Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

There are moments when one has to accept one´s limitations.

For example, the wife and I were asked to attend her employer´s Christmas Party yesterday evening, but neither one of us was healthy (or motivated) enough to attend.

I have been home all week when I would have rather been working, but it is hard to be a barista or teacher when one has lost his voice.

The demands of work and other personal responsibilities limit my ability to travel very far at present, so some of the places where I would like to visit I cannot visit due to both the constraints of limited time and money to do so.

As regular readers (both of them!) of my blog know I have been retracing the life and “footsteps” of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531).

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I wrote about walking from Wildhaus to Strichboden to Arvenbuel to Weesen.

(See Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg and Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows of this blog.)

I wrote that Zwingli was born in Wildhaus and was first educated in Weesen (1489 – 1494)

Zwingli then completed his secondary education in Basel (1494 – 1496), then five years later returned to Basel to complete his Master´s Degree at the University of Basel (1502 – 1506).

I did not walk to Basel, but having frequently visited and worked in the city I felt that my readers would still like a glimpse of the place.

(See Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect of this blog.)

But what of the years (1496 – 1502) between Zwingli´s Basel educational periods?

Well, Zwingli was sent to Bern, the Swiss capital, and stayed with the humanist Henry Wölfflin.

The Dominicans in Bern tried to persuade Zwingli to join their order and it is possible that he was received as a novice, but as both his father and uncle disapproved of such a course of action, he left Bern without completing his Latin studies.

Zwingli then enrolled in the University of Vienna in the winter semester of 1498 but was expelled, according to the University´s records.

Zwingli´s activities in 1499 are unknown, but history records that he re-enrolled in the summer of 1500 and continued his studies until 1502, after which he transferred to the University of Basel.

After Basel, Zwingli would be ordained in Konstanz, celebrate his first mass in Wildhaus, and then take up his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus.

The walking tourbook Zwingli- Wege mentions Bern, Vienna and Konstanz, but the authors do not extend their book´s walks to these three cities.

As far as I can tell there is little celebration of Zwingli´s life in Bern, Vienna and Konstanz.

And even though Zwingli´s time in Glarus is definitely noteworthy, it isn´t until he began his reformatory crusade for change in the Church in Zürich do the Swiss take much notice of the man.

As I have written of both Bern and Konstanz in the past within this blog, I want to speak of Vienna, not so much in regard to Zwingli but in regards to the wisdom of spending time in this place.

(For stories about Bern, see Capital Be and Canada Slim in the Capital of this blog.)

(For stories about Konstanz, see Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?, Flames and Broken Promises, and Canada Slim and the City of the Thousand of this blog.)

Above: View of Vienna (Wien) from the Stephansdom (St. Stephen´s Cathedral)

Vienna, Austria, 2 October 1998

It was my second adventure travelling about Europe, and, as a result of my first adventure, this time I was not alone.

Accompanied by the woman who would one day become my wife, Ute and I travelled by train and bus from Freiburg im Breisgau in southwestern Germany´s Black Forest, north to Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Trier and Köln (Cologne), east to Nuremburg, Praha (Prague) and Kutná Hora, south to Ceske Budojovice and Cesky Krumlov, and finally southeast to Wien (Vienna) arriving by overnight train.

The journey to Vienna had been, for the most part, pleasant, filled with discoveries and missteps as are common to any long adventure spent together.

The arrival to this imperial city started poorly.

I had gotten into my head that Vienna was a place where I was expected to wear a suit.

Somehow I convinced myself that Vienna was an élite environment that would not accept me unless I was wearing a suit.

Said suit had lain balled up at the bottom of my backpack, but at the crack of dawn I rolled it out, put it on and waited for us to arrive.

A sudden braking of the train caused me to split wide open the crotch of my suit trousers, putting me in a frightfully ugly and grumpy mood.

My Ute is never one to let an ugly mood go to waste and she responded in kind, so perhaps it was a mixed blessing that we spent our nights in Vienna in separately segregated youth hostel beds.

And though we would later argue yet one more time during our sojourn there, we were generally happy together in this romantic city of hidden courtyards, mysterious cellars and forgotten cemeteries, of Harry Lime (The Third Man) and Mozart (Rock me, Amadeus!), of Schubert, Strauss and Freud, of Marilyn Monroe and Karl Marx, of Vivaldi and 007, the blue Danube and the kaleidoscope of colour that is the Hundertwasserhaus.

Above: Hundertwasser, Vienna

Vienna conjures up a myriad of memories: impressive imperial palaces and dictatorial failed artists, coffeehouses crammed with cakes and customers, baroque mirrors and angelic choirboys, Art Nouveau architecture and Klimt canvasses, horsedrawn fiacre carriages and lovely leaping Lippanzer stallions.

This is also a city of music: a Strauss waltz, a cathedral choir, an organ recital, an opera performance, a celebration of the talents of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Liszt and Mahler, a litany of life, melodies of magic.

Above: Johann Strauss II Monument, Stadtpark, Vienna

As is normal in any relationship of two or more travelling companions, there must be a certain amount of give-and-take for harmony to happen.

And I must confess I was searching for the poetry of Canadian balladeer Leonard Cohen to be reflected on the streets of Vienna.

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Above: Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

“Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women.”

Ah, the things men do to woo women….

The Neidhart Frescoes show a thief groping beneath a woman´s skirt, while another uses snowballs to win the favours of a peasant girl.

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Ah, the things men do to escape women….

The Kornhäusel Tower was designed by architect Josef Georg Kornhäusel (1782 – 1860) as a refuge from his nagging wife, having a retractable iron staircase from the first floor rather than a conventional doorway at street level.

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Above: Kornhäuselturm, Vienna

“There´s a shoulder where Death comes to cry.”

On 15 March 1938 German Chancellor Adolf Hitler came to Vienna to proclaim the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria.

Above: Adolf Hitler, Heldenplatz, Vienna, 15 March 1938

Within days Vienna´s elegant Hotel Metropole at Morzinplatz was commandeered as the regional headquarters of the Nazi secret police and Heinrich Hemmler´s henchmen began rounding up opponents of National Socialism: Fascists, Communists, Jews, men, women and children for interrogation, torture and dispatch to concentration camps.

Above: The former Hotel Metropole, Vienna

Above: Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Gestapo, Morzinplatz, Vienna

“There´s a lobby with nine hundred windows.”

A lobby is a place where people wait.

Kaballah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that this earthly existence is a lobby where we wait for the “world to come”.

10 Sephirot

Kaballah also teaches that there are 900 – yes, exactly 900 – potential types of death for a human being.

This refers not to the manner or cause of death, but to the inner experience of the person who is dying and the different experiences of death vary in degree of gentleness or painfulness.

The most gentle & peaceful death is referred to as “the kiss”, or “the kiss of Shekinah” and is described as feeling like a hair being pulled from a cup of milk.

The most painful death is described as feeling like a spiked ball at the end of a hairy rope being pulled out of the person’s throat.

Vienna is a city where some people still keep a separate savings account in order to ensure an appropriately lavish funeral.

Above: Grave of Ludwig von Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

Vienna´s chief cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof is one of the biggest in Europe, larger than the entire Innere Stadt, and with a much bigger population – 2.5 million – than the whole of the city (1.8 million).

Above: Grave of Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

It even has its own bus service to help mourners get around the cemetery.

Above: Grave of Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Opened in 1874, at the height of Viennese funereal fetishism – when having eine schöne Leich (a beautiful corpse) was something to aspire to, the Zentralfriedhof is still very much a working graveyard.

1 November / All Saints´ Day sees up to a million Viennese make the trip out here and leave candles burning in remembrance on virtually every grave.

And here the music is buried along with its decomposing composers: Beethoven, Schubert, Gluck, Brahms, Wolf and the entire Strauss clan.

Or could the 900 windows be more pedantic and simply be Vienna´s first skyscraper, the 16-storey, 50-metre high Hochhaus, built in 1932?

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Above: Hochhaus, Herrengasse, Vienna

“There´s a tree where the doves go to die.”

A cross where the King of Peace was crucified?

Stephansdom, a cathedral that has dominated the Viennese skyline for centuries and an obvious military target that has endured two Turkish sieges, Napoleonic bombardment, American bombers and Russian artillery.

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Above: St. Stephan´s Cathedral, Vienna

Despite the tourists, it is still very much a place of worship.

The Pötscher Madonna, an object of great veneration even today, wept tears from her unusual large eyes during the Battle of Zenta against the Turks in 1697 and in so doing miraculously secured victory against the invading infidels.

Above: The Pötscher Madonna, Stephansdom, Vienna

In the Apostles´ Choir is the glorious red marble tomb of Emperor Friedrich III (1415 – 1493) with the Emperor´s mysterious acronym AEIOU (Alles Erdreich ist Österreich Untertan / The whole world is subject to Austria.)

Down in the catacombs, around 16,000 locals are buried here, their bones piled high in more than thirty rooms.

“There´s a piece that was torn from the morning and it hangs in the Gallery of Frost.”

A reference to Sisi (1837 – 1898), a young girl torn away so soon in the morning of her life to become Empress Elisabeth to the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and whose life and love were lynched to death by her loveless husband and his control freak mother?

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Above: Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Married at 16, her mother-in-law Sophie denied Sisi any privacy by choosing her ladies in waiting for her, denied Sisi any love by having her children removed from her care as soon as they were born.

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Above: Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1805 – 1872)

Later, Elisabeth would tell her daughter:

“Marriage is an absurd institution.

 

Above: Sisi´s husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830 – 1916)

At the age of fifteen you are sold, you make a vow you do not understand, and you regret for thirty years or more that you cannot break it.”

By 1860, Sisi had suffered enough.

She abandoned her children and husband and fled to Madeira for six months.

She then spent the rest of her lonely life travelling around Europe, crisscrossing the Continent, never staying in one place too long and went on endless cruises.

Sisi sought solace in fencing, hiking and horseback riding and in the preservation of her beauty.

When her cousin, King Ludwig, and then her only son Rudolf, committed suicide within a few years of each other, she became convinced that she was mentally unstable.

Above: Photos of Prince Rudolf (1858 – 1889) and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera who died together in a suicide pact in the Meyerling Hunting Lodge in the Vienna Woods

From then on, she dressed only in black and carried a black fan to hide her wrinkles.

“When we cannot be happy in the way that we desire there is nothing for it but to fall in love with our sorrows.”

By 1897, Elisabeth´s health began to deteriorate rapidly – a condition partly brought on by anorexia – to the extent that she could barely walk.

Despite her poor health and her obsession with madness and death, few would have predicted her final demise.

On 10 September 1898, the Empress was assassinated by an Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, on Lake Geneva.

Thousands turned out for Sisi´s funeral in Vienna.

Above: Sisi´s funeral procession, Vienna, 17 September 1898

She is buried in the basement vault of the Capuchin Church beside her estranged husband and her suicidal son, amongst other royal remains – some with death´s heads emblazoned on their coffins.

Above: Tombs of Sisi (left), Franz Joseph (centre), Rudolf (right), Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt), Capuchin Church, Vienna

It is a gallery of glorified ghosts, a chamber of frost, a cold place indeed.

“There´s a concert hall in Vienna where your mouth had a thousand reviews.”

Could Leonard have meant the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), which opened in May 1869 with a performance of Mozart´s Don Giovanni?

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Above: The Staatsoper, Vienna

“There´s a bar where the boys have stopped talking.

They´ve been sentenced to death by the blues.”

Surveys have shown that the vast majority of Viennese are safely tucked up in bed by as early as 10 pm.

Nonetheless it is still quite possible to keep partying around the clock in Vienna.

Vienna´s late night bars are concentrated in three main areas, the most famous being the Bermuda Triangle, which focuses on Rabensteig, Seitenstettengasse, Ruprechtsplatz and the streets around.

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If I was searching for a blues bar, the Bermuda Triangle is where I would look.

“There´s an attic where children are playing, where I´ve got to lie down with you soon, in a dream of Hungarian lanterns, in the mist of some sweet afternoon.”

The attic of the body is the mind and who we are psychologically is often formed by the events of our childhood.

Few people are as intimately associated with Vienna as Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), for though he was born in Freiburg in Moravia and died in exile in London, in the intevening 83 years he spent most of his life here.

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Above: Sigmund Freud

The father of psychoanalysis was the first to come up with having patients discuss their problems while lying down on a couch.

Freud´s The Interpretation of Dreams contains two revolutionary ideas:

  1. All dreams represent the fulfillment of wishes.
  2. The functioning of dreams provides systematic evidence of the unconscious.

Sigmund Freud moved to the second floor of Berggasse 19 in 1891 and remained there until 4 June 1938 when he and his family fled to London.

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His apartment is now a place of pilgrimage, even though Freud took most of his possessions with him into exile.

His hat, coat and walking stick are still here.

There is movie footage from the 1930s, but the only room with any original decor, any ancient atmosphere, is the waiting room with odd oriental rugs, a cabinet of antiquities and some burgundy furniture sent back from London by his daughter Anna after the War.

Rooms of photographs and Freud-inspired art and a library are all that remain of eight decades of living in Vienna.

“And I´ll dance with you in Vienna….

….Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

We would visit the bookshop Shakespeare & Company, have lunch at the University Mensa (cafeteria) and supper at the Restaurant Marché Mövenpick and coffee at Café Bräunerhof with Parisian style snooty waiters in penguin tuxedos.

Parliament Building, Vienna

Above: Austrian Parliament, Vienna

We would tour Parliament and watch horses perform ballet at the Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School).

Above: The Spanische Reitschule, Vienna

The King of the Waltz, composer Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899) lived on the first floor of Praterstrasse 34 from 1863 until the death of his first wife, the singer Jetty Treffz, in 1878.

Today´s Strauss Museum contains a room with ceiling cherubs, a grand piano, an organ and a standing desk.

There are dance cards and ball pendants which were kept as mementoes of the evenings tripping the light fantastic.

Strauss is, of course, best known for having written Vienna´s signature tune, An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube), but he also composed stirring tunes such as the Revolution March and the Song of the Barricades.

His operatta, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), written to take Viennese minds off the economic crash of 1873, was another huge success.

Freud would have had a field day had he taken Johann Junior on as a patient.

Johann Strauss the Elder (1804 – 1849) began his career serenading diners in Viennese restaurants, however it was in the dance hall of Zum Sperl that Johann Senior made his mark as a band leader, conducting a frentic mixture of dances, orchestral fantasies and somber melodies.

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Above: Johann Strauss the Elder

Papa Strauss´ gypsy-like features and wild, vigorous conducting style became very popular in Vienna and he and his orchestra would gain fame touring Europe.

