried, without success, to become an actor.

On foot, he returned to Switzerland where he registered in 1896 as a Zürich resident.

Top: View over Zürich and the lakeMiddle: Fraumünster Church on the river Limmat (left) and the Sunrise Tower (right)Bottom: Night view of Zürich from Uetliberg

Above: Pictures of Zürich: View of Zürich and Lake Zürich (Zürichsee)(top)/ Fraumünster Church (middle left) / Sunrise Tower (middle right) / Night view of Zürich (bottom)

In the following years, he often worked as an office clerk, but irregularly and in many different places.

As a result, he was one of the first Swiss writers to introduce into literature a description of the life of a salaried employee.

In 1898, the influential critic Joseph Victor Widmann published a series of poems by Walser in the Bernese newspaper Der Bund.

This came to the attention of Franz Blei, who introduced Walser to the art nouveau people around the magazine Die Insel.

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Above: Franz Blei (1871 – 1942)

Numerous short stories and poems by Walser appeared in Die Insel.

Until 1905, Walser lived mainly in Zürich, though he often changed lodgings and also lived for a time in Thun, Solothurn, Winterthur and Munich.

In 1903, he fulfilled his military service obligation and, beginning that summer, was the aide of an engineer and inventor in Wädenswil near Zürich.

This episode became the basis of his 1908 novel Der Gehülfe (The Assistant).

In 1904, his first book, Fritz Kochers Aufsätze, appeared in the Insel Verlag.

At the end of 1905 he attended a course in order to become a servant at the castle of Dambrau in Upper Silesia, Poland.

Above: Dambrau Castle

“I myself am one of those fellows who find it nice not to think.

Also, I hold the principle of service in immensely high esteem.”

The theme of serving would characterize his work in the following years, especially in the novel Jakob von Gunten (1909).

In 1905, he went to live in Berlin, where his brother Karl Walser, who was working as a theater painter, introduced him to other figures in literature, publishing and the theatre.

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Above: Skyline of modern Berlin

Occasionally, Walser worked as secretary for the artists’ corporation Berliner Secession.

In Berlin, Walser wrote the novels Geschwister Tanner, Der Gehülfe and Jakob von Gunten.

They were issued by the publishing house of Bruno Cassirer, where Christian Morgenstern worked as editor.

Above: Bruno Cassirer (1872 – 1941)

Apart from the novels, he wrote many short stories, sketching popular bars from the point of view of a poor “Flaneur” (a person who takes leisurely walks) in a very playful and subjective language.

There was a very positive echo to his writings.

Robert Musil and Kurt Tucholsky, among others, stated their admiration for Walser’s prose, and authors like Hermann Hesse and Franz Kafka counted him among their favorite writers.

Walser published numerous short stories in newspapers and magazines, many for instance in the Schaubühne.

They became his trademark.

The larger part of his work is composed of short stories – literary sketches that elude a ready categorization.

Selections of these short stories were published in the volumes Aufsätze (1913) and Geschichten (1914).

In 1913, Walser returned to Switzerland.

He lived for a short time with his sister Lisa in the mental home in Bellelay, where she worked as a teacher.

Above: Bellelay Abbey, Canton Bern

There, he got to know Lisa Mermet, a washerwoman with whom he developed a close friendship.

After a short stay with his father in Biel, he went to live in a mansard in the Biel hotel Blaues Kreuz.

In 1914, his father died.

In Biel, Walser wrote a number of shorter stories that appeared in newspapers and magazines in Germany and Switzerland and selections of which were published in Der Spaziergang (1917), Prosastücke (1917), Poetenleben (1918), Seeland (1919) and Die Rose (1925).

Walser, who had always been an enthusiastic wanderer, began to take extended walks, often by night.

In his stories from that period, texts written from the point of view of a wanderer walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods alternate with playful essays on writers and artists.

During World War One, Walser repeatedly had to go into military service.

At the end of 1916, his brother Ernst died after a time of mental illness in the Waldau mental home.

In 1919, Walser’s brother Hermann, geography professor in Bern, committed suicide.

Walser himself became isolated in that time when there was almost no communication with Germany because of the war.

Even though he worked hard, he could barely support himself as a freelance writer.

At the beginning of 1921, he moved to Bern in order to work at the public record office.

Above: Old town, Bern

He often changed lodgings and lived a very solitary life.

During his time in Bern, Walser’s style became more radical.

In a more and more condensed form, he wrote “micrograms”, called thus because of his minuscule pencil hand that is very difficult to decipher.

He wrote poems, prose, dramolets and novels, including The Robber (Der Räuber).

In these texts, his playful, subjective style moved toward a higher abstraction.

Many texts of that time work on multiple levels – they can be read as naive-playful Feuilleton (newspaper supplements) or as highly complex montages full of allusions.

Walser absorbed influences from serious literature as well as from formula fiction and retold, for example, the plot of a pulp novel in a way that the original (the title of which he never revealed) was unrecognizable.

Much of his work was written during these very productive years in Bern.

In the beginning of 1929, Walser, who had suffered from anxieties and hallucinations for quite a time, went to the Bernese mental home Waldau, after a mental breakdown, at his sister Fani’s urging.

Above: Main building, Klinik Waldau, Bern

In his medical records it says: “The patient confessed hearing voices.”

Therefore, this can hardly be called a voluntary commitment.

He was eventually diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia.

While in the mental home, his state of mind quickly returned to normal, and he went on writing and publishing.

More and more, he used the way of writing he called the “pencil method”:

He wrote poems and prose in a diminutive Sütterlin hand, the letters of which measured about a millimeter of height by the end of that very productive phase.

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Above: A magnified sample of Sütterlin writing

Werner Morlang and Bernhard Echte were the first ones who attempted to decipher these writings.

In the 1990s, they published a six-volume edition, Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet (‘From the pencil zone’).

Only when Walser was, against his will, moved to the sanatorium of Herisau did he quit writing, later telling Carl Seelig:

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Above: Main building, Klinik Herisau

“I am not here to write, but to be mad.”

Another reason might have been that with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, his works could no longer be published in any case.

In 1936, his admirer Carl Seelig began to visit him.

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He later wrote a book, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser, about their talks.

Seelig tried to revive interest in Walser’s work by reissuing some of his writings.

After the death of Walser’s brother Karl in 1943 and of his sister Lisa in 1944, Seelig became Walser’s legal guardian.

Though free of outward signs of mental illness for a long time, Walser was crotchety and repeatedly refused to leave the sanatorium.

In 1955, Walser’s Der Spaziergang (The Walk) was translated into English by Christopher Middleton.

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It was the first English translation of his writing and the only one that would appear during his lifetime.

Upon learning of Middleton’s translation, Walser, who had fallen out of the public eye, responded by musing:

“Well, look at that.”

Robert Walser loved long lonely walks.

Children discovered his frozen body, dead of a heart attack, in a snow-covered field, on Christmas Day 1956.

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“Colors fill up your mind too much with all sorts of muddled stuff.

Colors are too sweet a muddle, nothing more.

I love things in one color, monotonous things.

Snow is such a monotonous song.

Why shouldn’t a color be able to make the same impression as singing?

White is like a murmuring, whispering, praying.

Fiery colors, like, for instance, autumn colors, are a shriek.

Green in midsummer is a many-voiced song with all the highest notes.”

The photographs of the dead walker in the snow are almost eerily reminiscent of a similar image of a dead man in the snow in Walser’s first novel, Geschwister Tanner.

Walser was better known in his lifetime than many other German-language writers, were known in their lifetimes.

“Each sentence has the sole purpose of rendering the previous one forgotten.” (Walter Benjamin)

W. G. Sebald has remarked that Walser’s writing “has the tendency to dissolve upon reading, so that only a few hours later one can barely remember the ephemeral figures, events and things of which it spoke…

Everything written in these incomparable books has—as their author might himself have said—a tendency to vanish into thin air.”

Walser has disappeared from the consciousness of even German-language readers in this most modern of times.

But self-negation, a stepping aside out of the way, was his trademark.

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Above: Robert Walser

Herisau, Switzerland, 16 June 2017

Today I followed the footsteps of Swiss author Robert Walser.

Walser wrote that “without walking I would have died” so Herisau commemorates him through the Robert Walser Path and a Walser exhibition in the Herisau Museum.

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Above: Entry to Herisau Museum (top), Walser Exhibit (bottom)

This Path is the first literary path in Switzerland.

Walser struggled with psychological problems and spent much time at the Herisau Psychiatric Centre which he described as “a prison between the earth and sky.”

Happily one of his best works, The Walk and other stories is available in English.

Only in German, Carl Seelig’s Wanderungen mit Robert Walser gives a very personal glimpse into this troubled yet powerful Swiss writer.

To climb hills and walk the streets that a man largely ignored by non-German readers, this is not so terrible a plan, is it?

Today I followed in the footsteps of a different literary figure: Robert Walser, the Mad Poet of Herisau.

Walser-Brunnen

Above: Robert Walser Fountain, Herisau

I followed what may have been his last walk, visiting Klinik Haus 1 of the Herisau Psychiatric Centre where Walser spent the last 23 years of his life, the spot where his body was discovered on 25 December 1956, the grave where he was buried, the fountain built in his honour and the Robert Walser exhibition inside the Herisau Museum.

Klinik Haus 1

Above: Klinik Haus I (foreground), Klinik Herisau

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The Path is much like Walser´s descriptions in “A Little Ramble”:

“I walked through the mountains today….

….the road was soft and in places very clean.

The walk on the wonderful road gave me more and more pleasure….

A village was especially beautiful with humble dwellings….

We don´t need to see anything out of the ordinary.

We already see so much.”

From “The Road”:

“….I do not know any more for sure what time it was, as the desire to take a walk came over me.

I put my hat on my head, left my writing room….and ran down the stairs to hurry out into the street….

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Above: Robert Walser

As far as I can remember as I write this down, I found myself, as I walked into the open, bright and cheerful street, in a romantically adventurous state of mind, which pleased me profoundly.

The world spread out before my eyes appeared as beautiful to me as if I saw it for the first time.

Everything I saw made upon me a delightful impression of friendliness, of goodliness and of youth.

I quickly forgot that up in my room I had only just a moment before been brooding gloomily over a blank sheet of paper.

All sorrow, all pain and all grave thoughts were as vanished, although I vividly sensed a certain seriousness, a tone, still before me and hehind me.

I was tense with eager expectation of whatever might encounter me or cross my way on my walk.

My steps were measured and calm, and, as far as I know, I presented, as I went my way, a fairly dignified appearance….

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As I went on my way, like a better sort of tramp, a vagabond and pickpocket, or idler and vagrant of a sort finer than some, past all sorts of gardens planted and stuffed full with placid, contented vegetables, past flowers and fragrance of flowers, üast fruit trees and past beanstalks and shrubs full of beans, past towering crops of rye, barley and wheat, past a woodyard containing much wood and wood shavings, past juicy grass and past a gently splashing little warerway, rivulet or stream, past all sorts of people, and past a clubhouse decoratively hung with banners flying for a celebration or for joy, and also past many other good-hearted and useful things, past a particularly beautiful and sweet little fairy apple tree, and past God knows what else in the way of feasible things….

….all sorts of more or less beautiful pleasant thoughts continued to preoccupy me, since, when I´m out walking, many notions, flashes of light and lightning flashes quite of their own accord intrude and Interrupt, to be carefully pondered upon….

Without looking back….I walked on and soon afterwards, proceeding thus in the warm yielding air….

I came into a pine forest, through which coiled a smiling, serpentine, and at the same time roguishly graceful path, which I followed with pleasure.

Path and forest floor were as a carpet, and here within the forest it was quiet as in a happy human soul, as in the interior of a temple, as in a palace and enchanted dream-wrapped fairytale castle, as in Sleeping Beauty´s Castle, where all sleep, and all are hushed for centuries of long years.

I penetrated deeper, and I speak perhars a little indulgently if I say that to myself I seemed like a prince….

So solemn was it in the forest that lovely and solemn imaginings, quite of their own accord, took possession of the sensitive walker there.

How glad I was at this sweet forest softness and repose!

From time to time, from outside, a slight sound or two penetrated the delicious seclusion and bewitching darkness, perhaps a bang, a whistle, or some other noise, whose distant note would only intensify the prevailing soundlessness, which I inhaled to my very heart´s content, and whose virtues I drank and quaffed with due ceremomy.

Here and there in all this tranquillity and quietude a bird let his blithe voice be heard out of his charmed and holy hiding place.

Thus I stood and listened, and suddenly there came upon me an inexpressible feeling for the world, and, together with it, a feeling of gratitude which broke powerfully out of my soul.

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The pines stood straight as pillars there, and not the least thing moved in the whole delicate forest, throughout which all kinds of inaudible noises seemed to echo and sound.

Music from out of the primeval world, from whence I cannot tell, stole on my ear.

Oh,thus, if it must be, shall I then willingly end and die.

A memory will then delight me even in the grave, and a gratitude enliven me even in death.

A thanksgiving for life and a joy at joy.

High up, a gentle rustling, whispering down from the treetops, could be heard.

“To love and to kiss here must be divinely beautiful.“, I told myself.

Simply to tread on the pleasant ground became a joy, and the stillness kindled prayers in the feeling soul.

“To be dead here, and to lie inconspicuous in the cool forest earth must be sweet.

Oh, that one could sense and enjoy death even in death!

Perhaps one can.

To have a small, quiet grave in the forest would be lovely.

Perhaps I should hear the singing of the birds and the forest rustling above me.

I would like that.”

Marvellous between trunks of oaks a pillar of sunbeams fell into the forest, which to me seemed like a delicious green grave.

Soon I stepped out into the radiant open again, and into life.

In the bright, hot midday sun I would stop for a moment to rest under a fir, beech, or oak tree, stretching out in the moss or grass…

But where am I?

Am I actually on a hike right now?

How is that possible?”

“Walk” was my answer.

I definitely must, to invigorate myself and to maintain contact with the living world, without perceiving which I could not write the half of one more single word, or produce the tiniest poem in verse or prose.

Without walking, I would be dead, and my profession, which I love passionately, would be destroyed.

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Also, without walking and gathering reports, I would not be able to render one single further report, or the tiniest of essays, let alone a real, long story.

Without walking, I would not be able to make any observations or any studies at all.

Such a clever and enlightened man as you are, you may and will understand this at once.

On a lovely and far-wandering walk a thousand usable and useful thoughts occur to me.

Shut in at home, I would miserably decay and dry up.

Walking is for me not only healthy and lovely, it is also of service and useful.

A walk advances me professionally and provides me at the same time also with amusement and joy.

It refreshes and comforts and delights me, is a pleasure for me, and simultaneously, it has the peculiarity that it allures meand spurs me on to further creation, since it offers me as material numerous small and large objectivities upon which I later work at home, diligently and industriously.

A walk is always filled with significant phenomena, which are valuable to see and to feel.

A pleasant walk often teems with imageries and living poems, with enchantments and natural beauties, be they ever so small….

Without walking and the contemplation of nature which is connected with it, without this equally delicious and admonishing search, I deem myself lost, and I am lost.”

“The present time, surrounding you, singing and making noise, cannot be put down in writing in any satisfactory way.”

“It is as though you could hear Thought itself softly whispering, softly stirring.

It’s like the scurrying of little white mice.”

As I look outside my writing room window I see no scurrying white mice, but the thought of Walser softly whispers in my mind.

I wish to walk again, for like Walser felt without it:

I am lost.

Sources: Wikipedia / Benjamin Lerner, “Robert Waler´s Disappearing Acts”, The New Yorker, 3 September 2013 / Carl Seelig, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser / Robert Walser, A Schoolboy´s Diary / Robert Walser, The Walk and other stories / Robert Walser Zentrum, Robert Walsers Bücher zu Lebzeiten / Peter Witschi, Robert Walser: Herisauer Jahre (1933 – 1956) / Herisau Tourismus, “Robert Walser Pfad”

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Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

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

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

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

Flag of the United States

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

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

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

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

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

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

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

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

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

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

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

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

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

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

So we are taught to believe.

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

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

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

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

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

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management only partially gets this.

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

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

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

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Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

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Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

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

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

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

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

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

Above: The Church of San Defendente

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

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

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

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

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

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

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

It takes time to understand time.

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

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

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

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

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

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.

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Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy