Canada Slim and the Dawn of a Revolution

20 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

Let´s be blunt.

Things are truly horrible in many countries on the planet these days.

Especially in America.

Flag of the United States

And there are some folks who suggest that a second US Civil War is coming.

Which raises two important questions….

Could it happen?

Should it happen?

In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the duty of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests and/or threatens the safety of the people without probable cause.

Above: A replica of the Magna Carta on Display in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.  The Magna Carta, the first constitutional charter of England, marks one of the earliest attempts to limit a sovereign´s authority.

Stated throughout history in one form or another, the belief in this right has been used to justify various revolutions, including the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

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Above: The storming of the Bastille prison, 14 July 1789, has come to symbolise the French Revolution, where a people rose up to exercise their right of Revolution.

By definition, a revolution is a fundamental change in political power or organisational structures that takes place in a relatively short time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.

Could Americans become so dissatisfied that they would choose to take up arms against Washington DC and the Trump Administration?

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Above: Donald John Trump (born 1947), 45th President of the United States (2017 – )

If it became clear that Trump and his posse was acting against Americans´ common interests (denial of universal health care, unequal taxation favouring the rich, etc) or was threatening the safety of the people without probable cause (threats to North Korea, denying conservation efforts, denying climate change, etc) then it could be argued that Trump and his gang of misfits should be removed from power.

But for a revolution to be effective, disgruntled Democrats and liberals cannot possibly win without greater support.

Without the overall consent of Congress against Trump -presently dominated by the Republicans…..

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Above: The United States Capitol building, Washington DC

Without the support of the military willing to refrain from answering their call of duty to the government and instead standing up to be counted as supporters of a different way than that being practiced today….

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Without the wealthy financially supporting the removal of the President….

Without the huge population of average workers that dominate the country statistically convinced that a change in the status quo will lead to a brighter and better tomorrow….

A revolution in America could not possibly succeed as things stand today.

Founding Fathers listen to the draft of the Declaration of Independence

Above: The presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

As much as private individuals feel like taking force against their rulers because of malice or because they have been injured by the rulers, they cannot succeed without support from the body of the people – a broad consensus involving all ranks of society.

Private individuals are socially forbidden to take force against their rulers until the body of the people feels concerned about the necessity of revolution.

Impeachment of President Trump may be desirable by many people, but only possible if both houses of the American government – the elected officials in Washington – decide that they can no longer tolerate Trump as the helm.

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For now, the Republicans, of whom Trump leads, are more concerned with keeping their privileged positions rather than actually serving their country´s best interests.

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Above: The logo of the US Republican Party

The Democrats, at present, lack cohesion.

Above: The donkey, a recognised symbol of the US Democratic Party, though not an official logo

Despite the popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democrats continue to marginalise anyone too progressive or too anti-Establishment among their ranks.

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Above: US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

In this year 2017, a year where great change is desired but denied by circumstances, this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I think it might be interesting for those dissatisfied with the status quo to observe how within the span of a single week how a nation went from being an autocracy to becoming a republic.

The February Revolution was the first of two Russian revolutions in 1917.

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Above: Attacking the Tsar´s police during the first days of the February Revolution (23 February to 3 March 1917)

The Revolution centred on Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg), then the Russian capital, where longstanding discontent with the monarchy erupted spontaneously into mass protests against food rationing, and armed clashes with police and military.

Above: Modern St. Petersburg.

(Clockwise from top left: Peter and Paul Fortress, Smolny Cathedral, Senate Square, the Winter Palace, Trinity Cathedral, and the General Staff Building)

Change should have begun within the Duma, the Russian Parliament.

Above: Tauride Palace, meeting place of the Duma and later the Russian Provisional Government

On 14 February 1917, after an extended Christmas break, the Duma assembled for another year.

At a time of mounting popular disturbance, and with several of its members engaged in covert plots to oust the Tsar, the session should have been a lively one.

Instead the deputies seemed to be wandering about “like emaciated flies.

No one believes anything.

All feel and know their powerlessness.

The silence is hopeless.” (A. I. Savenko)

The mood was sluggish and the speeches dull.

Outside the pompous meeting hall, the mood was no more positive among the leaders of the revolutionary underground.

“Not one party was preparing for the great upheaval.

Everyone was dreaming, ruminating, full of foreboding, feeling his way.” (Nikolai Sukhanov)

Across the water where the workers lived, the atmosphere was different.

The food crisis was now acute.

The wealthy could still have their fresh white bread in any restaurant, but families in the factory districts had begun to starve.

It was not just a question of inflation, although the price of everything from kerosene to eggs had multiplied beyond the reach of the hard-pressed.

The real problem in Petrograd, exacerbated by an overstretched railroad network in the provinces, was a shortage of grain.

The city´s wheat and flour stocks, already depleted, had fallen by more than 30% in January, leaving many without bread at all.

“Resentment is worse in large families, where children are starving and no words are heard except: peace, immediate peace, peace at any cost.” (Okhrana – Tsarist secret police – agent report, February 1917)

Even in 1917, Russia still produced enough food to feed itself.

The difficulty was to distribute it to the swollen population of the towns in Russia´s northern industrial regions and to the huge army concentrated in the Empire´s western borderlands.

The railway network had been geared in peacetime to moving grain surpluses from southern Ukraine and Russia´s southern steppe region not northward but to southern export outlets on the Black Sea.

As well there were problems with conflicts between the army, a number of civilian agencies and the local government bodies over how best to price and procure grain.

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The big estates, which marketed all their grain, were hardhit by labour shortages, with 15 million men called up into the armed forces.

Meanwhile, industry could notsimultaneously supply the army and produce consumer goods at a price and quantity that would persuade peasants to sell their grain.

Part of the problem as regards food supply was that the Russian government had a weak presence in the villages where food was grown and most Russians lived.

The First World War required the unprecedented mobilisation of society behind the war effort.

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Above: Scenes from World War I

This depended on a civil society with tentacles stretching down to every family and on a state closely allied to this society and capable of coordinating and co-opting its efforts.

To do this effectively, the state needed a high degree of legitimacy and the many groups and classes in society needed to have common values, confidence and commitments.

The Russian Empire entered the War deficient in all these respects.

The railways were a major problem with very serious consequences for military movements, food supply and  industrial production.

Neither the railway network nor the rolling stock were adequate for the colossal demands of war.

In addition industry was diverted overwhelmingly to military production, with repairs to locomotives, rolling stock and railway lines suffering as a consequence.

Inflation took its toll on morale and discipline among railway men, as it did across the entire workforce.

The war – World War I (1914 – 1918) – was not going well for Russia.

Nearly six million casualities – dead, wounded and missing – had accumulated by January 1917.

Mutinies sprang up often, morale was low and the officers and commanders were very incompetent.

Like all major armies, Russia´s armed forces had inadequate supply.

The desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month.

In the summer of 1915, in an attempt to boost morale and repair his reputation as a leader, Tsar Nicholas II announced that he would take personal command of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary.

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Above: Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1918), Tsar (1894 – 1917)

The result was disastrous.

The monarchy became associated with the unpopular war.

The monarchy´s legitimacy sank with every difficulty or failure in the war effort.

Nicholas proved to be a poor leader of men on the front, often irritating his own commanders with his intereference.

Being at the front meant he was not available to govern in Petrograd.

If Nicholas had departed for the front leaving behind a competent and authoritative Prime Minister to whom he had delegated full powers, this risk would have been worth taking.

He left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, who proved to be an ineffective ruler, announcing a rapid succession of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma.

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Above: Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918), Tsarina (1894 – 1917)

“In the 17 months of the Tsarina´s rule, from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had 4 Prime Ministers, 5 Ministers of the Interior, 3 Foreign Ministers, 3 War Ministers, 3 Ministers of Transport and 4 Ministers of Agriculture.

This ministerial leapfrog not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganised the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilites.” (Orlando Figes, A People´s Tragedy)

The Duma President Mikhail Rodzianko, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan joined calls for Alexandra to be removed from influence, but Nicholas refused.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzianko (1859 – 1924), Duma Chairman (1911 – 1917)

The Duma warned the Tsar of the impeding danger and advised him to form a new constitutional government.

Nicholas ignored their advice.

Nicholas saw concessions to pressure as both a confession of weakness and a surrender of power to parliamentary government, which in his opinion was certain to lead to the disintegration of authority and lead to social and national revolution.

By stubbornly refusing to reach any working agreement with the Duma, Nicholas undermined the loyalty of even those closest to the throne and opened up an unbridgeable gap between himself and public opinion.

The Tsar no longer had the support of the military, the nobility, the Duma or the Russian people.

By 1917, the majority of Russians had lost faith in the Tsarist regime.

Government corruption was unrestrained.

The inevitable result was revolution.

Meanwhile, refugees from German-occupied Russia came in their millions.

The Russian economy was blocked from the Continent´s markets by the War.

Though industry did not collapse, it was considerably strained and when inflation soared, wages could not keep up.

To help conserve scarce flour stocks, the Commissioner of Food Supply prohibited the baking and sale of cake, buns, pies and biscuits.

There were also new restrictions on the provision of flour to factory kitchens and workers´ canteens.

The move had little impact on the bread supply, but working people greeted it with rage.

Because few people even had a vote, the only thing they could do was join a protest or a strike.

There was comfort in the thought that the most obvious discontent was economic.

“Such strikes as might occur would be primarily on account of the shortage of food supplies, but it is not considered likely that any serious disorders would take place.” (Sir George Buchanan)

Above: Sir George Buchanan (1854 – 1924), British Ambassador to Russia (1910 – 1918)

But what Buchanan failed to understand was that bread itself was political.

In factories and engine sheds, in shipyards and workers´ barracks, socialist activists were using hunger as a means to start a conversation with the people.

Leaflets, speeches and slogans connected the food shortage to the War and the autocracy.

Bread might have been their immediate grievance, but once the people joined a protest they were swept on by rousing songs and revolutionary catchphrases.

On 9 January 1917, the 12th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905, the protests were explicitly political.

Above: “Bloody” Sunday 22 January 1905 protest, led by Father Gapon, near Narva Gate, St. Petersburg

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead for more details about the Revolt of 1905.)

When the Duma convened on 14 February, the Mezhraionka (the Socialist Inter-District Committee) and its allies called the workers out again, this time with slogans about peace, democracy and even a republic.

There had been large scale protests before, but these were new, and called for more from government than cake and buns.

Even an outsider could pick up the change of mood.

“I was struck by the sinister expression on the faces of the poor folk who had lined up in a queue, most of whom had spent the whole night there.” (French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue, Diary entry of 21 February 1917)

Above: Maurice Paléologue (1859 – 1944), French Ambassador to Russia (1914 – 1917)

The peace of Petrograd was depended on its civil governor, Major General A. P. Balk, on the police (a force of 3,500 in a city of two and a half million) and on the governor of the military district, Major General S. S. Khabalov.

In charge of the coordination of them all was Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov, whose team was divided by mistrust.

Alexander Protopopov

Above: Alexander Protopopov (1866 – 1918), Russian Minister of the Interior (1916 – 1917)

Balk declared Khabalov to be “incapable of leading his own subordinates”.

No one trusted the police chief, A. T. Vasilev, whose promotion was entirely due to his friendship with Protopopov, and the best that anyone could say for Balk was that he was good at his paperwork.

Incompetents were nothing new in Russian government.

None of this might have mattered if the troops Khabalov commanded had been the right men for their job.

There were about 200,000 garrison soldiers in Petrograd, quartered in barracks all around the city centre.

Most lived in terrible conditions.

“The only troops in the capital were the depot battalions of the Guard and some depot Units of the line, most of whom had never been to the front.

They were officered by men who had been wounded at the front and who regarded their duty as a sort of convalescent leave from the trenches, or by youths fresh from the military schools.” (British military attaché Colonel Alfred Knox)

“In my opinion, this man (a disaffected Russian general) had confided in November 1916, the troops guarding the capital ought to have been weeded out long ago.

If God does not spare us a revolution, it will be started not by the people but by the army.”

The General was wrong.

The army played a crucial role, but only when the people had already kindled a revolt.

The February Revolution started with a celebration.

The festival of International Women´s Day had been created just before the War by German socialist Clara Zetkin.

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Above: Clara Zetkin, German Marxist Feminist (1857 – 1933)

The event was planned in Petrograd for 23 February, but the comrades in the Russian empire were reluctant to make a special effort over Zetkin´s festival, disputing its propaganda value.

A march was planned, but it risked being small as well as mostly female.

“We need to teach the working class to take to the streets, but we have not had time.” (Alexander Shlyapnikov, letter to Lenin)

Back in December 1916, the Bolsheviks of Petrograd, the Petersburg Committee (they refused to adopt the Tsarist, more anti-German name of Petrograd) were raided by the Tsar´s secret police, the Okhrana, who not only arrested some of the Committee´s members but had captured its precious, costly and strategically vital printing press.

Without their precious printing press, the Bolsheviks could lead no one without a manifesto and a pile of pamphlets.

But other factions viewed the festival as a propaganda opportunity.

A leaflet from the Mezhraionka was crystal clear:

“The government is guilty.

It started the War and it cannot end it.

It is destroying the country and your starving is its fault.

Enough!

Down with the criminal government and the gang of thieves and murders!

Long live peace!”

Thursday 23 February 1916, Petrograd, Russia

If the weather had remained inhibitingly cold….

If Petrograd had received an adequate supply of flour….

If the workplace toilets had been heated to unfreeze the pipes….

The protests might have not been so large.

It was International Women´s Day and the embattled working women of Petrograd intended that their voices should be heard.

Hundreds of them – peasants, factory workers, students, nurses, teachers, wives whose husbands were at the front, and even a few upper class ladies – came out into the streets.

Although some carried banners with traditional suffrage slogans, most bore improvished placards referring to the food crisis.

“There is no bread.  Our husbands have no work.”, they shouted.

As columns of women converged on Nevsky and Litieiny Prospekts, more militant women in the Vyborg (the industrial section of Petrograd) cotton mills were in no mood for compromise.

Since mid-January hunger had been worse by the continuing subzero temperatures affecting the supply of fuel into the city by rail.

Rowing boats on the Neva River were chopped up for firewood and, in the dead of night, people slunk into cemeteries “to fill whole sacks with the wooden crosses from the graves of poor folks and take them home for their fires”.

Throughout Petrograd strikes and protests had become so commonplace that the Okhrana were taking no chances.

On Protopopov´s orders, machine guns had been secretly mounted on the roofs of all the city´s major buildings, particularly around Petrograd´s main square, the Nevsky.

“The Cossacks are again patrolling the city on account of threatened strikes – for the women are beginning to rebel at standing in bread lines from 5 am for shops that open at 10 am in weather 25° below zero.”

(J. Butler Wright, Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright)

Their Women´s Day meetings resulted in a mass walk-out.

As they headed for the Neva, the ladies called on other workers to march with them, including the men of the New Lessner and Erikson factories, the major metalworks and munitions factories.

A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners

By noon, about 50,000 people had joined the protest on Vyborg´s main street, Sampsonievsky Prospect.

“I was extremely indignant at the behaviour of the strikers.

They were blatantly ignoring the instructions of the party district committees.

Yet suddenly here was a strike.

There seemed to be no purpose in it and no reason for it.”

(Bolshevik party representative  and Erikson plant employee Kayurov)

They marched to the Liteiny Bridge to cross over to Nevsky Prospekt only to encounter police cordons on the Bridge barring their way.

The trams “stuffed full of workers” were surrounded by police when they reached the Liteiny Bridge.

Barging aboard, they checked every passenger to weed out those whose hands and clothes looked work-worn.

The idea was keep the poor where they belonged and make sure that their wretched protest could not interfere with decent life. (Alexander Shlyapnikov)

The more determined among them scrambled down onto the frozen river and made their way across the ice instead.

Others managed to get through the police block at the Troitsky Bridge only to be forced back by the police when they crossed the Neva.

On the Field of Mars, men and women were raised on the shoulders of others, shouting: “Let´s stop talking and act.”

A few women began singing the Marseillaise.

As the crowd moved off, heading for Nevsky Prospekt, a tram came swinging around the corner.

The marchers forced it to stop, took the control handle and threw it away into a snowbank.

The same happened to a second, third and fourth tram until the blocked cars extended all the way along the Sadovya to the Nevsky Prospekt.

Florence Harper – the first American female journalist in Petrograd – and her companion, photographer Donald Thompson from Topeka, Kansas, found themselves carried along with the tide of protesters.

Every policeman they passed tried to stop the marchers, but the women just kept on forging ahead, shouting, laughing and singing.

Walking at the head of the column, Thompson saw a man next to him tie a red flag onto a cane and start waving it in the air.

He decided that such a conspicuous position at the head of the marchers was “no place for an innocent boy from Kansas.”

“Bullets had a way of hitting innocent bystanders,” he told Harper, “so let´s beat it, while the going is good.”

That day, in response to increasing tension in the city, Khabalov had posters pasted on walls at every street corner, reassuring the public that “There should be no shortage in bread for sale.”

If stocks were low in some bakeries, this was because people were buying more than they needed and hoarding it.

“There is sufficient rye flour in Petrograd,” the proclamation insisted.

“The delivery of this flour continues without interruption.”

It was clear that the government had run out of excuses for the bread crisis – lack of fuel, heavy snow, rollling stock commandeered for military purposes, shortage of labour….

The people would not be fobbed off any longer.

Hunger was rife, fierce and unrelenting in half a million empty bellies across the working class factory districts.

“Here was a patent confession of laxity.

Whom was it expected to satisfy?

The Socialists who had already made up their minds for revolution, or the dissatisfied man in the street who did not want revolution, but pined for relief from an incapable government?” (Times correspondent Robert Wilton)

As the day went on, the rank of women marchers in and around the Nevsky swelled to around 90,000.

“The singing by this time had become a deep roar, terrifying, but at the same time fascinating….fearful excitement everywhere.” (Donald Thompson)

Once more the Cossacks appeared as if by magic, their long lances gleaming in the sunshine.

Time and again they attempted to scatter the columns of marching women by charging them at a gallop, brandishing their short whips, but the women merely regrouped, cheering the Cossacks wildly each time they charged.

When one woman stumbled and fell in front of them, they jumped their horses right over her.

People were surprised.

These Cossacks weren´t the fierce guardsmen of Tsardom whom the crowds had seen at work in 1905, when hundreds of protesters had been killed in the Bloody Sunday protest.

This time they were quite amiable, playful even.

They seemed eager to capitulate to the mood of the people, and took their hats off and waved them close to the crowd as they moved them on.

So long as they only asked for bread, the Cossacks told the marchers, they would not be on the receiving end of gunfire.

And so it went on, until six in the evening.

As the mob surged to the constant drumbeat calls for bread, the Cossacks charged and scattered people in all directions, but there was no real trouble.

Police rounded up anyone who attempted to stop and give speeches, but protestors otherwise walked the streets with their red flags all day long and had not been fired upon.

It was left to the tsarist police to finally disperse the crowds, who had largely gone home by 7 pm as the cold of the evening drew in.

Across the river, in the industrial quarters, acts of sporadic violence had erupted throughout the day.

Bakeries were broken into and raided.

Grocery stores had their windows smashed.

Later that evening, Major-General Alfred Knox met with the Duma industrialist Alexander Guchkov who described the food shortage as the worst catastrophe his government had faced to date, more crippling and more dangerous than any battlefield defeat.

Alexander Guchkov

Above: Alexander Guchkov (1862 – 1936), 4th Duma Chairman (1910 – 1911), Russian War Minister (1917)

Guchkov could already sense that trouble lay ahead.

“Questioned regarding the attitude of workmen in the towns towards the War, Guchkov conceeded that from 10% to 20% would welcome defeat as likely to strengthen their hands to overthrow the government.” (Alfred Knox)

Throughout the night strike committees in Petrograd and Vyborg were plotting to seize the moment.

A great many troops patrolled the city, for that day a disorganised and elemental force had finally been let loose on Petrograd.

The flame of Revolution had been lit among the hungry marchers on the Nevsky and the strikers across the river.

Revolution – so long talked of, dreaded, fought against, planned for, longed for, died for – had come at last, like a thief in the night, none expecting it, none recognizing it.

One week later Tsar Nicholas II would abdicate, ending the Romanov Dynasty, ending the Russian Empire, ending the chaos that had ensued in the days that followed the Women`s Day march.

Above: Nicholas II (seated) abdicating the Russian throne on 2 March 1917

A dynasty that had ruled for 300 years would depart within a week, with a whimper rather than a bang, because few Russians were willing to defend it.

Eight months later, the second Revolution in Russia in 1917, the October or Bolshevik Revolution would occur when the Bolsheviks led by Lenin – returned from exile in Switzerland – would seize control of the government established after Nicholas´ abdication and transform the liberated-from-autocracy democratic republic into a totalitarian regime.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1936)

But Russia had, for the briefest of moments, a chance for democracy.

Creating a peasant-based democracy almost from scratch in a country as enormous as Russia was a daunting task.

A democracy begun spontaneously by a group of women tired of long bread lines, tired of hunger, tired of frozen toilets, tired of their men away on the front, tired of casualities.

Brave enough to face certain death by men armed to the teeth.

Maybe that is how change might come to America.

Spontaneously.

When enough Americans become tired of the way things are and brave enough to stand up to the powers that have abused them for far too long.

Perhaps things have to get even worse before spontaneous and united dissatisfaction can occur.

Perhaps darkness must fall before dawn can arise.

Before a true unity – undivided by religion, race, income or partisan politics, but united by a desire for equality of opportunity and respect – can arise.

All things change.

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Above: Cover of “Power to the People” single (1971), John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

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Canada Slim and the Forces of Darkness

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 September 2017

Sometimes you have to borrow from the best, to raise yourself up from the shoulders of the great.

Being the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, with much focus paid on this event and Swiss connections to it, I have found too much too interesting to ignore.

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What follows is a paraphrasing, meant in the spirit of plagirism as a form of flattery, of a part of Catherine Merridale`s great history, Lenin on the Train.

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As this blog does not generate money and as I only wish to whet people´s appetites for Merridale´s amazing writing I hope I can be forgiven for borrowing heavily from this book, often in her own words.

There is almost as much instability across the planet today as there once was in Lenin´s day.

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The great powers are still working hard to ensure they stay on top.

One technique still being used, since direct military engagement is often too expensive, is to help and finance local rebels, some of whom are on the ground, some of them who must be dropped in like Lenin in April 1917.

Think of South America in the 1980s.

Think of the dirty wars in Central Asia.

Think of the current conflicts in the Islamic world.

The history of the intrigue of getting Lenin to Russia to lead a revolution is not unique.

Great powers always plan and scheme and manipulate.

Great powers are often wrong.

As said in previous posts (See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead and Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement of this blog.), I spoke of how Lenin ended up in exile in Switzerland and how he began to grab attention and notoriety amongst both socialists and non-socialists.

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Above: Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Finally, now let us look at how Germany plotted to destroy the Tzar.

World War One, then called The Great War, or The War to End All Wars, was a global conflict that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918, and involved over 70 million military personnel, including 60 million European soldiers.

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By war´s end, over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians would be killed, including mass executions of entire groups of people (Armenians: 1.5 million, Assyrians:750,000, Greeks: 900,000, and Maronite Christians: 200,000).

What marked this war significantly different from previous wars was the increased sophistication in industrial and military technology and the use of bloody trench warfare.

Map of Europe focusing on Austria-Hungary and marking central location of ethnic groups in it including Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles.

The War began with a conflict between two trios of states: the Triple Alliance of the German Empire and Austria – Hungary versus the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

By war´s end, the Alliance would include the Ottoman Empire and other satellite states, while the Entente would expand to include Commonwealth nations (like Canada, Australia and New Zealand), Italy, Japan and the United States, along with Slavic allies of Russia.

When war first broke out, both sides were convinced it would be a short, decisive battle.

No one had anticipated a war of attrition.

By the start of 1917, the relative equality of the armies meant that neither side could score a decisive victory.

No one dreamed it would become a war that would draw in all the major powers of the world and cause death on an unimaginable scale.

All countries suffered in the War, of course, but Russia seemed to suffer most.

By the end of 1916, the Russian army had sustained more than 5 million casualities – killed, missing or wounded.

Long queues outside food shops were common.

Everyone had to make do.

Nothing was working as it should, from transport to the army General Staff, from the Russian police to the delivery of coal supplies.

The political machinery had completely stalled.

There was no directing will, no plan, no system, and there could not be any.

Russia was heading for disaster like a car speeding towards a cliff.

Since he had taken personal command of the Russian army in August 1915, spending more and more time at his headquarters near the front, Tsar Nicholas II had lost whatever knack he ever had for leadership.

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Above: Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

He ignored the Duma (Russia´s Parliament) while stuffing his council of ministers with people so talentless that they were almost comical.

The capital, Petrograd, was gripped by the fear of what were called “dark forces”.

It was whispered that the Germans had a foothold at Court, their goal to persuade Russia to withdraw from the War.

Germany had to fight the War on two fronts: on the Western Front against France and the UK; on the Eastern Front against Russia.

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Above: Flag of the German Empire (1871 – 1918)

If Russia withdrew, Berlin could focus all its troops along a single front, crushing the French and the British like gnats.

Withdrawing from the War was enticing….

“The conditions of life have become so intolerable, the Russian casualities so heavy, the ages and classes subject to military service so widely extended, the disorganisation and untrustworthiness of the government so notorious that it is not a matter of surprise if the majority of ordinary people reach at any peace straw.

Personally, I am convinced that Russia will never fight through another winter.” (British Secret Intelligence Service´s Sir Samuel Hoare, cable to London, 26 December 1916)

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Above: Samuel Hoare (1880 – 1959)

The mass of the Russian population was struggling.

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Above: Flag of the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917)

Russia was critically short of the commodities that people need in times of war, especially pharmaceutical products and dressings, thermometers and contraceptives.

The winter of 1916 – 17 was hungrier than any since the War began.

Factory workers, forced to queue for basic goods and work in bitter cold, grew anxious and angry.

The bitter cold, at 38 degrees below, seemed to paralyse all life.

At this time of inflation, workers found their wages dwindling as the labour force was augmented with unskilled women from the villages, who had no concept of collective bargaining.

Although a striker could face deportation to the front or years of hard labour in penal camps, the number of strikes increased as prices rose.

243 strikes had been recorded in Russian cities in 1916, but the number exceeded a thousand in the first two months of 1917 alone.

The atmosphere was so poisonous that many officers, reluctant to shoot their own people, began asking to be sent to the front to avoid a posting in the Petrograd garrison.

“The outstanding feature, unique in the history of Russia, is that all sections of society are united against the small group – half Court, half bureaucracy – that is attempting to keep the complete control of government in its hands.” (Sir Samuel Hoare)

“A palace coup was openly spoken of, and at dinner at the (British) Embassy a Russian friend of mine declared that it was a mere question whether both the Emperor and Empress or only the latter would be killed.” (British Ambassador to Russia Sir George Buchanan)

Above: George Buchanan (1854 – 1924)

When the Duma´s new session opened on 1 November 1916, reformer Paul Miliukov listed the many misdeeds of the prior few months, pausing to ask, with theatrical repetition, whether the House considered it to be a case of “stupidity or treason”.

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Above: Paul Miliukov (1859 – 1943)

Miliukov´s answer was damning:

“The consequences are the same.”

Even the imperial secret police, the Okhrana, grudgingly reported that “the hero of the hour is Miliukov.”

Many Russians believed that the Empress Alexandra, born in Germany as Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, was a German agent, but Buchanan dismissed the idea:

“She is not a German working in Germany´s interests, but a reactionary who wishes to hand down the autocracy intact to her son.”

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Above: Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918)

Her interference in ministerial appointments, however, had turned her into “the unconscious tool of others, who really are German agents.” (Buchanan)

The Germans, indeed, had their own plans for Russia, but with the outbreak of the War when their diplomats had been expelled and their businessmen and engineers deported and their list of Russian contacts shrunk, they had almost no real friends at Court.

There had been moves to exploit the family loyalities of the Empress Alexandra by having her be reminded of the overwhelming force of German arms and of the needless suffering that Russian soldiers might so easily be spared.

But the Germans underestimated the extent of her loyalty to Russia.

Alexandra was genuinely sad about the bloodshed, but she made no move to stop the War.

And her patronage and admiration of the monk Rasputin, with his murder, on 30 December 1916, dealt a further blow to German interests, the doors to the Court were even more firmly closed against them.

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Above: Grigori Rasputin (1869 – 1916)

The chances of a German-inspired palace coup had never been particularly strong, however, and as they weighed the options for disrupting Russia`s military campaign, the experts in Berlin considered another alternative: fomenting social discontent.

Nationalist movements had been simmering on the fringes of the Russian Empire for decades.

There were plenty of secret clubs and underground societies from which to choose.

The problem was to avoid wasting scarce resources on romantic fools.

The uprising of 1905 had shown what havoc Russia´s working class could wreak.

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Strikes and rioting had forced the Tsar to end the Russo-Japanese War.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

Although fomenting revolution was a dangerous idea – Germany had socialists of its own. – the prospect of a bit of inconclusive civil chaos in Russia appealed.

Russia had a network of home-grown revolutionaries, known troublemakers who could do the job.

With the aid of local sympathisers and strategic double agents, officials in Berlin began to assemble a picture of the Russian revolutionary movement, and especially of its emigré wing, the exiles who had fled the tsarist Empire in the pre-War years.

The most promising was based in Switzerland.

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Above: The flag of Switzerland

Gisbert von Romberg, Berlin`s minister in Bern, had a long-standing interest in Russia and knew far more about the Russian revolutionary underground than his British or French counterparts.

Romberg knew most exiled socialists would be content to sit in Switzerland indefinitely, continuing their arguments about the character of bourgeois government and the moral value of religion.

He needed a hardline group that was more than just a gang of posturing thugs.

The Russians he needed were all marooned in western Europe.

If the idea was to exploit their hostility to tsarism, they could not be allowed to guess how much the Germans might be helping them.

An open acceptance of help from a government whose armies were slaughtering Russians was political suicide.

The first ray of hope came in January 1915….

The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin received a telegram from Ambassador Hans von Wangenheim in Constantinople (present day Istanbul).

Above: Baron Hans von Wangenheim (1859 – 1915)

A Belarussian businessman, Alexander Helphand, aka Parvus, had a plan for the destruction of the Tsar.

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Above: Alexander Parvus (1867 – 1924)

“The interests of the German government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries.” (Parvus)

Parvus believed that they should contaminate Russian troops with anti-tsarist propaganda before they were sent to the front and he proposed a congress of the Russian revolutionaries in exile to get them acting as a unified group.

“Parvus was unquestionably one of the most important of the Marxists at the turn of the century….fearless thinking….wide vision….and a virile muscular style.” (Leon Trotsky)

In March 1915, Parvus was summoned from Constantinople to Berlin to meet Kurt Riezler, the German Foreign Minister.

Parvus drafted a report, “Preparations for a political mass strike in Russia”, the blueprint for revolution.

It was magnificent, promising everything from separatist uprisings in Ukraine and Finland to a strike wave among Russian sailors to be launched from Constantinople.

The Russian mass strike, an epic undertaking that would paralyse the war effort, would be organised under the slogan “Freedom and Peace”.

The goal was nothing less than to “shatter the colossal political centralisation which is the embodiment of the tsarist empire and which will be a danger to world peace for as long as it is allowed to survive.” (Parvus)

Just days after war had been declared in 1914, Estonian Alexander Kesküla turned up at the German Legation in Bern.

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Above: Poster of the 1997 Estonian/Russian film where Alexander Kesküla is the main character

Like Parvus, Kesküla loathed the Russian Empire.

As a nationalist, Kesküla dreamed of putting Estonia on the European map.

Kesküla also had credentials as a revolutionary socialist, having joined the Bolsheviks in 1905.

Kesküla quickly built up a set of contacts in the underground and met Lenin for the first time in September 1914.

In the guise of a Marxist comrade, Kesküla hung around the fringes of the Russian exile colony.

Of its divisions, only one group, Kesküla reported back to Romberg in September 1915, was willing, ready and able to bring down Russian imperial rule.

“In Kesküla´s opinion, it is essential that we should spring to the help of Lenin´s movement in Russia at once. 

He will report on this matter in person in Berlin. 

According to his informants, the present moment should be favourable for overthrowing the government, but we should have to act quickly….” (Romberg to the Chancellor, 30 September 1915)

Pacifism had become a common response to the War among young people on the left, but Lenin was different.

Above: Bolshevik political cartoon poster, showing Lenin sweeping away monarchs, clergy and capitalists (1920)

“An oppressed class which does not strive to learn the use of weapons, to practice the use of weapons, to own weapons, deserves to be mistreated….

The demand for disarmament in the present day world is nothing but an expression of despair.

He is not a socialist who does not, in times of imperialist war, desire the defeat of his own country.” (Lenin)

Lenin predicted a revolution throughout the world, a series of coordinated, pitiless and violent campaigns that would annihilate both capitalism and imperialism forever.

The bourgeoise would have to die, the big country estates would burn, and everywhere the slave owners would face enslavement themselves.

“Lenin did not plan invasions from the outside, but from the inside.

Every revolutionist must work for the defeat of his own country.

The chief task was to coordinate all the moral, physical, geographical and tactical elements of the universal insurrection, to join together all the hatreds aroused by imperialism across the five continents.

Lenin wrote as though thousands awaited his command, as though a typesetter was standing outside the door.

This man would not content himself with peace talks or a plan for social ownership of factories.

His aim was to destroy the very system that created war.” (Valeriu Marcu)

Above: Valeriu Marcu, Romanian poet / Lenin´s first biographer (1899 – 1942)

“Lenin is the only man of whom revolution is the preoccupation 24 hours a day, who has no thoughts but of revolution, and who in his sleep dreams of nothing but revolution.” (Pavel Axelrod)

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Above: Pavel Axelrod, Russian Menshevik (1850 – 1942)

Valeriu Marcu wrote that, by 1916, “the whole Bolshevik Party consisted of a few friends who corresponded with Lenin from Stockholm, London, New York and Paris”.

But the Bolshevik picture inside Russia was not as bad as either Lenin or Marcu imagined.

Although the tsarist police, the Okrana, had battered at the Russian underground for years, most commentators on the spot believed the Bolsheviks to be the best organised and most determined of the surviving socialist factions, with a predominantly young and relatively educated membership that continued to recruit new members despite the ever-darkening political atmosphere.

But soon dramatic changes in Russia would propel the Germans to find a leader who could control and dominate these changes….

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In the historical comedy film All My Lenins, Kesküla sees his great historical chance and intends to use Lenin´s leftist radicals in forwarding the Russian Revolution.

He elaborates manic grandiose plans to exterminate Russia forever and build upon it the Empire of Great Estonia.

At first, Kesküla acts between Lenin and the German government to use German money to ignite revolutionary flames in Russia

Kesküla and the German Foreign Ministry make a deal to support Lenin financially: to pay for the brochures, leaflets and books of the Bolsheviks.

Lenin accepts German help.

The Germans place their superspy Müller as the coordinator of the project.

Kesküla and Müller educate five Russian men as Lenin´s doppelgängers.

They want to be sure they can replace the real Lenin any moment something happens to him.

Doppelgängers are funny but dangerous.

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They could replace you any moment that anyone notices you seem to be inconvenient.

Perhaps Russian interference isn´t limited to the 2016 US elections.

Perhaps they too have doppelgängers or clones of the Donald that could replace him when Trump becomes inconvenient to Russia.

I think I speak for many millions of people around the world when I say to Russia….

Send in the clones.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train

 

Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

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

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

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

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

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

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

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

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life should have been glorious.

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

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Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

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

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

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

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

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Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what of Mileva?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I found parallels with my own past…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich

Wikipedia

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Snowbirds

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 February 2017

In pauper’s fields the daisies grow

There are no crosses, sadly, no

To mark the place beneath the sky

There is no singing from up high

Scarce heard beneath the ground below

These pauper’s fields.

We are the dead, some time ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In pauper´s fields.

I have no quarrel with a foe.

To you from me: I failed, I know.

No time, no longer heads held high

Faith is broken, hope gone by

Memory won’t sleep, though daisies grow
In pauper’s fields.

(With apologies to John Mccrae)

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 22 February 2017

“Ah, we’re drinking and we’re dancing and the band is really happening and the Johnny Walker wisdom running high…”

(Leonard Cohen, “Closing Time”)

Downtown Fort Lauderdale

For many, this city of nearly 175,000 represents Life.

Until the late 1980s, Fort Lauderdale was the college Spring Break destination.

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However the college crowd has been replaced by a wealthier group of people.

Today it is known as an international yachting centre, although there is still plenty of partying in its clubs, bars and pubs by straights and the LGBT crowd.

(The gay community is thriving here with many gay-friendly hotels and guesthouses, their own library and archives, community centre and the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center.)

(AIDS does not discriminate, though some folks still make the erroneous connection between sexual orientation and this uncompromising disease.)

Fort Lauderdale is 28 miles / 45 km north of Miami and enjoys a tropical rainforest climate with little seasonal variation.

Flag of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Most days the temperature remains above 24°C / 75° F with over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year.

(Though it must be said that the ideal time of the year to visit the Fort is from October to May.)

And this endless summer attracts over 12 million visitors a year, a 1/4 of them from other countries.

To serve all these visitors, Fort Lauderdale has over 130 nightclubs, 16 museums, 12 shopping malls, 63 golf courses, 4,000 restaurants, 46 cruise ships dock here regularly, over 560 hotels offer over 35,000 rooms, with 278 campsites when the rooms are filled (regularly a 72% occupancy rate), 100 marinas shelter over 45,000 resident yachts and the convention centre serves over 30% of the city’s annual visitors.

Like South Florida in general, Fort Lauderdale has many residents who can speak a language other than English, but English predominates.

Residents not serving visitors are probably engaged in making or maintaining boats as Fort Lauderdale is a major centre for yachts.

Nicknamed the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale, with its many canals – 165 miles / 266 km extensive network of canals – and its proximity to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, the city serves as a popular yachting vacation spot and home port and its annual International Boat Show attracts over 125,000 people to the city each year.

For the nomad, Fort Lauderdale means a chance to find work as a deckhand or cook in exchange for exotic winds.

To beaches and palm trees of distant islands filled with folks dreaming distant dreams of escape from a hell of service to wealthy visitors for whom their islands whisper Paradise…

Few nomads see the Fort as the locals do.

As they search for work amongst the throngs of tourists, the locals work in firms with names uninspiring, such as AutoNation, Citrix Systems, DHL Express, Spirit Airlines, the National Beverage Corporation, Tenet Healthcare, American Express, the Continental Group, Motorola, Maxim Integrated Products, Gulfstream International Airlines, the Online Trading Academy…

Surrounded by wealth, the average worker grits his teeth and sweats his life away for the scraps these firms reluctantly relinquish.

He sends his children to one of 23 public schools and, if he can afford it, later to one of the 9 institutions of higher learning the Fort has to offer.

Getting around, for the rare person without a car, means hopping on a BCT (Broward County Transit) bus.

Getting away means the railroad or the airport.

Only the wealthy dock in Port Everglades, the nation’s 3rd busiest cruise port, Florida’s deepest port.

Only the wealthy use the international passenger ferry service to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.

But baby you can drive my car out of the Fort upon one of the three major interstate highways leading into the city.

Akin to other US cities, the Fort has fire and police services, hospitals and ambulances, churches and cemeteries, serving the city´s 13 municipalities divided into 90 distinct neighbourhoods.

Do not mistake the Fort for Paradise.

Despite its many attractions, despite its tropical climate, despite the wealthy who come to play, summer is hot and humid rife with folks collapsing with heat exhaustion and concerned by wayward hurricanes, winter is dry with the threat of brushfires and heavy afternoon thunderstorms.

And the Fort has had hard environmental lessons to learn.

Off the coast the Osborne Reef was an artificial reef made of discarded tires intended to provide a habitat for fish while simultaneously disposing of trash from the mainland.

A lengthy bed of old, skummy tires rests piled upon the ocean's floor at Osborne Reef; a small yellow fish swims by the left of the photo.

But the ocean decides for itself how it is to be governed.

The nylon straps used to secure the tires wore out, cables rusted, tires broke free.

The tires then migrated shoreward and ran into a living reef, killing many things in their path.

Thousands of tires continue to wash up on nearby beaches during hurricane season, though local authorities along with the Army, Navy and Coast Guard may have removed the 700,000 tires by the time these words are read.

Yet folks still decide to come here, still decide to live here.

Depending on the season the demographic picture changes.

Winter and early spring in Florida, a land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow, attracts the snowbirds – tourists from the northern United States, Canada and Europe.

This Venice of America used to be dubbed Fort Liquordale because its beaches, bars and nightclubs back in the 1960s and 1970s attracted tens of thousands of college students for Spring Break.

But the city has actively discouraged college students from visiting the area since the mid-1980s passing strict laws aimed at preventing the mayhem and madness that regularly occured every year during Spring Break.

Where over 350,000 students used to party, now only 10,000 do so.

The Fort wants to be known as a resort town, a host city, a hub of arts and entertainment, of sports and culture.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District (that runs from the beach to the heart of downtown, from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to the Elbo Room Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach) and the Langerado Music Festival.

Lockhart Stadium is the home of the Strikers soccer team and the Florida University Owls football team.

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The New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals all once conducted baseball spring training at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Inside Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the Aquatic Complex, part of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

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The Complex open to Fort Lauderdale residents has also been the venue for many different national and international swimming competitions since 1965.

Ten world records have been set there, the latest being Michael Phelps’ 400-metre individual medley of 2002.

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Above: Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps (born 1985)

Fort Lauderdale is a place where a visitor finds it hard to be bored.

Here one can find the Swap Shop, a large indoor/outdoor flea market and the site of the world’s largest drive-in movie theatre with 13 screens.

The Hugh Taylor Birch State Park offers nature trails, camping, canoeing and picnicking.

The Museum of Art has works from the Cobra art movement (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam) as well as collections of Cuban, African and South American art.

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The Museum of Discovery and Science has amazing exhibits, including an IMAX theatre.

Museum of Discovery and Science, Fort Lauderdale

Ten miles west and the #2 tourist destination in Florida is Sawgrass Mills Mall with more than two miles of outlets for such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Disney, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfinger, Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren.

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(Perhaps even Ivana Trump?)

And for the history buff, Fort Lauderdale offers the Old Fort Lauderdale Museum of History (that covers the history of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, including exhibits of native Seminole folk art and baseball)…

Stranahan House (the oldest building in the city, originally built as a trading post)…

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…the Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel House, the residence of the infamous gangster (1906 – 1947)….

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…and Bonnet House (a beautiful historic estate near the beach with a nature trail, tours and tropical plants both native and imported).

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Life: throbbing, authentic, vibrant, day and night.

Such is Fort Lauderdale.

But for me, Fort Lauderdale represents death.

This was the site where the native Tequesta tribe failed to stop the encroachment of white settlers who brought with them diseases to which the native population possessed no resistance.

This was the site of a massacre at the beginning of the Second Seminole War where Anglo settlement had pushed the Seminole tribes south from Alabama and threatened to push them out of their new homeland by the establishment of the New River Settlement (present day Fort Lauderdale).

During this War, Major William Lauderdale led his Tennessee Volunteers into the area and erected a fort on the New River in 1838.

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Above: Statue of Major William Lauderdale in Davie, Florida, the site of the Battle of Pine Island Ridge, 22 March 1838

Lauderdale left after a month, his fort was destroyed by the Seminoles a few months later, his name remained.

After the end of the Seminole War in 1842, the remaining Seminoles withdrew to Pine Island and only a handful of settlers lived in what would become known as Broward County.

The hurricane of 1926, with the highest sustained winds ever recorded in the state of Florida, killed 50 people and destroyed over 3,500 structures in the city.

Just as the city was beginning to recover, in 1928 another devastating hurricane struck Florida and though Fort Lauderdale was only slightly damaged, the enormous death toll to the north in Palm Beach County, contributed to the perception that Florida was not real estate development heaven.

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, Fort Lauderdale never knew it, for it was already in a depression from the real estate bubble burst caused by the two hurricanes.

The United States didn´t enter World War II until 1941, but Fort Lauderdale felt the effect of the War sooner than most of the country.

In December 1939 a British cruiser chased the German freighter Arauca into Port Everglades, where she remained until 1941 when Germany declared war on the US and the US seized the vessel.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the US entry into the War had immediate effects on the city.

Blackouts were imposed and several Allied vessels were torpedoed by German U-boats, including one ship within sight of the shoreline.

The first Medal of Honor recipient in World War II was a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School.

By mid-1942, Fort Lauderdale would find itself with the US Navy Air Station Fort Lauderdale.

By the end of the War, the Station had trained thousands of Navy pilots, including the first President Bush.

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Above: George H. W. Bush, 41st US President (1989-1993)(born 1924)

On 5 December 1945, the five planes of Flight 19 departed on a routine training mission from NAS Fort Lauderdale.

They were never seen again.

No wreckage was ever found.

The strange disappearance of Flight 19 and the coincedental explosion which destroyed Training 49, a plane involved in a search for the missing squadron, have contributed to the Bermuda Triange myth.

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NAS Fort Lauderdale closed in 1946, becoming Broward County International Airport.

Commercial flights to Nassau began in 1953 and domestic flights began in 1958.

In 1959 the airport opened its first permanent terminal building and renamed itself the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport.

Today the Airport (FLL) has five terminals, serving 31 passenger airlines and four cargo air services flying to a multitude of domestic and international locations.

Death has been felt here as well.

On 7 July 1983, Air Florida Flight 8, with 47 people on board, en route from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa was hijacked.

One of the passengers handed a note to one of the flight attendants, saying he had a bomb, and telling them to fly the plane to Havana.

He revealed a small athletic bag, which he opened to reveal an explosive device.

The plane was diverted to Havana’s José Marti International Airport.

The hijacker was taken into custody by Cuban authorities.

On 19 November 2013, an Air Evac International Learjet 35 crashed shortly after take-off en route to Cozumel, Mexico, leaving four people dead.

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport, 6 January 2017

“And everybody knows that you’re in trouble.  Everybody knows what you’ve been through, from the bloody cross on top of Calvary to the beach of Malibu. Everybody knows it’s coming apart. Take one look at this sacred heart before it blows. And everybody knows.” (Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”)

Terminal 2, known as the Delta Terminal or the red terminal, has one concourse and nine gates, the Delta Airlines Sky Club (one of only six in Florida) and is used by Delta Airlines and Air Canada.

A shooter opened fire with a Walther PPS 9-mm semi-automatic pistol in Terminal 2’s baggage claim area at about 12:55 pm.

Travellers rushed out of the airport and hundreds of people waited on the tarmac as numerous law enforcement officers rushed to the scene.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted from the Airport:

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“Shots have been fired.  Everyone is running.”

The shooting lasted about 70 to 80 seconds.

The shooter lay down on the ground after he stopped shooting, having run out of ammunition.

Law enforcement officers did not fire shots.

The gunman was arrested without incident.

Five people died in the attack, all of whom were passing through Fort Lauderdale to begin cruises with their spouses.

Six people were injured by the shooting, three admitted to intensive care units.

40 people were injured in the panic to escape from the shooting.

The American Red Cross assisted 10,000 passengers, bussing them to Port Everglades for food, shelter and transportation connections.

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The Airport closed for the rest of the day.

Following the shooting, more than 20,000 pieces of luggage were left at the Airport amid the choas.

Flags of the United States and Florida were flown at half-mast throughout the state on the following two days to honour the fallen.

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Esteban Santiago-Ruiz (born 1990), a 26-year-old resident of Anchorage, Alaska and a military veteran of the Iraq War, was arrested immediately after the shooting.

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According to investigators, Santiago flew from Anchorage on a Delta flight through Minneapolis.

He checked a declared 9-mm pistol in his baggage before retrieving it in Fort Lauderdale and loaded the gun in an airport bathroom just before the attack.

It remains unclear why the attack occurred.

Though the proliferation of guns in America makes incidents of this kind sadly not surprising.

Federal officials are seeking the death penalty against Santiago and he has been charged with 22 federal law violations.

No links with terrorism have been proven.

According to his family members, Private Santiago had become mentally ill by seeing a bomb explode near two of his friends while he was in service in Iraq.

A man who had seen death up close brought death with him to Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 19 January 1971

“Oh, the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.  They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.  And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.  Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.  Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control.  It begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul.  Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging. I think I can see how you’re pinned.  When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.”

(Leonard Cohen, “The Sisters of Mercy”)

For four long years, a waitress battled cancer.

She too was a snowbird, born in Manhattan, raised, married and divorced in Montreal, Genevieve – “Jenny” to her friends and family and preferred by herself – was only 34.

Yet those had been a full 34 years, for she had given life to six children – four boys and two girls.

Her youngest, a boy, would have been six years old in four months’ time.

Jenny had dreams of being a singer and still smiled when she remembered performing on local stages with her family band before she married the man who had changed her life for better and for worse.

But the secrets of her heart she did not reveal to the staff of the Holy Cross Hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Holy Cross Hospital

She did not give the name of her divorced husband nor mention her children to the staff of the hospital or to her social worker.

Perhaps good Catholic girls confess only to their priests.

She was just a patient among hundreds.

Since migrating down to Florida, Jenny had taken work as a waitress.

But health care in America, then as now, was expensive, and the salary of a waitress, then as now, was insufficient.

Social assistance was needed which entailed a social worker.

Jenny was admitted into the hospital just before New Year´s Eve.

She slipped into a coma and died at 05:30 just before dawn.

She was buried four days later in Sunset Memorial Garden Cemetery.

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Buried in an open field, which in spring is covered by daisies and dandilions, designated paupers’ field reserved for those without anyone to pay for a burial plot or headstone, it appears that Jenny died alone.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 31 December 1988

“Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” (Leonard Cohen, “Bird on a Wire”)

It had been a long journey of many miles and many years, but I would finally be “reunited” with a mother I no longer remembered.

For years I had known nothing about my origins, save that my family name differed from the surnames of the foster parents who had raised me for a decade.

I had, through painstaking effort, retraced the documents that detailed my life prior to my stewardship with my foster parents, and the paper trail would find me travelling from Ottawa to New Brunswick to Montreal to Manhattan to Fort Lauderdale.

I, like my mother before me, did not possess great wealth, so much of my journey was done by thumbing rides and obtaining shelter and food through charity.

I was not reluctant to work, but what work I was qualified to do would have required many months, possibly years, before I could afford to travel without assistance.

And questions too long gone unanswered now drove me impatiently to the road.

Two days ago in Jacksonville, I received my mother’s death certificate from the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.

Now I stand in the cemetery´s caretaker office enquiring where my mother´s remains rest.

He informs me that there is no headstone, that she is buried in an unmarked grave in a pauper’s plot.

The ground is dusty and barren.

The tufts of grass that remain are yellow and brown.

Is this how I am to remember the woman who gave me life?

A few faded black-and-white photographs given reluctantly by the man whose surname I bear and a dry abandoned corner of a faraway cemetery?

According to him, Jenny had left husband and children behind as she was desperately unhappy, but she clung to her newborn son.

For this they never forgave her nor, I would learn later, me.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Now she is only a name on scattered certificates in registeries in Montreal, New York City and Jacksonville.

Unloved, unmourned, forgotten.

Is this the sum of a person’s life?

I stare at the ground which remains stubbornly mute and unresponsive.

Moments feel like eternity.

I look up in frustration at my inability to reconcile this empty field with the years of searching, both within myself and across the breadth of two countries.

I feel cold despite a Floridan winter warm by comparison to Canada.

A chain link fence surrounds the cemetery.

On the other side of the fence stands a factory.

Upon its back wall a painting of a mother holding a laughing baby beneath the words “Baby Love”, a producer of baby food and disposable diapers sold worldwide.

Sustainable Baby

I find myself upon my knees in the dirt of this plot of land rarely visited and tears flow down without warning, without rationale.

There is no comfort to be found in this field.

There are no answers to be found here.

The dead below lack a voice, lack awareness, lack even identity itself.

I dry my eyes, return back to the caretaker to thank him for his assistance and keep my sorrow hidden even from myself.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 February 2017

Years have passed since I said goodbye to Fort Lauderdale.

Weeks have passed since the airport shooting that reminded me of death in Fort Lauderdale.

I realise that it has been these recollections that made me quiet and reflective in my expression of thought and feeling these past few weeks.

Perhaps it is in coming to terms with mortality that we begin to discover the meaning of life.

Not that it ends, but that it is precious and should not be wasted.

I hope I can return one day to Fort Lauderdale and see the city through the eyes of a tourist and sample life there in all of its richness and fullness.

I hope to return to pauper’s field of Sunset Memorial one day and whisper into the tropical breeze a “thank you” to the remains of a woman who gave me birth, knowing she cannot hear the words but knowing I need to say those words to give a meaning to her life, a meaning to my life.

I hope that the families and friends of those that fell to the gunfire of an ill man in an airport baggage claim can find solace in the memory of how those departed made a difference to their lives.

And I hope that in my own humble way that I too will leave this world one day remembered for the way I made a difference in the lives of others.

Maybe if there is an afterlife I will wake to find Heaven resembles Fort Lauderdale.

As a snowbird Canuck, I think I would like that.

“Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean, the unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green. The snowbird sings the song he always sings
and speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring. When I was young, my heart was young then, too. Anything that it would tell me,
that’s the thing that I would do. But now I feel such emptiness within,
for the thing that I want most in life’s the thing that I can’t win.”

(Anne Murray, “Snowbird”)

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Half the sky: the wonder of Woman

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 February 2017

“We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.

We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.” (Konstantin Josef Jirecek)

Could this statement be strangely appropo if we viewed it from the perspective of women?

There is a scene in Back to the Future, Part 2 that has remained with me many years after the film.

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Doctor Emmett Brown, after discovering that their arch-enemy Biff has somehow disturbed the timeline and has turned the Hill Valley they once knew into a dystopia, says to his youthful companion Marty McFly:

“Time-traveling is just too dangerous.

Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!”

In my humble opinion…the study of women is a far more dangerous endeavour!

And it is in this spirit of danger and caution that I discuss this humble man´s opinion about the other half of humanity that, in the words of Mao Zedong, “hold up half the sky”.

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Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)

Sometimes our thinking is clouded by false assumptions…

A father and son are driving home.

They are involved in a bad car accident and are rushed to hospital.

Both are in critical condition.

A surgeon comes to the Emergency Room to try to save the boy, takes one look at the patient and says:

“I can´t operate on this boy.

He´s my son.”

But the boy´s father is lying on a trolley next to him.

What is the surgeon talking about?

Depending on the country, the surgeon is probably the boy´s mother.

There are moments, when I consider these modern times, that I am happy at the progress humanity has made.

More and more women are thought of as not just wives and mothers, but as leaders, activists, experts, major contributors to society and not only as passive onlookers to history or merely victims.

Women not only have a huge influence within the community.

Women create the community.

It was the women of South Sudan who organised the 1999 Wunlit Dinka-Nuer Peace and Reconciliation Conference to bring to an end seven years of hostilities between the Dinka and Nuer peoples.

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Above: The flag of South Sudan

They began by sharing with each other their stories of the pain and suffering that both peoples had inflicted upon each other.

Determined to help their people find a way to make peace, they laboured for months to build an entire village of 150 houses, a large meeting hall and a well for water and the provision of food for 1,500 people.

A living community, a village of peace…Wunlit.

The Dinka-Nuer Covenant guaranteed peace between the tribes who agreed to share rights in water, fishing and grazing land.

In spite of the ongoing violence, it is Israeli and Palestinian women who are working together through Jerusalem Link to convey a join vision of a just and lasting peace.

Jerusalem Link is the coordinating body of two independent women’s centres: Bat Shalom (The Jerusalem Women’s Centre in West Jerusalem) and Marcaz al-Quds al-Nissah (The Jerusalem Centre for Women in East Jerusalem).

From upper left: Jerusalem skyline looking north from St. Elijah Monastery, a souq in the Old City, Mamilla Mall, the Knesset, the Dome of the Rock dominating the Old City, the citadel (known as the Tower of David) and the Old City walls, and the Western Wall.

Above: Pictures of Jerusalem

Though each organisation is autonomous and takes its own national constituency as its primary responsibility, Jerusalem Link promotes a joint vision of peace, democracy, human rights and women’s leadership.

Vandana Shiva is a leading Indian researcher and activist on biodiversity, conservation and the protection of people’s rights from threat to their livelihoods and the environment.

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Above: Dr. Vandana Shiva (b. 1952)

Her father a conservator of forests and her mother a farmer with a love for nature, Vandana has a bachelor and master of science from Punjab University in Chandigarh, a master of arts in the philosophy of science from the University of Guelph and a PhD from London, Ontario’s University of Western Ontario.

Dr. Shiva later went on to interdiscplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

Dr. Shiva has spent much of her life in the defence and celebration of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, working to promote agricultural productivity, nutrition and fair incomes for farmers.

Dr. Shiva has her share of critics, and I confess that I need more information regarding the legitimacy of some of her claims, but there is no denying the impact she has had.

Her first book, Staying Alive, helped redefine perceptions on Third World women and she has founded and has actively participated in women’s rights, environmental development and anti-genetic engineering protests.

Dr. Shiva continues to play a major role in the global ecofeminist movement and she suggests a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centred on engaging women.

Dr. Shiva believes that ecological destruction and industrial catastrophes threaten daily life and that the maintenance of these problems has become the responsibility of women.

Recognition of the rights and the contributions of women has come relatively late in humanity´s history.

In 1910, the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen established an International Women’s Day to honour the movement for women’s rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women.

The first International Women’s Day was held on 19 March 1911.

In 1913, as part of the peace movement on the eve of World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday of February 1913.

In 1917, with 2,000,000 Russian soldiers dead in the War, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for “bread and peace”.

Four days later, the Czar was forced to abdicate and the new Provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

That Sunday fell on 23 February on the Julian calendar then used in Russia, which was 8 March on the Gregorian calendar used elsewhere.

International Women’s Day (8 March) has become a global opportunity to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women in the advancement of women’s rights.

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Above: German poster for International Women’s Day, 8 March 1914

If you want to know how women’s lives are changing around the world, then visit the Global Sisterhood Network. (http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org)

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This organisation monitors electronic and print media for developments likely to have a direct impact on women’s lives, including developments in agriculture, economics, employment, environment, health, law, militarism, politics, technology, trade and science.

How does the Global Sisterhood Network describe itself?

“The GSN provides regularly updated information including critical comment and displays of newspaper and journal articles that reinforce patriarchy / misogny, but have attracted sparse attention and / or comment as the world moves closer to un-democracy.”

Florynce Rae Kennedy, prominent civil rights activist and pro-choice campaigner, once famously said:

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

In response, Maurice and Charles Saatchi, advertising gurus, sprang to public attention with a poster of a pregnant man, saying:

“If this could happen to you, you’d be more careful.”

The world looks different from male and female perspectives, especially when it comes to aggression and warfare.

The architects of the Iraq War on both sides were all men.

Would the War had even happened had they all been women?

Since 1985 the Guerilla Girls have been reinventing feminism. (http://www.guerillagirls.com)

Guerrilla Girls

They produce posters, stickers, books, printed projects and public demonstrations to expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and culture at large.

Dubbing themselves “the conscience of culture”, the Guerilla Girls “believe feminism is a fundamental way of looking at the world and recognising that half of us are female and all of us should be equal.”

“It’s a fact of history that for centuries women have not had the rights and privileges of men.

It’s time for that to end.

Despite the tremendous gains of women over the last hundred years, misogyny – the hatred or hostility towards women as a whole – is still rampant throughout our culture and in the larger world.

We think that is the number one reason women need feminism.”

Above: International Women’s Day rally, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 8 March 2005

And how are women treated unequally?

Women have not achieved total equality with men in any country.

More than 866 million women live below the poverty line.

Women make up 2/3 of all poor people.

More than 20,000,000 women are refugees.

Women make up more than 75% of the world’s total of refugees.

More than 86,000,000 girls are not in school, 2/3 of all those in the world denied education.

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Above: Women’s rights advocate for equality in education and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (born: 1997)

Women worldwide earn about 3/4 of the pay of men for the same work.

In the 20th century only 24 women were elected heads of state or government.

In the United Nations less than 10% of the highest-ranking diplomats are women.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Since the Nobel Prizes were founded in 1901, only 12 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

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.

Above: Medallion picturing Alfred Nobel

Of the 204 Nobel laureates in physics, only two have been women.

The first and best-known, Marie Curie, was included only because her husband, Pierre, insisted that she, too, be awarded for their joint work.

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Above: Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867 – 1934)

When women are included on any list of hires, speakers or awardees, the people responsible often point with pride to their generosity as if including women on a list is indicative of performing a charitable service rather than that the women are deserving of recognition for their achievements.

Yet, women contribute more than $15,000,000,000 worth of unpaid work in homes and communities around the world.

Throughout the world women find themselves struggling between the biological imperative of producing and raising children and their desires to become more than simply wives and mothers.

Let´s look at a country in which I once lived…

A low birthrate is one of South Korea’s most urgent socio-economic challenges.

Centered taegeuk on a white rectangle inclusive of four black trigrams

Above: The flag of South Korea

Amid rising costs of living and education, women are increasingly moving into the job market, but they often find it all but impossible to keep their careers and raise children.

Many women still feel pressure to quit their jobs once they become pregnant.

For many women working in the private sector, especially those employed at smaller businesses, an extended parental leave with the option of returning to work remains a dream.

Even if a woman returns to work, finding affordable day care centres can be difficult.

At home, looking after a child is still largely considered a woman’s job even when she works outside the home.

So with so many pressures at work and at home, many women choose to remain single or marry late and have, at most, only one child.

South Korea’s fertility rate, one of the world’s lowest, is well below the “replacement level” that allows a society to maintain its population without immigration.

Some folks predict that South Korea will become extinct if it continues to maintain its current birthrate.

For years, local officials in South Korea have tried ever more inventive plans to encourage women to have babies.

They have offered generous maternity leave policies, cash allowances and boxes of beef and baby clothes to families with newborns.

On Thursday 29 December 2016, the South Korean Ministry of the Interior published an online birth map that uses shades of pink to rank towns and cities by the number of women of childbearing age.

The birth map was intended to “promote competition” among towns to produce more babies.

The reaction to this map was so overwhelmingly negative, especially among women, that the website was shut down within hours of its introduction.

An angry blogger wrote:

“Are women livestock?

CH cow 2 cropped.jpg

Above: Swiss Braunvieh cow with cowbell

The Ministry counted fertile women like they counted the number of livestock.

Did the Ministry think that men would flock to a town with more childbearing age women?”

Han Chang-min, spokesman for the opposition Justice Party:

“It’s truly deplorable, because the map shows that the government considers women as nothing but baby producing machines.

It shows the government sees birthrates just as a woman’s problem.”

According to Marie Stopes International, an organisation that promotes safe motherhood across the world:

Every minute of every hour of every day, more than 380 women become pregnant.

PregnantWoman.jpg

Half of these pregnancies are unplanned or unwanted.

“Abortions happen, every day.

Making them illegal doesn’t stop women needing, or wanting them, or inflicting abortions on themselves.

Even if you don’t agree with abortion, it is not morally acceptable to force your views upon others.” (Leslie Spillane, Cork, Ireland)

Every year, more than 600,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

That is the equivalent of a ship the size of the Titanic sinking every day with no survivors.

RMS Titanic 3.jpg

Above: RMS Titanic leaving Southampton, 10 April 1912

Maternal deaths account for 30% of all deaths among women of reproductive age.

And women worldwide remain in all sorts of situations where they are in physical danger of attack.

In the US alone, women and girls represent 86% of all victims of sexual violence.

Datei:Flag of the United States.svg

Bangalore, India, 1 January 2017

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the centre of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

Above: The flag of India

Thousands of people have gathered on two roads in the city centre to celebrate the New Year.

The police on the scene – more than 1,500 officers – are quickly overwhelmed as men begin molesting women and shouting lewd remarks.

The crowd becomes a stampede as men take their chance to grope and fondle any nearby women they can find in a mass frenzy of molestation and unwelcome physical contact.

Rajnath Singh, India’s Home Minister, told reporters that “protecting the modesty of women is the duty of state government”.

But some elected officials reacted to the events in Bangalore by pointing the finger at Westernising customs rather than the assailants.

Abu Azmi, an assemblyman from Maharashtra State, complained that “the more nude the woman looks, the more fashionable and modern she is called.”

The government official responsible for keeping order on Indian streets, the Home Minister for the state of Karnataka, Mr. Parameshwara said that the women were to blame because of the way they looked and acted.

“Youngsters were almost like Westerners.

They tried to copy the Westerner, not only in their mindset but even in their dress.

So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.”

Once again, the victims are blamed for their assaults, rather than the assailants.

Kabul, Afghanistan, July 2016

Flag of Afghanistan

Above: The flag of Afghanistan

An unproven accusation of adultery sends a mob chasing after a girl and the young man she had been linked to.

The crowd sets fire to the car in which the couple are found.

They barely escape, but the police are more concerned about the mob’s accusation.

The police chase her down and arrest her hours later.

The teenage girl had barely survived an attempted mob lynching.

“Since there was suspicion of sexual relationship, the police sent the girl to forensic medical for virginity testing.” (Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of the Kabul Police Investigation Department)

Virginity testing is an extremely invasive examination to check whether a woman’s hymen is intact.

A study by Afghanistan’s human rights commission found the justice system still regularly orders female victims of domestic abuse who had sought protection in women’s shelters to go through the procedure.

The Commission calls the examinations “violence against women”.

“The circumstances of virginity testing are never humane.

In conducting virginity tests, no one asks for the consent of the victim.

99% of the virginity tests are conducted by force.” (Soraya Sobrang, Commissioner, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission)

And as I look back at the news events of just the first month of 2017, I remain dismayed and saddened at the ongoing plight of women around the world:

  • In recent months, the Myanmar military has entered villages in the northern state of Rakhine shooting at random, setting houses on fire with rocket launchers and systematically raping girls and women.
  • Flagge Myanmars
  • Above: The flag of Myanmar
  • A film about sex trafficking, I Am Jane Doe, opens in US theatres next month and shines a light on the website Backpage, “the Walmart of human trafficking”, that dominates the online sex trade and is implicated in 3/4 of the reports of child trafficking in the US.
  • The MTV series Sweet / Vicious is one of several productions currently prevading US pop culture with tales of rape victims exacting revenge upon their attackers, but do these shows truly reveal rape’s social and psychological consequences or do they trivialise an “eye for an eye” retribution?
  • Sweet Vicious Key Art.jpg
  • In democracies from Australia to North America and Europe, the pipeline of women ready to step up to the top in politics and business remains thin and is a major topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

  • Police Now, a diversity initiative financed by the British Home Office and started in 2015, now has more than 150 officers spread out over England, 49% of them women, 18% minorities, as British police seek to diverse a corps often derided as “male, pale and stale”.
  • To be a woman in the US is to feel unequal, despite great strides in gender equality, according to National Opinion Research Center about gender in Trump’s America.  Being a woman in America means catcalls on the street, disrespect at work and unbalanced responsibilities at home.  Girls are taught to aspire to marriage while watching positions of power go to men.  American men, however, don’t see things the same way.

  • The corporate governance of seven of America’s ten largest institutional investors in stocks are now women.  Though concern remains that women are less likely to push greater gender diversity as an issue in discussions with management out of concern they will be perceived to have a feminist agenda, there still exists tremendous potential for women in corporate goverance to make a bigger difference.
  • On 21 January, the day after what many had assumed would be the inaugration of Hillary Clinton as America’s first female President, hundreds of thousands of women flooded the streets of Washington DC and in cities across the United States and in a number of cities abroad, in defiance against Donald Trump the man who defeated her.  The organisers of the “counter-inaugration” hoped the marches were the kick-off of a sustained campaign of protest and determination to protect women’s rights that Trump threatens.  In a show of outrage and despair, the marches brought attention to issues such as abortion, equal pay, sexual assault, police brutality, mass incarceration, voter suppression and environmental protection.  The marchers were confronting a President who has appointed only a handful of women in his Cabinet and inner circle, who has pledged to nominate a Supreme Court justice who oppose abortion rights, who has pledged to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that covers contraception. Total attendance, just in the US, alone easily surpassed one million.

Alyssa Klein's photo.

As I look back at the first month of 2017, as I review the research I made for this blogpost, as I reflect on the wonder that is woman from a simple husband’s perspective, I am left with a number of feelings and impressions.

Much like Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, I feel that women have made me want to become a better man more deserving of them.

As good as it gets.jpg

Above: Film poster for As Good As It Gets (1997)

I am breathless with admiration at the courage, strength, preseverance, passion, compassion, wisdom and beauty inside and out that women possess.

And it astonishes me how unequally and unfairly my gender has been and continues to be towards women.

Why are we this way to the very beings who gave us life itself?

Why this sense of insecurity so many of my gender possesses when it comes to granting the same rights and privileges so many men take for granted?

Are we afraid that the empowerment of women drains the power of men?

Why do so many men assume that a woman’s ability to attract gives them some sort of right to possess and ravage a woman’s body?

When did we forget that knowing a woman is a privilege?

Scent of a Woman.jpg

Above: Film poster for Scent of a Woman (1992)

Why do so many men jealously try to dictate to women what their roles should be, how they should dress, who they should have sex with, or whether they should procreate or not?

Why do we force upon women structures and taboos that we would revolt against if they were forced upon us?

Men should not think themselves superior to women, but rather we should consider ourselves complimentary to each other and embrace equality as we cherish our differences.

As difficult as communication can be between men and women, as frustrating as it can be when those we choose to love don’t always do what we would prefer they would do, the freedom and privilege we enjoy for ourselves is also the right of women as well.

Without women sharing our strength and passion in equal but different proportion, the sky above is truly falling.

"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.

Above: Apollo 17 photo of Earth from space, 7 December 1972

Sources: Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World: How to Make a Difference…One Day at a Time / Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korea’s effort to promote fertility backfires”, New York Times, 3 January 2017 / Nida Najar, “India official faults dress for attacks on women”, New York Times, 5 January 2017 / Liza Randall, “Why Vera Rubin deserved a Nobel”, New York Times, 5 January 2017 / Zahra Nader and Mujib Mashal, “Virginity tests in Afghanistan defy a ban”, New York Times, 7 January 2017 / Sinead O’Shea, “Ireland is revisiting its stringent ban on abortion”, New York Times, 11 January 2017 / Ellen Barry, “There are no homes left”, New York Times, 12 January 2017 / Nicholas Kristof, “A website peddling girls for sex”, New York Times, 13 January 2017 / Amanda Hess, “Rape, revenge and how we watch”, New York Times, 14 January 2017 / Alison Smale, “Putting more women on a path to power”, New York Times, 17 January 2017 / Prashant S. Rao, “British police look to shed a pale-male image”, New York Times, 18 January 2017 / Claire Cain Miller, “Gender-driven views on equality”, New York Times, 19 January 2017 / Alexandra Stevenson and Leslie Picker, “Wielding power quietly”, New York Times, 19 January 2017 / Susan Chira and Yamiche Alcindor, “Women’s anti-Trump rallies go worldwide“, New York Times, 23 January 2017 / Wikipedia

Wonder Woman (DC Rebirth).jpg

 

Eye problems

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 January 2017

Today is my first day back to work as a teacher and this, of course, involves planning.

Planning involves going through my wee little library here at home in search of interesting material to share with my students in the hopes that as they learn they might also be entertained, informed and inspired.

Above: The Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Not always easy, but never dull.

I ran across an editorial from The Hartford Courant by Denis Horgan, reprinted by the International Herald Tribune and incorporated in an English textbook, On the Record: Mastering Reading and Language Skills with the Newspaper, by Robert Hughes.

Hartford Courant March 24 2008.jpg

Horgan´s comments, with a wee bit of adaptation to today´s issues, still seem relevant.

“Maybe it´s my weary old peepers, but I never seem to see things.

They cut the gasoline tax and I don´t see the price go down.

Instead the price goes up.

No matter what happens the price goes up.

No matter what happens the price never goes down.

Cold weather?

It drives up the price.

Hot weather?

see caption

It drives up the price.

Cut taxes?

They raise the price to pay for the change.

When there is an international crisis, they run up the price of oil in anxiety.

When the crisis goes away, the price stays up.

When we are in an oil glut, the price goes up instead of down.

Everywhere, big companies lay off half the work force, wrecking the lives of thousands of employees, and I don´t see where anyone´s better off for it except for a few bosses.

Above: “The Strike”, Robert Koehler (1886)

Not the customers.

Not the public.

Surely not those laid off nor those left behind.

They say I should see that the stockholders are better off, but what I see is that they get a quarter or 50 cents more in dividends, a small increase in stock price.

Looking up at a computerized stocks-value board at the Philippine Stock Exchange

And for that people´s lives are destroyed, service is gutted, products and reputations are diminished.

So someone can make pennies and executives can make millions.

Fortunately, there is at least a Hereafter where that will be redressed.

The Cold War is over and I don´t see where the peace dividend is.

Above: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 27 October 1961

We pumped trillions into defense where there was someone to defend against, but I don´t see where there´s a need to pump trillions more into gigantic submarines and monster bombers with no known purpose anymore.

Nuclear War: Nuclear weapon test, 1954

We could have hoped that some of the savings might show up in helping neglected corners of the society, but I don´t see it.

They cut the taxes of the wealthy, telling us that´s good for us all, and I don´t see where that helps anyone but the wealthy.

They say that we will all benefit when the rich get around to trickling it down to us later, but I never see that happening.

We forever await the grace of the privileged without ever much getting it.

Meantime, we can see quite clearly that there is less for support efforts for those who need them.

Companies cut services while making bloated profits, and no one sees any of that coming back to the sap customer paying new fees and higher prices and getting poorer products and less support than ever before.

I don´t see that those efficiencies very often benefit the people paying the bill.

Employee rolls are skinnied up and replaced with part-timers and tempy and others on the cheap – but when was the last time the savings showed up on the price tag?

I don´t see it happening very often.

We are told we will save money by not helping those who need help, and people actually will be better off for being poorer, but I don´t see either happening.

Do you have more money in your pocket because they whittled the welfare funds?

I don´t.

Maybe when we finally get it we´ll spend it on cheaper gas.

Do you see all those jobs that don´t exist being filled by people who were straight-arming away jobs in favor of keeping the peanuts they get from the dole?

Neither do I.

What I think I see is a mood where people of no wealth become people of no value and, thereafter, are invisible.

Wells The Invisible Man.jpg

Unseen.

To thundering self-praise, they tell us they´ve balanced the national budget which will make things better while, at the same time, spreading such tax advantages and college aid and various bits of boodle as to turn this into the Promised Land.

Great.

But maybe the promises are so seldom kept that you will pardon the squint as I keep on the lookout for the thing to happen.

From the left and from the right costly pledges of change fly only to produce more of the same, helping mostly and only those already with advantage and authority.

They tell us we will see it get better.

Someday.

Maybe I need new glasses.” (Denis Horgan, “Something Wrong with My Eyes”, Hartford Courant)

I too look at the world of today and I too question whether or not there´s something wrong with my eyes.

There probably is.

Glasses black.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That which survives 2c: Past Tents and Last Year´s Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 December 2016

Now, Belgians love a good celebration, but a big night in the Belgian boozers often leads to mornings of regret and grim reflection.

Being the chaste daughter of an English curate, nights in a bar were probably not part of Charlotte Bronte´s story, but her unrequited love for a married professor must have lead her to mornings of remorse and silent rage against the fates denying her heart´s desire.

CBRichmond.png

It has been suggested by many a Bronte biographer that during Charlotte´s second sojourn in Brussels that she was unhappy and homesick, but was she also lonely?

Chances are…probably yes.

For who had she to chum around with?

Her sister Emily, who had been with her in Brussels for the first nine months of 1842, had remained at Haworth.

Although we can be fairly certain that Charlotte maintained a regular amount of correspondence with Haworth and English friends, her biographers suggest that she had no peers to confide in, she had no great affection for the girls under her charge at the Héger boarding school, nor did she venture out into Bruxellois society, Charlotte being blessed with neither great beauty nor great wealth.

In 1843 Brussels, Charlotte would probably known of, but never have spoken to, the élite of the Belgian capital.

Leopold I (1790 – 1865), the first King of the Belgians, had been on the throne since 1831, though Belgian independence went unrecognised until 1839.

Leopold I of Belgium (2).jpg

Joachim Lelewel (1786 – 1861), Polish historian, biographer, polyglot and politician, was living in exile in Brussels (1833 – 1861) during the year Charlotte was teaching again in the Héger boarding school, but he earned a scanty livelihood by his writings.

Joachim Lelewel.JPG

There is no record showing that Charlotte and Joachim ever met.

And when not silently pining for Professor Héger or teaching young ladies English, Charlotte would have been distracted by problems back home in Haworth.

Charlotte´s father Patrick Bronte had lost his sight (restored in 1846), while her brother Branwell had fallen into a rapid decline of drama, drunkenness and opiate delirium.

Patrickbronte.jpg

One hundred and fifty three years later…

Of course many historic events had happened between Charlotte´s time in Brussels (January 1843 – January 1844) and my own time there (5 – 12 November 1996).

Many people had lived and died, come and gone in Brussels:

The aforementioned Leopold I and Joachim Lelewel were long dead, as were the entire Bronte family and the operators of the Héger boarding school.

Brussels has seen the likes of:

  • French politician/philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865), the world´s first self-declared anarchist, in exile here (1858 – 1862).
  • Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (aka Multatuli – Latin: I have suffered much.) completed his masterpiece Max Havelaar here in 1859.
  • French writer Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) completed Les Miserables here in 1851.
  • French poets Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896) and Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)
  • French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917)
  • French poets Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) and Louis Blanc (1811 – 1882)
  • French General Georges Boulanger (1837 – 1891) and Argentinian General / 1st Peruvian President José de San Martin (1824 – 1830)
  • French writer Alexandre Dumas Sr. (1802 -1870)
  • German philosophers Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) wrote The Communist Manifesto here.
  • Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
  • George Washington (1871 – 1946), the inventor and first commercial producer of instant coffee, grew up in Brussels.
  • Nobel Prize winners Jules Bordet (1870 – 1961)(Medicine, 1919), Ilye Prigogine (1917 – 2003)(Chemistry, 1977), Francois Englert (Physics, 2013) and Henri La Fontaine (1854 – 1943)(Peace, 1913)
  • Painters Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525 – 1569) and René Magritte (1898 – 1967)
  • Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536)
  • Graphic designer M.C. Escher (1898 – 1972)
  • Architects Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) and Jan van Ruysbroeck (aka Jan van der Berghe) would transform the Brussels urban landscape.
  • Novelist Emma Orczy (1865 – 1947) grew up here.
  • Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha (1908 – 1985) worked as a secretary at the Albanian consulate (1934 – 1936).
  • Rockers Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen), Plastic Bertrand, Brain Molko (Placebo) and Vini Reilly (The Duratti Column / Morrissey)
  • Régine Zylberberg, pioneer of the modern nightclub
  • Writer Hendrik Conscience (1812 – 1883)
  • Mathematician Jacques Tits (born 1930)
  • Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564), author of the first complete textbook on human anatomy, On the Workings of the Human Body
  • Actors Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 1960)(“the muscles from Brussels”)
  • Chansonnier Jacques Brel (1933 – 1978)
  • Just to name a few…these would “pitch their tents” within Brussels.

1993 was a dramatic year in respect to the Belgian monarchy:

The 5th King of the Belgians, Baudouin, died on 31 July.

Anefo 911-3016 Tweede dag (cropped).jpg

Within hours the Royal Palace gates and enclosure were covered with flowers that people brought spontaneously.

Baudouin had become King of the Belgians when his father Leopold III, surrounded by controversy, abdicated the throne in favour of his son.

Leopold III van België (1934).jpg

(Leopold III was unpopular because he married an English-born Belgian commoner after Baudoin´s mother had been killed in a car crash, and because he had surrendered Belgium to the Nazis when they invaded in 1940.

Many Belgians questioned Leopold´s loyalties and though he was exonerated of treason after WW2 it was felt by many that he no longer deserved the throne.)

The King and Queen had no children.

During Baudouin´s reign the Belgian Congo became independent.

At the last ceremonial inspection of the Force Publique, the royal sabre of the King was stolen during the parade.

The famous picture travelled the world newspapers.

The next day the King attended the official reception.

His speech received a blistering public response from the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

Anefo 910-9740 De Congolese2.jpg

This duality of humiliation of the King became the symbol of the independence of the Congo.

In 1990 Baudouin refused to sign into law a bill permitting abortion.

Due to his religious convictions…

(As well, all of the Queen´s five pregnancies had ended in premature miscarriages.)

…Baudouin asked the Belgian government to declare him temporarily unable to reign so that he could avoid signing the measure.

The Belgian government compiled with his request, because, according to the provisions of the Belgian constitution, in the event that the King is temporarily unable to reign, the government fulfills the role of the Head of State.

All members of the government signed the bill on 4 April 1990.

The next day the government declared that Badouin was capable of reigning again.

His successor Albert II assumed the throne on 9 August and would abdicate the throne in favour of his son Philippe in 2013.

Albert II of Belgium.jpg

Brussels, Belgium, 7 November 1996

“Zoé”, a former girlfriend (of the year previous) with whom I “pitched my tent” during my Brussels stay, had been one of the 500,000 people who came to pay their respects and to view Baudouin´s body lying in state at the Royal Palace, waiting in line for hours in sweltering heat to see their King one last time.

Bruxels April 2012-4.jpg

When I visited Brussels in November 1996, Belgium still felt like a country still in deep mourning.

The souvenir shops were still selling postcards of Baudoin as well as postcards of Albert II.

(Ironically I would see another spontaneous bringing of flowers in memorium when the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was announced while I was back in Brussels the following year.)

Zoé, like Charlotte Bronte, also lacked spectacular wealth and beauty.

So they also shared a loneliness they were both desperate to alleviate.

Your humble blogger too lacked great wealth or looks…

(That hasn´t changed!)

…but I had been accustomed to a life of solitude since I had begun travelling five years previously (hitching around North America, walking in Canada), so as much as I too had my moments of isolated loneliness this isolation no longer frightened me.

Image may contain: 1 person

Zoé was terrified of isolation.

Escaping from Zoé´s side was more difficult than accomplishing any one of the Twelve Labours of Heracles!

Zoé had to have noise always about her and listened to the radio or watched TV constantly.

At the time of her life I visited her, Zoé was very découragé with everything: her apartment, her job prospects, her family…

During our year apart I had changed.

I was no longer the last year´s man she had known.

Thursday 7 November was a dark and dismal rainy day in Brussels so we spent most of the day in her apartment.

The apartment, belonging to her father, was by no means a cure for the blues…

It was dirty, dingy, infested by slugs(!), peeling paint, clutter and unidentifiable powerfully unpleasant odours.

Zoé would have liked to live elsewhere but without employment she was dependent upon her father´s assistance.

I did not wish to add to her financial burdens once my savings ran out and finding employment as a teacher didn´t pan out.

I met her father that day and was shocked to see the contrast between them.

“Francois”, 65, was tall (by Belgian standards), stylish, debonair, cultured, and, though I never discovered what his source of income was, able to maintain two mistresses.

Zoé´s mother was never a topic of discussion.

I felt I was in a world alien to my experience.

What kind of morality or conscience guided Francois?

What kind of woman was attracted to someone like Francois?

Had he no compassion for these women, or was that limited to the chase rather than the capture?

Were these women as desperate and hungry for affection as Zoé was?

Could Francois´ womanizing have something to do with the woman Zoé was?

I was no psychologist nor an expert in women.

Zoé had heard of open invitations to become spectators for RTL TVI Station 15´s talk show “Balle Centrale”(?) that evening.

(Perhaps today´s “De quoi je me mêle”?)

The station originated in Luxembourg but is now based in Belgium.

Zoé drove us through the driving rain to the studios to watch journalists, sports figures, singers, actresses and comedians strut their stuff.

My rusty French and the programme´s Belgian accent and vocabulary left me feeling somewhat diminished, while a comedian enraged me with his comments that there was no difference between Canada and the US!!

Zoé had already introduced me to Belgian comedy:

I particularly enjoyed Les Snuls (1989 -1983).

Their humour was mostly inspired by self-mockery and nonsense, much like the British comedy troupe Monty Python or Canada´s Royal Canadian Air Farce, and hijacking national symbols of Belgium (moules-frites, Manneken Pis, Tintin, beer, chocolate, sprouts…).

This quintet of comedy amused me, but also made me consider the similarities between Canada and Belgium.

In the 15 August 1912 Revue de Belgique, Walloon socialist politician Jules Destrée wrote his famous and notorious “Letter to the King on the separation of Wallonia and Flanders”:

“In Belgium there are Walloons and Flemings.  There are no Belgians.”

There remain moments where I have wondered:

In Canada there are Anglophones and Francophones, English Canada and Québec.

Are there Canadians?

Flag of Canada

Perhaps had I not grown up Anglo in Québec I might be like 90% of Canadians who are strictly unilingual.

Flag of Quebec

Above: Flag of Québec

Perhaps I might feel either Anglo or Franco.

In the merging of two into one, can the separate identity of both be maintained?

Should it be?

And then I thought of my time with Zoé since we had been reunited.

So desperate to get me into her world and hold me within…

I had not come to Europe to lose my identity, but rather to discover it by comparison.

In thinking of my identity, both personal and national, I thought much on the music of Montréal Anglo Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen, 1988 01.jpg

Above: Leonard Cohen, 1988

As Zoé slumbered beside me, sleep denied its comfort and I listened to the whispering rain fall outside the window.

And in the jukebox of my mind, from his lonely wooden Tower of Song, Leonard quietly and mournfully reminded me that…

“The rain falls down on the works of last year´s man…”

Above: The flag of Belgium