However Strauss Senior´s touring took a toil on domestic life and he created a public scandal in 1842 when he left the Family home and moved in with a young seamstress, who bore him several illegitimate children.

Strauss Junior, the eldest son, followed in his father´s footsteps, writing his first waltz at the age of six, though his father wished for him to become a banker.

Above: Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899), photo taken by Fritz Luckhardt

Father and son soon became rivals, both musically and politically, with son surpassing father in fame.

Despite their rivalry, father and son were quite alike, for Johann Junior was a difficult character like his father and something of an outsider.

And like his father, Johann Junior caused a scandal, divorcing his second wife Lili in order to marry his mistress.

What would Freud have thought?

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

Cohen sings when I remember Vienna and think of my emotions towards my wife then and often now:

Take this waltz.

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Take this waltz with its “I´ll never forget you, you know!”

….And I´ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss.

And I´ll yield to the flood of your beauty my cheap violin and my cross.”

I no longer wanted “some hallway where love´s never been”, or to simply be “on a bed where the moon has been sweating”.

O, my love.

O, my love.

Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

I would like to return to Vienna, not to visit the non-descript Zwinglikirche, but to walk on fog-filled streets to pay my last farewell to the impatient young man I was, his coffin lowered into the frozen ground of his impatience.

To perhaps pass him by with incredulity or perhaps no recognition of my present self in his past features, just other stranger on the Strand.

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But for now we walk in the cold Swiss air, our freezing breath on the window pane.

Lying, waiting.

I am a man in the dark in a picture frame, so mystic and soulful.

Memory stays with me until the feeling is gone.

The waltz is weaving.

The rhythm is willing.

Cold, empty silence?

Cold grey sky?

These mean nothing to me.

Oh, Vienna.

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“Slow down, you crazy child.

You´re so ambitious for a juvenile.

But then if you´re so smart,

Tell me why you are still so afraid.

Where´s the fire?

What´s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

You got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want

Or you can just get old.

You´re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you?

….Slow down, you crazy child.

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile.

It´s alright you can afford to lose a day or two.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Austria / Lonely Planet Central Europe on a Shoestring / The Rough Guide to Austria / Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Freud: A Graphic Guide to the Father of Psychoanalysis / Graham Greene, The Third Man / Duncan J. D. Smith, Only in Vienna: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects / Leonard Cohen, “Take this Waltz”, I´m Your Man / Billy Joel, “Vienna”, The Stranger / Ultravox, “Vienna”, Vienna

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Canada Slim and the City of the Thousand

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 December 2017

First impressions are lasting.

And one rarely gets a second chance to make a “first” impression.

Today, despite my desire to remain abed at home and nurse my damnably durable cold – with all its joyless aspects of stuffed nose, scratchy throat, hoarse voice, congested chest, sinus headaches and resulting sleepless nights and exhausted days – I need to emerge from my cold-induced hibernation and seek supplies of food and medicine for both myself and the wife.

I will go to Konstanz, Germany, a half-hour distance from home, to buy these goods, but visiting Konstanz will not be a hardship for me, for the moment I laid eyes on the city ten years ago I liked it.

Flag of Konstanz

Above: Flag of Konstanz

I love its well-preserved Altstadt.

As Konstanz straddles the Swiss border on the southern side of the Lake of Constance (Bodensee), the likeable University town came out of World War II almost unscathed, ensuring the survival of the Altstadt.

Though Konstanz has Roman origins, it has a medieval feel to it.

I love Konstanz´s waterfront that hugs the Rhine and overlooks the Lake – a pleasant promenade that lovingly links aged buildings, gorgeous greenery and startling statues.

The southern end of the promenade with its clattering sails of the yacht harbour and several old warehouses that have been converted into a casual restaurant and shopping district ….

The Council Building (Konzilgebäude), a conference and concert hall that healed the Great Schism in the Catholic Church by replacing three popes with one (1414 – 1418)….

Above: The Konzilgebäude, Konstanz

Imperia, the imposing nine-metre high rotating statue of a voluptuous prostitute holding men, be they Emperor or Pope, in the palms of her hands….

Above: Imperia, Konstanz

The Island of Constance with another statue, this one commemorating airship inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838 – 1917), near a former Dominician priory and now a five-star hotel….

Above: Zeppelin Monument, Konstanz

The conical red-tile 15th century Rheintorturm (the Rhine Gate Tower) and the Rheinbrücke (Rhine Bridge) where the Rhine meets the Lake….

Rheintorturm, a section of the former city wall of Konstanz at Lake Constance

Above: Rheintorturm, Konstanz

The Münster (cathedral) built of soft sandstone in a regal romantic melange of elegant Romanesque and serious Gothic styles where pre-Reformation Czech religious reformer Jan Hus (1370 – 1415) stood trial and was sentenced to be burnt to death….

Above: Konstanz Münster

His museum, the Hus Haus is surprisingly interesting if a person lingers long enough to discover why Hus was a man truly before his time and a figurehead of Czech identity….

The alarmingly modernist Kulturzentrum am Münster with ever-changing exhibits contrasts with the Rosgartenmuseum, the town´s history museum in an old butchers, grocers and pharmacists guidhall whose greatest treasure is Ulrich Richental´s Chronicle of the Council of Konstanz, a beautifully illustrated work including an extremely graphic rendition of the burning of Hus.

The State Archeological Museum (Archäologisches Landmuseum) with proud lions´ heads, deities and sea leopards from Roman times, along with a local 15th century merchant ship and some canoes from 650 AD….

But none of this would appeal to me had my first impression of the place been negative, for a rejection of Konstanz would probably have meant a rejection of nearby Münsterlingen Thurgau Kantonspital (Cantonal Hospital) where my wife works and the adjacent village of Landschlacht where we have resided these past seven years.

It was easier to explore the area because our first impressions of the area were positive.

We found out this summer that the opposite effect is also true…..

 

Bergamo, Italy,  3 August 2017

It should have been love at first sight, and maybe for others it can be, but for us….

Not so much.

I was expecting there to be love, after all Bergamo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it reminded me of my favourite Canadian city Quebec City with encircling city walls and an upper and lower town.

The iconic skyline of the old fortified Upper City

Above: Sunrise over Bergamo Alta

Bergamo is the second most visited city in Lombardy.

I expected a humane and compassionate welcome as Bergamo is a humane city where the 2017 43rd G7 Summit on Agriculture was held, committing the Group of Seven to reduce hunger for 700 million people worldwide by 2030, to strengthen cooperation for agricultural development in Africa, to combat food waste and to ensure price transparency.

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And, surely, I thought, things in Bergamo had changed since Mary Shelley´s visit in 1840:

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Above: Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

 

Bergamo, 10 September 1840

“It was a pleasant but warm drive.

Oh, how loath will the Austrian ever be to loosen his grip of this fair province, fertile and abundant in its produce, its hills adorned with many villages and sparkling with villas.

These numerous country houses are the peculiarity and beauty of the region,….rendered gay by numerous villas, each surrounded by grounds planted with trees, among which cypresses rise in dark majesty.

The fields were in their best dress, the grapes ripening in the sun, the Indian corn – the second crop of this land of plenty – full-grown, but not quite ripe.

Variety of scene is so congenial that the first effect of changing the mountain-surrounded, solitary lake for the view of plain and village and widespread landscape, raised my spirits to a very spring tide of enjoyment.

We were very merry as we drove along.”

 

Bergamo, 3 August 2017

Up to this point Mary Shelley could have been predicting our future as we drove from Lecco to Bergamo via Highway 342.

The weather was hot and humid, but air conditioning is a wonderful invention.

Austria was indeed reluctant to loosen their grip on its Italian possessions and the residents of Bergamo would achieve eternal fame in their struggle to be free from their domination.

The cultivated fields were still growing and the countryside still sparkles with the villages and houses Shelley described.

And Ute (my wife) and I were in fine spirits as we anticipated our arrival in Bergamo.

 

Bergamo, 10 September 1840

“There is a fair at Bergamo.

It has lasted three weeks and the great bustle is over.”

 

Bergamo, 3 August 2017

There is a festival in Bergamo happening now and it is a Friday night in this festival, though what festival is actually being feted remains unclear.

There is a great bustle all around us and our GPS is distinctively unhelpful and the German translated from his voicebox seems to say:

“Dude, I´m just as lost as you are.”

Once again, our relationship is being tested St. Malo and Dublin style – cities where we navigated streets of no particular logic and fought divorce court angerly, blaming one another for the fine mess we had landed ourselves in.

Above: St. Malo, France

Above: Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland

We arrived at twilight and it would not be for several hours until we found ourselves a place to park and the location of our hostel type bed and breakfast.

This was coupled with the fact that Ute was breaking the cardinal rule of travelling with a man:

Never let a man grow hungry.

We drove around and around, in and out through Bergamo Bassa – modern lower town – and Bergamo Alta – medieval upper town – in search of parking spots and our bed for the night.

Above: Sunset over Bergamo Alta

We had telephoned and text messaged our hosts a dozen times and we were reassured (falsely) repeatedly that we would easily find a parking spot near the B & B and that the B & B was child´s play to find.

I lost count how many times we seemed to follow the same hill road up into Bergamo Alta, the same crooked alleyways where pedestrians gave us annoyed looks, the same hill road down to Bergamo Bassa.

I can´t calculate the frustrating amount of times we argued about logic versus law, that surely the B & B would not suggest we drive into Bergamo Alta if driving there was not allowed versus her unwillingness to receive traffic fines for illegal entry down signposted forbidden streets.

Did we retrace our routes and our arguments a dozen times?

Twenty?

A hundred?

A thousand?

We were tired and tense.

I was hungry and grumpy.

Ute mentally murdered me a million times.

I silently questioned her sanity several times more.

Three (or was it four? five?) hours later, after we wished death or divorce upon one another, we found a parking spot on the aforementioned, much revisited, hillside road connecting lower with upper Bergamo.

By this point in time we no longer cared if we were allowed to park there or not.

Carabineri, fine us, don´t fine us, unless you tow us, we shall park here.

We climb and weave, climb and weave, through back streets to main streets, dragging far too much luggage with us, for Ute feared that our car might be broken into.

After all, husbands are horses, aren´t they?

Mere beasts of burden?

We arrive at the address and struggle to gain entry.

I am drenched in sweat, my stomach bitterly complains, and my mind rebels against the situation.

We gain entry and find keys waiting for us as per instruction, but no one greets us.

There is no sympathy, no congratulations or commisseration.

There is no air conditioning nor a surplus of electrical sockets for adequate universal light in our room.

Air circulation is open windows allowing bugs to share our bed or a metal fan whose rattle and clatter can be heard and felt within our bones.

Above: Bergamo Alto seen from above

 

Bergamo, 10 September 1840

“We had been told that the inns are bad.

I do not know whether we have found admission into the best, but I know we could scarcely anywhere find a worse.

The look of the whole house is neglected and squalid.

The bedrooms are bare and desolate and a loathsome reptile has been found on the walls.

The waiters are unwashed, uncouth animals, reminding one of a sort of human being to be met in the streets of London or Paris – looking as if they never washed nor ever took off their clothes, as if even the knowledge of such blessings were strangers to them.

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The dinner is inedible from garlic.

Of course, the bill tomorrow morning will be unconscionably high.”

 

Bergamo, 3 August 2017

We had not been told that Bergamo was in festival mode when we arrived, so it dawned on us how fortunate we were to have booked the B & B months before or we might have found ourselves sleeping in the car.

Our B & B, buried in a back courtyard on Via Colleoni, is perfectly situated within the old town between the Citadella and the Piazza Vecchia, but I cannot find much else positive to praise about our accommodations.

I would not go so far as to suggest that the place is squalid but it did not feel welcoming.

The bedroom was devoid of affection and desolate of affectation, but reduced to beggary as circumstances found us this evening we should have been more grateful.

We weren´t.

I am not certain whether it was the ongoing festival or the fact it was Friday night or whether it was customary for restaurants to be open late, but we found a restaurant open at 10:30 pm on the same street as our B & B.

The waiters and waitresses of Ristorante Damimmo did not seem to be unwashed, uncouth animals, but they also did not seem overly welcoming.

Dinner was edible but not palatable.

For the wife, neither mood nor cuisine induced an appetite.

Especially when we were presented with a bill that was unconscionably high.

We returned to the B & B as dissatisfied as when we first arrived.

The humidity and hot tempers vented made for a long uncomfortable night.

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Bergamo, 4 August 2017

A restless night led to an early rising before the scheduled hours of breakfast.

We both awoke with the feeling that Bergamo had failed us and that we desired to linger here as little as possible.

We would wander the streets of Bergamo Alta until it was time to return for breakfast.

Now it must be said that early morning in a city is a fine time to go wandering, for an awakening city seems at its most natural then.

Above: Bergamo Alta

Even though most establishments are closed and few people populate the streets, early morning walking feels like the city is our private playground.

Medieval Bergamo Alta clings to a hill 1,200 feet above the Lombardy plain.

It is one of northern Italy´s loveliest city centre, a favourite retreat for the work-weary Milanese who flock here at weekends seeking solace in the fresh mountain air, seductive lanes and the lively easy going pace of the place.

Bergamo Alta is filled with houses and palaces of fancy Gothic design.

The ring of gated walls are worn, mellow and overgrown with creeping vines and defiant charm.

These walls resisted army after army of invaders who vaingloriously spent themselves without success until the French (ah, those clever French) victoriously stormed the city in 1796, ending centuries of Venetian rule.

Piazza Vecchia is enclosed and encased by an envelope of harmoniously hugging houses with wrought iron balconies and hosting cafés and restaurants and by the palatial Palladian-style civic library.

Above: Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo Alta

Stendhal enthusiastically dubbed the square “the most beautiful place on Earth”, and, to be fair, it is certainly a striking open space to behold, with the Palazzo della Ragione stretching across the Piazza, lending an operatic stage ambiance especially at night under moonlight and lamplight.

Above: Piazza Vecchia at night, Bergamo Alta

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Above: Palazzo della Ragione, Bergamo Alta

Court cases were once heard here under the open arcades that form the ground floor, and, following the inevitable guilty verdict, condemned criminals were exhibited here.

The Piazza itself was the scene of joyous celebration in 1797, when the French (ah, those clever French) formed the Republic of Bergamo.

A Tree of Liberty was erected and the square, carpeted with tapestries, was transformed into an open air ballroom in which – as a symbol of the new democracy – dances were led by an aristocrat partnered with a butcher.

We gazed upwards at the massive Torre Civica (or Torre del Companone) with its 15th century bell that tolls every half hour.

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Above: Torre Civica di Bergamo

We walked through the Palazzo arcades to the Piazza del Duomo and visited both the Duomo and the Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore.

Santa Maria Maggiore is a rambling Romanesque church sheltering slews of saints lost amid overabudant over-ornamentation of too much gild, too much paint and statues too ignored.

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Above: The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (background) and the Cappella Colleoni (foreground)

Here in this church, a monument to a local legend….

Gaetano Donizetti, the Bergamo-based composer of highly popular romantic comedies with memorable melodies and predictable plots, who died from syphilis here in 1848, is the town´s most famous son.

Above: Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848)

His death caused massive grief.

Above: The tomb of Gaetano Donizetti

His groupies stamped their feet and smashed lyres in misery over the event.

The church is as glitzy as Gaetano was.

This is akin to a cathedral in Vegas remembering Liberace.

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Above: Wladziu Valentino Liberace (1919 – 1987)

But class will out, as the Cappella Colleoni next door clearly overshadows the Chiesa in grandeur and extravagance.

This connecting chapel is pastel-coloured marble and twisted columns and mosque-like dome.

Bartolomeo Colleoni, a Bergamo mercenary in the pay of Venice, commissioned the chapel with frescoed ceiling and gleaming gilded equestrian statue.

Above: Bartholomeo Colleoni (1400 – 1475)

Above: Equestrian statue of Colleoni, Cappella Colleoni

Colleoni´s coat of arms on the gate bears a much rubbed third testicle which is supposed to bring the rubber luck.

But biologically true or not, I am not certain how lucky Colleoni´s third testicle was for the man, nor whether I really want to rub another man´s testicles for luck.

And more oddness nearby at the Baptistry outside the Aula della Curia (“the Bishop´s Court”)….

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Above: Il Battistero, Bergamo Alta

More frescoes, these of the life of Christ, but one scene quite strange….

Christ judges the damned while holding a dagger, like the sword of Damocles, in his teeth.

Our guidebooks informed us that these places would not open so early.

No one asks for money nor prevents us from taking photos.

There are no worshippers nor clergy about and yet the doors yawn wide open inviting the curious.

The Via Colleoni slowly wakes with pastry shop personnel placing in window displays trays of chocolate and sweet polenta cakes topped with birds.

The Luogo Pio Colleoni is not yet open, so Colleoni´s Bergamo residence is denied us.

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Above: Il Luogo Pio Colleoni, Bergamo Alta

Once this was also the headquarters of a charitable institution set up to provide dowries for poor women, for the Venetians ruled that no woman could marry without one.

For why marry a woman if there is no profit in the practice?

The Citadella is also denied us.

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Above: Citadella Bergamo

Where once a military stronghold occupied the entire western headland, now remains only buildings housing a small theatre and two museums: archeology and natural history.

Bones interpreted in Italian only, our guidebooks inform us.

But the views of Bergamo Basso and the plains of Lombardy below justify the walk.

There is much we will not see, much we will not learn, in our haste to leave Bergamo and its negative first impact upon us.

We do not learn about the Thurn and Taxis dynasty who are credited with organizing the world´s first modern postal service.

We do not hear about the exploits of the Thousand, many from Bergamo, who aided Giuseppe Garibaldi in liberating the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and bringing it into the reunified Italian fold.

Thus the reason why Bergamo is the Citta dei Mille, the City of the Thousand.

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We do not see the tomb of Enrico Rastelli, a highly technical and world famous juggler who lived and died in Bergamo.

Above: Enrico Rastelli (1896 – 1931)

We may have seen but did not identify which of the paintings in Santa Maria Maggiore were done by Giovanni Cavagna or by Francesco Zucco or by Enea Salmeggia, for the surprise accessibility to the church had us feeling paranoid expecting to be evicted at any moment.

No Bergamese bergamask dancing as practiced by Nick Bottom in William Shakespeare´s A Midsummer´s Night Dream or incorporated into Debussy´s Suite Bergamasque.

Above: Scene from A Midsummer´s Night Dream, in centre wearing the head of an ass, Nick Bottom

No one tells us at breakfast back at the B & B that the famous American electrical engineer and professor Andrew Viterbi was born in Bergamo and somehow it seems the hodge podge assortment of visitors, some from France (ah, the clever French), could not explain Viterbi´s Algorithm better than I can understand it.

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Above: Andrew Viterbi

(I don´t.)

Despite the ratio of women at breakfast greater than the men no one speaks of Bergamo´s late Mariuccia Mandelli, one of the first female fashion designers to create a successful line of men´s clothing.

(Am I the only one who reads Wikipedia?)

There are perhaps a thousand reasons to linger in this town, a thousand beautiful things to behold in Bergamo.

But first impressions are lasting and the welcome mat was amiss.

We return back to our car, I once again a heavily laden beast of burden.

No traffic ticket nor broken windows greet us and the car is where and how it should be.

We pack up the car and drive away.

We are soon a thousand metres away and eagerly increase this distance a thousandfold.

Ciao, Bergamo.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Germany / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

This is a question I have often asked myself when considering both my life and the lives of the famous.

I ask myself this question recently as I am, once again, forced to remain at home in bed with, yet another cold that has made both barista work and teaching impractical as I have been reduced to a coughing, sneezing, aching, quivering jellyfish of a man unfit and undesirable for public encounters.

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My voice sounds tortured and hoarse as if it is painfully emerging from a long tunnel.

My appearance is akin to a homeless street person and our apartment reflects this.

The wife mocks the man cold, but hers is a gender that endures menstruation on a monthly basis and usually survives the incredible ordeal of child birth with little hesitation to repeat or memory of the event.

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Hers is a mind of multiplicity handling every moment and memory simultaneously, while my mind is a series of boxes which are opened only one at a time, so when illness strikes all my focus is upon how truly horrid I feel.

A woman with a cold is simply a woman with yet another complication in her life, for she will incorporate the cold as part of life´s burdens she must bear and will further complicate her life with tortured emotions about the selfishness of her having a cold keeping her from doing her other duties.

A man, though he is aware of the selfishness of having others assume his duties, will moan and groan impatiently focused on his recovery, even so his conscience is little disturbed about staying at home until he deems himself fit to tackle the world again.

I think about work, of course, and consider what my absence will mean to my students and colleagues.

I know that there are other teachers who could teach in my place and that a barista can be replaced.

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

For though I am far from being the most competent or qualified barista or teacher, I possess an entertaining and compassionate personality that I believe my students and colleagues value.

But short of historical accident thrusting me into greatness, I am self aware enough to realise that my eventual absence from existence will not impact history or much of humanity that significantly.

Though the life of my wife might have been greatly different without me in it, would she have been happier or sadder had we never met?

If I had not survived an accident with an axe during my teenage years, or if I had perished on the side of the mountain when I was stranded overnight three years ago, would the world have noticed my absence?

My social circle was and remains small.

I would have been missed by a few people, but I believe they would have found the strength to carry on without me.

I don´t believe I need an angel Clarence to show this George Bailey how It´s a Wonderful Life and how vastly different reality would be had I never existed.

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Above: Henry Travis as angel Clarence Oddbody (left) and James Stewart as George Bailey (right), from It´s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Certainly each man leaves his mark on the world by how his actions have affected others.

A man´s greatness could even be said to be measured by how many others his actions affected.

My mind often wonders how reality might be had certain great men never existed or didn´t exist at the time when they were most influential.

The recent resurgence of interest in Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) – with this year´s movies Darkest Hour (starring Gary Oldman) and Churchill (starring Brian Cox) and last year´s Churchill´s Secret (starring Michael Gambon) – have led me to wonder would the world of today be different had Churchill not been present at those moments of yesterday when he made the most impact?

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This hypothetical “What If?” exercise is not so far fetched….

On a holiday in Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days.

Churchill saw action as a soldier and war correspondent and risked his life in India, the Sudan and South Africa.

Above: Battle of Omdurman, Sudan (2 September 1898), where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge

It remains uncertain whether Churchill´s life was in any danger when he was present at the January 1911 Siege of Sidney Street when Latvian anarchists wanted for murder holed up in a house and resisted arrest.

Above: Winston Churchill (highlighted) at Sidney Street, 3 January 1911

And it is also unclear whether Home Secretary Churchill gave the police any operational orders during the Siege, though it has been suggested that when the house caught fire Churchill prevented the fire brigade from dousing the flames so that the anarchists burnt to death.

“I thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”

On 12 December 1931, during a lecture tour for his writing, Churchill, while crossing New York City´s Fifth Avenue, was knocked down by a car.

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

Had Churchill not survived these events to become Prime Minister (1940 – 1945 / 1951 – 1955), would Britain have remained resolute against Germany during the Second World War?

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

This question was certainly paramount in my mind when my wife and I visited the Churchill War Rooms six weeks ago….

Above: An external view of the New Public Offices building, the basements of which were chosen to house the Cabinet War Rooms

London, England, 24 October 2017

In 1938, in anticipation of Nazi air raids, the basement of the Treasury building on London´s King Charles Street was converted into “war rooms”, protected by a three-foot-thick concrete slab, reinforced with steel rails and tramlines.

It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed operations and held cabinet meetings for the duration of World War II.

By the end of the War, the six-acre site included a hospital, canteen and shooting range, as well as sleeping quarters.

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

It is rumoured there are also tunnels to Buckingham Palace itself, allowing the Royal Family a quick getaway to exile in Canada (via Charing Cross Station) in the event of a Nazi invasion.

Above: Buckingham Palace

Walking the corridors of the Churchill War Rooms and exploring its adjacent Churchill Museum are experiences that live long in the memory.

Every corner tells a story.

Today we take for granted the idea of an underground command centre.

How else can political and military leaders run a country and control armed forces, safe from enemy bombardment?

But the Second World War was the first time that Britain faced such a concentrated aerial threat.

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

Most of these questions began to be answered only in the final fraught months before Britain went to war.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Many of them were still being answered during the War itself, even as bombs rained down over London and the threat of invasion loomed.

The story of the Churchill War Rooms is therefore one of improvisation in the face of deadly necessity.

After the First World War (1914 – 1918), the British government adopted a “ten-year rule”.

Until instructed otherwise, all departments should assume that the country would not go to war again for at least a decade.

Even so, some thought was given to how a future war might be fought.

In 1924, government experts predicted that London would be bombarded by up to 200 tons of bombs in the first 24 hours of a world conflict.

Casualities would be high and the country´s political and military command structure could be severely disabled.

Partly due to the ten-year rule, little was done to heed this warning until 1933 when a belligerent Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

It came as a complete shock when Hitler declared his intention to have Germany leave the League of Nations, the forerunner of today´s United Nations.

War within the next decade suddenly seemed much more possible and the question of national defence became a priority.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, adding to international tension.

General Hastings Ismay, Deputy Secretary of Britain´s Committee of Imperial Defence, immediately organised a search for an emergency working refuge to house the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff in case of a sudden attack.

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

Plans were still in a confused state in late May 1938, when the alarming news was received that German troops were massing on the Czechoslovakian border.

There might be war any day, but still no war room.

On 31 May 1938, the site was confirmed, a site conveniently close to both Downing Street (the Prime Minister´s residence) and Parliament.

It was thought that the steel structure of the Treasury building above the War Rooms would provide extra protection against bombs, but a direct hit on the site would have been catastrophic.

From June to August 1938, work on the War Rooms involved clearing rooms, sandbagging alcoves, replacing glass doors with teak, building brick partitions, installing telephone lines and estabishing a connection with the BBC.

As the site was situated below the level of the Thames River, flood doors had to be fitted and pumps installed.

By the end of August, the Map Room was manned and tested and plans were underway for airlocks and steel doors to defend against gas attack.

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

Hitler had sparked a new crisis on the Continent by threatening to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to defuse the situation by diplomatic means.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Above: Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940), British PM (1937 – 1940)

On 30 September, Hitler signed the Munich Agreement – heralded by Chamberlain as a guarantee of “peace for our time”, but the Central War Room was theoretically ready for use.

Above: Neville Chamberlain showing the Anglo-German Declaration, aka The Munich Agreement. guaranteeing “peace for our time”, Heston Air Force Base, England, 30 September 1938

It would have been desperately uncomfortable for anyone working there, as the ventilation system was poor, there were no overnight accommodations, no bedding, no kitchen, no food, no toilets or washing facilities.

Work continued on the War Rooms.

On 23 August, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Russia, leaving the way free for him to attack Poland.

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Above: Soviet Premier Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, after the signature of the (Vyacheslav) Molotov – Ribbentrop German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, 23 August 1939

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

Above: Adolf Hitler reviewing the troops on the march during the Polish campaign, September 1939

Two days later, Britain was at war.

The immediate bombardment of London that had been expected for so long failed to materialise in the first nine months of the War, though the War Rooms were operational.

A botched land campaign in Norway in April 1940 and Germany´s sudden attack on the Netherlands on 10 May caused Chamberlain to resign and Churchill to take his place.

A few days later, as British Forces were driven back towards the French coast, the new Prime Minister visited the Cabinet War Room and declared:

“This is the room from which I will direct the war.”

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Above: Cabinet War Room

In the summer of 1940, as the fall of France was followed by the Battle of Britain for aerial supremacy over southern England, Britain stood at risk of imminent invasion.

Above: German Heinkel HE 111 bombers over the English Channel, 1940

On 7 September 1940, Germany launched the Blitz – a sustained bombing campaign against British towns and cities, with London the chief target.

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

When the Blitz failed to secure victory over Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the east, launching an invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

When, on 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, the United States entered the War, changing the fortunes of Britain.

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Above: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, USA

The War Rooms began deception plans intended to divert enemy resources away from genuine Allied operations.

This would play a crucial role in the success of Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

The success of the D-Day landings helped to turn the tide of war against the Nazis, but they were not finished in attacking Britain.

On 13 June 1944, the first V1 flying bomb hit London, bringing a new threat to the capital.

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Above: A V1 guided missile

Over the winter of 1944 – 1945, the V1 flying bomb attacks were gradually superseded by the more destructive V2 flying bombs.

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Above: A V2 rocket

By the end of March 1945, most of the V2 production factories had been overrun by the unstoppable Allied advance towards Berlin.

Adolf Hitler spent the final weeks of the War sheltering in his bunker as  Berlin came under attack from Stalin´s armies.

After the fall of Berlin, the Allies declared victory in Europe on 8 May 1945.

By the time Japan surrendered on 15 August, Churchill was no longer Prime Minister having lost the General Election on 26 July.

On 16 August, after six years of continuous use, the War Rooms were simply and suddenly abandoned.

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

The preserved rooms were declared a national monument in 1948, with free guided tours given to people who had written to the Cabinet Office.

This practice continued until 1984 when the Imperial War Museum was asked to turn the site into a formal Museum.

Millions of visitors have since walked its corridors, tracing the steps of Churchill and the many men and women – both military and civilian – who helped run this underground complex.

The Churchill Museum was added to the Cabinet War Rooms in 2005 and this expanded Museum was later renamed the Churchill War Rooms.

It has to be said that the Churchill War Rooms is a fascinating place for it is filled with intimate details that bring home the immediacy of those times…

  • The sugar cubes hoarded by a Map Room officer
  • The noiseless typewriters that Churchill insisted be used by his staff
  • Accounts of what it was really like to eat, sleep and work below the streets of London as German bombs fell all around.
  • The coloured lights in the Cabinet War Room that signalled an air raid and the ashtrays positioned within easy reach around the table and the scratch marks on the arms of Churchill´s chair that show how strained the Cabinet Room could become
  • The multi-coloured phones where the men of the Map Room could follow every thrust and counterthrust of the War
  • The actual door that Churchill walked through at 10 Downing Street
  • The tiny Transatlantic Telephone Room where Churchill used to speak in secret to the US President
  • Churchill´s famous “siren suit”, a zip-up coverall that Churchill began wearing for comfort from the 1930s onwards
  • The Union Flag which was draped over Churchill´s coffin during his State Funeral which was broadcast around the world

Above: Grave of Winston Churchill, St. Martin´s Church, Bladon, England

(“I am ready to meet my Maker – but whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”)

  • The weather indicator in the main corridor that would read “Windy” when a heavy bombing raid was in progress
  • The story of how one of the women who worked at the War Rooms had a short relationship with James Bond author Ian Fleming and would be the inspiration for the character Miss Moneypenny
  • One of the Royal Marines guarding the entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms took up embroidery to pass the time.
  • To alleviate the health problems of working underground, staff were made to strip to their underwear and stand in front of portable sun lamps
  • Wartime graffiti on a map in the Cabinet Room showing Hitler fallen on his ass
  • A cat named Smoky that used to curl up on Churchill´s bed
  • A typist who learned that the ship carrying her boyfriend had perished with all lives lost

So, so much to see and learn and discover….

But what of the Great Man himself?

This man of contradictions, this man who took over as Prime Minister when Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, who is remembered for his trademark bowler hat and half-chewed Havana cigars, who is famous for his morale-inspiring speeches and clever wit….

“It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than an critic.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“….We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

“This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

“Everywhere I went in London, people admired Churchill´s energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose.  People said they didn´t know what Britain would do without him.  He was obviously respected, but no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the War.  He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time, the time being a desperate war with Britain´s enemies.”

Without this man´s uplifting spirit, would Britain have surrendered against the overwhelming odds of Hitler´s mighty war machine?

I am convinced that Churchill´s uniqueness of character means that its absence would have lead to Britain´s surrender.

Whether Britain´s surrender would mean Hitler wouldn´t ultimately still turn against Russia, or whether America wouldn´t come to Britain´s aid with or without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour remains a point of conjecture and the province of alternate history / science fiction writers.

But I think a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is well worth the while, because there are several lessons to be learned here under the streets of London.

We are where and who we are because of what came before.

We need to recall the wars that lead us to where we are today, not to glorify in our victories but rather to somberly recall our losses and learn from them so to avoid future war or at least prepare ourselves for another dark future of bloodshed and destruction.

We are a product of our time and place.

It is doubtful whether Churchill could have accomplished what he did had time and circumstances been different.

In examining Churchill´s past carefully, one can see that he was quite an imperfect man, at times rash, impulsive, egocentric and foolish, sometimes to the cost and risk of others.

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Alan Axelrod, Winston Churchill, CEO / Dominique Enright, editor, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill / Martin Gilbert, editor, Churchill: The Power of Words / Roy Jenkins, Churchill / Imperial War Museums, Churchill War Museum Guidebook

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Above: The Roaring Lion, Yousuf Karsh photo of Winston Churchill, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Canada, 30 December 1941

 

 

Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 December 2017

I want to run away.

As work increases and pressure mounts to accomplish as much as possible in this last month of the calendar year….

I want to run away.

And though employers try to distract us through Christmas parties from the pressure they themselves create, I find myself nostalgic, almost homesick, for Christmas markets I have previously known and loved during the years I lived in Freiburg im Breisgau and Lörrach in Baden-Württemburg in southwestern Germany.

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I want to run back.

For this area – where a trio of national borders meet and are divided by the mighty Rhine River, (that begins to trickle from the distant Swiss Alps and flows mightily into the Atlantic at the Hook of Holland) – is home to some of the best Christmas markets I have ever experienced.

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Of all the markets, and there are many, that the Christmas season inspires in northern Switzerland, southwestern Germany and eastern France, the best, in my opinion, are those to be found in the French province of Alsace, especially in places like Colmar, Kaysersberg and Strasbourg.

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Above: Flag of Alsace

But once Christmas has passed, Alsace, though still beautiful and still worthy of tourism, seems to lose its charisma somewhat.

The little Venice, Colmar

Above: Little Venice, Colmar

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Above: Kaysersberg

Colmar´s canals are still charming, Strasbourg´s cathedral remains impressive and Kaysersberg maintains its quaintness, but only Freiburg and Basel continue to consistently inspire tourists all year long.

(For more about Freiburg im Breisgau, see Where I Am of this blog.)

There is much I have yet to write about Freiburg, (and I will), for it remains the European city closest to my heart, but I want to share within this blogpost the wonders and fascination of the Swiss city of Basel.

I am inspired to write about Basel at the moment, for in my ongoing Zwingli Project that retraces the life and “footsteps” of one of Switzerland´s most famous religious reformers, I have learned that Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531) after having completed his primary schooling in Weesen, then spent three years (1494 – 1497) in Basel to obtain his secondary schooling.

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and…. the Road to Reformation, …the Wild Child of Toggenburg, ….the Thundering Hollows of this blog for more about the Zwingli Project.)

Then, after time spent in Bern and Vienna, Zwingli returned to Basel to complete his Master of Arts degree at the University of Basel. (1502 – 1506)

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But, for reasons I have yet to understand, there is little ado made about Zwingli´s years in Basel and Basel does not seem overly motivated to promote its past connections with the reformer.

It is as if Zwingli´s time in Basel is as insignificant as the record of a butterfly´s flight through a field.

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This intrigues me, for Basel, which thinks of itself as the hub of the universe, is quick to remind visitors of its role in world history.

Basel loves to tell the visitors all about events, discoveries and ideas, which may have seemed small and insignificant at the time later changed the world:

  • The measurements of Gustav von Bunge (1844 – 1920) which laid the foundations for vitamin research and would draw attention to the dangers of sugar, alcohol and nicotine.
  • The discovery of LSD (“This is such stuff as dreams are made of.”) by the chemist Albert Hoffmann (1906 – 2008)

(I like what Hoffmann wrote about his observation of a butterfly while on LSD:

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Above: Albert Hoffmann

“When looking at such jewels of nature, thoughts can unfold concerning the whole of creation and our human existence within it.”

Is this what the mathematician, meteorologist and co-inventor of chaos theory Edward Lorenz had in mind, when he asked:

“Is it possible for the flap of a butterfly´s wing in Brazil to set off a tornado in Texas?”)

  • Architect Hannes Meyer (1889 – 1954) and Bauhaus architecture
  • Ice skaters Werner Groebli (1915 – 2008) (“Frick” from a small village near Basel) and Hans Ruedi Mauch (1919 – 1979) (“Frack”, Swiss German for a frock coat) whose skating colloboration was so seamless and so popular that their stages names crept into American English slang (“Frick and Frack”: a close partnership)
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536) who published the world´s first book of idioms (Adagiorum chiliades, adagia selecta)(“The Ten Thousand Proverbs”) during his time in Basel (1514)
  • The art of art dealing created by Art Basel (1968)
  • Clara Zeltin´s 1912 “Bells of Basel” speech, proclaiming that the modern woman´s voice is mankind´s only real possibility for world peace would lead the call for women´s equality
  • The Bank for International Settlements founded in Basel (1929)
  • The Island of the Dead (1880), a painting by Arnold Böcklin (1827 – 1901), so popular that there are versions of it in major museums in Basel, Berlin, Dresden and New York….

Above: The Island of the Dead (Basel Version)

(In the 1930s Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov remarked that almost every house in Berlin had a print of Die Toteninsel.

As did Sigmund Freud, Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Sergei Rachmaninov, Heinrich Mann, August Strindberg, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Gerhard Meier.)

  • Intramedullary nails (“bone screws”) developed because a Basel woman´s dog broke its leg in 1943
  • Vitamin C and cortosone synthesized by 1950 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine winner Tadeus Reichstein (1897 – 1996), Professor at the University of Basel
  • Tetteh Quarshie, a freed slave bought by the Basel Mission in West Africa in 1867 would go on to introduce cocoa production to Ghana
  • The first edition of the sociology scientific classic best-seller The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias first published in Basel (1939)
  • Theophastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541), would begin the reform of modern medicine during his time in Basel (1527)
  • The invention of “psychohistory” or “scientific prediction” by Basel scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen (1818 – 1887), which would inspire and challenge such great diverse intellectuals such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Carl Jung, etc.
  • The creation of the natural conservation group that would eventually be named the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) (1870);
  • The bittersweet development of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) poison (1939)
  • Basel town clerk Peter Och´s song of peace would lead to the Basel Peace of 1795 ending a bloody conflict between France and Prussia, giving Basel the name “the world´s rock of peace”
  • The Council of Basel (1431 – 1449), the 7th and longest Council in church history
  • Friedrich Nietzche´s first book of philosophy, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, published in Basel (1872)
  • The discovery of cellulose nitrate (“guncotton”) by Basel University Professor Christian Schönbein in 1846, would form the basis of other developments such as celluloid and chardonnet silk, the world´s first synthetic fabric
  • The first printed edition of the Qu´ran in a European language, the first translation from Arabic into Latin, in 1542 by a Basel Publisher, who would then later that same year would publish De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, which would not only set standards in the history of medicine but as well in the history of printed media for being one of the most beautifully printed books of that century
  • “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.” – Theodor Herzl would hold the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, which would one day lead to the creation of the modern nation of Israel.
  • The creation of the Helvetica font (1956)
  • The Bernoulli Crater on Earth´s moon is named after the Basel family of mathematicians (1687 – 1790)

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So, in this cavalcade of Basel accomplishment, why isn´t the name of Switzerland´s famous religious reformer more celebrated in the city where Zwingli spent seven years?

Perhaps it is because it was not until Zwingli began his ministry in Glarus in 1506 that he began to develop his ideas about the necessity of change within the Christian Church.

Basel did not inspire Zwingli to desire church reform, for he was focused on learning how to function within the church.

Yet I am surprised that neither Basel tourism nor the authors of recent books on Zwingli during this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, speak much about his time there.

Thus the Zwingli scholar or amateur historian is not driven to visit Basel in search of Zwinglian links.

And this is a shame, for there is much about Basel worth exploring and experiencing whether one is a history buff or not.

If there is one region of Switzerland that is pro-European, it is Basel, situated on the Rhine River exactly where Switzerland, Germany and France meet.

And this touching of national noses has inspired the success of Basel-Mulhouse – Freiburg´s EuroAirport and has led to the development of high speed rail links to Strasbourg, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.

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Basel is a proud city, frustrated that Zürich and Geneva garner the world´s attention, for Basel is a city of historic excellence in the fields of banking and pharmaceuticals.

Basel is a major port in Switzerland as the Rhine is the nation´s only outlet to an ocean.

It is one of Switzerland´s wealthiest cities and business is booming.

Every March, Baselworld is the most prestigious event in watchmaking and jewellery.

Eingang zur Baselworld (2005)

Every June, the art fair Art Basel is one of contemporary art´s highest profile gatherings with world famous artists and dealers packing the city with glitzy shows and events.

Every visit I have made to Basel, normally accompanied by my wife, shows me more new restaurants that have sprung up with fresh ideas.

The first rate museums and galleries never fail to delight.

Basel is both a mix of yesterday and tomorrow.

Explore the shopping streets between Barfüsserplatz and Marktplatz.

Climb the steep lanes leading from these squares to find leafy courtyards surrounded by 16th century town houses, medieval churches and the majestic, magnificent Münster dominating the skyline from its Rhineside terrace.

Above: Basel Cathedral

Ride a tram, cross the Rhine a number of times by ferry, linger at a terrace café, grab a bite at a fast food joint and party hearty in one of the many racuous pubs.

Architects will joy-gasm upon seeing the Yellow House, while children of all ages will dance with excitement in the Doll´s House Museum with a forest of teddy bears.

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Above: Roger Diener´s Yellow House, Basel

The elegant white church overlooking Barfüssplatz, the Barfüsserkirche, built by and named after the barefooted Franciscans, is home to the Basel Historical Museum, with its monumental choir stall and sumptuous tapestries.

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Here one can both laugh at life and dread death.

Here is the original 1640 Lällekeenig (Tongue King) which once adorned the gate (demolished in 1839) of the Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge)(for centuries the only bridge over the Rhine between the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and the North Sea).

Above: The Tongue King

The Tongue King would greet arrivals with rolling eyes and stuck-out tongue controlled by a clockwork motor.

Here in the Garden of Love two lovers play cards inside a summer pavilion.

The man slaps down a card with the words:

“That last play of yours was a good one!”

The woman nods in triumph:

“And it´s won me the game!”

The Battle of the Sexes is eternal.

Man will never win, but, oh!, what a sweet surrender!

The Dance of Death, originally part of a 60-metre long mural that once covered the cemetery wall of Basel´s Dominican convent (demolished in 1805) graphically depicts, in a macabre reminder of human mortality, people of all different ages and professions on a morbid march leading to the cemetery´s charnel house.

In the market square lined by shops, reached by descending down the dense network of narrow, sloping medieval alleys, such as Tailor Street (Scneidergasse), Saddle Street (Sattelgasse) and Ginger Alley (Imbergässlein), crowds gather at a myriad of fruit and vegetable stalls, beneath the shadows of the elegant scarlet Rathaus (City Hall).

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Above: Rathaus, Basel

Climb steep quiet old lanes towards the former city walls to the Gothic Peterskirche with its secret frescoes.

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Above: Peterskirche, Basel

Follow narrow Spalentorstadt to the Spalentor, the most elaborate of the surviving city gates, with massive wooden doors and a huge portcullis.

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Above: Spalentor, Basel

The small Swiss Jewish Museum has many interesting items on the history of the Jews in Basel.

As you wander through the old residential quarter make your way to the St. Leonardskirche, with porthole windows and a cat´s cradle vaulted ceiling.

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Above: St. Leonhardskirche, Basel

Curse yourself and your unfit condition as you climb the tightest, narrowest spiral staircase in Christendom to reach the church´s gallery.

At the Münster, Basel´s cathedral, see St. George slay a Dragon, while a foolish virgin is led astray by a scheming Satanic seducer.

Within the Münster is the tomb of the Renaissance humanist Erasmus.

Near Erasmus´ final resting place, St. Vincent is shown speaking for his bishop, flogged for doing so, tortured and led to a furnace.

Angels carry his soul to heaven while ravens protect his body before it is dumped at sea, retrieved and buried in a proper tomb.

Off alleyways leading from the Münster the wanderer finds the Cultural Museum and Natural History Museum.

The narrow lane of Rheinsprung leads to the St. Martinskirche beside the curiously named Alley of the 11,000 Virgins (Elftausendjungfern Gasse), commemorating the martydom in Cologne (Köln) of St. Ursula and her legendary company of female supporters.

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Above: St. Martinskirche, Basel

Visit the Kunsthalle with big white rooms staging a continual flow of cutting edge contemporary art shows.

Above: Kunsthalle, Basel

See the Architecture Museum (joy-gasm!) showcasing the work of Swiss and international contemporary architects, then compare new with old at the Antiquity Museum featuring treasures of ancient Egypt and the Middle East.

Basel´s world famous Kunstmuseum, a stern and forbidding building with marble floors, high ceilings and grand staircases offers Dali´s nightmares, Impressionists artists that impress, Giacometti´s cat that lingers in the mind long after it is seen, and wood that flows from the imaginations of Kirchener and Scherer.

And Basel loves Picasso.

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Above: Picasso´s Arlequin assis

Dostoyevsky became obsessed with Hans Holbein the Younger´s (1497 – 1543) Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521) when he visited the Kunstmuseum in 1867.

He climbed on a chair to get a better view of it and then started to yell:

“Holbein was a great painter and a poet!”

His embarrassed wife, who thought he was about to have a fit, hurriedly rushed him from the room.

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Above: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881)

Holbein´s work subsequently popped up in Doestoevsky´s novel The Idiot, when a character´s recollections of the painting cause him to question the existence of God.

Down to the river to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, free with admission to the Kunstmuseum, then be surprisingly captivated by the nearby wonderful Swiss Museum of Paper, Writing and Printing within the Basel Paper Mill.

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Above: Basel Paper Mill

The water wheel keeps on rolling and amongst the exhibits of paper and typography, the Museum stages demonstrations of typecasting, typesetting, bookbinding and papermaking, where you can physically follow and imitate the complete process from wood pulp to final printed product.

A must see on any wanderer´s itinerary is the Museum Tinguely, on the north bank of the Rhine, in Solitude Park under the Schwarzwaldbrücke (Black Forest Bridge).

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Jean Tinguely (1925 – 1991) is perhaps Switzerland´s best-loved artist, who combined static sculpture with mechnical motion using scrap metal, plastic and everyday junk to create maverick post-modern Monty Pythonesque machines that joyfully shudder, squeak, clank, bang and scrape in an entertaining-for-all-ages parody of our modern performance-driven and speed-obsessed world.

With bonging bells and crashing cymbals, with smoke and smell and fireworks, this is art at its most inspirational and imaginative and interactive best.

Hop on a tram to Riehen, the city´s most northern limits and on the border with Germany, and visit a museum that commands respect throughout the art world, the Fondation Beyeler.

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Above: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel

Beyeler has created a masterfully exquisite building, housing exceptionally high-quality art collections of works of some of the 20th century´s greatest artists – Rothko and Rodin, Klee and Kandinsky, Matisse and Mondrian, Miró and more.

Then reminscient of Monet, the visitor can contemplate the waterlilies in the watery gardens outside the floor-to-ceiling windows.

But life is not all museums and monuments, for Basel knows how to celebrate life with its ancient masked carnival, Fasnacht, a time of blazing bonfires and lantern processions, streets filled by celebrants dancing in papier mâché heads atop jester costumes, cakes of icing sugar and caraway seed pretzels, and music, music, music.

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Basel´s Fasnacht is a festival of fools, a topsy-turvy unforgettable feast of joy and excitement.

Somehow no one thinks of the Zwinglihaus, Basel´s Reformed Church, during Fasnacht.

Perhaps this is why Zwingli goes unheralded in Basel, for religious reformers are rarely known for their party personas, and God and business are an uneasy mix in this city of the wealthy and prosperous.

For a tourist, Basel is a city of the beautiful butterfly not the endlessly engaged bee.

Basel´s butterfly effects of open-mindedness, a work ethic happily balanced with an appreciation of the need to find pleasureable respite from profit-earning, resonate with the visitor and are felt upon the visitor´s return home.

The flutter of butterfly wings will be felt far beyond the banks of the Rhine where three countries congregate.

Let Zürich claim Zwingli.

Basel is doing just fine without him.

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Sources: Facebook / Google / Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Switzerland / The Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Matthias Buschle and Daniel Hagmann, How Basel Changed the World / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis

 

Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 December 2017

Soon, thoughts of expatriates will turn to thoughts of home as Christmas draws ever closer.

My American friends will wish to fly back to California and Florida, Boston and Philadelphia.

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My Canadian friend will wish to fly to Nova Scotia to proudly show off her new daughter, while my Indian friend resident in Canada will fly to Delhi to proudly show off his one year old son.

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As for my coworkers, our Ethiopian to Addis Ababa, our Nepalese to Kathmandu, our Turks to Turkey, our Swede to Sweden, and so on, while the Swiss that surround me will probably want to go back to their villages and visit their friends and family for the holidays.

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As for me and mine, we will work over much of the holidays as sick people still need tending and coffee drinkers still need coffee.

While the Mamas and Papas sing in my mind´s jukebox:

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Above: The Mamas and the Papas: Left to right – Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and John Phillips

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church
I´d passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I began to pray.
You know the preacher likes the cold.
He knows I’m gonna stay….

California dreaming
On such a winter’s day.

The desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else, is strong.

To be in some sort of faraway California where we could be safe and warm, instead of wrestling with the constant anxieties our respective jobs contain as we struggle against worsening weather and we hear ad nauseum infinitum of colleagues and companions about to jet off here, there and everywhere while we remain behind to fight the fight absurdium.

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And in the process we forget the joys and benefits of remaining here.

I think about past travels and ask myself:

Does anyone actually learn anything from all the travel we do?

I think back to our own vacations together this past year….our trip to Reichenbach Falls, our summer fortnight in northern Italy, our October week in London, and I ask myself….

Do we travel simply to escape the trivality of our normal lives of quiet desperation?

Is travel only a means to relax or is wanting to walk away from my travels somewhat better than I started putting too much pressure on this period of time?

Of all the books I treasure in the library I have been building for myself over the past two decades, I have come to love the writings of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his best seller The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims´ Progress, which humourously chronicles his excursion through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travellers in 1867.

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As I write this blog and describe the places where I have travelled I hope that Twain´s complaints about others´ travelogues are not applicable to my own writing.

Granted I am not prone to lampooning or often writing in a humourous vein, and I can live with that assessment, but I do sincerely hope that I don´t regale my poor readers in such a way that they find me to be bland, pointless or repetitive.

I admit to a love of history but I hope that my historical anecdotes do not detract from the uniqueness of the present moment´s recollections.

For it is my intention to make a place as understandable as possible in ways that modern travel guides seem to fail, in their focus in helping the foreign traveller find as much as the common comforts he left behind everpresent wherever he travels, and show both the contrasts and comparisons between places….to celebrate the unique while embracing the common humanity.

I have often felt that the biggest problem with our modern world that we are so focused with the moving from place to place that we have forgotten about the significance of what lies between these places.

We have reached a point where only certain locations are designated worthy of being named places and the landscape has become an unimportant generic blur to be tolerated and travelled through as quickly as possible.

We forget that who we are is where we are, wherever we are at a given moment in time.

Wherever we go, there we are.

We have become indifferent and impatient with what lies between our starting-out point and our destination.

The faster we travel, the more we miss.

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We have forgotten how to live in the here and now.

Lago di Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Twain and I share similar observations about Lake Como:

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Above: Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

“I always had an idea that Como was a vast basin of water shut in by great mountains.

Well, the border of huge mountains is here, but the lake itself is not a basin.

It is as crooked as any brook….

There is not a yard of low ground on either side of it – nothing but endless chains of mountains that spring abruptly from the water´s edge, and tower to chains of mountains that spring abruptly from a thousand to two thousand feet.

Their craggy sides are clothed with vegetation and white specks of houses peep out from the luxuriant foliage everywhere.

They are even perched upon jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above your head.

Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats, surrounded by gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes in nooks carved by nature out of the vine-hung precipices, and with no ingress or egress save by boats.

Some have great broad stone staircases leading down to the water, with heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and fancifully adorned with creeping vines and bright coloured flowers – for all the world like a drop curtain in a theatre, and lacking nothing but long-waisted and high-heeled women and plumed gallants in silken tights coming down to go serenading in the splendid gondola in waiting.

A great feature of Como´s attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides.

They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when everything seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como, can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.”

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Lake Como is Paul McCartney´s Mull of Kintyre, Linda Ronstadt´s Blue Bayou, James Hilton´s Shangri-la.

While Twain and his companions voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco from Bellagio, my wife and I drove through wild mountain scenery, passed hamlets and villas, with towering cliffs on our left and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right.

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Flanked by these mountains of scored granite, Como´s eastern fork, the Lago di Lecco, is as austere as a priest and fjord-like as an Norwegian postcard.

This is not the Como of George Clooney but rather the Italy of a Jude the Obscure.

One arrives in Como and Bellagio.

The traveller simply gets to Lecco.

Twenty-seven years prior to Twain, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy) also took a steamer from the promontory of Bellagio.

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Above: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

“We found that the lake soon lost much of its picturesque beauty.

Manzoni and Grossi have both chosen this branch of the lake for the scene of their romances, but it is certainly far, very far, inferior to the branch leading to Como, especially as at the end of the lake you approach the flat lands of Lombardy and the bed of the Adda.

At Lecco, we hired a caleche for Bergamo.”

Lecco is a workday world, a centre of commerce.

Piazza XX Settembre, in the centre of the town, and the San Martino mountain.

And yet some culture managed to escape this ancient town of ironmongers that unceremoniously straddles the River Adda, defenselessly striving to reach the safety of the Lake from the roughness of her passage.

Twain did not try to sing Lecco´s praises and spoke little of it except to say he was there to leave a steamer and board an open barouche with a wild and boisterous driver, hellbent determined to reach Bergamo within two hours so Twain´s party could meet the train.

Lonely Planet doesn´t touch the town with a thesaurus nor does Rick Steeves or any of the other guidebooks designed for the Anglo traveller.

Rough Guide begins its description of Lecco with the words:

“You almost certainly won´t want to stay in Lecco.”

Rough Guide expends itself exhaustively telling the trapped traveller how to exit Lecco posthaste: hop on the bus, Gus; take the train, Jane; there´s the ferry, Mary.

Clearly, there must be 50 ways to leave your Lecco.

Then RG suggests that if you have time to kill you could pop into the Basilica or visit the Villa Manzoni.

If you have time to kill?

Not exactly slaying the reader with seductiveness or enthusiasm.

Even the local Lake Como tourist guidebook, created by folks whose job is to compel the reader to explore the region, uses words like “industrious” and “commercial” to describe Lecco, in a manner similar to describing a blind date as possessing “a great personality” as if her beauty were so minimal as to not warrant description.

Anglo writers fail to generate even the slightest spark of interest in the town and guidebooks written for them reflect this.

Leave it to the underestimated, much-maligned Germans to save the day, for how easily we forget that it was they who invited the romantic novel and seductive poetry that can respectfully rival even Keats and Shakespeare.

These are the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, that most famous of German writers, who while admitting that his people can be detail-obsessed in their “Ordnung ist Alles.” (order is everything) methodology, seeking to grasp the nature of all that he sees in his Italian Journey:

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Above: Goethe in the Roman Campagna, by Johann Tischbein

Trento, Italy, 11 September 1786

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“I console myself with the thought that, in our statistically minded times, all this has probably been printed in books which one can consult if need arise.

At present I am preoccupied with sense impressions to which no book or picture can do justice.

The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life.

How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me?

Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?

How much can I take in at a single glance?

Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced?

This is what I am trying to discover.”

 

Lecco, Italy, 3 August 2017

Eberhard Fohrer – what an uninspiring name – the writer of Michael Müller Verlag´s Comer See Reiseführer, though not so verbose as the reader might hope, still manages to pique interest in this industrious and commercial town with a great personality.

Fohrer speaks of how the town nestles besides the lake with its long promenade of large trees and how pedestrians pleasantly stroll between sidewalk cafés and open air restaurants, shops and boutiques.

Lecco, lying at the southern extremity of the east branch of Lago di Como where the River Adda adds its substance to the lake, seems as disregarded as one´s nether regions or the heel of one´s foot.

Does no one see the imposing outline of Mount Resegone that has protected the town since Roman times?

Can no one sense romantic purpose to the determined currents beneath the Ponte Visconteo as plain plains have wrought lovely lake?

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Does not the Palazzo della Paure (Palace of Fears) still inspire trepidation to the visitor as it did to the citizenry who were compelled to leave their taxes within?

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Can no one sense the quiet majesty of the Basilica with its high neo-Gothic 98-metre bell tower and 14th century Giottesque frescoes and feel the divine protection from the relics of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boatmen?

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Is there no history worth discovering within the Torre Viscontea which once belonged to a mighty castle guarded by long high walls?

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Is the neoclassical Teatro della Societa or the rationalist Justice Building on Piazza Garibaldi unworthy of a glance, a photograph, or even a mention?

Is Lecco nothing more than a historical hub, the frontier´s border between beauty and boredom?

Is Lecco simply a place to disembark, to fuel up, to stock up, before dashing down to Bergamo or eagerly anticipating the much-touted delights of Como and the other branches of the lake?

The town contains over 48,000 people.

Are they nothing more than unwilling residents resigned to their fate or do they simply exist to serve those rushing through?

Yet can not poetry, literature, music, adventure and progress not emanate from such a place?

Lecco has produced some citizens that stand out for attention:

  • Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873), poet and novelist, author of the Italian classic The Betrothed
  • Antonio Ghislanzoni (1824 – 1893), journalist, poet and novelist, who wrote many librettos for the great composer Verdi
  • Carlo Mauri (1930 – 1982), a great climber and explorer
  • Antonio Rossi, Olympian kayaker and five-time medal winner

Just to name four that even the foreigner can learn about.

This is not a “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” kind of town.

Of the aforementioned four, the casual visitor quickly deduces that it would take very little convincing for the town to rename itself Manzoniville as his name and image seem to be everywhere.

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Above: The Villa Manzoni, Lecco

There is the Villa Manzoni, the Manzoni Monument, the Piazza Manzoni….

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Above: The Manzoni Monument

Manzoni, Manzoni, Manzoni….

Who knows who this is, outside of those who are Italian or who study things Italian?

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Above: Alessandro Manzoni

Lecco won´t help you in your quest if you don´t read Italian, for the stores don´t seem to stock his classics in translation.

Which is a shame, really, for Manzoni was considered so talented a writer that the Count de Gubernatis remarked that there was “one genius having divined the other” when the great Goethe defended Manzoni against attacks on his first tragedy Il Conte di Carmagnola which in its day violated all classical conventions of how a poet was supposed to be poetic.

The death of Napoleon in 1821 inspired Manzoni´s powerful stanzas Il Cinque maggio (The 5th of May), one of the most popular lyrics in the Italian language.

Gold-framed portrait painting of a gaunt middle-aged man with receding hair and laurel wreath, lying eyes-closed on white pillow with a white blanket covering to his neck and a gold Jesus cross resting on his chest

Above: Napoleon on his Deathbed, by Horace Vernet

The political events of 1821 and the imprisonment of many of his friends, seeking Italian liberation from Austrian suppression, weighed much on Manzoni´s mind, so he sought distraction in historical studies.

These studies suggested his greatest work, I Promessi sposi (The Betrothed).

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The Penguin Guide to European Literature notes that “the book´s real greatness lies in its delineation of character”.

The heroine Lucia, the Capuchin friar Padre Cristoforo, the saintly Cardinal of Milan…

These are what Republicans should model their Christianity upon, instead of the weak perverse President upon whom they serve.

The novel, much like Lecco itself, is rich in pictures of ordinary men and women, filled with irony and disenchantment which always stops short of cynicism.

In 1822, Manzoni published his second tragedy, Adelchi, turning on the overthrow by Charlemagne of the Lombard domination in Italy, with clear allusions to the existing Austrian rule.

Above: Statue of Charlemagne (742 – 814), St. Peter´s Basilica, Vatican City

Manzoni was brought up in several religious institutions and his wife´s conversion to Catholicism led him to become an austere Catholic intensely interested in the subject of human morality.

He tried to lead a life true to his beliefs.

For example, in 1818, when Manzoni had to sell his paternal inheritance as his money had been lost to a dishonest agent, rather than having his heavily indebted peasants compensate him for his losses, Manzoni not only cancelled the record of all sums owed to him, he allowed the peasants to keep for themselves the whole of the coming harvest.

Yet much like Job, Manzoni´s faith would be sorely tested.

His wife died in 1833, preceded and followed by the death of several of his children.

Manzoni married again, but his second wife also died before him, as did seven of his nine children from both marriages.

The death of his eldest son in 1872 hastened Manzoni´s own demise.

He was already a weakened man when on 6 January 1873 while exiting Milan´s San Fedele Church, he fell and hit his head on the steps and died after five months of cerebral meningitis, a complication of the trauma.

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Above: Chiesa San Fedele, Milano

His funeral was given great pomp and ceremony, attended by princes of the realm and great officers of state.

Above: Manzoni´s funeral procession in Milan

Giuseppe Verdi´s (1813 – 1901) Requiem was written to honour Manzoni´s memory.

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Yet outside of Italy, distant from the 19th century, I, like many non-Italians, had to ask:

“Alessandro Manzoni? Who?”

Does our education teach us nothing beyond the national or linguistic love of ourselves?

Have the Bielievers of our society any clue as to who Verdi was or that there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in The Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons?

Do they know or care that there was life and love before Kayne West and that self expression does have and should have its moral limits?

Above: Kanye West taking the microphone from Taylor Swift, MTV Video Music Awards, 13 September 2009

This grumpy old man accompanied by his truly lovely lady strolled through the town which, by the time of our arrival, was slowly ending its business day.

The Villa was closed, the shops shuttered, the streets mostly devoid of pedestrian traffic, yet Lecco still quietly charmed us.

The Cathedral did not need throngs of tourists to reveal its importance, nor did the promenade need scores of visitors to suggest it was a place worth lingering on.

The human spirit, much like the human mind, must sometimes meander about in unfamiliar marketplaces and wander uncharted and unheralded towns.

Let the Rough Guides dissuade their sychophants from visiting.

Let Lonely Planet lead the Australians to another pub and the English to yet another club.

Steeves is blind to Lecco´s hidden charms and Frommer caters to the armchair traveller who will only leave his comfort zone when there is no other choice.

Let´s Go to that budget bistro, the door of which no local´s shadow will cross.

Or instead we can find in a place like Lecco, that industrial, commercial, unloved, unremarkable lady of a town that unwavering strength of character that Manzoni could see and so eloquently showed.

Como has charisma and Belgamo has beauty, but Lecco is…real.

We too had made the error of following the advice of guidebooks and disregarded the possibilities of Lecco beyond a few hours´ visit.

Our prepackaged, preplanned trip, though not at all horrible, did not allow for much spontaneity.

Our night´s accommodation lay outside of Lecco´s limits in better advertised, more recommended, Belgamo.

We did not remain in Lecco, but Lecco remains in us.

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May we have the strength of character to visit her again.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lariologo, Lake Como: Itineraries and Photographs of Lario, Ceresio and Surrounding Valleys / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us about the World / Eberhard Fohrer, Comer See / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey / Alessandro Mansoni, The Betrothed / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Calculated Cathedral

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 29 November 2017

It is a season of grey days and black, almost eternal, nights.

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

As much as I comprehend why Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving in October rather than November because the growing seasons are shorter up there, I occasionally wonder if the Americans might not be onto something by celebrating life at a time of darkening skies and colder temperatures.

Flag of the United States

Thanksgiving, celebrated every third Thursday of November in the US, is meant to convey thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon self, friends and family through the bountiful harvest received and shown by a fully laden dining room table.

It is a New World celebration meant to commemorate the Pilgrims´ first year in America when they gave thanks to God that through the help of native tribes they learned how to produce food to survive and thrive as a transplanted people.

Above: The First Thanksgiving, 1621, by Jean Farris (1899)

Above the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are many countries who have similar seasonal changes and similar harvest times, and to be fair Americans did not invent the concept of praising divinity for blessings received as this ritual has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia.

As the weather turns colder than even Donald Trump´s soul, I find myself thankful that I am still alive, that I have a roof over my head and regular food in my belly, that I am of (relatively) sound mind and body and that I have people in my life whom I love and by whom I am loved.

I am truly a fortunate man.

That having been said I am not unaware that there are those who don´t feel so fortunate.

I have known people, good people, for whom reality seems to them to be cruel and unkind, for whom life seems to be a never-changing cycle of sadness, of eternally grey days and black ink evil evenings with slim hope for the dawn.

I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for those who feel illness within their minds, who feel an emptiness within their souls.

I cannot but feel sympathy for those who feel death is a release, a relief, from the hell of their perceived existence.

I know just enough, and yet far too little, that changing one´s perspective is not simply emotional determination but could also be both a product of one´s history and chemical make-up.

It is easy to condemn humanity´s monsters, like the recently deceased Charles Manson, for they made life decisions that brought extreme pain and suffering to others.

Manson's

Above: Charles Manson (1934 – 2017)

It is impossible and frightening to imagine how on God´s green Earth that the murder and torture of others can be justifiable in the minds of these rare abominations of the mentally unwell.

I say rare abominations, for I believe that the vast majority of those hurting members of the psychologically unhappy are more victims to their condition than they are bent on taking others down with them in their descent into darkness.

We, the seemingly rational and arrogantly confident in our inappropriately felt superiority, blame the illness on the ill victims, not sensing nor caring that they too wish to feel welcome by a humanity that does not understand them and thus struggles, often in vain, to assist them, or, failing that, remove them from the general populace.

I watch in silent frustration when those I love hurt themselves and others as they blindly grope their way through illogical reality simply trying to survive.

Life has somehow injured them and they have selfishly sought solace in safer corners of their minds where no one else can go.

I have seen wonderful, compassionate friends and family victimised by their own private pain and there seems nothing I can do or say to help, because the everpresent fear of swimming into psychologically insecure deep waters instinctively instills a fear that we too might be swept along in and dragged down by the wake of their thrashing.

We judge them by standards we understand, rather than by their standards we can´t understand.

I want to hold each one of them and tell them in a way they might truly believe, that their lives matter, that they are worthy of love and dignity, but sometimes I am scared by my inability to do so.

I want to tell them that though there truly is a vast amount of pain in this vale of tears that we share, there is also the potential for great joy.

Perhaps here is the value of Thanksgiving, of giving thanks to something or someone beyond ourselves, of prayer to whatever or whomever may be either within or from outside ourselves.

In the brutal honesty of a sleepless night, I reject my rational analysis of the folly of believing in a God whose only proof of existence is that His non-existence has yet to be proven and hope beyond reason that God does exist whether or not His existence is a creation or a manifestation of my own making.

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Above: Michelangelo´s The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

And this I think is the value of faith, of religion – finding hope and comfort in that which might exist.

To somehow believe that pain can be endured, that there will be a dawn beyond the darkness, even if it is unclear how this can happen.

Mankind has built mighty edifices in an attempt to enclose the divine and bend it to our will for our benefit….

Sheer folly.

Yet the symbolic gathering together of humanity into congregations, bound by faith and traditions, giving meaning to the passages of life in its forms of birth, maturity, matrimony and death, gives purpose to the construction of shrines of worship.

Though cathedrals and churches, monasteries and mosques, temples and tabernacles, by the very act of enclosure create a division of people between those within and those outside and have caused those within to feel both a superiority and a zeal to extend the choir invisible beyond the ecclesiastical doors with some even willing to break the taboos of religion in the name of religion, nonetheless these places of illogical and irrational faith sustain and console us.

I am reminded this morning of the places of worship I visited while I was in London last month and though the seeds of the religious fell mostly on mentally stubborn and stone hard ground, my visit to these places still left their impression upon me.

A visitor walking around London cannot help but be impressed by the number of churches in this city more renowned for trade and commerce, but, as we know from the remains of the Temple of Mithras at Walbrook discovered in 1954, religious buildings have always been an integral part of the fabric of London.

Some of London´s most breathtaking modern structures are religious buildings dedicated to many faiths, whose communities form a strong part of the social fabric of modern London.

As hard as it is to imagine London without its many churches, it is even harder still to imagine London without its many faiths.

Our discovery of the faithful of London began on our first night in town….

London, England, 23 October 2017

My wife, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, wanted to take pictures of the Thames River before we headed back to our B & B in the Paddington district.

It had already been quite the full day: pre-dawn departure from our beds and dash down the highway to Zürich, the bureaucratic exit from one designated country and the bureaucratic entry into another, the search and finding of our week´s accommodations, the navigating of the nefarious nightmare beneath called the Tube, and a mad race through one of the world´s most famous museums – the Tate Modern.

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

Above: The Tate Modern, London

But my wife wanted to see more while she could with what remained of her day´s energies.

I had no objections.

We, like many before, crossed the London Millennium Footbridge, or as it is affectionately known by Londoners “the wobbly bridge”, the steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames, linking Bankside on the south bank with the City of London to the north.

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Above: Millennium Bridge, as seen from St. Paul´s Cathedral

The Bridge, 1,066 feet/325 metres long, 13 feet/4 metres wide, officially opened on 1 June 2000 and quickly was closed again shortly thereafter as the 90,000 people crossing it on its opening day felt that the Bridge was wobbling and lurching dangerously.

It reopened in 2002 after engineers refitted 37 energy dissipating dampers to control horizontal movement and 52 inertial dampers to control vertical movement to solve the wobble effect.

You may have seen the Bridge and not realised it….

The Millennium collapsed following an attack by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).

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The Bridge also appeared as part of the climatic battle scene on the planet Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

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And the Bridge was in the video of the Olly Murs song “Heart on my Sleeve”.

To the south the midpoint standing pedestrian on the Bridge sees the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.

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Above: The Globe Theatre, London

To the north the red brick City of London School (actor Daniel Radcliffe / “Harry Potter” ´s old alma mater) can be spotted nestling below the magnificence that is St. Paul´s Cathedral.

How strange and yet familiar St. Paul´s appeared to me in the fast-approaching darkness.

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral

The enormous lead-covered dome of St. Paul´s Cathedral has dominated the City skyline for generations and will probably continue to do so for generations to come if Star Trek: Into Darkness is any accurate omen to go by.

The poster shows the USS Enterprise falling toward Earth with smoke coming out of it. The middle of the poster shows the title written in dark gray letters, and the film's credits and the release date are shown at the bottom of the poster.

The Cathedral facade is particularly magnificent, fronted by a wide flight of steps – seen in Mary Poppins (1964) and Sherlock Holmes (2009) – and a two-storey portico and two towers, and is said to be amongst the finest examples of Baroque architecture in London.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in-character. The background is a window display, featuring shelves containing miscellaneous objects relating to the story. The poster reads "Sherlock Holmes" across the top, with the tagline "Holmes for the holiday" centered at the bottom. The poster is predominately turquoise coloured.

The west front of St. Paul´s shows the Saint surrounded by others of his ilk as he is dazzled by the glory of God whilst on the road to Damascus.

In the northeast churchyard, a plaque marks the location of Paul´s Cross, a popular centre of fake and real news and contemporary commentary, where during the Reformation William Tynsdale´s New Testament was burned because it was sinfully an English translation.

While it can´t compete with Westminster Abbey for celebrity corpses, royal remains and awesome atmosphere, St. Paul´s is nevertheless a perfectly calculated architectural space, a burial place for captains rather than kings, artists not poets, and a popular wedding venue and favoured funeral locale for the privileged few.

The current Cathedral is the fifth on this site, including Old St. Paul´s, a huge Gothic cathedral built by the Normans, with a 489 foot spire that once was part of the longest and tallest Christian church in the world.

During the English Civil War and the Republic which followed the execution of King Charles I in 1649, St. Paul´s was allowed to become dilapidated and was used for stabling horses and as a marketplace with a road running through it.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II threw out the traders and began to return the scarred Cathedral to the status it once had, but before work could begin the Great Fire of London intervened.

The blaze started on 2 September 1666 and destroyed 2/3 of the City of London.

It burned for four days and nights, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 parish churches, including Old St. Paul´s.

Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

In 1668, Christopher Wren was asked to produce a new Cathedral.

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Above: Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)

Wren was not only an architect, he was also an astronomer, scientist and mathematican.

Wren was a founding member in 1660 of the Royal Society, a national academy for science, but he was also a man of profound Christian faith.

He came from a family of clergy who had been loyal to the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was faith which inspired him.

He once explained: “Architecture aims at eternity.”

As an architect favoured by royalty and state, Wren´s commissions varied widely, including the Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich Hospital, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, as well as some magnificent buildings in Oxford, where he studied and worked as Professor of Astronomy from 1661 to 1673.

St. Paul´s was just one of over 50 church commissions Wren received in the wake of the Great Fire.

Sir Christopher Wren

Said, “I´m going to dine with some men.

If anyone calls,

Say I´m designing St. Paul´s.” (Edmund Clerihew Bentley)

Hassles over his initial plans and wrangles over money plagued the project throughout, but Wren persevered and England´s first Protestant cathedral was completed in 1711 under Queen Anne, whose statue stands below the steps.

Above: Statue of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714), St. Paul´s Cathedral

Opinions of Wren´s Cathedral differed.

Some loved it.

“Without, within, below, above, the eye is filled with unrestrained delight.”

Some hated it.

“There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches.  They were unfamiliar, un-English…”

Until his death, at the age of 91, Wren regularly returned to St. Paul´s to sit under its dome and reflect on this masterpiece of faith and imagination.

For over 300 years this particular reincarnation of St. Paul´s has been a place where both the individual and the nation can express those feelings of joy, gratitude and sorrow that are so central to our lives.

St. Paul´s has borne witness to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805)(buried in the centre of the Cathedral Crypt), the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852)(buried also in the Crypt)(13,000 people filled the Cathedral.), the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria (1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (2012), the bombs of the Blitz (1940), a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), the funerals of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1965) and Margaret Thatcher (2013), and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana (1981).

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Above: Queen Elizabeth II

Services have also been held to mark the valuable contributions made by ordinary women and men involved in armed conflicts in the Falklands, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.

A vast crowd also gathered at St. Paul´s following the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001, as London expressed its solidarity with Americans at a time of great grief.

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon

People of other faiths also have a place in national services at St. Paul´s.

The memorial service for King Hussein of Jordan in 1999 was the first Christian service in St. Paul´s to include a reading from the Qur´an.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

In 2005, at the service of remembrance following the terrorist bombings in London in June of that year, young people representing different faith communities lit candles as a shared sign of hope during turbulent times.

Take a journey through this place mortal designed to evoke the divine.

We took our own calculated journey through St. Paul´s two days later.

 

London, England, 25 October 2017

Begin with the Nave, the font of baptism, marking the beginning of the journey of faith that Christians believe leads from Earth to Heaven.

Here is the final stop, the last resting place, of the Duke of Wellington, best known for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

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Above: Wellington (1769 – 1852)

Wellington died 37 years later and is buried in the Crypt beneath the Monument.

Nearby in the All Souls´ Chapel is the Kitchener Memorial, dedicated to the servicemen who died in World War I and to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener who died at sea and whose body was never recovered.

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Above: Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)

Kitchener is best known for his restructuring of the British Army and for his most effective recruitment campaign reminding Britons that “Your Country Needs You”.

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Quietly light a candle for those you wish to have remembered inside St. Dunstan´s Chapel, a place of prayer and stillness.

The silver pyx that hangs above the altar in this chapel contains the sacrament – the consecrated bread that Christians believe is (or represents) the body of Jesus, shared at services of Holy Communion.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. George honours those who have rendered important service overseas.

It takes only a modicum of observation to see that St. Paul´s is built in the shape of a cross with a large dome crowning the intersection of the cross´s arms.

At 365 feet / 111.3 metres high, the Dome is one of the largest cathedral domes in the world and weighs approximately 65,000 tons.

The area under the Dome is the space where congregations congregate for the Cathedral´s most important rituals of faith – the Liturgy, the worship of God.

The altar is the focus, the place where the Eucharist (mass) is celebrated every day, where people of all ages of many different languages and nationalities, gather to eat bread and drink wine that symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ sacrificed by God the Father to save mankind from itself.

Or so the story goes.

The Dome is actually not one dome but three: the outer dome shell is seen prominently on the London skyline, while the painted dome that the congregated sees from the cathedral floor conceals an inner layer of brick which provides the structure strength and support.

Within the Dome´s construction there are three gallery levels.

The Whispering Gallery runs around the interior of the Dome, 257 steep steps up from ground level.

There is a charming acoustical quirk in the gallery´s construction which makes a whisper spoken against the walls on one side audible on the opposite side.

Two higher galleries encircle the outside of the Dome – the Stone Gallery and the smaller Golden Gallery offering superb views across London….

Or so we were told as they were closed the day of our visit.

Upon our descent from the Whispering Gallery, further exploration of the Cathedral reveals many aspects of what makes St. Paul´s unique unto itself.

To the north of the interior is the Chapel of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, with a statue of Dr. Johnson.

Man staring intently at a book held close to his face

Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

Above the altar is William Holman Hunt´s painting The Light of the World, showing Jesus holding a lantern as He knocks at the handleless bramble-strewn door of the human Soul which must be opened from within, above the caption that reads:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. 

If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.”

Close by the Chapel is Henry Moore´s Mother and Child, a sculpture he made when he was recovering from an illness so it is heavily indolent in religious meaning.

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Above: Mother and Child by Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

By Moore´s Mama Madonna with child are two pairs of wrought-iron gates made by Jean Tijou.

Inside the gates at the top northern part of the architectural cross is the Quire, the first part of the Cathedral to be built.

The organ within, built in 1694 and rebuilt several times, is the third largest in the UK with 7,256 pipes.

The 1694 version of this organ was much loved by the composer George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759).

The organ case and the stalls on both sides of the Quire are decorated with exquisitely delicate carvings by the Anglo-Dutch sculptor Grinling Gibbons, whose work can still be seen in many royal houses and great houses.

One contemporary commentator wrote:

“There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers with the free disorder natural to each species.”

Yet free disorder seems particularly ironic here, as each of the canopied stalls has a designated occupant and definitively determines how the Cathedral is to be governed.

It is within the Quire where choir, clergy and congregation gather to sit for Evensong, the service that draws the day to a close.

As dusk descends, we the people are to be remanded and reminded of the proper calculation of our place in the universe, both manmade and celestial.

Queen Victoria, she of the inaccurately attributed “We are not amused.”, is said to have complained that St. Paul´s was “dull, dingy and undevotional”, so in response William Blake Richmond decorated the ceilings and the walls of the Quire with mosaics depicting the story of Creation and the story of the angel Gabriel´s visitation to the Virgin Mary with the news that she is pregnant with the Son of God.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

(That had to be quite the shock!)

Behind the alter stands the Jesus Chapel, commemorating the 28,000 Americans who were killed on their way to, or while stationed in, the UK during the Second World War, their names recorded in a 500-page roll of honour glass enclosure.

“Defending freedom from the fierce assaults of tyranny they shared the honour and the sacrifice. 

Though they died before the drum of victory, their names and deeds will long be remembered wherever free men live.”

So reads the American roll of honour, but as the Canadian descendant of Commonwealth soldiery I cannot help but cynically observe that the Cathedral today is funded by multitudes of tourists, the majority of whom are American.

A cynical attitude that is met with a punch in the arm by my loving spouse whose German ancestors were conscripted soldiers of the aforementioned tyranny.

In the south is the statue of John Donne, which somehow survived the Great Fire of London intact.

Above: Statue of John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Donne, a former Dean of St. Paul´s, wrote passionate love poems and eloquent odes expressing with eloquence his zeal for God.

He is perhaps best remembered for his meditation on the human condition:

“No man is an island, entire of itself….

 Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Fourteen bells of St. Paul´s toll for thee: Great Tom tolls to mark the death of a sovereign; Great Paul, the largest swinging bell in Europe, strikes the hours; the remaining twelve bells sound the peal.

And here one finds a statue of Nelson, a cloak covering the area where Nelson´s right arm should be – amputated in 1797.

Three skulls guard the entrance to the Crypt.

Nelson lies buried in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle, atop a black marble sarcophagus.

Would he have thought his memorial truly “humanity after victory“?

Keeping him company across from him in the Crypt, the Iron Duke, Lord Wellington, rests in a casket of Cornish granite.

Wellie would have hated it, for he was said to be a man not prone to bask in his own glories:

“Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”

Why do places of worship glorify those who murder in the name of a flag?

Beside the Crypt, close to the foundations of the former church, is the Chapel of St. Faith, created in recognition for the contribution made by women during the First World War.

Surrounding the Chapel are memorials celebrating the remarkable of the arts and sciences: painters Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) and John Guille Millais (1865 – 1931); composer Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) and poet William Blake (1757 – 1827); scientist Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955).

Sir Christopher Wren himself is buried here, his tomb marked by a simple stone which translated from Latin reads:

Bildergebnis für christopher wren s tomb inscription

“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

And, so we did.

“I was glad when they said unto me:

Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

St. Paul´s has stood here defiantly unscathed amid the carnage of the Blitz and was defended by the St. Paul´s Watch – volunteers who patrolled the Cathedral´s roof every night to combat the incendiary bombs and died carrying out their duties.

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Time and choice did not permit us to see the worship of God at work, or listen to virgin boys attempt in song to reach within us to find something beyond ourselves, or ponder important issues ranging from global economy to climate change by prominent speakers, such as Kofi Annan or Bianca Jagger.

As we leave St. Paul´s, I recall the words of Mary Poppins:

Marypoppins.jpg

Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes.
In her own special way to the people she calls:
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
 
Come, feed the little birds.
Show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do.
The young ones are hungry.
Their nests are so bare.
All it takes is tuppence from you.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds.”, that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.
 
All around the Cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
 
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”

No, we didn´t feed the birds, for security measures no longer permit little old bird women to feed assemblies of pigeons on the steps of St. Paul´s.

Poverty is very offputting for the tourists and, after all, charity begins at home.

The tourist entry fee at the door is 18 pounds per adult.

In October 2011, the anti-capitalism Occupy London encampment was established in front of St. Paul´s, after failing to gain access to the London Stock Exchange on Paternoster Square nearby, costing the Cathedral revenue of 200,000 pounds per day.

The encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012, by court order, without violence, by the City Corporation.

Our visit to St. Paul´s made me ask, as St. Paul´s Cathedral Arts Project and its artistic installations have asked:

What makes life meaningful and purposeful?

What does St. Paul´s mean in that contemporary context?

Those questions, much like questions of faith themselves, can only be answered by individuals themselves.

Should one care to ask.

Black and White photograph of the dome of St Paul's, starkly lit, appearing through billowing clouds of smoke

Above: St. Paul´s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / DK Eyewitness Travel, Top London 2017 / The Rough Guide to London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / St. Paul´s Cathedral / http://www.stpauls.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 November 2017

Where is the line between insanity and sanity?

What does it actually mean to be sane?

Sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies brokenness?

One theory suggests that sanity is tied to how we fit with what is actually going on in the world.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire socieites “may be lacking in sanity”.

One of the most deceptive features of social life involves consensual validation.

“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings.

Nothing is further from the truth….

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues.

The fact that they share so many errors does not make these errors to be truths.

The fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” (Erich Fromm, The Sane Society)

(This might explain American politics?)

Are the religious insane?

Is it insane to believe in all-powerful invisible forces we can´t see because there are phenomena we can´t explain and because we fear our own mortality?

Is it insane for groups of people to believe in the same divinity yet believe that only their manner of belief or worship is the correct one and are willing to fight to the death to defend it?

Or are our lives empty echo chambers without religion to fill them?

I am neither psychologist nor theologian and my only philosophy is to accept other people´s points of view unless their perspective hurts either themselves or others.

I handle humanity on a case by case basis, situation to situation.

For example, I have a friend who is convinced to his bones that we live on a flat Earth, that the moon landing was staged and that space photographs are faked.

On one level, I admire his tenacity to stick to his beliefs and his insistence that one should question everything.

On the other, I am baffled that he can so easily deny so much that is based on empirical evidence and scientific experimentation over centuries.

I listen to him expound his case and though I can´t agree with him, his beliefs are not sufficient grounds for dissolving our friendship, and as long as he does not insist that I share his beliefs, then we can co-exist without agreement.

Still those who live in greenhouses shouldn´t throw stones, for I am unusual in my own eccentric manner.

I don´t drive, I am not glued to my mobile devices every available moment, I prefer print to electronics, I prefer walking to any other form of transportation no matter the distance or time involved.

I am not fanatical about these preferences.

I don´t drive but I can see the wisdom of knowing how to do so.

I have a mobile phone and see its practicality but I try not to let its use become an addiction.

My wife prefers the compactness of an electronic library, while I prefer the personal connection I feel towards physical books in my hands.

But many Swiss, as well as my German wife, question my sanity when it comes to walking.

Flag of Switzerland

Not because they don´t enjoy hiking, they do.

But here hiking is not usually a solitary sport, but rather it is usually done in groups of people or minimally it´s done as a duo.

They feel that hiking can be dangerous and that there is safety in numbers should one of the group get injured.

Wise, to be sure, but for me the point of hiking is isolation, getting away from humanity and bathing oneself in the delights of nature.

I love my wife and we have hiked together, but she is not a quiet person comfortable with silence, nor does one stroll but rather they march with her.

But she and the Swiss are right….

Hiking can be dangerous, even fatal, and the local papers are quick to trumpet to the reading public the latest fatalities.

I derisively laugh at all of this until I find myself in solitary difficulties on some godforsaken trail of my own choosing….

 

Toggenburg, Switzerland, 18 October 2017

I recently began following a man.

A religious man, willing to die for that which he believed in.

In an attempt to derive some sort of meaning from the hubbub of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I have begun following the life and “footsteps” of the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli, through the use of biographies and a recently purchased book, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis.

Ulrich-Zwingli-1.jpg

Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

The previous week I walked from Strichboden in the heart of the Toggenburg region to Zwingli´s birthplace in the town of Wildhaus.

Above: Zwingli´s birthplace, Wildhaus

(For an account of this, please read Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg of this blog.)

I accomplished the first walking section of the nine-stage rediscovery of Zwingli´s life by walking from the wilderness to Zwingli´s birth home to get a greater appreciation of arriving in Wildhaus on foot then simply disembarking from a Postbus to walk the intended direction of the Zwingli-Wege book.

Today though I would do things the right way, the intended direction.

To do so meant returning back to Strichboden.

So, once again, train to Neu St. Johann, bus to Starkenbach, a ride up the mountain via the ancient rickety cable car system called the Selunbahn, to arrive back on top of the mountain called Strichboden, this time to walk away from, rather than towards, Wildhaus.

Destination: Weesen, where Zwingli lived and went to school from age 6 to 10.

I began hiking early afternoon, for it is hard to awake early on my days off and it takes over two hours to reach Starkenbach from my home on public transportation.

Now there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you, gentle reader, read these words….

October means the ending of many tourist facilities, diminishing daylight hours, and a reduced tendency for people to go hiking in the wilderness at this time of year.

All of these were factors I had to keep in mind.

Still the weather was warm, almost summerlike, and as the Selunbahn rose through the alpine sky, so did my spirits.

From Alp Vorderselun / Starkenbach, I began strolling towards Amden / Arvenbüel 8.4 km distance, three hours away.

Now 8 kilometres may not seem like much of a distance to walk, but midway in the walk, the trail descends steeply from 1,800 metres to 1,200 metres.

The walk began quite pleasantly.

After only one kilometre, the hiker heading west comes to the Ochsenhütte (the Oxen Huts), a small mountain inn just 100 meters from the trail (still the Toggenburger Höhenweg).

Above: Ochsenhütte, Starkenbach, Toggenburger Höhenweg

Happily, hunger is deliciously abated and after wolfing down lunch, I resume the Höhenweg and gradually ascend the Alps Bleien and Hüeberlis to arrive at the Donnerlöcher (the Thundering Hollows).

Bildergebnis für donnerlöcher churfirsten

In the totality of the Churfirsten Region there are no streams.

Bildergebnis für churfirsten

Rainwater and melting snow simply seep into the ground.

Innumerable hollows and depressions dent the alpine pastures on this Toggenburger side of the Churfirsten range.

When it rains, water rushes through these funnel depressions to form pits deep into the earth.

Along the walls of these funnels limestone is dissolved and sinks into these depressions to form deposits within these hollows.

Over vast amounts of time the increasing weight of the accumulating limestone deepens the hollows as much as 800 metres below the surface.

Depending on the wind conditions the sound that emerges from these hollows is said to be akin to thunder.

Beyond the Donnerlöcher and the summit of Alp Tritt I find myself suddenly on the side of limestone cliffs descending maniacally sharp down towards the pastoral hills of Arvenbüel.

Bildergebnis für schrattenkalk am first

How easy to make a misstep, how quickly one could get injured, how foolish one feels clinging to a cliff, how insane an activity is this solitary hiking….

The hiker is torn between the reflex of great hesitation and the need to continue onwards to safety.

The feet complain, arms and back comment, the rock is unforgiving and intolerant of careless fools, and one begins to envy the carefree manner by which mountain goats navigate these heights.

This aging man is no young mountain goat gleefully leaping from rock to rock unconcernedly.

Palms sweat, despite firm grip on walking stick and mountain cable.

I recall a similar situation during my walking days in Canada when I spontaneously decided to climb up the side of the Scarborough Bluffs (just outside Toronto) with a discovered tennis ball in one hand!

Above: Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Apparently I was not very wise in the past and clearly I have not gotten much wiser since then.

Still I persevere….too scared to live, too stubborn to die.

Eventually limestone turns to hilly pastureland and pastureland with glimpses of the Walensee (Walen Lake) gives way to flat streets and roads.

Fear is forgotten in a tidal wave of relief when I reach the end bus stop of the Arvenbüel – Ziegelbrücke bus 650 route before sunset.

Bus 650, happily arriving when I do, winds its way down the slopes with stops in the villages of Amden and Weesen.

I resolutely refuse to explore these villages until I return again to walk from Arvenbühl.

Weather and work make the return walk wait for nearly a fortnight….

 

Arvenbüel, Switzerland, 1 November 2017

All Saints´ Day is one of the days of the year that one perceives how divided Switzerland is between Catholics and Protestants.

Central Switzerland, Canton Valais, Canton Ticino, the Jura region, Canton Freiburg/Fribourg, Canton Solothurn, Baselerland, half of Canton Aargau, Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden and Canton St. Gallen remain devoutly Catholic.

Wealthier and more urban Cantons are stubbornly Protestant.

This difference of religious opinion even led to a bloody civil war in Switzerland called the Sonderbundkrieg (the Sonderbund, or Separate Alliance, War) in November 1847.

Take, for example, the half-Cantons of Appenzell: Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR).

(In Switzerland´s Parliament, AI and AR get only an one half cantonal vote, despite being separate individual cantons.)

AI (Cantonal Capital: Appenzell) is predominantly Catholic, so today schools, government offices, banks and shops are closed there.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Innerrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden

AR (Cantonal Capital: Herisau) is predominantly Protestant, so there everything is business as usual today.

Coat of arms of Kanton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Above: Coat of arms of Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Thurgau Canton where I reside is Protestant, while St. Gallen Canton is Catholic, (despite the efforts of St. Gallen reformer Vadian, whose statue is across from the Starbucks where I work when I am not teaching).

Above: Statue of Joachim von Watt, aka Vadian (1484 – 1551)

AI and AR are often confused in my mind so I had cancelled my Herisau lesson for today, forgetting that the company for whom I teach was operational today, and opted to resume my Zwingli walking.

(For more on the wonders of the Appenzell Cantons, please see A to Z: Adam to Zelg, An Aura of Appenzell Alpacas and Aion A, Riding the Rails, Railroads to Anywhere: Urnäsch and Appenzell and This Gais in Plain Sight of this blog.)

Today´s hiking trek began after a train to St. Gallen, another to Herisau and yet another to Ziegelbrücke, then a bus back up to Arvenbüel.

Another pleasant hiking day.

The trail started reassuringly level for 1.5 km from Arvenbüel through Stock and Chapf, offering great views of the Walensee, but then it began a rapid 4 km descent from a height of 1,300 metres to 900 metres through Giregärtli, Fallen and Hofstetten -a quarter of the town of Amden – to arrive at the back of an apartment building where a Turkish family offers communal drinks paid for by voluntary contributions.

What can one say about Amden?

Bildergebnis für amden

Well, Amden is one of the largest municipalities in Switzerland at 43 square kilometres, as well as one of the most varied in terms of extremes of elevation from 2,101 metres high down to 421 metres low at Walen Lake.

There are a little more than 1,600 Ammlers, most of them good Catholics, despite Amden having seen Romans, Goths, Franks, Swabian, invading Swiss from other cantons, and the French come tromping through over the millennia.

For Amden is desirable, with scenic and strategic value and fertile land.

But its location is both a blessing and a curse, for not only has it been a much coveted area for many, but nature herself has restlessly fought against Amden with a major rockslide in 1972 that sealed off roads leading to the town, requiring facilities to be flown in and new roads built.

There are ruins of a Roman fortress here, Burg Strahlegg, built in 15 BC by order of Caesar Augustus, and uncovered by soldiers en route to the Battle of Näfels in 1388.

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One Turkish coffee and 200 more meters descended to Faren later, the trail bends back upon itself heading towards another wonder of Switzerland, but not before I see one of the faithful entering the Catholic church of St. Gallus in Amden.

Perhaps it is the rare alpine air here that seems to create talent….

German landscape painter Otto Meyer (1885 – 1933) loved the place so much he renamed himself Otto Meyer-Amden, while a generation later painter Doris Stauffer (1934 – 2017) remained ever devoted to the town.

Above: Amden Landscape (1913), Otto Meyer-Amden

But Amden´s size and dominant Catholicism must not be easy for everyone.

Local popular singer Michael von der Heide´s sexuality remains a topic of much debate, a debate in which he refuses to engage in, saying that he should be judged by his talent and not his sexuality.

Above: Michael von der Heide

And, of course, he is right.

At Faren, the hiker must choose to either walk east towards the Seerenbachfälle or walk west down towards Weesen and the Walensee.

The detour to the Falls is well worth it, for they are not just one set of waterfalls but three, cascading down from a height of 585 metres, making the Seerenbachfälle trio the 3rd highest waterfalls in Switzerland.

Above: The Seerenbach Falls, Amden

The day´s goal and the focus of this walking project was to visit a location where Huldrych Zwingli once lived….

Weesen, where from ages 6 to 10 Zwingli attended the village school and lived with his uncle Bartholew.

According to the Zwingli Zentrum Toggenburg back in Wildhaus, the walk I followed over the course of three days from his birthplace to his primary school residence was also actually taken by Huldrych and his father Ulrich.

It is said that Ulrich frequently followed this path through the Amdener Pass to keep in personal contact with his son, his brother and the commerce of the area.

For commercial profit, Weesen was built at the meeting point where the Linth River flowed into the Walensee and was thus a much travelled route.

Above: Aerial view of Weesen, where Linth Canal meets Walensee

It was in Weesen where Huldrych learned German, reading, writing and arithmetic and where he met Katharina von Zimmern.

Katharina von Zimmern was born in 1478 in the rich southern German noble family of Baron Hans Werner von Zimmern and Countess Margarethe von Oettingen.

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Above: Katharina von Zimmern (1478 – 1547)

Katharina was the fourth girl and had four further brothers and two sisters.

Her father loved hunting, played several musical instruments, and was in the service of the Duke Sigmund of Tyrol.

In 1488 he fell from the favour of Emperor Frederick III, due to intrigues and was forced to flee with his family.

Katharina had an adventurous escape with her mother and some siblings before arriving at Weesen on the Walensee lakeshore.

There in 1490 she met the boy Huldrych, who had been given to his uncle, the parish priest in charge.

Little did the 22-year-old nun imagine then that this boy would one day make her future position of Abbess in Zürich to be the last Abbess of the Fraumunster Abbey.

The aforementioned history of Amden is quite similar to that of Weesen, with two significant differences:

Weesen didn´t suffer a rockslide….it was razed by the victorious Swiss after the Battle of Näfels then rebuilt a few years later.

Weesen has an Abbey.

Weesen Kirchen.jpg

Above: Weesen Abbey

The Weesen Abbey, or as it is properly known the Maria Refuge Dominican Order of Nuns Cloister, has existed since 1256, and is known for quite a number of remarkable things:

It is one of the few monasteries that wasn´t looted during the Swiss Reformation as the cloister´s vows of charity meant there was little for anyone to steal, and though it too was a victim of iconoclastic attacks (the destruction of religious symbology) it still was able to repair itself and continue to function right up to today.

The Abbey library contains over 8,400 books, mostly in German on how to be a good nun.

The Abbey accommodates and is served by nine nuns and one laywoman who range from ages 46 to 78.

It offers a temporary guesthouse for women from ages 18 to 40.

The ladies manage their own cloister shop, bakery and atelier which produces candles and icons.

Their bakery is, surprisingly, the most modern wafer-producing factory in Switzerland, manufacturing 30,000 brown and 3,000 white wafers per week, or two million wafers a year.

The wafers are created from a mixture of flour and water without the use of either yeast or baking powder.

The Eucharist wafer, the symbolic body of Christ, is mass produced, though fully automated, in astonishing purity and massive quantities by less than a dozen women who are mostly past their prime of life.

Walk around Weesen a bit, though the tourism infrastructure doesn´t yet appreciate that non-German speakers might visit, and you may find yourself pleasantly charmed by this town.

The Hotel Schwert has been offering food and lodging since 1523, while the Town Hall has been administering since 1388 – despite the Great Fire of 1523 that razed the original building.

...

Follow the flow of the Lauibach, a stream that should never be underestimated, which flooded the streets of Weesen in 2005.

Visit the aforementioned Cloister and be inspired by these ladies of Maria Zuflucht.

See the Schlössli (small chateau) in the town centre where the von Zimmern family once lived after their flight from Austria.

More divinity awaits within the walls of the Holy Cross Church should you desire the trappings of Catholicism or deep within the sanctuary of the Zwingli Reformed Church if plain and simple surroundings are more to your religious inclinations.

Above: Zwingli Church, Weesen

Ponder the Russian Monument beneath the Zwingli Church and recall that the acceptance of war refugees into foreign communities began long before our present Syrian War crisis.

In the First World War and in the years between the global conflicts millions left the ruins of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Second World War saw many thousands of people flee wartorn areas and many afterwards sought to escape the chokehold of Communist dominated lands.

More than 100 Russian refugees called Weesen their new home from 1951 until 1992.

The Monument was unveiled in 2006.

Beneath the ground of Speerplatz the Middle Ages are still being uncovered and rediscovered, while on the walls of the Weesen Museum and Gallery are fine paintings capturing on humble canvases the mighty glory of the Seerenbachfälle and the quiet majesty of the Walensee.

Along the harbour of Weesen the casual stroller learns of how high the floodwaters of the Walensee can be, that Zwingli once lived here and that Franz Liszt visited, while watching as a summer fountain flings water high above the surface of the lake.

Above: High water marker, Weesen Harbour

Enjoy delicious pastries and High Tea, served by lovely ladies in 19th century period dress, inside the warm and inviting Café Liszt and see photos and sheet music by the famous composer peeking at the patrons from the walls and from on top of cleverly arranged furniture pieces.

There is a timelessness to Weesen that soothes the visitor.

This is a place contented with itself, complacent in its attractiveness.

Large enough to handle commerce and accommodate throngs of lake cruise disembarking passengers and summer visitors, small enough to feel cosy and comfortable and intimate with the surroundings and one another.

In Weesen, a young boy would learn the fundamentals of basic education, a young girl would be inspired to take up a life of service to Christ, and a wild Hungarian romantic would feel compelled by his surroundings to linger and create music that would delight crowds and put the name of Weesen into their souls.

Look up into the mountains or across the waters of the Walensee and feel the place work its quiet spell upon you.

Bildergebnis für weesen

Let your curious feet lead you down to the Linth canals and decide spontaneously which canal you will follow, whether you wish to visit Glaurus or Zürich Cantons today.

The hallows of your heart will thunderously applaud your decision to come here.

Linger awhile.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwengli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis